The 13 Best Exorcism Horror Movies

Exorcism horror movies have bewitched the public consciousness ever since the release of William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" in 1973. The colloquial Old Scratch remains an enduring horror protagonist, a reach that extends even further on account of his legion of similarly evil foes: Bathsheba in "The Conjuring" and Paimon in "Hereditary," for instance, both of whom are in league with the Devil ... and remain no less determined to create Hell on earth.

The remedy for a demonic presence, both cinematically and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is most commonly an exorcism. The power of Christ compels both movie monsters and the exorcism subgenre writ large: When in doubt, exorcise the evil and move on. Here, we'll be counting down the 13 best exorcism movies ever made. These range from found-footage fright fests to perennial classics. 

Grab your crucifixes — it's about to get sufficiently evil.

13. The Rite

"The Rite" was released in January 2011, and had all the hallmarks of a January horror movie dump (The month is oft-considered to be a cinematic junkyard, a time to release bottom-barrel titles and recoup a few profits during a post-holiday haze). The trailers for "The Rite" made it look no better than most post-"The Exorcist" outings. There were writhing bodies, shrieking young women, and hunky men gripping rosaries, compelling the evil to leave.

Shockingly, "The Rite" is considerably better than its marketing and month of release would suggest. Anthony Hopkins co-stars as Father Lucas, a renowned Jesuit exorcist who works alongside Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue), a young man who intends to denounce his faith after seminary for a free college education (Spoiler: the church can easily get that money back). Kovak maybe knows that, and thus agrees to assist Father Lucas with the case of Rosaria (Marta Gastini), a young girl allegedly possessed. Though "The Rite" isn't immune to contemporary horror tricks — expect plenty of faces to appear out of nowhere, always accompanied by shrieking strings — it's considerably smarter and more restrained than it looks. Talky and smart, it's a worthwhile alternative to plenty of other exorcism fare.

12. The Devil's Doorway

"The Last Exorcism" was one of the first films to reinvent a tired subgenre with found-footage aesthetics, and while director Aislinn Clarke's "The Devil's Doorway" isn't quite as good, it gets damn near close. In the 1960s, two Roman Catholic priests, Father Thomas Riley (Lalor Roddy) and Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn), are sent to a remote Magdalene laundry to investigate an alleged miracle witnessed by the women and staff there.

Clarke wisely incorporates considerable historical context, never shying away from the astronomical abuse and neglect that occurred at the Irish Magdalene Laundries (otherwise known as Magdalene asylums), nor the juxtaposition of that abuse with the willful ignorance of the two men there. Naturally, as these movies are wont to do, the miracle is but a thinly-veiled disguise for a full-borne possession, but the pathos and historical roots add terrific verve. The exorcism itself doesn't occur until the tail end, and while it's technically less proficient than other entries here, it's certifiably tragic and terrifically scary.

11. The Cleansing Hour

Horror movies today are all about streaming. Filmmakers take an old, tired trope and repackage it with a millennial sheen. There are vloggers, streamers, and certified "influencers," all comprising an entirely new crop of victims for perennial movie monsters to pick off. "The Cleansing Hour," for instance, repurposes conventional exorcism fodder within the context of a live web show. Damien LeVeck's feature adaptation of his own short follows Father Max (Ryan Guzman) and his exploits performing (decidedly fake) live exorcisms on air.

Naturally, his most recent case just happens to be the real deal, and it's up to scream king Kyle Gallner to stop the madness before the possession expands beyond the studio and infects the entire world. It's a common thread — contemporary demons using technology to spread their evil (see: "Rings" and "The Unholy") — though "The Cleansing Hour" has style and sympathy to spare. It isn't the greatest, though it's a fun lark that intermittently makes what's old feel fresh again.

10. Constantine

"Constantine" is something of a cult classic. Though not an outright flop upon release, the film wasn't a bonafide success, either. Released at a time where R-rated comic adaptations were a hard sell — that is, in the days before the DCEU — "Constantine" sort of came and went for everyone outside of a fervent fan base still eager for a sequel. With the "Reevesaissance" in full swing, it just might happen.

Keanu Reeves himself stars as John Constantine, an occultist and demonologist whose conventionally good looks are balanced only by his prowess in exorcising demons and sending them straight back to Hell. Rachel Weisz is also here in what amounts to a triple role, and Tilda Swinton even swings by as the Archangel Gabriel, further solidifying how every movie is made better with a dash of Swinton. It's stylish, fun, and narratively self-contained, the kind of movie that works on its own terms without feeling beholden to franchise expectations. Certainly less scary than other entries here, it tries something new and largely succeeds.

