It may come as a surprise to learn that the horror-film genre is virtually as old as cinema itself. That’s right: although George Méliès’ 1896 effort Le Manoir du Diable is more funny than it is frightening, the short can nevertheless stake a claim to being the original scary movie. In the century since, though, filmmakers have found ever more inventive ways in which to shock and stun their audiences. So, whether you have a penchant for being terrified by zombie attacks, spooked by unexplained supernatural phenomena or petrified by psychopathic serial killers, there’s a flick that will fit the bill. And the blood-curdling cream of the crop are all covered in our definitive guide to the very best horror movies on Netflix as of September 1, 2019.
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To establish which movies should be included on this list, we first turned to New on Netflix USA’s ratings of films currently available on Netflix. We then selected the horror films with the highest scores on that site. In addition, we conducted our own independent research to ensure that we featured only the very best movies out there.
To establish our ranking, we then gathered ratings for those movies from each of the following touchstone sites: IMDb, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Any film for which only an IMDb rating was available was subsequently disqualified; and this was also the case for any movie with a Rotten Tomatoes rating based on fewer than 15 reviews.
The ratings were then combined to give each movie an average score out of 100, and the 25 horror films with the highest average scores were concluded to be the best currently streaming on Netflix in the U.S. These scores also, of course, determined the final ordering of the movies.
25. Scream (1996)
In a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Scream, director Wes Craven freely admits that his postmodern slasher “was a very risky film in many, many ways.” And there’s definitely some truth to the assertion; killing off the movie’s best-known star within the first 15 minutes isn’t exactly playing it safe, for one. Interestingly, though, it had been Drew Barrymore’s idea to play doomed teen Casey Becker – even after she’d originally been cast as protagonist Sidney Prescott. Neve Campbell eventually scooped the role of grieving student Sidney, of course, and the movie follows her battle to unmask deranged killer Ghostface. Scream’s gallows humor and playful upending of horror clichés proved a winner with audiences, too, as the film would go on to scare up $173 million in box-office receipts worldwide while also spawning a whole new franchise.
24. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
In 2017 Stephen King gave The Autopsy of Jane Doe his stamp of approval by claiming that André Øvredal’s flick boasted “visceral horror to rival Alien.” Nor was the acclaimed author the only one to heap praise on the film; Time Out was won over, too, it seems, with the magazine labeling the supernatural thriller “an enjoyably twisty little throat-grabber.” Overall, in fact, Øvredal’s English-language debut was a critical hit – and one that even landed a Best Picture award at 2016’s Fantastic Fest. And horror aficionados can see what all the fuss is about by sitting down, pressing “play” and watching the unnerving events that unfold when a pair of father-and-son coroners begin to investigate the unidentified corpse of a young woman.
23. 1922 (2017)
It’s fair to say that Thomas Jane took his preparation for 1922 pretty seriously. In order to nail his portrayal of troubled protagonist Wilfred James, the actor not only set out to perfectly echo a 1920s Nebraska accent, but he also dredged up childhood memories of Alabama in a bid to make his character more fully rounded. And according to IndieWire, the work paid off, too, with the website claiming that the star “[delivers] his most effective performance in ages” in Zak Hilditch’s chilling drama. The story told on screen sees Wilfred take his wife’s life in the hope of saving his farm; but the Nebraskan man’s world begins to unravel as his conscience seemingly catches up with him. Oh, and given that 1922 was adapted from a Stephen King novella, you can bet that the movie will, as The Guardian put it, “[burrow] under the skin.”
22. Ravenous (2017)
According to Robin Aubert, Ravenous is more than just an unrepentant gorefest; as the director explained to The Verge in 2018, the Canadian-set horror is also his “most political film” to date – chiefly because its undead hordes “are a reflection of what [he thinks] about humanity.” Aubert added, “People are scarier than zombies. If I’m in the woods and a zombie’s following me, I will be scared for sure. But if it’s a human who is crazy and he’s following me, I will run as hell.” That said, Ravenous is pretty far from being a philosophical treatise on existentialism/what it means to be human. Instead, the flick homes in on a group of apocalypse survivors struggling to face off with the walking dead – meaning there’s plenty of blood-letting and graphic violence in store. Naturally, then, it possesses enough scares to earn a spot among the best horror movies on Netflix.
