Ranking The Top 3 Horror Films From EVERY Decade Since The 1920’s

[Editor's Note] If you like what we do, please consider becoming a patron. Thank you.

Become a Patron!

Horror Films Are A Major Part Of Cinema History. Check Out The Top 3 Movies From Every Decade Since 1920.

No one can deny the role horror films has played within the film industry. From creating the first summer blockbuster to creating a cinematic universe long before Marvel, horror is just as important to movies as anything else.

This list was tough to create because limiting myself to only 3 movies over the span of ten years within each decade is maddening. Also, where do you begin ranking films? So I attempted to form this list by including films based on the film itself, the quality, the legacy, the impact to the genre, and audience reception.

Let me know if you agree with my list in the comments down below!


horror films

3. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925)
-Watching this ‘Phantom of the Opera‘ is like watching magic happen. Everything Lon Chaney brought to the Phantom is why we love horror films.
2. ‘Nosferatu’ (1922)
-Before Dracula seduced us all, ‘Nosferatu‘ was there to scare us. Still somehow very gentleman like, the creature Count Orlok is like the godfather of vampires.
1.’The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari’ (1920)
-The fact is, there would be no ‘Nosferatu‘ without ‘Dr. Caligari‘. This German Expressionism silent movie is the pioneer of amazing horror films.


horror films

3. Freaks (1932)
-How did Tod Browning follow-up his iconic film ‘Dracula’? By making an even freakier and better film titled ‘Freaks‘. Using real oddities makes this unforgettable.
2. ‘King Kong’ (1933)
-Now, here’s the original massive monster movie. ‘King Kong‘ has a legacy in this industry that is still strong to this day. Kong is seeing the big-screen again in 2017.
1. ‘Bride Of Frankenstein’ (1935)
-The first amazing horror sequel. ‘Bride Of Frankenstein‘ makes everything great about the original even better. Boris Karloff played The Monster to perfection.


horror films

3. ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948)
-Crossovers & extended universes are a dime a dozen nowadays. I think you have Abbott and Costello meet the Universal Monsters to thank for that.
2. ‘Cat People’ (1942)
-Psychological and sexual, ‘Cat People‘ really shines during this time for how subversive it felt. Don’t forget about the infamous swimming pool scene!
1. ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941)
-Like his father before him, Lon Chaney Jr. found a place in horror hearts as one of the best monsters ever. ‘The Wolf Man‘ started the 40’s off with an iconic piece.


horror films

3. ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ (1959)
-Did any other director love making campy horror more than Ed Wood? ‘Plan 9‘ is described as one of the worst movies ever but its legacy says otherwise.
2. ‘Gojira’ or ‘Godzilla’ (1954)
-If King Kong originated the monster movie, ‘Godzilla‘ shattered all previous notions of the genre. Only one of two Japanese films on this list; that’s how amazing it is.
1. ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954)
-This has to be the last great Universal Horror film. They ruled the 30’s and 40’s but after ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon‘, horror films were moving forward.


horror films

3. ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ (1968)
-While the 60’s focused on humans being monsters, George Romero’sNight Of The Living Dead‘ showed you what happens when humans become real monsters.
2. ‘Hour Of The Wolf’ (1968)
Ingmar Bergman is a director that has influenced so many. His work was always surreal but none were more terrifying & genre defining as “Hour Of The Wolf‘.
1. ‘Psycho’ (1960)
-Move goers were forever changed in the 1960. Starting with ‘Peeping Tom‘ but escalating with ‘Psycho‘, gone were scary monsters. Now we had scary people.


horror films

3. ‘The Exorcist’ (1973)
-‘The Exorcist‘ is not only the best exorcism movie but also one of the greatest films. What movie can make split-pea soup scary & stop people from using ouija boards?
2. ‘Halloween’ (1978)
-No one could have predicted the massive success ‘Halloween‘ would become. The film launched an entire genre and era in cinema history: the slasher movie.
1. ‘Jaws’ (1975)
-There would be no “summer blockbusters” if it wasn’t for ‘Jaws‘. Nothing pushed the horror genre further into the mainstream than this brilliant shark movie.


