Step beyond the confines of traditional horror with this range of dramas, mysteries, thrillers, and comedies that somehow manage to send chills down our spines. Despite not being intentional horror, these 14 movies hit the mark for evoking fear. Prepare to uncover a diverse collection of cinematic gems that may not carry the “scary” label but undoubtedly deserve a coveted spot on your shelf of creepy flicks.
1. Arachnophobia (1990)
In this suspenseful comedy-horror, a newly discovered species of deadly spiders infest a small American town, causing mayhem and terror. Dr. Ross Jennings, an arachnophobic small-town doctor played by Jeff Daniels, must confront his greatest fear to save his community from the eight-legged nightmare. Despite being marketed as a pure comedy, Arachnophobia is anything but funny. It's downright disturbing, and if you have a phobia of spiders, it's bordering on torture!
2. Return to Oz (1985)
If you were an 80s kid, you probably saw this absolute nightmare fuel of a film way too young, and it traumatized you for life. Dorothy's adventures continue in this dark and fantastical sequel to The Wizard of Oz.
Transported back to the magical land, Dorothy finds Oz in ruins, ruled by the menacing Princess Mombi and the enigmatic Nome King. Armed with newfound companions, including Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead, she must battle through eerie landscapes and confront her deepest fears to restore Oz's glory. Whether you watch it at 7 or 47, the Wheelers and Princess Mombi are disturbing.
3. Kids (1995)
This raw and unflinching drama follows a group of New York City teenagers over the course of a day and night. Amid the gritty streets and risky behaviors, the film delves into the lives of these troubled adolescents, revealing a disturbing and thought-provoking portrait of youth culture and its darker consequences. Most people only ever watch this movie once for a reason, and that's because it's viscerally brutal and disturbing.
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Steven Spielberg's thrilling sequel to Jurassic Park takes us back to the perilous Isla Sorna, where dinosaurs roam freely. A group of researchers, led by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), embarks on a rescue mission after learning that the dinosaurs face a new threat—a team of exploitative hunters.
The expedition turns into a heart-pounding struggle for survival, surrounded by ancient creatures that once again reign supreme. Jurassic Park is essentially a retelling of Frankenstein in its exploration of the consequences of scientific ambition and the ethics of playing god-like roles in creating life.
5. The Neverending Story (1984)
Enter the captivating world of Fantasia, a realm of imagination threatened by an ominous force known as “The Nothing.” Young Bastian discovers a magical book that draws him into the mesmerizing tale of Atreyu, a warrior tasked with saving Fantasia from vanishing forever. As the lines blur between reality and fantasy, Bastian must confront his fears and insecurities to wield the power of human imagination.
Most viewers agree that “The Nothing” is pure cosmic horror despite being a beloved PG-rated children's movie about a fluffy dragon.
6. The Terminator (1984)
In this iconic science-fiction thriller, a relentless, cybernetic assassin known as the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to eliminate Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose unborn son will lead the resistance against machines in the future. As Sarah fights for survival, she comes face-to-face with the chilling possibility of a dystopian destiny. While The Terminator franchise is considered action sci-fi, it's basically a slasher movie with sci-fi trappings.
7. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Dorothy Gale's journey to the magical Land of Oz becomes an enduring classic, renowned for its fantastical adventure and timeless messages. As Dorothy and her eclectic group of friends—Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion—follow the Yellow Brick Road to meet the enigmatic Wizard, they encounter eerie challenges and ultimately learn profound lessons about courage, love, and home.
8. Holes (2003)
Sentenced to a labor camp at Camp Green Lake for a crime he didn't commit, young Stanley Yelnats (Shia LaBeouf) unearths a history of curses, hidden treasure, and a mysterious legacy. As Stanley Yelnats and his fellow inmates embark on a backbreaking quest of digging holes in the desert, they soon encounter more than dirt and grime.
Unearthed are chilling secrets buried deep in the past, from a vengeful curse to the haunting legend of the infamous outlaw, Kissing Kate Barlow. With its sinister undertones, unexpected twists, and spine-tingling revelations, Holes proves that beneath the seemingly mundane, an unsettling and compelling darkness lies in wait.
9. Ex Machina (2014)
Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a young programmer, wins the chance to interact with Ava (Alicia Vikander), an advanced humanoid AI created by the reclusive tech genius Nathan (Oscar Isaac).
As Caleb's fascination with Ava grows, he becomes entangled in a web of deceit and existential questions about the nature of consciousness and what it means to be human. The film is a sci-fi thriller with many elements of horror, as the plot is a nightmare from each character's perspective.
10. Nocturnal Animals (2016)
In this hauntingly intense psychological thriller, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), that forces her to confront dark memories of their past. As she immerses herself in the chilling tale of crime, revenge, and redemption, reality and fiction intertwine, blurring the lines between her fears and the shadows of her own choices.
While thrillers often flirt with the borders of horror, Nocturnal Animals incorporates a significant amount of disturbing material, which cements itself as sufficiently horror-centric.
11. Whiplash (2014)
Driven by his ambition to become a legendary jazz drummer, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) enrolls in a prestigious music conservatory, only to encounter the ruthless and demanding instructor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). The grueling pursuit of perfection pushes Andrew to the brink, questioning his sanity and challenging the audience's nerves.
This adrenaline-fueled music drama is interestingly shot like a horror film, steadily building tension and a sense of dread. The scenes where Neiman interacts with his music teacher are anxiety-inducing, and the film has a brooding, dark, ominous tone.
12. Coraline (2009)
Venture into the captivating world of stop-motion animation, where Coraline Jones discovers a secret door leading to an alternate version of her own life. Initially enchanted by the wonders of the Other World, Coraline soon realizes that things are not as they seem. She must confront menacing entities and summon the courage to escape a nightmarish fate.
This animated family drama's target audience may be kids, but that doesn't make it any less nightmarish. Ask anyone who grew up watching Courage the Cowardly Dog, and you'll know that animated kids' content doesn't guarantee a wholesome, pleasant viewing experience.
13. Black Swan (2010)
Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), a dedicated ballerina vying for the lead role in “Swan Lake,” spirals into a nightmarish struggle with her own psyche. As she succumbs to the allure of the Black Swan's dark seduction, Nina's pursuit of perfection and her intense rivalry with the daring newcomer, Lily (Mila Kunis), blur the lines between reality and madness.
14. Ghost (1990)
In this emotionally charged romantic fantasy, Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) finds himself trapped between the world of the living and the afterlife after his untimely death. With the help of a quirky psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), Sam must communicate with his grieving girlfriend, Molly (Demi Moore), and unravel the mystery behind his murder.
Jaimee Marshall is a writer who hails from the suburbs of Philadelphia but has spent the past few years living abroad in Australia. She considers herself a bit of a movie buff with a knack for horror and clever sci-fi flicks. When she isn't watching or writing about movies, she's probably either posting political memes, cooking vegan food, or being active. She covers entertainment news, and reviews films and television for Wealth of Geeks. You can also catch her deep dives on sociopolitical issues at Evie Magazine, Katie Couric Media, and Her Campus or watch her appearance on Popcorned Planet, where she discusses heated issues like due process in our current social climate.