A History of Horror: 31 Genre-Defining Films to Watch This October

Best Horror Movies, from the 1960s to 2010s

It’s officially spooky season, and that means one thing: it’s time for horror movies. Here at The Latch, we’re celebrating Halloween with a walk down memory lane. More specifically, we’ve pulled together a list of 31 films that helped define the horror genre.

Now, by no means is it an exhaustive list — 31 films seems like a lot until you have to pull together a comprehensive history of an entire genre! — but we believe that these are the definitive horror films of each decade from the 1960s to the 2010s.

From Psycho to Halloween to Scream and beyond, we’ve got slashers. From The Exorcist to The Omen to The Witch, we’ve got religious horror. We’ve got Stephen King adaptations, aliens, zombies, and more.

So join us, won’t you, as we offer up a horror movie a day for you to enjoy this October.

The Best Horror Movies of the 1960s

Psycho (1960)

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
Synopsis: A Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

Of course we were going to start with Psycho, was there ever any doubt? Alfred Hitchcock is often considered the father of the horror genre, and there’s no better example of his impact than Psycho.

Hitchcock’s minimalist style, combined with the innovative cinematography, sound design, and iconic Bernard Herrmann score, has left an indelible mark on the genre. Psycho moved away from traditional horror narratives, and instead placed its emphasis on tension, suspense and psychological depth, which made the film’s realistic depictions of violence that much more shocking.

Psycho was nominated for four Academy Awards — a feat for any horror film — including Best Director for Hitchcock and Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh. It lost all four nominations, though, making Psycho one of Hollywood’s most infamous Oscar snubs.

Films influenced by Psycho: Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scream, Misery, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Silence of the Lambs

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Ira Levin, Roman Polanski
Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
Synopsis: A young couple trying for a baby moves into an aging, ornate apartment building on Central Park West, where they find themselves surrounded by peculiar neighbours.
Where to watch: Available to rent on Prime Video

Rosemary’s Baby introduced a subtle, psychological approach to terror. Unlike its predecessors, it eschewed traditional monsters and overt violence in favour of a creeping, insidious sense of dread.

The film tapped into societal anxieties of the time, particularly surrounding issues of trust, conformity, and the loss of control in the face of external forces. Through its use of suspense and atmosphere, Rosemary’s Baby demonstrated that true horror could stem from the everyday, personal, and psychological, which paved the way for a new era of horror films that delved into the darkest corners of the human psyche and society’s underlying fears.

Films influenced by Rosemary’s Baby: The Omen, The Exorcist, The Witch, Mother!, Hereditary

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: John A. Russo, George A. Romero
Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman
Synopsis: A ragtag group of survivors barricade themselves in an old farmhouse to remain safe from a horde of flesh-eating ghouls that are ravaging the Northeast portion of the United States.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

With Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero not only brought the zombie sub-genre to the mainstream, he laid the foundations for a new era of horror filmmaking that used supernatural elements to explore deeper social, political, and existential themes. Notably, Night of the Living Dead was also the first horror film to cast a Black actor as the hero of the film.

The gritty, low-budget film’s portrayal of zombies tapped into the audience’s primal fears of death and societal collapse, which set a new standard for horror’s capacity to reflect cultural anxieties.

Films influenced by Night of the Living Dead: The Evil Dead28 Days LaterCabin FeverGet Out

The Best Horror Movies of the 1970s

The Exorcist (1973)

Directed by: William Friedkin
Written by: William Peter Blatty
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair
Synopsis: When a young girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, her mother seeks the help of two priests to save her daughter.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

The Exorcist‘s combination of psychological terror, unsettling visual effects, and a haunting score created an atmosphere of dread that deeply resonated with audiences. With its boundary-pushing religious theme, the film explored the battle of good and evil, raising questions about faith, morality, and the vulnerability of the human soul.

Before The Exorcist, horror movie victims were usually adults, and often made choices that made them unsympathetic to audiences at the time. The Exorcist broke this convention by making the film’s main victim an innocent child, and in turn, essentially created a new sub-genre of exorcism films. With several sequels of its own, The Exorcist was soon one of the biggest horror franchises of the time.

