There are so many horror movies out there in the world, it can be hard knowing where to start. With Halloween nearly here, though, it's about time to start buckling down and getting more serious about your horror movie viewing.
Given the sheer number of horror movies out there, we made a list of the absolute must-watch horror movies everyone should see for Halloween, as well as where they're currently streaming.
Essential Halloween Movies to Watch and Where to Stream Them
List Criteria: This was a very tough list to narrow down movies for. As many great horror movies are out in the world, we ultimately tried to think of essential horror movies to watch for Halloween, rather than just great scary movies in general.
Hence why you won't find Jaws or Alien—two great horror movies in and of themselves—anywhere, simply because they don’t possess that “Halloween-like feel” we were going for on this list. It was a painstaking process of elimination, but hopefully, you agree with the results.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
In the past, we've done plenty of lists detailing some of the best slasher movies out there. To avoid repeating ourselves, we're going to limit ourselves to picking just a handful of classic slashers that you immediately think of when you think of horror—like, for example, everyone’s favorite supernatural '80s horror movie, A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Like his contemporaries Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger is pretty much the main villain everyone thinks of when the word “slasher” comes to mind. With his much more menacing appearances in the early Wes Craven Nightmare movies—before the franchise began presenting him more as a comedic character—it's easy to see why.
One of the most successful horror movies to come out of the '80s slasher craze, A Nightmare on Elm Street follows a group of high school students plagued by nightmares featuring a severely burned, knife-handed maniac stalking them. It's only as they begin dying one by one under somewhat strange circumstances that they realize that what happens to them in their dreams might in fact cause them physical harm in the real world.
It's a scary concept, and one that was amazingly fresh during an era that was seeing increasingly poorer Halloween-esque slasher ripoffs, making A Nightmare on Elm Street easily one of the most original horror movies to come out of a pretty cut-and-paste subgenre of horror.
Streaming on HBO Max
It was difficult at first thinking of which Hitchcock movie would make the cut for this list, but when it came down to it, it was a no-brainer. One of the most shocking movies of its day, there's a reason audiences still talk about Psycho, even more so than other classic Hitchcock films like Vertigo, Rear Window, and North by Northwest.
The prototypical slasher movie, it broke so many rules of filmmaking for its time, showing things that just weren't being shown ever before (a loosely-clad, unmarried couple together in a bed, the famous shower scene, and—weirdly—a flushing toilet, which was a big no-no during the 1950s' era of the Production Code), and touching upon then-controversial topics few directors were brave enough to explore, such as voyeurism, sexuality, gender nonconformity, and violence.
After Marion (Janet Leigh), an unhappy secretary who steals a large sum of money from her boss in an attempt to pay off her lovers' debts, goes on the run, she eventually stops for the night at a roadside motel managed by the shy, eccentric Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). As Marion's stay continues, she soon shares an encounter with Norman’s mysterious mother that leads to Marion's lover, sister, and a private investigator all trying to find out what exactly happened at the Bates Motel.
It was equally as popular a movie as it was controversial for its time, and remains the definitive Hitchcock movie, full of tight pacing, innovative style (there's a ton of awesome and creative transitions), amazing plot twists, and the now-iconic and often-parodied shower scene, including the infamous string-heavy Bernard Hermann score that plays in the background.
Streaming on Hulu (premium subscription required)
Before Scream, before A Nightmare on Elm Street, before Friday the 13th, there was Halloween. The final slasher on this list (we promise), Halloween was the movie that introduced the slasher genre to a mass audience of moviegoers.
Made on a shoestring budget and with a mostly inexperienced cast and crew, it's also one of the earliest examples of a indie movie that was a huge financial and critical success, proving you don't need a huge budget, a veteran cast of actors, and even that many effects to make a good horror movie that was genuinely scary to watch.
The movie focuses on the infamous butcher knife-wielding maniac Michael Myers (the prototype for virtually every slasher antagonist that followed), who, as a child, brutally murdered his own sister on Halloween, resulting in him being confined to a mental asylum for the rest of his life. When Michael manages to escape on Halloween night 15 years later, he returns to his hometown, targeting a high school babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends while Michael's psychiatrist (Donald Pleasence) tries to stop him.
To this day, Halloween remains one of the most popular slasher movies in existence, continuing to stay relevant with newer movies like Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends. If there's one slasher you should 100% watch for Halloween … it's got to be Halloween.
