The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (2024)

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (1)

Welcome back! It's the fifth consecutive ongoing "best of horror" annual here at Thrillist—check out my2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 entries here—and I'm excited you've returned for another run. Horror cinema is tracking to have a banner year in 2021, partly because so many promising 2020 genre films got pushed back for pandemic reasons, and also because, let's face it: When we're living in scary times, filmmakers are inspired to make scary movies. And sometimes they're really good. So let's dig in already.

As always, please remember that the "rankings" are mainly for fun. The top movies on this list may have something extra special about them and are truly must-sees if you have limited time, but I firmly recommend every movie on this list.

ALSO READ: The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies of 2021

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (2)

57. For the Sake of Vicious

Release date: April 20
Cast: Lora Burke, Nick Smyth, Colin Paradine
Writer-directors: Reese Eveneshen (Defective), Gabriel Carrer (The Demolisher)
Why it's good: It's a micro-budget action-horror grindhouse throwback that takes a few minutes to get itself ready but then explodes into a non-stop cacophony of maniacally insane violence, revenge, rage, and carnage. Plot-wise, it's a standard-issue home-invasion potboiler, but the film earns a spot on the list solely because of how much work clearly went into this over-the-top blood-fest, and to say the performers are committed to the insanity would be a wild understatement.
Where to watch it: VOD

56. Honeydew

Release date: March 12
Cast: Sawyer Spielberg, Malin Barr, Barbara Kingsley
Writer: Devereux Milburn, Dan Kennedy (Loud Places)
Director: Devereux Milburn
Why it's good: It's a touch overlong and more than a little familiar, but there's still something viscerally intense and memorably creepy about this one. Honeydew is basically an artsy take on the stuff we've seen (repeatedly) in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wrong Turn franchises—clueless city folk arrogantly stumble across a small, disturbing community deep in the woods—but there's still something undeniably effective about its creepiest moments, one of which, improbably, involves a truly bonkers cameo by Lena Dunham.
Where to watch it: VOD

55. Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Release date: May 14
Cast: Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella
Writer: Josh Stolberg (Jigsaw), Peter Goldfinger (Jigsaw)
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw 2)
Why it's good: Sometimes "fan fiction" makes it to the big screen, and that seems to be the case here. Turns out that Chris Rock is a big fan of the Saw franchise, and he's the one who kick-started this semi-sequel in which you'll guess most of the twists but not all of the traps. Pretty much made for established fans only, which is fine, plus it's a legitimate improvement over the last two Saw sequels.
Where to watch it: VOD

54. The Djinn

Release date: May 14
Cast: Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe
Writer-directors: David Charbonier (The Boy Behind the Door), Justin Powell (The Boy Behind the Door)
Why it's good: A young boy (Ezra Dewey) unwisely decides to invite an ancient djinn, or a powerful spirit, into his home, and then spends one long night regretting it. This one's a linear slow burn, but it's also consistently suspenseful and Dewey delivers a great performance. A few of its jolts will even sneak up on you.
Where to watch it:VOD

53. Halloween Kills

Release Date: October 15
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak
Writer: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Scott Teems
Director: David Gordon Green
Why it's good: This movie caught some flak for a few unpopular ideas (people on Twitter still say, "Evil dies tonight!" in a joking fashion) but for my money it's still more interesting than most of the Halloween sequels I've ever seen. And I've seen them all. Put aside a few off-kilter moments and there's still an eerie and darkly amusing sensibility to Michael's all-night horror party.
Where to watch it:Streaming on Peaco*ck

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (3)

52. The Forever Purge

Release date: July 2
Cast: Ana de la Reguera, Josh Lucas, Cassidy Freeman
Writer: James DeMonaco (The Purge)
Director: Everardo Gout (Days of Grace)
Why it's good: By this point the Purge movies are half "been there, done that, and even watched the TV series" and half "new hook that's actually pretty effective," and that's certainly the case with the franchise's fifth entry. This time around we're asked what would happen if some of the annual "purgers" simply refused to honor the rules of engagement, which is pretty ironic in and of itself—and of course there's some highly topical material that digs into our current socio-political headaches.
Where to watch it:VOD

