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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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8

‘Night of the Living Dead’

Long before The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, World War X and the countless other zombie movies and TV shows of recent years, there was Night of the Living Dead. Directed by George Romero, the film centers around a young couple forced to fend off a massive zombie attack at a Pennsylvania farm. Romero shot the movie on a micro-budget and it quickly stirred up controversy due to scenes of graphic violence. This was before the MPAA rating systems, so children of all ages were allowed in. Obviously, the more negative press it generated the longer the lines became. Romero shot many sequels over the past few decades, but the original remains the true masterpiece. 

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7

‘The Haunting’

A movie about a diverse group of people forced to spend the night in an old, haunted house may sound like the most cliché story in the world, but that wasn't the case back in September 1963 when this first hit theaters. Based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting remains freakishly chilling all these years later. Much of the suspense comes from watching actress Julie Harris go completely insane. There's also a lesbian character, which was almost unheard of back then. Stephen King and Steven Spielberg came close to teaming up for a remake in the 1990s, but the project never took off. It finally happened in 1999 and featured Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson, but the less said about that the better. See the original. 

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6

‘Alien’

There's something inherently freaky about any movie featuring aliens. Most people recognize there's no such thing as zombies, ghosts, werewolves or demons from hell, but there's almost certainly aliens out there somewhere. In Ridley Scott's 1979 classic film, a group of astronauts in the distant future find themselves trapped on a spaceship with a vicious space creature that popped out a poor guy's stomach. The thing picks off the crew one-by-one before a final showdown with Sigourney Weaver. Scott is a brilliant craftsman, letting tension slowly build until it becomes absolutely unbearable. James Cameron followed up with Aliens seven years later, and unlike most horror movie sequels, it almost stands up to the original. 

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5

‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’

The title tells you pretty much all you need to know about this one. It's in Texas. There's a chainsaw. And there's a massacre. Shot for just $300,000 with a cast of known actors, this film shocked audiences in 1974 with its graphic violence and unforgettable images, like a woman impaled on a meathook. The movie began by saying it was an "account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths." Unless there's an unreported massacre by a chainsaw-wielding maniac somewhere in Texas history, this seems to be a very clever fib by the filmmakers, who almost certainly had no idea they were changing cinema forever. After this, you didn't need a big budget, careful cinematography and known actors to make a movie. You just needed a great idea, clever directing and a willingness to push boundaries. 

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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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