Fantastic Fest, the Austin, Texas-based, Alamo Drafthouse-hosted film festival celebrating the wildest and most unique genre movies from around the world, turns 15 this year. As someone who has been attending this event for literally a decade, I can say with utmost confidence that it is my favorite week of the year, every year. It’s eight days of shocks and surprises, with bold new discoveries lurking around every corner. It’s where I go to rekindle my love of movies. It’s where I go to discover gems that I continue to spring on friends and family to this day.

But not everyone can attend Fantastic Fest, so we wanted to give you a taste of what this festival is so you can play along at home. I teamed up with /Film contributors Meredith Borders, Matt Donato, Marisa Mirabal, Rafael Motamayor, and Meagan Navarro to list the movies that are essential to understanding what the fest is all about. We came up with 86 titles, all ranked based on our votes.

These are the most essential Fantastic Fest movies, the titles that sum up with the most exciting film festival in the world is all about.

The American Scream

Points: 1

Jacob Hall: An endearing and frequently hilarious documentary about the folks who go above and beyond every Halloween, transforming their homes into haunted houses for sheer love of it.

Blue Ruin

Points: 1

Meredith Borders: While Jeremy Saulnier’s followup effort, Green Room, garnered more attention (and also played at Fantastic Fest), this intimate examination of the price we pay for revenge blew me away at FF2013. 

Darling

Points: 1

Marisa Mirabal: Writer/Director Mickey Keating utilizes six chapters and gorgeous symmetrical shots on black and white film to capture his character’s slow spiral into madness.

Feast

Points: 1

Matt Donato: Roadside bar patrons barricade themselves inside their highway watering hole, medicate with alcohol, and protect themselves from invading monsters who aim to murder every last character – pretty much the ultimate Fantastic Fest movie between booze, horror, and go-go-gore. An easily replicated start to any Fantastic Fest horror movie should someone tackle that script.

Juan of the Dead

Points: 2

Meredith Borders: In 2011, director Alejandro Brugués (by now official FF fam) charmed and wowed audiences with this exercise in dissidence, a zombie movie set and filmed in Cuba. 

Letterkenny

Points: 1

Rafael Motamayor: A hilarious Canadian TV sensation and perfect palette cleanser between the horror movies.

Split

Points: 2

Rafael Motamayor: One of the most surprising secret screenings that people somehow didn’t spoil for months.

The Square

Points: 2

Megan Navarro: An intentionally absurd examination of the connection between art and life relayed through a sprawling cast of characters, from eccentric to unsavory, with shifting tones to match.

Trollhunter

Points: 2

Jacob Hall: A culturally specific, genuinely scary, and just plain clever adventure that proves there is so much more gas left in the found footage tank than we expect.

Better Watch Out

Points: 3

Meagan Navarro: Chris Peckover gives yuletide home invasion comedies a sinister facelift featuring snappy dialogue, clever direction, and one seriously disturbing antagonist.

The Duke of Burgundy

Points: 3

Jacob Hall: An aesthetically perfect tribute to genre films of the ’60s, a BDSM lesbian comedy, a journey into an aural dreamscape full of butterflies and so many more elements that shouldn’t be this damn good.

Looper

Points: 3

Meredith Borders: Writer/director Rian Johnson has gone much smaller (Brick) and bigger (uhm, Star Wars, anyone?), but his time travel action thriller Looper feels as Fantastic Fest as it gets. 

Tumbbad

Points: 3

Matt Donato: Fantastic Fest takes risks on out-of-market titles like Tumbbad, which grants movies such as this Indian dazzler a larger festival life after audience praise alerts attending programmers for future inclusion (otherwise dropping on Amazon Prime without notice).

American Mary

Points: 4

Marisa Mirabal: The Soska Sisters flex their muscles and give new meaning to the way ladies are killing it in the horror genre.

Bone Tomahawk

Points: 4

Meagan Navarro: A seemingly standard western starring Kurt Russell becomes anything but in the hands of exploitation writer/director S. Craig Zahler, who gives this one gruesome horror twist.

Cloud Atlas 

Points: 4

Meredith Borders: The Wachowskis’ stunning sci-fi epic, based on David Mitchell’s novel, was one of those Big Event secret screenings that brought two of our generation’s most revolutionary filmmakers to the Drafthouse. What a night!

Hagazussa

Points: 4

Rafael Motamayor: One hell of a feature debut that’s as scary as it is beautiful.

The Last Circus

Points: 4

Jacob Hall: A deranged nightmare of a movie, blending acidic political satire, excessive body horror, pitch-back comedy, and the tragedy of an old school Universal monster movie into one swashbuckling genre mishmash.

