The 2010s served as something of a renaissance for the horror genre. While the 2000s focused mostly on franchises, American remakes, torture porn and found footage films, the 2010s provided a pleasant mix of artistic horror, inventive genre-bending pieces and crowd pleasing mainstream efforts making for a diverse and, a times, thought-provoking mix of styles. Whether trying to scare us through jump scares and gore or focusing more on the hidden evils of humanity and the world around us, these films defined a ten year span that helped solidify horror as one of the most insightful and brutal genres in the business. As I continue to count down the best films of the decade, today I’ll be recommending the films that frightened, shocked or intrigued me the most over the last ten years from this popular genre. These are my picks for the Top 20 Horror Films of the 2010s.
For this list any horror movie released from 2010 through 2019 counts as do their sequels. Unlike lists of the past I’m not limiting this to one movie per franchise. Psychological horrors or any movie with heavy horror elements that might also fit into another genre were also considered for this list but I did NOT include science fiction movies with horror elements like “Annihilation” or “Under the Skin” as they are for a different genre on a different day. However, all zombie movies were fair game.
Also, as with my previous list on the best comic book films of the decade and every list hereafter, these are my preferences and not necessarily based on the overall popularity or critical praise these films received outside of this blog and thus may very easily contradict or match my previous lists depending on my changing tastes or opinions of certain movies. Just because I liked a film a few years ago doesn’t necessarily mean it has held up with time.
This was an incredibly difficult list to narrow down from an initial collection of over 30 horror films released over the last decade. A few that were left out that I also recommend you check out, consider them honorable mentions, are “Green Room”, “Don’t Breathe” and “Anna and the Apocalypse”. Like I said, this was a very tough list to cut to only 20.
With that said, I’m sure there are more than a few deserving entries that didn’t make the cut. As always I want to hear from you. What is your favorite horror movie of the last ten years? Leave me a comment below. Let’s get on with the countdown!
One of several sense-based horror flicks of the 2010s, the 2016 film “Hush” focuses on a deaf woman who becomes the victim of a nameless killer with no clear motive for his crimes. Directed by Mike Flanagan, who made his name in horror in the 2010s with other great features like “Oculus”, “Ouija: Origin of Evil”, “Gerald’s Game” and “Doctor Sleep”, and starring his wife and co-writer Kate Siegel, “Hush” is a tense and engrossing slasher flick that keeps viewers on edge as its main character has to outwit a capable foe in spite of her handicap. Praised as one of the best slashers to hit the scene in years, and rightfully so, “Hush” downplays its social context while providing a thrilling and effective experience hearkening back to the “look behind you” frights of old with more than enough originality to help it stand out from the crowd.
One of many foreign films to make their mark on the industry over the past decade, “Raw” is definitely not for the easily disturbed. This 2016 French feature focuses on a young vet school student and lifelong vegetarian who gets her first taste for meat but finds the meat she’s interested in isn’t animals, but humans. It presents its character’s cannibalistic tendencies as a representation of humanities repressed nature and yes, you do get to see her eat human flesh on screen. But it’s not the ravenous feasting a zombie film would portray, but rather a more casual approach to the unnerving practice. The film’s title isn’t just a reference to how the main character seems to prefer her human flesh, it’s also a literal term for what you’ll get watching this film: a truly raw and unforgiving look at the animalistic tendencies hidden within us all mixed with some deeper themes hiding below the surface.
One of the biggest mainstream horror films of the last ten years was the 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s immortal horror novel “It”. Featuring a spectacular young cast and Bill Skarsgård’s now iconic take on Pennywise, “It” mixes mainstream jump scare tactics with genuine human experiences to create something really special, a coming of age movie playing off the fears that help us grow as people the more we face them head on. While not as sophisticated or risky as most of the films on this list there’s no denying the impact that “It” had on the genre. While an inferior sequel was released two years later, the first film stands as one of the most entertaining horror experiences anyone could have asked for and led the way in a renaissance of genuinely good Stephen King adaptations that made up the latter half of the decade.
