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The Best Horror Films of the 21st Century

2017 has followed the recent trend of wonderfully, mind-bending horror films of the 2010’s, which have more than made up for the blood filled and substance less decade prior to it. With both Jordan Peele’s Get Out making waves, It reigning supreme at the box office this year, and under the radar gems sneaking their way into the public eye, we thought what better way to make this year’s Halloween by naming our favorite horror films of the century so far. Opinions may vary, of course, and it’s clear which films we saw more recently than others, but it’s a fun list worth checking out. Let us know in the comments the films that would’ve made your list!

30. Raw 

She feels the need, the need to feed. At least Justine (Garance Marillier) does in Raw, after a hazing ritual at her veterinary college results in her eating meat for the first time. Soon, she is craving meat in all of its forms, whether it’s raw, cooked…or human. As Justine’s hunger blossoms, so too does her sexuality, which becomes tied to her increasingly all-consuming urges for flesh. The college’s stifling, conformist environment soon has the potential to becomes a kind of disturbingly erotic hunting ground, with director Julia Ducournau bringing it to life in all its lurid glory. Raw doesn’t offer tidy endings or solutions, only with the simple truth that some people will find a way to reconcile who they want to be with who they actually are; because in the end, they must. [Andrea Thompson]

29. Stoker 

Incest, murder, and dark family secrets? It’s all a day in the life of the idle rich. As we follow the coming-of-age of India, whom in the capable hands of Mia Wasikowska is equal parts vulnerable, unsettling, wise, and childlike, it also becomes the stuff of great horror. India’s official entry into adulthood is the epitome of a rough start, since her 18th birthday coincides with the death of her father and the appearance of Charlie (Matthew Goode), the handsome, charming uncle she never knew. We quickly learn that he is dangerous, but just what exactly is India? More importantly, what will she become? The answer is never completely clear until the end, and director Chan-wook Park’s (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) hypnotic visuals and tributes to Hitchcock makes Stoker an unforgettable watch. [Andrea Thompson]

28. Signs

Like many films by M. Night Shyamalan, the film Signs ends with a twist of our expectations. Also like many of his films, most fans later claim that they saw it coming, or that the twist is too silly or easy. While that may be a little bit true here, it ultimately doesn’t matter when the experience of the film is so atmospheric and the performances are as grounded as they are here. Signs centers on a widowed former priest, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), his two children (Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin) and his younger brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) who live together on an isolated farmhouse in Pennsylvania. Then a crop circle appears in Hess’s cornfield. Before long, animals start acting weird, circles crop up around the globe, and strange and fearful sightings of unknown lights and creatures increase. Yep, it’s aliens. While the monsters here aren’t the most terrifying or original you’ve ever seen, the film creeps under your skin because you really feel the isolation and the fear of this family. Their pervasive grief at the loss of Mrs. Hess informs their fear, and their decision to fight for each other and themselves, leading to the sense that what the Hess family is fighting might be more than aliens. [Beth Winchester]

27. Train to Busan 

The little zombie film that could, Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan became an instant hit, taking the confined setting of its story and expanding it through well earned context and heart-racing action. A devastating film that never feels the urge to rely on the horror and gore possible for a film of its nature, Train to Busan is anchored by a lot of heart and some truly tremendous action sequences. Using the natural claustrophobia of the train setting along with the wonderful performances delivered by the entire cast, Train to Busan has become an instant classic. [Allyson Johnson]

26. The Devil’s Backbone

Guillermo del Toro directed this ghost story as an indictment to the evil of the Franco regime and the Spanish Civil War, setting the stage for this chilling, portentous thriller. Set in an orphanage in some remote dustbowl in Spain, del Toro first creates a feeling of treachery, disquiet and menace in the human characters, creating so much tension, conflict and tragedy that the ghost becomes almost superfluous. But the ghost, more than an afterthought, evokes the memory of a brutal crime, suspended forever in the past, residing forever in the present. If anything the ghost is figurative, evoking the bones of a history long buried, unearthed by the fear that history will repeat itself. In del Toro’s films, ghosts often warn its heroes or heroines of ancient evils or unseen menaces, reminding us that the past can often inform us of present horrors. [Gary Shannon]

