The 15 Best '90s Horror Movies Ranked

The '90s was a fascinating decade in which Furbies, Beanie Babies, and Tamagotchi's ruled toy stores, "Friends" dominated TV, Nirvana took over the radio, and people were dancing willy-nilly to the Macarena. Technological advances were shaking up society, with the advancement of the World Wide Web culminating in the launch of a little site called Google in 1998. Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was one of the biggest scandals of the past half-century. 

Meanwhile, in the world of cinema, terrors lurked on the big screen. The '90s were filled with a host of new horror movies that were overflowing with ghosts, witches, monsters, serial killers, and more. But, as with any decade, some of the movies released in those 10 years were better, scarier, and more memorable than others. That's where this list comes in. Excluding sequels and making room for horror's numerous subgenres, we've done our best to hone in on the works of cinema that best define the '90s by ranking the 15 best horror movies of that decade.

15. Dead Alive

Before the New Zealand-born director Peter Jackson took on "The Lord of the Rings," he directed an outrageously gory and insanely fun zombie film called "Braindead," which was released in North America as "Dead Alive." Following the exploits of a nerdy and lonely young man named Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) and his domineering mother who gets bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and turns into a flesh-eating zombie, "Dead Alive" is gonzo horror that was clearly inspired by the full-tilt stylings of earlier films, including Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" flicks. 

But "Dead Aline" pushes the comedy and the gore even further. Using buckets of blood and tons of grisly practical effects, Jackson took "Dead Alive" to such a new level of outrageousness, including with the film's bonkers climax, that film reviewers have called it "one of the most disgusting horror films ever made." It is widely considered one of the bloodiest films of all time.

14. Flatliners

"Today is a good day to die." Joel Schumacher was a director with a certain sense of flair, and if his 1987 vampire film "The Lost Boys" came to epitomize '80s horror chic, that same sense of style helped make his "Flatliners" a peak '90s horror film just three years later. 

Starring a very '90s cast including Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt, the film follows a group of third-year medical students who decide to explore the moments after you die by killing then quickly resuscitating themselves, aka "flatlining." True to form for Schumacher, "Flatliners" manages to deliver a brooding, unsettling, psychological mind trip while still making sure to look Gothically sexy and cool. Screenwriter Peter Filardi had a good decade, later helping write another film on this list, "The Craft," as did Kevin Bacon, who also appeared in "Tremors" this very same year.

13. Tales from the Hood

So-called "hood films" were a big cinematic subgenre in the '90s, as films like "Boyz n the Hood" and "Menace II Society" ushered in a wave of new voices who told stories focused on the urban African American experience and important social issues impacting the black community. Director Rusty Cundieff's "Tales from the Hood" found a unique niche within this period as a sharp, fun, and spooky horror-comedy anthology with plenty of social commentary, featuring tales centered on police corruption, racism, gang violence and domestic abuse. 

Cundieff had a background in comedy and would later go on to write for "Chappelle's Show," and his comic sensibilities pair well with the grittier voice of co-writer and producer Darin Scott, who also produced "Menace II Society." Spike Lee served as an executive producer on the film, which features four tales told by an eccentric mortuary owner (Clarence Williams III) to a trio of drug dealers about the bodies in the mortuary. The result remains not only one of the best horror movies of the '90s, but also one of the best horror anthologies of any year.

12. The Craft

"We are the weirdos, mister." 

When "The Craft" was unleashed in 1996, it received mixed reviews from critics, but it struck a major chord with young women thanks to its darkly subversive story of female empowerment. Its plot revolves around a group of high school misfits turned would-be witches, led by Fairuza Balk, who turns in a very memorable performance as Nancy Downs, an outcast from the wrong side of the tracks. 

Nancy guides her burgeoning coven as they draw upon the power of a deity called "Manon" to exact revenge upon their abusers and enemies. Balk is joined by an all-star cast that includes Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Rachel True, and Skeet Ulrich (Campbell and Ulrich also starred together in "Scream" the same year). Brooding, thoughtful, and progressive in its examinations of the bonds of sisterhood and of women owning their power, "The Craft" has since become a cult classic that holds up to this day.

11. The Sixth Sense

If M. Night Shyamalan's name is synonymous with twist endings, it's thanks to "The Sixth Sense," the Bruce Willis-starrer that blessed us with the infamous line whispered by a young Haley Joel Osment, "I see dead people." "The Sixth Sense" put Shyamalan on the map, drawing in huge crowds and blockbuster box office returns with a story about a psychologist (Willis) who is hired to help a boy (Osment) who claims he can see ghosts. 

