Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Horror Movies of All Time – Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Horror Movies of All Time

‘Psycho,’ ‘The Shining,’ ‘The Exorcist’ and seven other classics that will fill your nightmares long after Halloween

Jack Nicholson The Shining

Jack Nicholson walking through snowy maze in lobby card for the film 'The Shining', 1980. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

Courtesy Warner Brother

The haunted doll flick Annabelle grossed an astounding $37.2 million this past weekend, nearly besting David Fincher's Gone Girl. This is a fairly remarkable achievement for a relatively unoriginal horror flick, but Annabelle is a spinoff to the hugely successful Conjuring facing little scary-movie competition. With Halloween approaching, we decided it was time to poll our readers to determine their favorite horror movies of all time. Here are the results.

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4

‘Halloween’

These days, movies about mysterious, masked psychopaths who hunt down nubile teenagers are a dime a dozen, but back in 1978 this concept was somewhat novel. That's when John Carpenter unleashed Halloween on the world. The flick features Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, a teenager who has a very, very bad Halloween after her brother escapes from an insane asylum. The music alone is enough to send chills down your spine. There almost certainly wouldn't be a Friday the 13th or a Nightmare on Elm Street without this movie.

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3

‘Psycho’

By 1960, Alfred Hitchcock was one of the most successful directors in the world, but Paramount still didn't want him making Psycho. They didn't love the idea of a movie about a homicidal hotel clerk and they balked at his budget demand. Undeterred, Hitchcock vowed to shoot the movie on the cheap with the crew from his TV show. Few people could have imagined they were creating a cultural landmark that would somehow eclipse nearly everything Hitchcock had made over the previous four decades. It's a movie full of surprises, beginning with the simple fact that the leading lady is killed off 45 minutes into the movie. The film made a fortune and launched three sequels and a remake. Even the trailer is brilliant: Instead of showing scenes from the movie, Hitchcock simply walks around the set and drops hints about the plot. 

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2

‘The Shining’

Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining has undergone a remarkable public reappraisal over the past three decades. This was initially seen as Kubrick's first sell-out movie, a popcorn flick guaranteed to make a pile of money after the debacle of his last movie, 1975's deadly dull Barry Lyndon. Critics loved the unrelenting tension and Jack Nicholson's performance as the homicidal Jack Torrence was praised, but after the brilliance of films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dr. Strangelove, it seemed like a minor work. Then a funny thing happened. People began watching it over and over and over. They came up with insane theories about the real meaning (as chronicled in the amazing documentary Room 237) and even sane people started seeing the movie as a twisted masterpiece. Bizarrely enough, it's probably been analyzed, screened and parodied more than any other movie in the Kubrick library. Absolutely nobody back in 1980 saw that coming. 

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1

‘The Exorcist’

It's difficult for those who weren't around in 1973 to fully understand what happened when The Exorcist opened in theaters across America. Paramedics were called into some multiplexes because people were literally passing out. When little Regan projectile vomited onto the priests, some audience members actually vomited into their popcorn. Nobody had ever seen anything this freaky, and everybody couldn't get enough of it. It stuck around for months and months, even as various groups called for a boycott. There have been countless movies since then about demonic possessions, and all of them owe a major debt to The Exorcist. 

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