51. Godzilla vs. Kong

Release date: March 31
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall
Writer: Eric Pearson (Thor: Ragnarok), Max Borenstein (The Terror)
Director: Adam Wingard (You're Next)
Why it's good: Sure, the non-kaiju moments aren't quite as riveting as the full-scale monster mania, but there's just enough humanity on display here to keep things from feeling too much like a Transformers sequel. This enjoyably broad follow-up to Godzilla, Skull Island, and King of the Monsters has all the peaks and valleys of its predecessors—but it also has some of the large-scale kaiju madness possibly ever. (Also, Godzilla... laughs?)
Where to watch it:HBO Max; VOD

50. In the Earth

Release date: April 16
Cast: Joel Fry, Ellora Torchia, Reece Shearsmith
Writer-director: Ben Wheatley (Kill List)
Why it's good: A researcher and a wilderness guide trek deep into a foreboding forest—during a mysterious pandemic, no less—and come across not only an unhinged madman, but also a theory that our planet is simply trying to kill us. Backed by a great Clint Mansell score, this artsy horror film isn't interested in conventional scares, but it does leave a creepy impression all the same.
Where to watch it: Hulu; VOD

49. Knocking

Release date: October 8
Cast: Cecilia Milocco, Albin Grenholm, Ville Virtanen
Writer: Emma Broström, Johan Theorin
Director: Frida Kempff
Why it's good: A stressed-out woman comes to realize that there's an incessant knocking coming from somewhere in her apartment complex, but she cannot locate the source (which is frustrating), and it quickly becomes clear that nobody believes her (which is frustrating times infinity). This soft-spoken chiller may not have the slam-bang carnage that horror fans often enjoy, but it's a quietly accomplished import from Sweden.
Where to watch it: Shudder

48. Agnes

Release date: December 10 (debuted at Tribeca Festival 2021)
Cast: Molly C. Quinn, Sean Gunn, Hayley McFarland
Writer: Mickey Reece, John Selvidge(Climate of the Hunter)
Director: Mickey Reece (Climate of the Hunter)
Why it's good: There's no shortage of horror films that focus on nuns; be they noble defenders of the innocent, or possessed minions of the demonic realm—and this movie sort of has both! The film starts out as a somewhat traditional "possessed nun" story, but about halfway through it makes a sharp left turn and becomes a compelling character study about how an innocent young woman must contend with a trauma she can't explain.
Where to watch it:VOD

47. Slaxx

Release date: March 18
Cast: Romane Denis, Brett Donahue, Sehar Bhojani
Writers: Elza Kephart, Patricia Gomez(Graveyard Alive)
Director: Elza Kephart (Graveyard Alive)
Why it's good: There's always room for another good absurdist horror comedy, and this unholy mixture of So Fine (1981) and Exte: Hair Extensions (2007) is frequently a fast-paced, funny little hoot of a movie. The plot is just a framework on which to hang the movie's willfully silly premise—yes, it's about denim jeans that slaughter lots of people—but the cast is game, the writing is fun, and the carnage is wild and plentiful.
Where to watch it:Shudder

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (4)

46. Willy's Wonderland

Release date: February 12
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Beth Grant, Emily Tosta
Writer:G.O. Parsons
Director: Kevin Lewis (The Drop)
Why it's good: Nicolas Cage locked inside an abandoned arcade with a menagerie of massive murderous monsters? Sign me up. There's a rudimentary slasher structure tossed in to keep things moving, but Willy's Wonderland is at its best when it's just Cage beating the holy hell out of Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronic aggressors and/or a vintage pinball machine. Obviously not much of this is meant to be taken all that seriously, but it still works in a tongue-in-cheek midnight movie sort of way.
Where to watch it:Hulu; VOD

