There’s no better way to embrace spooky season than by dimming the lights and settling in for some popcorn and a scary movie. And what better way to watch than at home on your couch thanks to the convenience of a multitude of streaming platforms? From iconic horror classics to the latest releases, there’s no shortage of scares available at your very fingertips.
Watching scary movies on streaming is kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure story these days. What do you want to get scared by tonight: witches, demons, ghosts, or aliens? And now with the golden age of horror, there are so many sub-genres to choose from beyond just supernatural hauntings, psychological mind trips, and gruesome slasher flicks.
While “scary” is somewhat subjective, there are certain horror films that have been pretty unanimously categorized as some of the scariest. Whether, creepy, gory, full of jump scares, or all three, these movies put the horror in horrifying, spooking even the more die-hard of scary movie fans. Although the creatures, scenarios, and genres may be different, they all get to the heart of what scares us the most—the unknown.
So are you ready to test your courage and face your fears? If so, brace yourself for a hair-raising good time. These are some of the scariest movies currently available on streaming.
Before James Wan launched The Conjuring Universe, he was co-creating another horror franchise: Insidious. Also starring Patrick Wilson, along with Rose Byrne and Ty Simpkins, Insidious is like if Nightmare on Elm Street and Poltergeist had a baby that was 10 times scarier. In fact, it holds the record for the biggest jump scare by heart rate according to Broadband Choices’ The Science of Scare Project (133 BPM if you were wondering). While you won’t find much gore here, there’s plenty of intense suspense and nightmarish imagery that will send you hiding under your HomeGoods ghost blanket. Watch it on its own or pair it with the other four films in the Insidious series for a spooky movie marathon.
2. The Blair Witch Project
If you’re a fan of found footage-style horror movies, you can’t go wrong with the OG. The Blair Witch Project is scary for what it doesn’t show, taking you along for the ride and leaving much for your imagination to fill in. As someone who just turned 13 when it came out and left claw marks in her friends’ arms after watching it, I can tell you it revolutionized the horror movie-watching experience. And it was really the start of viral marketing before social media even existed. With its documentary-style filmmaking and (fictionalized) urban legend mystique, it’s easy to feel like you, too, are lost in the woods with Heather, Mike, and Josh—getting stalked by the Blair Witch.
If you want to be thoroughly unsettled and not just scared out of your mind, try turning on Ari Aster’s Hereditary. This is one of those films that you really only need to see once because certain scenes will stick in your mind forever and haunt your dreams (as will Alex Wolff’s cries). It’s a great example of building up a sense of dread, as things go progressively from bad to worse to what in the demonic cult was that?! Plus, it’s actually a legitimately well-done movie, horror stuff aside. I especially love the parallels between Annie’s work as a miniature artist and the family’s actual home. It gives the whole thing a very eerie and claustrophobic vibe as if they’re all being played with like a bunch of dolls in a dollhouse.
Oculus is another one of those movies that really gets under your skin and stays there. When I watched it for the first time, I was messed up for a week, barely sleeping and avoiding all the mirrors in my apartment. Imagine being on a bad acid trip and questioning your reality at every turn while also watching your parents go insane and try to kill you. Yeah, Oculus is kind of like that. And if you thought old mirrors were kind of creepy before, after watching this film you might choose the seven years of bad luck for breaking one over having one anywhere near you. Thanks, Mike Flanagan.
A lot of creative projects came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a few successful films. Host is one such film that takes the pandemic project a step further, putting its characters smack dab in the middle of the lockdown. While similar to the found footage genre, Host is really a genre unto itself, video chat horror. Remember Zoom parties? Well, how about a Zoom séance? The very unconventional setting is somehow scarier because it’s like you’re watching it in real-time with the actors. It’s almost disorienting as the lines of reality are blurred, especially if you watch it on your laptop. Host was rated as the scariest movie by the Science of Scare Project and is in the top 10 “Jumpiest” movies by Scary Meter, so good luck sleeping after you’ve watched it.
6. The Thing
If extraterrestrial life and below-zero temperatures scare you, The Thing will be right up your alley. This classic John Carpenter horror film stars Kurt Russell as a helicopter pilot among a group of scientific researchers in Antarctica. When a shapeshifting alien starts assimilating an American station, all hell breaks loose as the remaining men try to avoid becoming its next victim. The Thing is one of the goriest horror movies ever, with impressive body horror, creature effects, and SFX makeup. While it was remade in 2011 to critical acclaim, I still recommend the original over the remake for its dark, gritty, nihilistic portrayal of the story.
7. The Conjuring
The Conjuring has sealed its fate as one of the best horror movies of all time, launching an entire movie universe spanning across nine films. Based on a true story involving paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring focuses on the Perron family and the malevolent spirit that begins terrorizing them after moving into a Rhode Island farmhouse. There are so many scary, hair-raising moments in this film that it’s hard to pick a favorite. But I can’t help but shudder every time I see the sheet blow off the clothesline. Also who knew that music boxes could be scary? Then again, it does have a mirror…
Although it might not be as scary by modern standards, Dario Argento’s Suspiria has horrified audiences for over five decades. Most of the scares are blood and gore with a hefty dose of mystery and suspense sprinkled in. And its nightmarish landscape is oftentimes more trippy than frightening. But what sets Suspiria apart from other horror films is its stunning visuals, making it more art house than haunted house. Still, it’s a classic for a reason. And there’s plenty of murder and the occult to go around. Plus, it has a creepy soundtrack from the prog-rock band Goblin, which gives it major cool points in my book.
9. The Exorcist
An Oscar-winning horror film?! That’s right. The Exorcist is a rare breed, taken seriously by both audiences and critics alike. Even after fifty years, it’s still considered one of, if not the, scariest movies ever made. Children are already kind of creepy, so to see one spider walk down the stairs and have their head turn 360 degrees is just a big nope, nope nope. Whether you believe in demons and the supernatural or not, maybe keep a crucifix nearby if you watch it, just in case…
Speaking of curses, Incantation is a Taiwanese film about a woman who breaks a religious taboo and is convinced her young daughter is now cursed because of it. Similar to The Blair Witch Project, much of it is filmed in a found footage style, and it’s easy to forget it’s just a movie. The main character, Li Ronan (Tsai Hsuan-yen) even encourages the audience to recite an incantation along with her. There are some seriously creepy moments throughout, even some that I’d rather unsee. But Incantation is a unique horror film experience that has to be seen to be believed.
10. The Ring
Based on a novel series and Japanese movie (Ringu), The Ring is about a journalist who sets out to investigate a videotape that, once watched, kills you in seven days. It sounds ridiculous in theory, but the execution is downright scary. The Ring is one of those horror films that became so popular it just became a part of pop culture itself. I remember people would whisper “seven days” to each other in a spooky voice, or pretend to climb out of a TV. It’s iconic—and creepy as hell (psychic children anyone?). It also paved the way for films like Smile, which is about a series of suicides caused by seeing people smile in a very specific way. Although people don’t really watch VHS tapes anymore, the concept of seeing something cursed is still very relevant in the digital age.
11. Lights Out
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been afraid of the dark. While fear of the dark is usually associated with children, it’s estimated that 11% of US adults are too. As a result, it’s a pretty effective premise for a movie. Initially, Lights Out was a short film that caught the attention of fellow horror director James Wan. So if it got made into a feature, and it has his approval, you know it’s gotta be scary. And director David F. Sandberg really leans into emphasizing the creepy unknown of the darkness. In fact, in a way, the darkness is the antagonist, as the entity is only visible in (and kills in) the dark. It will definitely make you dread when it’s “lights out” at night. But hey, there’s always a night light, at least until the power goes out…