25 Best Horror/Thriller Film Performances

by HorrorHunter | created - 22 Oct 2012 | updated - 26 Jan 2015 | Public

These are the top 25 performances I've seen in horror/thriller films, ranked in order. Feel free to comment, but you better have credible reasoning for why someone is better than these, as I've given extremely objective and systemized critiquing to why these actors deserve this spot. If you can provide said reasoning, I'll stop everything I'm doing, check out the film, and update this list if I agree.

1. Katharine Isabelle

Actress | Ginger Snaps

Katharine Isabelle was born Katharine Isobel Murray in Vancouver, British Columbia to Graeme Murray, an art director and production designer who has won two Emmy Awards for his special effects work on the television series The X-Files (1993) and Gail Murray, an amateur Vancouver writer and producer...

My oh my how our little Ginger grew up! If you are a fan of Ginger Snaps (and I actually quite disliked that film), and haven't seen American Mary, then it's time to head to the nearest BlueRay retailer, purchase it, and pop it in. Katharine Isabelle (our cute little Ginger) shows she's been practicing, and applying that knowledge in a fashion that can only be described as utterly remarkable. Isabelle plays our star Mary, in what I think, is the third best modern horror film ever made. Isabelle portrays an un-teachable inner conflict in Mary that becomes the alluding factor in comprehending the deeper layers of symbolism in this film. I've counted 5 layers of symbolism, and I'd bet the Soska sisters probably only knew about 3 when they made the film. This performance has motivated me to re-watch Ginger Snaps and hope that it helps make that film any better.

2. Sean Bridgers

Actor | Room

Sean Bridgers was born on March 3, 1968 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA as Sean Mackenzie Bridgers. He is an actor and director, known for Room (2015), The Woman (2011) and Sweet Home Alabama (2002). He has been married to Rachel York since March 25, 1998. They have three children.

As Chris Cleek in The Woman, and assisted by Dawai in Jug Face. Bridgers is the real deal in the Woman. He brings the intense, stone cold, horrific, realism that every wife (and anyone else for that matter) prays does not exist in their husband. This performance is the ultimate "better-than-thou" mindset that some women are significantly destroyed with. The collectiveness about him is just too real when significant obstacles would normally unnerve a regular person. It's far too bad that some of the phenomenal Indies aren't what the horror demographic will watch on the big screen. Bridgers, I give you my most respected nod of appreciation.

3. Scott Anthony Leet

Actor | Traffik

Scott Anthony Leet is a chameleon in the truest sense of the word.

His different movie characters range from a Mississippi ex-con (Out in 50), to a fiery bassist via Belfast, Ireland (Groupie), to a homosexual pedophile serial killer (Freeway Killer), to an Irish security expert, who gets reanimated...

As William Bonin in Freeway Killer. This man made my soul quiver in unrelenting terror and dread. This man illustrated almost too perfectly the fear I have most; an unstable person that unexplainably posseses the ability to cause one to walk on egg-shells. Judas Priest. The scene where Leet picks up Kyle and is finding out about the kid's character, to see if he will kill him or keep him absolutely destroyed me. If you remember the part where he asks Kyle about a fat man walking down the road and asks him what the man's story is and Kyle replies with a "he's a fat bastard" or something and Leet's character laughs and then immediately flips to accusing Kyle of not knowing the man's story and asking who the hell he thinks he is to judge a man he doesn't know. The hypocrisy, insanity, and unsatisfiable peer pressure laid on in this performance is too real for me. I truly fear Scott Anthony Leet and pray that he doesn't have real life experience that has helped him generate his ABSOLUTELY FLAWLESS portrayal of an unstable, addicted, *beep* of a man. Leet, I would do anything you told me to.

4. Jake Gyllenhaal

Actor | Nightcrawler

Jacob Benjamin Gyllenhaal was born in Los Angeles, California, to producer/screenwriter Naomi Foner (née Achs) and director Stephen Gyllenhaal. He is the brother of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, who played his sister in Donnie Darko (2001). His godmother is actress Jamie Lee Curtis. His mother is from...

As Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler. This is perhaps equivalent and definitely similar with Leet's performance in Freeway Killer. This character's unimaginable confidence in himself and factual understanding of manipulation is extraordinary. This character's motives are highly unknown for most of the film, but slowly become understood in a manner in which you wish you hadn't comprehended. Gyllenhaal is also fantastic in Prisoners as Detective Loki.

