Each year, new horror films are released in hopes that they’ll scare audiences enough to tell their friends all about it. Of all the film genres out there, perhaps horror is the one that survives the most on word of mouth. But out of the thousands upon thousands of scary films now available, a few stand out from the rest as having revolutionized the genre by providing new, innovative ways of keeping viewers completely terrified.
Based on both opinion and film history, here’s our list of the most industry-shaking horror films of all time (spoiler alerts!):
1. “Psycho” (1960)
Why: Killing Off Protagonist Early
This film left audiences stunned for doing a number of things that no one else had ever dared, including showing more violence and sexuality. But if there’s one thing that made “Psycho” such an impactful film, it was doing something that was unheard of at the time — killing a main character early.
Just when viewers were getting familiar with the heroine of the film, Hitchcock has her murdered in the iconic shower scene that to this day inspires other horror movies. The scene alone was a masterpiece, filling audiences with fright by never actually seeing the killer or knife penetrate the skin. Instead, the violence is left to the viewer’s imagination – a powerful effect amplified by the fact that audiences now felt a new, disturbing reality that no one in the movie was safe.
2. “The Exorcist” (1973)
Why: Demonic Possession / Evil Children
These days, movies featuring evil children and demons are a dime a dozen. But back in the early ‘70s, these controversial subjects were taboo. That is, until William Friedkin released “The Exorcist,” a movie that had religious institutions enraged and audience members fainting.
The idea of seeing someone possessed by a demon was enough to shock people at the time, while the fact that it happened to a young girl was enough to fill viewers with complete dread. Roger Ebert gave it a 4-out-of-4 star review, which ended with the following: “I am not sure exactly what reasons people will have for seeing this movie … Are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all?”
3. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” (1974)
Why: Claustrophobic Atmosphere
Of all the films on this list, none clearly influenced all the horror films to come as much as this one. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” introduces countless elements that would become staples in the horror genre. This includes the idea of a scary masked killer and the Final Girl trope, where all but one character is left in the end to fight the antagonist.
But despite the name and premise, Tobe Hooper’s film isn’t remembered for gore or violence — in fact, there’s very little of it. Instead, it overwhelmed audiences with a claustrophobic feeling by building up a place that felt both terrifying and inescapable. The superb documentary-style approach made viewers feel as though they too were trapped and in mortal peril.
4. “Halloween” (1978)
Why: Terrifying Killer
This list wouldn’t be complete without arguably one of the top horror films of all time. Despite releasing almost 40 years ago, you can still see the influence of “Halloween” in the horror genre today. John Carpenter and his team did an amazing job of taking the best elements from previous horror films and finding ways to make them even scarier for the audience.
Of course, “Halloween” made its greatest impact by introducing us to one of the most iconic horror villains of all time. The audience felt both dread and paranoia each time Michael Myers appeared, whether behind an unsuspecting character or barely visible in the distance. His ability to take heavy damage and still relentlessly continue his hunt also made viewers feel, just like the films’ characters, he will probably get his kill sooner or later.
5. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
Why: Introduced Zombies
Much like in this movie, it’s impossible for the modern person to escape zombies. Whether you’re into video games, movies, or TV shows, there are more than plenty of entertainment options that involve the living dead. But had “Night of the Living Dead” never been, things might have been very different.
George Romero’s legendary zombie movie is what put the idea on the map in the first place. Never before had viewers imagined the idea of living corpses hell-bent on tearing your flesh off and eating it. The film also made waves with its African-American protagonist and shock ending. Not bad for a movie with a budget of about $114,000.
6. “Nosferatu” (1922)
Why: Introduced Vampires
If you’ve never seen this unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, you’ve missed the birth of one of the most immortal horror creatures on screen: the vampire. Films from “Interview with a Vampire” to “Twlight,” and TV series from “True Blood” to “Vampire Diaries” would not exist without this silent film.
W. Murnau’s German Expressionist masterpiece “Nosferatu” boasts powerful performances and an otherworldly, surreal aesthetic. Audiences to this day are fascinated by the disturbing blend of sensuality, death, and suspense that have defined one of the most popular sub-genres of all time. Vampires had never been seen before – and still, to this day, the monster in “Nosferatu” remains iconic.
What do you think are the most influential horror films of all time? Let us know in the comments below!