45. Army of the Dead

Release date: May 14
Cast: Dave Bautista, Omari Hardwick, Ella Purnell
Writer: Zack Snyder (300), Joby Harrold (Awake), Shay Hatten (John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum)
Director: Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead '04)
Why it's good: The Dirty Dozen, Escape from New York, and Dawn of the Dead walk into a blender, and the result is a big, fat, colorful, epic piece of genre filmmaking. All you need to know is that all of Las Vegas is surrounded by walls and swollen with zombies—and a team of mercenaries, led by Dave Bautista, have to invade the city in order to retrieve a huge pile of money stashed inside a secure vault. The eclectic ensemble helps a whole lot, and the film offers a barrage of set pieces that are tough to resist.
Where to watch it: Netflix

44. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Release date: June 4
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson,
Writer: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (Orphan)
Director: Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona)
Why it's good: It takes some skill to keep a franchise feeling fresh when you're working within a franchise that includes evil nuns, killer dolls, and numerous demonic possessions, but Conjuring 3 handles the assignment well enough. This time around our ghost-chasers are working on a case in which an unlikely murderer blames you know who for his crimes. (It's the devil.)
Where to watch it:VOD

43. Sound of Violence

Release date: May 21
Cast: Jasmin Savoy Brown, Lili Simmons, James Jagger
Writer-director: Alex Noyer
Why it's good: A young woman who once struggled with hearing problems discovers that her malady can be alleviated through some exceedingly non-conventional means: specifically, she becomes obsessed with the sounds of death. Led by a fantastic performance by Jasmin Savoy Brown, this novel, gritty little slasher throwback has a lot more on its mind than just mindless carnage.
Where to watch it: Showtime; VOD

42. Wrong Turn

Release Date: February 26
Cast: Charlotte Vega, Adain Bradley, Bill Sage
Writer: Alan B. McElroy
Director: Mike P. Nelson
Why it's good: Back when I saw the original Wrong Turn in 2003, my first reaction was "meh," but upon revisiting the flick a few years later I had a whole lot of fun with it. Movies are weird that way. And then the same thing happened with this remake! At first, I was irked that it deviated so wildly from the original (albeit simplistic) tale of backwoods cannibals run amok, but after a second look I found a lot to enjoy in this strange, engaging, and frequently unpredictable reboot.
Where to watch it: Showtime; VOD


Release date: May 21
Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Madisen Beaty, Inanna Sarkis
Writer-director: Simon Barrett (You're Next)
Why it's good: A spirited new student at a very cliquey girls school gets a quick lesson on who's in charge (the mean girls are) before learning about some recent tragic history; a student has died under mysterious circ*mstances, so of course it's time to try to make contact with her through supernatural methods. An excellent lead performance, some nice production design, and quick pacing keep this wry, understated chiller from feeling overly familiar.
Where to watch it:Shudder;VOD

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (5)

40. Superhost

Release date: September 2
Cast: Sara Canning, Osric Chau, Gracie Gillam
Writer-director: Brandon Christensen(Z)
Why it's good: A pair of YouTubers who rate rental homes stumbles across a "superhost" who may or may not be a very unhinged young woman (non-spoiler: she is.) This timely social media thriller benefits from a clever screenplay, a fantastically manic performance from Gracie Gillam, a few unexpected shocks, and an amusing cameo from genre icon Barbara Crampton.
Where to watch it: Shudder

39. Lucky

Release date: March 4
Cast: Brea Grant, Dhruv Uday Singh, Leith Burke
Writer: Brea Grant (12 Hour Shift)
Director: Natasha Kermani (Imitation Girl)
Why it's good: "A young woman finds herself being stalked by an unknown assailant" is how a lot of horror movies open, but this one has a lot more to it than just another series of gory dispatches. It's actually a very clever and progressively more compelling time loop story that focuses on the cyclical nature of violence and how difficult it is to escape from terrifying memories. (It's also fun, too.)
Where to watch it: Shudder

38. Old

Release date: July 23
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell
Writer-director: M. Night Shyamalan(Unbreakable)
Why it's good: An isolated tropical island seems to possess some dark supernatural forces: not only is there no escape, but the location seems to speed up the aging process in very shocking and disturbing ways. Doesn't rank among M. Night's finest, but has enough interesting ideas, compelling characters, and disturbing moments to keep genre fans happy.
Where to watch it:VOD

