The 50 Best Ghost Movies of All Time

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The 50 Best Ghost Movies of All Time

When we set out to create a list of the best “ghost movies,” we didn’t quite realize at the start exactly how diverse that list would eventually be.

We began with horror cinema in mind. Sure, there are hundreds of classical cinematic ghost stories and haunted house tales, right? All the way back to 1944’s The Uninvited, through The Amityville Horror and onto The Conjuring and others—it’s not like there’s a shortage of malevolent spectres out there.

But then, in assembling the list, it became clear that this was another beast entirely from our recent ranking of the 50 best slasher movies of all time. Even more so than our list of the best zombie movies, “ghosts” have been co-opted into seemingly every genre, and they all belong on a list of the “best ghost movies.” After all, A Christmas Carol revolves entirely around its visiting ghosts, doesn’t it? So does Field of Dreams and its ghostly major leaguers, or the title character of Beetlejuice. So yeah, there’s plenty of horror on this list—but there’s also plenty more ghost movies suitable for fans of every genre, from romance to comedy to science fiction.

Here then, are the best “ghost movies” of all time.

50. Casper (1995)
Director: Brad Silberling

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Casper is a relic of the infancy of CGI, and thus is a little strange to watch today—compared with the likes of Jurassic Park, its effects have a much harder time holding up, which renders some of its ghostly characters a bit less effective. Still, this is a memorable yarn for younger audiences, one that is surprisingly morose and mature at times in terms of its depictions of death and grief. In fact, death happens quite a bit in Casper—no surprise, I guess, in that it’s a film about ghosts, but it really stacks some bodies nevertheless. A strong cast, anchored by Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman, Brad Garrett and a wonderful Eric Idle help it rise above the muck, and even get a wee bit philosophical. You can certainly do worse for a weekend afternoon on the couch with the kids. —Jim Vorel

49. The Woman in Black (2012)
Director: James Watkins

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There’s not much to this 2012 modern Hammer Horror film—nothing unique about it, but it’s quite competently assembled. With that said, you could argue that simply producing a ghost story this traditional in 2012 offered a bit of novelty. Daniel Radcliffe, fresh off his final Harry Potter appearance, took a role playing “an adult” as Arthur Kipps, a Victorian era lawyer who travels to the country to negotiate the sale of a house that is revealed to be haunted by the spirit of the Woman in Black. This CGI specter has a particular fondness for targeting children, and the film becomes a mystery in the “placate this restless spirit and set her free” mold. It offers a few fun twists and turns, and evokes classic British haunted house movies of the past, as Radcliffe stalks through dark, cobwebbed rooms with a flaming candelabra to light his way. The ending is a bit derivative of Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell, but all in all this is a better-than-average classical ghost story. —Jim Vorel

48. The Entity (1982)
Director: Sidney J. Furie

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The Entity is an early ’80s supernatural thriller that certainly pushed a few buttons at the time of its release, but would likely have been forgotten all the same if it hadn’t secured one famously avowed supporter in the form of Martin Scorsese. The great director has repeatedly drawn attention to The Entity by calling it one of the scariest horror films of all time, and given the subject matter it’s not too hard to see why—the idea of being attacked, especially in a sexual way, by an invisible force is the ultimate in helplessness. Based on the real-life case of a woman named Doris Bither, who claimed to have been repeatedly attacked by the vindictive spirits of three men, it’s a squirmy knot of psycho-sexual energy that feels like a lingering entry in ’70s-era grindhouse horror, with a twist of ’80s sci-fi. Certainly not for the faint of heart, its tagline is particularly disconcerting: “Based on a true story … that isn’t over yet.” —Jim Vorel