Let the Corpses Tan

Points: 5

Marisa Maribal: Director duo Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani deliver a colorful and grisly tale of chaos that subverts the standard giallo formula.

Toni Erdmann

Points: 5

Rafael Motamayor: Evidence that Fantastic Fest can be a launching point for Best International Feature Film nominees.

Bedevilled

Points: 6

Jacob Hall: The slowest of slow burns, this South Korean thriller carefully heats up the pot until vengeance boils over in one of the most crowd-pleasing and satisfying movies I’ve seen at Fantastic Fest.

The Endless

Points: 6

Rafael Motamayor: An inventive micro-budget movie that shows great filmmaking can come from anywhere and be about anything.

Dial Code Santa Claus

Points: 7

Matt Donato: Speaking of retro screenings, Fantastic Fest’s extensive partnerships allow for buried oldies like Deadly Games (aka 3615 code Père Noël) to resurface with the help of big-screen treatments after vanishing from notoriety years ago for any number of reasons.

Meagan Navarro: Released one year prior to Home Alone, this 1989 hidden gem follows another booby trap savvy child hero who faces off against a home intruder, but with far higher stakes and deadlier consequences to an electrifying degree.

Goodnight Mommy

Points: 7

Marisa Mirabal: Martin Gschlatcht’s cinematography is as haunting as the damaged family dwelling in a  secluded Austrian house.

Bodied

Points: 8

Meredith Borders: Joseph Kahn brought his battle rap masterpiece to delighted crowds in 2017, handily winning the Audience Award at Fantastic Fest and several other festivals that season.

Meagan Navarro: A clever and provocative look at the power of words through the lens of rap-battles, complete with biting humor, stylish visuals, memorable characters, and an unapologetic aim to elicit an offensive reaction.

The Handmaiden

Points: 8

Meredith Borders: Park Chan-wook’s fire-hot, ridiculously fun costume drama and con film dominated conversations all week long. 

Miami Connection

Points: 8

Matt Donato: Retro screenings are just as important to Fantastic Fest as premieres, since Drafthouse/AGFA opens their library of lost relics like Miami Connection to preach themes of friendship while you laugh along with new “Fantastic Friends” of your own.

Climax

Points: 9

Meagan Navarro: Enfant terrible Gaspar Noe delivers his most accessible feature yet, though that’s not saying much with this cinematic descent into hell full of repulsive depravity set to high-octane musical numbers.

The Invitation

Points: 9

Meredith Borders: Karyn Kusama’s slow-burning thriller meditates on grief, guilt and going along to get along, and it’s one of the tensest films I’ve ever seen at Fantastic Fest (or anywhere else).

Spring

Points: 9

Matt Donato: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring is a special Fantastic Fest movie, not only because it’s still one of my favorite indie “discoveries,” but Spring highlights the festival’s ability to mesh the beautiful and bizarre in such accepting ways.

Nightcrawler

Points: 10

Marisa Mirabal: “Why you pursue something is equally as important as what you pursue.”

Dredd

Points: 11

Matt Donato: Dredd may have stumbled at the box office, but brought the house down at Fantastic Fest. A movie aimed at the ravenous genre fans who populate Alamo theaters, given its due reception in the most fitting of locations.

The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears

Points: 11

Marsia Mirabal: Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse serves up a gorgeous giallo that is pure eye candy.

Too Late

Points: 11

Meagan Navarro: Film noir and pulpy detective thrillers gets a stylized makeover with this 35mm Techniscope experiment that plays out its narrative in 5 individual twenty-two-minute-long takes out of chronological order.

Trick r Treat

Points: 11

Meredith Borders: Michael Dougherty’s 2007 Halloween anthology is now a holiday mainstay, and it’s an essential Fantastic Fest title because FF audiences are the most Halloween-obsessed folks on earth. 

Dead Sushi

Points: 12

Matt Donato: Fantastic Fest’s extensive program leaves plenty of room for the oddest zombie comedies where sushi rolls come to life and turn patrons into rice-faced deadies (shout out to Tamagoyaki sushi hero Eggy).

Grand Piano

Points: 12

Marisa Mirabal: Lush with Hitchcockian elements, Grand Piano is an underrated indie gem that hits all the right notes for genre fans.

The Human Centipede

Points: 12

Rafael Motamayor: A title that perfectly exemplifies the resilience Fantastic Fest audiences have when seeing grotesque movies.

The Invisible Guest

Points: 12

Meagan Navarro: With a fully committed cast, The Invisible Guest’s murder mystery keeps audiences guessing as it barrels down its twisty path toward shocking answers and shifting allegiances. 