With a whopping 10 nominations, The Exorcist remains one of the most recognised horror films to make it to the Oscars, and one of only six horror films to be nominated for Best Picture. In the end, the film took home two Academy Awards, for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing.

Films influenced by The Exorcist: The Conjuring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Pope’s ExorcistPossession, The Amityville Horror

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Starring: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
Synopsis: Five friends head out to rural Texas to visit the grave of a grandfather. On the way they stumble across what appears to be a deserted house, only to discover something sinister within. Something armed with a chainsaw.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

There’s something so grimy, so visceral, and so unrelenting about the terror of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. A gritty, low-budget masterpiece, Tobe Hooper pushed the boundaries of cinematic violence and psychological horror once again, creating an atmosphere of suffocating dread that was as much about what was implied as what was shown on screen. Since then, Leatherface has become one of the genre’s most iconic villains, popping up in several sequels and reboots over the years to add to his legacy.

It was the documentary-style realism and disturbingly plausible storyline — which was inspired by the real-life crimes of Ed Gein — which made audiences question the safety of everyday rural settings and the vulnerability of ordinary people.

This film’s raw, unsettling portrayal of madness, cannibalism, and brutality not only shocked viewers but also paved the way for the emergence of the slasher subgenre, setting a benchmark for horror that still influences filmmakers and haunts audiences to this day. Not only that, but Sally Hardesty, played by Marilyn Burns, has the distinguished honour of being horror’s very first Final Girl, a trope later cemented by Halloween‘s Laurie Strode.

Films influenced by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, Alien, Wrong Turn, Wolf Creek

Jaws (1975)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Synopsis: When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community off Cape Cod, it’s up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Jaws boasts a masterful use of tension-building techniques and a relentless, unseen antagonist, and of course, there’s that iconic score by John Williams. Like the slashing strings of Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho before it, the menacing two-note theme of Jaws quickly became synonymous with impending danger.

With its groundbreaking special effects, including a mechanical shark nicknamed “Bruce”, Jaws brought realism and visceral fear to the screen and established a template for the modern blockbuster horror genre. Three sequels followed, cementing the Jaws franchise in horror history.

Jaws was rewarded with four Oscar nominations for its efforts, and managed to win three awards, for Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound. It was also nominated for Best Picture, but lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Films influenced by Jaws: Piranha, Orca, Deep Blue Sea, The Shallows, The Meg

Carrie (1976)

Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Lawrence D. Cohen, based on the novel by Stephen King
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
Synopsis: Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

There are so many Stephen King movie adaptations that for all intents and purposes, they could be their own horror movie sub-genre. Of course, not all adaptations are created equally. Thankfully, Carrie is one of the best, and its impact on horror movies can still be felt to this day.

The film combined supernatural elements with the deeply relatable terrors of adolescence, using telekinetic powers as a metaphor for the uncontrolled emotions of being a teenager. With its visceral, suspenseful direction, Carrie emphasised character development and social commentary while still delivering shocking and unforgettable horror moments, like that prom scene. Carrie is anchored by Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie’s performances, and both actresses were nominated for Academy Awards.

Carrie‘s exploration of the complexities of female adolescence was groundbreaking for horror movies at the time, and resonated with audiences deeply. People wanted more, and thus, a new standard for horror films to prioritise emotional and psychological horror over mere shock value was set. The Rage: Carrie 2 followed in the post-Scream boom of the late-90s, and the film also received a reboot in 2013, but neither can compare to the original.

Films influenced by CarrieFriday the 13th, The Rage: Carrie 2, The Craft, Ginger Snaps, Jennifer’s Body, The Loved Ones

The Omen (1976)

Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: David Seltzer
Starring: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens
Synopsis: Mysterious deaths surround an American ambassador. Could the child that he is raising actually be the Antichrist? The Devil’s own son?
Where to watch: Streaming on Disney+

Like The Exorcist before it, The Omen‘s masterful use of suspenseful storytelling and unsettling imagery helped set a new precedent for religious-themed horror films.

