1. THE EXORCIST (1973)
You may not agree that The Exorcist is the scariest movie ever, but it probably also isn’t much of a surprise to see it at the top of our list — with a whopping 19% of all the votes cast. William Friedkin’s adaptation of the eponymous novel about a demon-possessed child and the attempts to banish said demon became the highest-grossing R-rated horror film ever and the first to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (it earned nine other nominations and took home two trophies). But outside of its critical and commercial bona fides, the film is well-known for the mass hysteria it inspired across the country, from protests over its controversial subject matter to widespread reports of nausea and fainting in the audience. Its dramatic pacing and somewhat dated effects may seem quaint compared to some contemporary horror, but there’s no denying the power the film continues to have over those who see it for the first time.
2. HEREDITARY (2018)
Writer-director Ari Aster made a huge splash with his feature directorial debut, a dark family drama about the nature of grief couched within a supernatural horror film. Toni Collette earned a spot in the pantheon of great Oscar snubs with her slowly-ratcheted-up-to-11 performance as bedeviled mother Annie, but the movie’s biggest shock came courtesy of… Well, we won’t spoil that here. Suffice it to say Hereditary struck such a nerve with moviegoers that it instantly turned Aster into a director to watch and shot up to second place on our list.
3. THE CONJURING (2013)
James Wan has staked out a place among the modern masters of horror, directing films like Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious, and this inspired-by-true-events chiller based on the experiences of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens, best known for their work on the strange case that inspired the Amityville Horror movies (which played a part in The Conjuring 2), were portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who grounded the effective jump scares and freak-out moments with a believable world-weariness. Together, Wan and his co-leads found fresh terror in familiar genre tropes, and the end result is a sprawling cinematic universe that only continues to grow
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4. THE SHINING (1980)
Literally dozens of Stephen King’s novels and stories have been adapted for the big screen, and several of those films are considered classics today, like Carrie, Misery, and Pet Sematary (and that doesn’t even account for non-horror stuff like The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me). But the mother of them all is easily Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining. A marvel of set and production design and a genuinely unnerving take on the traditional haunted house story, The Shining features a host of memorable images and an iconic Jack Nicholson performance. The film’s relatively few jumps scares are still absolutely chilling, but its true power lies in the way it crawls under your skin and makes you experience Jack Torrance’s slow descent into madness. It’s rightfully considered one of the greatest horror films ever made, and it ranked fourth in our poll.
5. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)
While the top four movies on this list collectively garnered 42% of the total votes counted, they were followed by six films that all earned around 3% of the vote each. In other words, these last six films were separated by no more than 60 votes. The first of them is this low-budget slasher directed and co-written by Tobe Hooper, very loosely inspired by the crimes of Ed Gein. Texas Chainsaw’s grimy aesthetic helped lend it an air of authenticity, which made it all the more frightening (“This could actually happen, you guys!”), and the massive, menacing presence of Gunnar Hansen’s Leatherface paved the way for other brutes like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. Multiple attempts have been made to breathe new life into the franchise — and we have another one on the way — but none have equaled the original in sheer, over-the-top, power tool-inspired terror.
6. THE RING (2002)
7. HALLOWEEN (1978)
8. SINISTER (2012)
9. INSIDIOUS (2010)
10. IT (2017)
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