Back in 1999, moviegoers knew nothing of Shyamalan and initially had no idea that the spooky film had a shocking twist, but word quickly spread and audiences flocked to the theater to see for themselves what all the hubbub was about. As a result, "The Sixth Sense" became the second-highest grossing film of the year, surpassed only by "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," and would go on to be nominated for six Oscars. In the years since its release, the film has attained the status of a modern classic, and Shyamalan has proven time and again that surprise endings really are his thing with other twisty films such as "The Village," and "Unbreakable."

10. Jacob's Ladder

When it comes to psychological horror, "Jacob's Ladder" is one of the more terrifyingly unsettling mind trips ever made. Directed by Adrian Lyne, the film focuses on a Vietnam war veteran, Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), who is plagued by visions, nightmares, and hallucinations revolving around the war, as well as his son, who died in an accident before Singer shipped off. As his visions become more terrifying, all-consuming, and real, Jacob becomes more disconnected from the world and people he knows, including his girlfriend, Jezebel (Elizabeth Peña), who struggles help him as he descends into madness. 

"Jacob's Ladder" is considered a cult classic and has been an influence and inspiration for many subsequent works. You can see elements of "Jacob's Ladder" in "The Sixth Sense" and "Black Swan," and it was a notable inspiration on the "Silent Hill" franchise, as the film was a favorite of the game's programmer, Akihiro Imamura.

9. Tremors

Inspired by the classic creature-features of the '50s and '60s, "Tremors" stands out as one of the better monster movies. Not only is it unabashedly fun, but it features two relatable, down-to-earth, blue-collar heroes in Val and Earl (Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward), who band together with the few residents of Perfection, Nevada to battle giant underground worm-like creatures known as Graboids. 

A horror-comedy that's both successfully funny and scary, "Tremors" also spills over into action-adventure territory, offering plenty of pulse-pounding excitement as the surrounded inhabitants of the isolated desert outpost fight for their lives. Directed by Ron Underwood, who would go on to direct "City Slickers," and written by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, the endearing "Tremors" spawned a franchise that includes six sequels and a short-lived TV series — with the possibility for more left open. Still, the original "Tremors" remains the best entry, as well as a seminal work of American horror cinema.

8. The Blair Witch Project

In January 1999, a little indie horror film made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival with an edgy promotional marketing campaign that played into its found footage premise, listing the actors as missing or deceased and featuring flyers asking viewers to come forward with information as to their whereabouts. That film, of course, was "The Blair Witch Project" and it went on to become a sleeper hit that would eventually earn over 4,000 times its original budget and disrupt the horror genre by kicking off a found-footage craze that continued with films such as "Paranormal Activity."

Marketed as a documentary depicting "real" events, "The Blair Witch Project" follows a group of film students who set out in the woods of Maryland to make a documentary about a local legend. The terrifying events that unfold are presented as footage that was found on their cameras after they all disappeared. The burgeoning internet helped provide an outlet for a viral marketing campaign that had web sleuths and movie fans alike wondering if the events of the film were in fact real. They were not, of course, and were instead the work of director-producers Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez, who left an indelible mark on the world of horror.

7. Bram Stoker's Dracula

"Bram Stoker's Dracula" is Francis Ford Coppola's high gothic horror romance, and it's so gorgeous that it would have earned a place on our list for its lush visuals alone. Not only are the costumes and makeup incredible (the film won Academy Awards for both) and the sets dripping with atmosphere, but Coppola insisted on creating the film's impressive visual effects by using old-fashioned on-set and in-camera techniques — no CGI here — resulting a unique and singular cinematic vision. 

If the rich style isn't enough, the film also features memorable performances from Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing, Winona Ryder as Mina Harker, and Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker. And then, of course, there's an over-the-top Gary Oldman as Dracula himself, comfortably switching between horrifying monster and hopeless romantic while doling out memorable lines like, "I have crossed oceans of time to find you," in a highly convincing Vlad-the-Impaler accent. His twisted, ill-fated romance with Winona Ryder's Mina is one for the ages.

6. Audition

Director Takashi Miike's "Audition" is one of two Japanese horror movies on our list, and it's here for good reason. The influential film tells a deeply unsettling tale about a widowed film producer, Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi), who becomes enamored of a young actress, Asami (Eihi Shiina), whom he meets via a sham audition set up to help Aoyama find a new wife. But we soon learn that Asami has something of a checkered past, and eventually Aoyama finds himself in, well, let's just call it an unenviable situation involving a piano wire. Yikes! 

With a subversively feminist message and an unforgettable ending, "Audition" is not only one of the best horror movies of the '90s, but is often been cited as one of the best horror movies in general, including by the Guardian, which calls "Audition" the 21st-best horror movie of all time.

