Last update: June 17, 2020
Netflix is home to a beautiful goldmine of horror films. From ghosts and demons, to murderers on the prowl, to creepy kids and their just-as-creepy parents, there’s a flavor of dread for every terror-hound, and the list of genre films numbers in the hundreds. With so many choices, it can be hard to weed through the murk to find the most effective chillers. Luckily, we’ve done the digital grunt work on your behalf and combed the service for the best offerings currently available in the world of screams. From gruesome throwbacks to new cult favorites, here are our picks for the best horror movies on Netflix right now.
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The Invitation (2015)
Though it may be a slow-build, The Invitation is simultaneously one of the eeriest yet most realistic horror films available on Netflix. The story follows Will (Logan Marshall-Green) after he accepts an invite from his ex-wife for a dinner party. Surrounded by long-lost friends and heartwarming banter, Will can’t seem to shake the feeling that something is awry. Whether it be his ex-wife’s strange new pals or the dark memories that haunt their prior relationship, something is off about the get-together. Will must find some way to cope with the paranoia gnawing at his soul or accept the truths that lie directly in front of him. Is it all in his head or is there something far more menacing occurring? By its culmination, The Invitation will have viewers rethinking any spontaneous RSVPs and plans they may have for the foreseeable future.
Train to Busan (2016)
A simple recipe for creating a horror movie: Take a group of people, strand them in one location, add monsters, and shake it up. Train to Busan illustrates the flexibility of this formula. Set in South Korea, the film begins with a variety of people, including workaholic businessman Seok-woo (Gong Yoo) and his daughter, Su-an (Kim Su-an), boarding a train for Busan. Unfortunately, an outbreak of zombie flu is striking Korea that very morning, and one of the passengers on the train is infected. Soon enough, a ravenous wave of the undead is chasing the living through the train as the country outside falls into chaos. Train to Busan is a taut, frantic thriller that makes the zombie genre seem fresh again.
The Wicker Man (1973)
In this horror-mystery classic, British director Robin Hardy invites audiences to a secluded and quaint Scottish island village in the throes of a young girl’s disappearance. Sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is put on the case following a cryptic letter received anonymously, traveling to the remote locale only to learn rather eerily the missing girl may not have ever existed. With its intense and gripping mystery tinged ever so lightly with horror sequences, The Wicker Man is unrivaled in its production, correlating everything into its story from the sound and music to the filming locations. In 1979, it won the Saturn Award for Best Horror Film in the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, proof of its status as one of the very best horror movies on Netflix.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
Illustrious heart surgeon Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) has it all: A perfect family, mansion home, luxury car, bourgeois friends, and an unpredictable, mentally imbalanced teenage protege. Martin (Barry Keoghan), the aforementioned troubled youth, is the estranged son of a man who died while under the knife of Dr. Murphy. We’re not sure exactly how Steven and Martin’s relationship began, but after a series of increasingly odd gestures from Martin, Steven tells him they should start meeting less. The next day, Steven’s son is suddenly paralyzed. After rushing him to the hospital, Steven is summoned by Martin once more, where over lunch, the teenage boy tells Steven he is responsible for his son’s condition, and that if Steven doesn’t kill a member of his own family, a sprawl of ailments will befall the rest of his clan.
From the dark, off-color, idiosyncratic mind of writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, Dogtooth), The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a slow, hypnotic descent into a never-ending hell of bizarre tragedy, with knock-out performances from Farrell, Keoghan, and Nicole Kidman. Sacred Deer also keeps no secrets from us. We know who is causing the evil. We even know why. But the thrill and dread comes from watching Martin’s plan slowly come to fruition.
Joining Netflix this May, Sinister tells the story of Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), whose discovery of disturbing Super 8 footage in his newly bought home invokes a series of, as the title suggests, sinister machinations. The supernatural horror flick was penned by blogger turned screenwriter C. Robert Cargill and Doctor Strange co-writer/director Scott Derrickson, both of whom developed an evil entity with originality over abused horror movie practices. It was even inspired by The Ring, yet another entry among the best horror movies on Netflix. Sinister is an evocative horror experience, showcasing not just a man falling too easily into an unruly addiction but also the aftereffects that shockwave through the family and children, who are the most debilitatingly affected.
2004’s Shutter is a classic entry in the annals of Thai horror, a creeping ghost story with well-placed scares and a plot about karmic retribution. The film opens with Jane (Natthaweeranuch Thongmee) and her boyfriend, a photographer named Tun (Ananda Everingham), enjoying a night of drinking with Tun’s friends, but on their drive home the night takes a turn to tragedy when they hit a woman crossing a road in the dark. They drive off without checking on her, and Tun begins to notice strange distortions in the photos he takes, while Jane has ghastly visions of the woman they killed. For much of the film, Shutter is a straightforward ghost story, but its carefully executed scares and a few neat twists help it stand out from the crowd.
