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.
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 Babysitter (2017)
McG’s surprise horror-comedy hit was so popular for Netflix that it produced a sequel in 2020’s The Babysitter: Killer Queen. Stay far away from that garbage, but do check out the original, a film that instantly made clear how much Samara Weaving was going to be a star. Weaving plays a babysitter who just happens to be a sociopathic cult member. Good times.
Before I Wake (2016)
Mike Flanagan’s name is going to come up a few times on this list (and would once more if we could include his incredible The Haunting of Hill House too). This is his weakest Netflix Original (watch Hush and Gerald’s Game first), but it’s better than its reputation might have you believe. Shelved for years, it tells the story of a boy, played expertly by a pre-Room Jacob Tremblay, whose dreams seem to have special powers. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s interesting to see Flanagan exploring themes here that he would again in things like Hill House.
Berlin Syndrome (2017)
Teresa Palmer is great in this tense thriller about an Australian photographer who goes to Germany and meets an attractive young man. They have a night of passion and she wakes up to discover that she’s unable to leave his apartment, kidnapped by her one-night stand. Tense and unforgettable, it’s the kind of hidden gem that Netflix is great at bringing to a bigger audience.
Bird Box (2018)
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 Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)
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.
*The Blair Witch Project (1999)
When the movie dropped at Sundance back in 1999, it felt like something entirely new. Two decades of found footage imitators has dulled some of its impact, but The Blair Witch Project remains the model for how to do this kind of DIY horror well. And it’s still pretty damn terrifying.
Looking for a little foreign flavor in your horror? Check out a unique Norwegian film take on the post-apocalyptic genre as it envisions a future in which resources are so scarce that people will do anything for them, bringing a family of three to an event at a hotel that has truly sinister undertones.
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.
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.
The Forest of Love (2019)
It’s impossible to describe the work of Sion Sono in a capsule format. He’s one of our craziest filmmakers, and his 2019 effort is one of his craziest films. Seriously, there’s no plot description that can explain what one would find in this alternately gory and darkly humorous experience. Sono is a truly singular voice and this is one of his most unforgettable efforts.
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.
Sometimes you want intellectual horror, maybe even challenging foreign horror. Other tunes you want something just dumb enough to entertain you. Time for Gothika! Halle Berry, Penelope Cruz, and Robert Downey Jr star in the the story of a psychiatrist who wakes up a patient in her own asylum. It doesn’t go well.
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.
His House (2020)
One of the best horror movies on Netflix, this Sundance darling is the tale of a pair of Sudanese refugees who flee to London only to discover ghosts have fled with them. It’s a harrowing, terrifying piece of work, elevated even further by its impressive commentary about how much people bring with them when they leave. Houses aren’t haunted; people are.
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.
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?!?!
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
A man who likes to play God meets a boy who likes to play Satan in this twisted horror film from Yorgos Lanthimos, the daring director of The Lobster and The Favourite. Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman head the cast of a film that owes more to ‘70s psychological horror than slasher pics.
Knock Knock (2015)
Keanu Reeves stars in this Eli Roth film as an average guy who is surprised to find two gorgeous women on his front step, claiming they’re lost on their way to a party and that they need help. He’s happily married and so handles them with caution from the beginning, but he eventually gives in to their flirtations, leading to a greater nightmare than he could have ever imagined.
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.
Nicolas Pesce followed up his twisted debut in Eyes of My Mother with this 2018 adaptation of the novel of the same name by Ryu Murakami. Christopher Abbott is phenomenal as a serial killer who gets more than he bargained for with an expected victim, played by Mia Wasikowska.
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.
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.
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.
Rust Creek (2018)
It’s interesting to see what indie films, usually genre ones, take off on Netflix. Why was this 2018 thriller that made hardly a dent in the cultural conversation when it came out in early 2019 the number one movie on Netflix for a window in late 2020? Horror fans in particular like to seek out the unloved, and this story of a college student who gets lost on a road trip and hunted by criminals fits the bill.
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.
*Shutter Island (2010)
In 2010, Martin Scorsese released his adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best novel, the story of a U.S. Marshal who investigates a missing patient at a legendary mental hospital. Scorsese is in full command of his skill as a craftsman in this riveting thriller that also co-stars Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams. It’s one of the most underrated films of the last decade.
Sinister 2 (2015)
It’s odd how often Netflix has sequels on their service but not the original. Take, for instance, this 2015 follow-up to 2012 Blumhouse hit starring Ethan Hawke. It hits a few of the same beats as the original, but it’s still worth a watch; James Ransone is strong in the lead role, directed this time by Ciaran Foy, who would go on to helm the Netflix Original horror film Eli.
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.
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.
Films that take place entirely on a laptop or through social media are more common than they were in 2014 when this film felt entirely new. It’s a smart horror film told through the screen of a MacBook, and it tells the story of high school students who discover that their Skype conversation is quite haunted.
Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)
Oz Rodriguez co-wrote and directed this fun family/comedy/horror hybrid that’s reminiscent of genre films from the ‘80s in its blend of the spooky and the playful. Three kids in the Bronx discover that the gentrification in their neighborhood includes some literal bloodsuckers. The kids steal the show, but Shea Whigham, Method Man, and Sarah Gadon are great in the supporting cast too. Everyone nails the tone here.
Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
As much satire as horror, Dan Gilroy’s Sundance hit stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an art critic who gets involved in the sale of terrifying paintings from an unknown artist that may have some sort of horrific curse associated with them. How far will the art world go to embrace a new talent, especially one that sells? The film a bit inconsistent, but contains some fantastic imagery, and a great ensemble cast.
Paco Plaza (REC) directed this Spanish film that premiered at TIFF and is loosely based on the story of a woman who died mysteriously after using a Ouija board in 1991. The story goes that the teenager tried to contact her friend’s deceased boyfriend and, well, things went weird. It’s an effective horror flick with some memorable imagery.
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.