17. “Train to Busan”
One of countless zombie movies from the past ten years, “Train to Busan” is a South Korean effort that became one of the most respected pieces in the sub-genre almost overnight. Focusing on a father bringing his daughter to Busan via train only to realize that one of the passengers is infected with a deadly zombie virus, “Train to Busan” is a no-holds-barred thrill ride that never forgets to inject humanity and heart into its story of survival. Everything works in this film from the staging of the sequences to the social commentary concerning the handling of the epidemic and the humanizing of everyone from heroes to villains which all comes together in a tight package that makes “Train to Busan” a can’t-miss horror masterpiece in its own right. Hopefully the just announced in-universe follow-up “Peninsula” will be just as good.
16. “The Conjuring”
There’s just nothing like a good old-fashioned haunted house story. Release in 2013, “The Conjuring” was a big part of the rise of horror as a legitimate genre in the 2010s becoming an instant classic and establishing its own cinematic universe in the process. Based on an actual case investigated by the famed paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren, “The Conjuring” serves as director James Wan’s love letter to atmospheric horror classics that established a style all its own with fun camerawork and a mix of classic and modern influences to bring the terror to life. While the film series it spawned has rarely been able to recapture the magic of this film, “The Conjuring” on its own stands above many mainstream genre offerings as an unnerving reminder of why based-on-real-events stories are still so enticing.
15. “The Dead Don’t Die”
Serving as a parody of sorts of the zombie sub-genre, “The Dead Don’t Die” is one of the finest hidden gems of the 2010s bringing together an ensemble cast in a story about zombies taking over a small American town. Complimented by a hilarious script and an overarching sense of self-awareness, “The Dead Don’t Die” both embraces and lampoons the clichés of the 2010s zombie craze while also telling its own engaging story layered with social commentary and a fun mix of tones and ideas. Ironically this makes it one of the smartest movies about brain eating undead creatures the decade provided. The cast feels fully on board and the scenario mixes dread and humor flawlessly to create an awesome mashup that both respects and pokes fun at everything that makes zombie movies a fan favorite.
14. “The Babadook”
It took me a while to give this slow-burn modern classic a chance, but “The Babadook” is definitely worth the watch. Focusing on a widowed mother who believes a dark entity from her son’s storybook is haunting them, “The Babadook” is frightening not just for its atmosphere and the titular creature but also for its unrelenting examination of genuine human psychological issues. Over the years “The Babadook” has been examined and studied as an horror-themed allegory for the effects of grief and loss on the human psyche and was one of the earlier genre films in the 2010s to lead the wave of more symbolic and subtle genre pieces. Not to mention it gave us one of the most terrifying original movie monsters of the decade.
13. “A Quiet Place”
Directed and written by John Krasinski, “A Quiet Place” took the world by storm upon its release in 2018 making it one of the most successful original horror films of the decade, and with good reason. “A Quiet Place” explores a reality where otherworldly beings have invaded Earth forcing civilization into hiding as the monsters are blessed with an acute and deadly sense of hearing making any little noise a death sentence. The execution uses well thought out sound editing and storytelling to immerse us into its post-apocalyptic world and the performances provide us with a believable and charming family dynamic that has us concerned for the well being of the characters the whole way through. While working off of a sci-fi concept, “A Quiet Place” is much more of a horror picture and the highlight of the still-young sense-based horror sub-genre.
Probably one of the most bonkers movies on this list, “Mandy” is crazy Nicholas Cage at his very best. “Mandy” stars Cage as Red, a man who comes face to face with an extremist cult and seeks revenge on them after the death of his girlfriend who gives the film its name. As we see Red lose his mind in his quest for vengeance we’re dropped into a psychedelic, stylish, blood-soaked and drug fueled world where few things are off limits. It’s the perfect use of Cage’s trademark insanity and proved to be the highlight horror picture of 2018. Sadly, its limited release prevented many from experiencing the film firsthand, but those who did found themselves engaged in one of the most original horror films of the decade.
