Halloween is a holiday all about allowing ourselves to be afraid. In our book, it’s one part of the sacred trinity of holidays right beside Christmas and Thanksgiving. Dressing up and stuffing your face with candy from strangers is one of the boldest things you did as a kid. As an adult, the level of festivities grows with haunted house walkthroughs, costume parties, and escape rooms. However, the one thing that stays constant for this delightful holiday is kicking back and watching your favorite Halloween movies.
First, there are the family-friendly Halloween movies, which are solid starters for early in October. These lighter films get you in the spirit of Halloween and bring you back to a time when picking your costume was the biggest issue you had. Then there are the hybrid horror/comedy flicks, giving you a blend of two beloved genres. If done right, the creative juices flow and you’re in for an unexpected treat with amazing replay value. Next, there is the guilty pleasure Halloween films. These are not critically acclaimed movies, yet flicks that are enjoyable to watch because they’re ridiculous or even self-referential. Of course, the pure horror genre films need to be saved for the big night. Being afraid is an absolute blast because you get to face your fears and vicariously experience the intense emotions of characters in disturbing and deranged situations. We’ve compiled a list of the absolute best Halloween movies to watch, allowing you to have more than enough films to enjoy with the lights out for the spooky holiday.
A Nightmare On Elm Street
Before the all the corny one-liners and weak sequels (save for Wes Craven’s New Nightmare) the man with the brown hat and clawed hand was terrifying. Craven tells the tale of a child molester named Freddy Kreuger who was burned by a group of parents. Freddy comes back from the dead to infest the dreams of his murderers’ children, killing them in their sleep. The bedroom is where you should feel safe and sound, but Freddy infiltrates his victim’s place of tranquility, which is a genius move by Craven. With groundbreaking special effects that still hold up remarkably well today and an amazing performance from Robert Englund, this film still has the power to keep you up at night.
Director: Wes Craven
Trivia: The story was inspired by a series of articles about a group of Southeast Asian refugees from the Hmong tribe who died from horrific nightmares.
Army Of Darkness
Bruce Campbell is the B-movie king and Army of Darkness is one helluva ride. Yes, Evil Dead II is the best of the trilogy, but this one is the most fun to watch. With a chainsaw for a hand and a double-barrel shotgun with a hair trigger, Campbell’s Ash is one of the most badass, arrogant, inept characters to ever grace the silver screen. In Army of Darkness, Ash gets sucked into a portal and is vomited out into medieval times. His big mouth and brass balls, along with an endless supply of one-liners, makes for an entertaining Halloween film filled with deadites.
Director: Sam Raimi
Trivia: Ash uses a lever action Winchester Model 1892 in one scene and flip cocks it in a similar fashion to the T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
The ghost with the most is always a win for Halloween. Tim Burton was at the top of his game in the ‘80s and ‘90s and this marked his first collaboration with the incomparable Michael Keaton who plays the maniacal, hilarious “bio-exorcist.” Keaton is unchained, playing the role like a magical drunk uncle on speed. Burton has a wicked style inspired by German Expressionism and flexes his creative eye to give us an entertaining popcorn flick. A young Winona Ryder also stars in this film, getting a taste of the weird and wild way before Stranger Things. Pop this movie in during the Halloween season and you won’t regret it.
Director: Tim Burton
Trivia: Beetlejuice is only on screen for 17.5 minutes of the film.
Cabin In The Woods
If you’re a true horror fan, Cabin in the Woods is a love letter to the horror genre that you need to see. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and Kristen Connolly, this film is like hopping into a rollercoaster that zooms through the horror genre’s greatest hits. The plot of the film is wholly original and unexpected with clever dialogue. There are layers to this horror/comedy, and the more you peel back, the better it gets. It’s also filled with tons of references to a multitude of horror films, requiring multiple viewings to pin down. However, the less you know about the movie going in, the more you’ll enjoy it. Drop everything now and go watch this film.
Director: Drew Goddard
Trivia: The movie’s opening scene is meant to confuse the audience and make them think they walked into the wrong movie.
Taking place around Halloween, Brian De Palma’s Carrie is one of the better Stephen King adaptations, starring Sissy Spacek in the title role and a young John Travolta. There was a remake of the film in 2013, but it never lived up to the original. The movie follows a shy, friendless teenager who’s wrapped around the finger of her intimidating, religious mother. Carrie unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her ruthless classmates at her senior prom. Stephen King’s Carrie is a precursor to Eleven and an iconic character in the world of horror.
Director: Brian De Palma
Trivia: Carrie was inspired by the characters Stephen King encountered when he worked at an industrial laundromat.
When done right, an anthology is equivalent to a perfect four-course meal. However, Creepshow fills you up with five segments of Halloween treats. The rare collaboration of George A. Romero and Stephen King makes Creepshow a one-of-a-kind experience with plenty of replay value. All of the short stories in Creepshow are horrific and hilarious, but our favorite is the segment entitled “They’re Creeping Up On You.” It tells the story of a grumpy, germaphobic businessman who’s a low-key racist that treats people horribly. Obviously, he doesn’t survive, but his demise is gruesomely disgusting and unforgettable.
