Warning: these movies are pure nightmare fuel. If you avoid things that go bump in the night, proceed with caution.
Most of us are either “scary movie people” or not: There’s rarely very much middle ground. That said, the one exception might be around Halloween, when the normally horror-averse decide that it’s OK to have a bad dream or two, in the spirit of the holiday. That’s why we came up with a list of 18 scary movies that’ll give you jeepers for the entire Halloween season. If Hocus Pocus or Halloweentown is all it takes to get you feeling festive, more power to you, but the best horror movies are for those brave adult souls who really love a good scare. They’re the type of movies that will get your pulse racing, your eyes wide, and might just leave you questioning whether or not you believe in ghosts. No need to decide now — you can watch these movies first.
The 18 Best Horror Movies for Adults
It Comes At Night (2017)
If ever there was a horror movie that has taken on a new resonance since Covid, it’s this one. It Comes At Night takes place in a world after a plague has killed most of mankind, and it’s not a pretty place to hang out. There are no zombies or ghosts in this movie, just the fear and paranoia that come when a disease with no cure could be lurking in anyone’s body — even the people you love. Sound familiar? The film follows a family that’s forced in a moment of crisis to take some strangers into their secure home. Nobody knows who to trust, who’s healthy, or who might be unknowingly spreading the deadly disease.
With just two actors and a camcorder, Creep somehow manages to be one of the scariest films we’ve seen in a long time. The “found footage” horror genre really exploded with The Blair Witch Project, but most of the films in this category aren’t great, and sometimes the camera work can leave you feeling slightly nauseated. The premise of Creep is so strange and compelling that you’ll be immediately sucked in, and the camera almost acts as a character of its own. The film is shot from the vantage point of a videographer who has been hired from a Craigslist ad by an eccentric dying man (played pitch-perfectly by Mark Duplass) to record his last messages at a remote house in the mountains. Very quickly, things start to get very, very creepy.
It Follows (2014)
It Follows is a movie that might have you rolling your eyes while you’re watching it, but it’s one that will linger in your subconscious long after the credits have rolled. The premise is this: in a small town, there is a sexually transmissible curse that’s being passed from teenager to teenager. The recipient of the curse will be slowly followed by death — which comes in the form either of a stranger or someone you know — until they pass the curse on to someone else. They should show this in sex-ed.
Get Out (2017)
Just when we thought the horror genre had played out every scenario possible, along came Jordan Peele with his directorial debut, Get Out. The actor known as half of the comedy duo Key and Peele shocked audiences with this completely original tale, which is simultaneously scary, funny, and chock-full of social commentary. The film follows a young man named Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) who goes to visit his white girlfriend Rose’s family for the first time. At first, the family seems lovely, but as the weekend goes on Chris discovers that there’s something seriously off about Rose’s whole town.
The Exorcist (1973)
Known as one of the scariest movies of all time, we couldn’t leave The Exorcist off our list. You might think that the special effects of the early ‘70s wouldn’t hold up today, but once you’re engrossed in The Exorcist’s brilliant storytelling you’ll feel like every frame of this film is totally real. When a young girl starts levitating and speaking in tongues, a priest thinks she might be possessed and sends for an exorcism expert from the Vatican.
El Orfanato (2007)
This Spanish-language film follows a woman named Laura who purchases the orphanage where she grew up. Laura moves there with her husband and seven-year-old son, Simón, and the family plans to re-open the orphanage as a home for disabled children. At a party to celebrate the orphanage’s re-opening, Simón goes missing, and Laura begins to think that ghosts from the orphanage might have something to do with it. This movie will break your heart as you watch Laura’s desperate attempts to find her only child. There is also one scene — where Laura plays a version of the children’s game red light, green light with a bunch of child ghosts — that might just make you wet your pants.
Ready or Not (2019)
Ready or Not is probably the most lighthearted film on our list and is a great choice for anyone who loved Knives Out but wishes it was just a little bit scarier. It follows a gorgeous young woman named Grace who has just married the rich, handsome man of her dreams at his family’s estate. After her wedding, Grace’s husband informs her that there’s a tradition for new people who marry into his family: they have to play a game with the whole family on their wedding night. She laughs and agrees, and all seems to be going great until she learns that the “game” involves her having to survive in the house until sunrise while her new in-laws try to murder her.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
If you saw A Nightmare on Elm Street when you were younger, then the little ditty, “One two, Freddy’s coming for you…” might be a bit triggering. This is the film that introduced us to super-villain Freddy Krueger, and taught us that we’re never safe from monsters, even when we’re sleeping. It also introduced us to Johnny Depp — the 1984 slasher was the actor’s film debut. In the movie, a group of teens starts to have nightmares about a disfigured murderer with knives for fingers…and they soon learn that being murdered by him in their dreams means dying in real life.