47. Stir of Echoes (1999)
Director: David Koepp

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Stir of Echoes is one of those movies where any discussion of it always tends to revolve around another film from the same year that received far more attention—in this case, that film is The Sixth Sense. Because it had the misfortune of hitting theaters a month after M. Night Shyamalan’s ghost thriller set box offices ablaze, and because it contains several of the same elements—including a young boy who can communicate with the dead—Stir of Echoes was widely derided at the time as knowingly derivative, but that assessment was never really fair. Unlike The Sixth Sense, which leans so heavily on atmosphere and tension, Stir of Echoes is more of a true popcorn thriller, a supernatural whodunit that sees Kevin Bacon descending into frothing hyperactivity after having the doors of his perception thrown wide open during a botched hypnosis session. Today, the film’s growing fandom seem to be trying to reclaim its status as an underrated horror classic, but the reality is that Stir of Echoes is an effective, classical potboiler full of themes that have been common in ghost movies for as long as we’ve had ghost movies. It does have the warm likability of Kevin Bacon going for it, though, and that’s enough to make it worthwhile. —Jim Vorel

46. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Director: Takashi Shimizu

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The Grudge, along with Ringu (not on Netflix streaming), are the two most prominent examples of “J-horror” (Japanese horror) from their time period to make an impact in the American psyche, as both were soon adapted into American versions. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary in its interconnected series of tales involving people menaced by the ghosts of a murdered family, but damn if its depiction of the child spirit of “Toshio” in particular didn’t become a symbol of the entire J-horror genre. Its stories of punishment may be on the conventional side, but the appearance and art direction that went into creating its creepy kid have been an undeniable influence on pretty much all the ghost movies that have come along since. —Jim Vorel

45. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Director: Stuart Rosenberg

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The original Amityville Horror might be one of the least striking or unique films to ever inspire more than a dozen follow-ups—seriously, there are to date 16 films that have been made with “Amityville” in the title. Its story is basic and primordial—family moves into a new house, but things go bump in the night. Every haunted house trope is well-represented, from secret rooms and unseen hands to disembodied voices and spiritual possession. If anything, the film overloads itself with concurrent, dueling reasons for the haunting, ranging from “Indian burial ground” to “site of Satanic rituals,” never really settling on a central theme. It’s just a pure popcorn haunting picture, famous for its blood-oozing walls but otherwise merely competent as your standard bit of October distraction. Perhaps it was the iconic shape of the house itself that seared itself into the cultural consciousness? No matter the reason, The Amityville Horror has been hard to shake, and has given us five new “Amityville” films in the last three years alone. —Jim Vorel

44. Mama (2013)
Director: Andy Muschietti

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Although there’s nothing particularly original about Mama, familiar elements come together to great effect. The first shot, for example, is of a car with the door open, empty but running, the radio blaring news. It’s a visual that brims with implication, arresting in its simplicity. There are any number of classic and not-so-classic horror films that explore the inherent eeriness of children, but Andrés Muschietti manages to make the kids seem otherworldly and dangerous with just body movement and a few staging tricks. It may sound a little film-school haughty to say there’s a visual vocabulary at work in something like this, but the thought put into the composition really comes through. Muschietti also gets some solid performances out of his actors, especially Jessica Chastain. It’s hard not to sympathize with her character, Annabel, thrust into the “mother” of all bad fostering situations. —Dan Kaufman

43. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Director: Pete Hewitt

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This could very well be a case of having one’s expectations so low that anything passable would have been deemed a huge triumph. Yet, there’s no denying the charm, wit, visual panache and postmodern joy of this follow-up to the sci-fi/comedy hybrid starring Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter as the brain dead saviors of mankind. The actual framing of the story with evil Bill and Ted robots trying to ruin our heroes’ path to glory is fairly silly. The fun comes when the titular schmoes are killed and have to find a way to get resurrected. This takes them both heavenward and Hades-bound (the original title of the film, if you didn’t know, was Bill & Ted Go To Hell), accompanied by Death, played with surprising sweetness by William Sadler. It’s both The Divine Comedy and The Seventh Seal writ for the Pauly Shore generation. —Robert Ham

42. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Director: John Hough

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Each generation gets a haunted house movie that reflects the filmmaking mindset of the day, and for the 1970s that may well be The Legend of Hell House. Taken here is the basic format of something like House on Haunted Hill or The Haunting, with tweaks that drive it into the grindhouse era—classical spooks as informed by the work of Herschell Gordon Lewis. A doctor gathers a team of psychics to take on the evil of a haunted house, and the house doesn’t disappoint—it pretty much declares war on the characters right from the get-go, but the plot is complicated by all of the researchers simultaneously plotting against one another. There is considerable cheese factor to these proceedings; just try not to chuckle when Roddy McDowell lists the reasons for the house’s haunting as “murder, vampirism, cannibalism, drug addiction, alcoholism, sadism and mutilation,” as if everything on that list is of equal offense. Still, Hell House can boast a semi-lurid Richard Matheson screenplay, lush cinematography and nice colors for the era—a slightly exploitative twist on the standard haunted house formula. —Jim Vorel