Green Room (2015)
If John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 and Tony Kaye’s American History X had a baby, the horrid seed could very well be Jeremy Saulnier’s violent siege-thriller, Green Room. Struggling punk band The Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, and Callum Turner) are scrapping for change and low on fuel, and shows are few and far between. When a Portland-based DJ, Tad, screws the band over with another low-paying gig at a Mexican restaurant, the punks are none too pleased. To make up for the botched show, Tad secures a new show for the band through his cousin, Daniel. The catch? The venue is a neo-Nazi compound. The band agrees to take the gig and drives to the outskirts of Portland, where the stronghold is located. After purposefully antagonizing the skinheads with an anti-Nazi cover song, the band prepares to vacate, but not before Yelchin’s character witnesses a dead girl lying in the middle of the venue’s green room, surrounded by Nazis. What follows is one of the most richly layered and violently propelled horror-siege hybrids of the last decade. Oh, and did we mention that the deceptively charismatic skinhead leader is played by none other than Patrick Stewart?
Event Horizon (1997)
One of the few brilliant examples of cosmic horror and one of the best space movies of all time, Event Horizon is a sci-fi lover’s terrifying nightmare brought to life in the guise of a ’90s cult classic. It is the year 2047. Following a distress signal out in the farthest reaches of space, the crew of the Lewis and Clark unknowingly barrel straight toward the mouth of evil itself. The long-lost Event Horizon, which disappeared seven years prior on its maiden voyage, has returned with an extra dose of intrigue and demonic aura. Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) and his crew must embark alongside the Event Horizon’s prime architect, Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), who may well have his own agenda for returning to the malignant starship. Despite its detractors, Event Horizon remains a sci-fi horror cult classic and is even being developed into its own Amazon original series.
The Witch (2015)
Robert Eggers’ eerie directorial debut, The Witch is a horror film with a distinct vision; a Colonial period-piece with appropriately archaic dialogue and a fascination with Puritan religious anxieties. Set in 17th-century New England, the film follows a family exiled from their settlement due to father William’s (Ralph Ineson) disagreements over scripture. William takes his family — wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and twins Mercy and Jonas — to the edge of a dark, remote forest, where they build a home. When an unseen force takes the family’s newborn child, Samuel, however, it becomes clear that something wicked lives in the woods and the rest of the family may soon be in danger, too. The Witch moves confidently, teasing out its scares in a deliberate fashion, and the film’s unique setting and atmosphere are striking.
A family of four with a haunted house problem. It’s a trope that’s been done to death, and a fate easily avoidable — just move! In Insidious, father Josh (Patrick Wilson), mother Renai (Rose Byrne), and children Foster and Dalton (Andrew Astor and Ty Simpkins) do just that, but the ghouls follow. For it’s not the house they’re haunting, it’s their son, Dalton. Writer/director James Wan is a horror-savant and an incredibly visual storyteller. Every ominous frame of Insidious is loaded with dread. Even if we’re not facing down one of the film’s many nether beings face-to-face, the camera and finely layered production design keep us trapped in a world of extremes, with rooms that feel too big, making us, the viewers, feel incredibly small. With an orchestral score that could be the melodic sister of The Exorcist, Insidious combines image, sound, and performances for a haunted house chiller you’ll be sure to remember.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Based on Stephen King’s 1992 thriller of the same name, Gerald’s Game was one of Netflix’s earliest successes in the original film game. This profound, provocative story follows a married couple, Jessie (Carla Gugino) and Gerald (Bruce Greenwood), on a weekend vacation to their lakeside cabin in hopes of reigniting their stagnating relationship. They decide to spice it up with some bondage but Gerald suffers a heart attack in the midst of passion, leaving Jessie handcuffed to the bed with nobody to free her. Bound and plagued by hallucinations of Gerald and of people from her past, Jessie struggles to free herself and suffers a psychological breakdown. Another fine output from director Mike Flanagan, of Hush (which is next up on our list) and Oculus fame, Gerald’s Game will get the blood pumping despite the story’s bottled setting.
Mike Flanagan strikes again with the nail-biting Hush, a smart horror film that feels extra uncomfortable because the terror of the film seems like it could easily happen to anyone. Author Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) lives a quiet life in the wilderness with her cat — that is until a masked killer (John Gallagher Jr.) murders Maddie’s closest neighbor, and plans to knife Maddie next. What ensues is a uniquely horrific game of cat-and-mouse, as Maddie must fight for her life against the mysterious madman, a feat made ten times more difficult because Maddie is deaf. Something the masked invader eventually learns. With Hush, Flanagan flips the killer sub-genre on its head, delivering a film filled with rapid-fire terrors both big and small, and a third act that will have you bound to the edge of your couch.
Cloverfield remains one of the best found-footage horror films, on par with the likes of Blair Witch, and even kickstarted its own original franchise. With an up-and-coming T.J. Miller as the main cameraman and upcoming The Batman director Matt Reeves at the helm, Cloverfield struck audiences with an ambiguous narrative left open to speculation even beyond the credits. In the midst of a joyous goodbye party presented by Rob (Michael Stahl-David) for his brother Jason (Mike Vogel), a cataclysmic earthquake shakes the foundations, drawing partygoers to the roof in time to see the NYC skyline descend into darkness. Recording the following events, Hud (Miller) and a small group of friends are led by Rob through a city pockmarked in chaos to save his ex-girlfriend. The film’s success brought to life two sequels, 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Cloverfield Experiment, both of which explored different perspectives of the same cataclysmic event.
