The Best Horror Actors Of All Time Ranked

Horror has never fared well at the Oscars. Despite the Academy Award's 93-year-run, horror films have only won 18 Oscars out of over 3,000 possible ones. Frequently, horror films don't even make it into the Oscar nomination phase — as was the infamous case for Toni Collette's performance in Ari Aster's "Hereditary." Now and again, a film like 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs" breaks through this boundary. Jonathan Demme's procedural thriller became the first and only horror film to earn an Oscar for best picture. But since Hannibal's on-screen debut, only a handful of horror films have received award season attention — namely 2017's "Get Out," which won an Oscar for best screenplay. Sadly, horror stars haven't received the recognition they deserve for the grueling emotional and physical work the genre requires.

Below is a list of some of the best and most promising horror actors of all time. These stars slay in bloodbaths, emotionally-driven moments, and subverting what horror films can and can't do.

15. Linnea Quigley

No matter what film Linnea Quigley stars in, her joy is contagious. Since her role as Dolores in 1981's "Graduation Day," Quigley has become an iconic scream queen that slays in bonkers B-horror films. Known for her work in 1985's "Return of the Living Dead" and 1988's "Night of the Demons," Quigley brings gleeful gore to the screen like no one else. 2009's "Night of the Demons" tried to redo Quigley's iconic lipstick scene to no avail. Only Quigley lands that unique mixture of sexy, sarcastic, and campy violence. After five decades of tongue-in-cheek and blood-soaked films, it's become her revered signature style.

Even though she's an established horror icon, Linnea Quigley consistently makes time for the horror community. Despite her incredibly busy film production schedule, Quigley still has time for horror fans. She regularly attends midnight movie Q&As and horror film conventions, charming all who meet her.

14. Shelley Duvall

Most horror fans know about the psychological abuse that "The Shining" star Shelley Duvall endured on set for director Stanley Kubrick's vision. Unexpectedly cutting Duvall's lines, isolating her from the cast and crew, and verbally abusing her until she cried were all par for the course for Kubrick. In 2021, Duvall discussed Kubrick's method-like approach to The Hollywood Reporter, admitting that Kubrick's "exacting" takes for "The Shining" were exhausting, especially the film's iconic staircase scene which took no less than 127 takes and dehydrated the star.

While horror fans often discuss these troubling production elements, more attention should go to Duvall's raw and visceral performance as Wendy Torrance. Duvall crafts a much-needed vulnerability with Wendy in the Stephen King adaptation, which grounds the character alongside Jack Nicholson's unhinged performance. Without her, "The Shining" would have become something more akin to camp, as Nicholson's Jack Torrance often skirts the line into foreshadowing the menace of the Joker from 1989's "Batman." Although Wendy's agency pales in comparison to her literary counterpart, Duvall soared with the material she had. 

We must call out abuse on film sets, but the "Three Women" star deserves more critical acclaim for her creative depth. Fans craving more horror featuring Duvall should check out "The Twilight Zone" segment titled "A Saucer of Loneliness."

13. Florence Pugh

While Florence Pugh is a relative newcomer to the horror genre, she won over the bloody hearts of fans with her leading role as Dani in Ari Aster's "Midsommar." Aster's film follows Dani's overwhelming grief, terror at leaving an unhealthy relationship, and unfulfilled desire. Thanks in part to Pugh's mastery of subtle facial expressions that convey just the right feeling at the right time, Ari Aster's heartwrenching movie became a commercial and critical hit, earning over $40 million globally on a $9 million budget.

Yet, many horror fans missed out on seeing Pugh's first foray into terror. In 2016's "Lady Macbeth," Pugh portrays Katherine, a 19th-century woman sold into an unhappy marriage. What follows is a chilling film that shows off Pugh's sinister capabilities alongside her sympathetic demeanor. By the end of the film, viewers will wrestle with disgust and fear of Pugh's cutthroat character, who will not second guess murdering to get what she wants.

