With less than two weeks until Halloween, we’re practically plowing through our old favorite horror films. There have been dozens and dozens of incredible scary movies through the years with classics from across the decades.
For many of us, the first films to come to mind are classic icons of the horror genre like Halloween, The Exorcist, and Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s tough to beat some of the classics, but what about more recent horror fare? We’re sixteen years into the century which means there are a whole slew of new favorites that horror buffs tend to overlook in favor of the oldies. Sure there have been lots of trashy, forgettable horror films, but the past 16 years also have also had a surprisingly wealth of quality horror films to choose from.
In order to find the very best horror picks of our generation, let’s check out The Best Horror Movie Of Every Year Since 2000.
2000 – American Psycho
The turn of the millennium made for some fascinating cultural anxieties surrounding the future and the darker side of capitalism. It was post-Clinton and pre-9/11 which meant we were still in for the existential boredom of peacetime and unsure of the future we wanted to create. Mary Harron’s adaptation of Brent Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is nothing short of a postmodern masterpiece that dives deep into the psyche of troubled twenty-somethings looking for meaning. Christian Bale makes an especially underrated appearance as the psychotic Patrick Bateman, supported by a star-studded cast that includes Reese Witherspoon, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Jared Leto, and Willem Dafoe.
American Psycho holds up as one of the very best horror movies of the millennium because it encapsulates and executes the very worst fears of Western civilization of the time on the big screen. Patrick Bateman has everything he could ever want; the successful career, the fancy car, and the “trophy” woman. Yet, he’s driven to insanity by his own narcissism, greed, and obsession with his own vanity. It’s bloody, thought-provoking, and will burn the image of naked Batman running down the stairs with a chainsaw into your memory forever.
2001 – The Others
Gothic Horror may have fallen by the wayside in recent years, but that doesn’t mean films like 2001’s The Others should be any less remembered. The film, directed by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, follows the haunting of a family living in the British Crown Dependency following World War II. The film stars Nichole Kidman and features one of the creepiest houses to hit the big screen in the last twenty years. It’s huge, empty, eerie, and quiet throughout its brief 102 minute runtime.
The Others is another great example of a horror story that captured the fears of the world at the turn of the millennium. The film’s horror was designed to give viewers a dread of intruders who were never present, but always loomed in the house. The atmosphere is dry, chill, and filled with the dread of the unknown. It’s very gore-light, which has come to be an exception in recent years, but The Others still holds up as one of the best ghost stories of the last two decades.
2002 – The Ring
The Ring was advertised as the scariest movie ever made by a number of critics at the time of release, and fourteen years later it still doesn’t disappoint. We’re so afraid, in fact, that we can’t all bring ourselves to click the YouTube links buried in our email inboxes for fear of getting a ghostly call proclaiming our deaths in seven days. The Japanese horror adaptation features a compelling mystery, a bleak and oppressive atmosphere, and an outstanding performance from Naomi Watts. In the era just before YouTube and the coining of the term “going viral”, The Ring offered the most terrifying chain letter the world had ever seen.
Gore Verbinkski would go on to be known for his Pirates of the Caribbean films, but looking back, The Ring just might remain his strongest outing. He exercises an especially impressive visual sense that reels the viewer in and mesmerizes their safeguards just in time to deliver powerful scares that are topped off with a great twist. The Ring also has the distinction of bringing Japanese horror to the American mainstream with films like The Grudge, Dark Water, and The Eye all following with less critical acclaim. Horror in the early 2000s was searching for a new identity and The Ring marks a fun and notable exploration of adapting foreign horror for American audiences.
2003 – 28 Days Later
Danny Boyle has become one of the definitive directors of our generation, but we can’t forget that he got his start with one of the most influential zombie movies before zombies were cool with 28 Days Later. The movie revamped zombies for the new millennium by making them fast, blood-thirsty, and driven by an incurable rage. These may not have been your granddad’s George Romero zombies, but they still served as a powerful social allegory that captured the post-9/11 fears of terrorism, impending epidemics, and the breakdown of the social stratification in Europe. The zombies may be the ones bringing the adrenaline-packed terror, but the real monsters are the humans who turn violent after being backed into a corner by Mother Nature.
