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
Image

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
Image

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
Image

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
Image

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
Image

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
Image

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
Image

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)

  • Jack  

    Jeepers Creepers is one of the worst movies of all time and should not appear on a list of any great horror films of any era. It only deserves to be on the list for Most Stupid Films Ever.

  • Joe  

    The Ring

    The Grudge

    Hills have Eyes
    Jeepers Creepers

  • Mike Weigand  

    Missing from the list: The Hills Have Eyes (remake), High Tension, Jeepers Creepers, Dawn of the Dead (remake)... Slither? Land of the Dead? Fido? Please!

  • Steve-O  

    Comedy-horror hybrids should not be a part of this list. Also, where's the love for The Ring?

    The Descent was great!

  • Matt  

    Zombieland leans heavily on the comedy side with horror elements. So if you're looking for a good scary film, it isn't really for you.

  • Krisbo9000  

    Why are 'torture movies' not horror movies? If I can't watch the rest of it because I'm too scared it's a horror movie. Wolf Creek is that.

  • Mitch Tough  

    Of course Zombieland qualifies, Kevin. Yeah, it's funny, but Zombies eating humans??? It fits, baby....

  • Guvna  

    Wolf Creek was awful. Terrible build up. Eventually turns into nothing more than a torture movie.

  • Magic Alex  

    The idea that Wolf Creek and Inside aren't included is, quite frankly, absurd.

  • Kevin  

    I wouldn't classify a lot of these as horror. Zombieland, for example, flirts with horror but doesn't really qualify.

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