Ranked: The Best Horror Films Since 2000

Our week of horror-related articles concludes with a look at the decade's best English-language horror films. The top foreign horror films are covered in a separate article, as are the worst horror films of the past decade.

Scary good

For years, audiences have swarmed theaters to experience the thrill and excitement of fear delivered by monsters, unstoppable killers, and forces of overwhelming evil. From slasher films to ghost stories, effective horror films provide tension and release that can make audiences squirm and laugh at the same time.

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1 The Ring 57 (2002) $129m
2 The Grudge 49 (2004) $110m
3 Paranormal Activity 68 (2009) $108m
4 The Others 74 (2001) $97m
5 Scream 3 56 (2000) $89m
Highest Grossing* Horror Films
2000-2010

* U.S. grosses only.
Source: The Numbers

Many of the horror films released since 2000 can be grouped into specific sub-categories. Over the last decade we've seen a rise in torture for sport films such as Saw and in horror-comedy hybrids like like Zombieland. There have also been an overwhelming number of remakes of both foreign films and older American classics. Some of these have been respectable (Let Me In), but too many others have offered nothing more than a reminder of how effective their original source material was (A Nightmare on Elm Street).

Some of the best horror movies of the last ten years have found originality in reworking, rather than remaking, old ideas. From The Devil's Rejects to High Tension, the slasher film has been turned on its head, presenting evil as something truly frightening instead of just an excuse to throw blood and guts at the screen. It requires a fine balance, though, to keep enough humanity present to prevent a film from become nothing more than just a pointless exercise in human suffering.

On the other side, we've seen how horror can lend itself easily to comedy. The nervous laughter that follows a big scare in an audience shows how ready we are to laugh at what frightens us. Movies like Piranha 3D and Drag Me to Hell play off of our expectations, keeping us smiling while chewing on our fingernails.

Like Freddy, Jason or Michael Meyers, the horror film will never die, so here's hoping they continue to find new ways to keep us scared. Below, we look at the 15 horror films from the past decade that scared -- and impressed -- professional critics the most.

The 15 Best-Reviewed Horror Films Since 2000

1. Drag Me to Hell (2009) Add to Netflix Queue

"Raimi's Drag Me to Hell does everything we want a horror film to do: It is fearsomely scary, wickedly funny and diabolically gross."

--Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

Gross: $42 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 14
Good bar 16
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 83 Users: 6.0
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After three Spider-Man films, director Sam Raimi returned to his roots with Drag Me to Hell, the story of a bank loan officer (Alison Lohman) looking for a promotion. When Lohman makes the mistake of denying an extension to an elderly gypsy, she is cursed to be tormented for three days before she is dragged to hell. Delivered with Raimi's signature style of ingenious camera moves and hilarious gross-outs, Drag Me to Hell is Raimi at his best and definitely lives up to its title.

2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) Add to Netflix Queue

"An elegant horror film ... that takes pleasure in its own theatricality, gives pleasure with caustic wit, trusts the power of Stephen Sondheim's score and exults in flights of fancy that only a movie can provide."

--Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

Gross: $53 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 24
Good bar 11
Mixed bar 4
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 83 Users: 7.4
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Jonny Depp once again shows his versatility both as an actor and a singer in the musical horror story Sweeney Todd, adapted from Stephen Sondheim's stage musical. After being released from jail for a crime he didn't commit, barber Sweeney Todd hatches a plan to exact revenge that includes killing anyone in his way and then cooking up their remains. Tim Burton brings his usual offbeat direction and plenty of blood in this tragic tale of the price of vengeance. Unsurprisingly, it's the only musical that made our list.

3. Let Me In (2010) Add to Netflix Queue

"The scariest, creepiest and most elegantly filmed horror movie I've seen in years - it positively drives a stake through the competition."

--Lou Lumenick, New York Post

Gross: $11 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 16
Good bar 16
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 79 Users: 8.3
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A young boy befriends a strange girl who turns out to be a vampire in Let Me In. Remaking the already classic Swedish horror film Let The Right One In seemed like just another money grab, but writer/director Matt Reeves put together a solid cast and didn't skimp on the thrills and gore with his hard-R version. While critics have been impressed with the remake, audiences have stayed away. After True Blood and Twilight, sadly Let Me In may have seemed like one vampire story too many.

