Spooky season is once again almost upon us, and that means it’s nearly time to snuggle up on the sofa with a pumpkin spice latte and watch some seriously scary movies. The best Halloween movies of all time are the ones that send a cold chill up your spine; whether they’re psychologically terrifying or viscerally upsetting, Halloween movies should be scary, spooky, and a thrill to watch. Here are the 20 best Halloween movies of all time to add to your watch list!
1. Halloween (dir. John Carpenter, 1978)
What list of Halloween movies would be complete without the movie literally named after the holiday? Halloween introduced us to the terrifyingly impassive face of Michael Myers, whose blank mask hid only a completely unfeeling individual bent on the destruction of Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. Sequels would follow, but if you ask us, Carpenter’s original has never been bettered.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (dir. Wes Craven, 1984)
Belonging to the golden age of 1980s slasher movies, A Nightmare on Elm Street deftly combines social commentary about the nature of mob psychology with a good old-fashioned chiller. Robert Englund is reliably terrifying as the murderous Freddy Krueger, who jumps into children’s dreams to mutilate them…only what happens in the dream doesn’t stay in the dream.
3. Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979)
If you haven’t seen Ridley Scott’s Alien, you definitely need to add it to your Halloween watch list. Scott’s atmospheric, chilling masterpiece famously only features a single “xenomorph” creature, but it’s effortlessly more terrifying than the vast majority of horror movies out there. Sigourney Weaver is capable and compelling as Amanda Ripley, who would return in subsequent instalments as well.
4. The Babadook (dir. Jennifer Kent, 2014)
Remarkably, The Babadook is Jennifer Kent’s first feature film, which speaks to her incredible talent. Kent’s movie, like all the best horror films, isn’t just about the titular monster; it’s also about the power of grief and all of the ways it keeps us in its thrall. Of course, if you want to, you can choose to engage with this incredible horror experience on the surface level, and it works that way as well.
5. Rosemary’s Baby (dir. Roman Polanski, 1968)
Roman Polanski is not an uncontroversial figure, to say the least, but if you can distance the man from his art, then Rosemary’s Baby is a must-watch. It’s a movie about a woman who comes to suspect that her neighbours are attempting to groom her for Satanic rituals, but there’s a lot more to it than that; things quickly descend into the kind of madness that’s hard to tear your eyes away from.
6. The Shining (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Stephen King may have famously hated Kubrick’s adaptation of his great novel, but he’s wrong; Kubrick’s movie is a tour de force. Jack Nicholson is the iconic Jack Torrance, a writer who is staying at the Overlook Hotel as its winter caretaker. The hotel is not all it seems on the surface, and tensions between Torrance, his family, and his failed ambition quickly come to the fore.
7. Ring (dir. Hideo Nakata, 1998)
Do yourself a favour and don’t watch the 2002 American remake of Ring; instead, revisit the Japanese original, because it’s infinitely more tense and atmospheric. Reporter Reiko Asakawa is investigating the legend of a cursed videotape that is said to kill whoever watches it after seven days. Even if you already know the twists and turns behind Ring, it’s still an incredibly compelling watch.
8. Dark Water (dir. Hideo Nakata, 2002)
Not long after Ring, Hideo Nakata created this J-horror masterpiece. It revolves around a mother and her daughter who move into what appears to be a haunted apartment. Yoshimi, the mother, must piece together what’s happening to her and her daughter. Just like all great horror movies, there’s a tragedy at the centre of this one, but we don’t want to give away any spoilers.
9. Scream (dir. Wes Craven, 1996)
After creating some of the most iconic horror movies of all time, 1996’s Scream found Wes Craven in a playful mood. It’s a deliberate deconstruction of many of the most common tropes found in horror films; its characters are horror-literate, and the plot is self-aware too. That doesn’t mean Scream isn’t a rollicking good time, of course, just that you’ll have more fun with it if you laugh with it.
10. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (dir. Jim Sharman, 1975)
This might be Jim Sharman’s movie, but it’s very much Richard O’Brien’s baby, as he’s the one who put together the infamous stage show. To break down the plot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show is completely pointless; it’s a hilariously camp ode to B-movies and science fiction horror schlock, and it’s got some of the most memorable and iconic songs of all time.