One of the most divisive movies I’ve ever reviewed, “Mother!” is a psychological horror film I hailed as a masterpiece upon its release, but several years later I’ve come to understand and accept some of the major flaws that audiences and critics saw in its unique story. “Mother!” is a complicated film to understand and has many underlying themes to consider. For me I believe it’s an allegory for the relationship between man, God and nature while others have interpreted it as a criticism of the creative process. What makes it such a great horror film though is director Darren Aronofsky’s commitment to delving into the flaws of humanity and religion in a truly artistic manner incorporating some genuinely disturbing imagery and cinematography that fully engages the viewer in a wild ride. It’s not for everyone and can come off as a bit pretentious, but below its surface lies a terrifying truth explored with uncompromising dedication to the craft.
10. “Evil Dead”
Horror remakes seldom work out well on the big screen. One of the major exceptions is “Evil Dead”, a 2013 remake/reboot of the Sam Raimi original. Billed as “the most terrifying film you will ever experience”, “Evil Dead” is one of the few genre remakes that holds up to the original and, in some ways, surpasses it. Possibly the single bloodiest film on this list, “Evil Dead” takes the disturbing possessions and self-mutilation the franchise is popular for and goes all in delivering some of the most cringe-inducing scenes in the genre’s modern history. While a lot of films on this list are horror movies that have more underlying complexity to them, “Evil Dead” is perfectly fine simply being a fun scary movie straight out of our nightmares. This film went right for the jugular and that’s why we love it.
9. “Black Swan”
The second Darren Aronosfsky flick to make the countdown, “Black Swan” was a tricky one to justify for this list as some argue it’s not a true horror film but rather a spooky thriller. “Black Swan” explores a soft-spoken ballet dancer, played by Natalie Portman in an Oscar-winning performance, who embraces her inner dark side in order to win the duel roles of the Swans in “Swan Lake”. It’s one of several films in Aronofsky’s library tacking the creative process, in this case delving deep into the negative impact the search for perfection can have on the psyche. It became one of only two Best Picture nominated horror films in the 2010s and to me is probably the most effective psychological horror film of maybe the past few decades. While the film might not fit the traditional style of a horror, it still terrifies in its ability to dive into the dark recesses of an artist’s mind.
“Hereditary” is a very good movie, even a great one, but I’ll admit I’m in the minority who think it’s not the best horror film of the decade. With that said the fact that it’s in the top ten here shows how further viewings have changed my initial perception of the film seeing as it didn’t even make my Best of 2018 list. “Hereditary” introduced the world to one of the most promising horror directors of the past few years, Ari Aster, and focuses on a family who experience a tragic loss and awaken a hidden evil within their bloodline. While a true slow burn in every sense of the word, “Hereditary” proves to be an unrelenting and uncompromising examination of the horrors of grief and broken family dynamics. While it’s not my favorite film of the 2010s it’s definitely aged like a fine wine, only getting better with time.
Once again a director gets back to back entries on this list. While it took me some time to truly respect Ari Aster’s “Hereditary”, his sophomore film “Midsommar” was a masterpiece in my eyes from the very beginning and has only gotten better with age. “Midsommar’s” entire plot takes place in a commune where a group of visiting young adults experience an annual mid-summer tradition where the sun never seems to stop shining immediately making it a unique horror picture because the scares happen outside of the traditional darkness of other films. “Midsommar” serves as an allegory for deteriorating relationships and the damage of depression without a devoted support system. Florence Pugh’s disturbingly accurate portrayal of depression might genuinely be the scariest truth this film has to share. It’s another spectacular slow burn that has quickly become one of my all-time favorite genre pieces.
Jordan Peele made quite a name for himself in the last half-decade as a horror writer and director despite his comedic background. His second horror film, “Us”, was released in 2019 which focuses on a family dogged by doppelgangers who both literally and figuratively represent the worst elements of who they are. Mixing in thinly veiled themes of racial relations and humanity’s lack of self-awareness, “Us” is appropriately named for putting humanity itself under the microscope while also providing plenty of bloody deaths and fun twists to tide over those simply looking for a horrifying mainstream horror experience. A year after its release “Us” continues to leave a lasting impact reminding us all why Peele is a new master of the genre.