Its chilling portrayal of a seemingly innocent child as the antichrist — coupled with the eerie, foreboding music and a pervasive atmosphere of dread — established a template for many horror films to come. The Exorcist may have put religious horror on the map, but The Omen and its sequels contributed to the genre’s evolution, emphasising psychological horror and the fear of malevolent supernatural entities. The result? An indelible mark on the cinematic horror landscape.

Films influenced by The OmenFinal Destination, The Conjuring, Hereditary

Halloween (1978)

Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Tony Moran
Synopsis: Fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween night 1963, Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and returns to the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois to kill again.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Halloween played an absolutely pivotal role in defining the modern horror genre. Welcome to the slasher sub-genre, with Michael Myers as our iconic masked killer who embodies pure evil.

The film masterfully employed suspense, tension-building, and the eerie power of a seemingly unstoppable force to create a profound sense of dread, and its minimalist yet haunting, memorable score further heightened the fear.

It also set the tone for many films to come by emphasising the “it could happen to you” terror of everyday settings like a suburban neighbourhood. Not only that, it cemented the concept of a final girl that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre introduced, which contributed to evolving gender dynamics within the genre.

Let’s be real: Halloween is the blueprint for countless imitators that followed, and many of those imitations are the film’s own sequels. Currently, there are 13 films in the Halloween franchise, spanning across multiple timelines and including the solitary anthology instalment of Halloween III: Season of the Witch and Rob Zombie’s reboots. With the 2022 conclusion of Halloween Ends — the latest timeline — the rights to the franchise are currently being shopped around. One thing’s for sure: Michael will be back.

Films influenced by Halloween: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Prom Night, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer

Alien (1979)

Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt
Synopsis: The crew of a commercial spacecraft encounters a deadly lifeform after investigating an unknown transmission.
Where to watch: Streaming on Disney+

Released in 1979, Alien helped redefine the horror genre by introducing a groundbreaking blend of science fiction and horror elements that had audiences hooked. The film quickly spawned several sequels, and even got its own version of Freddy Vs Jason in Alien Vs Predator.

The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere, iconic design of the xenomorph creature, and its slow-burn tension all worked together to create a sense of dread that was both psychologically and physically terrifying.

In Alien, we also have a final girl who doesn’t just survive, but is strong and resourceful from start to finish, which challenged traditional gender roles in the horror genre at the time.

Films influenced by Alien: Event Horizon, Inseminoid, Life, Star Crystal, Pitch Black

The Best Horror Movies of the 1980s

The Shining (1980)

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson, based on the novel by Stephen King
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
Synopsis: A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where a sinister presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from both past and future.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

With a masterful blend of production design, score, sound design and pure psychological terror — and incredible performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, to boot — Stanley Kubrick created a thoroughly terrifying atmosphere of fear and dread for The Shining. Remarkably, The Shining failed to make an impact at the Academy Awards. Not only was the movie snubbed, but Kubrick and Duvall received Razzie nominations for their work. Duvall’s Razzie nod was rescinded in 2022.

Still, the film has stood the test of time. Kubrick’s focus on the psychological deterioration of Jack Torrance paved the way for a new era of horror films that relied on tension, ambiguity, and a sense of impending doom rather than overt gore and jump scares, influencing countless horror classics to come.

Films influenced by The Shining: The Thing, The Lighthouse, Misery, Hereditary, Hide and Seek

Friday the 13th (1980)

Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham
Written by: Victor Miller, Ron Kurz
Starring: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor
Synopsis: A group of camp counsellors trying to reopen a summer camp called Crystal Lake, which has a grim past, are stalked by a mysterious killer.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

Off the back of Halloween came Friday the 13th. Released in 1980, Friday the 13th brought a new relentless, masked killer to the horror genre. With a suspenseful build-up, gruesome kills and a plot twist for the ages, Friday the 13th took the slasher conventions established by those before and ran.

Now with 12 films under its belt, the long-running Friday the 13th franchise has seen Jason Voorhees leave Camp Crystal Lake for all kind of destinations. He’s been to Manhattan, he’s been to space, and he’s battled Freddy Krueger in Freddy Vs Jason, and soon, he’ll be coming to the small screen for A24’s prequel series Crystal Lake.

