Ask horror-movie buffs to name their favorite decade for the genre, and you’ll likely receive a variety of answers. The ’30s had several of Universal’s classic roster of monsters. The ’40s had Val Lewton. The ’70s had zombies, and giant sharks, and Texas chain saw massacres. (The ’70s is a good choice.) But at the risk of speculating wildly, it seems safe to assume that not too many hypothetical fans would single out the current or previous decade as horror’s finest. Classics take time to solidify, reputations take a minute to build, and hindsight is 20/20. Plus, you know, Uwe Boll.
But looking over the 25 films ranked below, all of which opened in the United States sometime before today and after January 1, 2000, it’s possible to imagine a future when the turn of the new millennium will be thought as a renaissance period for scary movies. Perhaps more than any other genre, horror operates as a mirror of our anxieties—a warped reflection of everything that’s eating away at us as a culture or keeping us all up at night. And there’s been plenty to lose sleep over these past 15 years, from social and environmental instability to terrorism (and the war against it) to that few months everybody was freaking out about SARS. The list below could easily double as a guide to the fears and phobias of modern life. Its eclecticism is a testament to just how many different ways we’ve been freaked out since Y2K.
Sixteen contributors submitted ranked ballots of their favorite horror movies released in the United States since the year 2000, including a few that opened internationally before then. These are not the scariest films of our new millennium, but simply the greatest that happen to occupy the horror genre. As such, we tried to be fairly strict with the definition; films that feel like horror but wouldn’t necessarily be classified as such by IMDB or Netflix—like David Lynch’s two post-2000 magnum opuses, or Pan’s Labyrinth, or Requiem For A Dream—were excluded. (The only film that would have made the list had it not been deemed ineligible after ballots came in was Under The Skin—and even then, just barely.) Conversely, we felt little need to inclusively cater to the major horror trends of the period: Just as it’s possible to love ’80s horror without loving a single slasher movie, one can appreciate where the genre has gone these past 15 years without citing the Saw series, defending the endless string of modern Exorcist clones, or apologizing for the ongoing found-footage movement.
How many of our top 25 have you seen? What would your ballot look like? Did we miss anything crucial? Sound off in the comments.
Updated May 2020 with where these films are available to stream.