28 Days Later was particularly notable for being its sweeping shots of the empty London streets walked by Cillian Murphy, Naomi Harris, and Brendan Gleeson early in the film. It’s one of the best zombies movies ever made and undeniably the best of the last sixteen years.
2004 – Saw
James Wan has the honor of being the only director to pop up multiple times on this list, and it’s for good reason. His style and mastery of creating an intensely creepy atmosphere has been recently unmatched by other working horror directors. The Saw franchise may have gone on to be known as the torture porn Halloween cash-in series, but the original film still holds up as a surprisingly tasteful suspense-horror. The film is immaculately paced and tips its sleight of hand to the audience just enough to set up one of the best plot twists in recent cinematic memory.
Saw may be primarily set in one dark and dirty location, but it succeeds thanks to the secret mystery of Jigsaw’s identity and the understated cast of Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Dina Miller, Michael Emerson, and Shawnee Smith. Saw is not important because it spawned a series of hyper-gory spatter sequels, but rather because it raised the bar for what audiences would come to expect in twenty-first century horror.
2005 – The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Exorcism horror is genuinely one of the most terrifying subgenres in the business thanks to its ability to live in the realm of the spiritually ambiguous. Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose is one of the very best in this subgenre because it never makes a clear case for or against the sanity of Emily in the final days before her death. Like the jury in Father Richard’s case, the audience must also decide the difference between delusion and reality for themselves. The court case serves as a brilliant way to question the ethics of the exorcism without removing our sympathy for Father Richard’s convictions.
Like James Wan, Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson has become another frontrunner in the latest generation of Masters of Horror thanks to his keen understanding of audience expectation and immersive atmosphere. The Exorcism of Emily Rose takes the mystery driving the heart of the story and subverts audience expectation by leaving the bigger answers surrounding her sanity up to viewer interpretation. In an era of horror movies when Hollywood was becoming more obsessed with throwing gore and visceral horror to the forefront, this-low key approach to storytelling felt like a breath of fresh air and still stands out today.
2006 – The Descent
Before becoming the hit TV directing sensation in Game of Thrones and Hannibal, Neil Marshall directed a gruesome adventure-horror film called The Descent. The film follows a group of friends who get lost in an underground cave system on a spelunking trip. While looking for a way out, the group stumbles upon a nest of flesh-eating creatures who are more than a little bit hungry for trouble.
The Descent is an intense ride thanks to the hopelessness of its claustrophobic underground setting. Through its powerful and hostile setting, the real emotional journey that drive the characters apart is what sets this film apart from other horror in 2006. The world was in state of distrust, much in the same way that Sarah distrusts her friends in the film. If you are a fan of wendigo monsters or films that demonstrate the terror and unpredictability of unexplored nature, look no further than The Descent.
2007 – The Orphanage
Guillermo Del Toro has done wonders for the horror genre over the last two decades, but perhaps none are as great as co-producing the brilliant 2007 Spanish horror flick The Orphanage directed by J.A. Boyona. The film follows a woman named Laura who returns with her husband and son to the orphanage she grew up in, only to discover that it had become run down and closed. During the visit, the family stumbles upon a much larger and darker conspiracy.
The Orphanage is an exceptional work because it creates a complex mystery that combines conspiracy, ghost stories, and a haunting atmosphere to create a tale that is as chilling as it is heartbreaking. J.A. Boyona’s first feature length debut film is spectacular and raised the bar for ghost stories in the years to follow. Very few films since have offered the emotional weight or intricacy of this one. 2007 is rarely a year remember for its horror films, but if you only see one, make it The Orphanage.
