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65 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century

From topical zombie apocalypses to retro-slasher flicks, the best scary movies since the turn of the millennium

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Back in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Vietnam and civil unrest helped kickstart a new golden age of American horror movies; shortly after the beginning of our new century, we had one massive public atrocity and several new wars to fuel a whole new wave of movies dealing with communal anxieties via scary monsters and super-freaky maniacs. Yes, it’s always been a durable genre regardless of what’s going on in the culture, but considering what’s happened globally over the last 20 or so years, it makes sense that horror films would resonate with folks the way they have. That, and the fact that such free-floating dread would help give birth to a number of films from both the U.S. and abroad that deserve a place in the pantheon.

So we’ve assembled our take on the 65 best horror films of the 21st century – the zombie-apocalypse tales, things-that-go-bump-in-the-psyche ghost stories, retro-slasher flicks, neo-giallo nuggets, J-horror, K-horror, French extreme and Hollywood franchise films that have spooked us, shook us and scared us shitless since 2000. As in any committee-led process, our highly opinionated writers and experts argued over what constituted being included/categorized here (Mulholland Drive belongs on every list of the Greatest Films of the Millennium; whether it’s genuinely a “horror” film, however, is still up for debate). But the ranked list of films here are guaranteed to have you repeating to yourself, “It’s only a movie … it’s only a movie… it’s only a movie …”.

From Rolling Stone US

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‘Under the Skin’ (2013)

It took director Jonathan Glazer almost a decade to adapt Michael Faber’s alien invasion novel, about an extraterrestrial that manifests in female human form (specifically, Scarlett Johansson) and seduces male hitchhikers in order to trap, dissolve and eat them. Then the creature makes a curious discovery about its sexual identity while inhabiting this big blue marble; by the end, we’re all crying along with the monster. In the hands of a lesser director, Under the Skin would never succeed at such masterful manipulation. But this isn’t a movie you watch so much as experience. It’s like taking a warm bath in pure nightmare fuel. JV

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‘The Descent’ (2005)

Years before he redefined TV action with his work on Game of Thrones, British director Neil Marshall earned his place in the horror pantheon with this merciless survival-horror story. One year after a car accident shatters their bonds, a group of women go spelunking in a remote Appalachian cavern and unearth far more than they bargained for. The claustrophobic setting is intense and the creature effects genuinely disturbing, but the film’s greatness lies in its use of its main character’s raw, red grief as emotional kindling for the catastrophe that follows. Few of even the greatest genre movies dare to go places this deep. STCWatch The Descent on Amazon Prime here

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‘Shaun of the Dead’ (2004)

Fans consider it an expert goof on zombie movies, but don’t tell that to director Edgar Wright: “Our funny characters were inhabiting a pretty bleak and scary situation,” he’s claimed. “I hope it works as a companion film to the Romero trilogy, rather than a spoof.” Mission accomplished: Shaun brilliantly merges horror and comedy in a way that makes the scares exponentially more cutting. This story of a regular bloke (co-writer Simon Pegg) and his oafish best friend (Nick Frost) who discover that the undead are terrorizing their neighborhood has an extra jolt because its laughs are constantly undercut by seeing their friends and loved ones viciously devoured in front of their eyes. And few feature a disemboweling as gut-churning as the one in which a character is about to apologize for being an ass — just as the ravenous hordes break through the wall and tear him to shreds. TGWatch Shaun of the Dead on HBO Max here


‘Raw’ (2016)

Many folks walked in to French director Julia Ducournau’s extraordinary, extreme debut expecting to test their mettle. (The movie that caused fainting at festival screenings! Mon dieu!) A little under two hours later, they exited the building having seen a genuine Grand Guignol masterpiece. Following the story of a college freshman (Garance Marillier) who slowly finds herself developing a taste for some off-the-menu delicacies, this gnarly look at a cannibal’s coming-of-age flips the script on notions of empowerment even as it turns stomachs. In terms of next-gen horror filmmaking, this shock to the system serves as an introduction to a major new talent; that shot of our heroine chomping into her arm en flagrante delicto is gorgeous and haunting and sick as fuck. In terms of using genre to tackle the female-body politic, Raw is one hell of an art-horror dirty bomb, smuggling in transgressive notions about control and womanhood under the cover of fake–Type-O splatter. Bon appetit. DFWatch Raw on Amazon Prime here