5. Min-sik Choi

Actor | Oldeuboi

Choi Min-shik first made a name for himself in theater before breaking into the film world with a role in Park Chong-won's acclaimed film 'Our Twisted Hero' (1992). In the mid-nineties he continued to act in theater productions as well as in several TV dramas, including Moon Over Seoul with Han ...

As Jang Kyung-Chul in I Saw the Devil. Land alive! This entire performance is completely perfect. His final dialogue with Kim-Soo fools the audience even when the audience knows he's trying to fool them. This man is an absolute genious with facial expression, timing, realism, and dedication to a role. He could have another top 5 nomination for his performance as Oh-Dae-Soo in Oldboy. I have problems with anyone who has problems with Min-sik Choi. Great job and PLEASE, do more horror films for us who actually care about quality acting.

6. Pollyanna McIntosh

Actress | Exam

Pollyanna McIntosh grew up in Portugal and Colombia before returning to her birthplace of Scotland, where she first began performing, on stage, at The Edinburgh Festival. At 16, she left for London and soon became involved in indie filmmaking (her first paid gig was as a stoner in Irvine Welsh's ...

As The Woman in The Woman. Pollyanna hits you so hard in this film. She has zero lines, truly making expression the only weapon she has to use in this role....and my land, did she use it. By 10 minutes in, I promise she's made you *beep* your pants. She is the best clue in understanding the plot for how deep it truly is. This performance was a true work of art.

7. Belén Rueda

Actress | El orfanato

María Belén Rueda García-Porrero (born 16 March 1965) is a Spanish actress. She is best known for her roles as Lucía in the TV series Los Serrano (2003); as Julia in The Sea Inside (2004), for which she won a Goya Award; and as Laura in The Orphanage (2007), for which she received another Goya ...

As Laura in The Orphanage. I love the passion emitted by Rueda in her method acting portrayal of Laura. Compared side by side, it's obvious that she towers over her character's husband in believability and skill. Studying Stanislovsky results as a perfect vehicle for Rueda in her countless scenes with children. Rueda plays a perfect, unsatisfiable, loving mother which ultimately heightens the panic assisted premonition fear every time Tomas and company appear. Knock on wood or the wall that Rueda was in this film. Rueda moves from slot 14 up to slot 6 for her performance in Julia's Eyes, which is even more impressive than the Orphanage.

8. Byung-Hun Lee

Actor | Dalkomhan insaeng

Byung-hun Lee was born in 1970 in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in a wealthy family, thanks to his father, who was a successful businessman. He never dreamed of pursuing acting until a friend of his mother's suggested it. He auditioned for the KBS television network in 1991 and was accepted. His ...

As Kim-Soo Hyeon in I Saw the Devil. This man in phenomenal. His ability to portray real emotion is unparalleled. These actors become even better when they have the powerhouse line up to work with like in the film I Saw the Devil. Lee plays a young detective with a one track mind, in which he portrays perfectly. The final scene in the movie where the one track finally ends, and we are left to see who Kim-Soo will be after it's all said and done is a masterpiece. Great job in a flawless film.

9. Sara Paxton

Actress | The Innkeepers

Sara Paxton was born in Woodland Hills, California. At a young age she began acting in television commercials.

She was cast in her first film at the age of 8 as a child at school and at the party in Liar Liar (1997). Her first major television series role was on the WB's Greetings from Tucson (2002)....

As Claire in The Innkeepers. I was blown away with her consistency and strength throughout this entire film. She played a teenager better than anyone else has ever done in a horror film. Paxton was lights out in Last House on the Left also, but her show as Claire was truly, truly a work of art. I believed her character so much, that the plausible fear (which is virtually non-existant in premonition films outside of Emily Rose and the realism mask they had going for them) actually presented itself in perfect harmony with the eerie setup. Outstanding job Paxton, it was extemely well done.

10. Jennifer Carpenter

Actress | Dexter

Jennifer was born in Kentucky. Her mother is Catherine Mitchell and her father is Robert Carpenter.

She attended St. Raphael the Archangel and then Sacred Heart Academy. During her last two years of high school, she studied drama at the Walden Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky. She then trained at the ...

