Top 25 Horror Films From the Past 25 Years as Ranked by IMDb Usersby IMDb-Editors | last updated - 22 Mar 2016
Horror films have existed from the early stages of cinematic history, reflecting the need for movie audiences to be intrigued, shocked, and terrified. Here is our countdown of the top 25 horror films made in the last 25 years, ranked according to all-time average user ratings. — Bret Federigan
25. Scream (1996)
Launching a film franchise that would eventually spawn three sequels and a TV spin-off series, Wes Craven's Scream injected new life into the horror genre in the mid-1990s. Much of the credit goes to writer Kevin Williamson, who would later go on to create "Dawson's Creek." Like his memorable TV show, Scream depicts a world of smart-talking, self-referential, pop culture-fluent teenagers, this time in the fictional town of Woodsboro, Calif., where the object of adolescent angst is the mysterious Ghostface Killer. His target? Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), who is still trying to cope with the murder of her mother. Sydney's horror movie-obsessed friends help her to stay one step ahead of death and also provide plenty of references about the history of the horror film genre. Truly a horror movie about horror movies, Scream remains the highest-grossing slasher genre film of all time.
24. The Descent (2005)
For many, spelunking is scary enough: Not all would choose to spend extended time in the dark, surrounded by the unexpected. But imagine if you and your friends were trapped for hours in a cave that was crawling with a savage breed of blood-thirsty predators. That's exactly the predicament that befalls a group of six female friends in this 2005 Neil Marshall thriller that explores in panicked, claustrophobic fashion what happens when a caving expedition goes horribly wrong. Shauna Macdonald plays Sarah, a young British mother who loses her husband and daughter in a horrific car accident. Natalie Mendoza plays Sarah's friend Juno, who organizes the women-only spelunking trip nearly one year later.
23. Audition (1999)
This unsettling, not-for-the-faint-of-heart film from Japan has left a lasting impression on filmgoers and critics, many of whom consider the movie to be one of the more significant in the genre in recent years. Much of the movie's attention has to do with the nature of the story, which relates the fortunes of a middle-aged widower, Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), who is urged by his teenaged son to get back in the dating game by taking advantage of his connections to a film producer and staging a mock audition to "cast" for a new wife. All seems to fall into place when lovely, 24-year-old Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina) appears on the scene. Despite misgivings from his film producer friend, Aoyama plunges himself headlong into his first date. Eventually, the truth behind Asami's sordid history is revealed — in the most tortuous way possible.
22. From Dusk Till Dawn (1996)
Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez, From Dusk Till Dawn was the first major feature film starring George Clooney, who in 1996 was riding a crest of popularity as star of TV's "ER." Clooney plays the cool bank robber Seth Gecko, who along with his psychopathic brother Richie (Tarantino), is on the lam after a bloody bank heist. The pair make their way to Mexico, with a family of three as hostages, and land themselves in a biker bar, which they soon find out is teeming with vampires. The cult movie also stars Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, and Salma Hayek as Santanico Pandemonium, an erotic dancer-cum-vampire queen.
21. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Vampires have never seemed so stylish, angsty, and enigmatic than in this critically acclaimed Jim Jarmusch-directed film from 2013. The romantic horror film centers on the relationship of two vampires, whose love story has endured several centuries but who are now separated by geographical distance. Tired and depressed in Detroit, musician Adam (Tom Hiddleston) reaches out to his wife and lover Eve (Tilda Swinton) in Tangiers, and they end up reuniting. All is well and complaint-free until Eve's little sister Eva (Mia Wasikowska) shows up and shatters the mood. Chock full of literary allusions and references to pop culture, the film debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and quickly became a darling among indie audiences. Hiddleston and Wasikowska would end up sharing the screen again in another stylish horror film: 2015's Crimson Peak.
20. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Long before he made a name for himself helming adaptations of DC Comics franchises, Zack Snyder made his feature film debut as director of this remake of George Romero's 1978 cult classic. The 2004 rendition follows the story of Ana (Sarah Polley), a young beautiful nurse who discovers that her neighbors and her husband have become zombies. Coming to the startling conclusion that something crazy is afoot, she along with other survivors head to the nearby deserted shopping mall in order seek safety. In addition to Polley, the film stars Jake Weber, Mekhi Phifer, Ty Burrell, and Ving Rhames, who was so eager to join the project that he tracked down the producers in order to be in the film. Astute horror fans will see many differences between this remake and the original, one of the most prominent being that the zombies in this film run at full speed instead of the customary slow, shuffling pace of other zombie films.
19. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Tim Burton's reimagining of the classic Washington Irving short story marked his third collaboration with Johnny Depp, who portrays New York City police constable Ichabod Crane. Depp was always Burton's first choice for the role, though the director was compelled by studio executives to consider Brad Pitt, Liam Neeson, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
Burton had originally intended to shoot the gloomy film along the Hudson Valley, where the short story is set, but he ultimately settled in England, constructing spooky Sleepy Hollow from the ground up. At the time, it was the largest set built in the country.
18. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Director Tim Burton became inspired by Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" when he first saw the epic musical as a young college student in London sometime in 1980. It took 25 years for him to secure the composer's approval to adapt the theatrical work for the big screen; Sondheim, famously protective of his work, required that he maintain approval of the screenwriter and the lead roles. Both Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Sweeney's accomplice Mrs. Lovett, and Johnny Depp, who stars as the murderous and revenge-minded Benjamin Barker, had to submit vocal audition tapes.
A mixture of blood and Broadway standards, Sweeney Todd was a success with critics, earning Golden Globe nods for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor for Depp.
17. Dracula (1992)
Hollywood has served up numerous retellings of the tale of Count Dracula, but Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 rendition is particularly faithful to tradition. Not only does the film include all the major characters from Bram Stoker's 1897 gothic horror novel, but the director himself insisted on avoiding any contemporary special effects during filming, choosing instead to replicate techniques from the early part of the 20th century, which would have coincided with the publication of the book.
The result is a visually lush interpretation that helps to underscore some erotically charged performances from Gary Oldman as the venerable Count and Winona Ryder as Mina Harker. As for Keanu Reeves in the role of Jonathan Harker, Coppola explained the casting choice in a newspaper interview: "We tried to get some kind of matinee idol for the part … because it isn't such a great part. If we all were to go to the airport with Winona and Gary Oldman … Keanu is the one that the girls would just besiege."
16. [Rec] (2007)
Filmed in a found-footage, handheld-camera documentary style, this Spanish zombie flick chronicles one harrowing night spent by a young TV reporter (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman. Assigned to cover the night shift at a local fire station, they are summoned to rescue an old lady trapped in her apartment building, only to discover a much more nightmarish problem once they arrive. The movie was popular with both critics and viewers, spawning a four-movie franchise in Spain and a series of remakes in the U.S.
15. The Conjuring (2013)
Calling to mind The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror and based loosely on real-life events, James Wan's supernatural horror film depicts the unraveling of a young family as they struggle with increasingly disturbing activity in their Rhode Island farmhouse. Fearing for the welfare of their five daughters, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) turn to noted paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who uncover the house's sordid, witchy past and recommend the property be exorcised of its demons.
Strong performances and lyrical photography helped propel the movie to become one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time. The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist is planned for release in summer 2016.
14. Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Tim Robbins stars as Brooklynite Jacob Singer, a mailman who is haunted by his service in the Vietnam War and the death of his son. Wracked with increasingly terrifying hallucinations and self-doubt about the facts of his own existence, he struggles to prevent his life from disintegrating.
It's reported that both Don Johnson and Mickey Rourke passed on the chance to portray Jacob, with Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Richard Gere also expressing interest in the part. Andie MacDowell, Julia Roberts, and Madonna vied for the role of Jacob's girlfriend Jezzie, a part that is played by Elizabeth Peña. The film served as the inspiration for both the Silent Hill film and video game franchises.
13. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
Written and directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, who also star in the film, this mockumentary horror comedy serves up the antics of four vampires living as flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand. Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr are all centuries old and struggle to adapt to living in the 21st century. Troubles ensue when they decide to accept new members into their group.
Fun fact: A script was written for the movie but never shown to the actors, who were directed to improvise during shooting after being given a brief description of the scene.
12. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
This Canadian-American comedy horror directed by Eli Craig showcases the bloody consequences of allowing appearances to cloud your judgment. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two affable West Virginian hillbillies heading to their mountain cabin for a little vacation. At a gas station, the pair come face to face with a group of preppy coeds who, also on vacation and intimidated by Tucker and Dale's looks, assume the worst. Later, when one of the college kids hits her head and wakes up in the hillbillies' cabin, the other students jump to some serious conclusions — and blood-stained shenanigans ensue.
Jason Sudeikis was originally cast in the role of Tucker, with Johnny Knoxville and Dane Cook also under consideration for the part.
11. Dead Alive (1992)
Long before he helmed the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy, New Zealand director Peter Jackson served up a zombie comedy that today enjoys a wide cult following. The story follows hapless Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme), who lives with his overbearing and insufferable mother Vera (Elizabeth Moody). When momma Vera decides to meddle with her son's relationship with his girlfriend Paquita, she ends up bitten by a rare monkey, gradually dying and turning into a zombie.
The movie is said to be one of the bloodiest of all time, measured in the amount of stage blood used during production. The final scene alone reportedly required 300 liters of fake blood.
10. Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)
Anne Rice herself penned the screenplay for Neil Jordan's 1994 adaptation of her popular novel set in New Orleans. In the lead vampire roles are Brad Pitt, who played moody protagonist Louis, and Tom Cruise in a memorable portrayal of the charismatic and enigmatic Lestat. But it's then 11-year-old Kirsten Dunst who is the breakout star, earning widespread recognition as 12-year-old enfant terrible Claudia, a young vampire who's doomed to remain a little girl for eternity.
River Phoenix was initially cast for the role of Daniel Molloy, a part which eventually went to Christian Slater after Phoenix's untimely death four weeks before filming. As a tribute, producers inserted a dedication to the late actor in the closing credits.