25.The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon isn’t for the faint of heart—or the stomach. The Danish filmmaker spins a tangled, toxic, and intoxicating web between sensual supermodels and the scariest of monsters that lurk behind the camera, at the edge of the runway, opposite the dressing curtain. Elle Fanning’s jam jar-eyed Jesse—a tender 16-year-old who practically floats amongst the sea of similar faces—is arresting as she is astounding, playing the part of a girl driven by growing narcissism and a neon glow she can’t seem to understand with expert clarity. The Neon Demon spirals out into seduction and repulsion in its second half as Jesse first becomes nothing more than an image-obsessed mannequin and then falls victim to two vengeful fellow models with a taste for blood and 23-inch waistlines. The girls are painted with wispy characterization, the men as encroaching as ever, against a background that’s undeniably a trademark Refn vision, a treat for the eyes all the way to the final gut-heaving moment. [AJ Caulfield]

24. You’re Next 

You’re Next has gotten a bad rap over the years. It was marketed as a generic horror film and only made $18 million domestically. But like few low-key horror films, it turned out to be an underground gem. You’re Next is a smart and terrifying film, turning traditional conventions on its heads and creating something unique in the process. Instead of becoming horror’s new millennial scream queen, Sharni Vinson becomes horror’s new badass—using her survivalist skills to take on home invaders. The film suddenly turns into a feminist horror flick, something as common as a rom-com turning into an MRA comedy. Similar to James Wan and Leigh Whannell, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett work best with each other. Barrett’s pitch black humor meshes with Wingard’s superb direction—making for a deliciously campy slasher. [Yasmin Kleinbart]

23. The Guest 

Lithe, stylish and vibrant, Adam Wingard’s The Guest starring a primed-for-stardom Dan Stevens is still the most exciting piece of work he’s accomplished. Setting the story to a backdrop that’s familiar and, at first, almost muted, the film lives and breathes on its ability to build tension through its run time with the little moments. It’s the innocuous elements of danger being over one’s shoulder that grants the movie its edge. We always know something isn’t quite right with Steven’s mysterious character, even while he manages to charm both the characters and the audience, but that doesn’t make his electrifying and bloody showdown any less disappointing or thrilling. It’s a taut film with no line of dialogue or shot wasted. [Allyson Johnson]

22. The Host 

Some horror movies are centered around the unknown. Others are centered on the fear that lies in close quarters. The Host, a beautifully subversive monster movie from Bong Joon Ho, focuses on both the threats close by and those that are more supernatural, more unknowable, yet ever-present all the same. A cinematic cocktail of various genres and tones, from political satire to family drama to, of course, horror thriller, The Host excels not only in creating a very good, very frightening monster flick for our times, but also exploring its themes of social paranoia and government disassociation with an equal amount of thrills and laughs. It’s a strange, if ultimately beautiful, little movie, and one that finds the right amount of scares from places you’d expect and those you wouldn’t imagine. [Will Ashton]

21. The Mist

While in midst of a Stephen King dominated year at the cinema, don’t sleep on his underrated hit The Mist. Great even beyond its killer of an ending, which left a sickening pit in your stomach weeks after seeing it, the film utilized what the great monster makers of the last few decades have accomplished by hinting at their creatures long before ever showing them. It’s a terrible treat of a film, one that leaves you simultaneously itching for more madness while also sighing in relief that the anxiety attack you’ve been experiencing is finally over. [Allyson Johnson]

20. The Ring 

The Ring was my first horror film, and its true testament to the genre is the fact I never actually finished watching it. Call it the result of being 12 and paranoid, but The Ring still manages to creep me out. It bridges modern technology (loose on the modern) and the paranormal in simple, yet terrifying terms, dragging out the terror for seven days. But the scene that solidified it in this list, at least for me, is when Samara crawls out of the television. It’s perfect tension-building, her slow, staggering walk toward the screen screams inevitability, and the end result doesn’t disappoint. The film was a clever attempt at modern horror, but the concept wasn’t able to carry over to sequels. Still, the first film continues to be a staple during Halloween scary movie marathons. [Katey Stoetzel]

19. The Wailing

The Wailing, a truly petrifying film, centers on a backwaters town terrorized by a mysterious, invasive supernatural entity. It starts as police procedural—a homicide investigation in the same vein as Memories of Murder—and places attention on a crime scene that shakes the idyllic mountain village to its core. What The Wailing is about remains somewhat of a mystery (though its concentration on faith testing is hugely suggestive), the questions it asks however are eerily enticing. At 156 minutes, The Wailing seems too hefty for any film labelled “horror” to sustain itself, but its enrapturing sense of place and the unknown, always just out of sight, casts an inescapable spell. [Gary Shannon]

18. The Descent 

Despite being directed by a man, I would still call The Descent the epitome of the Bechdel Test. The all-woman cast proves that they don’t need to be dumb, seductive, or led by a man to fight their way through a horror movie. Directed by Neil Marshall, The Descent is one of those films that is circulated through word of mouth. The terrible cover suggests that this movie is a straight-to- DVD cheese fest. But if Roger Ebert could give this film a 4/4, then you know you have a gem on your hands.Story aside, What The Descent succeeds in is its vivid imagery. Marshall makes every frame look like a hellish painting ripped straight from Dante’s “Inferno.” He and his cinematographer, Sam McCurdy, know how to create just the right amount of hallucinatory fear from these horrific images. It’s enough to create an impact and not be total overkill.