21. He Never Died (2015)
Henry Rollins takes the lead in Jason Krawczyk’s genre-bending He Never Died, which sees the former Black Flag frontman play a loner who finds that his past is once again all too relevant to his present. And as the movie progresses, viewers see that there’s more to this quiet man than meets the eye. Not only that, but there are also some welcome moments of levity along the way. Indeed, as The Hollywood Reporter reviewer John DeFore explained, “While He Never Died is hardly a comedy – it’s bloody and reflective with a gloomy side that sometimes threatens to sink it – these wry moments are central to its appeal.” Perhaps this dark sense of humor helped Krawczyk’s movie to its impressive 87 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But either way, fans of the flick will be thrilled to know that a follow-up miniseries is in the works.
20. A Dark Song (2016)
Writer/director Liam Gavin’s debut feature sees its protagonists team up to perform a rite that will put their very souls in danger. And the ritual depicted is one that has, in fact, genuinely been attempted in the past – by infamous occultist Aleister Crowley – thus adding some spooky authenticity to proceedings. “[A Dark Song] is a film that shows the occult done for real,” Gavin told Nightmarish Conjurings in 2017. “[It’s] a slow burn, anti-jump-scare film.” So, while viewers shouldn’t necessarily expect blood and gore aplenty on screen, watching the movie’s events unfold will still no doubt prove to be an unnerving experience – not least thanks to the creepiness of the film’s isolated mansion house. The Austin Chronicle’s Marc Savlov certainly seems to concur anyhow. “[A Dark Song] is the sort of film that will make you check under your bed at night,” he wrote in his 2017 review.
19. Cam (2018)
Cam may have been a different film entirely if writer Isa Mazzei had gone ahead with her first idea. Initially, you see, Mazzei considered creating a documentary about camgirls – although she ultimately changed her mind after deciding that audiences would be more engaged by a fictional protagonist. Even so, there’s a healthy dose of – somewhat disturbing – reality in the psychological horror, which sees Madeline Brewer star as a sex worker who is mysteriously replaced online by a doppelgänger. These nods to true life certainly didn’t go unnoticed by observers such as Brian Tallerico, either. The critic enthused, “[Cam provides] the kind of clever jolt to the system we want from horror thrillers: an unexpected commentary on today’s society burrowing its way through an intense story.”
18. Veronica (2017)
After making his name with the acclaimed [REC] series, Paco Plaza turned to a new origin of potential evil in Veronica. In the movie, the eponymous protagonist finds herself besieged by a supernatural force after she plays with a Ouija board. And it’s probably chilling to learn, too, that Plaza’s movie was in fact based in part on supposedly real events that took place in Madrid in 1991. That said, The Hollywood Reporter believes the film’s principal source of dread isn’t to be found in any of the obvious places. “The real horror in Veronica is not in the CGI visuals, or in Pablo Rosso’s frantic cinematography or in the aural bombardment of sound effects and music,” the magazine’s review explained. “It’s in the relationship between the children.” It’s a must-see, then, if you’re looking for good scary movies on Netflix.
17. Hush (2016)
In Mike Flanagan’s Hush, silence is most definitely golden. In fact, there are apparently fewer than 15 minutes of dialog in total during the slasher flick, leaving ambient sounds to deftly fill in the gaps and help ramp up the tension instead. The horror stars Flanagan’s co-writer and real-life wife, Kate Siegel, as deaf-mute writer Maddie, who has moved to a house in the forest to lead a secluded existence. However, Maddie comes to regret this decision when a masked knifeman arrives at her door and makes her his prey. In all, then, what the movie lacks in spoken words, it more than makes up for in edge-of-the-seat thrills. And The Guardian’s review of Hush was certainly highly complimentary, with the newspaper labeling the film “a sharp, finely tuned thriller that goes down familiar paths but with flair and skill.”
16. Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
When best pals Tucker and Dale arrive at their vacation cabin in the woods, a clan of college kids are convinced that the redneck duo are evil killers. Matters then go from bad to worse when the two men try to help out one of the visitors. What ensues in Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is a hilarious mix of parody, wit and gore that Empire magazine hailed as “irresistibly likable.” And while the 2010 horror comedy faltered at the box office – it only managed to pull in $223,838 in the U.S. – it’s since become a beloved cult classic. What’s more, Eli Craig’s slasher movie – which features Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine in the title roles – has garnered considerable critical acclaim if its 84 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes is anything to go by.
15. Gremlins (1984)
In a way, Gremlins’ origins date back to well before Chris Columbus found himself creeped out by mysterious creatures in his own home. During WWII, you see, British pilots were known to chalk up mechanical mishaps to monstrous beings dubbed – yes – gremlins. And Columbus loosely incorporated such legend into his script for the horror comedy, which went on to become a sensation after its release in 1984. Toys, video games, trading cards and even a breakfast cereal emerged in this classic movie’s wake – as did an arguably inferior sequel in 1990. So, if you haven’t yet seen what happens when you feed a mogwai after the witching hour, then buckle yourself in for what Time’s Richard Corliss dubbed “a wildly original roller-coaster ride of hilarious mischief” in his contemporary review of the film.