As Emily Rose in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Her ability to contort in this film is something else, considering that she wasn't cast simply for her ability to do so. She has the timing of a seasoned veteran in this role as she gives 150% to the part she is playing. My FAVORITE scene is Father Moore's monologue in court telling "Emily's Story" where Jennifer is acting out the narration of the "Tree of Life." Carpenter definitely knew the symbolic nature of the film and used Emily Rose's true story in perfect portrayal in a film so brilliantly written that it masks the possibility of fiction. Bravo.

11. Johnny Depp

Actor | Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Johnny Depp is perhaps one of the most versatile actors of his day and age in Hollywood.

He was born John Christopher Depp II in Owensboro, Kentucky, on June 9, 1963, to Betty Sue (Wells), who worked as a waitress, and John Christopher Depp, a civil engineer.

Depp was raised in Florida. He dropped ...

As Sweeney Todd in Sweeney Todd. I love this film probably too much. I love every aspect of it except the Tim Burton blood used in it. I think that the cast in this film is overall 2nd in strength only to I Saw the Devil. Bonham-Carter, Rickman, and Spall all deserve nods for their performances, but Depp takes the cake in this one. Depp's manurisms come alive in scenes with lyrics and dialogue I guaranteed you have missed unless you have seen the film a dozen times like I have. Depp truly possesses the "untouchables" when it comes to acting tidbits that are loaded in this film. Bravo Johnny, just don't do another god-awful film like Sleepy Hollow again.

12. Jack Nicholson

Actor | Chinatown

Jack Nicholson, an American actor, producer, director and screenwriter, is a three-time Academy Award winner and twelve-time nominee. Nicholson is also notable for being one of two actors - the other being Michael Caine - who have received Oscar nomination in every decade from the 1960s through the...

As Jack Torrance in The Shining. Let it be said, that the Shining would be absolute GARBAGE without Jack Nicholson. Jack Nicholson IS the Shining. All fear I had in the entire film is generated from the eerie fear Jack was able to generate. Kubrick muffed up many shots, dialogue, casting and other director calls, but Nicholson held the film together. His monologues and scenes in lala land are truly well done. I give Shining fans their nod by placing it all on Jack Nicholson's shoulders.

13. Christian Bale

Actor | The Dark Knight

Christian Charles Philip Bale was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK on January 30, 1974, to English parents Jennifer "Jenny" (James) and David Bale. His mother was a circus performer and his father, who was born in South Africa, was a commercial pilot. The family lived in different countries ...

As Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. It isn't hard to understand how Bale would find his way onto any "best performances" list. American Psycho is a film that will be very difficult to forget, due in most part to Bale's performance as Patrick Bateman. Some of the inner thought monologues just blew me away as you were able to understand the mannerisms on screen. There is no question that Bale can method act. Oh, and Christian, your business card is the best. I'm on your side pal.

14. Brad Pitt

Actor | Mr. & Mrs. Smith

An actor and producer known as much for his versatility as he is for his handsome face, Golden Globe-winner Brad Pitt's most widely recognized role may be Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999). However, his portrayals of Billy Beane in Moneyball (2011), and Rusty Ryan in the remake of Ocean's Eleven (...

As David Mills in Se7en. This is the best Pitt film I have ever seen. He was brilliant throughout the course of the film, and played off of Freeman exceptionally well. Freeman has a gift of acting as a stepping stool for other actors to reach the next level in their performances, and this was the case in Se7en. Pitt's concluding scene with John Doe is well timed, acting almost as a "finale" for his exceptionally real and genuine performance.

15. Manuela Velasco

Actress | [Rec]

Manuela Velasco is a Spanish TV hostess and actress. Velasco is best known for starred in the Spanish horror films REC (2007), REC 2 (2009), REC 4: Apocalypse (2014), and the Spanish television series Velvet.

She make her film debut in Pedro Almodovar's Law of Desire (1987).

In 2007, she won the Goya...

As Angela Vidal in [REC]. What a little gem this Spaniard is! Who would have thought that her performance would lead to the SINGLE MOST BELIEVABLE ZOMBIE FILM EVER MADE. I'll say it, and 28 days later fans will have to swallow their pride and believe it. This film's remarkable choices created a perfectly placed smoke-screen over the fictional aspect and generated a panic assisted plausible fear that was strengthened exponentially by Velasco's determination. Excelante Manuela!

