The Best Horror Films From The Past 20 Years
By Mat Elfring on
Over the past 20 years, horror fans have seen some exceptionally wonderful horror movies. We're living in a golden era of modern horror where filmmakers don't have to rely on witty supernatural villains spouting terrible one-liners while killing off their victims one by one. Now, both indie and major studios are producing memorable films that mix horror with other genres to create something unique and wonderful, like this year's Get Out, which won big at the box office.
We're taking a look at the past two decades of horror and picking out the best movie, year by year. Some years were better than others, but all of these movies should be on your watch list, especially with Halloween right around the corner.
1997: Event Horizon
1997 was not a great year for horror movies. It was a summer filled with movies like Scream 2, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Relic, and a slew of other very forgettable films. That year, Event Horizon was released, a sci-fi/horror hybrid about the reappearance of a ship that went into a black hole. The rescue team discovers something horrifying inside. Sure, it's not an amazing movie, but it's fun, and there are plenty of memorable moments, like when one character's eyes get sewn shut.
Ringu kicked off what eventually become America's love affair with Asian horror cinema. A reporter and her ex-husband investigate a mysterious tape that reportedly kills you seven days after you watch it. The vast majority of people are much more familiar with the 2002 American remake, which had a much bigger budget, but the original Ringu is a much better horror film with some great scares, even if a couple effects sequences are dated.
1999: The Blair Witch Project
For better or worse, depending on your outlook, The Blair Witch Project started a revolution when it came to "found footage" movies. This was a new genre for horror to jump into and part of the allure was the audience wondering if what they were watching was actually real. The Blair Witch Project follows three film students that head into the Maryland wilderness to shoot a documentary about local myth the Blair Witch. Obviously, things don't go well for them.
Runners-up:The Sixth Sense and Audition
2000: American Psycho
In 2000, the world fell in love with potential sociopath Patrick Bateman, a wealthy white-collar worker during the '80s who fantasizes about murdering everyone around him while discussing Huey Lewis and the News. American Psycho isn't just a horror film; it mixes and bends genres to tell its tale. However, the amount of blood, brutality, and violence in this film makes it feel like a precursor to the modern gore sub-genre that came a few years later. American Psycho isn't just a good horror movie, it's a great movie in general.
2001: The Devil's Backbone
Spanish director Guillermo del Toro is a name you're going to see a few times on this list because he is not only a fantastic director when it comes to horror, but he puts his name behind some incredibly memorable films. In The Devil's Backbone, a young boy, who lost his father in the Spanish Civil War in 1939, is forced to live in an orphanage. He never feels quite comfortable in his new surroundings as there's a groundskeeper who doesn't want him looking in a storage locker, and the building is haunted by ghosts. This is one of del Toro's most underrated films.
2002: 28 Days Later
While 1985's campy Return of the Living Dead was the first time a fast zombie appeared on screen, 28 Days Later popularized the idea of fast-moving infected/undead chasing down their prey. The diseased in 28 Days Later are not traditional zombies nor are they the living dead, but Danny Boyle's frantic and intense film was terrifying and helped usher in a resurgence in zombie films and media. In 2003, the comic series The Walking Dead started and in 2004, Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake came to theaters. Fans of the genre owe a lot to Boyle's film.
2003: A Tale of Two Sisters
While South Korea's A Tale of Two Sisters may not be as well-known or regarded for ushering in Asian horror renaissance like Japan's Ringu, it's a great example of Korea's style of horror filmmaking: a genre-mixing, intense process that leaves the viewers on the edge of their seats. A teenage girl returns home from a stint in a mental hospital, and is terrorized by her cruel step-mother and ghosts within the family home. A Tale of Two Sisters balances psychological horror and a mystery exceptionally well and makes that year's biggest American horror film, Freddy vs. Jason, look like child's play.
2004: Shaun of the Dead
In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun decides to try and win back his ex-girlfriend; however, the only problem is that there's a zombie apocalypse happening around them. This movie is one of the best horror/comedies of all time, thanks to the witty writing of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and let's not forget how amazingly this movie is edited as well. While the focus is a bit more on Pegg's character, Shaun, and his best friend Ed, played by Nick Frost, there are a few jump scares and classic "trapped by zombies" moments that make this a legitimately great film.
Runners-up:Dawn of the Dead and Saw
2005: The Descent
If you're claustrophobic, then The Descent is a total nightmare. A group of explorers head out on an adventure to search an uncharted cave system, only to find monsters in the darkness that are hunting them all down, one by one. Aside from the scares coming from the man-eating beasts, what sets The Descent apart from other horror movies that year is the feeling of being trapped, thanks to the way it was filmed, which--believe it or not--was all in a studio outside of London, as filming in an actual cave was deemed too dangerous. The Descent is a must-watch for horror fans, and one of the better movies on this list.
2006: Pan's Labyrinth
Once again, director Guillermo del Toro makes the list. Pan's Labyrinth takes place in Spain in the mid-1940s and follows a young girl obsessed with fairy tales. One day, she finds a faun who tells her she's a princess but must complete three tasks in order to prove she's royalty. Pan's Labyrinth has a narrative setup that could easily be used for a children's film, but del Toro takes it down a dark path, setting it against a war, and creating some haunting creatures, like the one above. It's a movie that appears to be a fantasy, but upon closer inspection, is filled with unimaginable horrors.
