Updated On: November 06, 2023 by   PTdev   PTdev  

We adore scary films of all genres, but psychological horror movies are on the top subgenres. It’s pretty acceptable for some individuals to associate the word “horror” with iconic monsters from the genre, such as vampires, Frankenstein monsters, and zombies.

Others may go into the slasher genre; those are also very amazing, large, ominous baddies like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers plucking out unsuspecting victims and scream queens one by one.

However, psychological horrors, movies that primarily centre on some form of the gradual, systematic unravelling of a psyche rather than a supernatural monster or event, are the least well-known but most cherished subgenre of the horror genre.

These stories might take place almost anywhere. It may occasionally occur against a criminal investigation or the search for a murderer or suspect.

Other times, a city may be the location. It may happen at home, during a ballet performance, or as you age. 

These tragedies can occur to anybody and everyone. That’s the whole idea of the story; not only do our protagonists feel disconnected from reality, but so do we, the audience. And ultimately, it’s us who are having our heads screwed.

This genre includes some of the greatest movies you’ll ever see. Can you imagine a world without The Shining by Stanley Kubrick? A masterwork that essentially created the environment for the finest horror films of the last 40 years.

There are more things to come. Blumhouse, the production firm behind films like Get Out and Happy Death Day, almost entirely creates works that either directly or indirectly fall into this category.

Here’s the top of the bunch:

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs is undoubtedly the most notable adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel featuring Hannibal Lecter, even though it wasn’t the first. It’s one of the remarkable psychological horror movies.

The film is a flawless thriller from beginning to end, yet it has enough horrible crime and bloodshed to earn a spot on this list.

With barely 15 minutes of screen time, the best actor Oscar went to Anthony Hopkins for his depiction of Hannibal Lecter.

The show stars Hopkins and Jodie Foster, but you might be the most frightened by Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill. 

To stop the killings of young women, FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) must work with the even more dangerous Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a jailed serial cannibal and a certified genius. 

Stopping murderer Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) is too difficult to solve without direct insight into pure evil.

  • Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Crime, Drama
  • Stars: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence A. Bonney
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • Producer: Ronald M. Bozman, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt
  • Writer: Thomas Harris, Ted Tally
  • Release Date: 13 February 1991 Wide
  • Runtime: 1h 59m
  • Distributor: Orion Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
  • IMDB Rate: 8.6 

2. The Shining (1980)

The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is considered one of the best horror movies ever. It is based on Stephen King’s renowned 1977 novel of the same name, but several significant deviations exist.

Each shot is wonderfully composed, and Jack Nicholson gives one of the most gripping and spooky lead roles in the genre’s history. Anyone seeking terror will enjoy watching him slowly but, indeed, go insane and embrace his worst inclinations.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a recovering alcoholic, goes to great lengths to escape it all. He accepts a job as the winter caretaker of the snow-bound Overlook Hotel with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) in tow to finish his novel, but he doesn’t plan on the company of the ghosts.

The Overlook is haunted, but maybe Jack’s rotting mind “shines” as his son’s did with a clairvoyant radiance rather than just becoming insane.

  • Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
  • Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: Stanley Kubrick
  • Producer: Robert Fryer, Stanley Kubrick
  • Writer: Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
  • Release Date: 23 May 1980 
  • Runtime: 2h 22m
  • Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
  • IMDB Rate: 8.4 

3. The Night House (2021)

The Night House, starring Rebecca Hall, is about a widow grieving her husband’s loss when strange things start happening at the home he built.

The visuals are spectacular, and you’ll undoubtedly be astounded by any of the many plot turns, so it’s one of those movies that is best seen with as little prior knowledge.

  • Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
  • Stars: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall
  • Original Language: English
  • Director:David Bruckner
  • Producer: David S. Goyer, Keith Levine, John Zois
  • Writer: Luke Piotrowski
  • Release Date: 20 August 2021
  • Runtime: 1h 50m
  • Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
  • IMDB Rate: 6.5

4. The Power of the Dog (2021)

The Power of the Dog, which earned Jane Campion the Oscar for Best Director at the 2022 Academy Awards, is in no manner a conventional “horror” film.

But the film dramatically increases the suspense, especially in the later half, partly because of Jonny Greenwood’s score. You’ll need to pay close attention, but the film is among the best examples of locating dread in everyday people and circumstances.

Phil Burbank is extremely charismatic, severe, attractive, and pale-eyed. Phil’s passion, strength, and vulnerability are bound to the past and the land: he can castrate a bull calf with two quick strokes of his knife; he swims naked in the river, smearing mud all over his naked body. He is as rough as his hides, a true cowboy.