Films influenced by Friday the 13th: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer

The Evil Dead (1981)

Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Ellen Sandweiss, Richard DeManincor
Synopsis: Five friends travel to a cabin in the woods, where they unknowingly release flesh-possessing demons.
Where to watch: Available to rent on Prime Video

With its innovative use of low-budget filmmaking techniques — including inventive camera work and practical effects which added a visceral and unsettling quality to the film’s scares — The Evil Dead has become a seminal horror film since its 1981 release.

Combining a relentless intensity with its darkly comedic elements, The Evil Dead and its sequels helped pave the way for the emergence of the horror-comedy sub-genre, and its ‘cabin in the woods’ setting has become a staple of the horror genre.

Films influenced by The Evil Dead: The Cabin in the Woods, Cabin Fever, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Alive, Dead Snow

Poltergeist (1982)

Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Starring: JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke, Craig T. Nelson
Synopsis: A family’s home is haunted by a host of demonic ghosts.
Where to watch: Streaming on Stan

Directed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre‘s Tobe Hooper, and written and produced by Steven Spielberg in the years after JawsPoltergeist was a collaboration of two of the horror greats of the time, and the film’s influence can be felt to this day.

Poltergeist built on the foundations laid by other supernatural horror films like The Exorcist and The Omen, blending supernatural terror with suburban family life. The film’s innovative use of special effects — particularly its iconic haunted television scenes — set new standards for visual horror.

Films influenced by PoltergeistThe Conjuring, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister

The Thing (1982)

Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster, John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Synopsis: A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

A little too ahead of its time for some people, John Carpenter’s The Thing polarised audiences of the time and fell short of box office expectations. In the years since then, though, it’s become a certified cult classic, and Quentin Tarantino has called it “the greatest horror film ever made”.

A groundbreaking fusion of visceral body horror and psychological tension, The Thing is driven by a sense of relentless paranoia. Through its practical effects, masterful suspense, and isolated Antarctic setting, The Thing pushed the boundaries of what horror could achieve.

Films influenced by The Thing: 10 Cloverfield Lane, The Descent, Men, The Faculty, Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Wes Craven
Starring: Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Synopsis: Teenager Nancy Thompson must uncover the dark truth concealed by her parents after she and her friends become targets of the spirit of a serial killer with a bladed glove in their dreams, in which if they die, it kills them in real life.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

Blurring the line between reality and nightmare, A Nightmare on Elm Street melded psychological terror with the supernatural.

The film’s antagonist, Freddy Krueger, haunted the dreams of his victims, a premise that struck at the core of human vulnerability.

With its iconic blend of visceral scares and imaginative, dreamlike horrors, A Nightmare on Elm Street was fresh, and not only revitalised the genre, but paved the way for a generation of horror films to explore the depths of the subconscious. Six sequels followed, including Freddy Vs Jason, before the original was remade in 2010.

Films influenced by A Nightmare on Elm Street: Scream, The Ring, It Follows, A Tale of Two Sisters

The Fly (1986)

Directed by: David Cronenberg
Written by: George Langelaan, Charles Edward Pogue, David Cronenberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz
Synopsis: A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.
Where to watch: Streaming on Disney+

Transcending the traditional scares of the horror films that came before, The Fly delved deep into visceral body horror and emotional intensity. The film’s Oscar-winning use of practical effects and makeup — combined with the compelling narrative of the brilliant scientist transformed into a grotesque insectoid creature — struck a chord with audiences.

Beyond the shocks, The Fly tapped into our universal fears of physical decay and the loss of humanity, ultimately making the genre more psychologically complex and emotionally resonant. Its success paved the way for a new era of horror cinema that emphasised the profound terror that can arise from the deterioration of the self.