14. The Devil’s Candy (2015)
When an artist and his wife and daughter move into a rural property, they soon find the home’s gory past coming back to haunt them. That’s the unnerving premise of Sean Byrne’s The Devil’s Candy – a horror that also acts as a love letter of sorts to heavy metal. Villain Ray – portrayed by Pruitt Taylor Vince – even plugs in and plays his guitar in order to block out the seemingly Satanic suggestions in his head. And given The Devil’s Candy’s 91 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s fair to say that the 2015 chiller’s charms didn’t fall on deaf ears with critics. The New York Times singled out Byrne in particular for praise, writing, “[While] relying almost entirely on a doom-metal soundtrack, game performers and a grungy palette of oily browns and moldy greens, [the director] somehow whips his ingredients into an improbably taut man-versus-Satan showdown.”
13. The Invitation (2015)
Karyn Kusama followed up black comedy Jennifer’s Body with a slow-burner that’s no less chilling than its Megan Fox-starring predecessor. Indeed, although The Invitation starts relatively benignly, as protagonist Will – played by Logan Marshall-Green – joins a soirée hosted by his ex-wife, Eden, the tension proceeds to ramp up soon enough. Will begins to suspect, you see, that Eden and her guests have a terrifying ulterior agenda. And both plot and pitch clearly resonated with many. Variety, for one, reckoned that the tone of the movie was just right, writing, “Genre buffs have attended countless dinner parties that wind up tilting into madness, and yet the shivers arrive early and often in The Invitation. [It’s] a teasingly effective thriller.” The publication also opined that the film was “Kusama’s strongest work in years.”
12. Creep (2014)
Creep marks Patrick Brice’s debut as a director, with the filmmaker having teamed up with Mark Duplass to create the concept for the found-footage movie. But Brice and Duplass didn’t actually write a complete script for the low-budget horror; instead, the pair penned just a story outline and left much of the dialog to be improvised. Nevertheless, this approach paid off; just check out Creep’s 92 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating. The New York Times certainly seemed to be impressed by the finished product, too, with its review opining, “[Creep] is remarkable, considering its minimal means and surprising lack of bloodshed given the genre.” As for the plot, it follows an apparently terminally ill expectant dad – played by Duplass – and the videographer whom he hires to record his final days. Perhaps inevitably, though, the dying man’s behavior becomes ever more sinister.
11. The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren – the real-life husband-and-wife paranormal investigators who worked on the case said to have inspired 1979 classic The Amityville Horror. And James Wan’s supernatural flick is also built on another supposedly true sequence of events – only this time round, the Warrens are called in by the Perron family to help remove a sinister presence in their remote farmhouse. Yet regardless of whether the spooks and scares depicted on screen actually once came to pass, The Conjuring proved a hit with critics and moviegoers alike. Time Out gave the film a full five stars out of five, for example, praising it in particular for “an analog solidity that makes the terror to come almost unbearable.” Audiences came out in droves, too, leading to an impressive $41 million box-office haul during its opening weekend in the U.S.
10. The Sixth Sense (1999)
It’s fair to say that M. Night Shyamalan’s second directorial effort marked him out as a talent to watch. At the very least, The Sixth Sense – the movie in question – may have made Hollywood’s moneymen sit up and take notice, as the supernatural horror managed to rake in an exceptional $670 million worldwide. What’s more, the film’s six Oscar nominations suggest that the Academy appreciated what has since become Shyamalan’s most noted work. Here, Haley Joel Osment plays Cole Sear, who claims that he has the ability to see the spirits of the dead. And as Bruce Willis’ child psychologist, Malcolm Crowe, gets to know Cole, he begins to find that the troubled boy isn’t lying about his unusual gift. But, of course, there’s also a twist to the tale, which gives The Sixth Sense the power to stun viewers even two decades on from its initial release.
