15 Movies Like Sinister That Will Surely Give You A Scare

Scott Derrickson's terrifying supernatural thriller "Sinister" took the haunted house concept in an entirely new direction. The film is framed like a true-crime thriller, and the inclusion of grizzly Super 8mm footage makes the story feel even scarier. Although Derrickson was very methodical, "Sinister" was not short on jump scares. Researchers for the "Science of Scare Project" conducted a study on the most effective jump scares in film history, based on audience heart rate. The average resting heart rate in the study was 65 BPM, but audiences watching "Sinister" went up to 86 BPM.

"Sinister" centers on the successful true-crime writer Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) and his family. Ellison moves with his wife, Tracy (Juliet Rylance), and their children Trevor (Michael Hall D'Addario) and Ashley (Clare Foley), to a new home in the fictitious town of Chatford, Pennsylvania. Ellison does not tell his family about his plans to research the mysterious deaths of the former residents, the Stevenson family, who all died by suicide. After he discovers a collection of mysterious videotapes, Ellison notices signs of demonic activity in the house. If you're a fan of "Sinister," then these 15 movies will surely give you a scare.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

In a Lonely Place

One of the most unique aspects of "Sinister" was its focus on the writing process. The film also shows the lengths Ellison Oswalt is willing to go to in order to research his new book. He becomes so obsessed with his work, that his family begins to doubt his commitment to them. Ellison avoids spending time with his children, choosing to stay up late and work on his research instead. While Ellison's dedication to his writing is admirable, the viewer is forced to question what his priorities really are.

The 1950 crime thriller "In a Lonely Place" explores similar themes of scholarly obsession, and also plays with the noir genre. The movie centers on a washed-up Hollywood screenwriter who is accused of murder. Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) has not written a successful film since World War II. He has grown deeply cynical about his creative process and the glamor of Hollywood, frequently breaking into violent bouts of angry rage. Steele's new neighbor, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), clears his name when she is questioned by the police when he is suspected of murder. However, she begins to suspect Steele's involvement when she notices similarities between his books and the recent crimes.

The Mothman Prophecies

"Sinister" has many jump scares, but it does not rely on them. Compared to other movies exploring demonic possessions, "Sinister" unfolds very slowly. It feels like something disastrous could happen at any moment to the Oswalt family. The viewer is drawn into Ellison Oswalt's perspective, and even though he's terrified of the tapes that he watches, the writer is still curious about all the secrets the house hides beneath the shadows.

The 2002 supernatural thriller "The Mothman Prophecies" is another great film that benefits from gradual pacing. Similar to "Sinister," the movie feels like a true-crime thriller because of how realistic it is. Unlike "Sinister," though, the events in "The Mothman Prophecies" are loosely inspired by true events. The film is supposedly based on a real creature sighting and allegedly unexplainable incidents in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. It opens with a tragic inciting event, which is just as terrifying as the ritual suicides in "Sinister."

The film stars Richard Gere as The Washington Post writer John Klein. John and his wife, Mary (Debra Messing), are involved in a car accident after Mary suddenly swerves the vehicle after seeing saw a shadowy figure blocking their path. She is hospitalized and dies of a brain tumor. Two years later, John sees the same figure again in Point Pleasant.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

The Empty Man

"Sinister" isn't just a great horror movie. It's also a thrilling, emotional mystery that focuses on intelligent characters. Although Ellison Oswalt's motivations are questionable, the viewer can relate to his desire for justice. Ellison doesn't understand why the Stevenson family perished in such a gruesome fashion. He aims to honor their memory, especially because the Chatford community cannot explain their deaths. 

The 2020 supernatural horror film "The Empty Man" is another compelling investigative mystery. The film's protagonist, James Losambra (James Badge Dale), has similar motivations to Ellison. He is a former Missouri police officer, but continues to investigate tragic events. James feels for the local woman, Nora (Marin Ireland), after her daughter Amanda supposedly runs away from home. Nora and James find the words "The Empty Man made me do it" written in blood on Amanda's bathroom mirror.

After questioning her friends, James discovers that Amanda had tried to summon a mysterious killer called "The Empty Man," a well-known local legend. James discovers that several other teenagers in the area died in a ritual hanging, after also attempting to reach "The Empty Man."

The Blackcoat's Daughter

"Sinister" is partly terrifying because of the confined setting. The film primarily takes place in the Stevenson family's home, where Ellison Oswalt's family now lives. Ellison, completely obsessed with researching why the Stevensons died, rarely leaves the attic after discovering a series of mysterious videotapes. Ellison's wife and children are forced to stay with him, making "Sinister" feel very claustrophobic. Scott Derrickson creates suspense by gradually revealing the details of the previous crime. As a result, the violent moments are even more shocking.

The demonic horror film "The Blackcoat's Daughter" focuses on the isolated, all-female Catholic boarding school Bramford Academy. The story is split into three separate storylines, with two of them taking place entirely at the New York school. Students Rose (Lucy Boynton) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka) stay at Bramford while the rest of the girls go home for winter break. Rose is trying to hide her pregnancy from her parents, and Kat's family was recently killed in a car accident. At the same time, a young woman, Joan (Emma Roberts), drives to Bramford, her intentions unknown to the audience.

