This article is updated frequently as movies leave and enter Netflix. *New additions are indicated with an asterisk.
As the horror genre continues through one of its most creatively robust periods, you might be asking yourself what you need to see and what you can skip. Let’s be honest, horror fans: A lot of the genre we love is garbage. But we patiently weed through the trash to find the hidden gems. What if you don’t have time for the trash? What if you just want the best horror movies on Netflix? As we have with comedies and movies in general, let us guide the way.
This effective indie thriller has been a regular on the Netflix top ten since it dropped, an honest word-of-mouth hit that likely would have disappeared into movie history without the streaming service. It’s the story of a young woman who moves into an apartment complex in Los Angeles and discovers her neighbors are not at all what they seem. It’s effective, creepy stuff.
This Stephen King adaptation is one of those that seeps into your blood and poisons it. Thomas Jane stars as Wilfred James, a provincial man who manipulates his teenage son (Dylan Schmid) into helping kill his mother (Molly Parker) so she can’t take her share of the family’s money and ship off to the big city — effectively leaving their farm to die. Wilfred and his boy struggle to cope with what they’ve done, and must try to survive their now-cursed life as killers.
In early 2020, Sony announced that they were rebooting Anaconda, a somewhat forgotten giant snake movie from 1997 that’s mostly known for its B-movie value than actual scares. You know what? Sometimes you just want a B-movie. Sometimes you want a giant snake who terrorizes a fun cast like Ice Cube, Jon Voight, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson, and Jennifer Lopez. This is for those times.
Look, another Netflix Original! The Raid director Gareth Edwards moves from action to horror in this slow-burn period piece about a man who goes to rescue his sister from a remote cult. It starts as something dreamy and scary à la The Wicker Man but ends up being something much grosser and darker as it reaches its unforgettable climax.
As Above, So Below (2014)
This 2014 horror film came out right when people were just sick of found footage films but has developed a cult following in the years since for a reason. The story of a group of dumb tourists who end up getting into serious trouble when they explore the Catacombs of Paris deserved a better fate.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
There are very few horror movies with as perfect a setup as this one. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch star as a coroner and his son in a small town. They get a late-night delivery of a body that doesn’t make sense. Her exterior looks pristine but everything on the inside is a mess. As they’re trying to solve the mystery, things get very, very creepy.
Yes, the final scenes get incredibly goofy, but the opening chaos of this smash-hit Netflix Original is pretty effective and Sandra Bullock is excellent throughout. The Oscar winner plays a woman who survives the apocalypse, which starts when people begin to see, well, something and go insane. Compared unfairly to A Quiet Place, given how much of it hinges on sensory deprivation, Bird Box is one of Netflix’s most streamed films for a reason. It may not be great, but it’s worth a look on a lazy weekend.
The son of Norman Bates himself, Anthony Perkins, directs this fantastic, creepy film starring Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipka, and Lucy Boynton. Shipka and Boynton play two girls at a boarding school during a long break, where things seem to be going awry on a possibly supernatural level. Meanwhile, Roberts is in another plotline, working her way to the school. The two arcs converge in an unforgettable final act.
This may be more of a thriller than a horror film, but we have to get this list to 50 somehow and it ends in a brutal enough way to qualify. And we swear they won’t all be Netflix Originals (there just happens to be a lot at the top of the alphabet). Two Scotsmen go hunting and a horrible accident ensues that results in the shooting of a young boy. Instead of owning the horror, they try to cover things up. If movies have taught us anything it’s that covering up a child’s death never works.
Did you like Us? Check out this other variation on the concept of the doppelgänger, which stars Madeline Brewer as a cam girl who wakes up one day to find out that she’s still online. Well, someone who looks exactly like her is still online. How is this possible? Watch the movie and find out. It’s a fantastic horror movie with one of the best performances you’ll find on this entire list from Brewer.
Cargo is the best of what we’re calling the emo zombie wave in horror. It stars Martin Freeman as a man who has just lost his wife to infection, and who is also staring down his own rabid turn. He’s got just 48 hours until he becomes one of the walking dead roaming the Australian landscape, and in that time he must find a suitable safe haven for his baby daughter. It’s well-acted, and adds a few wrinkles to the standard zombie mythology.
Creep is as simple as it is effective. Mark Duplass co-stars in and produced this lean horror movie from writer, director, and fellow star Patrick Brice. Duplass plays Josef, and man with terminal cancer who recruits a videographer (Brice) to film him at a remote cabin so that he may leave behind a video diary for his young son. Well, that’s who Josef says he is, but of course Josef is lying, and over the course of a day and night, Brice becomes the unwilling plaything of a devious killer who likes to toy with his victims before he kills them. Filmed on a hand cam, Creep is tense and claustrophobic, with Duplass embodying a terrifyingly believable maniac whom you could meet in line at a coffee shop.