9. The Similars (2015)
When speaking about The Similars to Slackjaw Punks in 2016, director Isaac Ezban explained, “I always say [that the film] is my love letter to the sci-fi movies of the ’60s. I wanted it to feel like you are watching an episode of The Twilight Zone.” And this nod to the classic anthology series didn’t go unnoticed by critic Scott Marks, who in his San Diego Reader review also pointed out that Ezban has otherwise created “a surreal, fully realized nightmare.” Screen Daily’s Kim Newman was even more effusive in his praise for The Similars, dubbing the film a “funny, suspenseful, inventive and charming” effort that “knows when to tone down the homage and become genuinely frightening.” The story here follows a group of eight people who find themselves stranded at a bus terminal – not knowing at first that they’re in for the most horrific night of their lives…
8. Gerald’s Game (2017)
Adapted from Stephen King’s book of the same name, Gerald’s Game features Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood as Jessie and Gerald – a couple who relocate to an isolated vacation home in a bid to liven up their marriage. But when Jessie’s husband meets a tragic fate, she is left alone, helpless and handcuffed to a bed. To make matters worse, a stray dog – who, King aficionados should note, is referred to as “Cujo” – chooses to wander in through the open door. It’s small wonder, then, that our protagonist begins to crack up. And with compelling consequences. Critics certainly seem to have thought so, in any case. Variety, for instance, wrote that the Mike Flanagan-directed picture is “an arrestingly and sometimes excruciatingly suspenseful psychological thriller, lightly garnished with horror-movie flourishes.”
7. The Endless (2017)
No one could accuse Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead of not putting work into The Endless. After all, the pair each took on five different roles during production – including turns as the film’s co-directors, co-stars and co-producers. Benson penned the script himself, too, while Moorhead kept himself busy with the cinematography. So, it seems only right that the duo were singled out for critical plaudits. Empire, for instance, labeled The Endless an “attention-grabbing calling card” for the movie-making team, adding, “It surely can’t be long before they’re invited to bigger things.” The sci-fi horror tells the tale of two brothers – played, of course, by Moorhead and Benson – who revisit the cult from which they had previously escaped. Then as the siblings spend more time with the strange group, they realize that there may be something disturbing afoot.
6. Creep 2 (2017)
Interestingly, Mark Duplass revealed his intention to create a follow-up to Creep before the original had even hit movie theaters. In 2017, then, he and Patrick Brice – once again in the director’s chair – duly delivered a sequel to the found-footage horror that The AV Club has claimed actually “improves on the first film in every way.” Creep 2 sees Desiree Akhavan’s Sara visit a remote property to meet a self-professed serial killer – a premise that naturally sets the scene for chills aplenty. But perhaps the movie’s high point is Duplass’ disquieting performance as Josef – or Aaron, as the murderer calls himself here. In this instalment, you see, the actor brings new dimensions to his warped character. Indeed, as The AV Club noted, “Duplass has transformed his twisted killer into a flawed and charismatic soul [who radiates] a quiet desperation that’s far more magnetic this time around.”
5. Green Room (2015)
In Green Room, a quartet of young punks perform a gig in what turns out to be a neo-Nazi bar. Then when the band members become witnesses to a killing, they quickly end up fighting for their own lives. Given the bloody battle that ensues, it’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 controversy magnet Straw Dogs influenced director Jeremy Saulnier’s thriller. But regardless, one of the movie’s biggest shocks doesn’t actually come by way of the action on screen. You see, the neo-Nazi gang’s leader is played against type – yet with no small relish – by Patrick Stewart. The veteran actor reportedly rose to the challenge because he assumed that his character, Darcy Banker, would add a little spice to the film – and he wasn’t wrong on that score.
4. The Witch (2015)
In his feature-film debut, writer-director Robert Eggers takes viewers back to New England in the 1630s – a time when black magic is an ever-present threat. And as the colonial family at the heart of the story find, witches are certainly not to be trifled with. But, naturally, even savvy 21st-century viewers may well find themselves thrilled and chilled by the supernatural outing – which in 2015 was labeled by Time Out as “exhilaratingly scary” and “one of the most genuinely unnerving horror films in recent memory.” Eggers even walked away with a Sundance Directing Award for The Witch – no mean feat for a first movie. So it seems that the filmmaker’s painstaking research on the movie’s historical era – which partly involved trawling through New York Public Library archives – ultimately paid off. At the very least, it makes The Witch one of the best horror films on Netflix.
3. Train to Busan (2016)
Train to Busan’s title immediately reveals where the bulk of the action takes place in Yeon Sang-ho’s thriller. But, of course, this journey to South Korea’s second-largest city is far from uneventful. There’s an apocalypse unfolding outside the train’s doors, after all, and so zombies are a threat to the terrified passengers. Naturally, then, Yeon’s movie is a decidedly tense affair. Yet as Variety has explained, the “relentless locomotive momentum” isn’t all that’s on offer; according to the magazine, there’s a whole lot of “unpretentious fun” in store for viewers too. And that combination was ultimately a lucrative one to boot. Yes, Train to Busan shot to more than $87 million at the worldwide box office. It also became the sixth most successful domestic production in South Korean movie history at the time of its release.