Streaming on Shudder
Like most movies on this list, The Exorcist is commonly ranked as one of the best horror movies in existence. From the sheer terror factor alone you feel watching this movie, we're hard-pressed to agree. One of the most uncomfortable movies to view (how this movie was made at all—never mind in 1973—never ceases to amaze), The Exorcist tells the story of a young girl (Linda Blair) who is possessed by a demon that slowly transforms her into a disfigured, foul-mouthed version of her former self, and the subsequent attempt to exorcise the creature by two Catholic priests (Jason Miller and Max von Sydow).
Even now, The Exorcist remains one of the most shocking movies you'll probably ever see. (Additionally, and even more unnervingly, the film’s cast and crew suffered through several weird incidents during and after the making of this movie, including a fire destroying most of the set, and Blair and Ellen Burstyn suffering injuries on-set that would plague them the rest of their lives, earning the film a reputation as being “cursed.”) Initial audience reactions to the film apparently included violent physical responses, such as vomiting, fainting, and reportedly even heart attacks and miscarriages, leading to several cities trying to ban the film altogether.
Despite a somewhat lukewarm critical response at first, it went on to become the first horror movie to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, and won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound. It also held the title of highest-grossing R-rated horror film for nearly 40 years until 2017's It.
You may walk into this movie thinking, “Oh come on. It was made in the '70s—how scary can it be?” But trust me, my friend, it's scary … oh, boy, is it scary.
Streaming on Sling TV (premium subscription required)
The Shining has a set reputation as the ultimate Stephen King movie. A very loose adaptation of King's original novel (something that remains a point of contention for the author to this day), The Shining follows the Torrance family—including unhappy former alcoholic, Jack (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their young son Danny (Danny Lloyd)—after Jack is hired to be the caretaker to the Overlook Hotel deep in the Colorado mountains during the off-season.
As winter sets in, and the family's isolation grows, they begin to suspect a malevolent presence in the Hotel that may be preying on Danny's psychic abilities, known as “the shining,” and that seems to be corrupting the increasingly unstable Jack in order to do so. One of the legendary Stanley Kubrick's most well-known movies, at just under two and a half hours, The Shining is a slow burn that feels increasingly claustrophobic as the film goes on, growing more and more disorienting until well after the movie’s climax, and that will leave you wondering what the hell you just saw.
A combination of remarkable direction by Kubrick, an atmospheric soundtrack by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, fantastic performances from Nicholson and Duvall, and a deliberately ambiguous storyline, this movie is one you can't fully figure out even if you tried—over 40 years since its release, it still remains the subject of study and conjecture, results in a documentary (Room 237) offering numerous interpretations behind the film’s meaning.
Streaming on HBO MAX
One of the best and most well-known examples of psychological horror, Rosemary's Baby is legitimately one of the creepiest movies of all time. It's also one of the simplest, most minimal horror movies ever, relying not on gory special effects or jump scares, but instead a lot of gradual suspense and unease that builds throughout, reaching an unforgettable, downright haunting ending that'll leave you uneasy for a long time after viewing.
When young married couple Rosemary and Guy (Mia Farrow and John Cassavettes) move into a prestigious New York hotel together, they soon meet their neighbors, a quirky old couple (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer) who they grow close to. After Rosemary learns that she is pregnant, she soon begins to suspect that the couple may in fact be tied to a coven of witches trying to steal her unborn baby for some sinister purpose.
Commonly regarded as one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Rosemary's Baby is today seen as the quintessential psychological horror movie, using tense music, mystery, and Rosemary's increasing distrust and anxiety of who to believe that left audience members questioning as much about what they're seeing as Rosemary herself.
For its time (1968), it also touched upon some very serious subject matters from a woman's perspective—something unfortunately still rare in many horror movies to this day—including mental unease (namely anxiety and paranoia), religion, and the occult.
Streaming on Hulu (premium subscription required)
The other Stephen King adaptation on this list, Carrie is remembered as one of the highlights of horror director Brian De Palma's extensive filmography, including hits like Blow Out, Scarface, and The Untouchables. We may have gushed a lot about The Shining, but don't let that take anything away from Carrie—it's still one of the absolute best and most enjoyable adaptations of a novel ever, and remains arguably the finest movie based on a Stephen King novel (and man, are there a lot of those).
The plot of Carrie focuses on a lonely, depressed high school student named Carrie (Sissy Spacek in probably her most famous role). Endlessly bullied at school by her fellow students and at home by her abusive religion-obsessed mother (Piper Laurie), Carrie discovers that she possesses psychic abilities that have somehow been unlocked by her physical maturity. Using these newfound powers, she begins to exact revenge against those who wronged her, resulting in one of the most memorable prom-gone-wrong scenes ever put to film. De Palma's first mainstream hit, the success of Carrie launched the director's career, as well as establishing rising star Sissy Spacek in Hollywood and relaunching the career of Piper Laurie (both would receive Oscar nominations for this film).
