The Best Horror Film Classics, Ranked

From monster movies and ghost stories to slashers and psychological thrillers, the world of horror films has grown and evolved tremendously over time. Even though there are many exciting, highly anticipated horror movies on the horizon, they wouldn’t be the same without the creation of these creepy classics.

Here are the best horror film classics, ranked:

Max Schreck
Max Schreck in ‘Nosferatu’ | Getty Images

10. ‘Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror’

Have you ever seen a shadow eerily placed against a wall in a horror film? That scare is considered by many to be inspired by one of the most legendary, iconic horror films of all time: Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

The 1922 German Expressionist horror film, Nosferatu is a cinematic landmark not only for horror films but for the world of film altogether with its creepy, gothic tone. The film was a chilling adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous vampire horror novel Dracula. Nosferatu follows an estate agent named Hutter, played by Gustav von Wangenheim, who travels to Transylvania to sell a remote property to the mysterious Count Orlok, played by Max Schreck.

During his visit to Orlok’s castle, Hutter begins to notice a few unsettling things, like the eerie feeling that a dark shadow is hanging over him and how his new customer likes to sleep in a crypt. Meanwhile, the Count has taken an interest in more than a new property and seems to be developing a taste for Hutter’s wife, Ellen.

Nosferatu is an eerie classic from the archives that’s definitely worth checking out to see the source of inspiration for many of the horror films we know and love today.

Zombies From 'Night Of The Living Dead'
Zombies From ‘Night Of The Living Dead’| Photo by Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

9. ‘Night of the Living Dead’

George A. Romero is considered by many to be the creator of zombie horror with films like Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead. The legacy began in 1968 when Night of the Living Dead premiered. The film follows a group of survivors stranded in a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania, trying to survive the night as corpses have risen from the dead in search of human flesh to devour.

The opening of Night of the Living Dead is one of the most memorable horror film openings of all time. A young man named Johnny, played by Russell Streiner and his sister Barbra, played by Judith O’Dea, visit their father’s grave in a remote cemetery. Barbra is unsettled by her surroundings, leading Johnny to taunt her with the iconic line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!” Soon afterward, they are attacked by the living dead and Barbra is forced to flee.

The film attracted a lot of controversy for its depiction of violence at the time of its release since Night of the Living Dead was one of the first films to show such graphic, bloody death scenes on screen. Since then, the film has earned its place as one of the greatest, scariest horror films of history.

Julie Harris
Julie Harris | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

8. ‘The Haunting’

Based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting is a perfect example of psychological horror that stands the test of time. Director Martin Scorsese famously considers this to be his favorite horror film and to this day, many consider The Haunting to be one of the creepiest films of its time.

Released in 1963, The Haunting follows a doctor trying to prove the existence of ghosts by inviting three participants to stay at a haunted mansion called Hill House, a property with a disturbing, lengthy history of death and madness. The ghosts manifest in horrific ways and appear to take a psychological toll on a participant named Eleanor, whose psychic powers make her feel a little too close to the spirits and history of the house. The film stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn.

Both critics and audiences often agree that The Haunting is one of the scariest horror films ever made with its use of claustrophobic shots and psychological tension. If you think you’re brave enough, check out the film and step into the horrors of Hill House.

Mia Farrow
Mia Farrow | Photo by Paramount/Getty Images

7. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Is there anything creepier than feeling like your neighbors might be out to get you? Roman Polanski’s famous horror classic Rosemary’s Baby can answer that question quickly.

The film revolves around a young housewife named Rosemary, played by Mia Farrow, who has recently moved into a new apartment building with her husband, Guy, played by John Cassavetes. Things quickly take an unsettling turn when Rosemary becomes pregnant and a series of sinister events lead the young woman to believe that her odd neighbors may, in fact, be after her unborn child.

Since its initial release in 1968, Rosemary’s Baby has become a cinematic legend in terms of horror, winning seven awards and earning a spot among the top 10 on the American Film Institute’s list of thrilling and frightening films.

JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, and Oliver Robins
JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, and Oliver Robins | Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

6. ‘Poltergeist’

Written by filmmaking icon Steven Spielberg and directed by horror legend Tobe Hooper, Poltergeist is a perfect ghost story to enjoy after dark.