9. Army of Darkness (1992)
This 1992 dark fantasy comedy is the third installment in the Evil Dead series. In this episode, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is hurtled through a time warp to 1300 AD, where he battles an army of the dead to retrieve the Necronomicon, a book with magical powers.
Along with the other two movies in the trilogy, Army of Darkness enjoys a sizable cult following, inspiring a whole franchise of comic books series and role-playing games. Television sequel "Ash vs Evil Dead" features Campbell returning in the lead role and premieres on Halloween 2015 on Starz.
8. The Others (2001)
Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, The Others tells the story of Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman), a strict, devout mother who retires with her two photosensitive children to a manor in Jersey at the end of World War II. As she awaits the return of her husband from battle, she notices a series of unusual events in the residence, which coincide with the arrival of a mysterious trio of servants. Before long, the terrifying secrets of her household are revealed.
The film was wildly popular with fans and critics, winning eight Goya Awards (Spain's national film awards), including Best Director and Best Film. In fact, it's the first English-language movie to win a Goya for Best Film without having a single word of Spanish spoken in it.
7. 28 Days Later … (2002)
Director Danny Boyle serves up a frightening post-apocalyptic vision of London in this 2002 survival tale. Cillian Murphy plays Jim, a bike courier who awakes in a hospital from a coma four weeks after a highly contagious virus is unleashed upon the city. Discovering London completely deserted, he ultimately finds other survivors, and with them, he strategizes to find sanctuary from the contagion.
Part allegory about the human condition, part zombie story, and part political commentary, the movie was a box-office hit in the U.S. despite a limited release. Boyle served as executive producer for a sequel, 28 Weeks Later, which hit theaters in 2007. Word is that the director is interested in bringing another sequel, 28 Months Later to the big screen.
6. Grindhouse (2007)
This 2007 horror film, which recalls exploitation films of the '60s and '70s, is actually two features: one directed by Robert Rodriguez (Planet Terror) and the other by Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof), joined together and bookended by fictional trailers for upcoming movies, advertisements, and announcements.
The title comes from a common film industry term, "grindhouse," which refers a type of movie house, now mostly defunct, that specialized in "grinding out" double-bill programs of B movies. Rodriguez' offering follows a group of rebels caught in a zombie outbreak, while Tarantino's portion is pure slasher thriller, where a stuntman (Kurt Russell) stalks young women with his cars.
5. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)
This 2005 South Korean movie tells the story of a woman's efforts to seek justice for a crime she did not commit. Lee Young-ae stars as Lee Geum-ja, who has been incarcerated for 13 years for the kidnap and murder of a 6-year-old boy. With the help of her fellow inmates and her reunited daughter, she seeks to exact vengeance on the man responsible for the boy's death.
The film is the third installment of director Chan-wook Park's The Vengeance Trilogy, which includes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) and Oldboy (2003).
4. Saw (2004)
Shot on a small budget and in 18 days, Saw debuted in 2004 to limited expectations. But the grisly torture film about two men who awake to discover themselves in a rundown bathroom quickly became a cult hit with viewers and ended up becoming one of the most profitable horror movies of all time. Its success spawned a sequel the following year and an eventual seven-part horror franchise, with Saw 3D (2010) as the most recent installment. An eighth movie is in the works.
3. Zombieland (2009)
This raucous, smart comedy was for a time the top-grossing zombie film of all time, surpassed by World War Z in 2013. The film, which was the debut feature for director Ruben Fleischer, follows the adventures of winsome and witty college student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) as he attempts to navigate through a zombie apocalypse. On his journey across America to find his parents in Ohio, he's joined by a gun-totin' tough guy (Woody Harrelson) and a pair of con-artist sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin).
Because of the film's inventive storytelling and crisp dialogue, the movie was a hit at the box office and with critics. Not too bad for a project that was originally conceived as a television pilot.
2. Let the Right One In (2008)
Swedish director Tomas Alfredson's romantic horror film chronicles the friendship between a boy and a vampire child in the suburbs of Stockholm during the early 1980s. The movie takes its inspiration from John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel of the same name. Kåre Hedebrant stars as Oskar, a 12-year old who is constantly bullied by his classmates, and Lina Leandersson plays Eli, who, appearing only at night, encourages him to seek revenge against his tormentors.
The movie received widespread acclaim across the globe. The U.S. remake, Let Me In, stars Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The top horror movie on our list, this British comedy directed by Edgar Wright documents the foibles of Shaun (Simon Pegg), a woebegone electronics shop salesman struggling to find direction and purpose in his life. Just when he commits to win back his ex-girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield), a zombie apocalypse strikes the city. The impending threat of zombies gives Shaun the kick in the pants he needs: Along with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost), he takes to the streets to come to the rescue of Liz, his family and his precious record collection.
The 2004 film isn't just beloved by IMDb users; it's a favorite with genre authorities. Both Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino have gone on record to register their love for the comedy. And George A. Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead served as an inspiration for Shaun, was so impressed when he viewed the movie that he asked Pegg and Wright to appear in his next film.