37. Concrete Plans

Release date: March5
Cast: Goran Bogdan, Kevin Guthrie, Chris Reilly
Writer-director:Will Jewell
Why it's good: A group of contractors find themselves in deep trouble after their rotten employer runs afoul of a horrible accident—and things quickly spiral out of control in this dark, amusing, twisty thriller. At times, the British film even manages to evokeDanny Boyle's Shallow Grave,which is high praise indeed.
Where to watch it: Amazon Prime; VOD

36. My Heart Can't Beat Unless You Tell It To

Release date: June 25
Cast: Patrick Fugit, Ingrid Sophie Schram, Owen Campbell
Writer-director:Jonathan Cuartas
Why it's good: A low-key character piece about vampirism, chronic ailments, and the importance of loyalty amongst loved ones, this movie isn't exactly the perfect horror movie for a "fun" Friday night but it's definitely worth a look if you enjoy gloomy dramas that use the horror genre in subtle, humanistic ways.
Where to watch it: VOD

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (6)

35. Son

Release date: July 8
Cast: Andi Matichak, Emile Hirsch, Luke David Blumm
Writer-director: Ivan Kavanagh(The Canal)
Why it's good: A devoted young mother is terrified to learn that her son has come down with a mysterious disease, but the source of the kid's ailment may be more insidious than just a simple virus. With the help of a concerned detective, she begins to uncover the truth. This low-key creeper boasts a few worthwhile moments of shocks and jolts, plus the mystery of the poor child's sickness is actually pretty compelling.
Where to watch it: Shudder

34. Gaia

Release date: June 18
Cast: Monique Rockman, Carel Nel, Alex van Dyk
Writer: Tertius Kapp
Director: Jaco Bouwer
Why it's good: This creepy South African export would make for an interesting double feature with Ben Wheatley's Into the Earth (mentioned above) because it's about a park ranger who travels deep into a foreboding forest, only to discover a "crazy" man and his young son—but also something much, much scarier, like in a biological sense. Beautifully shot and quietly fascinating.
Where to watch it:VOD

33. The Power

Release date: April 8
Cast: Rose Williams, Diveen Henry, Amy Beth Hayes
Writer-director: Corinna Faith
Why it's good: It's all about the atmosphere in this low-key but entirely engaging British chiller about a nurse forced to work in a dingy old hospital that keeps losing its electricity. It's a simple enough premise, but the location and the production design are top-notch, and the general vibe of the piece is just endlessly eerie. Lead actor Rose Williams delivers some great work too, given that the entire movie rests on her shoulders.
Where to watch it: Shudder

32. Kandisha

Release date: July 22
Cast: Mathilde Lamusse, Suzy Bemba, Samarcande Saadi
Writer-directors: Alexandre Bustillo (Inside), Julien Maury (Inside)
Why it's good: As with the Candyman/Bloody Mary/Beetlejuice trick, this monster shows up when you repeat its name several times and makes your life a living hell. This time around, it's a group of young women who summon a seemingly invincible spirit of vengeance—and the results are not pretty.
Where to watch it: Shudder

31. The Boy Behind the Door

Release date: July 29
Cast: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten
Writer-directors:David Charbonier (The Djinn), Justin Powell (The Djinn)
Why it's good: Two young boys are abducted by a mysterious couple. One escapes and does all he can to rescue his still-captured pal. Of course there's a little more to it than that, but the beauty of this intense indie is in its palpable, sustained sense of suspense, and a great lead performance by Lonnie Chavis.
Where to watch it: Shudder

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (7)

30. Blood Red Sky

Release date: July 23
Cast: Peri Baumeister, Carl Anton Koch, Dominic Purcell
Writer: Stefan Holtz, Peter Thorwarth
Director: Peter Thorwarth (Not My Day)
Why it's good: This rock-solid action-horror hybrid from Germany puts hijackers and passengers on a plane along with a seriously pissed-off mama vampire. It runs perhaps a bit too long for its own good, but the movie benefits from nice pacing and several kinetic set pieces.
Where to watch it: Netflix

