Everyone likes to be scared… a little… but some of us like to be scared a lot. For those of us whose standards are high Crave proudly presents our list of The 50 Best Horror Movies of the Century (So Far). It’s ben a long and creepy 15 years, riddled with strange new trends in horror cinema (torture porn, found footage, J-horror remakes, all other remakes), but it’s also been a gold mine for frightening films. Some of the best scary movies ever made have been produced in the last decade-and-a-half, and here they are!
The film critics contributing to this list are Crave‘s William Bibbiani and Witney Seibold, and Shock Till You Drop‘s Chris Alexander and Alyse Wax. Each critic voted for 50 films, ranked from #1-50, and then their votes were tabulated to give you the following, The 50 Best Horror Movies of the Century (So Far). Each film on our list is being presented by one of the critics who championed its inclusion on the list, and each critic is definitely willing to go to bat for why their films – in particular – should be considered one of the best.
We will let you explore the list for yourselves, but for the sake of posterity: director James Wan appears to be a real “master of horror” so far this century. He’s the only filmmaker with three films on the Top 50 (#31, #23, #4) and five films total on our Top 100 (#62 and #64, see our runners-up on the last page). The only other filmmaker with more than one film in our Top 50 is Lucky McKee, with two (#12 and #6), although several filmmakers have multiple films in our Top 100, including Adam Wingard, David Lynch, Rob Zombie, Matt Reeves, Alexandre Aja, Xavier Gens and the directing duo of Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani.
As for the actors, Naomi Watts and Katharine Isabelle now reign as our century’s “scream queens.” There are three films in the Top 50 starring Watts (#44, #39, #29) and three starring Isabelle (#34, #22, #5). Angela Bettis, Vera Farmiga, Rose Byrne and Sarah Polley all come close, with two films a piece.
Photo Credit: IFC Films
50. Zombieland (dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2009)
People often ask why comedy and horror are so difficult to blend with any level of reliable success. Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland knows what’s what, creating an amusing rogues gallery of zombie apocalypse survivors who are broad and silly, and yet totally relatable and even kind of sweet. ~ Witney Seibold
49. Tusk (dir. Kevin Smith, 2014)
Tusk is one of those movies that sounds like a joke: a man turns another man into a walrus to fulfill a hole in his heart. Coming from Kevin Smith, one expects it to be jokey, and rest-assured, it is – though not as often as you’d think. What you end up with is a bizarre, creepy, and often hilarious story with a gut-punch of an ending. ~ Alyse Wax
48. 28 Weeks Later (dir. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2007)
20th Century Fox
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s immediate follow-up to Danny Boyle’s smash hit is arguably a superior horror film, a terrifying (those opening minutes are among the scariest ever committed to film) meditation on parental horror and child abuse that hides within the body of an epic apocalyptic horror film. Like something out of Night of the Hunter, a pair of babes in the woods flee a treacherous hostile landscape when their now “rage” infected father (Ravenous’s Robert Carlyle, who is excellent) goes screaming after them with ill-intent. Featuring an early, dramatic turn from comedy “It Girl” Rose Byrne, 28 Weeks Later is scary, nihilistic and often unbearably suspenseful. ~ Chris Alexander
47. High Tension (dir. Alexandre Aja, 2003)
Alexandre Aja’s lesbian romance slasher masterwork that isn’t really what it seems, High Tension marked the rebirth of confrontational horror cinema. In it, a troubled girl stays with a family that is hideously massacred by a grunting lunatic and when the object of her affection, the family’s ravishing daughter, is kidnapped by the madman, our heroine goes into overdrive to save her would-be lover. Some have criticized the film’s twist, but it’s an effective stinger and certainly, no matter how you read it, High Tension is a masterclass in style and operatic blood-letting. ~ Chris Alexander
46. In My Skin (dir. Marina de Van, 2002)
Marina De Van’s 2002 debut is not well known, but it stays in the mind of those who have seen it. De Van plays a woman who accidentally cuts her leg at a party, and quickly becomes obsessed with cutting and extensive self-mutilation. Soon, she is behaving like an addict, renting motel rooms for orgies of gouging. This film hurts to watch, and is often worthy of Buñuel in its filmmaking. ~ Witney Seibold
45. We Are What We Are (dir. Jim Mickle, 2013)
A remake of the 2010 Mexican film of the same name, We Are What We Are is a different kind of cannibal film. Unlike films like Cannibal Holocaust and Green Inferno, We Are What We Are is a quiet, slow-burn film with brilliant performances. It unequivocally takes to task mindlessly following religious traditions by replacing church or prayer with the eating of human flesh. Is a tradition worth carrying on, even if you don’t believe in it? ~ Alyse Wax
44. Funny Games (dir. Michael Haneke, 2007)
Warner Independent Pictures
In 2007, Michael Haneke remade his 1997 German home invasion thriller in English, essentially revealing his intentions with the first movie. Haneke is clearly making a harsh criticism of the way American films tend to elicit audience bloodlust, and then goes about implicating the audience for waiting to see the villains of his movie get hurt or murdered. And he punishes us with some of the most sickening torture of his career. ~ Witney Seibold
43. Land of the Dead (dir. George A. Romero, 2005)
After the commercial success of the Dawn of the Dead remake, Universal Pictures gave Romero the green light to shoot his long in gestation fourth “Dead” film. Retitled Land of the Dead and shaved down from its initial ultra-epic scope, Land is a charming, bloody return to form for the master, an eccentric picture that the studio had no idea how to market and some fans didn’t quite latch on to. But time has been kind to Land of the Dead; it’s a smart, scrappy, bloody and bizarre horror film whose only flaw is that it’s simply not long enough to fully flesh out its ambitious narrative. But Eugene Clark as the rabble-rousing zombie hero “Big Daddy” is perhaps the screen’s best ghoul, the Che Guevara of the undead. ~ Chris Alexander
42. Final Destination 2 (dir. David R. Ellis, 2003)
New Line Cinema
The central conceit of Final Destination is a dastardly bit of fatalism: you are supposed to die when you are supposed to die, and if for any reason you escape your certain doom, death itself comes for you any damned way it can. This results in one spectacular demise after another throughout this franchise, but none are grislier – or more worthy of Rube Goldberg – than those found in the second installment. The freeway sequence in particular contains the most terrifying car accident ever captured on film. ~ William Bibbiani
41. Ghosts of Mars (dir. John Carpenter, 2001)
The film that spurred maverick filmmaker John Carpenter flip the bird to Hollywood for more than a decade (and really, that mad-as-hell middle finger is still up) is also one of his most muscular and freakish films. Savaged by critics and ignored by audiences, Ghosts of Mars is yet another in JC’s long line of westerns masquerading as horror films, this one channeling, once more, Rio Bravo but also 3:10 to Yuma and High Noon. It’s like a steroidal smash-up of Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York and The Thing (with a dose of Mario Bava’s Planet of the ampires, in which a colony of minors on Mars are possessed by the masochistic spirits of the planet’s angry dead. Driven by a pummeling heavy metal/elector Carpenter score, Ghosts is an underrated gem. And Ice Cube has never been better. Read that how you will… ~ Chris Alexander