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
10 Cloverfield Lane is a psychological thriller that will have you guessing what to believe until the very last scene. After a young woman survives a car accident, she wakes up in an underground bunker with two men. They tell her that there’s been a chemical attack on the country and that leaving the bunker for open-air means certain death. Without any access to the outside world, the woman has no choice but to believe them…but are they actually her saviors, or her kidnappers?
The Ritual (2017)
With independent film budgets being what they are these days, horror filmmakers have gotten creative about how to work around building expensive movie monsters, and monster movie fans have gotten accustomed to never actually seeing the monster their protagonists are up against. The Ritual is an exciting departure from this. When a group of buddies goes on a camping trip in Sweden to commemorate a friend’s death, they decide to take a shortcut through a forest where some very creepy things start happening to them. Just when you think you’re never going to find out what exactly is causing all of this mayhem, the filmmakers surprise you with something terrifying.
The Babadook (2014)
The moral of The Babadook is that if your kid presents you with a very spooky-looking handmade children’s book at storytime, just don’t read it. In the film, a woman is on the brink of a breakdown after her husband is killed in a car accident and her six-year-old son starts acting out. One night, her son asks her to read him a book called Mister Babadook, which turns out to be about a horrible little monster in a top hat who terrorizes his victims after they learn he exists. After reading the book, both mother and son start to quickly unravel, seeing the Babadook everywhere they turn. This Australian horror film has become a cult classic, since the Babadook itself is largely seen as an allegory for mental illness.
Dark Skies (2013)
We couldn’t have a good list of horror movies without one alien flick on here. Dark Skies stars Keri Russell as Lacy, a wife and mother of two living a very normal suburban life when all of a sudden a seemingly supernatural force starts targeting the family. The alarms in the house all start to go off at once, birds start crashing into the windows, and the children start to develop large bruises in the night. After some intense internet sleuthing, Lacy becomes convinced that this is the work of aliens.
Hereditary is not a film for the faint of heart. Director Ari Aster has mastered the art of keeping a horrifying image onscreen for just long enough that when you open your eyes after closing them in terror, the image is still there. Hereditary follows Toni Collette as Annie Graham, a wife and mother of two whose mother has just passed away. Annie and her mother were never particularly close, and as she learns more about her after her death, she realizes that her mother set her and her children up to inherit something very evil. The film refreshingly confronts the notion that not all women want to be mothers, and in fact, there are some women who should never be mothers.
Midsommar is also directed by Ari Aster, and also deals with the complexity of what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal world. After suffering an extremely traumatic family event, college student Dani Ardor takes a trip with her boyfriend and several of his friends to a midsummer festival at a commune in Sweden. Although the trip starts out as idyllic and restorative, it soon becomes apparent that the commune is home to a dangerous pagan cult.
A warning about this movie: the first ten minutes or so are highly disturbing, and deal with mental illness, trauma, and suicide. If these topics are triggering for you, we suggest you either skip this film altogether or read a summary of what happens in the first ten minutes and then start it when the group arrives in Sweden.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Is there anything scarier than knowing you’re sane, while everyone around you is trying to convince you that you’re going crazy? That’s the enduring terror in Rosemary’s Baby. A young couple, Rosemary and Guy, moves into a beautiful New York City apartment where they meet their overly-friendly elderly neighbors. Guy becomes particularly close with them, and as their friendship begins to blossom, Guy’s acting career suddenly takes off. He and Rosemary then decide to try to have a baby, but after she conceives, Rosemary is convinced that something about her pregnancy is horribly wrong. Mia Farrow knocked her role out of the park as a young woman trying to convince anyone who will listen that she’s carrying the devil’s baby.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Even though South Korean films are just recently getting the credit they deserve in America (hello, Parasite!), the country has been churning out amazing movies for years. Case in point: Kim Jee-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters. This film has a fairytale-like quality to it, but we aren’t talking Disney movies — it was inspired by a 14th-century Korean folktale that’s almost like a twisted, sinister Cinderella story. The film revolves around two sisters — one of whom has just been released from a mental hospital — as they begin to learn the truth about their wicked stepmother.
The VVitch (2015)
If you’re a teen girl living in New England in the early 1600s, the last thing you want is for people to think you’re a witch. The VVitch is about exactly that: a girl named Thomasin (played by a pre-The Queen’s Gambit‘s Anya Taylor-Joy) finds herself being accused of witchcraft when her baby brother goes missing and rumors start spreading that the baby was kidnapped and killed by a witch.
The Shining (1980)
A classic for any horror junkie, The Shining is still considered one of the best horror movies ever made. Based on the Stephen King novel by the same name, in The Shining, an aspiring writer (played by Jack Nicholson) takes a job as an off-season caretaker at a remote hotel and brings his wife and young son Danny along with him. Danny has psychic abilities and is able to see the supernatural forces that lurk within the hotel as they slowly drive his father insane. This is the movie that brought us “Redrum,” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and two of the creepiest twin girls you could dream of.