This post 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 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.
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.
Before I Wake
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.
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 Box (2009)
Make another movie, Richard Kelly! The filmmaker behind Donnie Darko has only made three films, and this was his last one, released way back in 2009. Kelly adapted Richard Matheson’s short story “Button, Button,” about an average couple who gets an enticing proposition: press this button and get a million dollars, but someone they don’t know will die. It’s a wonderful what-if scenario, enlivened by stylish filmmaking from Kelly and an unforgettable performance from Frank Langella.
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.
Stephen King has arguably never been bigger than he is in 2019 with films like Pet Sematary and It: Chapter Two, and a new book in the Fall. Use this Brian De Palma masterpiece to flash back to a time when King wasn’t yet a household name. Sissy Spacek gives one of her best performances as the title character, a bullied girl who discovers that she’s not your ordinary teenager. This is still one of the best King adaptations of all time.
Tarsem Singh’s visually striking horror thriller may be the weirdest entry in Jennifer Lopez’s filmography. Generally known for rom-coms then and now, the star plays a psychologist who literally enters the mind of a serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) in an effort to find someone who could become his latest victim. It’s clunky and derivative at times, but it’s also surreal and daring in ways that movies like this aren’t usually allowed to be.
J.J. Abrams redefined viral marketing for his production of Matt Reeves’s monster movie, a flick that came literally out of nowhere and built buzz in mysterious, fascinating ways — the first trailer had no title! By the time the movie came out in January of 2008, the hype machine was in full effect, and the movie (mostly) lived up to it. Some people still argue about how little of the monster the flick actually shows, but it’s a much tighter, tauter action flick than you may remember.
The Conjuring (2013)
Director James Wan hit the pinnacle of his achievements in horror with this stylish, thrilling ghost story. It stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the real-life paranormal problem-solvers Ed and Lorraine Warren. They’re called in by a mother (Lili Taylor) who is trying to protect her family from malevolent manifestations. See the movie that made hand-clapping terrifying!
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.
Creep 2 (2017)
The first Creep ended so perfectly that a sequel seemed like it could have worn out a good thing, but a new onscreen foil for Duplass made for a second go-round that exceeded the original. This time, Duplass plays Aaron and Desiree Akhavan plays Sara, and this time he’s radically honest with his videographer. He is a serial killer, and wants her to make a documentary about him and his 39 murders. Sara of course doesn’t buy it, but as an aspiring filmmaker who wants to get to the truth of her subjects she is game to participate in his conceit — and ends up pushing him further than he was prepared to go. Akhavan is an outstanding counterpart to Duplass, and the ever-changing gender power dynamic between the two makes Sara an unusually powerful victim/heroine. Don’t watch either of the Creep movies in an empty house.
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.
A Dark Song (2016)
Liam Gavin’s 2016 two-hander is a clever study of two people dabbling in the occult for deeply personal reasons. Sophia (Catherine Walker) rents a home in Wales with dark purpose. A deeply unlikable man named Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram) claims to know how to access the other side, and Sophia needs to contact her dead child. Almost a procedural in terms of occult rituals, Gavin cleverly plays with our expectations — not really making it clear if Solomon isn’t the real monster. This is smart, moody filmmaking with two very solid performances.
The Devil’s Candy (2015)
It took Australian director Sean Byrne six years to make a follow-up to his excellent debut feature, 2009’s The Loved Ones, and then it took two more years for that movie to be released wide. Fortunately, it’s excellent. Candy stars Ethan Embry as a heavy-metal-loving artist who starts channeling some very bad energy when he moves into an impossibly cheap Texas farmhouse with his wife and family. Turns out, a guy killed his family in that house, because the Devil told him to do it, and now that guy is roaming the area to feed the dark lord his candy, a.k.a. children. Can Embry stop him and save his family and save himself from channeling Satan? Watch and see!
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 Eyes of My Mother (2016)
Make sure the kids and grandparents are sound asleep before you watch one of the most disturbing movies on Netflix. Nicolas Pesce’s black-and-white indie film is a brutal look at the dark side of humanity. If you’re at all squeamish about sharp objects and soft body parts, you might want to go back to the comedy list right about now.
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.
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.
Before you argue that this is more comedy than horror, you should take another look at Joe Dante’s 1984 megahit. It’s scarier than you remember. In fact, the reason that Dante’s film became such a phenomenon, and the reason it holds up today, is that the super-talented director knew how to balance both the comedy and horror in his story of Gizmo, Stripe, and the rest of the Gremlins. Gather the family around when Christmastime comes and watch this one for a change of pace.
He Never Died (2015)
Here’s a fun genre-bender for you. In He Never Died, Henry Rollins stars as Jack, a painfully antisocial man who keeps to himself for the safety of everyone involved. Among other things, Jack is a cannibal, but to give any more hints about his true identity would spoil it all. But we will add that his life is upended when he discovers he has a long-lost daughter, and he has to rescue her from a gang of criminals, even though he is very, very bad at this whole dad thing. He Never Died gives you horror, comedy, and even some light theology lessons.
Joe Hill has yet to receive the right film or TV adaptation to bring his fiction to a wider audience; the son of Stephen King has a loyal following of 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), the 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.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)
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.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Remember these movies? After the success of Scream, writer Kevin Williamson became one of the hottest voices in Hollywood, and this 1997 offering became nearly as popular as Craven’s film. The concept is so beautiful in its simplicity. A bunch of friends cover up a car accident and then suffer for their sin. Starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr., this is a great example of how this resurgence of the slasher pic worked in the mid-to-late-’90s. How big was the homicidal fisherman? Big enough to stay at No. 1 for three weeks and spawn two sequels.