16. Brendan Fletcher

Actor | Freddy vs. Jason

Brendan Fletcher was born on December 15, 1981 in Comox Valley, British Columbia, Canada. He is an actor and producer, known for Freddy vs. Jason (2003), Rampage (2009) and RV (2006).

As Bill Williamson in Rampage. This kid was amazing. I truly believed his character and loathing of people who can't show enough respect to be civil with one another. The timing of his expressions and reactions is extremely sound, adding a perfectly executed unspoken element of "you'll get yours." He gave the film all the foreshadowing it needed with his performance alone, making the flashes of violence scenes unneccessary from a directoral standpoint. He gave a fantastic grass-roots performance for a well portrayed grass-roots character. Seriously well done Fletch.

17. Leonardo DiCaprio

Actor | Inception

Few actors in the world have had a career quite as diverse as Leonardo DiCaprio's. DiCaprio has gone from relatively humble beginnings, as a supporting cast member of the sitcom Growing Pains (1985) and low budget horror movies, such as Critters 3 (1991), to a major teenage heartthrob in the 1990s,...

As Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island. DiCaprio is one of the best actors of all time. The man has done some remarkable things. One of those, is his flawless execution in Shutter Island. He can make the audience lean one way, then go the other, and end up in a third location that nobody was expecting. His character is extremely believable and confident.

18. Wes Bentley

Actor | American Beauty

Wes Bentley is an American actor who first became well-known via his role in the Oscar-winning film American Beauty (1999), in which he played the soulful, artistic next-door neighbor Ricky Fitts. He also portrayed gamemaker Seneca Crane in The Hunger Games (2012), and co-stars in Lovelace (2013) as...

As Thomas Barclay in P2. Wes generates the entire believability, suspense, and intensity of the film from his performance in P2. At first, you feel that perhaps Bentley is overplaying his role, when in actuality he is in complete control of his situation and knows much more than you do. His portrayal of Thomas, in thick layers of personal emotion, backstory, and character understanding is illustrated silently, but profoundly. In a film with virtually two characters, Bentley lights up the screen from his entrance to a blazing hot exit.

19. Kelly Reilly

Actress | Flight

Jessica Kelly Siobhán Reilly (born 18 July 1977) is an English actress. Her performance in After Miss Julie at the Donmar Warehouse made her a star of the London stage and earned her a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress of 2003. Reilly was born and brought up in Chessington, ...

As Jenny in Eden Lake. Kelly has a very difficult role as Jenny in Eden Lake. She does an outstanding job shifting and controlling emotion as situation demands. Her reactions to terrifying and life-changing events are extremely believable and genuine. She is tested physically in the role as well, and required to perform athletically while maintaining a credible and appropriate expression. Awesome.

20. Nicole Kidman

Actress | Moulin Rouge!

Elegant blonde Nicole Kidman, known as one of Hollywood's top Australian imports, was actually born in Honolulu, Hawaii, while her Australian parents were there on educational visas.

Kidman is the daughter of Janelle Ann (Glenny), a nursing instructor, and Antony David Kidman, a biochemist and ...

As Grace Stewart in The Others. Not much to say here, Kidman is always phenomenal. Her role as Grace was no different. The reveal at the end of the film is completely protected with Kidman's perfect performance. She executes the ability to direct the audience's attention where she chooses as well as anyone (saving Denzel Washington, as that is his patented trademark). Kidman's ability to channel your attention sets up hard hitting eerie suspense and a goosebump generating conclusion.

21. Alan Rickman

Actor | Die Hard

Alan Rickman was born on a council estate in Acton, West London, to Margaret Doreen Rose (Bartlett) and Bernard Rickman, who worked at a factory. He had English, Irish, and Welsh ancestry. Alan had an older brother David, a younger brother Michael and a younger sister Sheila. When Alan was 8 years ...

As Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd. Alan deserves the nod so much that he gets his own slot. His dispicable character radiates through the screen with so much force that the loathing created within the audience of his character MASKS the abominations performed by Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovitz until the reveal at the end where the audience is left in awe as the credits roll up the screen. First time viewers of this film as well as "Sweeney Todd" in playwrite fashions have Rickman to thank for the dread they feel questioning themselves as decent human beings.