Films influenced by The Fly: Possessor, Safe, Titane, Swallow, American Mary

The Best Horror Movies of the 1990s

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Ted Tally, based on the novel by Thomas Harris
Starring: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney
Synopsis: A young F.B.I. cadet must receive the help of an incarcerated and manipulative cannibal killer to help catch another serial killer, a madman who skins his victims.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Here it is, folks. The only horror film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Not only that, The Silence of the Lambs was the third film in history to take home the “Big Five” at the Oscars — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It also snagged two additional nominations for Sound Mixing and Editing.

The Silence of the Lambs relied on psychological tension, complex character development and a gripping narrative, all of which hinged on the performances its lead actors, Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. Rather than blood and guts, Silence of the Lambs showcased the power of intellectual and emotional horror as it took the viewer into the darkest corners of the human psyche.

The film’s blend of horror and police procedural set a new standard for the genre, and soon enough, three sequels and a TV series followed.

Films influenced by The Silence of the Lambs: Se7en, Kiss the Girls, Copycat, The Bone Collector, Zodiac

Interview With the Vampire (1994)

Directed by: Neil Jordan
Written by: Anne Rice
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas
Synopsis: A vampire tells his epic life story: love, betrayal, loneliness, and hunger.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Simply put, without Interview With the Vampire, there would be no Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, no Let the Right One in, no Twilight. One of the most iconic vampire films of all time, Interview With the Vampire, based on Anne Rice’s novel of the same name, played a pivotal role in broadening the horizons of what horror could be.

A psychologically nuanced exploration of immortal creatures, the film delved into the complex and morally ambiguous lives of vampires, exploring themes of loneliness, immortality, and the blurred boundaries between good and evil. Through its compelling character-driven narrative, lush visuals, and standout performances, the film ushered in a new era of horror storytelling that emphasised the human aspects of the supernatural, inspiring subsequent vampire and supernatural-themed works in both film and literature.

Films influenced by Interview with the Vampire: Queen of the Damned, Blade, Let the Right One in, Only Lovers Left Alive

Scream (1996)

Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Starring: Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Synopsis: A year after the murder of her mother, a teenage girl is terrorised by a masked killer who targets her and her friends by using scary movies as part of a deadly game.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Aside from a few standouts — most of which are listed above — the horror landscape of the ’90s was… a little bleak, and overrun with franchise sequels that didn’t live up to their originals. Enter: Scream.

Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, Scream cleverly deconstructed and satirised the slasher films of the time. In a dance of self-aware meta-commentary that both paid homage to and subverted the tropes of the genre, Scream redefined and revitalised horror for a new generation.

By featuring characters who were familiar with horror movie clichés — and making those clichés part of the plot — Scream engaged audiences on a new level, challenging their expectations and creating a sense of suspense, irony, and self-awareness that marked a turning point in horror cinema. It not only invigorated the genre but also influenced a new wave of self-referential and intelligent horror films, leaving a lasting impact on the way horror stories are crafted and enjoyed.

Films influenced by Scream: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, The Faculty, Halloween: H20, Disturbing Behaviour, Final Destination, Scary Movie

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Directed by: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez
Written by: Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez, Heather Donahue
Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard
Synopsis: Three film students vanish after traveling into a Maryland forest to film a documentary on the local Blair Witch legend, leaving only their footage behind.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

The pioneer of the found-footage sub-genre, The Blair Witch Project was a revolution for the horror genre. When combined with its groundbreaking viral marketing campaign — which included missing person leaflets, a website that focused on the myth of the Blair Witch, and well-placed marketers who would discuss the validity of the film in chat rooms and on message boards — the film blurred the lines between fiction and reality in a way that hasn’t, and most likely can’t, be replicated today.

The film itself was shot on a shoestring budget, and relied on shaky camcorder footage and improvised acting to create a palpable sense of dread and tension, eschewing traditional horror tropes like jump scares and elaborate special effects.

The approach, along with the questions about whether the film was real or not, tapped into viewers’ primal fears, making them active participants in the story as they questioned the authenticity of the events unfolding on screen. In doing so, The Blair Witch Project ushered in a new era of psychological horror, where the fear of the unknown and the power of suggestion became more potent tools than graphic violence, forever influencing subsequent horror films and redefining the way audiences experience fear in cinema.