4. 28 Weeks Later (2007) Add to Netflix Queue

"As viscerally compelling as smash-mouth filmmaking gets."

--Desson Thomson, Washington Post

Gross: $29 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 13
Good bar 18
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 78 Users: 7.0
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A group of animal rights activists break into a research lab to free the animals inside and instead unleash a virus that turns people into rage-filled killers. Alex Garland and Danny Boyle teamed up to give a new spin to post apocalyptic stories and nailed it with 2003's 28 Days Later... 73. This slightly better-reviewed but lower-grossing sequel, 28 Weeks Later, was equally relentless as the virus once again made its way through the population. Both Days and Weeks keep the pacing brisk without sacrificing character and pull the audience right into the mayhem. Rumors continue that the rage virus will return again in 28 Months Later.

5. Shaun of the Dead (2004) Add to Netflix Queue

"A gleefully gory, pitch-perfect parody of George Romero's zombie films. But this isn't a movie about other movies. Shaun of the Dead stands on its own."

--Robert K. Elder, Chicago Tribune

Gross: $14 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 7
Good bar 27
Mixed 0
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 76 Users: 8.7
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Shaun and Ed are two lovable losers whose lives are going nowhere until they're suddenly given direction when a zombie apocalypse breaks out. Filled to the brim with laughs, scares, references to many other zombie movies and lots of heart, Shaun of the Dead has become a cult classic and helped introduce the world to the brilliance of English actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as well as director Edgar Wright.

6. Joy Ride (2001) Add to Netflix Queue

"There is a kind of horror movie that plays so convincingly we don't realize it's an exercise in pure style. 'Halloween' is an example, and John Dahl's Joy Ride is another."

--Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Gross: $22 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 10
Good bar 15
Mixed bar 6
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 75 Users: 8.7
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Before rocketing into the stratosphere with Star Trek and Lost, J.J. Abrams co-wrote Joy Ride, a John Dahl-directed thriller about three college kids who are terrorized by a maniacal trucker. Taking elements of classic suspense movies like Duel and The Hitcher, Joy Ride is a suspense-filled roller coaster ride. Even though the film went through multiple reshoots (the DVD has several alternate endings, one of which is 29 minutes long) the theatrical cut retained the most hard-edged conclusion.

7. The Others (2001) Add to Netflix Queue

"The most sophisticated and satisfying ghost story on film since 'The Sixth Sense.'"

--Lawrence Toppman, Charlotte Observer

Gross: $97 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 9
Good bar 14
Mixed bar 5
Bad bar 1
Awful 0
Critics: 74 Users: 8.3
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Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) is a war widow struggling to raise her two children alone when three new servants arrive, making matters complicated and frightening. Updating the classic story of what happens when the world of the dead and the living overlap, The Others uses suspense and mystery to raise the terror level with the audience. Tragic and moving, The Others was a sleeper hit featuring great work from Kidman.

8. The House of the Devil (2009) Add to Netflix Queue

"The buildup is undeniably effective; for most of the movie, it provides the same kind of thrills as 'Paranormal Activity,' if somewhat less brilliantly."

--Andy Klein, Los Angeles Times

Gross: $101k
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 3
Good bar 14
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 73 Users: 5.3
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When a young college student needs money to pay the rent, she takes a babysitting job at a strange house where not everything is what it seems. While House of the Devil has a very well worn horror film plot, it's cut from the same cloth as horror classics of the '70s and early '80s. Moody and atmospheric, House scored high with critics who'd grown tired of recycled torture horror that's become all too popular over the last ten years.

9. Zombieland (2009) Add to Netflix Queue

"An exhilarating ride, start to finish. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg set a high bar for this subgenre with 'Shaun of the Dead,' but Reese, Werner and Fleischer may have trumped them. This isn't just a good zombie comedy. It's a damn fine movie, period."

--Richard Corliss, Time

Gross: $76 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 8
Good bar 17
Mixed bar 6
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 73 Users: 8.1
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A nerd, a redneck and two sisters travel the countryside, fighting zombies and each other in Zombieland, a sleeper hit that put The Social Network's Jesse Eisenberg in the spotlight and reminded us just how good Woody Harrelson can be in the right role. Setting up the rules of survival in a world of the undead, Zombieland is funny, gory, and touching, and features what might be the greatest celebrity cameo of the decade.