The film follows a family that experiences an eerie series of supernatural events and soon realizes that their home is a host for spirits. At first, the ghosts seem friendly and playful, but their intentions quickly become malevolent when they kidnap the family’s youngest daughter, trapping her on “the other side.”

Poltergeist is considered by many to be a horror classic because of its iconic scares involving toy clowns and bathroom mirrors, making every viewer afraid of things that go bump in the night.

Shelley Duvall
Shelley Duvall | Photo by Warner Bros./Archive Photos/Getty Images

5. ‘The Shining’

Based on one of Stephen King’s best novels, The Shining is often the first movie that comes to mind when discussing classic horror films for many fans.

The film follows a writer named Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, as he accepts a position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, an isolated resort with a troubled past. He is joined by his wife, Wendy, played by Shelley Duvall, and his psychic son, Danny, played by Danny Lloyd. As a snowstorm renders the family trapped, Jack gradually loses his sanity and becomes a danger to his family.

Though it was heavy criticized by King, The Shining is considered to be one of the greatest, most influential horror films of all time.

Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis | Photo by Compass International Pictures/Getty Images

4. ‘Halloween’

John Carpenter’s legendary slasher film has been a hard act to follow with several sequels, remakes, and reboots appearing throughout the years, proving that nothing can hold a candle to the original.

Halloween reveals the story of the serial killer Michael Myers who was committed to a sanitarium after brutally murdering his teenage sister on Halloween night. After 15 years, Myers escapes and travels to his hometown where he stalks teenage girls and begins to continue his murder spree, all while being pursued by his psychiatrist, played by Donald Pleasence, the only person who fully recognizes the merciless evil within his patient.

The film made horror history by igniting the popularity of the slasher genre and is recognized by many as a creepy classic, perfect for enjoying on Halloween night.

‘Psycho’ | Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

3. ‘Psycho’

Considered to be one of the best, if not the best, creation of the legendary master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho is the very epitome of psychological horror.

The film revolves around the turmoil surrounding a young woman named Marion, played by Janet Leigh, who has just stolen $40,000 from her boss with the intention of running away with her lover, Sam. During her escape from an unsatisfactory life, Marion is caught in a storm and forced to pull into a motel for the night. The motel is managed by a meek young man named Norman, played by Anthony Perkins, who has a very complicated relationship with his mother.

To give away any further details about this film would be a crime, as it contains one of the most mind-bending, bone-chilling twists of all time. Psycho absolutely revolutionized the movie industry by being among the first to bend the rules when it comes to what you can show on-screen. To this very day, Psycho is considered to be the very initial spark of the slasher genre.

John Hurt
Actor John Hurt | Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

2. ‘Alien’

As the film’s poster famously reads, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction horror flick Alien follows the crew of a commercial starship on their return trip to Earth. They receive a distress signal from a nearby moon and travel to investigate the source, inadvertently bringing a monstrous extraterrestrial creature into their vessel who hunts down the crew members one by one. The film stars Sigourney Weaver in her breakout role as the starship’s warrant officer Ellen Ripley.

As a terrifying slasher set in the claustrophobic world of outer space, Alien is widely recognized not only as one of the best films of all time but also as one of the most creepy, chilling horror experiences any fan can have.

Max von Sydow
Max von Sydow | Getty Images

1. ‘The Exorcist’

Released in 1973, The Exorcist famously revolutionized the horror genre, becoming one of the greatest horror films of all time. When the film was originally released in theaters, patrons reportedly fainted and vomited in reaction to the horror on screen. Movie theaters would keep ambulances on-call and some viewers even suffered from heart attacks. Even though there are plenty of horror films that generated genuine fear from audiences, there’s nothing quite like The Exorcist.

The film follows the horrifying possession of a 12-year-old girl named Regan. After the girl begins to exhibit strange, violent behavior, her mother contacts two priests to perform an exorcism and Regan from the demonic presence within her.

With iconically disturbing scenes like the staircase “spider walk” and the spinning head of a possessed child, The Exorcist has cemented its place as one of the most terrifying films of all time, making it a perfect horror classic for Halloween night.

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