Pugh will next stretch her horror muscles in Olivia Wilde's upcoming feature film, "Don't Worry, Darling." Based on the trailer, Pugh's Alice discovers some unsettling truths about her domestic life. Blending the machismo elements of "Mad Men" with the feminist sci-fi lens of 1975's "The Stepford Wives," Wilde crafts a dystopia perfect for showcasing Pugh's talents.

12. Dee Wallace

Dee Wallace entered the world of horror with 1975's "The Stepford Wives," portraying Nettie the maid. Decades later, she still reigns as a scream queen. Wallace has portrayed some of horror's most memorable roles in such films as "Cujo," "The Howling," "Lords of Salem," "The Hills Have Eyes," and 2007's "Halloween." She frequently collaborates with Rob Zombie and has worked with iconic genre directors like Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven, and Peter Jackson — achievements that few horror stars can claim. 

While it's an impossible task to pick which horror film best showcases Wallace's talent, many look to her role as Donna in "Cujo" as a prime example. Although the Stephen King adaptation takes place during a scorching summer, filming for "Cujo" happened in the winter of 1982. Despite Wallace "freezing to death" on set, her acting never falters. It's easy to believe she's fighting against a rabid dog to save the life of her son and herself. Once "Cujo" wrapped, Wallace spent three weeks in the hospital due to exhaustion.

11. Octavia Spencer

2019's "Ma" showcased Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer's knack for portraying a horror villain. Created on a budget of $5 million, "Ma" brought in more than $60 million globally at the box office. Despite this impressive feat, critics gave it a cool reception gave it a cool reception. However, it's worth noting that the flaws of "Ma" were tied more to Scotty Landes' uneven script than Spencer's madcap performance. Based on its stellar box office numbers and critics' love of seeing a "bananas" Spencer on-screen, Blumhouse Productions should see the film's franchise potential if an unhinged Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington rises again. If Michael Myers can cheat death over and over again, why shouldn't Ma have a chance to show off her truly terrifying potential? 

Regardless of Ma's fate, Spencer shows fans that all her years of starring in critically acclaimed dramas have only perfected her ability to gleefully shock audiences. Hopefully, more horror directors will see this, too, and give us more films featuring Spencer's talents.

10. Lupita Nyong'o

Written and directed by Jordan Peele, "Us" became a critical and commercial hit. While the horror-mystery film has a stellar cast that includes Elisabeth Moss and Winston Duke, Lupita Nyong'o's dual performance as Addy and Red in "Us" deserves special praise. In Peele's film, she's not just the final girl. She's also its central villain. Although Nyong'o is a relative newcomer to the horror genre, "Us" demonstrates that she can play both the sympathetic lead and avenging foe with ease. Her versatile and chilling work in "Us" proves she's a winning bet for any future horror film's casting.

Nyong'o next stars in Marvel Studios' "Black Panther" sequel, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," which is slated to hit theaters on November 11. While there are no future horror film announcements at this time for Nyong'o, fans should keep their fingers crossed that this blockbuster action star will return soon to the world of terror.

9. Brad Dourif

While he's best known for voicing a killer doll, Brad Dourif has acted as unhinged characters in genre films for over four decades. To his credit, the Emmy-nominated actor has starred in some massively popular horror film universes such as "Alien," "Halloween," "The Exorcist," and of course, the expanding mythos of Don Mancini's "Chucky." Dourif has made a career out of playing characters who are either on the edge of madness or have long since gone over the edge — as is the case with his role as the "Gemini Killer" in William Peter Blatty's"The Exorcist III."

Although Dourif told Rue Morgue in 2018 that he was done playing sociopathic and sadistic characters, he reprised his role as Chucky for Mancini's 2021 Syfy series of the same name. Dourif will voice the killer doll in Season 2 of "Chucky," continuing the legacy that the serial killer turned child's toy.