5. Candyman

The great Tony Todd stars as the titular "Candyman," the hook-handed, bee-surrounded, mirror-dwelling figure of urban legend that haunts the Cabrini Green housing project in this modern horror classic. Written and directed by Bernard Rose and adapted from a story by Clive Barker, the film follows grad student Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), who happens to be researching urban legends, as she is tipped off to a series of murders that have occurred at Cabrini Green that were rumored to have been committed by Candyman. At first, Helen attributes these stories to mere legend, but it's not long before she meets the terrifying Candyman himself and learns the truth of his tragic origins. 

"Candyman" remains a popular and enduring horror film that not only scarily utilized its urban-legend premise, but also raised social and racial issues. As a testament to its legacy, Jordan Peele ("Get Out") and his MonkeyPaw Productions have executive-produced a sequel directed by Nia DeCosta, which came out in late August, 2021.

4. Ring

The seminal and terrifying Hideo Nakata-directed Japanese horror film "Ring," aka "Ringu," aka "The Ring," centers around a reporter, Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), who sets out to investigate a cursed video tape that supposedly causes anyone who watches it to die seven days later. After watching the eerie video herself, she receives an ominous phone call that contains an ominous warning: "Seven days." 

In addition to its scary, urban legend-esque hook and generally creepy vibes, the film is also notable for its iconic long-haired, vengeful ghost, Sadako, who appears in the mysterious video and has a penchant for crawling out of both old wells and TV sets. 

Thanks to its worldwide popularity and box-office success, "Ring" helped launch not only a franchise, but a wave of other Japanese and Asian horror films, including "Ju-On" (aka "The Grudge"), and "Dark Water," whose American remakes also helped popularize the subgenre in the States and led to the coining of the phrase, "J-Horror." The American remake of "Ringu," directed by Gore Verbinski, also found critical and financial success, helping to cement the franchise's lasting horror legacy.

3. Misery

"I'm your number one fan." One of the best Stephen King adaptations to date, "Misery" perfectly highlights the perils of fan culture with its story about an obsessive fan, Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who holds her favorite author, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), hostage, forcing him to burn his latest manuscript and write a new novel about her favorite character, Misery Chastain. 

Kathy Bates won an Academy Award for her chillingly believable performance as a deranged fan who will stop at nothing to make sure her beloved character is treated properly, and the image of her calmly but assuredly holding a sledgehammer over Caan before breaking his ankles remains imprinted in our pop culture iconography. Director Rob Reiner previously directed an adaptation of King's "Stand by Me," and though "Misery" remains his only horror movie to date, he infuses the film with a sense of empathy not only for Caan's Sheldon but also for Annie Wilkes herself. 

In hindsight, "Misery" was progressive in its themes, foreshadowing the way that modern technology has made creators more accessible to fans, and how pervasive and toxic fan culture is today. "Misery" is perhaps more relevant now than ever.

2. Scream

There is perhaps no more defining work of '90s horror than Wes Craven's meta-slasher "Scream." From its killer opening scene, which featured Drew Barrymore and the killer's instantly recognizable Ghostface mask, "Scream" reinvigorated horror with its sharp satirization of the genre's clichés. It kicked off a peak era for smart, edgy, teen-centric horror led by screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who went on to pen other '90s horror classics like "The Faculty" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer," as well as the Wes Craven-directed sequel to "Scream" itself, "Scream 2." 

The main plot of "Scream" revolves around Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), a teen girl who is terrorized along with her friends by a mysterious killer one year after her mother's murder. With the help of Craven's deft hand in genre-mashing fun and a talented cast of hot young stars, the film became an instant hit. The critical and commercial success of "Scream" led to four total films directed by the late Craven; a fifth installment in the franchise is due in 2022.

1. The Silence of the Lambs

The '90s is the only decade thus far to give an Academy Award for best picture to a horror movie. That movie is, of course, Jonathan Demme's "The Silence of the Lambs." There is some debate among horror fans as to whether or not the film should be classified as horror or a thriller, but we are of the belief that it's one of the best horror movies of all time. 

Containing not one but two memorable serial killers as antagonists — the lotion-and-skin-loving Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), and the cannibalistic liver-and-fava-bean-loving Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) — "Silence of the Lambs" follows FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodi Foster) as she is sent to interview Lecter in the hopes of obtaining clues that could help the Bureau apprehend Gumb. But the brilliant Lecter gets inside Clarice's head, and catching one killer might just lead to the escape of another. Hopkins, Foster, and Demme all won Oscars for their respective contributions to the film, and screenwriter Ted Tally took home the trophy for best adapted screenplay.