Since the advent of cinema horror movies have been a box-office success, proving that audiences love being frightened — and the Rotten Tomatoes best horror movies are a perfect representation of all the best eras of the genre. While all films in the horror genre attempt to strike fear into their viewers, the stories inside them vary greatly. Whether it’s fun movies full of jump scares, 21st-century elevated horror, or the almost century-old classics that shaped the genre to begin with, horror movies come in so many different shapes and sizes and have drastically different approaches to terrifying audiences.
The movie review aggregate site has assigned every horror film a Tomatometer Rating. This number is based on the positive and negative reviews of certified critics (as opposed to Rotten Tomatoes’ audience scores) and is considered alongside factors including the year a film was released and how many ratings it has. All these aspects combined ranked the greatest horror movies of all time. Given that most critics score movies as soon as they’re released and are often influenced by hype, some of the Rotten Tomatoes best horror movies are out of place and aren’t held in quite as high regard as others, but that’s what makes the group of movies so interesting.
15 The Lighthouse (2019) – 90%
The Lighthouse is an extraordinarily ambitious horror movie, as it follows two lighthouse keepers who slowly lose their minds on an isolated rock, but there’s so much more under the surface of the psychological horror. The 2019 movie doesn’t spoonfeed its audience the meaning of the movie or explain any of the surreal occurrences, but that’s why it’s so mesmerizing. Director Robert Eggers seemingly tried to alienate viewers every chance he got with The Lighthouse (which he based on a true story) — whether it was with the black-and-white cinematography or having the characters speak in only the way that 1890s mariners would. Nevertheless, critics were drawn to the movie like a moth to a flame.
14 Frankenstein (1931) – 94%
Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was brought to the big screen in 1931, though the adaptation wasn’t faithful in the slightest. The sci-fi horror film tells of a mad scientist who tries to bring a human to life by stitching together the body parts of corpses. Unfortunately, the man-made man begins to wreak havoc on society after he escapes the lab. While the movie wasn’t faithful, Frankenstein has influenced thousands of movies in every genre (not just horror), that tell the story of a living thing who is treated as a monster and only wants to have a normal life.
13 The Babadook (2014) – 98%
The Babadook is a psychological horror film about an Australian woman who is still haunted by the death of her husband. The husband was killed in a car accident six years before the movie begins, right before the birth of her son, Sam. Her fears begin to grow after young Sam’s fear of monsters begins to hold weight. The movie is a perfect example of the type of movie that has been labeled “elevated horror,” though not everyone likes that label. Either way, The Babadook is not only terrifying and endlessly chilling due to the titular horror villain Mr. Babadook’s omnipresence, but it’s emotionally exhausting too.
12 Jaws (1975) – 97%
Jaws is one of the most impressive horror movies of all time simply because it doesn’t rely on the dark and shadows to make audiences’ minds play tricks on them. Instead, the 1965 film is not only set during the day, but on a sunny island with clear blue skies, but as soon as Bruce jumps out of the ocean, it’s scarier than any movie set during the dead of night in a cabin in the woods. Jaws is an amalgam of genres, as it was also the first-ever summer blockbuster and could be considered an action drama. However Jaws is one of the Rotten Tomatoes best horror movies, and Steven Spielberg hasn’t directed a scarier film since.
11 Bride Of Frankenstein (1935) – 98%
Frankenstein received a sequel in 1935 that was even better regarded than the first. The Bride of Frankenstein has Dr. Frankenstein falling under the control of Dr. Pretorius, who requires him to keep experimenting with life creation and make a partner for his first monster, and his original experiment continues to run astray. There have been so many Bride of Frankenstein remake attempts, with A-list actors such as Angelina Jolie on board to star. However, while the box office bomb The Mummy kept that from happening, it was likely stuck in development hell because it’s nigh-impossible to remake such a flawless original movie.
10 A Quiet Place (2018) – 96%
John Krasinski directed and acted in the sci-fi horror film, A Quiet Place, alongside his wife Emily Blunt in 2018. A Quiet Place centers on a family that lives in an apocalyptic world where blind monsters with an incredibly acute sense of hearing are always lurking. Things get especially risky as the pregnant mother’s due date grows closer, which leads to one of the most nail-biting scenes in any horror movie of the past 10 years when she gives birth in a bathtub. A Quiet Place became a phenomenal success, being a shocking box office hit and a critical darling. Noteworthy since, when it comes to horror movies, it’s usually one or the other.