9. Deliver Us From Evil

Scott Derickson is a gift to the horror genre. That his name is less common in discussions of contemporary maestros is an absolute shame. "Deliver Us From Evil" is the first of two movies he's helmed that made this list, a solid legacy alongside both "Sinister" and the forthcoming "The Black Phone." Derrickson is here to scare.

Eric Bana stars as Ralph Sarchie, an NYPD Special Operations Sergeant (i.e., he's a cop) entwined in a full-blown demonic resurgence. With the assistance of a Jesuit priest (Édgar Ramírez), Sarchie uncovers a bridge between Christianity and paganism that has allowed demons to open a door to the human world and unleash Hell on earth. Part exorcism movie, part haunted house fare, and part police procedural, the mixing of genres (and a co-starring role from Joel McHale) is occasionally unwieldy, but it's a wonderfully ambitious and certifiably frightening slice of horror cinema. The acting is solid, the atmosphere rich, and the scares are terrific when they finally arrive.

8. The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Scott Derrickson is back, baby, once again swirling subgenres together like a Dairy Queen sundae artist. This time, he combines the psychological court procedural elements of movies like "Primal Fear" (which also stars Laura Linney) and the standard demonic scares of "The Exorcist." It consistently works like gangbusters and put Derrickson on the map.

Linney stars as Erin Bruner, a lawyer hired to defend Father Moore (Tom Wilkinson), a priest charged with the death of a young woman after an exorcism. Said possessed girl is a sensational Jennifer Carpenter, both sympathetic and thoroughly terrifying. Her performance is ferocious, writhing and twisting her body without the assistance of digital effects so effectively the MPAA almost hit the movie with an R-rating. It's tense and poses several ethical quandaries, and while some of its early scares are too conventional -– those sudden screaming faces are back -– it's well-crafted and mostly restrained. This is what a truly haunting movie looks like.

7. The Last Exorcism

"The Last Exorcism" is likely responsible for the mid-aughts exorcism resurgence. A subgenre that was near death before it even took off — it's tough to follow "The Exorcist" -– "The Last Exorcism" incorporated enough found footage chills to resurrect it for one last at-bat. This one is seriously scary (Also worth noting: Its sequel, the aptly titled "Part II," packs a punch all its own).

Much of the credit is due to star Ashley Bell. Following in the footsteps of Jennifer Carpenter's turn in "Emily Rose," Ashley Bell's performance is intensely physical, viscerally twisting and contorting her body in ways that extend beyond shiver-inducing. The product of an oppressively religious upbringing, her performance is simultaneously terrifying and gut-wrenchingly sympathetic. As produced by Eli Roth and directed by Daniel Stamm, the scares come fast and hard and largely push the boundaries of what PG-13 horror can deliver. Luckily with this one, the title was a misnomer.

6. The Medium

"The Medium" is terrifying. A dense and almost mythic slow burn, it simultaneously resurrected the exorcism subgenre and further guaranteed, decades after "The Blair Witch Project," that the found footage format would endure. Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun of "Shutter" fame and co-scripted by none other than Na Hong-jin (you'll be seeing his name later in this list), "The Medium" is international horror incarnate, a deliriously unsettling possession yarn replete with distinct cultural touchstones and customs -– it's unlike anything you've seen.

At its center is Nim (Sawanee Utoomma), a local Shaman being followed by a Thai documentary film crew. Nim alleges to be possessed by the deity Bayan, an ancestral goddess who has possessed women in Nim's family for several generations. A local honor, Nim uses her gift to heal the sick and guide the weak. She is summoned to assist her niece, Mink (Narilya Gulmongkolpech), after she begins to display aggressive and disturbing behavior. Several possibilities are posed (Is it Bayan revolting against Mink's mother for denying her gift, or the spirit of Mink's deceased brother?), though "The Medium" is more concerned with the daily minutiae of rural possession than it is easy answers. Over two hours long, "The Medium" drips dread like candlewax, though it has plenty of full-blown horror to deliver in its final act. It will possess you.

5. Ouija: Origin of Evil

Only a filmmaker of Mike Flanagan's caliber could churn out a sequel to one of 2014's worst-reviewed horror movies that not only improves upon every aspect of the original, but also genuinely sits as one of modern horror's most chilling possession stories. "Ouija: Origin of Evil" is a prequel to the original. With pristine period detail and a number of breathtaking scares, it stars Elizabeth Reaser as a medium named Alice. The more she dupes her neighbors into thinking she can genuinely contact the dead, the more she lines her own coffers. Though, as a single mother in the mid-'60s, she has few other options.