22. Michael Weston

Actor | Pathology

Michael Weston was born on October 25, 1973 in New York City, New York, USA as Michael Rubinstein. He is an actor and writer, known for Pathology (2008), State of Play (2009) and Garden State (2004). He has been married to Priscilla Ahn since June 2010.

As Jake Gallo in Pathology. This character was a sleeper! What a great performance to hold together a possibly unraveling plot that wasn't completely justified with Milo Ventimiglia's skills either. Fans of this movie will esteem it's success (if there was any) to Michael Weston and his hard ass character. The conclusion of the film (luckily) was completely reliant on Jake Gallo's egocentric desire to outsmart Milo's character, which enabled the film to finish decently. The film is in shambles without Weston.

23. Haley Joel Osment

Actor | The Sixth Sense

Haley Joel Osment is an American actor who has proven himself as one of the best young actors of his generation. He is the first millennial male to have received an Academy Award nomination for acting.

Osment was born in Los Angeles, California, to Theresa (Seifert), a teacher, and actor Eugene ...

As Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense. Best child performance I've seen in a horror film. Apparently the "Academy" agrees with me, as they also saw the brilliance in Osment's execution as Cole Sear in the 6th Sense. His constant un-nerving portrayal in his character is not only exceptional, it's sheer brilliance. Understand that this is critical for the reveal to have any substance at the end of the film. In hindsight, Osment's performance triples in calibur, which is hard to do considering it was solid throughout the duration of the film.

24. Heather Donahue

Actress | The Blair Witch Project

Heather Donahue was born on December 22, 1974 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, USA. She is an actress and writer, known for The Blair Witch Project (1999), Taken (2002) and Seven and a Match (2001).

As Heather in The Blair Witch Project. Revolutionary performance in a revolutionary concept of a film with a revolutionary filming style. Having the actors not even know the outcome of the film, or even the choreography of the film was a real risk that I believe propelled Donahue to a sensational performance. Believability = A+. One word sums up everything; Revolutionary.

25. Jennifer Lawrence

Actress | The Hunger Games

Was the highest-paid actress in the world in 2015 and 2016. With her films grossing over $5.5 billion worldwide, Jennifer Lawrence is often cited as the most successful actor of her generation. She is also thus far the only person born in the 1990s to have won an acting Oscar.

Jennifer Shrader ...

As Elissa in The House at the End of the Street. I'm a Lawrence fan, and was thrilled when I saw the midnight showing in which she dominated the screen in a gem of a panic/mental horror film. There are many actors who were the "glue" to their films on this list, and Lawrence is no different. She plays the best "traditional teen" I've seen in a horror film, and falls second overall only to Paxton in the Inkeepers. Her relationships are so genuine and real that the film doesn't lose anything it can't afford to lose. This film could have been really bad without Lawrence and her perfection.

26. Lauren Ashley Carter

Actress | Premium Rush

Lauren Ashley Carter is an actress and producer, known for Premium Rush (2012), Imitation Girl (2017) and Jug Face (2013).

As Ada in Jug Face. Carter has really stepped into her own, probably in large part to the crowd she hangs around. Working with people like Sean Bridgers, Lucky McKee, and Chad Kinkle will evolve anyone into a phenomenal actor. This little group that Carter has found herself a part of has created the Indy cult sensation that has me on a leash, following anything they do. Ada is not a complex character, but rather a character that MOST people should be able to relate with. She finds herself experiencing (despite being part of an extremely odd, somewhat Amish, fanatical cult) normal feelings of lust, guilt, and fear; explaining the decisions made throughout the film. The best word to explain this extremely well done performance is HONEST.

27. Kai Lennox

Actor | Beginners

Kai Lennox is an actor, known for Beginners (2010), Green Room (2015) and Boogie Nights (1997). He has been married to Kameron Lennox since September 26, 1998. They have two children.

As Alan White in Apartment 143. Kai gets the slot here due to his confessional monologue regarding his behavior with his wife. This five minute scene is one of my favorites, as it is a shotgun display of quality acting with half a dozen different emotions. Unfortunately, Lennox's peformance wasn't enough to make up for the horrendous choices of dialogue, cinemetography, and casting of many of the other characters. Save Gia's portrayal of Caitlin, he is the only one worth anything in this film.

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