Claim Your
Off Discount
May 30, 2022

Top 10 Best Horror Films for Screenwriters

I am a die-hard horror fan. I broke into the industry writing horror scripts, I researched horror for my Ph.D., and I watch horror as often as I can. Needless to say, I love the primal thrill of a good scare more than most anything else. If you're a screenwriter looking to dip your toe into horror or looking to catch up on the classics before you try and write your scary screenplay, here are my top ten best horror film recommendations that you need to watch before you get started (in no particular order).

Top 10 Best Horror Films for Screenwriters

If you need some crafting help, check out our article on how to craft a great scare in a screenplay.

Hereditary (Modern horror)

Ari Aster, the director of Hereditary, is undoubtedly the darling of the modern horror world. His films capture the doom-spiraling despair of what it feels like to be in a horrific situation while digging deep into the most taboo and provocative ideas possible.

Hereditary tells the story of what happens to a fractious family once an unexpected tragedy tears them apart. Needless to say, a lot of bad stuff goes down that culminates in one of

the most nail-biting conclusions I've seen in the past few years.

The Witch (Specific horror)

The other, weirder darling of the modern horror world is Robert Eggers. Eggers's films have a distinct voice that does everything in its power to present the strange and often terrifying worlds in the most accurate way possible. So if you think horror is about cheap scares, you need to watch some Eggers films.

The Witch is a great place to start. The film tells the story of a New England pilgrim family ostracized from their commune and forced to make a living in the wilderness, right beside a forest where malevolent forces await. Written entirely in period accurate dialog, the film is like nothing else you've seen before.

Anya Taylor-Joy in The Witch.
"The Witch" is a period-drama that's deeply terrifying.

Jacob's Ladder (Psychological horror)

Horror is a swiss-army knife of a genre, but it's perhaps best suited for exploring the darkness buried deep down inside our psyches. No other genre is so uniquely capable of representing the subjective experience of going insane, and films like Jacob's Ladder show us how.

Jacob's Ladder follows a Vietnam veteran returning home after his tour of duty to an isolated and unfulfilled life. However, when strange and scary apparitions stalk him through the city's streets, the line between reality and fantasy crumbles spectacularly.

Pulse (Mood and tone)

Perhaps more than any other genre, tone is king in horror. A jump scare out of nowhere is okay, but a scare that happens after mounting nail-biting dread is more effective. It's like pulling back a rubber band and waiting until just before it snaps before letting go.

Perhaps no movie has built such a palpable sense of dread than Pulse. Pulse is an excellent entryway into Japanese horror (sometimes called J-Horror) that focuses on building the tone of oppressive dread rather than outright scares, but when the scares come, they'll be seared into your brain for the rest of your life.

Creep (Limitations)

Horror movies are sometimes a good way for screenwriters to break into the industry because horror generally has lower budgets and more assured returns. That means that as a horror writer, you'll sometimes be working within limitations, usually budgetary.

But that doesn't mean your story is going to be worse off. Look at Creep, a stunningly effective horror film with a tiny budget. This film delivers some incredibly effective scares with simple tone building, character work, and creepy imagery. This is a must-see for anyone who wants to make their own low-budget horror flick.

The Shining (The peaks)

Horror movies are sometimes associated with low budgets, but there are a few instances when a filmmaker can amass a large budget and creative control and wield it to show just how far the genre can stretch.

The Shining is one of these films. Kubrick had a nearly unprecedented amount of creative control over the project and used it to craft a film where every single detail was meticulously crafted to build toward a single unified vision. Some horror fans would argue that The Shining will never be surpassed because of how perfect Kubrick's execution turned out to be.

Get Out (The political)

Like every other genre, horror often has a political point to prove, and increasingly more so as filmmakers become more comfortable with the mode. After all, horror has faced consistent political pressure since its inception, always facing the possibility of being banned or censored depending on a host of shaky logic. So it's no wonder the genre has politics on the mind.

Get Out is primarily responsible for the modern resurgence in allegorical horror that uses the genre to comment and critique the political landscape of the day. This is the kind of exciting storytelling that keeps horror evolving and the box office reporting bigger and bigger numbers.