This being a horror movie, Alice's youngest daughter, Doris (Lulu Wilson), is soon possessed by a demonic entity. Alice, it turns out, is better at this whole Ouija thing than she initially let on: With the aid of a priest (Henry Thomas), the family tries to exorcise the demon from Doris, a process that involves sewing her mouth shut. This being a prequel, it's not a spoiler to say it doesn't quite work. Still, even early in his mainstream career, Flanagan showed that there's no property too tarnished for him to make magic out of.

4. The Conjuring

A combination of James Wan's torturous sensibilities and classic haunted house beats, "The Conjuring" was a sensation when released in the summer of 2013. Well-regarded almost a decade later, few horror efforts since have matched its potency and austere, stripped-down scares. A movie that largely exists to send audiences flying from their seats, "The Conjuring" is a classic for a reason.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as real-life ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren, demonologists who, with Ed's clergy experience and Lorraine's clairvoyance, travel the country exorcising demons and cleansing homes. "The Conjuring" has since inspired an entire cinematic universe, including two direct sequels to this one, though — as is often the case — nothing beats the original. Called to a rural Rhode Island farmhouse after the Perron family reports demonic activity, the scares come fast and hard, and culminate in one of last decade's most stylish and unpredictable exorcisms. 

3. The Exorcist III

"Exorcist II: The Heretic" is no good. It's a surprise, then, that "The Exorcist III" is not only as good as it is, but also an entirely different beast than the 1973 original. It's a bonafide classic in its own right. Indeed, with the right perspective, "The Exorcist III" is no less scary than the film that started it all.

Originally conceived as a script for original director Willaim Friedkin to direct, "The Exorcist" scribe William Peter Blatty later adapted that into his book, "Legion," which would then serve as the template for "The Exorcist III." George C. Scott stars as Lieutenant William Kinderman, an investigator entangled in demonic activity 17 years after the possession of Regan MacNeil and the death of Father Karras. More procedural than the first, there's a consistently oppressive atmosphere and horror that lands considerably more existentially than the first. It's an unsettling experience crafted with style and verve, and were it not affiliated with the enormous legacy of "The Exorcist" might be just as well-regarded.

2. The Exorcist

"The Exorcist" might as well be a subgenre in its own right. There are few if any moviegoing audiences who don't know "The Exorcist." Even those who haven't seen it are aware of its legacy, its colloquial title as "the scariest movie ever made." For some, other attempts aren't even exorcism movies -– they're simply movies that aren't "The Exorcist." Everything else is a redux.

With the promise of a rebooted trilogy on the way from the "Halloween" franchise's own Dr. Frankenstein, David Gordon Green, that legacy stands to only be further solidified. A simple narrative buoyed by its year of release and genuinely unbridled scares, it stars Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair (both nominated for Academy Awards for their performances, a rarity in the horror genre) as a mother and daughter, respectively, who — as the title suggests — are in need of an exorcism. Blair's Regan MacNeil is possessed by the demon Pazuzu, and Burstyn's Chris is desperate to help her. 

Chillingly grounded -– expect plenty of MRIs and diagnoses as Chris endeavors to make sense of her daughter's condition -– yet fantastical when it needs to be (the infamous head spin), every exorcism movie since has borrowed liberally from this classic's template. More than an inspiration, it basically wrote the script.

1. The Wailing

It's almost unfair to rank "The Wailing" against "The Exorcist:" Both are terrifically, classically frightening and deserve to be acknowledged as two of the scariest movies ever made. By dint of age, though, "The Wailing" just barely inches "The Exorcist" out, if only on account of unfamiliarity. Dense and epic, its scale is larger and its subtext more biblical. In parts, it feels so chillingly real, it makes "The Exorcist" look like mere fiction.

Na Hong-jin directs the tale of a rural Korean cop (Kwak Do-won) in Gokseong as he endeavors to make sense of the arrival of a mysterious Japanese stranger (Jun Kunimura). The local residents claim there's something wrong with the newcomer, with some recounting tales of him prowling naked in the woods and startling those he crosses with glowing, crimson eyes. To some, this stranger might very well be the Devil himself. Abounding with twists and turns that play out against the backdrop of the tortuous, mountainous terrain of Gokseong, "The Wailing" is gigantic in stature. A tale of morality, fear, and the root of evil, it runs over two-and-a-half hours long, though it never shows its length. It's damn near impossible to shake.