Films influenced by The Blair Witch Project: [REC], Paranormal Activity, V/H/S, Cloverfield, Quarantine

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment, Toni Collette
Synopsis: Malcolm Crowe, a child psychologist, starts treating a young boy, Cole, who encounters dead people and convinces him to help them. In turn, Cole helps Malcolm reconcile with his estranged wife.
Where to watch: Streaming on Disney+

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense is a slow burn of psychological and emotional terror. With its nuanced and suspenseful approach to horror, the film relies on subtle tension-building techniques and a haunting atmosphere, as we follow Cole, the young boy who can see and communicate with the dead.

The blend of supernatural elements and emotional exploration were a step away from the popular slashers of the time, and emphasised the power of storytelling and character development to elicit fear, surprise, and empathy from the audience. And of course, there’s also that plot twist, a staple of Shyamalan’s films.

Films influenced by The Sixth SenseThe Others, Secret Window, Insidious, The Orphanage

The Best Horror Movies of the 2000s

Final Destination (2000)

Directed by: James Wong
Written by: Glen Morgan, James Wong, Jeffrey Reddick
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith
Synopsis: Alex Browning is among a group of high school students on a trip to Europe. He suddenly has a premonition their airplane will crash, he screams to warn the others but is thrown off of the plane, and the plane crashes after they get off.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

In the post-Scream teen horror boom, Final Destination managed to carve out its own niche with the introduction of a fresh, unsettling concept — the inevitability of death. Rather than a masked killer on the loose, or any other tangible villain, Final Destination was centred around mortality and the inescapable nature of fate.

The film spawned several sequels with increasingly wild and quite frankly, absurd death scenes, but you can’t deny the film’s impact. Just ask any millennial if they want to drive behind a log truck.

Along with films like The Sixth Sense, The Others and The Mothman Prophecies, Final Destination also signalled a vibe shift for horror, as the genre moved away from slashers and into an era of supernatural horror.

Films influenced by Final Destination: Long Time Dead, Soul Survivors

The Ring (2002)

Directed by: Gore Verbinski
Written by: Ehren Kruger, based on Ringu, written by Kôji Suzuki, Hiroshi Takahashi
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox
Synopsis: A journalist must investigate a mysterious videotape which seems to cause the death of anyone one week to the day after they view it.
Where to watch: Streaming on Stan

Based on the Japanese film Ringu, Gore Verbinski’s adaptation The Ring kicked off an era of US remakes of foreign films that would last for years to come. The Ring built on the appetite for supernatural horror films and added a layer of technological fear into the mix for good measure.

The film’s iconic cursed videotape and haunting imagery of Samara crawling out of the television tapped into contemporary anxieties surrounding technology and the blurred line between the virtual and real worlds.

Films influenced by The RingThe Grudge, The Eye, Smile, Dark Water, The Eye

Saw (2004)

Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell, James Wan
Starring: Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, Danny Glover
Synopsis: Two strangers awaken in a room with no recollection of how they got there, and soon discover they’re pawns in a deadly game perpetrated by a notorious serial killer.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Welcome to the torture porn era. Released in 2004, Saw ushered in a new era of horror that was bloodier, gorier, and more graphic than ever before. It’s a little ironic, honestly, given that the first Saw film isn’t nearly as violent as you might recall, but they certainly addressed that in the many sequels that followed.

The film’s innovative narrative, revolving around a sadistic serial killer who tests his victims’ will to survive through gruesome and morally challenging traps, pushed the boundaries of on-screen violence and psychological terror.

Films influenced by Saw: Hostel, The Human Centipede, Martyrs, American Mary

The Descent (2005)

Directed by: Neil Marshall
Written by: Neil Marshall
Starring: Shauna Macdonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid
Synopsis: A caving expedition goes horribly wrong, as the explorers become trapped and ultimately pursued by a strange breed of predators.
Where to watch: Rent on AppleTV

Directed by Neil Marshall, The Descent deviated from the traditional horror tropes of the era by featuring a predominantly female cast, which challenged the gender stereotypes of the genre. It plunged viewers into an intense and claustrophobic environment, as a group of friends faced not only terrifying creatures but also their own interpersonal conflicts.

