The found-footage subgenre is an interesting part of the horror genre’s genetic makeup. It began as a creative way for independent filmmakers with a small budget to get around having a cheap camera and no money for special effects. However, it has since been adopted by Hollywood as the cheapest and easiest way to make a hit horror movie.
Obviously, with this kind of mindset going into a lot of them, there aren’t going to be many masterpieces. But there have been the few occasions on which this subgenre has worked wonders. So, here are 10 Best Found-Footage Horror Movies Of All Time, Ranked.
10 The Blair Witch Project
While it’s not the greatest movie ever made, The Blair Witch Project does get points for being the first found-footage horror movie ever made (except for Cannibal Holocaust, but this was the one that set the template for the genre). There may have been a bunch of better ones made in the years since, but this was the original, and so it can be forgiven for its shortcomings.
The tropes have been utilized more effectively and in more inventive ways since Blair Witch hit theaters, but it was this movie that created those tropes. Without this, those tropes wouldn’t exist. It’s a fine example of low-budget filmmaking done well by thinking outside the box and using the lack of money creatively.
9 Willow Creek
Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, best known for directing black comedies like Sleeping Dogs Lie and God Bless America, decided to try his hand at a found-footage horror movie with the story of a couple who go out into the woods to try and capture the first genuine footage of Bigfoot.
Goldthwait’s sharp writing style brings a refreshing wit to a well-worn formula and the result is one of the horror genre’s most underrated gems in recent years. The movie even has some of Goldthwait’s signature sick humor for good measure. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
8 Diary of the Dead
George A. Romero made a lot of movies about the zombie apocalypse during his life. He created the modern zombie – the flesh-eating undead who feast on brains and infect the living with their virus – with Night of the Living Dead, and he somehow always found fresh ways to look at the same story everyone was ripping off during his fifty-year career.
With Diary of the Dead, he takes a look at the zombie uprising through the found-footage genre. The movie ponders an interesting question about its premise that digs deeper than Romero’s previous zombie films: is the human race worth saving?
Mark Duplass, best known for being at the forefront of the “mumblecore” movement of independent cinema, co-wrote and stars in Creep, a found-footage horror movie about a videographer who is hired to follow a total weirdo around with a camera.
What makes this movie special is that it is character-driven. The scares come naturally from the characters and their tense relationship, as opposed to cheap jump scares and set pieces. The dialogue was mostly improvised from a story that Duplass mapped out with his director and co-star Patrick Brice, which adds a layer of authenticity to the proceedings.
6 The Last Exorcism
At a certain point, there’d been enough found-footage movies about a haunted house, so filmmakers decided to branch out into the other subgenres of horror: zombies, kaiju, slasher etc. This one gives the exorcism genre a found-footage makeover, as it follows a fraudulent priest who pretends to exorcize the demons from people who think they’re possessed.
He decides to do one last fake exorcism, only to discover that the girl he’s seeing actually is possessed and he comes face-to-face with a real demon. The movie lulls a little in the middle, but be sure to stick around for the gut-wrenching finale.
5 Paranormal Activity
Paranormal Activity was such a big hit back in 2007 that it made producer Jason Blum the godfather of modern horror cinema and inspired a wave of increasingly groan-worthy knockoffs. Despite the countless rip-offs that followed, this remains the most effective tale of a couple documenting the haunting of their house, scaring off priests with the ominous unseen presence in their home.
The low budget is compensated for with dedicated acting – you can’t see the demons, but you know they’re there. The night-cam sequences have been parodied so much in the years since that you’d think their scare factor had been lost, but they’re still just a chilling now as they were back then.
4 The Visit
Before his big found-footage comeback with The Visit, M. Night Shyamalan’s career was thought to be over. Not only had his horror movies fallen from the Oscar-nominated heights of The Sixth Sense to the Razzie-nominated lows of The Happening, he’d made his foray into big-budget blockbusters with the all-around flop The Last Airbender.
But then The Visit came along, a low-budget found-footage chiller about a couple of kids going to spend a week alone with their grandparents, who they’d never met, where creepy things start to happen. Shyamalan is known for plot twists and they usually induce groans rather than gasps, but this one is genuinely surprising.
3 The Gallows
The found-footage genre is often used by horror filmmakers as an excuse to slack off. If the movie is supposed to be shot by teenagers on the fly, then there’s no need to consider the use of framing and lighting and color, because the kids wouldn’t do that. But there’s also an opportunity to take that one step further and imbue the cinematic techniques into the amateur filming style.
This movie plays around with the color red in a fascinating way. Horror movies often need music to create tension, and found-footage movies can’t do that, but this one plays around with the silence in a really eerie way that makes your heart pound in your chest. It ends with a harrowing plot twist and has one of the most unnerving final scenes in recent memory.
This Spanish fright-fest brings the zombie genre and the found-footage genre together for an intimate and frightening moviegoing experience. It tells a small-scale story contained within an apartment building as a handful of people – including a news reporter and her camera crew – are quarantined inside while a zombie virus spreads.
The frightening thing is that it’s basically been decided by the authorities that whoever is inside will slowly die out, but at least it won’t spread to the outside world. Long-term, this sounds like a reasonable plan. But short-term, the people left alive inside the building are screwed – and we’re inside the building, mounted on a cameraman’s shoulder.
Matt Reeves nailed it. He and producer J.J. Abrams managed to hit the ground running just one year after Paranormal Activity brought on a wave of hacky found-footage horror movies when everyone with an iPhone was trying to make one. The format is used brilliantly to draw scares out of the premise of a giant monster attacking New York, and it’s full of Easter eggs – but most importantly, it tells an engaging story.
The last-minute hint at the monster landing in the ocean is the icing on the cake. They’d hooked us and reeled us in, but just for good measure, they decided to gut us, too. This is found-footage horror filmmaking at its very best.