5. “The Witch”
“The Witch” is a very rare quality period piece horror that, when I first saw it in 2016 confirmed to me that there was something truly special happening in horror in the latter half of the decade. Serving as the mainstream directorial debut of Robert Eggers, “The Witch” bleeds atmosphere as it focuses on a Puritan family haunted and tortured by a witch. The frights in this film are derived from the concepts of religious fanaticism and the idea of the struggling family dynamic especially in the old world where faith was a huge element of daily life. “The Witch” proved and continues to prove that sometimes the scariest things aren’t the most straight forward. It’s spectacularly frightening cinema that helped change the game in terms of expectations for the entire genre.
4. “It Follows”
This movie is very special to me. “It Follows” is directly responsible for my blog even existing because when I saw it in 2015 it introduced me to a whole new kind of horror movie. One with something to say beyond jump scares and typical clichés. I just had to talk about it with someone. It would be years before I finally started my blog but even today I find it a fascinating film. To put it simply, “It Follows” presents a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases in the form of a mysterious entity that follows its victim endlessly until it is passed on to a new target via sex or kills its current victim. Not only is the idea interesting, the execution is awesome paying homage to classic horror styles and scaring viewers more with its concept than jump scares. “It Follows” will always be one of my favorite horror movies and is a big part of my newfound respect for the genre over the last ten years.
3. “Get Out”
Before “Us”, Jordan Peele burst on to the scene in 2017 with this provocative horror/thriller/comedy hybrid about a black man who visits his white girlfriend’s family for the first time eventually discovering a dark secret behind their supposed hospitality. “Get Out” effectively mixes social themes with legitimate scares and awesome tension as it unravels the ideas of white privilege and racism in a way filmgoers had probably never really experienced before while weaving an intriguing web of lies and deceit that makes the film’s revelations all the more unnerving. It was so effective that it earned Peele a Best Original Screenplay Oscar and has been touted by many, myself included, as one of the highlight films of the 2010s from any genre. While I considered “Mother!” a superior film in 2017 the years have been much better to “Get Out” which to me remains an undeniably future classic.
2. “The Lighthouse”
We return to Robert Eggers for his second entry in the top five, and his only other film released in the 2010s. Eggers’ sophomore film “The Lighthouse” was one of 2019’s greatest cinematic achievements mixing all kinds of themes and inspirations together in a story that offers something new with every rewatch. From the tale of Prometheus, to Poe’s “The Light-House” and even relatively common ideas like alcoholism and homosexuality, there are countless concepts that viewers have found hidden below the surface with this picture which speaks to its brilliant complexity. Regardless of how you read it, it’s the design and atmosphere that really makes it so special. Shown in black and white with a 1.19:1 aspect ratio to compliment the claustrophobia of its setting, “The Lighthouse” is as uncomfortable as it is enigmatic proving once again the immense promise Eggers has to be one of the new greats of the genre.
1. “Cabin in the Woods”
Is it the most sophisticated film on this list? No. The most insightful? Not really. The most original? Well more original than most but still no. What makes “Cabin in the Woods” my favorite horror film of the 2010s is that it serves as a shameless and perfectly executed tribute to the genre as a whole and everything we love about it. What starts off appearing to be a pretty generic mix of zombie film and “cabin in the woods” feature ends up completely dissecting the genre eventually creating the perfect love letter to horror and all its different fandoms. To explain how and give away the movie’s big twist would do little justice to it because it’s really one of those movies you have to see the first time ignorant of the details to really appreciate. It’s entertaining, funny, bloody, brilliantly inventive and inspired, and an all-around great time. Every time someone seeks a horror movie recommendation from me this is the first film I turn to, so I couldn’t think of anything better to top my list of the best horror pictures of the 2010s than “Cabin in the Woods”.