Ah, the turn of the millennium. What was there to hate back then? It was the age of Tamagotchis, aggressively vapid AIM screen names, MySpace, and a fairly iconic fashion scene. It was also the age of some pretty notable horror films as well.
The mood back then in the horror film world was post-slasher to a degree, followed by the rise of ultra-gory horror films, introspective “smart” psychological terrors, and of course, a new age of legendary zombie movies. Viewers became bored with the same old tricks of Scream and Friday the 13th (even though, somehow, we never stopped getting sequels and remakes) and were ready for the genre to go in a new direction for the new millennium. Whether you were a fan of this cheeseball decade or not, you have to admit that it birthed some pretty great horror movies.
We found fifteen of the best horror films from this memorable era to compile this list. To be clear– this list includes films released between the year 2000-2010. Spoilers may lie ahead!
Are you ready to have a nostalgic horror movie marathon? Then check out the 15 Best Horror Movies Of The 2000s.
15. 28 Days Later
In the realm of post-apocalyptic horror films, there are none quite like the 2002 British flick 28 Days Later, directed by Danny Boyle and written by Alex Garland (who would go on to direct Ex Machina).
In 28 Days Later, the complete collapse of society is seen after a contagious virus wipes out most of humanity. Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes up from a coma a month after the virus is released to find that most of London is deserted– with the exception of hordes of running zombies.
28 Days Later was very successful both commercial and among critics. The film is credited with breathing new life into the zombie film genre and remains one of the most beloved zombie movies ever, and we couldn’t agree more. Even in the age of zombie television, 28 Days Later is still a wild ride worth watching.
14. Battle Royale
What do you get when you mix hormonal teenagers, a corrupt government, and a considerable amount of gore? The 2002 Japanese dystopia epic horror film Battle Royale.
In Battle Royale, a group of high school students are chosen by a corrupt Japanese government to compete in a violent game of cat and mouse complete with supplied weapons. The last child standing gets to go home. Shuya (Tatsuya Fujiwara), already dealing with the aftermath of his father’s suicide, tries to protect himself and his friend Noriko (Aki Maeda) from the desperately violent student body. Think Lord of the Flies on steroids.
Though often imitated (we’re looking at you, Hunger Games) there isn’t anything quite like Battle Royale. The film was banned across countries for its controversial depiction of gore and violence among children, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t incredibly entertaining.
13. American Psycho
The new millennium was waved in with a good dose of bourgeois psychopathy and violence. American Psycho is based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name and is widely considered to be a great adaptation. Mary Harron’s film boasts an all-star class, including Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Chloë Sevigny, and more.
In American Psycho, we watch the slow and steady mental decline of an investment banker named Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in his hey-day) whose life involves little more than fine dining, looking dapper, and trading business cards– until he decides to start killing people. The film’s violence polarized audiences, but the satirical depiction of ’80s materialism and greed coupled with Bale’s performance made the film the cult legend it is today.
12. The Mist
While many Stephen King adaptations have been attempted, only a handful have managed to be somewhere close to awesome. Many of the great ones have been directed by Frank Darabont. The 2007 sci-fi horror film The Mist is definitely one of them.
In The Mist, father David Drayton (Thomas Jane) runs to the store with his son Billy for supplies after a thunderstorm damages their home. Tremors and an unnatural mist trap David and the other shoppers insidethe store as Lovecraftian monsters thrash about outside.
The science fiction aspect of The Mist isn’t even what makes it so good– it’s the character development, the look into human nature and what we do in the face of perceived apocalypse and destruction. More so than the beasts, people are the antagonists in this film.
The good ol’ home invasion horror film. This genre/trope has been used, reused, overused, and hung out to dry through the years.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes the 2007 French home invasion film Inside so different. Perhaps it’s the particular brutality of the film. It could also be the interesting use of pregnancy as well as the fact that the main characters are both women– there’s no running across the lawn from a masked man in Inside.
The motive for the invasion aren’t for kicks, either. There’s a surprising amount of dimension among the few actresses in Inside and the film’s entire runtime is nothing short of unrelenting. You’ll literally be on the edge of your seat from beginning to brutal end.
Imagine if you will: you’re a reporter tasked with covering the night shift at a fire station in Barcelona for a documentary. All seems simple and well until you decide to accompany the staff of firemen on a call to an old woman’s house. This alone could be sort of scary, but you find yourself quarantined in a building filled with people in the grip of a virus that turns them into zombie-like creatures.
The 2007 Spanish zombie thriller REC was awesome because it took the idea of zombie films and made it more supernatural. It was also one of the first films to jumpstart the found footage phase of horror films that we still have to deal with to this day– but REC still manages to be scarier than most.
9. Lady Vengeance
Korean horror films rarely disappoint. This is especially true for the 2005 crime-drama-horror-thriller Lady Vengeance.
Lady Vengeance follows the narrative of Lee Geum-ja, a woman imprisoned for the kidnapping and murder of a young boy. The film portrays Lee Geum-ja’s story as a complicated, almost surreal one. There are definitely major elements of horror in the film, but the crime-thriller aspect of it is what makes Lady Vengeance so good. The character development, the unfolding of the truth, the grade A acting of Lee Young-ae and Choi Min-sik (of Oldboy fame) are what keep viewers entranced.