It Follows

Points: 12

Marisa Mirabal: Like the films’s elusive stalker, David Robert Mitchell’s film will perpetually linger as it has successfully cemented itself as one of the best genre films to come out in the last decade.

Rafael Motamayor: Just one of the best horror films of recent years.

Klown

Points: 12

Jacob Hall: What, you think America has a stranglehold on comedies about awful people behaving terribly in ways that escalate with the momentum of a train rolling downhill? This Danish film says “Hold my beer.”

Rafael Motamayor: A hilarious and bizarre comedy that proves Fantastic Fest is more than just horror and sci-fi.

 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Points: 13

Meagan Navarro: A terrifying chamber piece that takes a simple concept and turns it into something far more engaging with two affable leads, spooky atmosphere, effective scares, and unexpected twists.

Escape From Tomorrow

Points: 13

Meredith Borders: Randy Moore broke all the rules for his nightmarishly weird family trip illicitly filmed at Disney World, and what’s more Fantastic Fest than rule-breaking?

Rafael Motamayor: A movie that should not exist, but shows what the power of guerilla filmmaking can do.

Fanboys

Points: 13

Rafael Motamayor: A movie that perfectly encapsulated the often over-the-top affection fans have for the stories they love.

The Guest

Points: 13

Matt Donato: Filmmakers Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett supplied cinnamon whiskey shots with hot sauce dashes for every single The Guest attendee, and I’ve rarely felt a more perfect Fantastic Fest moment.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Points: 13

Jacob Hall: Many Fantastic Fest movies about about why we love movies in the first place, but Sion Sono’s colorful, blood-splattered masterpiece may be the ultimate tribute to the wounds we accept in order to make and enjoy cinema.

Livid

Points: 14

Meredith Borders: In 2011, Inside filmmakers Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury delivered their immensely creepy and inventive followup Livid, and we’ve all been waiting to see it elsewhere EVER SINCE.

Piercing

Points: 14

Marisa Mirabal: Nicolas Pesce’s sophomore feature is an intoxicating cocktail spiked with plenty of pain and a whole lot of pleasure.

Anna and the Apocalypse

Points: 15

Matt Donato: There’s something about musicals at Fantastic Fest because there’s no other audience I’d rather watch a Scottish Christmas zombie musical comedy with, either.

Meagan Navarro: The riotous zombie musical no one knew they needed doesn’t reinvent the zombie subgenre, but it does deliver on gore, catchy songs, and one charismatic lead performance by Ella Hunt.

Creep

Points: 15

Marisa Mirabal: Mark Duplass perfectly balances an alluring tone of fear and fun which mimics the selective programming of each year’s fest extremely well.

Love Exposure

Points: 15

Jacob Hall: You could watch a whole bunch of movies, or you could just watch all 237 breathless minutes of Love Exposure, a film that takes so many twists and turns that your head will be spinning before the opening credits roll and your skull will probably explode after the final shot. Trying to figure out how the beginning reaches that ending makes you feel giddy.

Holiday

Points: 16

Marisa Mirabal: Holiday solidifies itself as mandatory viewing as it tackles sexual assault with a crisp and careful lens thanks to its team of talented female filmmakers.

Sauna

Points: 16

Matt Donato: Each year’s programming is filled with under-the-radar selections like Sauna that reward viewers who stroll into something unknown, creating champions for new discoveries that only garner a handful of reviews (to this day) on Rotten Tomatoes. Sauna is why you leave your comfort zone at Fantastic Fest.

Junk Head

Points: 17

Rafael Motamayor: A stop-motion masterpiece that sadly hasn’t seen the light of day outside of the fest – an argument for seeing smaller films over the big releases.

Liza the Fox Fairy

Points: 17

Meagan Navarro: An endlessly charming musical fantasy that fully embraces all of the weird quirks and eccentricities that accompanies its outlandish plot, in the best possible way.

A Town Called Panic

Points: 17

Jacob Hall: Most Fantastic Fest movies are only for adults, but A Town Called Panic, an anarchic, hilarious, impossibly clever, and whimsically low-fi stop-motion comedy, proves that there’s weird international cinema for anyone and everyone.

Southland Tales

Points: 17

Matt Donato: Fantastic Fest doesn’t program to play it safe with audiences, as films like Southland Tales dare to divide and challenge where other festivals might not take the same risk.

Suspiria

Points: 17

Marisa Mirabal: Luca Guadagnino directed the mother of all genre remakes.

Gerald’s Game

Points: 18

Meagan Navarro: Mike Flanagan grasps the work of Stephen King in a way that cuts to the emotional core with a riveting adaptation of a novel previously thought to be unfilmmable, complete with visceral horror.