But this movie wouldn’t be anything without its stellar cast. There are no damsel in distresses in this film- just variations of awesome heroines with their own skills and baggage. There may not be much regarding character development, but for a movie this stressful, you don’t need it. You just want them to get the hell out. [Yasmin Kleinbart]

17. The Orphanage

Slow burning and tense as hell, J.A. Boyana’s The Orphanage doesn’t go for the cheap scares. Rather, it buries itself into the back of your mind, picking at unsuspecting fears that linger past the run time of the movie. Visually gorgeous and equally as haunting, the film marked itself and its filmmaker for a future of success. [Allyson Johnson]

16. The Conjuring 

After nearly a decade of tweaking and perfecting his cinematic blend of horror, James Wan finally struck it big with The Conjuring. Universal gave Wan a sizable budget that exceeded the entirety of his preceding filmography. This opportunity allowed for Wan to make a true period haunted house film he had previously tried his hand at with the Insidious movies. While his trademark jump scares are still prevalent throughout, the characters victimized by the supernatural are exceedingly likable. The Conjuring may seem like a recycled jumble of prior haunted house films, but Wan creates two surprisingly original and terrifying scares. From the infamous clapping hands to the sheet blowing through the wind, Wan finally broke out to the mainstream as one of the modern masters of horror. [Matthew Goudreau]

15. It Follows

While many horror films incorporate our everyday anxieties into their terrifying scenarios, It Follows boldly made what is so often subtext into text. One of the many “rules” for horror films is that if you have sex, you die. In It Follows, you don’t die because you had sex and are being morally judged, but you die literally because you had sex. The “it” of the title is a slow-moving monster of various faces – often appearing naked and or brutalized in some way – that changes its target based on who had sex with the previous “carrier.” The protagonist, Jay (Maika Monroe), learns this when she gets intimate with her boyfriend, Hugh. Immediately afterward, Hugh straps Jay to a chair to make her listen to what he has to tell her: It will follow her now. It can only walk, but it will keep walking towards you until it kills you. And then once it does, it will move back down the line. The story unfolds as we watch Jay and her friends attempt to escape the monster as their relationships complicate and latent sexual anxieties can’t help but be revealed. The ending is appropriately ambiguous, because even when “it” isn’t following you, any person – stranger or friend – carries the potential for harm. [Beth Winchester]

14. Mulholland Drive 

This is more of a true horror film than all of the Saw films combined. Because Saw is just an endurance test, a silly exploitation of our (very disturbing) appetite for gratuitous gore, whereas Mulholland Drive really manages to trouble the subconscious in unforgettable ways that would’ve made Freud proud. It’s often described as a dream on film, in which the two lead characters, played by Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, assume various identities and names as they investigate the car crash that opens the film and which gave the latter amnesia. Yet it’s more of a free associative nightmare than a narrative film, with deeply unsettling images that plant themselves in your mind: the monstrous figure behind the diner, the blue box, the corpse that’s been left rotting for days, the miniature old people crawling under the door, the haunting Club Silencio. Real horror comes when you start to piece these clues together and unpick the relationship between the two main women: you start to realize that it’s built on adultery, betrayal, abuse, and possibly even worse. Real horror comes from the terrible things that human beings can do to each other when pushed, not from monsters and ghouls, and David Lynch understood this. It’s his finest film. [Oliver Hollander]

13. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night 

The title would be a feminist provocation in Iran, where this film is supposedly set, although it was shot in California. The Persian language being spoken against an American backdrop is one of the many strange things that make Ana Lily Amirpour’s film so compellingly unique. It’s a vampire movie, in which the vampire is a young woman who travels around on a skateboard and is called “The Girl.” It’s a romance, in which the most romantic scene is simply a couple walking towards each other in slow motion as “Death” by White Lies plays in the background (and though that might sound boring, it’s utterly transfixing). It’s a film with very modern attitudes to sex and drugs, yet it’s shot in a rather old-fashioned black and white that makes it look like a John Ford western. It’s surreal in the best sense: words can’t quite describe it. It must be seen. [Oliver Hollander]