8. Tony Todd

In 1992's "Candyman," genre icon Tony Todd brings the urban legend of Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project to life with sinister charm. His portrayal of Candyman ranks as one of horror's most memorable performances, paving the way for Black horror filmmakers like Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta to tell their own horror stories. Inspired by Todd's legacy, DaCosta and Peele crafted their take on the Cabrini Green monster with 2021's "Candyman." Peele spoke about Todd's influence on his horror career in 2020, sharing, "A Black monster was pretty revolutionary. If there was no 'Candyman,' I don't know that there would be a 'Get Out '... Tony Todd built a character that was a force and had a charisma. He gave me a sense of power as opposed to a feeling of otherness."

Todd has portrayed Candyman throughout the horror franchise's four films. The horror star has accumulated more than 247 roles in his career, taking turns at playing heroes and monsters — including the fan-favorite character of Death in the "Final Destination" franchise.

7. Barbara Crampton

Beginning with 1985's "Re-Animator," Barbara Crampton has made a name for herself in the world of horror. From her deliciously campy work in beloved horror classics like "Puppet Master" to her gory role as Susan in Stuart Gordon's "Castle Freak," Crampton consistently delivers killer performances. To her credit, Crampton knows precisely when to dial-up tension or lean into comedy, making her a joy to watch. There's a sarcastic edge to Crampton's humor, which shines brightly in 2021's "Jakob's Wife," a film that the star also produced.

While Crampton often stars in horror films, "Jakob's Wife" marked the first time that the genre legend played an old-school monster. Critics loved seeing Crampton transform into a sexy and scathing vampire, giving the film a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The 2021 horror film looks at vampire lore through a feminist lens, using its familiar concept to uniquely explore a woman's buried passion for life. Crampton's sharp timing soars above the buckets of B-movie blood, cementing her status as one of horror's greatest actors.

6. Bruce Campbell

1981's "The Evil Dead" introduced the world to Bruce Campbell's dim-witted but charming Ash Williams, and horror hasn't been the same since. At the time, no one knew that Sam Raimi's low-budget horror film would become one of horror's most beloved properties. During the film's 40th anniversary, Campbell noted how the film's legacy now has surpassed its initial reception. "The irony is we're in more theaters 40 years later than we were when it originally got released," Campbell told The Columbus Dispatch in 2021.

Campbell reprised his iconic role for the film's two sequels and Starz's "Ash vs. the Evil Dead" television series. "Ash vs. the Evil Dead" truly showcases Campbell's acting talent, adding layers of depth to a tired and world-weary Ash. While his knack for physical comedy (and perfectly timed flips) has always shined through in his roles, the Starz series best showcases how much Campbell's Ash has evolved. Campbell refined a role that was born out of slapstick, B-movie terror into one filled with pathos. Ash Williams becomes someone searching for redemption, and it's a joy to root for him on his journey.

5. Keith David

While many horror fans praise Kurt Russell's R.J. MacReady in John Carpenter's "The Thing," Keith David's Childs deserves equal acclaim. By the end of "The Thing," Childs and MacReady are seemingly the only ones left alive as they both wonder if the other is an alien. Thanks to David's tense Childs, the film lands its ambiguous ending. In another actor's hands, the ending could have felt lackluster, but David sells the film's terror. The Emmy-winning actor has starred in horror classics like "They Live" and "Pitch Black" and in beloved scary television series like "Tales From the Crypt" and "Creepshow."

Despite David's talents, horror hasn't given him too many more leading roles. As Ashlee Blackwell, the author of "Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror," said best, "We've always loved horror. It's just that unfortunately, horror hasn't always loved us." Thankfully, fans craving David's horror talents won't need to wait too long. He next stars as Otis Haywood Sr. in Jordan Peele's highly anticipated third feature film, "Nope."