Rafael Motamayor: I still can’t watch that scene without fainting.

Let the Right One In

Points: 18

Marisa Mirabal: Tomas Alfredson sinks his teeth into author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire novel, giving it a new life of its own.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Points: 18

Matt Donato: Guillermo del Toro’s relationship with Fantastic Fest is a special one, and it all started with a screening of Pan’s Labyrinth GDT couldn’t attend so he sent a hand-written note. Class act.

REC 2

Points: 18

Rafael Motamayor: A rare sequel that is even better and more terrifying than the original.

Coherence

Points: 19

Marisa Mirabal: A sci-fi film grounded in improv, Coherence exemplifies how artistic and unique a low-budget production can be. 

Ip Man 2

Points: 19

Meredith Borders: Ip Man 2 is one of those films that makes me grateful when I don’t get my first or even second pick in a screening slot. Having not seen the first Ip Man at the time, I wasn’t interested in a sequel, but I loved this screening so much I became invested in the entire franchise for life. 

Wrong Turn 2

Points: 19

Matt Donato: It’s telling how many filmmakers become Fantastic Fest ambassadors after one visit, like Mr. Joe Lynch who first showed up in 2007 with Wrong Turn 2: Dead End.

Melancholia

Points: 20

Meredith Borders: Naturally, most folks might think of another von Trier movie as the most Fantastic Fest essential (chaos reigns and all that), but I’ll never forget this screening, which had me openly crying in my cookies. 

Sin City

Points: 20

Matt Donato: Fantastic Fest’s inaugural shindig brought a sneak preview of Robert Rodriguez’s recut and extended Sin City, which is one hell of an introduction into the festival circuit that proved – early on – this new kid shouldn’t be underestimated.

The Perfection

Points: 21

Jacob Hall: American cinema has never been so…well, South Korean in its insanity.

Marisa Mirabal: Allison Williams and Logan Browning take center stage with powerful and shockingly deceptive performances.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Points: 22

Jacob Hall: Quite possibly the greatest Christmas horror movie ever made and certainly the best “evil Santa Claus” story ever told.

Rafael Motamayor: One of the best Christmas movies of the past ten years and one that shows the festival’s ability to find exceptional movies from small countries.

Zombieland

Points: 22

Marisa Mirabal: Ruben Fleischer brought the dead back to life with plenty of laughs and kick-ass kill scenes that hold up even a decade later.

Rafael Motamayor: One of the bigger premieres in the festival’s run, and one of the best zombie-comedies ever.

Antichrist

Points: 23

Jacob Hall: Lars Von Trier’s combination of visceral horror, questionable themes, and up-its-own-assery remains as confounding and thrilling now as it was when it swept over Fantastic Fest audiences like a vicious sickness.

Rafael Motamayor: The movie that gave Fantastic Fest its motto: Chaos Reigns!

Raw

Points: 25

Jacob Hall: One of the best movies ever made about being alone and away from home for the first time. And also a great cannibal horror movie.

Marisa Mirabal: Julia Ducournau’s display of the female appetite is gruesome, gut-wrenching, and nothing short of entertaining.

Meagan Navarro: Cannibalism has never been as magnetic or as meditative as it has on Julia Ducournau’s monstrous coming of age story.

Bad Black

Points: 26

Meredith Borders: Straight from Wakaliwood, Uganda, Bad Black – the low-low-budg actioner with 2016’s best sense of humor – remains one of the most fun screenings I’ve ever sat through. 

Rafael Motamayor: A complete surprise of an action movie from a remote corner of the world the reminds you of why you like movies in the first place.

The Night Comes For Us

Points: 26

Matt Donato: Netflix has been quite forthcoming when it comes to Fantastic Fest premieres, making screenings like The Night Comes For Us so special considering how Timo Tjahjanto’s magnum massacre opus went right to streaming after blowing our midnight-hour minds.

Jacob Hall: Quite simply, the most vicious action I have ever seen. It blew my face off. I’m still looking for the pieces.

Meagan Navarro: Timo Tjahjanto’s action thriller ventures into horror territory with its use of gratuitous gore and violence in an exhilarating assault on the senses.

The Host

Points: 27

Meredith Borders: The second year of Fantastic Fest brought Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, a monster movie with heart, which makes it the perfect combo of FF factors. 

Rafael Motamayor: A fantastic monster film that started the festival’s long relationship with South Korean cinema.

Tokyo Gore Police

Points: 28

Meredith Borders: Yoshihiro Nishimura’s Tokyo Gore Police won the Next Wave Award at Fantastic Fest 2008, unsurprisingly, as it’s just the kind of goofy, blood-drenched blast this festival appreciates. 

