MFF Reader Poll Results: The Top 21 Horror Films of the 21st Century!
Hello all. Mark here.
The results are in and they cover pretty much every aspect of the “horror” genre. We received over 3,500 votes (you listen to the podcast where we break down the films/voting on Itunes or Blog Talk Radio) and appreciate everyone who stopped by to vote (Big thanks to the AV Club for sharing!). The 21st century post was a lot of fun to write and I’ve enjoyed the discussions, podcasting and complaints that The Shining wasn’t on the list. If you didn’t catch the original post, I sorted through hundreds of 21st century horror films, gathered a list of 160 and broke down the data into four categories. Here are the four lists I came up with.
Top 20 Critically Rated Horror films according to Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic Critics
Top 20 Audience Rated Horror films according to IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes Audience Scores and Metacritc Users
Top 25 Rated horror films from Rotten Tomatoes Critics, RT Audience Score , Metacrtic, Metacritic User Score and IMDb Users
When I finished the lists I took the top ten critic/audience rated horror films and combined them with favorites that were left out or featured on the horror movie critics overall best list. It was a comprehensive list that offered an “other” box for write-ins so all 21st century horror films could be covered and voted on (the poll is here if you want to see it).
I originally was only going to write about the top 10 but when I looked through the list I had to cover the top 21. What I like about the 21 films is they cover every aspect of horror. It is an eclectic mix that features French transcendent torture, demon goats, ivory business cards, death via Merman and quite possibly the scariest child killer ever (the only competition is the Troll from Ernest Scared Stupid. He wrecked my youth).
Peekaboo, I see you! Now, I’m gonna walk all creepy like and attempt to eat you.
There was no runaway winner and I love that the voting was so close. The films were directed/written by first time directors or crafted by savvy genre veterans . It is young meets old and all of it is fresh (except the zombies). Horror is such a tough genre to predict because it is full of cult classics, loud supporters and incredibly dedicated fans. It offers a little bit of everything and I don’t think anybody will ever agree on what is and what is not horror. Before I wrote the post I was doing some horror homework and I came across an indiewire article about the top 25 horror films (very good list) of the 21st century. I found this quote and it intrigued me:
A vocal contingent flew the flag for movies like “Haute Tension,” “Martyrs,” “A Field In England” and “The Devil’s Rejects,” but were shouted down by the equally vocal anti-contingent.
Through the course of writing, publishing and sharing the horror data it has been fun listening to the different vocal contingents of horror go at it. I believe the final product of the original 21st century horror data was pure because it covered every base and gave the user/audience a chance to have their voices heard. The glory of this poll is that votes speak the loudest. That is why I am happy to share the top 21 with the readers because you voted for it.
Thank you voting! Enjoy! Comment and share the post. Never go spelunking in unknown cave systems.
I compiled a list of the films available for streaming on Netflix or Amazon and we recorded a podcast about the creation of the list and response to the data. Also, if you are into horror films I’m pretty certain we came up with the most random horror film ever on the podcast.
If you get a chance check out these five horror hybrids that I really like. They deserve a bigger audience.
When you are done with this post check out the results of the “What are Your Favorite 21st Century Horror Films That Don’t Appear on “best of” Lists.” poll. We had 5,300 votes and I really like the films that made the cut.
21. (tie) Session 9 (2001)
I remember hearing about Session 9 back in the day and I couldn’t find it anywhere. So, I went on Ebay and bought it for way too much money. The gamble was worth it as the mostly day time horror film mesmerized me. It didn’t rely on jump scares and instead created creepy new scares to wreck my sleep. I don’t think I can ever forget the sound of the tape recordings playing inside the abandoned mental hospital (they found a perfect location). Director Brad Anderson blended new school digital photography and an old school adherence to creating dread and the result was a little film that defied expectations
Nothing good could ever happen here.
21 (tie). The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
The Devil’s Rejects is the kind of film that wears you down, tests your resolve and stresses out your television. That is not an insult. It is a well made grime fest that proved Rob Zombie was a man with a dark humorous vision. The Devil’s Rejects is skillfully made, acted to perfection and almost makes you feel sad when a Free Bird soundtracked gunfight opens up. Rob Zombie succeeded in finding art in depravity and even if you find the film deplorable you can’t say it wasn’t well made. Also, it features this line spoken by a guy named Otis B. Driftwood.
Boy, the next word that comes out of your mouth better be some brilliant Mark Twain sh**. ‘Cause it’s definitely getting chiseled on your tombstone.
20. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
What We Do in the Shadows is a glorious comedy/horror mockumentary that centers around four vampires who live in New Zealand. The horror hybrid blends comedy with lots of gore and features some of funniest characters of the last several years. It is a creative blast of niceness and violence that will most certainly become a cult classic. The 85 minute film is so full of one-liners, sight gags and hilarious characters you need to watch it more than once.
19. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Paranormal Activity is a tiny $11,000 film that exploded in the theaters. It placed a camera in a static position and managed to create more scares via dread and anticipation than I could’ve ever imagined. The best thing about PA is that it introduced us to an incredibly jerky demon that loved to pull bed sheets and occasionally drag people out of rooms. There is a moment that I love when a paranormal investigator walks into the house and immediately realizes he needs to go because it isn’t safe. PA did something many movies fail to do. It created a villain that scared the crap out of the audience (until they named it Toby)
18. The Mist (2007)
The Mist is a proof that quality finds a way. I am 100% certain audiences weren’t ready for this bleak and tragic Stephen King adaptation. They went in expecting a creature feature and instead were treated to religious zealots, terrifying monsters and an ending that reached through the screen and punched them in the face. Scott Mendelson of Forbes wrote a post entitled the Five “Best” Horror Films That flopped. In that list he included The Mist. Here is what he had to say about its failure at the box-office and eventual resurrection on DVD
Thanksgiving isn’t exactly the time to release an insanely grim spine-tingler that explicitly condemns human paranoia and religious-fueled mania, so it didn’t exactly light the box office world on fire. The Mist opened with $8 million over Thanksgiving weekend 2007, ending up with just $25m. Thanks to a surprisingly robust $31m overseas take, the $18m horror tale eventually turned a profit, and the multiple DVD/Blu-Ray releases helped too, including one that included the film as Darabont intended, in black-and-white. No matter in color or black-and-white, the film is genuinely terrifying, and it’s a shame it hasn’t developed more than a passing cult following.
17. The House of the Devil (2009)
House of the Devil does something gloriously audacious. It builds to a single scare that is so effective you are left absolutely deflated and exhausted. Ti West (Innkeepers, Sacrament) directed House of the Devil with a rare patience and clear vision. He takes the story of a babysitter in an old house and puts a new spin on it by focusing on dread and patience instead of blood and guts. West clearly knows that the fun is in the journey and the payoff is in the unexpected beauty of a really ugly face.
16. American Psycho (2000) (Despite it being released in 2000 American Psycho was added to the list)
Do you like face cream, chainsaws, business cards and blood? Well, American Psycho is for you. This book adaptation features an all in Christian Bale performance and savvy direction by Mary Harron. It is like a fever dream of pent-up frustration that goes to spectacularly bloody lengths. You’ll laugh, cringe and appreciate a movie that captures a tone so perfectly. I love that Bateman is an obvious monster but everyone around him is too self-centered to notice. He thrives in a corporate wasteland where his eccentricities and evident insanity are easy to hide even as his mask of sanity peels off. American Psycho wears many hats and manages to stay true to its source material and remain in the cinematic lexicon by sheer audacity and memorable carnage.
15. Trick r’ Treat (2007)
Trick r’ Treat has had a unique journey to cult classic success. It was filmed, shelved for years, released on DVD and has since built an incredibly loyal fanbase. Here is what TrT’s director Michael Dougherty had to say about the journey to IGN.
It feels great. There’s nothing like it. It’s a very unique path for a movie to take. Usually, your movie comes out, and it’s a big deal for a month — if you’re lucky — then it sort of just fades and goes off onto DVD, and that’s it. That includes most big awards films and whatnot, tentpoles — same thing. But for this tiny little movie, which didn’t have a lot of support, to continue to grow year after year solely from fans showing it to people, obviously using the love of the holiday itself, it’s kind of amazing. I don’t know of too many other films that have had this kind of a journey. For me, personally, it’s very rewarding because it’s a really personal film. This has very much been a passion project of mine for a long time. It was a very emotional journey. So to continue to watch it grow and never plateau — it just continues to grow — I’m kind of speechless.
14. [Rec] (2007)
[Rec] might be the most pure horror film on the list. It is a non-stop death machine and it builds to an iconic moment involving one of the best horror drags ever. [Rec] never lets you catch your breath and feels like a 90 minute roller coaster. I guarantee that [Rec] is the only horror film that requires you to drink Gatorade halfway through because you are sweating so much. It is an economic wonder that proves when done right the found footage style can aid in the killing.
13. Martyrs (2008)
Pain and transcendence paint the theme of this intense, cruel, relentlessly brutal film that will lead you to dark places free from the moral burdens of compassion.
MFF co-writer John wrote the above quote and he is right. Watching Martyrs is like a ten-mile hike in the rain that only goes uphill. You will not enjoy the experience but when you are on top of the mountain looking down the journey doesn’t seem all that bad.
12. The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring is a wonderful beast. The acting, storytelling and massive amounts of dread are proof of a director on the top of his game. James Wan directed the wonderful Insidious and proved horror can be told on a budget and not be a remake, sequel or prequel. Certain critics complained of Wan’s usage of Poltergeist themes but as Alonso Durade of The Wrap so elegantly put it:
The Conjuring doesn’t try to reinvent the tropes of horror movies, whether it’s ghosts or demons or exorcisms, but Fred Astaire didn’t invent tap-dancing, either.
