Top 21 Best Horror Movies of Each Year (2000 - 2020)

Top 21 Best Horror Movies of Each Year (2000 - 2020)

VOICE OVER: Ryan Wild WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
It's been a great century for horror! For this list, we'll be looking at the very best major horror movie released every year, beginning with 2000. Our countdown includes "American Psycho", "The Strangers", "Get Out", and more!


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 21 Best Horror Movies of Each Year.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the very best major horror movie released every year, beginning with 2000. Supernatural horror, psychological thrillers, horror-comedies—all subgenres will be considered.

Did we miss your favorite horror movie in any given year? Share it in the comments below!

2000: “American Psycho”

To mark the dawn of the new millennium, New Line Cinema unleashed creative teenage carnage with “Final Destination”. (*Xref) The film cleaned up at the box office and would go on to spawn numerous sequels. But no horror movie released in 2000 was more terrifyingly captivating than “American Psycho”. Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis and boasting a star-making performance from Christian Bale, this genre-bending film takes us on a twisted trip into the mind of investment banker Patrick Bateman. Serving as a scathing critique of consumerism and the business world, “American Psycho” is bloody, chilling, and darkly funny. It’s also got some truly unforgettable monologues, which have inspired countless parodies, references, and homages over the last two decades.

2001: “The Others”

The year 2001 was dominated by international productions. “Ginger Snaps”, (*Xref) a Canadian film, gave us a fresh take on teen horror. It didn’t make much of an impact at the box office, but critics raved about the whip-smart writing and the movie has since become a cult classic. The film that really had people talking, however, was Alejandro Amenábar’s “The Others”. An English language Spanish production, “The Others” stars Nicole Kidman as a mother whose home is plagued with strange phenomena. Set in WWII, this tightly crafted gothic supernatural horror keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. In terms of twists, this is up there with “The Sixth Sense.”

2002: “The Ring”

When a film spawns as many imitators as this one has, you know that it’s struck a chord. “The Ring’s” massive success opened the floodgates for American remakes of Asian horror films. It also inspired American cinephiles and horror fans to explore the world of J-horror cinema. Since it’s been parodied in popular media for so long, it’s easy to forget how terrifying “The Ring” was. The unsettling visuals and lingering shots sucked us into the gruesome tale. Samara also got under our skin in unexpected ways with her creepy-crawling approach to murder. There isn’t much gore, but the film doesn’t need it. And while the cursed videotape premise might sound absurd on paper, Naomi Watts sells it with her committed performance.

2003: “28 Days Later”

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen these days, but this remarkable film is an enduring testament to the potential of zombie cinema. A post-apocalyptic world populated by rabid, bloodthirsty humans is fertile ground for social commentary and captivating drama. Few people have done more with the concept than director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland. The speed of the infected, paired with the masterful cinematography, makes the viewer feel as if they too have become prey to these rabid hunters. It’s an extremely effective horror film that’s further elevated by its deeply human characters. Don’t blame “28 Days Later” for the shuffling horde of copycats it inspired. This movie remains one of a kind—even in a sea of imitators.

2004: “Shaun of the Dead”

Maybe zombie flicks should be left to British creators. Between “28 Days Later” and “Shaun of the Dead”, they’ve certainly given us some of the best undead films of the millennium! In 2004, James Wan changed popular horror for the gorier with the release of “Saw”. (*xref) The influence of this horror film and its numerous sequels cannot be understated. But if we’re talking about the best horror movie of the year, it has to be “Shaun of the Dead”. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright gave us a zombie horror film that was hilarious, delightfully original, and genuinely sweet. We’re not sure there’s ever been a zombie flick with a bigger human heart than this tale of two lovable slackers.

2005: “The Descent”

As we were saying, “Saw” changed the horror landscape. It took exploitative body horror out of the basements of indie films and into the mainstream. In 2005, we got “Wolf Creek” and Eli Roth’s “Hostel.” (*xref and **xref) Both films divided critics with their willingness to revel in violence, but their influence can’t be denied. The best horror film of the year, however, went further than skin deep. “The Descent” follows a group of women who encounter terrifying creatures on a spelunking trip in North Carolina. Many horror movies have put characters in tight spaces, but rarely has a film made for a more claustrophobic viewing experience. With its strong cast of characters and inspired scares, “The Descent” is a true gem.