9 The Invisible Man (2020) – 92%
With The Invisible Man, director Leigh Whannell turned what could have been a schlocky horror movie full of jump scares into a well-crafted and insightful elevated horror. However, of all the Rotten Tomatoes best horror movies, while The Invisible Man was massively talked about at the time, it hasn’t left a lasting impression. While the movie earned an unbelievable score on Rotten Tomatoes, The Invisible Man wasn’t quite as well-received by audiences. The 2020 release perfectly captures how audiences and critics aren’t always on the same page, as it has 7.1 on IMDb. Though that’s far from a bad score on the movie database, it isn’t exactly a greatest-of-all-time score.
8 The Night Of The Hunter (1955) – 93%
The Night of the Hunter is about a serial killer who poses as a preacher and plots a scheme to steal a widow’s savings. The movie looks and sounds exactly like the countless noir film that studios were churning out on a weekly basis in the 1940s and 1950s. However, the movie is a different and way more inventive film, but, ironically, critics didn’t think so until much later. The Night of the Hunter was panned by critics when it was released, and if Rotten Tomatoes existed in 1933, the film would undoubtedly be rated “rotten.” It was only through retrospective reviews that the movie garnered a high RT score.
7 Nosferatu, A Symphony Of Horror (1922) – 97%
Though this silent German Expressionist horror film was ordered to be destroyed after it illegally borrowed elements of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, a few rescued copies of Nosferatu have allowed it to remain one of the greatest films in its genre even in the present. Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror follows a man, Thomas Hutter, who attempts to escape Count Orlok’s Transylvanian castle after discovering his vampire nature and fearing for his wife’s safety. The Count continues his plot to purchase a new home near Hutter. Nosferatu is a classic, but over a century later, Robert Eggers could deliver a Nosferatu remake that’s better than the original.
6 King Kong (1933) – 96%
While King Kong has been rebooted many times, no adaption has managed to compare to the first. 1933’s King Kong tells the story of an actress and director who take a trip to the jungle for a movie shoot. While the actress ends up falling for her ship’s first mate, she is soon swept away by a group of natives on an island who hope to sacrifice her to Kong. The final sequence has been parodied endlessly in pop culture, but that’s simply a testament to how iconic and how embedded in pop culture the 1933 release is, though King Kong’s dated effects will keep anyone from being truly scared.
5 Alien (1979) – 98%
Given that Alien was conceived as “Jaws in Space,” the film was always going to be one of the most terrifying movies of all time. Between the way the Xenomorph’s metallic color can blend in with the spaceship and the way the creature looks, it has become one of the most iconic horror villains of all time. Alien is the greatest example of a sci-fi horror hybrid, and no movie has pulled it off better in the four decades since its original release. The Alien franchise has struggled to uphold the quality of the original movie, but the 1979 release is so perfect that no sequel can tarnish its legacy.
4 Us (2019) – 93%
Jordan Peele’s Us is about a family who is attacked by their doppelgängers, and it’s one of the greatest horror movies of all time according to Rotten Tomatoes. The film is generally considered an entertaining popcorn flick but nowhere near the level of genius of Peele’s previous movie Get Out, and the critics’ love for Us could have been a result of hype. However, given that the Tomatoes meter is based on how many critics enjoyed the film, not on how much they liked the film, it could be that every critic simply thinks Us is pretty good, and that’s enough for it to count as an all-time great.
3 The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1919) – 96%
The oldest film of the Rotten Tomatoes best horror movies is 1919’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The silent horror film tells of a couple of friends, Alan and Francis, who come across a crazed hypnotist at a German carnival. His somnambulist predicts that Alan will soon die, and, by the morning, that’s exactly what happens. However, whether the murder was committed by the somnambulist or the hypnotist himself remains a mystery. Even over 100 years after its release, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is still chilling, and the titular character’s odd behavior influenced countless iconic horror villains.
2 Get Out (2017) – 98%
While the 2017 horror film Get Out marked the directorial debut of Jordan Peele, who was mostly known for being a comedy actor, it still managed to score higher than most other movies in its genre. In Get Out, black photographer Chris Washington meets his white girlfriend’s parents in rural Upstate New York, but things take a turn for the worst as Chris starts to uncover a series of much darker secrets. The movie started a whole trend of Twilight Zone-esque horror movies, and while it’s a little derivative of The Stepford Wives, which Get Out even references. it’s expertly tailored to a modern audience and is extremely relevant.
1 Psycho (1960) – 96%
The iconic horror thriller known as Psycho hit the big screen in 1960, and it follows a secretary named Marion who steals a large sum of money from her employer. While on the run with her boyfriend, Marion decides to stop at the Bates Motel for the night. While she has a pleasant meeting with the manager, his dark secrets begin to reveal themselves and take over. The Alfred Hitchcock-directed classic remains the gold standard in horror filmmaking, and the masterclass extends further than just the iconic Psycho shower scene. Norman Bates is an all-time terrifying horror villain, and Psycho is the absolute Rotten Tomatoes best horror movie.