41. 1408 (2007)
Director: Mikael Håfström

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Even at its time of release, 1408 didn’t exactly command the high-profile treatment of top-tier Stephen King adaptations, but it’s a sneaky-good, high-concept ghost story all the same, and one that features one of the only John Cusack performances worth watching in the last 15 years. Cusack is playing a cynical charlatan of sorts here, a paranormal investigator and hack of a writer (a typical King protagonist!) who doesn’t believe a word of anything he’s ever written—until setting foot into Room #1408, that is. It’s a self-contained descent into madness as the evil hotel room sets its reality warping powers against Cusack, tormenting him with specters of the room’s previous victims, as well as taunting him with the demons of his own past. It all builds to a surprisingly poignant conclusion that offers some hope of peace in the afterlife—a rare case where the “theatrical ending” to a film is considerably more effective than the “director’s cut” ending included with the home video release. Breezy, entertaining and even a bit scary at times, 1408 is a well above-average example of big studio, PG-13 horror, and one that deserves credit for perfectly executing a deceptively simple premise. —Jim Vorel

40. Session 9 (2001)
Director: Brad Anderson

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You will certainly have no trouble finding ardent supporters of Session 9 as an “overlooked gem” of a horror movie, if you dig into the online world of horror fandom. It’s often mentioned alongside the likes of Lake Mungo as an indie psychological/supernatural film that achieves a lot on a shoestring budget, but it’s also not without its faults and narrative inconsistencies. Its plot revolves around a team of asbestos removers who are clearing out an abandoned insane asylum, which might lead you to believe you know where the story is headed—rest assured, you do not. This is not a typical haunted house feature, filled to the gills with apparitions and jump-scares. Instead it’s a mind-bending, often confusing psychological thriller that is constantly asking the audience to reconsider the nature of reality and a possibly unreliable viewpoint character. Is everyone going insane? Which characters are actually alive or dead? What the hell is going on with the timeline? Session 9 is not the kind of thing you throw on in the background as idle, Halloween-season entertainment. You better sit tight and pay attention, and you might still have to come back for a second viewing in the hopes of making every thread come together. —Jim Vorel

39. Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Director: Mike Flanagan

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While the first Ouija was a workmanlike, paint-by-numbers cash grab without a single original touch, its prequel, directed by tried-and-true horror fan and prolific genre filmmaker (with three quality releases in 2016 alone) Mike Flanagan, bears the aesthetic of ’60s horror. From the use of the era’s Universal logo to a faded, sepia-pastel look, Origin of Evil bears witness to Flanagan having fun with the creative possibilities of the project. As intriguing as all that stuff is for genre purists and cinephiles, the whole thing would still crumble if the overall tone and performances didn’t match Flanagan’s ambitions. Thankfully, he delivers a wholly satisfying piece of PG-13 horror that deftly mixes the modern sensibilities of the genre with tried-and-true stylistic approaches from its, er, origins. —Oktay Ege Kozak

38. Candyman (1992)
Director: Bernard Rose

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The oeuvre of Clive Barker tends to dwell on dualities and sensuality—pleasure and pain, heaven and hell, brilliance and insanity. They’re all present in Candyman, as they are in other Barker adaptations such as Hellraiser as well, forming a tangled web of romance, abuse and psycho-racial wounds. “Romance” might be an odd word to hear in this instance, but it’s appropriate—Candyman is unusual among slashers/ghost movies for its deep themes of race and taboo, especially as they pertain to sex and love. On the surface an exploration of an urban legend about the ghost of a lynched slave with a hook for a hand, on a deeper level Candyman functions as both a sumptuous gothic romance (aided by its Philip Glass score) à la Crimson Peak and a biting condemnation of government negligence and urban decay in Chicago’s poorest slums. Sometimes Candyman is noir; sometimes it’s sexy; sometimes it’s just plain gross. Tony Todd, as the titular character, has a certain mesmerizing quality that waltzes daintily on the line between farcical and terrifying, while Virginia Madsen as the protagonist actually allowed herself to be hypnotized by her director on set to properly convey the sense of falling under the Candyman’s spell. In terms of uniqueness alone, Candyman earns its own strange, little corner in the slasher (and ghostly) canon. —Jim Vorel

37. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Director: Kim Jee-woon

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A Tale of Two Sisters is a complex, somewhat confusingly wrought Korean horror-thriller, a twisting morass of relationships and family drama that clashes against a possible supernatural threat. One of Korea’s highest-grossing horror films of all time, it combines a Hitchcockian vein of psychological/mental torture with a classical ghost story that almost invokes classic Hollywood, i.e. The Innocents or The Uninvited. It follows a pair of sisters, as the title would suggest, as the elder is released from a mental institution and back into the messed-up family dynamic that put her there. From there, the film asks many questions: What are the true motivations of the sisters’ cruel stepmother? What has been plaguing the younger sister? Is the father complicit in murder? What really happened to the sisters’ birth mother as she wasted away from illness in their now-haunted home? It’s certainly a film that almost necessitates repeated viewings, as its twisting plot development is rather tough to grasp the first time through. At times, it almost carries the world-weariness and sense of encroaching inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. —Jim Vorel

36. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

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Ghostly romances aren’t terribly common on this list, outside of entries that you’d expect to find such as the titular Ghost, but there are a few of merit. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir stands out as a classic ’40s romantic fantasy, following a young widower who moves with her young daughter into a seaside home, where she meets the cantankerous, rough-around-the-edges ghost of its former sea captain owner. Slowly, a most unlikely romance blooms between the two, as our protagonist (Gene Tierney) uses the life experiences of the captain (Rex Harrison) to write a best-selling memoir. It’s all fairly straightforward, replete with the kinds of “misunderstandings” and false starts you’d expect in most romances of the period, but Harrison is rather dashing as Captain Gregg, and the bittersweet ending is the stuff of Golden Age Hollywood glitz and glamor. It’s an excellent “ghost movie” for date night, provided you’re dating a historical film buff. —Jim Vorel

35. The Frighteners (1996)
Director:   Peter Jackson  

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The Frighteners, along with films such as Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures, make one wonder what kind of career Peter Jackson would have continued having had he not been tapped to bring The Lord of the Rings to life, becoming Hollywood royalty in the process. Few directors have had such a weird knack for horror and gross-out humor as early career Jackson—he’s in a company shared by the likes of early career Sam Raimi in that regard. The Frighteners was his first major film for the North American market, and it’s a weirdo blend of fantasy, horror and comedy that would likely find admiration from the likes of Guillermo Del Toro. Michael J. Fox was a blessing for Jackson to land as the lead; he gives protagonist Frank Bannister his typical charm and inherently likability in what ended up being his last feature-length leading role. It’s a tale of supernatural revenge, and one that benefits from some frenzied character acting from the likes of Jake Busey and a supremely twitchy Jeffrey Combs as an FBI agent who has been pushed far over the brink. If you do watch The Frighteners, be sure to check out the blooper clip of Michael J. Fox repeatedly calling the “Judge” character “Doc!”, to his chagrin. It’s perfectly adorable. —Jim Vorel

34. The Fog (1980)
Director:   John Carpenter  

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If you’re a horror fan, it’s hard not to love the basic premise of The Fog, with its billowing clouds of white vapor that bring swift death along with them. John Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween had a somewhat larger budget to work with, and the practical effects look great as a result, although it wasn’t as successful at the box office. Regardless, The Fog is a superior film from a production standpoint, reuniting Carpenter with Jamie Lee Curtis, albeit in a less important role. It concerns a Californian coastal town that is celebrating its 100th anniversary when dark secrets from the 1800s begin to emerge. Turns out that the “city fathers” committed some pretty serious crimes against humanity, and now a crew of restless revenants has returned to dish out some much-deserved revenge. Caught up in the madness is Adrienne Barbeau, Carpenter’s wife of the time, debuting on screen in the role that would make her a scream queen figure for decades. There’s simply a great sense of atmosphere in The Fog, especially in the dense, otherworldly way that the glowing banks of fog move throughout town, amplified by a signature John Carpenter synth soundtrack. Anyone who knows Carpenter would be able to pick out his unique style immediately. —Jim Vorel

