The 5 Best Horror Movie Jump Scares That’ll Get You When You Least Expect Them

Halloween is upon us. And spooky season means it’s time to revisit your favorite horror movies and TV shows. Although it’s a controversial technique among horror fans, the jump scare can still be effective when executed precisely. A jump scare is any moment when the camera quickly cuts, something dreadful suddenly appears, or the story takes a shocking turn to make viewers flinch. Here are five of the best horror movie jump scares that’ll send your heart rate skyrocketing.

[Warning: This article contains jump scare spoilers from the following movies.]

‘Psycho’ (1960)

Top horror movie jump scares: 'Psycho'
Janet Leigh in the infamous shower scene from ‘Psycho’ | Bettmann via Getty Images

The jump scare became a common horror trope for a good reason. Many classic thrillers have used this technique. And several decades later, jump scares have become ingrained in how this storytelling works.

Take, for instance, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The film features only two onscreen death scenes. But both — including the infamous shower scene — contain jump scares. No wonder many consider Psycho the first true slasher film.

‘Jaws’ (1975)

No rule says horror movies can’t take place on the water. Likewise, there’s little reason the killer can’t be a great white shark with a seemingly bottomless stomach.

In this Steven Spielberg classic, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) dives down to investigate and finds more than Ben Gardner’s boat. He suddenly gets an eyeful of a severed head floating casually into the frame.

But that’s not Jaws’ only jump scare. The famous “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene, in which Roy Scheider’s Brody spots the shark, also qualifies.

‘Carrie’ (1976)

After Carrie White’s (Sissy Spacek) prom-night rampage, director Brian De Palma’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel seemingly has a happy ending for at least one character.

The lone survivor, Sue Snell (Amy Irving), dreams of placing flowers on the remains of Carrie’s home. But in a split second, Carrie’s bloody arm juts through the wreckage and grabs Sue.

Even though this jump scare happens in a dream, it’s still jarringly effective because it leaves viewers unnerved as the credits roll and establishes that Sue will never forget the trauma she endured.

‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)

Jason Voorhees has become such an iconic horror figure that it’s easy for casual fans to forget he’s not the killer in the first movie. Rather, it’s Pamela Voorhees offing camp counselors at Camp Crystal Lake.

Finally, once Alice (Adrienne King) believes the terror is over, she boards a canoe and falls asleep. Then a decomposing boy surfaces from the lake and attacks her. Thus marks Jason’s first actual appearance in the franchise.

The foundation for everything that followed in the Friday the 13th franchise rests on a single jump scare.

‘Insidious’ (2010)

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The 5 Scariest Movies of All Time, According to Science

This James Wan–directed thriller is easily the newest entry on our list of the best horror movie jump scares. But its inclusion isn’t purely random.

Instead, Broadband Choices (via Forbes) — a comparison tool for broadband deals — reported in its 2020 “Science of Scare Project” that Insidious boasts the most effective jump scare in any horror movie the study analyzed.

Though Sinister wins as the scariest movie ever made, Insidious takes the top spot for a jump scare that sees a terrifying-looking demon abruptly appear behind Patrick Wilson’s Josh Lambert.