Director: George A. Romero
Trivia: Rice Krispies were made to look like maggots on the corpse’s eyes in one of the segments.
Although this cult classic isn’t exactly a horror film, it’s an inventive sci-fi thriller with creepy moments and a few Halloween scenes. The silver, demonic-looking rabbit and Jake Gyllenhaal’s skeleton costume with a zip-up hoodie are Halloween costume classics. The film is a mind-bender that requires multiple viewings to grasp completely. The feeling of uncertainty about the events unfolding before the main character’s eyes and the realization of what’s actually happening plays out like a menacing dream. It’s a film that gets inside your head and rattles your brain for days.
Director: Richard Kelly
Trivia: After production wrapped up, Seth Rogen and Jake Gyllenhaal admitted they didn’t know what the film was about.
Freddy Vs. Jason
When you think about iconic horror movie slasher films, Freddy and Jason are contenders for the top spot. This is by no means an award-worthy movie, but it’s a ridiculous, loud, bloodfest giving you the heavyweight horror brawl of the century. In one corner, you have Freddy with his bladed glove, demonic dream powers, and sharp one-liners. In the other corner, you have the enormous, lumbering Jason Voorhees boasting superhuman strength, a rusty machete, and revenge in his undead heart. You half expect Michael Buffer to come out and yell “Let’s get ready to rumble!” If you’re a fan of the slasher genre, this movie is a guilty pleasure flick you can’t help but watch during the Halloween season.
Director: Ronny Yu
Trivia: Ash from the Evil Dead trilogy would’ve been in the sequel but it never came to fruition.
Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
When you’re watching a Friday The 13th movie, you’re not really looking for a groundbreaking plot, but rather a fun horror ride with Jason carving up some creative kills. The character of Jason is designed to look much creepier in this film with his more menacing and grotesque figure hiding behind his legendary hockey mask. Not only that, but he’s a supernatural zombie in this movie since Tommy Jarvis inadvertently brings Jason back from the dead via a lightning bolt. The film has a winking inside humor and a Jason Voorhees that’s at his most ruthless. If you’re into Jason punching out someone’s heart immediately followed by a James Bond intro to the credits, you’re in for a deliriously fun ride.
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Trivia: This film majorly influenced the blockbuster slasher film Scream.
From Dusk Till Dawn
Director Robert Rodriguez indulges in gore and B-movie swagger in his hybrid crime drama/ horror flick From Dusk Till Dawn. The movie stars George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino, who also penned the script, as the infamous Gecko brothers running from the law, trying to get to Mexico to live their lives freely as thieves and scoundrels. But, what happens if a couple of stylish and slick outlaws stop at a bar down in Mexico infested with blood-sucking vampires? Rodriguez answers this question with a gore-fest filled with terrific acting, creating a pulpy flick you can enjoy on any given night, but Halloween seems the most appropriate.
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Trivia: Salma Hayek spent two months with therapists to overcome her legitimate fear of snakes to handle one in her famous dance scene in this film.
There was no way this film would not make it onto this list because it’s the quintessential Halloween film. Fifteen years after stabbing his sister to death at six years old with a kitchen knife on Halloween in 1963, Michael Myers escapes his mental institution to go on a killing spree. It’s a simple premise elevated by John Carpenter’s masterful direction, creating a tense atmosphere by using both the foreground and background to place the ominous killer in various places onscreen to instill paranoia. It’s like Where’s Waldo? But with an unstoppable murderer. Nick Castle who plays the pure evil that is Michael Myers gives an effective, subtle performance as “The Shape” and Jamie Lee Curtis enters the spotlight as the scream queen. The direct sequel to the film is a return to form for the series, but the original is still king.
Director: John Carpenter
Trivia: The original iconic Michael Myers mask is actually a Captain Kirk mask.
Hereditary is one of the best horror movies in the last decade and is destined to be one of the best of all time. At the heart of the film, Hereditary is an intense family drama with Oscar-worthy acting, especially from Toni Collette and Alex Wolff. Mostly void of cheap scares, this film will infest your mind with a disturbing story and odious images to keep you up for several nights. Written and directed by Ari Aster, this film is well-constructed, touching upon how the family we grow up with affects our entire being in ways where free-will is drowned.
Director: Ari Aster
Trivia: Alex Wolff wanted to actually break his nose for one scene to make it authentic.
Disney’s Hocus Pocus seems to always be on rotation during the Halloween season. It’s a fun family flick set during Halloween that brings you back to your childhood. For kids who grew up in the ‘90s, Hocus Pocus is a go-to movie to pop in during October. Three diabolical witches who were executed in Salem during the 17th Century are awakened by a curious youngster who recently moved into the neighborhood. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy star as the trio of witches and all give fantastic comedic performances. There are only a few scares in this Halloween gem, but the nostalgic factor and clear-cut message of good and evil, which we lack these days, helps the film earn a place on this list.