33. Ghost (1990)
Director: Jerry Zucker

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In the “friendly ghost stuck in the earthly plane with unfinished business” camp, Patrick Swayze’s 1990 star vehicle Ghost also has elements of romance, comedy, mystery, and extreme early 90s cheesiness (wow, those special effects are mind-boggling). But for all its earnestness and overuse of tight shots of Demi Moore shedding tears, there’s something lovable about it. Is it the tastiness of the idea that people taken from our lives before their time might indeed still be accessible, might even be watching over us? Is it the parody-provoking yet oddly heart-tugging use of the Righteous Brothers’ gorgeous recording of “Unchained Melody?” Is it Whoopi Goldberg’s annoying yet hilarious turn as a fraud psychic who is terrified when she finds herself actually channeling a ghost? Every time you want to write this movie off, something genuinely sweet or genuinely intriguing or genuinely funny reels you back in. Every time you get reeled back in you find yourself thinking “Why am I watching this?” It’s dated, and it’s no auteur tour de force but it has a certain lightness of … well, yeah, of spirit. Get a glass of wine, ignore the special effects demons and just go along for the ride as Patrick Swayze avenges his own murder and finds the most elusive ghost of all: closure. —Amy Glynn

32. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Director: William Castle

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Every William Castle movie has its own campy charms, but House on Haunted Hill is the guy’s masterpiece. It’s got it all: Vincent Price at his goofiest, a big spooky house, a mystery and a profoundly non-frightening walking skeleton. The gimmick this time around was referred to by Castle as “Emergo,” and it amounted to a plastic skeleton on a pulley system being flown over the audience—not his most creative, but shameless enough that only Castle would stoop so low. To me, this is the quintessential 1950s horror film, even though it comes at the end of the decade. It’s totally tame by today’s standards but has some fun, over-the-top performances, a bit of witty dialog and a large helping of cheese. I can watch this thing over and over without ever getting tired of it. It’s like horror comfort food. The colorized version is even more fun, replacing the static black-and-white original with an unrealistic palette of color-coded characters you will remind you of the cast of Clue. —Jim Vorel

31. The Innkeepers (2011)
Director: Ti West

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When you’re working in indie horror, a big part of success is learning how to turn your budgetary limitations into a positive—to rely less heavily on effects and setting and more on characterization and filmcraft. Ti West understands this better than most, which is part of what made his earlier House of the Devil so effective. The Innkeepers has some of the same DNA, but it’s rawer and more “real,” following the mostly unremarkable exploits of two friends (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) as they work in a dingy old bed & breakfast and conduct nightly paranormal research in their place of business. They’re well-cast and feel like two of the most “real people” you’re likely to see in a horror film—West, acting in moments like a horror-tinged Tarantino, enjoys lingering on them during their conversations and small-talk, which builds a sense of casual camaraderie to what are supposed to be long-time co-workers. Of course, things do eventually start going bump in the night, and the film ratchets up into a classically inflected ghost story. Some will accuse it of being slow, or of spending too much time dawdling with things that are unimportant, but that’s “mumblegore” for you. Ultimately, the reality imbued into the characters justifies the time it takes to give them characterization, and you still get some spooky “boo!” moments in the film’s final act. —Jim Vorel

30. Under the Shadow (2016)
Director: Babak Anvari

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For most of the film, Babak Anvari is crafting a stifling period drama, a horror movie of a different sort that tangibly conveys the claustrophobia of Iran during its tumultuous post-revolution period. Anvari, himself of a family that eventually fled the Ayatollah’s rule, has made Under the Shadow as statement of rebellion and tribute to his own mother. It’s a distinctly feminist film: Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is cast as the tough heroine fighting back against greater hostile forces—a horror movie archetype that takes on even more potency in this setting. Seeing Shideh defy the Khomeini regime by watching a Jane Fonda workout video, banned by the state, is almost as stirring as seeing her overcome her personal demons by protecting her child from a more literal one. —Brogan Morris