2007: The Orphanage
2007 may have been one the best years for horror. It was a year that produced The Mist, 28 Weeks Later, 30 Days of Night, and 1408 to name a few, but none of those films hold a candle to The Orphanage, which was executive produced by Guillermo del Toro. In the movie, a young woman (Laura) and her husband raise their son in an old house that used to be an orphanage that Laura was raised in. Soon, her son begins talking to invisible friends and quickly disappears, so Laura enlists outside help to figure out what's going on. Obviously, the little boy in the mask is creepy, but this movie shines in its use of location, sound, and overall tone. There's a reason del Toro put his name on this movie: It's haunting.
Runners-up: Paranormal Activity and REC
2008: Let The Right One In
Sweden's romantic horror film is bizarre and haunting, and the American adaptation--Let Me In--just isn't the same. Let The Right One In follows a young bullied boy who is befriended by a strange girl, who turns out to be a vampire, of sorts. It's one of the early adopters of the the new age of horror that puts the focus on a slow-building tension that immerses the audience into the world where the real horror is rooted in realistic fears, even if said fears are coming from something supernatural. It's a film that's best enjoyed on your own, and we won't say much else about the film because there are so many twists and turns to it.
2009: Drag Me To Hell
Sam Raimi--known for the Evil Dead franchise--made a return to horror in 2009 with Drag Me To Hell. A loan officer has to evict an old woman from her home, and after doing so, finds herself cursed and on a mission to save her own soul. This movie is pure Sam Raimi, who has a knack for blurring the lines between comedy and horror at times. Are we supposed to laugh when the main character has blood/bugs/vomit/black tar dumped on her face or are we supposed to be disgusted? Sadly, Raimi doesn't direct as much anymore, but he did produce one of the best horror films in the past decade, Don't Breathe.
2010: I Saw The Devil
2010 was another great year for horror films: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Black Swan, Rare Exports, and The Dead were all released. However, South Korea's I Saw The Devil was easily the best horror film of the year. It brilliantly mixes the genre with a Korean favorite: the revenge film, as a serial killer murders a secret agent's fiance, and he takes vengeance into his own hands, even if it means becoming a monster himself. Where this movie truly succeeds is with the character arc of the lead, Kim Soo-hyeon, as he morphs into what he is hunting down, in a sense.
Runners-up: Let Me In and Insidious
2011: You're Next
You're Next was one of two good horror films to come out of 2011, which was a pretty bogus year. Luckily, both of those films are pretty fantastic. You're Next has a new spin on the home-invasion story. A family on an anniversary vacation find themselves being hunted down by masked killers; however, one of the hunted has a secret: they know how to fight back. This genre of horror has been overdone, but the twist gives this story some new life.
2012: Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods is a really weird movie, in all the right ways. It starts as a typical horror film featuring a group of attractive young adults, heading to a remote cabin, where they're hunted down by zombies. However, what sets this movie apart is the turn, which happens during the first act--and we won't spoil it in case you've never seen it. Cabin in the Woods is ingenious and actually pretty funny at times. In addition, it's the only horror movie that will have you rooting for a gross merman to kill someone.
Runners-up:Sinister and VHS
2013: The Conjuring
Ed and Lorraine Warren's alleged supernatural encounters have been made into countless movies, with the most memorable being The Amityville Horror. However, in 2013, The Conjuring came out, which recounts one of the Warren's early investigations of a Rhode Island farmhouse that is under attack by a supernatural force. It is, by far, one of the best horror films of the decade and launched a fantastic franchise as well.
Runners-up:Oculus and VHS 2
2014: The Babadook
Jennifer Kent's 2014 film, The Babadook, follows a widow trying to take care of her problematic child who thinks there is a monster in the house. The mother quickly discovers a creature called the Babadook is terrorizing the family. Much like a few other films on the list, The Babadook slowly builds tension, and while the film has a few jump scares, it doesn't rely on them to horrify the audience.
Runners-up:REC 4 and Housebound
2015: It Follows
It Follows is a great way to promote abstinence. Joking aside, the 2015 film does revolve around a curse that can only be passed on by intercourse, and that curse comes in the form of a slow-moving, supernatural being that kills you if it reaches you. The movie centers around a young woman who becomes cursed after a sexual encounter with a young man who mysteriously disappears. She and a group of friends do what they can to keep her from being reached by the creature. The story is unique and keeps the viewers on the edge of their seats for the entire film. At no point does the tension let up.
Runners-up:They Look Like People and The Visit
2016: The Witch
On this list, 2016 was the best year for horror, as you can see from the long list of runners-up below. The film that beat out everything else that year was the slow-paced movie The Witch. This movie is an extremely slow burn that follows a family in the 1600s who believe their daughter may have been influenced by witches. What makes this such a great film is the attention to detail, from the clothing to the insanely specific dialect. In addition, it has some of the best cinematography in modern horror. It is a beautiful movie with some chilling undertones.
Runners-up:Don't Breathe, Green Room, Hush, The Conjuring 2, Train to Busan, Under The Shadow, The Shallows, and The Wailing
2017: Get Out
2017 may not be over, but as of October, the best horror film of the year is Get Out. The Jordan Peele-directed film follows Chris, a young black man who is on his way to meet his white girlfriend's parents for the first time. He quickly learns that something is off about the family and everyone in the circle of friends. Get Out has such a good story that weaves mystery and thriller genres into it as the movie progresses--along with a little comedy. What makes this such a great film is that while some of the elements in the film are "out of this world," it has its rooting in reality. Not only is it a great horror film, it's one of the best films of the year.
Runners-up:Split and It