2006: “The Host”

In 2019, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho gave us the best movie of the year. Almost a decade and a half before “Parasite,” however, he also delivered arguably the greatest horror film of the year with “The Host”. This monster movie centers on a father’s attempts to rescue his daughter after she’s taken by a strange aquatic creature. Like most of Bong Joon-ho’s films, there are too many moving parts to this story to be properly summarized in one line. It alternates between being a serious monster flick and a comedic masterpiece. In short, it’s exactly the sort of genre-defying horror film that only Bong Joon-ho could make.

2007: “Rec”

2007 was a very good year for found footage horror. While “The Blair Witch” set the standard years earlier, “Paranormal Activity” gave the filmmaking style a new lease on life when it made nearly $200 million on a budget of less than five hundred thousand. (*xref) While the film was a fun ride, “Rec” takes the title for the best horror film of 2007—found footage or otherwise. The film follows a reporter and her cameraman as they navigate a viral outbreak. The virus in question turns infected into rabid, zombie-like creatures. Set in an apartment complex in Barcelona, “Rec” rarely lets up, making a cinematic experience that’s at once thrilling, disorienting, and genuinely scary.

2008: “The Strangers”

There were plenty of strong contenders in 2008. “Let the Right One In” told a vampire story the likes of which we’d never seen before. (*xref)“Cloverfield” built on the found footage momentum of the previous year by applying the shaky camera film style to a story of unprecedented scale. (*xref) But the greatest horror story told in 2008 was a grounded tale about home invasion. Monsters and vampires are all great, but there’s something about the relatable and real threat of someone breaking into your home that cuts right to the core. In “The Strangers,” Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman play Kristen McKay and James Hoyt, a couple terrorized by masked intruders during their stay at a secluded cottage. It’s simple, but very effective.

2009: “Drag Me to Hell”

In 2009, Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried starred in the violent and lustful “Jennifer’s Body”. (*xref) Though some felt that the film fell short of its potential, screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama undeniably gave us something special. The honor of “best horror film” of 2009, however, goes to “Drag Me to Hell”. Director Sam Raimi first made a name for himself with the 1981 film “The Evil Dead.” It was a real pleasure to see him return to his horror roots. As this supernatural tale of a cursed loan officer proves, Raimi has not lost his touch for solid scares or campy moments. It might not be as gory as the director’s earlier efforts, but “Drag Me to Hell” isn’t stingy with gross effects.

2010: “Insidious”

James Wan might have lost out to “Shaun of the Dead” in 2004, but he claims the title for 2010 with “Insidious.” Although it’s sometimes overshadowed by the director’s bigger franchises, “Insidious” is a tightly crafted and terrifying film in its own right. Horror flicks often suffer from lackluster acting. But armed with the likes of Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye and Ty Simpkins in front of the camera, this supernatural story has got the talent to sell its scares. This film proved that James Wan is every bit as handy with a haunted house as a hacksaw. Darren Aranofsky’s “Black Swan” was also a top contender in 2010, (*xref) but ultimately “Insidious” wins out for delivering one big fright after another.

2011: “You're Next”

Horror is a genre that tends to lean on cliches and stereotypes. But every now and then, a film comes along that takes horror conventions and turns them upside down. The ‘final girl’ trope has been around for decades. But while ingenuity and a fighting spirit has often been a hallmark of the trope, we’ve rarely seen a heroine flip the script quite like Erin in “You’re Next”. When a trip to visit her boyfriend’s family becomes a fight for survival, Erin quickly turns the table on her attackers with ruthless efficiency. Bloody, creative, and blessed with some moments of pitch-black humor, “You’re Next” was a breath of fresh air for the slasher genre.

2012: “The Cabin in the Woods”

There are horror films that “subvert expectations” and then there’s “The Cabin in the Woods”. Honestly, Scott Derrickson’s supernatural film, “Sinister,” should have been a shoo-in for the best horror film of 2012 with its chilling attic full of ghosts. (*xref) But “The Cabin in the Woods” is a horror film in a class of its own. What begins as a paint-by-numbers teen horror flick quickly gives way to an impossible level of depth. And we mean that both literally and figuratively. The further down this rabbit hole you go, the crazier it gets. Equal parts love and hate letter to the horror genre, “The Cabin in the Woods” is a laugh-out-loud dissection of genre conventions.