11. The Wicker Man (dir. Robin Hardy, 1973)
Don’t think about Nicolas Cage’s execrable remake of this horror classic; instead, go back and watch the original. Robin Hardy’s deeply unsettling folk horror masterpiece follows Edward Woodward’s Neil Howie as he makes a trip to Summerisle in search of a girl who’s gone missing. What follows is a trippy, horrifying odyssey into pagan rituals, religion, and psychology. Christopher Lee is mesmerising here as usual, too.
12. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir. Tobe Hooper, 1974)
Famously, director Tobe Hooper limited the amount of onscreen gore visible in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre because he wanted a PG rating. With a movie this oppressive and visceral, though, he was never going to get one. Despite that hitch, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains a hugely influential classic; it’s an intensely violent movie with almost no blood in it at all.
13. Annihilation (dir. Alex Garland, 2018)
H.P. Lovecraft’s work has rarely been adapted for the big screen successfully, but Alex Garland’s Annihilation comes somewhere close to appropriating the spirit of Lovecraft’s work. It concerns a group of scientists who are attempting to explore The Shimmer, a zone in which reality is being warped by a strange alien presence. Psychologically unnerving, Annihilation is great if you’re a fan of more cerebral horror.
14. Blade (dir. Stephen Norrington, 1998)
Blade’s leather-clad, sunglasses-wearing hero recalls The Matrix a year before the Wachowski siblings’ masterpiece was even released. It’s a glorious, gory splatterfest of a movie that revels in its violence; it’s hard to imagine this version of Blade getting anywhere in today’s sanitised Marvel Cinematic Universe world. Wesley Snipes is effortlessly cool in the title role.
15. Pan’s Labyrinth (dir. Guillermo del Toro, 2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth is not an overt horror movie, but it definitely has elements of the horrific. Its central character (who is not Pan, but a faun; the Spanish title is El Laberinto del Fauno, or “The Labyrinth of the Faun”) is a twisting, untrustworthy creature expertly played by Doug Jones; he’s supposed to invoke the empty promises of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, and he does so incredibly well in del Toro’s dark fabulist masterpiece.
16. Get Out (dir. Jordan Peele, 2017)
With Get Out, Jordan Peele proved himself to be far more than the comedy sidekick of Keegan-Michael Key; he was an immense filmmaking talent in his own right, and subsequent efforts like Us and Nope have only proven that more true over time. Get Out memorably stars Daniel Kaluuya as he discovers that his white girlfriend’s family is hiding more than just liberal guilt.
17. The Blair Witch Project (dirs. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, 1999)
It might be difficult to buy into The Blair Witch Project’s ostensibly “real” found footage gimmick now, but in 1999, people were far less certain it was fiction. Whatever you believe, The Blair Witch Project is a masterfully constructed found-footage horror movie; found footage may be overdone today, but back then, it lent a visceral reality to the surreal folk horror story at the movie’s core.
18. A Quiet Place (dir. John Krasinski, 2018)
What if the world was taken over by monsters who murder you if they hear you? That’s the premise of A Quiet Place, an expertly-woven horror story by The Hollars director John Krasinski. He and his real-life wife Emily Blunt are excellent as the central couple, who must attempt to navigate a world in which they and their children cannot make any noise whatsoever.
19. The Nightmare Before Christmas (dir. Henry Selick, 1993)
Selick’s direction on The Nightmare Before Christmas is excellent, but don’t let his credit fool you; this is Tim Burton’s movie through and through. Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, but he’s sick of scaring people; he wants to do something new this year, and his desire coincides with the discovery of a door leading to Christmas Town. The stop-motion animation in this movie is still jaw-dropping today.
20. Friday the 13th (dir. Sean S. Cunningham, 1980)
We conclude our list with one of the most iconic slasher movies of all time. The original Friday the 13th is possessed of a great deal more subtlety than you might remember; it’s not the bloody gorefest that its sequels would prove to be, although it does have more than its fair share of splattery, violent deaths. Despite its mature subject matter, there’s a certain innocence to the original Friday the 13th that makes it a joy to watch today.