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‘The Witch’ (2009)

A masterpiece of atmospheric horror, Robert Eggers’ brilliantly crafted period piece follows descent of a 17th-century New England farm family into despair and madness after their baby is snatched by a local hag. Though the film contains some genuinely terrifying sequences, much of its overwhelming sense of spookiness comes from what isn’t seen on the screen, along with the tension that inevitably results when the family pits their unbending Puritan outlook against the merciless power of Mother Nature. And Black Phillip, the family’s goat, will put you off petting zoos for the rest of your life. DEWatch The Witch on Amazon Prime here

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‘Pulse’ (2001)

An insidious, suicide-inducing miasma invades the world of the living via the Internet in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s quiet, apocalyptic ghost story. Of all the films in the J-horror wave of early aughts, Pulse is by far the creepiest and most prophetic – a depressing indictment of technology and the negative effect it continues to have on humanity. Even more impressively, the filmmaker never resorts to cheap scares, opting for a slower-than-slow-burn sense of dread to suggest a society suffering from spiritual rot, one mouse-click at a time. It’s sad, beautiful and haunting – the rare horror movie that leaves a dark stain on your soul. JVWatch Pulse on Amazon Prime here

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‘The Cabin in the Woods’ (2012)

The most subversive meta-horror flick since Scream made the genre self-aware, Drew Goddard’s tweaked take on the most tired cliché in horror – horny college kids retreating to cabin for drug-binging and sexcapades – becomes something so original that Hollywood hasn’t figured out a way to mimic and/or ruin it the way they did with, say, The Blair Witch Project. It has so many twists that it’s best enjoyed if you can go into it with a blank slate (or whiteboard, as the case may be … we’ve said too much already). But its real feat is being a rare movie that manages to be scary and funny without becoming schlocky or corny in the process. And that’s not mentioning the merman subplot. KGWatch The Cabin in the Woods on Amazon Prime here

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‘The Conjuring’ (2013)

Lots of directors pledge allegiance to old-school horror flicks like The Exorcist; James Wan is one of the few capable of making something worthy of his influences. This ghost story par excellence works from the same true-life sources that gave us The Amityville Horror: In the early 1970s, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) visit a Rhode Island family who believe their home is haunted. The Conjuring isn’t merely a spot-on period re-creation — it’s a fiendishly effective throwback to Seventies-style studio horror, back when methodical pacing and an icy tone trumped cheap gore. Stately, sophisticated dread permeates every frame, with Wan devilishly toying with his audience as they jump at every creaky floorboard and random trip to the super-creepy basement. TGWatch The Conjuring on HBO Max here


‘The Invisible Man’ (2020)

H.G. Wells classic man-who-wasn’t-there tale gets a modern update in the form of a #MeToo parable: Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss, in what’s arguably her best performance to date) is stuck in an abusive relationship with a bleeding-edge tech giant (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). She goes into hiding, he’s found dead, and everything seems to be headed toward a happy ending. Except Cecilia has the strange feeling that her ex is still tormenting her somehow, which may have something to do with what he’d been working on in his laboratory … as well as all of those objects mysteriously moving of their own accord …. Director Leigh Whannell’s chilling, beautifully calculated nightmare turns an old Universal Horror property into something a lot scarier than monsters running amuck: a gaslighting tale, in which no one believes you’re suffering simply because they can’t see what’s causing it themselves. Bravo. DFWatch The Invisible Man on Amazon Prime here

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‘The Babadook’ (2014)