10. Land of the Dead (2005) Add to Netflix Queue

"The social commentary isn't subtle, but Romero delivers the goods so effectively that many won't even notice."

--Sean Axmaker, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Gross: $21 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 9
Good bar 14
Mixed bar 7
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 71 Users: 6.8
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Twenty years after Day of the Dead, George Romero returned to the genre he created with Land of the Dead. The world is still overrun with zombies, but the surviving humans have created a safe haven in Fiddler's Green. Unfortunately for Green's inhabitants, the zombies outside are getting smarter and hungrier and it isn't long before everything goes bad and gory. Romero keeps his zombies gross and sometimes comedic while retaining the social commentary that was a hallmark of the previous Dead films.

11. Shadow of the Vampire (2000) Add to Netflix Queue

"Without question, Shadow of the Vampire is a stately and elegant horror film, interwoven with delicious strands of black comedy."

--Gregory Weinkauf, Dallas Observer

Gross: $8 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 7
Good bar 16
Mixed bar 5
Bad bar 3
Awful 0
Critics: 71 Users: 6.8
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A film crew in the 1920's suspects that the actor they've hired to play a vampire actually is one in real life in Shadow of the Vampire, a fictionalized account of the making of the classic film Nosferatu. The crew's suspicions are eventually confirmed, but by then it's too late for them to escape. John Malkovich stars as director F.W. Murnau, and Willem Dafoe's performance as actor (and vampire) Max Schreck earned him a best supporting actor nomination.

12. The Descent (2006) Add to Netflix Queue

"The Descent sustains a level of intensity that most horror films can barely muster for five minutes."

--Scott Tobias, The Onion A.V. Club

Gross: $26 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 7
Good bar 20
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 71 Users: 8.2
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In The Descent, writer director Neil Marshall combines claustrophobia, human drama and monsters, resulting in a squirm-inducing fright fest. Five friends go spelunking, but after a cave-in they find themselves trapped and fighting for their lives against "crawlers," the monsters that call this cave their home. Marshall sets up a complex relationship between the characters that is drawn out while they struggle to survive. While the American theatrical release had a slightly more hopeful ending than the original British version, all of the terror and intensity was left intact.

13. Ginger Snaps (2001) Add to Netflix Queue

"The best teenage werewolf movie ever made."

--Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Gross: $3k
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 1
Good bar 7
Mixed bar 1
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 70 Users: 9.7
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Ginger Fitzgerald is attacked by a werewolf and her sister Brigitte manages to save her from death but not infection. Soon, Ginger changes both physically and emotionally, driving a wedge between the two siblings. Horror movies are often metaphors for everyday issues, and, in Ginger Snaps, the theme is adolescence and the method is werewolves. Dumped in theaters with little fanfare, the Canadian film received strong critical reviews and gained enough of a cult following (in fact, it has the highest Metacritic user rating for any horror film from the past decade with at least 20 user votes) to spawn both a sequel (Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed) and a prequel (Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning).

14. Fido (2007) Add to Netflix Queue

"It's madly funny--a treat for moviegoers who don't mind gnawed-off limbs with their high jinks."

--David Edelstein, New York Magazine

Gross: $305k
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 1
Good bar 9
Mixed bar 2
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 70 Users: 7.9
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Helen is a 1950s housewife who needs a little help at home, so she buys herself a zombie in Fido, a horror comedy that looks at what life would be like after humanity won the war against the undead. Once Helen gets the zombie (named Fido of course) home, things obviously get complicated when her son and Fido develop an interesting bond. Fido is dark, decomposing fun about a very gruesome kind of family pet.

15. Slither (2006) Add to Netflix Queue

"Like 'Tremors,' only ickier, Slither is a tongue-in-cheek horror flick that skewers the genre while delivering seat-squirming scares."

--Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer

Gross: $8 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 3
Good bar 21
Mixed bar 3
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 69 Users: 6.6
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When a slimy alien takes control of a power hungry bigwig in a small town, it's fan favorite Nathan Fillion to the rescue in Slither. Written and directed by James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead), Slither is played evenly for laughs and scares, which may be the reason it underperformed at the box office. Regardless, Slither is horror at its most fun, featuring disgusting slugs that are slowly transforming the townspeople into zombies.

