The 80 Best Halloween Movies of All Time

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This movie’s inclusion on any and all Halloween lists is a no-brainer. Not only does it namecheck the holiday in the very title, but it’s a standard bearer in the horror genre. Directed by auteur John Carpenter, Halloween tells the story of child psychopath Michael Myers, who is locked away after murdering his 15-year-old sister at the age of 6. He breaks out 15 years later, hell-bent on murdering his other sister, Laurie, played by preeminent scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis.

Waiting until Halloween to make another trip up to the lab with this camp classic may make you shiver with antici…

…pation.

A staple of midnight screenings the world over, the film focuses on Janet (Susan Sarandon) and Brad (Barry Bostwick), a repressed couple who stumble upon Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s sexy, scary castle on a dark and stormy night. Come for the B-movie thrills and laughs; stay for Tim Curry’s impeccable eye shadow game.

This Oscar-winning possession parable still chills. Directed by William Friedkin, this thriller about a young mother (Ellen Burstyn) who tries to exorcise her young daughter (Linda Blair), is brimming with old-fashioned scare shots and a highly quotable script. Plus, the kitschy practical effects still manage to rival some of today’s CGI.

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Into sentiment over scares? This holiday version of the beloved Peanuts comic strip is the one for you. Blanket-bearing Linus waits up for the mythical Great Pumpkin while Charlie Brown frets about going to a Halloween party. Spoiler alert: Everything turns out just fine for everyone.

A trio of high-school girls at a Catholic prep school who dabble in witchcraft welcome a new girl with actual powers (Robin Tunney) in this film. Think of it as Heathers with spells. Featuring a pitch-perfect, sinister performance by Fairuza Balk as Nancy, The Craft easily scores as the scariest of the high-school-outcast tales.

Is this a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie? Unclear. So why not watch it from October to December, just in case? Tim Burton’s at times gentle, at times sinister stop-motion musical focuses on Jack Skellington, the king of Halloween Town, whose efforts to bring Christmas Town home produce disastrous results.

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Three words: buttons for eyes. This stop-motion masterpiece is a cautionary tale for anyone who has ever thought the grass might be greener (through the hidden door in the bricked-up passageway). Coraline, voiced by Dakota Fanning, feels neglected by her parents and stumbles upon an idealized version of her world where everyone has, yes, buttons for eyes and treats her nicely. But, just like in Hotel California, you can check out any time you want—but Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) will make sure you never leave.

“Do you like scary movies?” That line and the shocking killing that followed it marked the beginning of a new era for horror movies. Written by Kevin Williamson and directed by Wes Craven, Scream is the perfect blend of ’90s pop culture archness with slasher film tropes. The series has produced four sequels and a TV series (some good, some… not so much) but the original remains the best.

Here’s a campy-scary kids’ stalwart that holds up surprisingly well. Anjelica Huston is in top form as Ms. Eva Ernst, the powerful Grand High Witch who turns a boy into a mouse. This film, based on the Roald Dahl book, is probably the only scary movie to ever be set at a witches’ convention.

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Offering perhaps the best reason for never befriending your neighbors, this psychological horror classic focuses on a newlywed (Mia Farrow) who becomes mysteriously pregnant and begins to suspect that her neighbors have designs on her baby. Featuring a deliciously creepy turn by Ruth Gordon, this movie is a Halloween must-watch.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is Wes Craven’s still-scary ’80s tale of Freddy Krueger, a knife-gloved serial killer who murders people in their dreams. While the first remains the best, a multitude of sequels and remakes followed. Plus, Krueger actor Robert Englund turned up in Stranger Things Season 4 in a supremely scary role. Watch this one if you never want to get a good night’s sleep ever again.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy play comedic divas (fine, they’re also 300-year-old witches) who spend the entire length of the film chasing a teenage virgin (fine, who has stolen their spell book) in this totally improbable cult favorite from the director of High School Musical. What’s not to love? The long awaited sequel is on the way!

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This ribald 2012 comedy didn’t get much love in theaters, but if you’re looking for a Halloween-themed, teen-centered answer to The Hangover, this is your best bet. Featuring Victoria Justice as a girl who loses her little brother while trick-or-treating, Fun Size is light on frights but makes up for it with a surplus of dirty jokes, gross-out gags, and other “adult themes.”

In this horror standard, a group of camp counselors are stalked by a vengeful serial killer. The Friday the 13th series is best known for Jason, a hockey mask-wearing, axe-wielding serial killer, but he doesn’t appear in this first installment. Decide for yourself if that makes it less enjoyable than its descendants, which kept the original’s inventive gore but got more and more absurd as the years went on.

This is as close to a Halloween-themed rom-com as you’re likely to get. Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play the last in their family’s line of witches, who battle the disapproving members of their small town and a curse that dooms any man they fall in love with. Come for the two iconic actresses, who are clearly having a ball; stay for the even more iconic Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing, who steal every scene as Nicole and Sandra’s witchy aunts.

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A legit terrifying spin on Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Disturbia features an actually excellent turn by Shia LaBeouf as a teen on house arrest who suspects his neighbor is a serial killer. Combining tech-fueled paranoia with old-fashioned thrills, this movie delivers scares right up to the last minute.

This franchise won’t die, and neither will Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series as the perpetual target of brother Michael Myers’ murderous pursuit. Laurie faked her death and assumed a new name but Myers, who apparently dabbles as a private detective when not on murderous rampages, has tracked her down. Featuring a scream queen turn by future four-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams, Halloween H20 is a fun-scary modern addition to the genre.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes full Sarah Connor in this reboot of the reboot of the horror classic. A perfect scary movie for the anxious 2010s, filmmaker David Gordon Green is as interested in thrills and chills in this installment as he is in investigating the lasting effects of trauma. The events of the 2018 Halloween deem the sequels non-canonical, choosing instead to focus on the hermetic life of a now 60-something Laurie Strode, her daughter (Judy Greer), and their relentless pursuit by one Michael Myers.

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A truly terrifying horror film about grief and family secrets, Hereditary is as much a psychological study as it is a scream-fest. Toni Collette definitely deserved an Oscar nomination for her role as a mother trying desperately to keep her family together in the face of evil. Watch this one with all the lights on!

The rare all-out Halloween comedy on the list, this Wayans Brothers film spoofs the Scream series and I Know What You Did Last Summer directly, but leaves no horror movie unscorched. Featuring Regina Hall and Anna Faris, Scary Movie is laugh-out-loud funny, even if you’ve forgotten half of the movies it skewers.

Headshot of R. Eric Thomas

R. Eric Thomas

R. Eric Thomas is a columnist for ELLE.com, where he skewers politics, pop culture, celebrity shade, and schadenfreude. He is also the author of Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, a memoir-in-essays. 

Headshot of Amy Mackelden

Amy Mackelden is a freelance writer, editor, and disability activist. Her bylines include Harper’s BAZAAR, Nicki Swift, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, ELLE, The Independent, Bustle, Healthline, and HelloGiggles. She co-edited The Emma Press Anthology of Illness, and previously spent all of her money on Kylie Cosmetics.

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