The film effectively utilised darkness, tight spaces, and disorienting camera work to create an atmosphere of genuine dread, making it a benchmark for psychological horror.

Films influenced by The Descent: The Cave, Buried, 47 Meters Down, Fall, The Babadook, Hard Candy

The Best Horror Movies of the 2010s

The Conjuring (2013)

Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston
Synopsis: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorised by a dark presence in their farmhouse.
Where to watch: Streaming on Netflix

We’re now 10 years into the Conjuring universe, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. As the torture porn trend of the mid-to-late 2000s was growing tiresome, and the post-Scream boom was all but done, The Conjuring came along. All of a sudden, supernatural horror was back in business.

The Conjuring revitalised the classic haunted house film with modern cinematic techniques, and its focus on character development. The result? A successful blend of atmospheric tension-building, jump scares, and a gripping narrative rooted in real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, all of which established a new standard for contemporary horror.

Films influenced by The Conjuring: Annabelle, The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona

The Babadook (2014)

Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Synopsis: A single mother and her child fall into a deep well of paranoia when an eerie children’s book titled “Mister Babadook” manifests in their home.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Jennifer Kent’s masterful direction of The Babadook, combined with Essie Davis’s haunting performance as Amelia, a grief-stricken mother, created a chilling film that resonated with audiences globally.

The central theme of The Babadook — namely, Amelia’s unresolved trauma and inner demons — not only made it a uniquely unsettling experience, but also sparked discussions about the genre’s potential for social commentary and psychological depth.

In doing so, The Babadook ushered in a new era of “elevated horror” that prioritised psychological horror and character-driven narratives, with deeper themes and emotional resonance.

Films influenced by The BabadookTalk to Me, Run Rabbit, Hereditary, Scream (2022)

The Witch (2015)

Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie
Synopsis: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

An unsettling, immersive experience, The Witch offers up meticulous attention to historical accuracy and language as the film transports viewers to 17th-century New England.

The Witch focuses on the psychological disintegration of a Puritan family as they confront supernatural forces in the wilderness, delving into themes of religious hysteria, sexual repression, and the breakdown of familial bonds. The film marked a resurgence of artful, haunting storytelling, inspiring a wave of similarly atmospheric and intellectually challenging horror films.

Films influenced by The Witch: Hereditary, Midsommar, The Lodge

Get Out (2017)

Directed by: Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
Synopsis: A young African-American visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, where his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches a boiling point.
Where to watch: Streaming on Prime Video

Like The Babadook and The Witch before it, Get Out was a key player in the conversations around “elevated horror”. With its masterful blend of traditional horror elements and incisive social commentary, Jordan Peele’s directorial debut challenged conventional horror tropes by using racism as the central theme.

Get Out tackled issues of systemic racism and cultural appropriation while also delivering heart-pounding jump scares and suspense. The result? A groundbreaking work that not only scared audiences, but forced them to confront racism in a way that few horror films had done before.

The film was nominated for four Academy Awards for its efforts, and Peele took home the win for Best Original Screenplay. Since then, Peele has gone on to become one of the most prestigious names in horror, with his films Us and NOPE also receiving praise from critics and audiences alike.

Films influenced by Get Out: Antebellum, Bad Hair, Candyman (2021)

Hereditary (2018)

Directed by: Ari Aster
Written by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Milly Shapiro, Gabriel Byrne
Synopsis: A grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences.
Where to watch: Streaming on BINGE

Finally, we have Ari Aster’s Hereditary, which plunges us deep into the psychological depths of familial trauma. Like The Babadook before it, the film’s slow-burning narrative — coupled with its unflinching exploration of grief and mental illness (and of course, that car scene) — created an atmosphere of unbearable tension and dread.

Audiences were left emotionally disturbed and intellectually engaged, and quickly, Hereditary became a new benchmark in contemporary horror cinema. While the film failed to garner any attention from the Academy Awards, it frequently pops up in lists of notable snubs from recent years, particularly for Toni Collette’s phenomenal performance as Annie.

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