What do you think?

What are your favorite horror films of the past decade? Let us know in the discussion section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (80)

  • cj  

    I believe 'event horizon' should be on this list. Watch it alone in the dark. Let your imagination take you and I promise it'll scare you. Also LOVED 'rec', 'the ring',

  • Simone Muench  

    A few more that should be on the list: Wolf Creek (Greg Mclean, 2005); Chan-wook Park's Vengeance Trilogy (arguably not horror); The Chaser (Hong-jin Na; 200; A Tale of Two Sisters (Ji-woon Kim; 2003).

  • Simone Muench  

    Here's a list of my 15 top horror films of the last decade in no particular order. 1. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005).Dual narrative with dual monsters: the cave and the crawlers. Probably my favorite horror film of the last decade (with the original ending, of course.) This film is one of my favorites to teach along with the original TCM and Suspiria when discussing startling usages of sound and silence. I'm intrigued by the sonic sleight-of-hand in films where the viewer is purposefully distracted by non-threatening sounds, and then boom, someone's dead. In The Descent, this device is cleverly constructed, delivering a purging shock to the audience when the main character awakes in the night, and as she stares out the window into the darkness, we only hear ambient sounds—snoring, the breeze, a bird; as we are mentally diverted by the bird's cry, a pole breaks the window, slamming straight through her eye. Inevitably someone always screams during this scene. Perhaps my affection for this film also has something to do with going spelunking as a kid in the Ozark mountains.

    2. Ginger Snaps and Ginger Snaps: Unleashed (John Fawcett, 2000 and Brett Sullivan, 2004; written by Karen Walton). I can't decide which I like better. The prequel is interesting as well, but doesn't compare to these. Mimi Rogers is a delight in this film (many have fortunately forgotten that she was once married to Tom Cruise) and sparks up the screen with subtle humor.

    3. À l'intérieur (aka Inside, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, 2007). The first 20 minutes read like an Antonioni film capturing grief and depression in blue cinematic splendor, and then cut, and the fireworks begin. Watch it the first time for entertainment and then watch it again for its intricacies of patterns, camera movement, sound, color and utilization of light to create suspense. The more I watch it the more I appreciate it. Beatrice Dalle is one beautiful, but scary woman. Scissors, babies, and beautiful women, need I say more. 4. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 200. It took me two years to decide what I thought about this film because I never want to watch it again and yet I'm continually haunted by it (same as Gaspar Noé's Irreversible). It is a brilliant horror film essay on interrogation, the banality and routinization of torture, and our "need to know" regardless of the cost. I love the way it transitions through various horror subgenres so that where you begin and where you end is a lengthy and unexpected journey, and demonstrates the director's love of horror films in his various homages. The ending, which I initially discounted as "too easy" has continued to resonate in its ambiguity. Probably the most viscerally pounding and depressing film on this list.

    5. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009). I felt transported back to being a kid going to see movies like The Silent Scream (1980) with my dad. The House of the Devil raises many interesting topics surrounding issues of psychosis, the frightening power of belief systems, externalizations vs internalizations of violence, authority constructs, Barbara Creed's notion of the monstrous-feminine, etc. It is a great homage to 70'/80's horror films, and what more to say than "Tom Noonan!" Remember Michael Mann's Manhunter and the tiger scene?

    6. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 200. Atmospheric, creepy and touching, with dazzling cinematography. I'm even excited to see Matt Reeves version. Scandinavia is upping the horror ante with contributions like Cold Prey, The Substitute, Sauna, and Anti-Christ. (And Dead Snow, which I have to admit I couldn't finish watching, but I will try again if anyone insists.)

    7. 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002). A wonderful update to the zombie genre. This one is due for a repeat viewing. (Speaking of zombies, I'm really excited about the new TV show The Walking Dead.)

    8. Pan's Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006). Because it was miss-marketed as horror it's on this list, but like The Orphanage it is really more of a drama than a horror film.