The Crow (1994)
Yes, fine, whatever, this is not exactly a horror movie but it’s not exactly a superhero movie either. One of the reasons it was so popular was the way it straddled multiple genres, willing to go dark with the story of a rock musician returned from the dead in search of vengeance. Stylish, dark, and tragic due to the death of its star, this is a movie that everyone had to see when it came out a quarter-century ago. You may not have seen it since. You’re due for a revisit.
Cult of Chucky (2017)
Here’s a hot take: Child’s Play is the best 1980s slasher franchise. It’s had its ups and downs over the course of 30 years, but writer and director Don Mancini’s toy of terror has maintained more self-awareness and character consistency than any of his super-killer brethren. Cult is the seventh movie in the Chucky series, and here’s to a few more go-rounds with Brad Dourif as the voice of America’s favorite Devil doll.
*Elizabeth Harvest (2018)
Sebastian Gutierrez’s 2018 indie horror flick is a vivid reimagining of the story of Bluebeard, starring Abbey Lee, Ciaran Hinds, and Carla Gugino. The star of The Neon Demon plays the new young wife to a powerful and wealthy man who tells her that there’s only one room in the house that’s totally off limits. Of course, curiosity gets the best of her. Vividly striking in ways that low-budget horror rarely is, it’s a crazy memorable piece of work.
The Endless (2017)
You should know the names of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. These two talented young filmmakers wrote, directed, and star in this supernatural thriller about a pair of brothers who return to the cult from which they escaped years earlier only to find that it’s not quite as they remembered. This is a smart, complex indie horror film that has already developed a loyal following. Get on the bandwagon before someone tells you to do so.
In the early ‘80s, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and a few friends took around $100k into the woods and returned with a genre classic, a movie that would produce sequels, a TV series, a comic book, and inspire generations of horror filmmakers. It’s easy to see the low budget here, and the team improved on it in the superior sequel, but it’s fun to see where a phenomenon began.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Send up that Mike Flanagan signal, because we’ve got another one — and perhaps his best. Gerald’s Game stars Carla Gugino giving a career-best performance as Jessie, the docile housewife of handsome, successful Gerald, who whisks her away for a weekend to their country home so the couple can put the spice back in their marriage with a little kink. Gerald proves himself to be a total bastard, however, when he springs a surprise rape fantasy on his wife and then dies of a heart attack on top of her — before he can unlock her handcuffs. Jessie must then confront both her inner demons and a looming bogeyman, that may or may not be real, as she struggles to get free before wasting away on the bed. The scene with the hand was one of the most shocking screen moments of 2017.
Girl on the Third Floor (2019)
Travis Stevens co-wrote and directed this grisly, clever 2019 horror film about a man, played by wrestler C.M. Punk, who remodels an old home in the suburbs of Chicago, where he finds, well, bad things. With great practical effects and a pitch-black sense of humor, it’s a movie that recalls great horror films of the ‘70s and ‘80s in ways we don’t see from the genre that often nowadays. It’s crunchy and brutal. Don’t miss it.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)
This is the best zombie movie you probably haven’t seen. It’s a post-apocalyptic piece about children being held prisoner in an underground bunker because they possibly hold the key to a decimated future. The less you know about this movie the better, just trust that it’s a complex, frightening new take on classic ideas that even George A. Romero would love.
Green Room (2015)
Jeremy Saulnier directed Netflix’s Hold the Dark, so the company dropped some of his earlier films on the service, including two that technically qualify as horror and so made this list. The late Anton Yelchin stars as a member of a band that ends up at an event populated by violent Nazis. Things go very wrong from there. It’s a perfectly paced movie with unexpected twists and brutal violence. See this one.
The Guest (2014)
Dan Stevens is phenomenal in Adam Wingard’s ode to ‘80s thrillers, in which the star of Downton Abbey plays a vet who returns to the family of a fellow fallen soldier and works his way into their lives. Smart and vicious, it’s the kind of indie hit that will surely now find a bigger, appreciative audience on Netflix.
*He Never Died (2015)
Henry Rollins should act more. The iconic lead singer of Black Flag is great here as an immortal loner who has completely become a hermit to protect himself and others. He makes the classic mistake of getting close to someone, and the rest is better left unspoiled. Suffice to say that Rollins is a captivating lead. There were rumors a few years ago that this was to be spun off into a mini-series continuation. We’re in.
Joe Hill has yet to quite find the film or TV adaptation that will bring his literary work to a wider audience. The son of Stephen King has a loyal following among readers for works like the masterful Locke & Key and clever NOS4A2, which was just turned into a lackluster AMC series. His first major adaptation was this 2012 version of his 2010 novel of the same name. Directed by Alexandre Aja (Crawl), this horror-comedy stars Daniel Radcliffe as a young man accused of murdering his girlfriend who wakes up with horns on his head and paranormal powers.