12. American Psycho

American Psycho can be looked at as both a horror film and cultural satire. Despite drawing out the excess of the 1980s for most of the satirical elements, the film holds a surprising amount of similarities to modern day. With stock prices constantly on the rise and billionaires being more and more common, the world remains as obsessed about wealth as it did back then. Sure things have changed, such as it being illegal to snort cocaine in clubs, but society still has the need for consumption. Many look to plastic surgery to improve their appearance and expensive jewelry to pep up their spirits. Like Patrick Bateman, these actions are essentially masking the true surface of human compulsion and nature. Director Mary Harron brought out Ellis’s message of satirizing “greed is good” to the nth degree, following the pattern of great film adaptations. That is making a stand-alone film that doesn’t rely on prior knowledge of the source material. [Matthew Goudreau]

11. Let the Right One In

From F.W Murnau’s Nosferatu and Carl Dreyer’s Vampyr, film has explored, adopted and adapted pretty much all facets of the Vampire Archetype  — Their predatory nature, the uncanny sexual magnetism, the torment over their fate, their focus on power and dominance —, yet that one elusive feature of its mythos, in which a vampire cannot enter a room (and by extension, a life) without being invited in, has been treated mostly as an afterthought. In Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, this theme is central in telling the story of Eli and Oskar’s unlikely friendship. A 12-year-old boy, bullied and overlooked, allowing a cold-blooded killer into his most intimate space is an enormous act of trust. But then, the supernatural creature responds by offering the greatest of protections, revealing the true power of this tale of suburban dread. This is a story of Love, and most importantly, a story about Love’s most elusive feature: The courage of Loyalty. [Leonel Manzanares]

10. 28 Days Later 

Leave it up to a versatile filmmaker like Danny Boyle, one who is willing to navigate different genres, to spearhead this resurgence of the living dead with his zombie film that isn’t really a zombie film: 2002’s 28 Days Later. The debates over whether the infected are zombies or not are just superficial semantics. With 28 Days Later, Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland redefined horror by twisting established characteristics of the zombie subgenre into an original piece that stands tall and fresh in the annals of the genre. After all, there are only so many times characters can be attacked by the shambling walkers before realizing they can just run away. In this new wasteland however, cardio is your most important resource. [Matthew Goudreau]

9. Green Room

Director Jeremy Sauliner gleans a lot of tension and terror from his ability to create a visceral sense of claustrophobia for his characters. That sense of overwhelming terror is abundant in Green Room as we nearly need to keep our eyes clamped shut to endure the entire running time in one piece. Anton Yelchin, Patrick Stewart and the rest of the cast do remarkable work in a film that requires a wealth of imposing physicality. But the real star of the film is Sauliner, who does so much with so little, pouring a sense of danger into every shot, so that by the end of the film we’re as exhausted both mentally and physically as the lone survivors. [Allyson Johnson]

8. The Cabin in the Woods

We all know the tropes that plague the horror genre, but never has a film crammed so many into 95 minutes until Cabin in the Woods. This horror film shines with flashes of comedy as it reinforces all the horror cliches you have come to know, while simultaneously subverting them by openly acknowledging their existence. Drew Goddard is no stranger when it comes to blending horror and comedy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) with mystery (Cloverfield, Lost), but as his directorial debut, he literally slays the genre. His visual style and detailed understanding of both comedic timing and effective scare tactics make this film an unforgettable experience. [Jon Espino]

7. Under the Skin 

Ever since his early days as a music video director, in the late 90’s, Jonathan Glazer has been a real revolutionary. His talent for formulating devastating alternate realities into the most ordinary of urban settings, whether it’s in the psychological (Radiohead’s “Karma Police”) or the supernatural (U.N.K.L.E’s “Rabbit in your Headlights”), has been a source of inspiration for many aspiring creators of this generation. Under The Skin, however faithful to the cataclysmic spirit that has marked most of his work, does not feel like a film he, or frankly anyone, had done before. Its power resides in all that it keeps unexplained; we never know any reasons for the alien’s operations, we never get even a visual hint of an auteur’s statement, and all the context we ever gather from it is mainly utilitarian. Yet in spite of that, it seemingly demands to be analyzed. Every critical reading of it — especially those centered around gender performance, sexual violence and even inequality and immigration — is proof that, just like Scarlett Johansson’s character arriving in Glasgow without any knowledge of human social interaction, we’re still only beginning to unravel this alien language. [Leonel Manzanares]