2008 – Pontypool
It doesn’t seem like it’s possible to get away from zombies in the twenty-first century, but luckily the indie Canadian film that could, Pontypool, gives us a smarter take on the undead. In this iteration of the zombie apocalypse, the infection is spread through language and only certain words can infect certain people. The film follows the story of a radio announcer and station manager after they learn that the city of Pontypool has been quarantined due to a zombie invasion. Through the use of the radio, they quickly discover that people become infected through certain key words.
It may sound like a strange interpretation of the undead horde, but this device serves as an interesting and powerful allegory about the impact of language and the ways people communicate with each other. Pontypool isn’t just smart; it also works as a zombie survival story powered by adrenaline, suspense, and tension. It’s a lesser-known film that every die hard Walking Dead or zombie fan should consider.
2009 – Paranormal Activity
After we got The Blair Witch Project in 1999, there were an overwhelming number of found-footage movies that cropped up, but very few of them did much to shake up the genre until Paranormal Activity reached the masses 2009. The movie was a runaway hit and featured a clever viral marketing campaign to demand the movie visit your city by voting on the film’s website. By the time Paranormal Activity reached a wide release, the film’s popularity had reached a fever pitch. Luckily for those of us eagerly awaiting the movie at home, it delivered on the promise of a tense, intimate, and skin-crawling found-footage film.
Paranormal Activity‘s scares rely on the simple things like creaks in the floor boards, the sounds of the furnace in the home, the placement of the camera, and those ill-timed thumps in the attic. All of it is flawlessly paced until the film’s crashing conclusion. Paranormal Activity is a highly effective horror movie that brought the experimental found-footage genre back to the mainstream in ways we still see today.
2010 – Insidious
What’s that? Another James Wan flick? Don’t worry, Insidious isn’t not the first nor will it be the last of the exceptional horror director’s films on this list. After working on the puppet horror film Dead Silence, James Wan decided to take on his first major ghost story, Insidious. The film follows a family who are being tortured by ghosts obsessed with their son Dalton. Once it becomes clear that these ghosts are following their child, the family calls a demonologist to investigate.
Insidious is a film that succeeds in unsuspecting ways. The film chases our characters into a dark and ghostly shadow world, but the scarier moments in the film are the subtle ones that slide just out of the corner of your eye in the broad daylight. The film isn’t perfect and drops the ball in the last act by showing a little too much of the Darth Maul-flavored boogeyman, but the film’s ability to have us second guess ourselves moment-to-moment makes it one of the very best of the last decade.
2011 – You’re Next
Audiences may be familiar with the hot up and coming director Adam Wingard from the Blair Witch reboot, but what they may not remember is his underrated 2011 breakout film, You’re Next. The movie may start with a somewhat familiar home invasion premise, but viewers who stick around will find a horror flick that is far more than meets the eye. The film follows a dysfunctional family reunion that goes awry when they are attacked by a group of animal-masked killers. The killers are smart, organized, and seemingly unstoppable until entering the home, only to learn that they got themselves into more than they bargained for.
You’re Next works on a number of levels, the least of which is as a love letter to movies like The Strangers, Funny Games, and When a Stranger Calls. It’s not only full of tense scares, but also has a self awareness not seen since Wes Craven’s original Scream film back in 1996. It’s a smart, gripping, and often surprising home invasion flick, and the very best 2011 horror had to offer.
2012 – Berberian Sound Studio
2012 was an incredible year for horror movies, with the likes of Cabin in the Woods, The Woman In Black, and the exceptional Sinister all delivering unforgettable horror experiences. But ultimately, we can only choose one film to be the best of year, and we can find no better or more deeply disturbing movie from 2012 than Peter Strickland’s psychological horror film, Berberian Sound Studio. This lesser-known gem stars Captain America‘s Toby Jones as a sound engineer named Gilderoy, who slowly descends into madness while working in an Italian Sound Studio.
Berberian Sound Studio is less concerned with building a cohesive narrative than it is with creating an oppressive atmosphere that weighs in on the audience’s own psyche as reality slowly slips away from our lead. This is not a movie that uses jumps scares or spook tactics to get under your skin, but rather a movie that leaves you laying awake in bed wondering about the very nature of your own sanity. Berberian Sound Studio is not a film for the faint of heart, but rather an expert-level horror watcher who is interested in diving deeper into the fragility of the human psyche.