It is the year 1925. The Burbank brothers are well-off Montana ranchers. The brothers encounter the widowed proprietor Rose and her young son Peter at the Red Mill restaurant while going to the market.

Phil treats them with such cruelty that he brings them both to tears. He takes pleasure in their anguish and makes his fellow cowhands laugh, all except his brother George, who consoles Rose before going back to propose to her.

Phil’s mocking of Rose takes on a creepy form as he alternates between rage and cunning. He lurks at the fringes of her field of vision while whistling a song she can no longer play.

His apparent mockery of her son is heightened by the applause of Phil’s cowhand followers. The youngster is subsequently taken under Phil’s wing. Is this most recent action a softening that exposes Phil or a plot twisting that intensifies the threat?

  • Genre: Western, Drama, Romance
  • Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: Jane Campion
  • Producer: Jane Campion, Iain Canning, Roger Frappier, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman
  • Writer: Jane Campion
  • Release Date: 17 November 2021
  • Runtime: 2h 8m
  • Distributor: Netflix
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
  • IMDB Rate: 6.8

5. Zodiac (2007)

Who said that actual crime couldn’t be frightful? Well, practically no one with a head would argue that our scariest horrors are occasionally the actual ones. Zodiac is some prime evidence.

It chronicles the true account of the unrelenting search for the identity of the Zodiac Killer, who terrified the Bay Area in the 1970s.

Although there are undoubtedly many more contenders, this could be David Fincher’s finest work.

Fear engulfed San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a serial killer named Zodiac stalked its citizens. 

Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, and Jake Gyllenhaal play detectives and reporters who become hooked on finding the killer’s identity and bringing him to justice. 

Zodiac continues to kill people while taunting the authorities with coded communications, cyphers, and threatening phone calls.

  • Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery & Thriller
  • Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: David Fincher
  • Producer: Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Bradley J. Fischer, James Vanderbilt, Ceán Chaffin
  • Writer: James Vanderbilt
  • Release Date: 2 March 2007  
  • Runtime: 2h 37m
  • Distributor: Paramount Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
  • IMDB Rate: 7.7

6. Se7en (1996)

Se7en, directed by David Fincher and starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, is one of the most realistic and frightful horror films you’ll ever see.

Detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is getting ready to enjoy his retirement, while Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) is the eager new boy on the block.

Unfortunately, the serial killer known as Jon Doe kills people ritualistically by transforming the seven deadly sins into horrifying, symbolic killings.

The spontaneous, wrenching plot surprise of Se7en will give viewers shivers, but this is where the spine-chilling moments occur: David Mills’ role was rejected by Denzel Washington.

In an interview with Larry King, Washington gave the reason why he declined the role, which he later regretted: “And I just felt ‘oh this is so horrible.'” “I watched the movie after that and started crying.”

  • Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Crime, Drama
  • Stars: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: David Fincher
  • Producer: Arnold Kopelson, Phyllis Carlyle
  • Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
  • Release Date: 22 September 1995 
  • Runtime: 2h 5m
  • Distributor: Criterion Collection, New Line Cinema
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
  • IMDB Rate: 8.6

7. Last Night In Soho (2021)

With the creepy, melancholy Last Night In Soho, filmmaker Edgar Wright ploughed quickly into the psychological horror subgenre after experimenting with it briefly with Shaun of the Dead.

Soho is an enjoyable couple of hours with a wonderful ensemble, including Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, and Matt Smith, with memorable music and breathtaking visuals. It has competing plots that finally collide and a mystery at its centre.

In the psychological thriller by famed director Edgar Wright, fashion designer hopeful Eloise inexplicably travels back to the 1960s, where she encounters Sandie, a stunning singer. 

However, the glamour is not all that it seems to be, and the old dreams begin to crumble and fragment into something far darker.

  • Genre: Mystery & Thriller, Drama
  • Stars: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith
  • Original Language: English (United Kingdom)
  • Director: Edgar Wright
  • Producer: Nira Park, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Laura Richardson, Edgar Wright
  • Writer: Edgar Wright, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
  • Release Date: 29 October 2021 
  • Runtime: 1h 57m
  • Distributor: Focus Features
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
  • IMDB Rate: 7.1

8. Get Out (2017)

Get Out, which made Jordan Peele a household name and a significant force in Hollywood, is not just among the best horror films of recent years but also among the best films of the 2010s overall.