Director: Kenny Ortega
Trivia: Sarah Jessica Parker’s 10th great-grandmother (Esther Elwell) was arrested in Salem for acts of witchcraft.
Stephen King film adaptations are really hit-or-miss, but there have been some amazing ones in recent years and It is one of the heavy-hitters. Although Tim Curry’s performance is still stellar, the 1990 TV movie aged horribly. The young cast of this film does a tremendous job, with Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis shining just a little brighter than the rest. And, Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise turns in a creepy performance, capturing the oddities of the ravenous clown so well. With an ‘80s backdrop, a script that blends horror, comedy, and drama aptly, and aggressive scares, It is a Halloween home run.
Director: Andy Muschietti
Trivia: Bill Skarsgard’s performance was inspired by The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and The Dark Knight.
In this supernatural horror story, a young family interacts with ghosts. They seem to be friendly at first, but the slightly spooky actions become more terrifying, leading up to the supernatural beings taking the family’s youngest daughter. What makes this film work so well is the genuine interaction between the family members. When the eerie events begin, it’s easy to sympathize with their hardships especially because they go well beyond your comfort zone. Tobe Hooper, famous for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, quarterbacked the film with help from the legendary Steven Spielberg. The result is a disturbing film that takes you to a new dimension.
Director: Tobe Hooper
Trivia: Two members of the cast were subsequently murdered, starting the belief in the “Poltergeist Curse.”
Pertaining to the story, there’s nothing really novel about The Conjuring, but the quality of filmmaking and acting make it a throwback “haunted house” flick that attacks your senses. James Wan follows the number one rule of old-school horror filmmaking: never fully reveal the monster or supernatural being. The never cheap jump-scares are built up steadily with tremendous payoff every time. The acting, especially from Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson who play the ghost-hunting Warrens, is top-notch across the board. Wan knows what scares you and puts you in terrifying situations that link back to a few common childhood fears while planting a few new fears along the way. If haunted houses are your thing, this is your Halloween movie winner.
Director: James Wan
Trivia: The MPAA stated the film was so scary there were no edits possible to bring it down to a PG-13 rating.
The Exorcist is one of the scariest movies of all time. Why? The film pushes the envelope with a Bulldozer and never stops. With obscene dialogue and distressing imagery of the possessed young girl named Regan, it’s shocking this film didn’t receive an X rating. However, it wasn’t just the graphic nature of the film, as the story of possession feels so real you invest into the notion of satanic evil, at least during the extent of the runtime. And, legendary makeup artist Dick Smith created tremendous practical effects for this film, breathing life into the horrors described in the script. The Exorcist is a horror genre juggernaut.
Director: William Friedkin
Trivia: This film is based on the real-life 1949 exorcism of a young boy known by the pseudonym Roland Doe.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
With the efforts of Henry Selick and Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a beautifully original stop-motion animation film. It’s an off-the-wall take on a fairy tale with Jack Skellington of Halloweenland stumbling upon Christmastown, which leads him to try and bring the Christmas festivities back to his home turf. Written by Burton, this film is unconventional and has a grotesque charisma, setting it aside as a film unlike any other. With a memorable soundtrack produced by Danny Elfman, this film is a classic musical for both Halloween and Christmas.
Director: Henry Selick
Trivia: It took three years with a group of about 100 people to complete this film.
No matter how many times you enter the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s eerie horror film, you always seem to feel uneasy. Kubrick creates a timeless, tense atmosphere, showing us the mind of writer Jack Torrance unraveling in a hotel harboring an evil presence. The film takes its time to creep inside your mind and stir insanity into your imagination. Jack Nicholson gives a powerhouse of a performance at the center of this film as the ax-wielding Jack Torrance and Kubrick’s direction is masterful. Grab some popcorn, kill the lights, and enjoy this devilish film on Halloween night.
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Trivia: Exterior shots of the hotel were filmed at the Timberline Lodge, which is supposedly haunted.
Trick ‘r Treat
This indie horror anthology tells four treacherous tales happening concurrently on Halloween. The tales follow a high school principal who’s also a serial killer, a college virgin looking for the right guy, a group of pranksters, and an old woman who hates Halloween. The Tarantino-style storytelling keeps you on your toes and the power of the myths and legends presented are even effective if told on a creepy campfire night. Trick ‘r Treat delivers the satisfying goods and is a crowd-pleasing Halloween main course movie.
Director: Michael Dougherty
Trivia: Characters from other stories frequently appear in the background of stories they aren’t involved with.
Badfellas: The 40 Best Movie Villains Of All Time
The Halloween flicks on this list have some villainous characters in them. If you can’t get enough of diabolical performances, check out our list of the 40 best movie villains of all time and get your fix.