*House of 1,000 Corpses (2003)
Rob Zombie’s directorial debut rocked the horror world when it dropped in 2003. Clearly inspired by gore masters like Lewis and Argento, but with his own hillbilly horror style, Zombie was a filmmaker who felt like he had a loyal following from his very first shoot. It’s fun to watch this one almost two decades later and see how it’s influenced the genre over the years.
Mike Flanagan strikes again! Before A Quiet Place turned silence into a blockbuster monster movie plot device, Flanagan was using sensory deprivation to make Hush one of the best horror movies of 2016. Co-written with star Kate Siegel, the movie takes place over one night when a deaf woman has to evade dying at the hands of a killer who’s stalking her around her house and trying to break in. Siegel gives an outstanding lead performance in this tight, distressing came of cat and mouse.
Hopefully, this list contains an array of horror styles from the more direct impact of a slasher pic to something more akin to a thriller to everyone’s favorite subgenre, the ghost story. That’s what Oz Perkins (son of Norman Bates himself, Anthony) delivers with this divisive Netflix Original. Ruth Wilson stars as a caretaker named Lily, who is tending to an old horror writer who suffers from dementia. It turns out the old lady’s house may be haunted. Moodier and more deliberate than probably any other film on this list, Perkins plays with atmosphere in a way that’s creepy and unforgettable.
The Invitation (2015)
Karyn Kusama gifted us with Jennifer’s Body in 2009, and then didn’t return to feature film directing for six years. But boy did she come roaring back with The Invitation, an exercise in creeping dread that stars Logan Marshall-Green as a man attending a dinner party at his ex-wife’s home, and she’s got a very surprising update for him and their shared friends. As Marshall-Green’s Will wonders if he’s going crazy, so will you, and the movie reinforces what you should already know by heart at this point: Always be suspicious of John Carroll Lynch!
It Comes at Night (2017)
Trey Edward Shults is quickly becoming one of the most important directors of his generation with his personal debut Krisha and one of the darlings of the 2019 festival season, Waves. In between is this daring film that A24 kind of sold too much as a horror film, turning off viewers expecting something more traditional. It’s a mood piece about trust and survival starring Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, and a kid who’s about to blow up into a huge star, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Luce).
It’s really all there in the title, isn’t it? VHS (look it up kids) helped propel this low-budget film to a wide audience who have turned it into a cult classic. It’s the story of aliens who look like clowns who come to earth to kill people. What more do you want from a movie?!?!
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Arguably more fantasy than horror, Guillermo Del Toro’s masterpiece has just enough nightmare fuel to qualify, and that’s not even including the incredibly dark “real-world” themes with which GDT is playing here. Del Toro’s first Oscar winner blends the fantasy world of a girl named Ofelia and the abject cruelty of her stepfather, a Captain during the Spanish Civil War. Even in a movie that features a child-eating creature called the Pale Man, the real monster may be human.
The Platform (2020)
This Spanish hit has been one of the most watched new films on Netflix for all of March 2020. As the world deals with a pandemic, there’s something about watching a futuristic society that falls apart because of greed and selfishness. The concept is a great hook — a futuristic prison sends a platform of food down floor by floor, and there’s not much left by the time it gets to the bottom. Grisly and smart, this is a movie people will be talking about long after the pandemic.
Tobe Hooper’s haunted house story was one of the biggest films of 1982, ushering in a franchise that fans still adore to this day. Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg tapped into a truly terrifying idea by presenting the comfort of suburban America as something built on a history ready for vengeance. Add to that the simple terrors of Poltergeist like a snowy TV screen in the middle of the night or a tapping branch of a tree on a window, and you have a movie that’s really held up.
Raising Cain (1992)
This 1992 thriller is one of Brian De Palma’s most divisive movies. Yes, a lot of this is clunky (and the recut version released by Shout Factory in 2016 is fascinating) but no one can deny the fearless John Lithgow performance at the center of this crazy movie. It’s not perfect but it’s also unforgettable.
Ravenous (Les Affamés, 2018)
More from the emo zombie movement. This Canadian import (original title: Les Affamés) is another exploration of who we are and what we do after the fall. It’s an undead thriller for the discerning drama fan.
Red Dragon (2002)
Listen, this movie has nothing on Michael Mann’s Manhunter, the first adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel called Red Dragon, but there are still things that make it worth a look when you’re flipping through your Netflix queue. Most of all, those things are in Sir Anthony Hopkins’s typically solid performance as Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the last time he would play this role in what is technically a prequel to the superior The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.