Matt Donato: Where else, at the same festival, can you watch Appaloosa, Zack And Miri Make A Porno, and a movie where some dude’s hog gets chopped off and he grows back a genetically mutated dong cannon (Tokyo Gore Police is Asian exploitation to the extremely awesome)?! 

Cheap Thrills

Points: 29

Matt Donato: Special events go above and beyond to add that special Fantastic Fest spice into any cinematic experience, such as gnarly dares carried out by (un)lucky participants at the Cheap Thrills encore presentation. 

Meagan Navarro: The most ruthless of pitch-black comedies devolves into psychological degradation and unpredictability that will offend the weak of stomach.

Tigers are Not Afraid

Points: 29

Meredith Borders: Issa López’s harrowing fairy tale is recently on Shudder, but it crushed audiences back at Fantastic Fest 2017.

Matt Donato: You better believe programmers track festival darlings and award winners, as every year brings a stunner like Issa López Tigers Are Not Afraid that leaves us “Fantastic Fiends” feeling nothing but lucky.

Meagan Navarro: Writer/director Issa Lopez channels her inner Guillermo del Toro with a powerful genre hybrid that merges real world horror with fantasy escapism for the orphaned children at the center of this narrative, and it will break your heart.

The Lure

Points: 30

Matt Donato: There’s no other audience I’d rather watch a Polish Eurotrash pop-glam musical about cannibal mermaids with than a Fantastic Fest audience, can confirm.

Marisa Mirabal: Given the fest’s adoration for karaoke, of course there has to be a foreign musical horror film featuring killer mermaids. 

Meagan Navarro: A lush visual coming of age story that seamlessly blends goth musical, gruesome horror, and compelling mermaid fantasy set in an ‘80s Polish strip club.

You’re Next

Points: 30

Meredith Borders: This Wingard/Barrett joint from 2011 made for a raucous home invasion thriller, and won all of our hearts not least for inviting genre icon Barbara Crampton back into our lives.

Marisa Mirabal: Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett invite audiences to one fun and fucked up family get together.

I Saw the Devil

Points: 34

Matt Donato: Fantastic Fest’s programmers pay attention to global wavemakers in terms of must-see cinema, highlighting showstoppers like I Saw The Devil for the best of the best without restrictions.

Jacob Hall: A South Korean revenge fantasia that is is brutal as it is bleakly hilarious. This movie should not exist, but here it is: the perfect encapsulation of what a Fantastic Fest movie can be.

John Wick

Points: 34

Meredith Borders: Sure, it’s become a mainstream action trilogy (and hopefully more than a trilogy!), but John Wick feels like Fantastic Fest family property through and through. 

Jacob Hall: The massive success of the John Wick franchise is evidence that regular audiences do need a little bit of Fantastic Fest in their regular moviegoing diet.

Green Room

Points: 36

Jacob Hall: Jeremy Saulnier’s Nazi-bashing punk rock thriller is as gruesome, and as humane, as they come.

Marisa Mirabal: Combining punk rock mayhem and gruesome practical effects, Green Room drums to its own brutal beat.

Meagan Navarro: Jeremy Saulnier solidifies his reputation for crafting relentless thrills full of savagery and explicit gore that leaves you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

One Cut of the Dead

Points: 37

Jacob Hall: I cannot remember the last time a movie has made my heart fill with so much unfiltered joy. Going in knowing as little as possible was one of my greatest life choices.

Rafael Motamayor: A tiny success story that reminds us of why we love going to the movies.

Timecrimes

Points: 47

Meredith Borders: Nacho Vigalondo has been called “Fantastic Fest’s avatar of chaos,” and we should and must celebrate the brilliant debut that put him on the festival’s radar.

Jacob Hall: Possibly the definitive Fantastic Fest movie – a tiny, clever, nasty little genre cocktail that offers infinite surprises.

Meagan Navarro: Nacho Vigalondo demonstrates clever innovation with a high-concept sci-fi thriller that begins as a unique slasher before evolving into something much more manic and darkly comedic.

Rafael Motamayor: A smart and fun sci-fi thriller that introduced us to festival-favorite Nacho Vigalondo.

A Boy and His Samurai 

Points: 52

Meredith Borders: My favorite Fantastic Fest movies are often surprisingly sweet, and there’s no film sweeter than Nakamura’s 2010 fantasy comedy about, well, a boy and his samurai.

Jacob Hall: Quite frankly, the single greatest movie I have ever seen that is currently not available to readily watch in North America. Someone please rectify this.

Meagan Navarro: A endearing family film full of heart and magic that brings the laughs and feels in equal measure.

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