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10 best horror movies of the 1980s, ranked

The 1980s were a big time for horror cinema. Many bloody slashers, genre-benders, and video nasties popped up in this decade, and the fact many of them are so beloved has been a significant factor in the wave of ’80s nostalgia that has permeated pop culture in recent years.

And with Halloween just around the corner, horror fans will likely be breaking out these classics this season, as they are hands-down the best scary pictures to have risen from the ’80s.

10. The Evil Dead (1981)

The demonic woman under the floorboards from "The Evil Dead."
New Line Cinema / New Line Cinema

When a group of friends travels to an isolated cabin, they discover a copy of the Necronomicon and accidentally summon a demon that kills and possesses them one by one.

Despite its low-budget acting and effects, director Sam Raimi’s film stood out as one of the most gory and visually distinctive horror films at the time. With The Evil Dead receiving a glowing review from author Stephen King, its popularity launched an iconic franchise and some stellar careers for those involved.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Freddy Krueger from "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984).
New Line Cinema / New Line Cinema

In one of the most revolutionary films in the slasher genre, the spirit of a murdered serial killer hunts down the children of Springwood inside their dreams with his razor-sharp fingers, causing their blood to spill in the real world.

Such a unique premise by director Wes Craven leads to some inventive scares that broke new ground for horror cinema, with Freddy Krueger becoming one of the most distinguished villains ever to haunt audiences’ dreams.

8. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

David Naughton and Griffin Dunne in "An American Werewolf in London."
Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures

While backpacking with his friend in the moors of England, a young man gets bitten by a werewolf that curses him to become one himself on the next full moon.

With its Oscar-winning makeup effects, particularly those in its iconic transformation scene, An American Werewolf in London became a groundbreaking hit whose blend of humor and horror opened the door for more scary comedy films to shine in theaters.

7. Evil Dead II (1987)

Ash looking bloodied in "Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn."
Renaissance Pictures / Renaissance Pictures

Though Ash survived his first night with the Deadites, this remake/sequel has him fight off these evil creatures again as he remains trapped and on his own in the woods.

With Ash becoming an action hero with his chainsaw hand and boomstick, this beloved film reinvented the Evil Dead franchise as a comedic splatterfest with its over-the-top gore, scares, and jokes.

6. The Dead Zone (1983)

Johnny Smith wearing a black coat in "The Dead Zone."
Paramount Pictures / Paramount Pictures

In this classic Stephen King adaptation, schoolteacher Johnny Smith awakens from a five-year coma to find that he has gained the ability to see the future of whoever he touches.

As Smith receives such horrific premonitions, he struggles to live a normal life again with his newfound fame and loss of his true love, making his journey a chilling and poignant tale that balances the real and supernatural. And let’s be fair. Christopher Walken proves he was born to play the lead in this film.

5. The Fly (1986)

The Brundlefly in "The Fly" (1986).
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

After a scientist tests his new teleportation device on himself, his DNA gets mixed with that of an ordinary housefly, causing him to mutate into a giant fly-hybrid in a process that slowly consumes his mind.

With its outstanding lead cast(Jeff Goldblum was never better) and grotesque makeup effects, director David Cronenberg’s reboot captured the true horror and tragedy of Seth Brundle’s tale of a science experiment gone wrong.

4. Poltergeist (1982)

Carol Anne reaching her hand out to the TV in "Poltergeist" (1982).

“They’re here …” Helmed by Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg, this film follows the Freeling family as they are tormented by spirits infesting their new home, appearing as a possessed clown doll, a giant tree monster, and many other frightening monstrosities.

Blending science and superstition, Poltergeist is a wondrous and terrifying ghost story that grabs audiences by the heart, pulls them into the light, and doesn’t let go.

3. The Thing (1982)

Kurt Russell in "The Thing" (1982).
Universal Pictures

Halloween director John Carpenter brought a new vision of alien horror with this cult classic. When a group of researchers encounter a shapeshifting alien in Antarctica, they all become consumed with fear and distrust as the titular creature hides amongst them, threatening to assimilate them all.

With its well-crafted scares and some high-class practical effects that look realistic forty years later, The Thing went from a spectacular flop to a beloved masterpiece that fans continue to debate and deconstruct.

2. Aliens (1986)

Ripley and Newt in a poster for "Aliens" (1986).
20th Century Studios / 20th Century Studios

Following her traumatic first encounter with the Xenomorphs, sci-fi female lead Ellen Ripley wakes up from cryostasis and joins the Colonial Marines in their mission to rescue the people of a colony overrun with these killer aliens.

James Cameron’s sequel elevated the franchise into action-packed territory with this horrific and explosive display of sci-fi warfare that never ceases to thrill its audience.

1. The Shining (1980)

Jack peeks his head through the door in "The Shining."
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

When an alcoholic writer becomes the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, he, his wife, and their psychic child become haunted by the many spirits inhabiting this mountain resort.

While it may have been widely criticized by audiences and Stephen King himself, Stanley Kubrick’s film has built up a lot of praise in the years since its release. With its chilling setup, beautiful cinematography, and haunting performance by Jack Nicholson, this film will continue to wow and terrify audiences forever … and ever … and ever.

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Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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