horror films

3. ‘Evil Dead 2’ (1987)
-Splatter and gore got popular in the 70’s but late 80’s sequel ‘Evil Dead 2‘ turned it up a notch. In turn, it also made seeing so much blood way more fun.
2. ‘Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
-How did a disfigured child-murdering slasher become an 80’s star? It all started with this Wes Craven movie. Horror films that followed couldn’t keep up.
1. ‘The Shining’ (1980)
-Notice most “best of” list usually have a Stanley Kubrick film on it? It’s because of films like utterly terrifying ‘The Shining‘. It’s true masterclass filmmaking.


horror films

3. ‘Silence Of The Lambs’ (1991)
-The only horror film to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture, ‘Silence Of The Lambs‘ is the most acclaimed film of this list. The 90’s started on a very high note.
2. ‘Funny Games’ (1997)
-Like the 1960’s showing humans being real monsters, we got to see that again in 97’s ‘Funny Games‘. Michael Haneke created one of the most shocking films ever.
1. ‘Scream’ (1996)
-Nothing encapsulates a generation like ‘Scream‘. It oozes 90’s meta-humor with some great scares. It changed horror so much that slasher movies died after it.


horror films

3. ‘Martyrs’ (2008)
-France had a major part of horror in the 00’s. French horror is unlike any other. They are nihilistic, graphic, and visually striking. Those traits sum up ‘Martyrs‘.
2. ‘Audition’ (1999/2000)
-Getting an American release in 2000, director Takashi Miike created one of of the best Japanese horror exports ever. Others have a bigger name but ‘Audition‘ is art.
1. ‘Saw’ (2004)
-What James Wan did for horror with this 2004 hit is undeniable. ‘Saw‘ became the biggest horror franchise of the new millennium and made gore cool again.

What would you add to this list?

Also, which decade do you think had the best horror films?

horror films


EJ Morenohttp://Vimeo.com/EJMoreno
Who is EJ Moreno? Is he a trained physician? No. Is he a former Miss Universe contestant? Possibly. With a bachelors degree in film and a love of pop culture, he brings an alternative view to the world of pop culture journalism. Follow him on Twitter @EJKhryst and check out his film work at Vimeo.com/ejmoreno


  1. Night of the Demon is probably the most shocking omission, particularly given that you select Plan 9 FROM Outer Space ahead of it. No Hammer is also a shame, my favourite is Brides of Dracula but there at least a dozen that could have been considered. Also, for me, The Wicker Man and An American Werewolf in London would be mandatory picks.

  2. Have yet to see one from 2009 I don’t like and I’ve seen LOTS of them. LOL
    Best year ever. But I DIG the 60s and 80s particularly. But recently they come up with KICK ASS STUFF!!!
    Descend, American Mary, SPRING, Yellowbrick Road to name a few. NOT TO FORGET THE KILLER DEATHGASM!!!

  3. I found “King Kong” more fantasy than horror and prefer “The Old Dark House” (1932) or “The Raven” (1934). Val Lewton is as important to the 40s as Universal in the 30s, but “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945) is a stronger film than “The Cat People”. Where the 50s is a lot of scifi Bs, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), “Curse of the Demon”(1957), and “The Incredible Shrinking Man”(1957) raise the bar. Besides Hitchcock and Bergman, Robert Wise’s “The Haunting” (1963) is fear of the unseen, Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965) and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) are shot in a claustrophobic style and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967) is one of the few comedy-horrors that is as frightening as it is humorous. Your 70s choices are classic and realistic, but I found “Alien” (1979) more potent than “Halloween”, myself. 80s is a cult decade, but “Poltergeist” (1982) and “Fright Night” (1985) actually have great characters and another King adaptation, “Cujo” (1983), builds the tension. “The Sixth Sense” (1999), “Jurassic Park” (1993), and “Ringu” (1998) are three of the most powerful films of the 90s. Of the 2000s, “The Others” (2001), “Let the Right One In’ (2008), and “District 9” (2009) are a far cry from the standard genre script (by far).

    • I tried to stick with one sub-genre per decade so with Bride Of Frankenstein being my number 1 choice, I didn’t want to use another Universal horror film. Trust me, it was hard to leave it out. Also, putting Nosferatu right before it made putting it on seem redundant. Thanks for commenting 😀

Comments are closed.