James Wan has become a maestro of mini-budget mayhem. He tells tightly knit stories in which family is important, demons are totally evil and the acting is always wonderful. Wan made the incredibly smart decision to bring back Patrick Wilson from Insidious and add the wonderful Vera Farmiga. Together they play the real life couple Ed and Lorraine Warren who believe they were put together to do the world good. Aside from being the world’s best looking paranormal duo they have grace, charm and the authority to go head to head with persistent spirits
What I like most about this couple is they have a locked room inside their house where they keep all the evil (?) artifacts. They don’t want them destroyed because the spirits will be released and they don’t want them in the populace because they will continue to terrorize. You have to appreciate people who risk their safety to protect the world.
11. The Ring (2002)
The Ring might be one of the best looking horror films ever made. Gore Verbinksi directed the hell out of it and Naomi Watts does a brilliant job of being scared by a little girl who crawls out of televisions. I am still amazed that this bleak and melancholic little thing blew up so big. The beauty of the cinematography and overall grayness created a mesmerizing and occasionally terrifying dread machine.
10. Drag Me To Hell (2009)
Written by Megan (my beautiful wife).
I first watched Drag Me To Hell on one of my first dates with my now husband (your esteemed author). As you might imagine, a creepy old woman, a goat, curses and a kitten’s death scene made for a memorable date. While I mostly dislike movies with gratuitous pet deaths, I’ll always have fondness for this one because it is part of ‘our’ story and the beginning of my insight into Mark’s love for movies. We have rehashed our favorite scenes many times, both the funniest and grossest, and those conversations never fail to bring back the memories of our few dates and the movies that we watched. I hope you watch this movie, enjoy the absurdity of it and are lucky enough to find a partner to share all of your favorite movie moments with. Moral of this story: make sure your buttons are sewn on tightly!
9. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Written by Zach Beckler (Check out the trailer for his feature film Interior!)
It seems fitting that a film about the Hollywood dream becomes the definitive cinematic depiction of a nightmare. Is Mulholland Drive a horror film? I think that question infects most of David Lynch’s films, as the narrow-minded idea of tropes and sub-genres does not really apply to them. Lynch is an original; he does not follow any rules or aesthetic cues of horror, he creates them. After the droning sonic ambiences of Eraserhead, horror films never sounded the same. You can divide the history of sound in horror into Pre-Lynch and Post-Lynch (The Shining being the definitive Post-Lynch horror film.) This is the same reason people have difficulty labeling Hitchcock films as horror, even though he pioneered most of the theories of suspense filmmakers still use today.
There are many moments of dread and suspense in Mulholland Drive that cannot be traced to this genre, like the Club Silencio, “This is the girl,” and the unexplained changes in identity. But if there was still any doubt, the “Man Behind Winkies” scene puts it to rest and delivers one of the most effective scares in the history of cinema. It is a perfect self-contained unit, using the sort of dream logic you find in 70’s Italian horror that Lynch perfected throughout his career. Two men in a restaurant who we have not met in the film, nor do we really see again except in a cutaway later, are having a conversation about a dream. In the dream, there was a man behind the restaurant, and everyone was terrified of him. “I can see his face,” the man says. “I hope I never see that face ever outside of a dream.” As the other man reassures him and goes to pay, the man sees his dream coming to life. Then he walks, painstakingly slowly, to the back of the restaurant. When I saw this in theaters, I remember thinking, “There is nothing they can show me that is worse than what I am imagining.” Then we see the man… And for the first time ever, I felt the true fear of a nightmare in a film; that helplessness that this was happening to me and there was nothing I could do. That face was worse than anything I could have imagined because it was so simple and so haunting. This sort of uncanny horror is something I have been chasing in my own work ever since I saw that man behind Winkies. To lead the audience to a mind state in which anything can happen, and the uncertainty of whether it will. The process of watching any film is a dream, and this film perfectly captures how easily it can turn into a nightmare. This is horror at its finest.
8. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
What I love most about Shaun of the Dead is how they featured an incredibly rehearsed and ambitious two-minute steadicam shot. The moment isn’t about terror, violence or showing off. The shot centers around a slacker making his way to a shop while not noticing the carnage around him. He is so checked out that he doesn’t notice the blood he slips on or slow-moving zombies all around him. It is a moment of pure cinematic nerd glory and proves that this film about two dudes, a lady and a pub is a lovingly made zombie film. Viva la Cornetto and Edgar Wright!
