From serial killers to ghosts to zombies, these are the best horror movies of the 21st century that keep us up at night!
From the slashers of the early 2000s to the renaissance of ghost stories and monster movies of the 2010s, the 21st century has been a rollercoaster for the beloved horror genre. However, for all the deep lows that the genre had to incur during the time, there have been some highs that have ended up being some of the best entries in the genre. In fact, to some, the 21st century has proven to be a second golden age for horror. Why? Because horror filmmakers have been able to honor the genre’s roots while infusing them with modern sensibilities. So, here are some of the best horror movies of the 21st century in reverse chronological order!
Note: We’ll be updating this list whenever another great horror movie comes up!
Other Note: Click on the titles to watch the movies on Amazon!
Last Note: What’re your favorite horror movies of the 21st century? Let us know in the comments!
There are some movies that just capture audiences from its first few moments. Well, Get Out is one of those movies. Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is a surprising crowd pleaser considering it is a horror movie and deals with the sensitive subject of race. However, outside of his adept handling of three genres — horror, comedy, and social justice – Peele has a strong sense of what makes people tense. The movie doesn’t have that one central horror set piece that a lot of horror movies have — except for the hypnosis scene, perhaps — but he ratchets up tension with small but effective scares. He hides his hand until the last minute and unfolds the entire plot. The best horror movies work like puzzles. And get out demands to be rewatched to see how the pieces came together.
A lot of people consider The Strangers (2008) as the pinnacle of home invasion movies, but I will contest that Don’t Breathe easily takes the top spot. As I said in my review, “Don’t Breathe is a gorgeous exercise in great directing that expertly ratchets up the tension. However, it’s more complex than that. Some unbelievable and inventive cinematography immediately sets it apart from other genre films.” What makes the movie great boils down to narrative efficiency. Director Fede Alvarez shows instead of tells. He sets up the house where the would-be robbers meet their grizzly ends in a beautiful one-take that show us the field of play. From there on, he practices some incredible patience, which is something not seen in horror movies today. He holds shots and moments as long as he can to truly make you uncomfortable and there are some moments that are truly unbearable to keep watching. That’s what makes this one of the best horror movies in recent memory.
The zombie genre has had its highs — we’ll be talking about the highest high a little later — and its countless lows. But surprisingly the 21st century has been kind to the genre with great entries like the remake Dawn of the Dead (2004) and Pontypool (2008). But a recent Korean movie has all the makings of a great zombie movie and then some.
Train to Busan doesn’t do much to add to the genre as a whole. It has all the characters that you’d expect in a zombie movie — precocious daughter, bad Dad, kickass supporting player — however, it throws them into a situation that we haven’t seen a zombie film take place in. Described as Snowpiercer with zombies is an oversimplification, but good enough description for the movie. Subtle class warfare and human nature are at the center of the movie’s themes and the zombie apocalypse is there to serve those themes. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some interesting action set-pieces and genuine scares. Train to Busan is a good ol’ suspensful zombie movie with updated themes that give it a modern flair.
No movie in recent memory — or on this list — has come as close to classic 70s horror as It Follows. Director David Robert Mitchell took the horror cliche that character who have sex are killed and expanded into an impressive set of rules and an intriguing central villain. Instead of going for jump scares, he uses tension to put his audience into a state of constant anxiety. The opening scene — which doesn’t show the eponymous “it” — simply uses the intriguing camera work and innovative score to set the movie’s eerie atmosphere that never truly relents. However, what really lands this movie on this list is its timelessness. Mitchell created a piece that doesn’t exist in a specific time or place. The very best horror movies do that same, which is why it’s one of the best horror movies of the century.
The Babadook is not only one of the best horror movies of the century, it’s also one of the most haunting and profound movies of about grief in recent memory. On the surface, The Babadook is a great ghost story with an adeptly built creepy atmosphere and a fantastic central performance by Essie Davis. However, when you start peeling back the layers, you find a story about guilt, motherhood, paranoia, and most importantly, grief. Writer/director Jennifer Kent keeps the story lean and moving, but doesn’t skimp on character development and uses small moments — a coworker asking Amelia on a date, Sam caressing his Mother’s face — to give the audience enough to know the state of the characters without feeling heavy-handed. However, more importantly, this movie will scare you and give you nightmares for nights after you watch it
Found footage struggled to find its footing after the turn of the decade. Few were able to recreate the magic of the first few entries. However, I think the unjustly overlooked Unfriended uses the genre for all it’s worth. Unfriended would be an average horror movie at best without its intriguing “found footage” concept. Its general conceit is a slasher revenge film, all the way down to the characters involved. That being said, the concept of the entire film taking place on a laptop screen brings it above and beyond what many horror movies have been doing in recent years. It builds tension opposed to just going for constant cheap jump scares, and it even unsettles you from something in your everyday life.
“Leave me to do my dark bidding on the internet.”
Horror is hard to pull off. Comedy is hard to pull off. Horror comedy is almost impossible to pull off. However, when it works, it really works. This century has seen some of the best horror comedies from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004) to the best use of Bill Murray in a film Zombieland (2009). However, no horror comedy quite reaches the heights of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows.
What Waititi was able to do with What We Do in the Shadows is build a world that is as quirky as the characters it follows. It’s easy to see a comedy about four centuries old vampire roommates going off the rails. But by playing into and then making fun of genre conceits — hypnotizing victims, a vendetta against werewolves — he creates a hilarious and nostalgic tribute to the monster movie genre. More importantly, it’s simply one of the funniest horror comedies you’ll see.
Five friends go to an isolated cabin in the woods and are tormented by [insert movie monster here]. Basically, I’ve just described every horror movie from the 80s to the 2000s. That’s what Joss Whedon was both emulating and satirizing with his brilliant The Cabin in the Woods. While the set-up of the movie is one we’ve seen before, this is not your typical horror movie. Whedon simultaneously pays homage to the genre and criticizes its direction by playing into the tropes — the old man warning the characters of their impending doom, the creepy cellar, the stereotypical roles — then completely destroying its effectiveness. The final result is hilarious, terrifying, and downright entertaining.
The reason The Conjuring was as lauded and revered as it is is because it came at almost the perfect time in the history of horror movies. The 2000s saw the genre take a turn for the worst with copy after copy of slasher films. So, when an original movie about paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren was announced, there was a huge excitement around it. However, no one expected the terrifying movie experience that followed. James Wan used good old fashioned horror movie directing — as evidenced by the terrific hide and clap sequence, which I broke down here — to create incredible set pieces that built up to its chilling finale. However, what makes it one of the best horror movies is that it kicked off a new golden age for horror.
You’ll notice that almost all the movies on this list have little to no gore in them. That’s because I don’t think gore makes effective horror. Plus, most gory horror movie are uninspired and just copies of the rest. While there are a few that make the most of the “torture porn” like Saw (2004), one rises above the rest.
However, the grisly and gory You’re Next makes this list because it’s aware of what kind of movie it is and uses that to its advantage. Simply put, You’re Next is a B-movie that knows it’s a B-movie. The dark comedy brought on by the perennially morbid characters mixed up with the bumbling antagonists make the movie more ridiculous than the premise sounds — it’s pretty much a gorier version of And Then There Were None. And that’s one of the virtues of the movie. It takes the home invasion premise and turns it on its head making it part soap opera, part parody, and a genre enthusiasts dream.