4. Angela Bassett

If there was a real-life Supreme, it'd be Angela Bassett. The timbre of Bassett's voice is a master class in witchcraft in itself. While she got her horror start in Wes Craven's "Vampire in Brooklyn," she has gone on to be an integral returning cast member in Ryan Murphy's horror anthology series, "American Horror Story." In each season of "AHS," Bassett outshines her co-stars through her committed powerhouse performances. She's earned Emmy nominations for her roles in "AHS: Coven" and "AHS: Freak Show." The longtime Murphy collaborator also directed "Chapter 6" of "AHS: Roanoke" and "Drink the Kool-Aid" in "AHS: Cult." 

Of the four "AHS" characters she's portrayed so far, none hold a candle to her fierce performance as community leader and Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau. "AHS" fans loved her character so much that they even asked her to star in a spinoff show featuring her take on the real-life Marie Laveau. Horror has often struggled with its portrayal of Black witches. Often, horror harmfully stereotypes Black women into using their powers to sacrifice their story in favor of saving a white lead, as happened with Bonnie Bennett in "The Vampire Diaries." Or horror pushes Black witches to the sidelines as in the case of Rachel True's Rochelle in "The Craft." However, Bassett's Marie Laveau fought to keep her community safe, never sacrificed her values, and showed off some impressive magic to boot. More Marie magic times, please!

3. Toni Collette

Will horror fans ever get over Toni Collette's Oscar snub(s)? Not likely. In 1999, the "Knives Out" star was overlooked for an Oscar nomination for her chilling role as Lynn Sear in "The Sixth Sense." Again, in 2018, Collette's intense psychological portrayal as Annie in Ari Aster's terrifying hit film, "Hereditary," was disregarded. Her work as the disgruntled, grieving, and unhinged mother in the film was a gut-punch to horror fans — who are still reminding the Academy that they made a huge mistake. Throughout the film's tumultuous runtime, Collette's Annie succumbs to insidious forces outside of her control, and the star contorts her face and body to seething extremes. Critics have called her performance as Annie "soul-shattering" and "flawless."

While there are several fampus scream queens on this list, none of them can wail quite like Toni Collette. Her unwavering and unmatched intensity on-screen is pure nightmare fuel.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis

In 1996's "Scream," the dream team of Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven took every opportunity they got to school audiences on Jamie Lee Curtis' horror legacy — and for a good reason. Jamie Lee Curtis is a staple of the horror genre and has fundamentally shaped what we now know as the final girl trope. From her breakout role as the young Laurie Strode in John Carpenter's "Halloween" to starring in slasher classics like "Prom Night" and "Terror Train," she puts beauty and brawn into her portrayal of slasher survivors. Jamie Lee Curtis shows that women in horror can be running around screaming but also have enough agency to know when it's time to attack too. Thanks in part to her return as the weary and formidable Laurie Strode in the rebooted "Halloween" franchise, David Gordon Green's Michael Myers films have found global success.

The horror legend will finish her reprisal of Laurie Strode in Green's upcoming "Halloween Ends." Meanwhile, the legendary scream queen is channeling her horror experience into filmmaking. In 2020, Jamie Lee Curtis announced that she's directing and co-writing a climate change-themed horror film for Blumhouse Productions titled "Mother Nature." 

1. Vincent Price

Starring in horror films from the '40s through the '90s, Vincent Price contributed a wealth of meaty roles to the genre with his signature wit, distinctive voice, and debonair charm. After his starring role in 1953's "The House of Wax," Price became known for his creepy talents. He thrived in the era of classic horror cinema with roles in "Witchfinder General," 1958's "The Fly," and "House on Haunted Hill." He worked with the legendary Roger Corman and William Castle. His last genre-adjacent role was in Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands." As one of the only actors around for the birth of horror on the big screen, it's hard to quantify just how much of a positive impact he had on future generations of horror fans and filmmakers.

However, genre icon John Waters shared some insight into the "Master of Menace." "He gave upscale a good name, and he was always handsome, dignified, charming, and a little bit sinister," he said. Reflecting on his career as a campy horror movie villain, the late Price once shared, "I don't play monsters, I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge." Even decades later, it's impossible to deny Price's charisma as an artist.