Although director Jordan Peele calls the film a “social thriller,” there is more than enough to make you shiver and crawl your skin before the ending completely blows your mind.

Bradley Whitford, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, and Catherine Keener are flawless performances, but Daniel Kaluuya carries the film as its star.

Chris’s fiancée Rose extends an invitation to him for a weekend break with Missy and Dean now that their relationship has reached the meet-the-parents stage.

Chris initially interprets the family’s overly accommodating actions as anxious attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship. Still, as the weekend goes on, a sequence of progressively unsettling revelations leads him to a truth he could never have anticipated.

  • Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller, Comedy
  • Stars: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: Jordan Peele
  • Producer: Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Ted Hamm, Jordan Peele
  • Writer: Jordan Peele
  • Release Date: 24 February 2017
  • Runtime: 1h 44m
  • Distributor: Universal Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
  • IMDB Rate: 7.7

9. Black Swan (2010)

Aronofsky is also the director of Black Swan. It is mainly in the right direction. Although the plot is quite tight, Aronofsky will nevertheless likely blow your minds a pretty little throughout the film.

Natalie Portman spent a whole year preparing as a dancer and owned every moment of her screen time. She wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar because of her commitment. Mila Kunis is excellent in the supporting role.

Although Nina (Natalie Portman) is allowed a lifetime to play Odette and Odile in Tchaikovsky’s well-known Swan Lake, she hardly has time to relish it.

Her controlling mother (Barbara Hershey) and a competitor dancer (Mila Kunis), who may or may not be seeking her ballet role, are the sources of her worry. Does Nina genuinely need to be terrified, or is the threat all in her head?

Black Swan stands out for its beautiful dance choreography and stunning cinematography, which offers viewers a tapestry of images unmatched by most psychological horror movies.

  • Genre: Drama, Mystery & Thriller
  • Stars: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: Darren Aronofsky
  • Producer: Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver, Scott Franklin
  • Writer: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz
  • Release Date: 17 December 2010
  • Runtime: 1h 48m
  • Distributor: Fox Searchlight
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
  • IMDB Rate: 8.1

10. It (2017)

The long-running conflict between a group of children and a deadly clown named Pennywise is the subject of Stephen King’s sweeping novel. It’s a story so long and with the level of detail that it simply cannot fill one normal-length movie. 

It was originally adapted as a two-part miniseries in 1990, but it wasn’t until it received a big-screen adaptation with top-notch production value in 2017 that things indeed came to life.

The acting was excellent, and the terrors, not just those of the clown but also those of real-life atrocities like abuse, bullying, and racism, should send shivers down anyone’s spine.

Part II, released in 2019, wasn’t quite as good as the first but still provides a satisfactory conclusion to the narrative.

Seven teenage outcasts in Derry, Maine, are about to face their biggest dread when they encounter an ancient, shape-shifting demon that comes out of the sewer every 27 years to feast on the town’s children.

The friends must overcome their own anxieties by working together throughout one terrifying summer to combat the violent, sadistic clown known as Pennywise.

  • Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
  • Stars: Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Martell, Finn Wolfhard
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: Andy Muschietti
  • Producer: Roy Lee, Dan Lin, Seth Grahame-Smith, David Katzenberg, Barbara Muschietti
  • Writer: Chase Palmer, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman
  • Release Date: 8 September 2017  
  • Runtime: 2h 15m
  • Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
  • IMDB Rate: 7.3

11. Psycho (1960)

Several Alfred Hitchcock films could have been included on this list. Still, we’ll pick Psycho since it does a fantastic job of creating various levels of psychological dread throughout the film. 

As a movie’s acts progress, it might be challenging to transition from one type of dread and anxiety to another, but Psycho successfully does so. Both Janet Leigh’s superbly convincing woman on the run and Anthony Perkins’ classic performance as Norman Bates are legendary.

The movie’s budget was barely over $800,000, with most of Hitchcock’s contributions coming from his pocket. To conserve money, the director chose to shoot the movie in black and white after acquiring the rights to Robert Bloch’s novel. Psycho went on to earn $32 million during its initial theatrical run.

  • Genre: Horror, Mystery & Thriller
  • Stars: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
  • Original Language: English
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Writer: Robert Bloch
  • Release Date: 8 September 1960 
  • Runtime: 1h 49m
  • Distributor: Paramount Pictures
  • Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
  • IMDB Rate: 8.1

These must-see psychological horror films will leave even the most devoted horror movie fans questioning what lurks in the darkness.

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