Horror movies aren’t for everyone. But sometimes a film will come around that everyone can enjoy, even if you’re a little (or a lot) nervous about seeing it.
To sum: if you found you could handle the scarier episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, you’ll be okay with my suggestions below. It’s going to be a subjective list, though, so your mileage will vary. That’s all the warning I can give you, besides my little story notes next to the movie titles. And some films I really can’t talk about..because…you know — spoilers.
Because I have a low tolerance for grossness, I’m not including any real body horror, like Slither, even though a lot of people found it quite funny. I refuse to see it, even though I’m a huge fan of James Gunn’s best-known Guardians of the Galaxy. The Thing has the most body horror on this list, and a few of the Alien and Predator installments have icky moments that are hard to forget. But since those films are more sci-fi than real horror, I think these are okay. In any case, read my notes about each to see which iterations in the franchises are more story-based, and less gore or jump-scare oriented.
I’m including some comments from RunPee Dan here and there, mostly where he disagrees with my choices. 😉
Best Horror Movies for Non-Horror Fans
- Zombieland — With perfect casting, sparkling chemistry, an engagingly funny (!) post-apocalyptic zombie plot/buddy road trip film, you can’t beat this. There’s even a great list of rules to live by and a cameo that must not be missed. The only gross scenes are pre-loaded in the beginning and they aren’t too bad. If you can survive watching the first five minutes, the rest is cake: slender yellow cream-filled Hostess cakes. (If you don’t get this reference, you’re too young, or haven’t seen the film yet.)
- Army of Darkness — I’m a long time Bruce Campbell fan. After discovering his classic B-movie comic character work on Xena: Warrior Princess, I began tracking down his filmography. Army of Darkness is a precious concoction of horror, fantasy, and comedy. The horror is actually almost non-existent compared to Evil Dead 1 and 2, which I do NOT recommend viewing in any form. Those are straight horror and the Evil Dead remake is the worst. Fortunately, Army of Darkness requires no prior knowledge. Ash describes what you need to know in less than a minute before you’re thrown, car and all, into the time of castles, wizards, and knights.
- Shawn of the Dead — There’s only one gross-out moment in this funny, funny zombie film. It’s set in the UK and involves a slacker and his best friend in a fun bromance where they are less interested in fighting hordes of the undead than having a beer in their favorite pub. My second-favorite zombie film, with Zombieland only coming first by a hair’s width. And the scene set to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now must be seen by everyone. I demand this. 😉
- A Quiet Place — I’m not sure why this was even billed as horror. This A level film hits all the sci fi and dystopian marks, and hits them so well you’ll be floored. Don’t watch this if there’s any racket or busy activity in the house, because you need absolute silence to appreciate this fully for the first viewing. I’m excited a second Quiet Place was announced, and can’t gush enough over how exciting and smart this film is. Also, Emily Blunt can do no wrong. She should have gotten at least an Oscar nod for the bathtub scene.
- Happy Death Day 1 (and 2) — The original is definitely horror, although on the lighter, funnier end. The sequel barely qualifies as horror, and is more like a comic sci-fi movie with some continuing horror themes. I heard this got green-lit for a threequel, so we’ll see if that installment goes in yet another direction. They might drop the “killer baby” element completely by then, seeing as how it’s only kind of shoe-horned into the sequel.
- The Alien Franchise — Every installment qualifies as horror, in my book. It’s firmly in the sci-fi genre, but it’s scary every time, and has horrific elements. But the first film is mostly a suspense thriller with jump scares, and the second is pure adrenaline-pumping action. It’s the first movie I sat forward in my movie seat for the entire way through. So watch Alien and Aliens, and then STOP. I can’t recommend anything else in the entire ourve. Actually, you can see the first Aliens vs Predators, but not the second. You’re just going to have to trust me on this.
- The Terminator — Few people would consider The Terminator horror, but the original is intended as a scary sci-fi film, regardless of where the rest of the franchise went. (Dan says he doesn’t think this film belongs here.)
- The Predator franchise — These are intended as horror/sci fi films, but they are very watchable. Most of the horror has safe discretion shots, or long off views of the Really Bad Things. You can safely watch any of these except Predator 2, which is a freak show and awful. Sorry. (Dan: I wouldn’t put this here, but it’s borderline.)
- The Thing — This sci-fi horror/thriller (the original, not the update) has some true gross-out moments, but since I can handle this film, I’m including it. If I can tolerate these scenes, I think anyone can. (Dan: Carpenter’s The Thing is way horrific. Like body horror to the extreme.)