Director Park Chan-wook is well known for his other major works, including Oldboy, Stoker, and The Handmaiden. Lady Vengeance fell somewhere in the middle of his best works, but it is definitely one of the best of the 2000s era.
The 2004 horror film Saw kicked off six sequels over the course of thirteen years, with one more (hopefully) in the works. The Saw franchise gets a lot of flack for not retiring, and in all honesty many of the sequels that followed the original release were worse than the one before.
However, the original Saw film was something to behold. It made over one hundred times its budget at the box office, and for good reason. Saw took the typically gore-fest torture porn horror film and made it a little smarter and little scarier. It’s difficult to watch the film without wondering what you would do if a creepy puppeteer trapped you in a room and gave you an ultimatum– kill or be killed gruesomely.
Saw is still referenced in pop culture to this day. We have to admit it left a mark on the horror genre forever.
7. Dawn of the Dead
It can be a pretty hefty task to take on the remake of a legendary film, whether it’s part of the horror genre or not. More often than not, remakes tend to miss the mark or fail miserably. This isn’t the case for Zack Snyder’s 2004 rendition of Dawn of the Dead.
The remake of the 1978 classic follows the lives of a small group of zombie apocalypse survivors in Wisconsin as they hole up in a mall.
Zombie films have been a dime a dozen for years, but Dawn of the Dead was an enjoyable return to the roots of the genre. The special effects work was genuinely frightening. Though it isn’t quite as great as the original (what film is?) it’s still a well-made, thoroughly terrifying adaptation that deserves some credit.
6. The Ring
American adaptations of other countries’ films get old real fast. Borderline appropriative, adaptations that change the cultures and character races tend to miss the mark of the original film’s vibe. The 2002 American adaptation of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu is one of those rare cases where the adaptation is just as good as the original.
Gore Verbinski’s The Ring managed to be great for a number of reasons. The stellar casting of Naomi Watts and a very young David Dorfman. The moodiness and use of color. The terrifying use of sound, silence, ambiance, and music. The split-second disturbing imagery. The easy-to-follow yet complex story of broken families, the corruption of abused souls, and vengeance.
The Ring took Ringu and definitely Americanized it, but it did so without doing a disservice to the plot of the original.
5. Let The Right One In
Vampire flicks can be a dime a dozen, just like zombie films and home invasion horror narratives. Vampire films, which can vary from sparkly to downright horrifying, tend to fall into two categories– sexy or monstrous. The 2008 Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In somehow manages to avoid either.
One could say the film is about an innocent love affair and judgemental nature of children– others could say it is one long look at abusive relationships. Either way, Tomas Alfredson’s romantic horror film is visually stunning and slow-burning in all the right ways. Don’t expect extreme jumpscares or moments that will leave your heart beating in anticipation. Let The Right One In is hauntingly scary, but not in the way of the typical horror film.
4. The Descent
The adventure horror genre can get campy really quick, but the 2005 British adventure horror film The Descent managed to avoid falling into that trap. Its protagonists fell into another trap entirely.
Neil Marshall’s film about six women who discover horrific humanoids in an unmapped underground cave system is an utterly claustrophobic, scary, good time. If anything, the situations the adventurers fall into and the tight suffocating tunnels of this film are more terrifying than the beasts they encounter. It’s definitely not the film for anybody who hates small spaces.
The endings (both of them) are often the subject of intense scrutiny by critics, but The Descent still deserves every rant and rave it receives. The 2009 sequel didn’t quite capture the tight-chested terror of the first film, but it is still worth a watch as well.
James Wan’s 2010 film Insidious took the “spirit realm wants a vulnerable body” trope and made it into something fresh and spooky.
In Insidious, a young couple’s son falls into a coma after an injury. It becomes clear that something wants the boy’s uninhabited body, and it’s not something good. The film may be slow-burning for some, but it’s well worth the wait.
Insidious was a great film for its awesome casting (Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Barbara Hershey, and Lin Shaye in her most iconic role!) and its subtle use of ghostly happenings that sow the seeds of discomfort and nervousness for the viewer as the film progresses. Plus, each Insidious sequel to follow (we’ve got a fourth one coming, folks) was pretty great as well.
The 2008 French-Canadian horror film Martyrs is not a film for the faint of heart. In fact, the film drew a massive amount of controversy and polarized opinions when it was originally released. Not a lot of people were down with the intense violence of the New French Extremity movement– especially when it involved abused children in Martyrs— and the big studios and major actresses who were solicited to work on Martyrs weren’t feeling it either.
Violent and uncomfortable as it may be, Martyrs is still an incredible horror film with all its nihilism and ever-morphing storyline. In 2015, an American studio helmed a remake and it (of course) was met with overwhelming dislike. We suggest checking out the original if you have a strong stomach.
1. House of the Devil
Ti West’s 2009 somber horror film The House of the Devil plays with the concept of the late ’80s satanic panic, and does a good job. It’s not just a rehash of Rosemary’s Baby or one long haunted house trope. Doing away with cheap gore and jumpscare tricks, The House of the Devil is a (somewhat) modern form of the tense quietly terrifying horror films of decades past– and still manages to be unique in its own right.
In The House of the Devil, broke college student Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) takes on an odd job babysitting. Upon arriving, she discovers that she is babysitting an old woman, not a baby. What ensues is a sinister dive into the real truth of why Samantha is there.