Time and time again, moviegoers continue to prove that they will head to the theaters for horror movies. Horror remains the safest bet at an unpredictable box office. In fact, 2023 has already spawned multiple horror hits at the box office, including Scream VI, ME3Gan, Insidious: The Red Door, and The Nun II.
The biggest horror hits of all time range from popular summer blockbusters and horror comedies to supernatural adventures and paranormal sagas. Below, we have listed the seven biggest horror hits of all time at the domestic box office (the film’ grosses have been adjusted for inflation based on a 2022 ticket price). All figures are courtesy of Box Office Mojo.
Even though it’s been over 20 years since its release, Signs feels more relevant now than ever before, especially after the Pentagon established a website to reveal declassified information about extraterrestrial activity and (UAPs), more commonly known as UFOs. In one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best movies Signs, farmer Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) discovers crop circles in his fields, which are lined with enigmatic lines and markings.
As more crop circles and mysterious lights appear globally, Graham investigates the strange occurrences and discovers the presence of aliens on Earth. As a former priest, these unknown occurrences test his faith. With his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), son Morgan (Rory Culkin), and daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin) by his side, Graham fights to save his family from an alien invasion.
Stream Signs on Max.
It wouldn’t be a list of great horror films without a project from the master, Alfred Hitchcock. Psycho, Hitchcock’s 1960 horror film, remains one of his most influential thrillers ever. The film begins with secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) stealing $40,000 from her work to help her boyfriend, Sam (John Gavin), pay off his debts so they can get married. While attempting to flee to Sam’s home in California, a tired and paranoid Marion checks into the Bates Motel for the night and meets proprietor Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).
The shy Norman invites Marion to have dinner with him, where the two discuss a wide range of topics, including his taxidermy hobby. Norman’s red flags appear when Marion hears him arguing with his mother before dinner, which sets off a terrifying chain of events at the motel. Be forewarned: The shower scene may keep you up at night.
Stream Psycho on Peacock.
In the early 1900s, Professor Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is a gifted New York City sculptor who creates statues of famous historical figures for his wax museum. The wax sculptors are beautiful, but they do not churn a profit. Henry’s business partner, Matthew (Roy Roberts), suggests burning the museum to collect a $25,000 insurance policy. After a confrontation between the two partners, Matthew sets fire to the wax museum on fire, which explodes with Henry inside. Henry miraculously survives the fire, but is left confined to a wheelchair. Additionally, injuries sustained to his hands prevent Henry from sculpting.
Years later, Henry starts another wax museum, which leads many to question how he’s constructing new figures. When bodies begin to disappear from the morgue, a young student named Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) investigates as to whether Henry is pouring wax over the dead bodies and molding them into statues.
“I see dead people.” The chilling phrase from The Sixth Sense, remains one of the most iconic and recognizable lines of dialogue of the last 30 years. Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) is a 9-year-old boy who can see ghosts. However, these unhappy ghosts do not know they are dead as they walk around with the living and attempt to finish their business on Earth.
Cole begins seeing child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who eventually believes the young boy and tries to help him control his supernatural powers. The Sixth Sense became the rare horror film to break through at the Academy Awards, receiving six nominations, including for Best Picture. M. Night Shyamalan became a household name after The Sixth Sense, and the twist ending is still revered nearly three decades later.
For those looking to watch something from this list with the entire family, Ghostbusters is the best option. The supernatural comedy stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis as professors Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, and Egon Spengler, respectively. After the trio is dismissed from Columbia University, they start a paranormal-hunting business called “Ghostbusters.”
When the ghosts scare the residents of the city, the Ghostbusters capture the paranormal beings with their specially designed nuclear-powered equipment. The Ghostbusters’ popularity drastically rises as supernatural activity increases. However, a gateway to another dimension is discovered, with an angry demigod looking to take over the city. There’s only one group to call.
Stream Ghostbusters on Peacock.
Directed by the late William Friedkin, The Exorcist is one of only two horror movies to sell more than 100 million tickets. The film depicts the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl named Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair). Regan’s mother, Chris (Ellen Burstyn), notices strange behavior from her daughter, including violent outbursts, physical movements that defy the laws of physics, and the ability to speak in tongues.
Chris receives help from Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), who concludes the devil is possessing Regan. Father Karras gets permission to perform an exorcism with an experienced priest, Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow). The Exorcist received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, becoming the first horror movie nominated in the category’s long history.
Stream The Exorcist on Max.
You’re gonna need a bigger boat when you watch one of Steven Spielberg’s 10 best movies, Jaws. In the coastal community of Amity Island, a great white shark kills an unsuspecting woman at night. Amity’s police chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), suggests closing the beaches, much to the dismay of Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton). The mayor defies the suggestion and keeps the beaches open for fear of sinking the town’s economy at the height of the summer.
It’s a deadly decision as the shark claims more victims. In response to the deaths, Brody teams with oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt and kill the shark. Jaws’ success changed the future of movies as it established the summer blockbuster, a formula still implemented in Hollywood in 2023.
Stream Jaws on Netflix.
- 7 biggest horror movie bombs of all time, ranked by adjusted box office losses
- The 10 most popular summer movies of all time, ranked by box office gross