    9. Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000). A Japanese semi-parallel to Lord of the Flies but with cute girls. We love you Kinji Fukasaku. Some people upon viewing this film assume the director is a 20-something adrenaline junkie when, in fact, the director, who died in 2003 from prostate cancer, was 70 when this film was released. (Who owns the artwork that Beat Takeshi did for this film? I want it!) 10. The Host (Joon-ho Bong, 2006). Viewed this in New York with a group of three guys and afterwards we had nothing to argue about because we all loved it. (A very rare thing). Also loved Joon-ho Bong's Memories of Murder and his latest Mother.

    11. The Orphanage (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2007). Like Pan's Labyrinth this is more drama than horror but who cares. Affective and haunting.

    12. May (Lucky McKee, 2002). I cried at the theater during this film while everyone else laughed. A heartbreaking Frankenstein homage about loneliness. This film tapped into female adolescent longing and alienation so well that I made the mistake of assuming the director was a woman.

    13. Eden Lake (James Watkins, 200. This film unsettled me in its utter nullification and bleakness, or perhaps kids just scare the hell out of me.The final sequence and shot of a boy looking at his reflection donned in the victim's sunglasses is striking and disquieting in its acknowledgment of the cyclicality of violence.

    14. Ils (aka Them, David Moreau and Xavier Palud, 2006). Like Eden Lake I found this film incredibly disconcerting due to the KIDS. (Recalls The Strangers and Haneke's Funny Games though less vicious than either.

    15. The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002). When I was a child The Blob scared me silly—all that gelatinous throttling was terrifying. I think The Ring, with its liquid trespass of the young girl who drips out of tv's and video equipment reigning destruction, has a similar effect on me. (Kristeva's theory of abjection, indeed.)

    Horror films I want to see in the new year: Black Swan (I know, I should have already seen it), A Serbian Film (Yes, I'm crazy to want to see this film), Mother's Day (loved the original and will be curious as to what they do with the strange, and awesome ending), Wes Craven's My Soul to Take, I Saw the Devil, Pascal Laugier's The Tall Man, Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury's Livid with the aforementioned Beatrice Dalle, YellowBrickRoad, Vanishing on 7th Street, and Heartless (I'm thrilled to see another Philip Ridley film who did the disconcerting and beautiful The Reflecting Skin with a young Viggo.)

  • Patrick Cronin  

    Your list reeks dude. Don't know where to start so I will just focus on the glaring omission:

    "The Ring"

    It has a few holes in the plot but pound for pound; it is a flawless and wonderfully spooky. The characters are believable and likable (and in Naomi Watt's case: lickable), the cinematography and editing are DEFT , Hans Zimmer's music and the oppressive moistness of the Pacific Northwest locals make for something that really soak in DEEEEEEP. Also Checkout "A Tale Of Two Sisters" Koreans might make crappy cars, guitars and electronics but they make some creepy ass movies. This one is like Citizen Kane meets Erasurehead- but with more significance than either of those two self-indulgent stinkers. good shout for "Shaun Of The Dead" (arguably NOT a Horror Film at all) and "28 Days Later"- the two best ZeeBee movies ever!

  • E  

    Although I do agree with Sweeney Todd, despite not being much of a musical fan, but perhaps that's what makes the relationship of the two so profound and intriguing. Slicing a neck while in sing song-hilarious, actually. The Descent is also a great choice. The Ring, should of been here too, and I think The Exorcism of Emily Rose was fantastic. Jennifer Carpenter was absolutely phenomenal, with her contortions both with face and body. Even though The Exorcist substantially left a mark for it's time, I feel this movie set it's mark for this current time. For an even more current choice , I really enjoyed Orphan. It will never cease to amaze me seeing a solid child performance in a horror film.

  • Travis  

    WAY TOO MANY ZOMBIE MOVIES
    Seriously,are people this shallow of ideas for a villain in a horror film that they got to pick up after a George A.Romero Character adaption from the 60? The Descent should of deserved #1 spot

  • K.  

    heyyyy where is WOLF CREEK?????????? HAUTE TENSION??????????DEAD GIRL????????????? AND MANY MORE OO'S HAD A GREAT HORROR REVIVAL!!!

  • Diogo  

    You should also add Triangle (2009) it is the best psychedelic horror I ever saw.

  • scaredshitless...  

    TExas chainsaw massacre...the beginning
    PRetty suspenseful

  • mexFAN  

    even army of darkness is better than the house of the devil,,,,

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