The Definitive List of Movies That Will Have You Sleeping With the Lights On

Whether it's Halloween or not, there's always room for a lineup of truly terrifying tales worth diving into. We crave the adrenaline of watching something spooky, often subjecting ourselves to heart-pounding frights. So get your bowl of popcorn ready and prepare to cling to the edge of the seat as we go through more than two dozen of the most terrifying movies recommended by horror movie lovers. 

Reader beware! There are spoilers ahead.

1. Exorcist (1973)

Regan (Linda Blair) lays in a bed looking distraught with cuts on her face.
Image Credit: Hoya Productions.

The Exorcist is a classic of supernatural horror cinema, and everything is played so well that it has retained much of its scare factor even decades after its release. William Friedkin knocked it out of the park casting Linda Blair as the hapless Regan. Even more horrifyingly impressive was the makeup design, spearheaded by Dick Smith. The movie was re-released in 2000 to glowing praise. The spiderwalk scene that was cut from the original rightfully threw viewers for a loop.

2. The Descent (2005)

The Descent
Image Credit: Pathé Distribution.

The Descent is a nerve-wracking horror film that takes unexpected fright to new depths, literally and figuratively. It follows a group of female friends who embark on a caving expedition, only to become trapped underground with evil creatures. 

The fear here is twofold: the relentless claustrophobic tension of the cave setting and the pursuit of the cave-dwelling inhabitants. It's a visceral experience that taps into primal fears of confinement, isolation, and the unknown, creating an atmosphere of dread in the viewer's mind.

3. The Strangers (2008)

The Strangers (2008)
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The Strangers is a chilling home invasion thriller that frightens the audience in its stark simplicity. The movie revolves around a couple whom three masked strangers terrorize in their remote vacation home. What makes it worse is the randomness of the attacks and the utter lack of motive given by the assailants. It preys on the fear of vulnerability in the one space we're meant to feel the safest, emphasizing that horror can come from the unexplainable and the senseless violence of ordinary people.

4. The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The Conjuring stands out in the horror genre for its ability to scare viewers through suspenseful buildup and supernatural elements. Based on real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the film explores their encounters with a sinister presence haunting a family's farmhouse. It taps into the feeling of helplessness when facing an entity beyond scientific explanation.

5. The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook Essie Davis
Image Credit: Umbrella Entertainment.

The Babadook offers a unique and intense horror experience. The plot follows a single mother and her son who are haunted by an evil pop-up book character, the Babadook. What makes it disturbing is the allegorical aspect of the story, which delves into themes of grief, mental illness, and the darkness within. You're observing the protagonist's deteriorating mental state, making it a surprisingly relatable psychological terror that lingers long after the credits roll.

6. Alien (1979)

Alien 1979 scariest sci-fi movies
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

In space, no one can hear you scream. In the comfort of your own home, on the other hand, everyone’s going to know you’re knee-deep in Ridley Scott’s 1979 extraterrestrial fright-fest, Alien. This classic sci-fi thriller may not be big on the jump scares, but Scott’s penchant for pacing and building tension has had audiences squirming across generations. The xenomorph design is still imposing and terrifying, even umpteen years later.

7. The Witch (2015)

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch (2015)
Image Credit: A24.

The Witch is set in 17th-century New England, and it follows a Puritan family tormented by paranormal forces in the woods. The film's fear factor lies in its historical accuracy, authentic dialogue, and the dread that gradually descends upon the family as they confront the unknown. It's a slow descent into paranoia and religious hysteria, making it profoundly eerie.

8. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe showcases a father and son who work as coroners and encounter strange phenomena while examining the body of an unidentified woman. The movie reveals that the woman is a witch who was tortured in the 17th century and is now seeking revenge on anyone who disturbs her. The film has been celebrated for its intelligent and creepy atmosphere and its effective use of suspense and gore.

9. The Ritual (2017)

Sam Troughton, Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, and Arsher Ali in The Ritual (2017)
Image Credit: Netflix.

The Ritual is a British horror film that follows four friends who take a hiking trip into a Swedish forest and encounter an ancient evil spirit. The movie depicts the friends' struggle to survive as they are hunted by a monstrous creature that is worshiped by a cult of locals. The Ritual has been praised for its tense setting and its exploration of themes such as guilt, grief, and friendship.

10. Hereditary (2018)

Image Credit: A24.

In Hereditary, the Graham family is plagued by a strange inheritance that leads to disturbing scenes such as a shocking accident, a disconcerting séance, and a horrifying decapitation. The characters, especially Annie and her daughter Charlie, experience relentless psychological torment and possession. What makes this film genuinely scary is how you watch the whole family's unraveling sanity, a series of tragic accidents, and the evil forces manipulating their lives.

11. Smile (2022)

Sosie Bacon in Smile (2022)
Image Credit: Paramount Players/Paramount Pictures.

The movie Smile was scary because it explored the theme of trauma and how it can manifest in terrifying ways. The protagonist, Dr. Rose Cotter, had to face not only the horrific deaths of her patients and loved ones but also the possibility that she was losing her sanity and becoming like her mother, who died by taking her own life.

The movie also featured a creepy and mysterious entity that appeared as different smiling people who could infect others with their curses and drive them to take their own lives or the lives of others.

12. The Lighthouse (2019)

Robert Pattinson and William Dafoe in "The Lighthouse"
Image Credit: A24.

The Lighthouse is a chilling tale of two lighthouse keepers, Thomas and Ephraim, who are stranded on a remote island. As isolation and paranoia set in, we witness psychological agony, including hallucinations, a relentless storm, and a gradual ascent into madness. The film dives into the disturbing transformation of the characters as they grapple with the secrets of the lighthouse.

13. Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Katie Sarife in Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc/Warner Bros. Pictures.

In Annabelle Comes Home, we revisit Ed and Lorraine Warren for another supernatural exploit. Well, it's actually their daughter, Judy, who faces terror when the infamously haunted doll Annabelle awakens evil spirits in their occult room. The movie is filled with startling scenes, such as a haunted artifact room coming to life, the chilling Ferryman, and the possession of Judy's babysitter. The characters struggle to survive the supernatural threats and confront the evil within the Warrens' home.

14. The Invisible Man (2020)

The Invisible Man Elisabeth Moss
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The Invisible Man follows Cecilia as she escapes from her abusive partner, only to be tormented by him after his supposed death. There are tons of jump scares and highly suspenseful scenes related to the presence of the invisible antagonist, an alarming restaurant encounter, and the gaslighting tactics used against Cecilia. 

What makes it intense is the persistent psychological and physical torture inflicted on the protagonist as she becomes increasingly secluded and paranoid, struggling to prove her sanity and escape her invisible tormentor.

15. The Lodge (2020)

The Lodge
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

The Lodge traps you in a snowbound nightmare. It follows a family who becomes trapped in a remote cabin during a blizzard, and the children start experiencing horrifying visions linked to a traumatic past. The suspense is amplified by shocking twists, including the revelation that the father's fiancée might be unhinged, and the unsettling events that follow leave audiences in a state of constant unease.

16. The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

The Dark and the Wicked Marin Ireland
Image Credit: RLJE Films.

The Dark and the Wicked explores the relentless horrors of a farmstead haunted by malevolent forces. As a brother and sister return home to care for their ailing parents, the film has special treats in store, such as the demonic possession of their mother, which is sure to send shivers down your spine. What makes this film frightening is its sinister atmosphere, with horrifying moments like the possessed father's self-mutilation.

17. The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

Jill Larson in The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Image Credit: Millennium Entertainment.

In The Taking of Deborah Logan, a documentary crew films an Alzheimer's patient, Deborah Logan, as her condition deteriorates. As the film progresses, it takes a terrifying turn with disturbing scenes like Deborah's contorted body and the haunting glimpses of her transformation. Fear creeps in from the escalation of strange circumstances, like the chilling nightcrawler scene and the fact that a medical documentary becomes an unrelenting horror experience.

18. The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007)
Image Credit: MGM Distribution Co.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a found footage-style horror film. It's a documentary about a serial killer who meticulously documents his gruesome crimes. As the film unfolds, we witness the twisted tapes showing his malicious methods and the relentless cat-and-mouse game between the killer and the investigators. The authenticity of the tapes makes this one of the worst scary movies because it could be your average Joe walking down the street who's capable of such crimes!

19. The Fourth Kind (2009)

The Fourth Kind
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

The Fourth Kind blends found footage with dramatized events to explore the phenomenon of alien abductions. The movie focuses on psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler, who uncovers shocking truths about extraterrestrial encounters in Nome, Alaska. What makes this movie truly frightening is the claim that it's based on actual events, incorporating interviews, archival footage, and reenactments that blur the lines between reality and fiction. 

20. Sinister (2012)

Image Credit: Summit Entertainment, LLC.

Sinister is a modern horror film that subverts expectations with its portrayal of otherworldly evil. True crime writer Ellison Oswalt moves his family into a new home to research his latest book about a horrendous murder case. As he discovers a series of alarming home videos, the true horror emerges from the entity captured on film. The atmosphere, discoveries, and twists create an unnerving experience as the mystery tied to the house's past unfolds.

21. As Above, So Below (2014)

As Above, So Below
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

As Above, So Below follows archaeologist Scarlett as she ventures into the catacombs beneath Paris in search of the Philosopher's Stone. As she and her team descend deeper, they face not only claustrophobia but also chilling encounters rooted in their own past traumas.

22. The Blackcoat's Daughter (2015)

Emma Roberts The Blackcoat's Daughter
Image Credit: A24.

In The Blackcoat's Daughter, two girls are left behind at their boarding school during winter break. As their stories unravel, we discover that the presence of an evil spirit is slowly driving them to insanity and violence. There's oppressive isolation, distressing scenes within the empty school, and the gradual giving in to the malevolent spirit.

23. The Wailing (2016)

The Wailing Woo-hee Chun
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The Wailing revolves around a village plagued by a mysterious illness and violent murders. As a bumbling police officer investigates, he encounters a sinister shaman and a Japanese stranger, leading to a nosedive into lunacy and possession. 

24. The Void (2016)

David Scott in The Void (2016)
Image Credit: D Films.

The Void follows a sheriff and a group of survivors trapped in a nearly abandoned hospital surrounded by cultists. As they try to survive, they come across grotesque surgical experiments and discover a portal to an otherworldly dimension beneath the hospital. The blend of cosmic horror and monstrous transformations makes this film a nightmarish journey.

25. Terrified (2017)

Image Credit: Aura Films.

Terrified explores a neighborhood plagued by demons. A detective and a team of investigators uncover the disturbing truth behind inexplicable phenomena, including a boy who can speak to the dead and an evil spirit that terrorizes a family.

26. The Night House (2021)

Rebecca Hall in The Night House (2020)
Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures.

In The Night House, Beth, mourning her husband's death, discovers secrets about his double life in their lake house. As she goes deeper, she meets eerie doppelgangers and uncovers a hidden portal to the afterlife. The movie explores the concept of grief, the blurred boundaries between reality and the supernatural, and the big revelation that her husband was trying to protect her from evil spirits.

Source: Reddit