While Carrie has been remade a few times over the years, De Palma's original still remains a must-watch for horror fans everywhere. It's a horrifying, spine-chilling, now universally beloved Stephen King story with a main character you can't help but feel complete sympathy for before, but whom you end up completely terrified of by the film's climax (a neat trick few movies are able to pull off as successfully as this one).
Streaming on Shudder
Shaun of the Dead
Choosing a zombie film to appear on this list wasn't an easy decision. While you can't go wrong with close contenders like Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later that very nearly earned a spot here, we decided to go with something a little more modern and chose Edgar Wright's absolutely hysterical cult classic, Shaun of the Dead.
By far the best zombie movie to be released in the past 20 years (sorry, Zombieland), Shaun of the Dead manages to balance humor with horror unbelievably well, telling the story of two slackers (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who find themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in the otherwise quiet London suburbs.
Seeing a good British horror movie is always a treat, but Wright goes above and beyond here, creating tons of sentimental homages and nods to the previous zombie movies that inspired him, all the while using plenty of visual and verbal comedy to keep you laughing and legitimately scared the entire time. It's a balancing act that many directors can't pull off, but Wright more than manages, creating one of the most original zombie movies you'll ever see as a result.
Streaming on Hulu (premium subscription required)
What would Halloween be without witches? That's like having Thanksgiving dinner without any pumpkin pie. While there are all kinds of movies featuring witches that rightfully could've earned a spot on this list—from family-friendly ones like Hocus Pocus and The Witches, to chilling ones like The Blair Witch Project and Hereditary—ultimately, there’s no beating the cult classic horror movie, Suspiria.
A favorite of notable directors like Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino, Suspiria revolves around an American girl named Suzy (Jessica Harper) arriving at a prestigious German dance academy. Following a series of strange events—including an infestation of maggots and multiple brutal murders—Suzy slowly begins to suspect that the school may in fact be home to a coven of witches.
One of director Dario Argento's most famous (and also goriest) movies, Suspiria has been praised not only for its creepy main storyline, but also for its tone and visuals, thanks largely to Argento's bright color palette and the eerie soundtrack by Argento and prog-rock band Goblin. More recently, Suspiria was remade into the vastly different but still equally enjoyable 2017 film of the same name starring Tilda Swinton, but for our money, the original is just slightly more superior.
Streaming on Tubi
Jordan Peele's Get Out literally came out of nowhere when it was first released at Sundance in 2017. After the conclusion of his hit comedy series, Key & Peele, the future was uncertain for Peele, who more or less disappeared for a time working on a reported horror project that very few knew the exact details about. When the movie finally debuted, however, it proved to be not only a popular new direction for the comedian to take, but also became one of the most groundbreaking works of horror in recent history.
Channeling his love for psychological horror movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, Get Out tells the story of a young Black man, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), as they travel for a weekend visit to Rose's parents' house so that Chris can formally meet them for the first time. Nervous that they will not accept him, Chris eventually uncovers a far darker, more insidious plot involving Rose's family that leaves him fearful for his life. Dark, smart, and incredibly original, Get Out blended real-life social aspects of everyday life in modern America, especially for marginalized individuals of color, creating a more nuanced horror story based in the real world that audiences just weren't expecting to see presented in a horror movie.
Get Out also sparked a renewed phase in Peele's career as a horror movie director, with the success of this movie earning him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and paving the way for the similarly amazing film, Us, and his upcoming Nope, set for release next summer, 2022.
Not currently streaming, but available to rent on Prime Video
It can be tough knowing which movie to watch for Halloween. Do you want to watch something fun-scary, or scary-scary? Do you want it to be a slasher, or do you want something with demons and the supernatural?
It seems like there's no end to the possibilities of what to watch on Halloween, but hopefully, this list narrows down the choices a bit, and leaves you with a few ideas about what movies you should check out before the end of October. Coming up with this list was ridiculously hard, but at the end of the day, we feel it best represents every essential horror movie worth watching, and that perfectly fits the tone for Halloween.
While they may not be the scariest movies ever made, for those interested in horror and wanting to celebrate Halloween the “right way” (watching movies while waiting for trick-or-treaters), this list is full of entertaining horror movies worthy of your time. Other movies we highly recommend that nearly made the list include the completely off-the-wall horror rock comedy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the cult classic meta-slasher Scream, the highly underrated horror anthology Trick ‘r Treat, and the Academy Award-winning psychological horror film, The Silence of the Lambs.