The Ritual (2017)
David Bruckner directed this story of a man (Rafe Spall) dealing with trauma after the death of a friend in a robbery. To heal himself and his other friends, he has the plans a hiking trip in northern Sweden in memory of their lost ally. Things do not go as planned.
Session 9 (2001)
Brad Anderson co-wrote and directed this absolutely terrifying film about a group of workers who go to an abandoned mental asylum to remove the asbestos from it and find out that, well, they’re not alone. Shot at Danvers State Mental Hospital, Anderson’s film uses its setting perfectly, increasing tension with every single scene. It’s possibly the scariest movie you could watch on Netflix.
There’s not nearly enough good foreign horror on Netflix — oh, there’s a lot of it, but most of it is awful — so you should seek out the cream of the crop, like this excellent 2004 Thai film about a magical camera. (Ignore the 2008 American remake.) It’s a film that deftly blends multiple genres, redefining the ghost story in a new way that incorporates elements of the vengeance or regret narrative. A couple hits a woman with their car after a night of partying and they drive away. Then weird things start happening with their photographs.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Movies don’t get much better than Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’ chilling thriller about Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. With career-defining performances from Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins, this movie still absolutely slays a quarter-century after it was released.
Both films in this mini-franchise are now on Netflix but start with the superior Scott Derrickson original, the story of a man (Ethan Hawke) who discovers that his home has a history of violent murders, and he finds the movies to prove it. Nightmarish and unforgettable, this is one of the stronger horror flicks of the 2010s, and the sequel is worth a look too.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Tim Burton ended a phenomenally creative run in the ‘80s and ‘90s with his take on the classic Washington Irving story about a headless horseman. Burton’s muse, Johnny Depp, plays Ichabod Crane, a New Yorker sent to the titular town to investigate a series of murders reportedly committed by the supernatural villain. Dripping with style, it’s arguably Burton’s last great movie.
Horror movies don’t get much crazier than this 2009 offering from Vincenzo Natali, produced by Guillermo del Toro. Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley star as genetic engineers who go a little too far in playing God, creating a creature they name Dren. And then things get really weird. Audiences basically ignored Splice when it came out, but it’s gained a cult following in the decade since.
Super Dark Times (2017)
Owen Campbell and Charlie Tahan star in this little-seen 2017 thriller about a horrible accident and what it does to two of the kids involved. Four teen boys are just being dumb teen boys when they find a katana in the belongings of one of the kids’ brother. They do what dumb kids do, taking it to the park and slicing up milk cartons, but things turn tragic when a fight erupts. A hidden body and intense guilt turn what starts as a coming-of-age piece into something much darker. This is smart, engaging storytelling.
J.D. Dillard directs this Sundance Blumhouse flick that sadly never got a theatrical release but should find loyal viewers on Netflix. The great Kiersey Clemons plays a survivor of a boat crash who washes up on a deserted island. At night, she learns they’re not alone. That’s really all you need to know about a visually striking and thematically fascinating piece of survival horror.
Train to Busan (2016)
This South Korean zombie story is truly one of the best movies available to watch on Netflix, regardless of genre. It’s thrilling from start to finish, and the excellent, efficient character development means you feel like you have a stake in everyone involved. Imagine the self-contained maelstrom of Snowpiercer, but with raging undead.
Under the Shadow (2016)
If you want a break from your typical American ghost story, go for Under the Shadow, an Iranian horror film about a woman whose apartment is being haunted by a djinni. Set against the backdrop of the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s, the tension is heightened by the fact that the world outside the home is as dangerous as the one within. Ratcheting up the anxiety even further is the fact that our protagonist, Shideh (Narges Rashidi), is dealing with the fear of losing her husband in the war, the resentment of being a stay-at-home mom who is forbidden by the state from working, and a demon infestation all at once. An excellent movie by director-to-watch Babak Anvari.
The first three films in Len Wiseman and Kate Beckinsale’s goofy action series about vampires and werewolves are on Netflix, including the 2003 original, 2006 Evolution, and 2009 Rise of the Lycans. If you watch them enough maybe they’ll add part four and five next month.
*We Summon the Darkness (2020)
Another indie horror movie making a quick turnaround to Netflix, this 2020 genre flick stars Alexandra Daddario as one of three women who meet a bunch of guys at a metal show and end up taking them back to the house they’re sharing. Against a backdrop of Satanic murders, Marc Meyers flips the expected script in this tight, clever little thriller.
*What Keeps You Alive (2018)
Colin Minihan’s indie thriller is a stylish reminder that everyone has secrets, even the person you love. Jules (Brittany Allen) and Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) are taking a trip to an old family home of Jackie’s to celebrate their anniversary when things go very very wrong. With a shocking mid-movie twist that best remains unspoiled, this is a tense, clever movie with a pair of strong performances and tight screenplay.