The Conjuring 2

"The Conjuring" franchise has been a phenomenon. James Wan's 2013 supernatural horror film introduced the characters of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), who are based on real-life paranormal investigators. Although "The Conjuring" certainly plays fast and loose with the "true story" element, it's nonetheless an intense film. Similar to "Sinister," the hints of realism make the scares even more horrifying.

The success of the first film inspired "The Conjuring" universe. While there have now been two sequels and five spin-offs, "The Conjuring 2" is the only film that truly lives up to the original. Like "Sinister," Wan's 2016 sequel deals with familial trauma in the middle of investigating a demonic presence. 

Inspired by the Enfield poltergeist case, the sequel takes place in 1977 and follows Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) and her four children Janet (Madison Wolfe), Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Billy (Benjamin Haigh), and Johnny (Patrick McAuley) in a London borough. After Janet plays with a mysterious Ouija board, she has visions of a menacing elderly man. Peggy can't explain her daughter's sleepwalking and seeks out the Warrens for help. "The Conjuring 2" is gripping not only for its horrors, because of the empathetic family in the story.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most frequently depicted characters in movie history. Arthur Conan Doyle's British detective has appeared in over 70 feature-length films. Although Doyle's original stories are first and foremost mysteries, many of the early Holmes adventures contained elements of horror and suspense. One of the notable things about Holmes is his belief that, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Holmes is inherently skeptical about any reports of supernatural activity.

Doyle's 1902 novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles," tells the story of a mysterious beast that haunts a town in England's West Country. Although the original story has inspired many adaptations, the 1959 film is the best of them all. The movie was directed by Terence Fisher and starred Peter Cushing as Holmes, along with Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville, a wealthy man who returns to the West Country to claim his inheritance. This trio brought out the horror elements in the story (they had previously collaborated on many Hammer horror films, including "The Horror of Dracula," "The Curse of Frankenstein," and "The Mummy"). Like Scott Derrickson, Fisher creates suspense by blurring the line between true crime and the paranormal.


One of the best aspects of "Sinister" is how Scott Derrickson incorporates small-town mythology. Within the secluded community of Chatford, the Stevenson family's deaths have become a legend. The line between fact and fiction has been blurred. Scott Cooper's 2021 horror film "Antlers" focuses on similar themes of generational trauma and folklore. The movie follows a troubled young boy, who is drawn to a local monster story.

Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas) suffers from abuse at the hands of his father, meth dealer Frank (Scott Haze). Lucas's teacher, Julia Meadows (Keri Russell), discovers drawings of monstrous creatures in his desk. Julia suspects that Lucas has a challenging home life and attempts to bond with him. Julia and her brother, local sheriff Paul (Jesse Plemons), were raised by an alcoholic father, and their own abuse is subtly touched on throughout the story. However, Julia discovers that Lucas' drawings weren't inspired by his imagination; his father had been attacked by a cannibalistic spirit that is capable of transferring bodies.

Psycho II

The Bates Motel from Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 classic "Psycho" became one of the most famous locations in horror film history. The renowned shower sequence has been homaged, analyzed, and parodied countless times. The Bates Motel itself is similar to the Stevenson family home in "Sinister," in that both locations are seemingly haunted by an aura of tragedy. Their spooky reputation makes it difficult for the local residents to differentiate truth from legend.

The 1983 sequel, "Psycho II," explored the legacy of the Bates Motel. It was unusual to receive a sequel over 20 years after the original, especially since "Psycho" is considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Surprisingly, "Psycho II" was a satisfying follow-up, taking the franchise in a different direction. It focuses on an older Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who has been released from prison. Norman returns to the Bates Motel, and after becoming the new manager, he begins to hear the ghostly voice of his mother whispering in his ear.

Last Night in Soho

Many modern horror films look very similar to one another. Visually, "Sinister" was very distinct, and the stark New England environment felt familiar and realistic. There are few filmmakers working today that are as visually dynamic as Edgar Wright. Like Scott Derrickson, Wright understands that great horror films require a very specific atmosphere. Wright's 2021 film "Last Night in Soho" captures the essence of London in the 1960s. Although most of Wright's other films are more comedic in nature, "Last Night in Soho" is played completely straight. Wright was inspired by classic horror films, such as Roman Polanski's "Repulsion," Dario Argento's "Suspiria," and Nicolas Roeg's "Don't Look Now."

The film initially takes place in modern-day London. Fashion student Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is obsessed with the Swinging Sixties, and through her dreams, is magically transported back in time to 1964. Ellie is overjoyed to visit the legendary Café de Paris, where she notices the beautiful nightclub singer, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy). Sandie flirts with a charismatic teddy boy manager named Jack (Matt Smith). Sandie thinks that Jack really loves her, but he has malicious intentions. As Sandie suffers from Jack's abuse, Ellie investigates Sandie's possible murder in the modern-day before both time periods come crashing together. 