29. Hausu (1977)
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi

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Oh, how to describe Hausu? Anyone who has seen this crazed Japanese mishmash of horror, comedy and fantasy knows this is no easy task—it’s simultaneously as simple as saying “It’s about some girls who go to a haunted house,” and much more complicated. Hausu has often been described as being “like Jaws, but with a house,” but the comparison isn’t exactly accurate—where Spielberg’s film is classic adventure, Obayashi’s is like a bad acid trip, sporting trippy, day-glo color schemes and mind-bending visuals. Animated cats, disembodied flying heads and stop-motion monsters are all par for the course as Hausu goes for the jugular, seemingly trying to overwhelm the viewer with an all-out assault on the senses. As a piece of modern camp spectacle it’s top tier, but it would be a shame to overlook the genuinely imaginative visual effects and how they would seem to presage the likes of Evil Dead 2 in the years to come. If there’s another film where a woman is eaten by a living, evil piano, I haven’t yet seen it. —Jim Vorel

28. The Conjuring (2013)
Director: James Wan

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Let it be known: James Wan is, in any fair estimation, an above average director of horror films at the very least. The progenitor of big money series such as Saw and Insidious has a knack for crafting populist horror that still carries a streak of his own artistic identity, a Spielbergian gift for what speaks to the multiplex audience without entirely sacrificing characterization. Several of his films sit just outside the top 100, if this list were ever to be expanded, but The Conjuring can’t be denied as the Wan representative because it is far and away the scariest of all his feature films. Reminding one of the experience of first seeing Paranormal Activity in a crowded multiplex, The Conjuring has a way of subverting when and where you expect the scares to arrive. Its haunted house/possession story is nothing you haven’t seen before, but few films in this oeuvre in recent years have had half the stylishness that Wan imparts on an old, creaking farmstead in Rhode Island. The film toys with audience’s expectations by throwing big scares at you without standard Hollywood Jump Scare build-ups, simultaneously evoking classic golden age ghost stories such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting. Its intensity, effects work and unrelenting nature set it several tiers above the PG-13 horror against which it was primarily competing. It’s interesting to note that The Conjuring actually did receive an “R” rating despite a lack of overt “violence,” gore or sexuality. It was simply too frightening to deny, and that is worthy of respect. —Jim Vorel

27. Oculus (2013)
Director: Mike Flanagan

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When one hears that the central focus point of Oculus is a haunted mirror, you expect a fairly self-contained ghost story, but this recent release proved to be a surprisingly ambitious concept from a promising horror director, Mike Flanagan. It simultaneously juggles accounts of the mirror’s evil influence in two timelines, following the same characters as children and adults. The segments as children feel a tad by-the-books, but the pleasantly over-the-top performances in the adult portion are particularly enjoyable, as a young woman attempts to scientifically document and then seek revenge upon the source of her family’s misery. The film begins to peter out just a bit by the end, as the two stories become intertwined to the point of confusion in an attempt to blur the lines of reality, but in general it’s a stylish, creepy horror flick that goes out of its way to defy conventions. Look no further than the soul-sucking ending, which leaves the door wide open to all sorts of future possibilities if Flanagan ever wants to revisit the concept. —Jim Vorel

26. Ringu (1998)
Director: Hideo Nakata

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The Hollywood remake of Ringu decided to use spectacle where Nakata’s understated original used simple, bone-deep dread. The latter is a less visceral experience, but a far, far more unsettling one. Opening on the deadly haunting of a teen girl, the film then follows Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), a local TV reporter who files stories about urban legends. Trouble is, the campfire story about the VHS tape that curses you with death in seven days isn’t just a story. Filled with arresting imagery, chilling sound design, and cinematography that conveys the fear and paranoia of its doomed and desperate protagonists, it is easy to see why this progenitor of the “J-horror” genre took the West by storm. —Kenneth Lowe

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