2. Carrie (1976)
Back in 1974 Stephen King published Carrie – the first in a string of bestsellers for the horror legend. And it wasn’t long before Hollywood came knocking on King’s door, either; Brian De Palma’s adaptation emerged just two years later, with Sissy Spacek portraying the eponymous telekinetic outcast. But would Carrie repeat the success of its source material? Well, the answer has to be in the affirmative, for the picture made $33.8 million in the U.S. on a budget of only $1.8 million, and it also resulted in Oscar nominations for both Spacek and Piper Laurie. Then, of course, there’s the way in which moments from the horror classic have permeated popular culture – the scene that sees Carrie receive a gory shock while on stage at prom being arguably the most talked-about of all.
1. Under the Shadow (2016)
Under the Shadow’s limited U.S. release certainly didn’t stop the movie from receiving its dues. For instance, in 2016 The Hollywood Reporter lauded the supernatural chiller for the skillful way in which it maintains suspense. Empire, meanwhile, chose to give kudos to the film’s “unusual backdrop and great performances.” And on the back of such drama-building qualities, first-time director Babak Anvari went on to win a clutch of awards on the festival circuit as well as a 2017 BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. In a nutshell, Under the Shadow follows a mother-and-daughter pair who find themselves caged within their Tehran apartment as war rocks the streets outside. As mom Shideh – played by Iranian star Narges Rashid – begins to realize, moreover, a mysterious spirit has invaded the building.
Not to be forgotten…
The following were previously on our list of the 25 best horror movies on Netflix, but they’ve either now left the streaming service or have since been pushed out of the top 25. Even so, these films are still very much worth watching.
When college kid Columbus finds himself in the middle of a zombie uprising, he wants to know if his nearest and dearest have themselves turned into the undead. Naturally, then, the unassuming young man heads out on the road to his parents’ home. But before getting to check up on his folks, Columbus – played by Jesse Eisenberg – encounters a colorful bunch of fellow survivors with whom he bands together in order to make the journey unscathed. And while this premise may, granted, rightly suggest the potential for blood and guts aplenty, laughs are on offer, too. That’s certainly what can be surmised from Us Weekly’s review of the zom-com, which labeled it “a non-stop snarky ride.” The New Yorker’s Bruce Diones also gave credit to Woody Harrelson – who, the critic opined, gives “a gleeful rampage of a performance” as Twinkie-obsessed killer Tallahassee.
Even to this day, a couple of persistent rumors surround the production of legendary horror Poltergeist. It’s been said, for one, that co-writer and co-producer Steven Spielberg in fact directed the movie instead of Tobe Hooper – although both men have publicly denied that this was the case. Perhaps the most enduring urban legend, though, is that both the original Poltergeist and its follow-ups are in some way cursed – a theory prompted by the untimely deaths of two of the series’ child stars, Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne. But even if you don’t think such claims hold water, Poltergeist remains terrifying thanks to its titular spirit, which manages to wreak all manner of havoc on the distraught Freeling family. Indeed, given the destruction taking place in the Freelings’ home, there could actually be more than one ghost in residence…
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Back in the 1980s, Tim Burton discovered the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street while in London. And the future director apparently liked the show so much that he returned to watch it again and again. It’s only fitting, then, that Burton was the man to bring Sweeney Todd to screens – in all its throat-slitting glory. The acclaimed filmmaker also chose frequent collaborator Johnny Depp to take on the starring role – despite the actor’s fears that his singing, as the The New York Times divulged in 2007, might “sound like a strangled cat.” This prospect apparently didn’t put off either star or director, though, so Depp headlines as a serial-killer hairstylist out for retribution against the man who ripped his family apart.
The Wailing (2016)
In The Wailing, a stranger’s arrival in a rural South Korean community appears to usher in the mysterious outbreaks of violence and disease that follow. And even if this premise sounds rather bleak, it didn’t stop Na Hong-jin’s chiller from becoming a major global success; the movie took worldwide box-office receipts of over $52 million, in fact. Critics, meanwhile, largely commended The Wailing too, with The Hollywood Reporter singling out its director for particular praise. The magazine’s Deborah Young wrote, “[Na] expertly swings the film’s dark set pieces between the teeth-chattering and the absurd.” Fans of Quentin Tarantino may also recognize star Jun Kunimura, who appeared in Kill Bill: Vol. 1; and the horror’s eerie look is down to Kyung-pyo Hong, who additionally served as cinematographer on Snowpiercer. In all, then, The Wailing has more than earned its place among the best scary movies on Netflix.