2013: “The Conjuring”

Scoring his third mention and second win on our list today, James Wan has arguably made no greater contribution to cinema than “The Conjuring”. This supernatural and impeccably-crafted film was reminiscent of classic horror and made for the perfect haunted house story. Inspired by the lives of actual paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, “The Conjuring” follows the husband and wife team as they attempt to help the Perron family. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are absolutely captivating as the Warrens. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston similarly deliver as Carolyn and Roger Perron respectively. The scares are intense and the characters really make you care about them. If you prefer a more ambiguous selection from the year, “Under the Skin” also deserves a shoutout. (*xref)

2014: “The Babadook”

How much terror can a character from a children’s storybook really inspire? Well, in the case of Mister Babadook...arguably more fear and dread than any other horror movie monster in 2014. “The Babadook” is an Australian psychological horror film centering on a widowed mother and her young son. The line between delusion and reality is very thin in this movie. Up until the credits roll, you’re never sure if this family is being literally tormented by a supernatural force or if it's all an elaborate metaphor for grief and loss. Maybe both are true! However you choose to interpret the film, “The Babadook” is a visceral experience. Honestly, the only other film that could hold a candle to it in 2014 was “It Follows”. (xref)

2015: “The Witch”

Has a horror filmmaker ever made a more confident or meticulously crafted debut film than Robert Eggers? While 2019’s “The Lighthouse” was yet another masterpiece from the director, it’s hard to imagine that film would’ve gotten made if he hadn’t first knocked our socks off with “The Witch.” Set in 16th century New England, this supernatural horror film follows a family of settlers who’ve been shunned by their community. Their bad luck takes a turn for the sinister, however, when their baby suddenly disappears near the edge of the woods. The family is seemingly beset by forces of evil in this fascinating look at faith, superstition, and sexuality. It’s a beautifully shot horror film that strikes a chord with suprisingly little gore.

2016: “Raw”

In 2016, “Don’t Breathe” and “Hush” (*xref and **xref) both gave us inventive twists on the home invasion genre. Although both movies made quite the impression, “Raw” is the film that really stole our hearts. This French horror film, written and directed by filmmaker Julia Ducournau, centers on a young woman’s descent into seeing people as literal snacks. Although she’s a vegetarian when she first enters veterinary school, Justine soon develops an insatiable craving for flesh after a hazing ritual. And they say that there are no new stories to tell! A strangely sensual and artistic horror film, “Raw” is a must-watch for anyone sick of horror cliches. Consider yourself warned though…this movie is not for those with a sensitive stomach.

2017: “Get Out”

Had you told us a year or two earlier that funnyman Jordan Peele would give us the best horror film of 2017, well we would’ve probably laughed. Although Pennywise the Clown might have won at the box office in 2017 for good reason, (*xref) “Get Out” got nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. If you ask any film historian, they’ll tell you that’s an extremely rare honor for a horror film. A scathing indictment of white liberal America and their complicity in racism, “Get Out” is brilliant, funny, insightful, and—for all its horrors—an extremely fun ride. It’s not just the best horror film of 2017, but arguably among the greatest movies of the decade.

2018: “Hereditary”

2018 was a really solid year for horror. John Krasinski blew cinemagoers away with his heartfelt horror film, “A Quiet Place”. (*xref) With “Mandy”, Panos Cosmatos finally found the perfect vessel for the unbridled energy of Nicolas Cage. (**xref)“Hereditary”, however, was more than just a great horror film. Its debut marked the arrival of a horror auteur with few equals—Ari Aster. While all of the films on our list today are scary, “Hereditary” feels like “The Exorcist” of its generation. It terrifies and disturbs in new and unexpected ways that we couldn’t previously imagine. The performances of Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro are incredible. And the story will keep you riveted even as your mind screams to turn it off.

2019: “Us”

Jordan Peele ruled horror in 2017. In 2018, that honor went to Ari Aster. In 2019, both filmmakers gave us their follow-up films and the winner was… well, horror fans. Ari Aster once again threw the rulebook out the window with “Midsommar.” He gave us a deeply disturbing film that, strangely enough, plays out almost entirely in a brightly lit pastoral environment. Jordan Peele cranked up his signature combination of dark comedy wih heady themes to even greater heights with “Us”. A wild ride from start to finish that warrants multiple viewings, “Us” confirmed Peele was a master of horror. While the same can be said for Aster and “Midsommar,” “Us” arguably has the more replay value of the two films.

2020: “The Invisible Man”

Take note - this is how you bring old stories into the modern era. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell of “Saw” fame, “The Invisible Man” updates H.G. Wells’s classic science fiction novel for the 21st century. It stars the always incredible Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass, a woman who believes that her abusive ex is stalking her with technology that allows him to become invisible. Others don’t believe her, as the ex is supposed to be dead. The film is mainly about abuse and the haunting effects it leaves on someone’s psyche, but it also works as a straightforward sci-fi tale about invisible people. No matter how you view it, “The Invisible Man” is terrifying.