2013 – The Conjuring
That’s right folks, James Wan strikes again with what has to be considered his best film to date, The Conjuring. After his work on the slasher horror Saw, his doll horror Dead Silence, and his haunted house horror Insidious, James Wan finally made his first exorcism movie, and the result is spectacularly chilling and absolutely horrifying. The film follows one of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren’s most famous paranormal investigations in 1971. The couple gets word of a haunted house in Rhode Island that is plaguing a family of seven, but the couple stumbles onto something much bigger and more powerful than they expected.
Unlike Wan’s previous films, The Conjuring borrows its style and tone heavily from William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. The film is meticulously paced as a slow burn horror film that cranks the intensity up to eleven during the film’s inevitable exorcism. James Wan shows off his mastery of tension and atmosphere by utilizing sweeping camera movements throughout the spooky house. From the moment the family arrives in their Rhode Island home, there’s never a moment of ease or comfort — just a slow build to the horror that lies beneath. Oftentimes, horror movies don’t make for good repeat viewings, but The Conjuring deserves to be an annual watcher for any self-respecting horror fan.
2014 – The Babadook
If being terrified of your own psyche is your cup of tea, make sure to strap in for The Babadook because you’re in for something really special. Australian director Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut follows a widow named Amelia who suffers from depression every year during her son’s birthday. Her son Samuel has become especially unwieldy as he obsesses about an imaginary monster in their home called the Babadook. After receiving a picture book of the same name on her doorstep, delusions and reality blur so quickly that both the characters and the viewer begin to lose track of what is real in this masterfully crafted descent into madness.
The Babadook is an exceptional horror movie that puts its character journey first and audience scares second. When you strip away the bleak atmosphere, horror cliches, and hypnotizing dream sequences, you’re still left with a powerful story of how one woman fights to overcome her demons to be a good mother. This is horror out of necessity, a helpful devise used to demonstrate the mental breakdown this character is going through. The Babadook is a one of a kind horror film, and an absolute must see from 2014 .
2015 – It Follows
It Follows is a huge throwback to the John Carpenter-era horror films that manages to work surprisingly well in the modern context. The film stars a girl named Jaime who is followed by a ghost only she can see after having a fling with her date, Hugh. The ghost takes on the form of many different people — usually of the disgusting looking sort. After convincing her friends of the threat, they must band together to put an end to the seemingly unstoppable ghost. The premise of a ghost stalker is the stuff of nightmares, and It Follows does not let you forget it.
This film’s retro-aesthetic and unforgettably mesmerizing soundtrack fits right into nostalgia mining era of Hollywood we’ve entered into in the mid-2010s. It Follows‘ plot momentum gains so much traction that you just may overlook some of the film’s broken logic and third act issues. When this movie is firing on all cylinders, however, you’ll be swept away into the imaginary 1980s land for one of the most intense horror rides in recent memory.
2016 – The Witch
2016 isn’t quite over, but there’s not doubt in our mind that The Witch will be one of the most remembered movies of the year. The film is a historical piece that follows a Puritan family who have been banished from the plantation before deciding to settle along what’s obviously a dark and haunted tree line. After one of the kids goes missing, the family begins to believe that they are the victims of witchcraft. The family quickly begins to turn on each other as the real evil watches from afar.
What makes The Witch stick out is its hopeless sense of solitude in nature and ambiguous use of magic. The film may be named after a witch, but the real horror is witnessing this family tear themselves apart from the inside. The movie includes smart underlying ideas about feminism and also incorporates themes about the dangers of religious extremism that have become (disappointingly) relevant in pop culture this year. There’s still time for another flick to take the crown, but so far, The Witch delivers the most soul-tinging film of the year.
What have some of your favorite horror movies since 2000 been? Do you agree with our picks? Let us know in the comments!