Under the Shadow (2016)
The Persian film Under the Shadow drew a lot of comparison to The Babadook (see below), and it’s easy to see why. Both films follow mothers caring for troubled children while supernatural forces torment them. Under the Shadow begins during the war between Iran and Iraq in the ’80s. Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a former medical student who had to abandon her career after the theocratic government took power in the Iranian revolution, became a housewife, living with her husband, Iraj (Bobby Naderi), and their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) in an apartment in Tehran. When Iraj, a doctor, is sent to the field as part of the war effort, Shideh must care for Dorsa alone. After a missile strikes their building, Dorsa begins behaving strangely, convinced that a spirit is haunting the building, and as strange events unfold, Shideh must confront the possibility that something supernatural is happening. Under the Shadow is a moody movie, as much a study of Rashidi’s disenchanted housewife as it is an exercise in terror.
The Ring (2002)
Based on Koji Suzuki’s horror novel Ringu, 2002’s The Ring is a terrifying look at the potential for a haunted video cassette. The movie stars Naomi Watts as a small-time reporter named Rachel, whose newfound fascination with a demonic VHS may well lead her and her son toward imminent death. Aided by Noah (Martin Henderson), she tries to unlock the secrets behind the evil video in an attempt to free the device from its malicious curse. With a ticking clock on their backs, Rachel and Noah must dive deep into the tape’s history to stave off the persistent haunting and ensure the malignant entity is freed from its unrest. Interestingly, The Ring made $200 million over its $48 million budget, marking it as among the highest-grossing horror remakes.
Found-footage horror may be a dying art form, yet one of the very few iterations of the genre is a Netflix must-see. Starring Mark Duplass as Josef and the film’s director, Patrick Brice, as its cameraman Aaron Franklin, Creep is a rare breed of horror filmography. Much like The Invitation, Creep takes a while to build momentum, yet still elicits many a cringeworthy experience throughout its entire runtime. Duplass is phenomenal as the oddball neighbor, evoking the perfect blend of comic relief and terror upon his every portrayal. Creep keeps viewers guessing from start to finish, and it’s not until the very end where the real story is brought to life in its most provocative and unsettling dimension. If the first just wasn’t enough, Netflix likewise has its terrifying sequel to get lost within.
Get In (2019)
The French horror-thriller Furie (Get In) may not feature any well-known Hollywood stars nor English-speaking dialogue, yet its chilling tale recreated from a Japanese short story is a must-see for every terror junkie. After arriving home from a cleansing family vacation, the Diallos are met by an out-of-place group of residents, whose way of life strays far too close to the disturbing. With an unseen clause written into their lease, which basically bars the police from assisting, the family must learn to live with their new house guests no matter how challenging their newly shared lives may become. Loosely based upon Kobo Abe’s Intruders, a short story in his compilation Beyond the Curve, Get In portrays an experience that is all too real and horrifying: Losing not only one’s living quarters, but also privacy and freedom.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Despite not being explicitly horror, Guillermo del Toro’s dark fantasy classic still embodies many the scare-tastic trope with relative ease. The Spanish storybook lookalike follows a young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) in the process of moving with her pregnant mother into a large countryside mansion owned and operated by Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). The story uses real-world concepts, like the Falange political ideology and Spanish unrest, to evoke the burgeoning terror of its underlying narrative. In the process of unveiling the rebirth of Princess Moanna, Ofelia likewise challenges the tropes of belief and the mystical. Lost in the labyrinth of everyday life, Ofelia must come to grips with her destiny as the Underworld itself reaches out to bind her.
It Comes at Night (2017)
An unexpected hit that was projected to make anywhere between $7 million and $12 million upon its release, It Comes at Night captured viewers with intense fear, acquiring a global $19 million at the box office. It garnered immediate acclaim through the writing and directing of Trey Edward Shults, alongside spellbinding acting from Joel Edgerton and Kelvin Harrison Jr., whose role in the film earned him a nomination for Breakthrough Actor in the 2017 Gotham Independent Film Awards. It Comes at Night is not your average horror movie, escaping from jump scares and meaningless deaths to convey the nail-biting and heartbreaking reality of survival. It portrays the shared experiences of a family living deep in the woods following a zombie-like outbreak.
The Ritual (2017)
After the death of a close friend mere months before leaving on an expedition together, a group of four decide to make a ritual of the event by way of a hiking trip in Sweden. The getaway seems to serve its purpose with the four, Phil (Arsher Ali), Dom (Sam Troughton), Hutch (Robert James-Collier), and Luke (Rafe Spall), all coming together to mourn the loss of their dear friend. Things start to take a turn for the worse when Dom injures his leg and the four must then embark through an eerie forest that reeks of malcontent and evils unnamed. As the cyclical woodlands draw each party member further and further apart, the reality of their being followed becomes ever-more blatant. Can the expedition escape unharmed, or were they doomed from the very moment of their friend’s untimely demise?
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