Scott Derrickson did a great job fleshing out the Stevensons' family home in "Sinister." The attention to detail makes the audience feel more connected to the characters, and horrified at their fate. Director Mike Flanagan focused on a similar isolated setting in his horror film "Hush." The confined location thriller takes place in a remote house in the woods that is far away from any major cities.

The deaf-mute horror author Maddie Young (Kate Siegel) lost her abilities to speak and hear when she was a teenager. She grew up to become a very successful writer, with her novel "Midnight Mass" becoming an international bestseller. Maddie's only real connection to the outside world is her friend, Sarah Greene (Samantha Sloyan). When Sarah comes to visit her, she is killed by a mysterious man with a crossbow (John Gallagher Jr.). The masked man stalks Maddie's home and torments her, forcing Maddie to rely on her wits to survive.

The Fog

"Sinister" screenwriter C. Robert Cargill has made it no secret that he loves the filmmaking style of John Carpenter. Carpenter has written and directed many classic films that are synonymous with the genre, including the 1980 movie "The Fog." Similar to "Sinister," "The Fog" takes place in a small community that is haunted by a series of unexplained demonic murders.

The coastal town of Antonio Bay in Northern California is celebrating its 100th anniversary. There are several local myths about ghostly sightings, but few residents take them seriously. The entire crew of a ship supposedly drowned after a mysterious fog clouded their vision. However, the town's priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook), witnesses signs of demonic activity late at night. Malone later uncovers a secret diary written by his grandfather. The diary dates back to 1880 and explains the town's history: He discovers that the founders of Antonio Bay purposely sank a clipper ship, and the town has been haunted by their spirits ever since.


Ellison Oswalt's desire to protect his children in "Sinister" helps to make him a relatable character. Despite the supernatural premise, his motivations feel realistic (even when they're a bit selfish). The film "Synchronic" is another great science fiction horror film that focuses on a family man. While the film explores supernatural occurrences and time travel, the characters are very empathetic.

"Synchronic" follows two New Orleans paramedics, Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis Dannelly (Jamie Dornan). Steve is a womanizer, but Dennis is a married father. Steve and Dennis discover that a series of deaths are linked to a new designer drug called "Synchronic." They learn that Dennis' teenage daughter, Brianna (Ally Ioannides), has gone missing. Brianna was last seen at a party where Synchronic was being dispersed. Steve is desperate to help his best friend, and tracks down Synchronic's designer, who explains to him that the drug influences the pineal gland's perception of time. Steve decides to take Synchronic, so that he can travel back in time and save Brianna's life.

The Changeling

Familial tragedy casts a shadow over "Sinister." The depiction of the Stevenson family's death is very disturbing. None of the residents of Chatford can explain it; the Stevensons had seemed like a normal, happy family. The highly underrated 1980 horror film "The Changeling" also focuses on mourning, loss, and grief. "The Changeling" became one of the most influential Canadian films of all time, and director Martin Scorsese has even described it as one of the scariest horror films ever made.

"The Changeling" opens with a terrifying sequence: Composer John Russell (George C. Scott) witnesses the death of his wife and daughter in a car accident. Overcome with grief, Russell decides to move from New York City to Seattle. Russell just wants to be alone, so he rents a mansion. The local historical society informs him that his new home has been vacant for 12 years. Once he is alone in the mansion, Russell begins to hear loud banging at night. He learns that a young girl was killed outside the house in 1909, and now her disembodied spirit haunts the walls of the mansion.

The Lodge

In "Sinister," Ellison Oswalt discovers that the Stevenson family suicides are linked to a demonic cult initiation ceremony; it was hardly the first horror film centered around cults. "The Lodge" tells a particularly disturbing story of a former Christian extremist, Grace Marshall (Riley Keough), who was rescued from a cult movement after a ritual suicide.

Similar to "Sinister," "The Lodge" takes place in a confined location. Grace is engaged to single father Richard (Richard Armitage), whose wife Laura (Alicia Silverstone) also died by suicide. Richard rents a lodge over the Christmas holiday and invites Grace to join him and his children. Richard's kids, Aiden (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), don't trust Grace at all. They grow even more suspicious after discovering video footage of her former cult. Grace, Aiden, and Mia become trapped inside the lodge during a blizzard. When the children discover signs of supernatural activity, Grace must face her past to protect them.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Lights Out

In "Sinister," Ellison Oswalt researches the death of the Stevenson family as he writes his new book. The 2016 horror film "Lights Out" also follows a fragmented family that has to piece together the secrets of their past. Director David F. Sandberg based the film on a three-minute short he had released in 2013. Although stretching the story out to a feature-length adaptation was risky, Sandberg used the extended runtime to flesh out the characters. Similar to Scott Derrickson, he found clever ways to keep the main cast confined to a few locations.

"Lights Out" follows a young woman, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer), who takes care of her half-brother Martin (Gabriel Bateman). Martin tells his sister that their mother, Sophie (Maria Bello), has been talking with someone named Diana. Rebecca grows concerned; she remembers that when she was young, her mother would talk to an imaginary girl named Diana. Rebecca looks into her mother's past and discovers that Sophie and Diana were childhood friends who met at a mental institution. Diana died by suicide, and her spirit continues to haunt Sophie.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.