The 85 Scariest Movies of All Time

Talk to Me (2023)

Director: Danny and Michael Philippou

Did you go to a party and the hosts brought out a severed dead hand that they play a weird Quija-like ritual with as the main attraction? Definitely do not ask it about your mother’s suicide! “All throughout the film, I was drawing from things that scare me personally,” Danny Philippou told Esquire.

Hellraiser (1987)

Director: Clive Barker

Hellraiser kicks off with two classic horror tropes you should avoid at all costs: moving into an old, scary house where a murder occurred, and buying a mystical puzzle box. I’m so glad they did, though—because it gave us Pinhead.


Skinamarink (2023)

Director: Kyle Edward Ball

Skinamarink is an entirely new kind of found-footage horror film, delighting fans of the genre looking for the next boundary-pushing thrill. The film follows two young children, alone and afraid, looking for their parents as parts of their house disappear.


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Poltergeist (1982)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Before creating The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg gave us the family horror classic, Poltergeist. The “They’re here…” scene went on to inspire countless horror filmmakers.

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M3GAN (2023)

Director: Gerard Johnstone

What M3GAN lacks in horrifying frights it gains in fun, as the AI doll slays victims, both literally and on the dance floor. Don’t walk—run on all fours to the theaters to catch this early 2023 hit.

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Barbarian (2022)

Director: Zach Cregger

If your Airbnb has a series of secret tunnels in the basement, I recommend not following them to see what’s down there. Thankfully, we have the indie delight Barbarian to back us up on that worldly wisdom, as you could never guess what monstrous entity is waiting down there for you.


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Pearl (2022)

Director: Ti West

The one person who had a better 2022 in the horror genre than director Ti West? His leading star, Mia Goth. Let her creepy, wide-eyed smile—which she holds for eight minutes without blinking during the end credits!—be her ticket to horror Valhalla.

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The Orphanage (2007)

Director: J. A. Bayona

Relying on suspense rather than plain shock, The Orphanage makes it difficult to distinguish reality from illusion. Taking place at the orphanage where Laura grew up, her son, Simon, plays with an imaginary friend—who may or may not be make-believe after all.

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Split (2017)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

A man with 23 personalities manages to kidnap three teenage girls in broad daylight. Locked away from the outside world, the girls do everything they can to escape before his 24th personality makes its horrifying debut.

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His House (2020)

Director: Remi Weekes

Adjusting to a new country isn’t easy. With menacing spirits lurking around? Forget about it. When you’ve fled a war-ridden country, only to encounter otherworldly horrors, where do you go?


The Conjuring (2013)

Director: James Wan

Paranormal investigators finally meet their match in The Conjuring, one of the most horrifying films of all time about demonic possession. Top 10 scariest movie moments: when the ghosts join in on a children’s hide and seek game by mimicking the kids’ clapping.

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It (2017)

Director: Andy Muschietti

Clowns aren’t scary enough? Do they also have to trick us into following them down into the sewers where they transform into our greatest fears? Leaves those kids alone Pennywise!

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The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Director: Drew Goddard

Starring a young Chris Hemsworth, The Cabin in the Woods follows a group of college students who spend the weekend at a remote cabin only to find that they are surrounded by horrors beyond their wildest dreams. As always, everything is not as it appears.

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Insidious (2011)

Director: James Wan

Insidious not only broke horror rules by scaring viewers during the day, but also by doing it constantly throughout the film’s runtime. This horrifying demonic possession movie is jump-scare heavy, so get ready.

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Signs (2002)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Under-appreciated at the time of its release, alien flick Signs has risen in critical popularity in recent years for being one of the best crop-circle horrors ever presented on screen. Signs may not be as twist heavy as M. Night’s other work, but bits like the kitchen pantry scene (if you know you know) have been nestled in our minds since first-watch.

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Paranormal Activity (2007)

Director: Oren Peli

Paranormal Activity brought found-footage horror to a whole new level, spawning an entire franchise of spinoffs and reinvigorating the genre. Filmed almost entirely from the perspective of a camcorder, a couple tries to videotape some demonic entity that they believe is terrorizing them while they sleep.

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The Ring (2002)

Director: Gore Verbinski

A remake of the Japanese horror film of the same name, The Ring follows a haunted videotape that kills the viewer after they watch it. Samara, a girl who climbs out of a well and then crawls through your television to kill you, was one of the scariest horror monsters of the early 2000s—and her ability to terrorize hasn’t waned.

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The Grudge (2004)

Director: Takashi Shimizu

Monstrous and possessed people started crawling around upside-down like a crab a lot more often in horror films following The Grudge, another Japanese horror remake that put scary ghosts in the shower, under the covers, and just about anywhere else you previously felt safe.


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The Omen (1976)

Director: Richard Donner

Young Damien Thorn is believed to be the Antichrist after a series of violent deaths occur around the family that all involve the sinister five-year-old.

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Child’s Play (1988)

Director: Tom Holland

Child’s Play introduced Chucky, a doll with the soul of a serial killer trapped inside. The kid’s toy looked scary enough even before it began its killing spree, and after, the idea of a life-like doll for kids seemed 100 times more foreboding.

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Headshot of Josh Rosenberg

Josh Rosenberg

Assistant Editor

Josh Rosenberg is an Assistant Editor at Esquire, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day. His past work can be found at Spin, CBR, and on his personal blog at


Chantal Vaca is a writer living in New York City. She covers culture, politics and gender. 

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