Scariest Movies of All Time

Sarah Conroy, Web Manager, Advice Column

John Carpenter, the director and co-writer of Halloween, once said in an interview, “Horror is a reaction; it’s not a genre.” But horror is a very broad way to describe the way scary movies make us feel. Some make us cringe at the gory scenes, some make us flinch with cleverly placed jump scares, some leave us constantly at the edge of our seats with suspenseful music and camera work, and some leave us thinking about the disturbing or complex themes long after they are finished. But what movie contains the right mix of these elements to make it scarier than all the rest? Does it even exist? Well, with the help of studies, polls, and film critics, we might be able to answer that question. 

In October, Broadbandchoices, a U.K. television provider, conducted a study on what is the scariest movie. They did this by tracking the heart rate of fifty people, who have seen over 120 hours of scary movies, while they watched 35 popular scary movies. 

After all the data was collected they determined that the scariest movie of all time was Sinister with Insidious, The Conjuring, Hereditary, and Paranormal Activity following. Sinister stars Ethan Hawke (also in The Purge and The Knick) and it’s about a true-crime writer named Elliot Oswald who moves into the home of a recently deceased family to help solve the cause of their deaths. However, it takes a drastic turn and the house proves to be deadly. 

Sinister has a 63 on Rotten Tomatoes and even before the study, it was often referred to as the scariest movie of all time. The movie brought viewers’ heart rate from the standard 60 BPM to an average of 85. The highest peak in heart rate was around 131 BPM, at a little after the one-hour mark. This makes it the highest average increase in heart rate and the second-highest peak in heart rate behind Insidious. So if you are looking for a good scare, Sinister is a good option.

While the movies that were tested caused peoples heart rate to rise the most, they probably won’t terrify everyone. Horror is subjective, so what might scare one person wouldn’t scare another. Additionally, many people aren’t affected by jumpscares, which would greatly affect heart rate. Some movies that would scare more people because of their disturbing storylines were ranked lower than other films on the list because slower parts of the movie lead to dips in BPM. 

Take the movie Audition for example, Audition follows a man who makes movies for a living who, after the death of his wife auditions other women to be his partner, and plays it off as an audition for a role in a film. He picks his choice based on her intelligence, beauty, and take on life. She seems great at first, but as the movie progresses she becomes more and more creepy, leading to an unpredictable and terrifying climax. 

The movie was very well received and is generally seen as more horrifying and disturbing, but was still rated last out of the 35 films. This is likely because of how much of the movie is spent building suspense for the climax which wouldn’t necessarily startle someone enough to greatly increase their heart rate. This wasn’t the only movie excluded from the list. In fact, none of what many sources consider to be the most disturbing movies made the list. This may be due to the fact that many of them contain more gore and violence than most people would watch. The study didn’t test any NC-17 or X rated films probably due to the fact that many aren’t well known and have low viewership, which means many streaming services don’t have them.


If you are looking for a movie that will stick with you long after its finished but is well known and easy to stream, a scary psychological thriller is probably a good option. Psychological thrillers aren’t necessarily horror movies but many have elements that a horror movie would contain. A psychological thriller is a genre that combines elements of psychological fiction and thriller genres. Some famous examples of scary psychological thriller movies are Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, and Misery. All of which are rated highly and well-received by critics. 

In conclusion, there isn’t a scariest movie of all time, it all depends on who you are. If movies with jumpscares and terrifying creatures and entities leave you hiding under your blanket, movies like Sinister and Insidious are for you. If you want to see a film with violent characters and twisted minds that leave you wanting to sleep with the lights on, movies like Audition might be up your alley. If you want to be shocked and disturbed in every scene try Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, or Misery. Maybe, you are scared by none, or all of these movies. The point is, no one is the same.