7. The Babadook (2014)
The Babadook is a visually arresting horror hybrid that proved to be an amazing calling card for director Jennifer Kent. The Babadook is the type of movie that transcends genre and much like Rosemary’s Baby adds class to the horror world. The fact that The Babadook was universally praised by critics while featuring a truly bonkers plot proves that we are in a solid time for horror. I love what Kent said about horror filmmaking to New York Magazine.
I continue to watch modern horror films, despite the constant disappointment. I don’t think a lot of the filmmakers making horror now know its worth, or realize the potential of the genre. Just because it’s a horror film doesn’t mean it can’t be deep. I think a lot of filmmakers who make horror now go in with dubious motives — money, predominantly. They want to make a film that will feel like a theme-park ride, and ultimately make a lot of money.But horror is a pure form of cinema. I think there are some modern-day filmmakers our there who understand that. The films that will stand the test of time are the ones that have depth
6. It Follows (2014)
Director David Robert Mitchell (The Myth of the American Sleepover) takes my favorite aspects of horror (urgency, dread, patience) and combines them with a beautifully simple story about the dangers of sex. Mitchell lets the film breath and this allows the rabbit and hare story to unfold organically. The teens sleepless state creates a dreamy atmosphere that is captured nicely by the lingering camera and patient editing. The film moves at a methodically slow pace yet you have a hard time catching your breath. It Follows is a perfect example of 2014-2015 horror. It takes familiar elements and makes them fresh again.
5. Let the Right One In (2008)
Let the Right One In takes zero shortcuts, makes nothing easy and might be one of the best looking horror films ever made. It is painfully serious and respects the audience in its desire to hold nothing back. It is the rare film that appeals to the arthouse and grindhouse. It is an unforgettable masterpiece that will linger in your memory and make you think twice about bullying somebody while in an indoor swimming pool.
4. The Descent (2005)
Director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, Game of Thrones, Doomsday) is a maestro of mayhem who keeps his films moving briskly and expertly. He understands urgency and the need to keep moving forward. If you stop you die, and the ladies in The Descent have no choice but to keep moving. He directed a beautifully layered horror film that juggles, claustrophobia, monster mayhem and urgency. If you listen to the commentary you realize that it wasn’t a fluke. It is a carefully crafted movie that was thought out on every level and achieves the “pure cinema” label.
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
Written by VJ Long (occasional contributor of amazingly VJ posts)
As an extreme alpha male (joke) I’ve often had the daydream of saving my girlfriend from an attack of infected rage zombies. The film 28 Days Later coupled with the fact I’ve no formal fighting experience continues to squash that daydream. This movie is a constant reminder just how scary the rampage apocalypse could be and I’m not just talking about the infected. It gives a frightening portrayal of how harsh the human race can be in times of crisis. I think that’s the true element of fear! 28 Days Later leaves the viewer terrified not only due to the infected rage zombies but also due to the fact that we can’t always trust the very people we are supposed to turn to in times of dire need.
2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
I will let Roger Ebert and his immaculate prose speak for Pan’s Labyrinth.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) took shape in the imagination of Guillermo del Toro as long ago as 1993, when he began to sketch ideas and images in the notebooks he always carries. The Mexican director responded strongly to the horror lurking under the surface of classic fairy tales and had no interest in making a children’s film, but instead a film that looked horror straight in the eye. He also rejected all the hackneyed ideas for the creatures of movie fantasy and created (with his Oscar-winning cinematographer, art director and makeup people) a faun, a frog and a horrible Pale Man whose skin hangs in folds from his unwholesome body.
What makes Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” so powerful, I think, is that it brings together two kinds of material, obviously not compatible, and insists on playing true to both, right to the end. Because there is no compromise there is no escape route, and the dangers in each world are always present in the other. Del Toro talks of the “rule of three” in fables (three doors, three rules, three fairies, three thrones). I am not sure three viewings of this film would be enough, however
The Winner: Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Cabin in the Woods put a spin on the horror genre, turned it 180 degrees and let a Merman eat it. It is a much delayed horror classic that incorporates humor, blood and a trowel as a death weapon. It isn’t afraid to kill its characters and has some huge genre killing balls. Drew Goodard and Joss Whedon have given the world a beautiful horror hybrid that started as an underdog and has become a classic of the genre. In an interview with the AV Club, Joss perfectly encapsulated Cabin with this quote:
If you love horror, then you’ll love Cabin In The Woods!” And: “If you don’t love horror, you still might love Cabin In The Woods!” It’s designed for hardcore horror fans, but it’s also designed for everybody else. There’s enough thought and care and love and great craft that went into doing it, that the fact that it has some thrills and some hideous gore is—well, it’s either the cake or the icing. I’m not sure which. There’s cake. All I know is, you see it and you get cake.
We need a prequel so we can check out more of these monsters! Enjoy the cake!
Polls are closed (thank you for voting!). Make sure to check Twitter (@moviesfilmsflix) for the best 21st century horror films that you won’t find on “best of” lists.