- Cabin in the Woods — Some scenes are a little brutish, but they happen to be amusing at the same time (remember: mermaids). And I can’t say a single other thing about Cabin in the Woods without spoiling your first experience. This one has made my regular movie rotation. (Dan: Again, borderline. It’s really graphic.)
- Tucker and Dale vs Evil — Another regular viewing film for me. The horror is funny (we’re noticing a theme here — humor helps a lot), and there are no jump scares, gross outs, or even much ‘evil’. It’s just Alan Tydyk (Beloved as Wash in Firefly) and Tyler Labine (Sock from Reaper) having a grand old time, as they twist the horror trope on its head. Enjoy!
- Pitch Black — I don’t know why I resisted this film when my husband wanted to show it to me. I watched it eventually, and instantly fell in love with both it and Vin Diesel. If you liked Aliens, this will be easy. It’s more like scary science fiction, with no gore I can recall (again with the discretionary shots), and a rousing adventure tale that unfolds like some alien orchid under three suns. Pitch Black, as Part One of The Chronicles of Riddick, now has two sequels, plus an animated short. All are easy to view horror-wise, but nothing will come close to the original in execution, appeal, and pure excitement. I love that we figure everything out as the characters do. One of my faves. Enough of my gushing, eh?
- Poltergeist — This one still scares me, even though there’s only one bad moment (in a bathroom, which is a trope for trouble if there ever was one). Lots of good lines, too: “You moved the tombstones, but you forgot to movie the bodies!” I think I had more shudders from the simple “They’re here,” than anything with a nominally higher fear factor.
- Gremlins (1 and 2) — You’d think this was a cute and cuddly kid’s flick, but you’re wrong. The Mogwai is way high in the cuteness charts (he’s like a Pokemon), but his progeny are just mean. Funny, I guess, but nasty. But except for the infamous “microwave’ scene, I think it’s mostly discretionary shots. Have you clued in by now that I think violence in a film is tolerable if I’m not subjected to actual gore and realistic suffering?
- The Sixth Sense — Yes, this has some scary moments, but they’re always jump scares, with almost no gore. It’s about dead people after all, but it turns out that the dead don’t always want to hurt you. And that’s all I can say if you’ve never seen this genuinely great movie.
- Signs — This is honestly more about suspense. You never actually SEE anything. Not well, and not for more than a heartbeat. You’ll enjoy this film. It’s an updated and isolated version of…wait. I can’t say more. It’s Shylaman. You can’t discuss his films. It’s a law.
- Jaws — I saw this as a kid and was terrified. Times have changed. Now Jaws is a buddy thriller set in the ocean against an implacable foe. There are only two genuine jump scares, and they barely qualify as gory these days. (I’ll just say it: the crabs in the early scene; the ‘head’ mid-way through.) In my recent re-watch, I was amazed how spectacular Jaws is, and it still holds up. It’s a freaking masterpiece that’s the forerunner of today’s blockbuster. If it’s been a while, try it again. A +, with the Indianopolis monologue reaching legendary status (that tale really happened, BTW…Goggle it. Man, to live through that…). Anyway, Jaws qualifies now as an adventure movie. As far as other Jawses, I can’t comment. Try me later when I I’ve seen them. I’ve heard Jaws 2 is okay.
- Warm Bodies — Not horror. But it’s got regular octane and super octane zombies, so I guess it qualifies. It’s actually a zom-rom-com. Seriously. A love story! And a sweet one at that. Your kids could watch this and not be scared.
- Maze Runner — This is science fiction dystopian film, but the creatures in the maze are pretty hideous. (Dan: I don’t think this has anything to do with horror. But maybe I just don’t remember it well enough.)
You’ll probably think some of these don’t belong on the list, and you might find some of the films scarier or grosser than you personally prefer. Or I might have left some good choices off the list completely — like Silence of the Lambs, which might be considered more of a scary thriller than anything else, and bring this list to 20. I haven’t seen Silence of the Lambs yet, so I can’t say anything about it. Maybe The Shining, which actually is super creepy, but I lived through it and now see a lot of it as ludicrously amusing (it has not held up so well). I do want to see the recent Us, but I’m a weenie and need someone to hold my hand. I’m sure there will be a number 20 in my future eventually.
I’d love to hear what I missed, or what you disagree with in the comments.
Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)