Jennifer Kent’s debut was not only one of the most assured in years but one of the most conceptually sound: She not only knows how to scare people, but why. The story of a widowed mother (Essie Davis) whose son is menaced by an angular demon that’s literally straight out of a children’s book begins as a nerve-scraping parable of grief; it becomes truly terrifying, however, when the subject shifts to how quickly parental love can turn to hate. It’s a monster movie in which everyone takes turns being the monster. SAWatch The Babadook on Amazon Prime here

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‘Let the Right One In’ (2008)

Beautiful, bleak and deeply affecting, Tomas Alfredson’s stunning 2008 film gave the vampire genre a much-needed tweak with its somber depiction of one of the more unusual relationships in horror history – an alienated 12 year-old boy who inadvertently bonds with the “young” female bloodsucker next door. Filled with enough Swedish angst to make Ingmar Bergman proud and enough genuine scares to appeal to jaded horror fanatics, Let the Right One In moves quietly and deliberately, which makes its feeding scenes and set pieces such as swimming-pool massacre seem all the more jarring. Even more frightening, perhaps, is the film’s assertion that adolescent males have the capacity to be far more monstrous than actual monsters. DEWatch Let the Right One In on Hulu here


‘Hereditary’ (2018)

Whether you think it’s “the scariest film since The Exorcist” or simply one of the best horror films in the last deacde, Ari Aster’s debut feature is one remarkably self-assured, genuinely disturbing take on family dynamics. It knows exactly when and how to jump headfirst into insanity. Its mix of grief, grotesquerie and ghost-story dread feels nigh unbeatable. Toni Collette’s performance as an artist dealing with loss(es) is a masterclass in how to play someone slowly losing their mind; Alex Wolff’s portrayal as her son, equally heading off the rails, matches her step for step. Everything from the cinematography to the score suggests a bad dream you can’t wake up from. The movie requires several viewings at least, so you can see how impressively the film is planting clues at what’s really going on the whole time. And then there’s the climax, which references numerous supernatural horror-movie ancestors without once seeming like it’s ripping them off. A new master has blown into town. Hail Paimon. DFWatch Hereditary on Amazon Prime here

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’28 Days Later…’ (2002)

As with many great horror movies, Danny Boyle’s eviscerating zombie thriller grew out of real-world terrors. “Danny was particularly interested in issues that had to do with social rage – the increase of rage in our society, road rage and other things,” screenwriter Alex Garland explained. Out of that came 28 Days Later…, in which a handful of survivors (including Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris) try to stay a step ahead of unstoppable hordes of rampaging undead, who don’t just feast on the living but seem to be filled with an unquenchable anger, ferociously chasing after our heroes with the lunatic logic of a nightmare. Shot on MiniDV to emphasize the grubby, post-apocalyptic ugliness, the film is a marvel of handheld camerawork and jittery editing. But in the wake of 9/11’s jolting tragedy, this prescient horror film also spoke to unconscious anxieties about a world in which simmering tensions and seething paranoia felt like a terrible new normal. TGWatch 28 Days Later on Hulu here


‘Get Out’ (2017)

It was an instant classic and the inescapable horror movie of 2017 — both a pitch-perfect throwback to writer-director Jordan Peele’s beloved Seventies “social thrillers” and a right-now racial state-of-the-nation address that touched a raw nerve. A lesser filmmaker might have reduced the story of an African-American photographer (Daniel Kaluuya, giving great cry-face) going to meet his white girlfriend’s liberal parents — and having the strange feeling that something is very wrong — to little more than a collection of socially conscious jump scares. Instead, Peele turned Get Out into something unique: A straight-up nightmare that laced its satirical jabs with genuine menace, weaponized a gleeful sense of tweaking “woke” folks and gave form to all the free-floating communal dread of the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” era. Released right after a racist President was sworn in to office and still playing in theaters when white supremacists marched in Southern streets, this hit horror film remains emblematic of our warped moment. We all live in the Sunken Place now. DFWatch Get Out on Amazon Prime here