Daniel Kaluuya in "Get Out."
"Get Out" is primarily responsible for the modern resurgence in allegorical horror films.

Nosferatu (The image)

Another trope horror movies are unfairly associated with is loud jump scares and trashy dialog. Most horror fans know this isn't true, and if you need proof, you can go all the way back to the beginnings of cinema to see where it all started.

Nosferatu is sometimes considered one of the first vampire films ever made. Part of German Expressionism, the silent film relies on visual storytelling consisting of dramatic lighting, abstract set design, and unsettling makeup design to elicit fear and dread through the image. It's a good reminder that even if our horror film is playing on mute, it should still be scary.

Evil Dead 2 (Comedy)

What surprises many new horror fans is just how much comedy is in the genre. Despite seemingly being on opposite sides of the genre spectrum, horror and comedy have a lot in common, particularly regarding the set-up/punch-line structure that jokes and scares have in common.

Comedy doesn't have to be the antithesis of good scares, and Evil Dead 2 proves that. The film is undoubtedly goofy, but in between the crowd-pleasing gore and the wacky practical effects, the film delivers laughs and scares in equal measure. The horror-comedy genre is alive and well.

Host (The present)

Horror isn't something of the past. It's a genre that continuously evolves to reflect the anxieties of the age it's made. There's no shortage of film scholars who tie the kinds of monsters we see in films to the cultural issues facing the people of that time. George Romero famously used zombies as a metaphor for mindless capitalism in Dawn of the Dead.

There's perhaps no greater example of this than Host. Host was made in 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic and is presented as if we are sitting in on a zoom call that goes horribly wrong. What sounds like a cheap gimmick is used to incredible effect, and it will forever remain a cultural artifact of that particular moment in our lives.

Top Netflix horror film recommendations

To get you started on your horror journey, check out these films on Netflix. They are essential for viewing for any horror fan.

  • The Conjuring: A James Wan thrill ride sure to set you on the edge of your seat.
  • Bram Stoker's Dracula: An ambitious and old-fashioned Coppola epic.
  • Raw: A compelling meditation on veganism in the modern day (with a hint of cannibalism to boot).
  • It Follows: One of the most compelling horror monsters in years. It has to be seen to be understood.
  • Hostel: Perhaps the peak of torture-porn horror. Not for everyone, but well loved by those who do.
  • Crimson Peak: Guillermo Del Toro's ode to the Gothic aesthetic is an absolute joy.
  • His House: A heart-breaking look into the immigrant experience in modern UK.
  • Thirteen Ghosts: A silly but delightful early 2000s delight.
  • The Exorcist: A stone-cold classic that still holds up today.
  • Gerald's Game: Mike Flannigan's contained thriller makes a lot out of a little.

If you want to get started on your own horror screenplay, start writing with Arc Studio today! Arc Studio offers a free 1-week trial of their Pro plan (no credit card required!).

Goodluck writers!


Level-up your screenwriting software

With Arc Studio, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Add the template to your Arc Studio Pro account

text content

Download the template
Go to Desk

Download your free template now

With Arc Studio pro, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease. 2
Top 10 Best Horror Films for Screenwriters
Alex D. Reid

Alex is a professional screenwriter who loves writing horror. He won the horror category at Austin Film Festival for his screenplay Delirium in 2019 and is currently studying for a Ph.D in English Literature with a focus on the horror genre

Level-up your screenwriting software

Arc Studio is the new standard in screenwriting software: stay focused, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Go to Desk

Download your free template now

With Arc Studio pro, you stay focused while writing your screenplay, craft better stories, and collaborate with ease.

Go to Desk

Receive a free screenwriting book

Get your free ebook now!

Download Your Template
Go to Desk

Learn from the film industry’s top screenwriters

Our new podcast, How I Write: Screenwriters Share Their Creative Processes, launches Nov. 12th.

Go to Desk


This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.

Read More

Ready to get started?

Go to Desk
No credit card required