Here’s the thing: people like being scared. As a species, we’re one of the few that do things to scare ourselves for entertainment. Horror movie’s are an example of that: we love being scared between the title card and closing credits. And if a horror movie can, by creeping dread or jump scares, keep us on the edge of our seat, we just can’t stop talking about it. We scream in the theater, and later we seem to want to tell our friends and everyone we know, about our experience and thrill. And this chatter? Well, generally, it translates into ‘success’ for the movie. Below is a top ten list of the most successful horror movies in American cinema.
10: Paranormal Activity (2007): $107,917,283
Personally, I think this movie should be higher up on the list, if only because when a movie costs $15,000 to make and grosses over a hundred million, it automatically gets a spot on the ‘most successful movies of all time list’, which is really impressive. It was made with cameras dispersed in different areas of the home, a filming method known as, ‘found footage’ in director, Oren Peli’s house and instead of scripts, the actors were given directions on how their characters should behave. The story tracks a typical family who have just bought their first home in suburbia. As per the genre, it goes downhill from there, with the family fracturing under stress as the home security system catches increasingly horrific and inexplicable events on tape.
9) The Grudge (2004): $110,175,871
A remake of the Japanese horror movie starring, Buffy The Vampire Slayer alumni Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Grudge tells the story of a family who moves to Japan and runs into trouble with the other inhabitants of their house (you know, the dead ones). The remake brought on the original’s writer and director, Takashi Shimizu, to keep the atmosphere and mood true to the original. The film’s non-linear nature kept audiences guessing, and more importantly, shivering in their seats. The best part of this though? Apparently, the original Japanese version’s even scarier, and it’s available on Netflix. Who needs sleep?
8) Shutter Island (2010): $128,012,934
Word to the wise: don’t watch this movie on a stormy evening just after moving. Or at least, don’t do it by yourself. Martin Scorcese teamed up with Leonardo Dicaprio and took a break from his usual crime dramas to deliver a deeply unnerving horror movie. Set in the 1950s, Dicaprio plays a US Marshall sent to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Ashecliffe, an isolated asylum for the criminally insane, only to have his investigations curtailed at every opportunity. Additionally, it is beset by the creeping sensation that things are not as they seem. That sensation goes doubly for the audience, who spend the movie trying to figure out what’s happening, while also starting to worry about every shadow in the room.
7) The Ring (2002): $128,579,698
I, like many in my generation, watched the American remake of the 1998 Japanese movie Ringu at a sleepover. No one slept that night, or for about a month afterwards. It was the first of the trend in American cinema to remake popular Japanese horror movies, and what a great start it was! Naomi Watts starred as Rachel, a reporter investigating a cursed videotape that kills the viewer after seven days, and the remake moved the location to the dreary northwest coast, shrouding the whole story in damp mists. The movie was a critical success, with trailers and reviews gleefully describing the screams of moviegoers.
6) The Silence of the Lambs (1991): $130,742,922
There’s an argument to be made that this movie isn’t so much a horror movie, as an exceptional thriller. But on the other hand, the film’s atmosphere is crafted so perfectly that you can’t watch it without trying to shake off the heavy sense that something is watching. Released in 1991, the story of FBI Trainee, Clarice Starling’s hunt for the serial killer, Buffalo Bill, takes her into a deal with the devil (or at least, one of the most diabolic figures ever committed to page or screen.) Cannibalistic serial killer, Hannibal Lecter. The movie was not only a financial success, but also a critical one, winning five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Anthony Hopkin’s Hannibal), Best Actress (for Jodie Foster’s Clarice) and Best Screenplay Based on Previously Published Materials, making it one of the few genre films to do so.
5) The Conjuring (2013): $137,387,282
Besides being an excellent horror movie, The Conjuring is also a love letter to the haunted house sub-genre. The house and grounds are seemingly inspired by those in the classic, The Amityville Horror. The rest of the tropes are abound as well. The story is ‘based on true events’, and features ghost-hunters, gruesome pasts, psychics and skeptics. And it’s great! The movie’s trailer, which was almost a short film in itself, started the buzz and kept momentum up until the movie’s release. Upon release, it thrilled both audiences and critics, who were pleasantly surprised by the film. The Conjuring is set in the 70’s, following the Perron family after they move into a new house and get angry ghosts, instead of the fresh start they were hoping for.
4) The Blair Witch Project (1999): $140,539,099
The Blair Witch Project was the first major hit of the found footage style of horror movies. Since it was the first, the rumors that it actually was all that remained of a trio of film- students who’d disappeared making a documentary about a local legend were rampant, to the point that actress Heather Donahue’s mother received sympathy cards from people who’d seen, and believed, the movie. Like Paranormal Activity, it was made on a shoestring budget- only $22,000, and it remains one of the highest grossing independent movies of all time.
3) World War Z (2013): $202,359,711
Although zombie movies are not always appealing to me, I can’t deny World War Z’s success as a horror movie, if only because it made me startle so violently, in fact, I pulled a muscle when I first watched it. The movie is based off the scenario depicted in the Max Brook’s book World War Z, but departs from the text to tell the story of Gerry Lane’s (Brad Pitt) attempt to discover the cause of and the cure for the zombie plague. While the departures from the text seemingly angered the fans of the book, most were pleasantly surprised to find that what had been decried as a vanity project on Pitt’s part was actually a suspenseful, scary movie. The film did well at the box offices, easily making back its $190 million budget and then some.
2) The Exorcist (1973): $204,565,000
If your a horror movie fanatic, there’s probably a special spot in your heart for The Exorcist. The Exorcist was the first horror film to be nominated for the best picture Oscar, and caused something of a phenomena: some theaters had paramedics on site in case people fainted while watching the movie. Also, one of the early trailers was banned from being shown in theaters because it was too scary, and some UK towns banned the film entirely. It’s easily one of the most famous horror movies ever made, and easily deserves that title, since it has been over thirty years, and the eerie atmosphere and horror of Reagan’s plight hasn’t aged one bit.
1) The Sixth Sense (1999): $293,501,675
Between The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project, 1999 was a good year for horror movies. Like The Exorcist and The Silence of the Lambs, it was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and rocketed director and writer M. Night Shyamalan into the big leagues. The story of a young boy who claims to see the dead, and the psychologist trying to help him was a hit with audiences, not only for it’s eerie nature, but also for it’s poignant moments and, of course, the shocking twist at the end.