Before he started an entire horror universe with The Conjuring, James Wan directed this very popular 2011 ghost story about a couple — Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne — that has to rescue their son when he’s lost in a supernatural realm called the Further. Consider this a bridge between Poltergeist and Stranger Things — two other properties about kids caught on another plane. Why not watch all three?
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!
This horror indie branded with the Netflix Original label makes this list for one reason: Florence Pugh. The star of Lady Macbeth and Fighting With My Family is fantastic as the reticent member of a group of scam artists who have been taking advantage of the grieving by faking hauntings in order to get paid to stop. Of course, they run into an actual haunting and learn a lesson or two about F-ing with the dark side. Great movie? No, maybe not even good, but Pugh is proving herself more and more with each outing. She makes it worth seeing.
Ted Geoghegan continues to carve out a career as an unpredictable genre filmmaker by taking a sharp turn from his excellent to We Are Still Here to this period action-horror film set early in the 19th century. So few filmmakers are willing to reckon with this country’s relationship to its indigenous people, much less turn that into genre storytelling. Kaniehtiio Horn stars as a Mohawk woman named Oak who is caught between her people and the British soldiers who are killing them. It’s essentially a chase movie, anchored by a physical performance from Horn and a captivating one from the villainous Ezra Buzzington.
The Monster (2016)
Zoe Kazan stars in a timely story of a woman and her daughter caught in a nightmare on an isolated stretch of road. They hit what they think is a wolf, but when a tow-truck driver arrives to take care of the damage to the car, they learn that something much scarier is going down. It’s an old-fashioned monster movie with a committed, emotional performance from Kazan.
Murder Party (2007)
Not exactly horror but just gory and twisted enough to qualify, this is Jeremy Saulnier’s super-low-budget debut. Even in his earliest work, it’s easy to see the sense of space and pacing that would make him famous for films like Green Room and Hold the Dark (and for directing the recent season of True Detective). This one is wonderfully simple — a loner finds an invite to a Halloween party and decides to go. Big mistake. That’s all you need to know.
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.
It may be booming in the late ’10s, but horror was in a bad state in the mid-’90s when one of its masters, Wes Craven, brought it back to life. Scream was a self-aware dissection of horror-movie culture, but the reason it worked so well is that it’s also pretty damn scary. Craven masterfully balances both the meta aspects of his clever-but-not-cloying serial-killer story with actually delivering a tense, thrilling experience. Most of the imitators forgot that second part.
Netflix has an odd habit of cycling movies from Wes Craven’s wildly influential franchise in and out of the service, bringing the third of the four films back to the streaming giant. Before it was rebooted in 2011 with a fourth movie, this was actually the end of a trilogy starring Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, and co-starring David Arquette and Courteney Cox. It’s the worst of the four films, but it’s still pretty fun, and it feels like the Scream movies are becoming more iconic with each passing year (VH1 just announced the return of the series of the same name).
Scream 4 (2011)
This could be considered a controversial choice for recommendation, but it shouldn’t be, because the fourth installment of Wes Craven’s final horror franchise is truly a blast. The whole gang is back in Woodsboro for the big finale with Sidney (Campbell), Dewey (David Arquette), and Gale (Courtney Cox), all back home for the release of Sid’s new memoir and also — surprise! — the timely return of Ghostface. Hayden Panettiere is also turning in the performance of her life as Kirby, the sassy friend of Sid’s niece, and in a truly bizarre meta-layer, Cox and Arquette were going through the end of their real-life marriage as their characters were on the brink of divorce. This is a precious time capsule!
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 Sixth Sense (1999)
It’s funny to hear people use Jordan Peele’s career as evidence that people are taking horror more seriously than ever. With no offense to Peele, horror has had critically adored genre entries before, including the Jonathan Demme Oscar winner above this entry and this multiple Oscar nominee, one of the most popular films of 1999. The movie that made Shyamalan-esque a thing, The Sixth Sense is still the filmmaker’s best, a powerful piece of work about grief and loss that works well beyond the twist ending that would come to define it culturally.
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.
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.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
If there is a model for a truly ideal horror comedy, it is Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play the titular characters, and these hillbilly best friends are spending some time at the vacation home they just purchased somewhere in the backwoods West Virginia. But their getaway is interrupted when a group of teenagers mistakes them for creepy killers, and suddenly everyone is trying to prove they aren’t murderers while an actual homicidal maniac starts picking them off. It’s sweet. It’s funny. It’s got a body going through a woodchipper.
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.
Under the Skin (2013)
Director Jonathan Glazer makes movies that dig deep into your brain, like Birth and Sexy Beast, and his 2013 horror film starring Scarlett Johansson has become a benchmark in the art-house horror scene. The premise is simple: A strange woman wanders around Scotland luring men to their deaths, but it’s the haunting, beautifully stylized execution that elevates what is essentially a walk-and-stalk horror movie to something special.
The Void (2016)
The Void harkens back to horror’s heyday of practical effects, and is aimed squarely at those longing for the sci-fi classics of the 1980s like From Beyond, Hellraiser, and The Thing. Set mostly in a hospital, a group of people are trying to survive the night as a hooded group of cult members close in around their building. But, sorry guys, the real terror is already inside. So much for that great Canadian health care!
The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers’s Sundance hit is a master class in sound design and limited perspective. Using testimony from the Salem witch trials, the concept of Eggers’s script is beautifully simple — what if one of those trials was about a legitimate witch? The sound of branches hitting each other from the wind, the sound of footsteps on the leafy ground — this is a movie that understands that horror is often sensory more than purely conveyed through storytelling. It’s a modern genre masterpiece.
Good horror-anthology flicks are few and far between, and there has never been one quite like this Sundance movie, which features shorts that were all written and directed by women. Like any anthology film, it’s a roller coaster in quality, but there are enough interesting ideas from filmmakers like Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) and Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent) that you should take a look.