The 2010s—the decade horror became elevated. I’m not sure what that means, but I agree this was a golden age of horror. We saw wonderful performances and storytelling by some of the most talented up-and-coming directors in the business. Setting out to create a top ten list from such a substantial sample size is a fool’s errand, but I’m a sucker for these things, so what the heck. I’ll push mine out there and see what you think. I doubt most of my list will be a great shock, especially to horror nuts, but there may be one or two you’ve not seen before.
What was my method for choosing the films on this list? Aside from picking my favorites, I didn’t have one. I suppose each of these movies impressed me and kept me thinking about them days or even weeks later. They’re also the kinds of films I showed to friends and family. Re-watchability factored somewhat into my thinking, as did the singularity of the filmmaker’s vision and skill.
So, here we go…
10. Terrified (2018)
Like I said, it’s torture coming up with my ten favorite horror movies from the past ten years. And I’m certain there’s at least one or two that I’m forgetting or that I never got around to seeing, but I had to include Terrified, from Argentina. It’s been a long time since a movie creeped me out as much as this one did—there was one scene that caused Michelle and me to cry out. It’s got double helpings of what I love in horror—haunted houses, nightmare logic, and time distortion. 2018 might be over-represented on my list, but damned if I can keep this movie off it.
9. Sinister (2012)
A crime writer moves into a house where something awful happened to its previous occupants—which is also the subject of his latest project. When he hears footsteps coming from the empty attic above, he investigates only to find a deserted box of Super8 films and an old projector. Cue the nightmares.
8. Get Out (2017)
Though it’s one of the most important films of the decade for social-political reasons, it also works brilliantly as a thriller. An impressive and surprising debut from director Jordan Peele, previously known for sketch comedy. He’s the first on this list of several unique directorial voices to contribute to the genre. Get out is a compelling tale that plays out like a great Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode.
7. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
I love a good one-setting thriller. The Autopsy of Jane Doe takes a simple situation and builds tension over the course of its supremely eerie 99 minutes. It’s a unique vision, executed with skill, with weighty performances by two of the best actors out there—Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. It’s ghastly fun.
6. It Follows (2014)
A smart update of the 80s slasher; in fact, it almost feels like something directed by John Carpenter himself. It Follows received massive pre-release hype on the film festival circuit, resulting in a little post-release backlash. But I think if you give it another viewing, you’ll agree it’s one of the decade’s finest horror movies. Released when remakes were running rampant in Hollywood, It Follows offered a new perspective on an aging subgenre.
5. The Babadook (2014)
2014’s The Babadook was an instant classic when it came out and one of the creepiest films of the decade. The relationship between the mother and son was tragically realistic, grounding the film in a reality that juxtaposed cleverly with the dark fairytale dread of the title character. You empathize with this broken family. The Babadook hits you harder than you expect and doesn’t let up until the third act’s hard-earned payoff.
4. Mandy (2018)
A fever dream and the work of a mad scientist. Mandy took the horror world by storm last year and director Panos Cosmatos has me on pins and needles waiting for his next work of brilliance. Like a David Lynch movie, Mandy is not for everyone—many will find it too weird or over the top. However, the poets, dreamers, geeks, and metal heads? They’ll think they’ve found the answer to all their prayers.
3. Hereditary (2018)
The more I think about it, the more I believe 2018 may go down as the greatest year of horror ever, highlighted by an all-time great movie, Hereditary. From a new master of horror, Ari Aster, a disturbing bird’s-eye view of one family disintegrating from grief. There are so many things going on in this movie, I hate to write too much about it. But I will say the ensemble was extraordinary, especially Toni Collette, whose acting should have won every acting trophy available that year. Her performance, like the movie itself, is a masterpiece. If we don’t already, we will someday see Hereditary in the same league as The Shining, The Exorcist, and Rosemary’s Baby.
2. The Conjuring (2013)
The Conjuring, one of the scariest haunted house movies ever made. There are sequences in this film that are hard to watch, not because of violence or gore—there is none—but from the sheer horror of the tension built through masterful filmmaking. Director James Wan takes his time; he sets up his scares; he toys with you. Sometimes the tension is delivered by nothing more than a child pointing to a dark patch behind her bedroom door. Then the next scene, Wan stuns you with an exquisitely orchestrated jump-scare. The Conjuring spawned a fantastic sequel and an entire horror universe including several spin-offs. However, for my money, nothing can quite match the genuine scares of the original.
1. The Witch (2015)
My favorite movie of the decade—of any genre. If they consider the 2010s the decade when horror became “elevated,” writer-director Robert Eggers was a major part of that movement. Armed with a literary sense of storytelling and a bona fide craft for the making of films, Eggers brought to us a movie that will go down as one of the remarkable entries of the genre. So much of what scares us involves not just the things we see on screen, but what we don’t see—the emptiness of the undiscovered corners of the world, the mystery of finding what lies in the deepest, darkest, part of the woods, the existential terror of realizing you’ve made a huge mistake. Oh, the ending is shocking, and the payoff is tremendous. Eggers lets you have your cake and eat it too, but first he makes you appreciate the cake. And The Witch makes us contemplate the query posed by Black Phillip, “Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
I’d like to discuss some films I didn’t include, but which could have slotted in the 5-10 spots. Heck, if I were to recreate this list a month from now, those slots might be entirely different. Movies like Insidious, The Ritual, A Quiet Place, Cabin in the Woods, Green Room, Tigers Are Not Afraid, The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Satan’s Slaves, What We Do in the Shadows, It Chapter 1, Anabelle: Creation, Annihilation, Suspiria, and Halloween were all among my favorite movies of the past ten years, and I loathed to cut them out. However, such is the problem with making a top ten list—you only have ten spots. Forgive me.
Honorable TV Mention – The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
Remember when I said 2018 may go down as the greatest year of horror ever? Well, much of that had to do with television. From series like The Chilling Tales of Sabrina to made-for-streaming movies, horror seemed to be everywhere. But the scariest entry in TV or film was Mike Flanagan’s limited Netflix series, The Haunting of Hill House. In fact, I think this is the only TV show that’s ever scared me as much as a movie.
That’s it! Agree or disagree with my list? Tell me your opinions in the comments!