6. Black Swan

A film that, for whatever reason, hasn’t always endured the test of time so well, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan led by Natalie Portman (who’d win the Oscar for the role) is a remarkably beautiful and terrorizing piece of work. A film that both works its way under your skin through the air of commanding and unsettling tension as our leading lady unravels while simultaneously stirring your stomach and upsetting your senses with its graphic body horror, Black Swan is the highest form of visual artistry from the mind of a twisted artist. The mounting build up to the climatic moments are all beautifully done so that, even when the worst seems to have happened, we’re still on the edge of our seats, worried for what on earth could possibly befall this poor girl next. [Allyson Johnson]

5. The Witch 

When an actual Satanic organization endorses a horror movie, you know it did something right by doing something very wrong. And The Witch does not disappoint. It’s a slow burn that builds nonstop after a Puritan family is exiled from their community in 1630s New England. What happens next on their remote farm is all the more horrific due to director Robert Eggers’ commitment to authenticity. He uses journals and court record from the period, as well as meticulous research to recreate the speech, homes and clothing of the time, then created a tense, unsettling atmosphere partly by using only what natural light was available outdoors and candles within doors. Why? So he could give you the personification of their fears, fears that were at the heart of America’s dark beginnings. But perhaps the most horrifying thing of all is the realization that we, like Thomasin (Anna Taylor-Joy), might also find that darkness liberating. [Andrea Thompson]

4. Shaun of the Dead

You can always count on director Edgar Wright to create an absurd flip on a beloved, trope filled genre, most recently seen in his crime film Baby Driver, and first seen in his ode to zombies in the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead. For the first time on the silver screen we bear witness to his kinetic editing, slick framing and punchy dialogue, as well as a wonderful slew of horror moments that play for laughs but are still made in the spirit of the films it derives from. One moment, the zombie body of a woman is grotesquely emboweled, the next, Nick Frost winds up a film camera with awkward and perfect comedic timing. Simon Pegg’s Shaun embodies the perfect scenario of an average joe whose life takes a dumper dive, and stacks the occurrence of a zombie apocalypse on top, creating something relatable about a character out under such absurd circumstances, culminating with rare occurrence of a horror film with actual dimension and emotion. Plus, the climax is sync’d to a Queen song— DAMN I love this movie.  [Evan Griffin]

3. The Babadook 

Aside from having an entity that has somehow become a gay icon, The Babadook represents a refreshing shift in horror that is more about the story and less about cheap, gore porn scares. This was writer/director Jennifer Kent’s first feature film, and she develops an unnerving tale centered around herself, her son, and a children’s book that is definitely not for children. The film is full of beautiful dichotomies that highlight both the darkness and the innocence, all while being disturbing, yet very heartfelt. [Jon Espino]

2. Get Out 

Easily one of the most culturally important and relevant horror films in recent memory, Get Out proves that you can blend horror and comedy, while delivering important social commentary. Jordan Peele has delivered great material in the past, usually with co-writer Keegan-Michael Key, but this time he proves that not only can he easily creating a compelling and engaging story without a partner, but that he can deliver visually as he makes his directorial debut. The scares in this film are on par with the equally chilling performances. [Jon Espino]

1. Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece El Laberinto del Fauno is the greatest and most important horror film of the 21st Century so far. Also, it’s perhaps the most important film of the 21st Century of any genre. Incredibly enough, it’s not the latter but the former claim the one I’ve had to defend the most. For many — including myself at first — it’s very hard to consider this film as horror at all. But horror is not only about the spectacle of jump-scares or the extremism of gore and torture-porn, not even in the films’ ability to “scare” you in the room with some gruesome sequence; horror is about reflecting and expanding on realities — mental, physical, societal — that are so profoundly tumultuous, so filled with uncertainty and upheaval, they are existentially terrifying.

Pan’s Labyrinth is not only a spellbinding fairytale that offers an impressive depiction of the power of childhood imagination, it’s also a deep dive on the way humans internalize life in the most atrocious circumstances. A girl who has been stripped of all humanity, crushed by the violence of Spanish Fascism, is forced to resort to a world of fantasy, only to discover that this magic place can be just as disturbing and violent as the one she’s escaping from. It’s clear then that, under the most severe oppression, even our attempts at conceiving a better life become distorted. And this is why del Toro’s parable is way more relevant in 2017, now that actual Neo-Nazis have taken over the White House and other right-wing forces have reached parliaments in Europe. It is a reminder that fascism’s true aim is to control and suppress everything, even our dreams. [Leonel Manzanares]

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