29. The Feast

Release Date: November 19
Cast: Annes Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones
Writer: Roger Williams
Director: Lee Haven Jones
Why it's good: Last year there was sort of a reawakening in the realm of folk horror cinema (check out the fantastic documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched on Shudder) and this sedate but effortlessly chilling thriller from Wales is a certifiable winner in that department. It's about a remote dinner party, a mysterious young waitress, and some very upsetting dark magic.
Where to watch it: VOD

28. The Columnist

Release date: May 7
Cast: Katja Herbers, Genio de Groot, Rein Hofman
Writer: Daan Windhorst
Director: Ivo van Aart
Why it's good: A frustrated newspaper columnist decides to lash out at her online oppressors in all sorts of brutally violent ways. This pitch-black horror comedy is equal parts timely social commentary and sly slasher flick, and it showcases a fantastic lead performance by Herbers, who stars in the former CBS and now Paramount+ horror series Evil (and should be familiar if you've watched Westworld or the very underrated atomic-bomb drama Manhattan). Don't be surprised if this one gets an "Americanized" remake eventually.
Where to watch it:Shudder; VOD

27. Sator

Release Date: February 9
Cast: Michael Daniel, Rachel Johnson, Aurora Lowe
Writer: Jordan Graham
Director: Jordan Graham
Why it's good: A man deep in the forest is haunted by the stories his grandmother tells of "Sator," but is she talking about an actual creature, or is she suffering from dementia, or both? This abstract, contemplative "slow burn" may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there's something undeniably personal about this strange, beautifully shot dark fable.
Where to watch it: Shudder; VOD

26. Slumber Party Massacre

Release Date: October 16
Cast: Hannah Gonera, Frances Sholto-Douglas, Mila Rayne
Writer: Suzanne Keilly
Director: Danishka Esterhazy
Why it's good: The spirit of the camp classic original Slumber Party Massacre (1982) is alive and well and currently causing all sorts of mayhem in this low-budget, high-creativity remake. A game cast and a winning sense of humor help a whole lot, which allows for a raucous good time once the knives start slashin'. The plot? Well, it's mostly right there in the title, truth be told.
Where to watch it: VOD

25. Fear Street Part 1: 1994

Release date: July 2
Cast: Maya Hawke, Charlene Amoia, David W. Thompson
Writer: Leigh Janiak, Phil Graziadei
Director:Leigh Janiak (Honeymoon)
Why it's good: Clearly inspired by the nostalgic horror trend that brought us Stranger Things and a two-part It adaptation, this colorful throwback (which is based on the series of R. L. Stine books) focuses on a group of (actual!) teenagers who are forced to contend with a bunch of horrible monsters that have been resurrected by a witch. Best of all, if you like this one, it kicks off an entire trilogy.
Where to watch it: Netflix

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (8)

24. Candyman

Release date: August 27
Cast:Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Writer: Jordan Peele (Get Out), Win Rosenfeld, Nia DaCosta
Director: Nia DaCosta (Little Woods)
Why it's good: One of the best Clive Barker adaptations to date gets its third (and finest) sequel in this tale of a Chicago apartment complex that's been haunted by the "legendary" hook-handed Candyman. But when a young artist decides to research the horrible story behind the urban legend and crimes he's said to have committed,something evil is reawakened. Backed by a great cast and several impressive visual flourishes, this new Candyman manages to be classy and insightful—while still delivering a few striking moments of horror.
Where to watch it: VOD

23. A Quiet Place Part II

Release date: May 28
Cast: Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds
Writer-director: John Krasinski (A Quiet Place)
Why it's good: A good sequel will build upon the foundation of the previous film, and it will expand the premise in new and interesting ways while still retaining the key morsels that the fans want. And that's precisely what the Quiet Place II crew pulls off: We get a taste of what we loved in A Quiet Place, and we also get a compelling new hook to hang the franchise on. This time instead of holing up in their homestead, the Abbott clan realize they have to hit the road in a quest for safer shelter. But the sound-sensitive alien monsters are roaming the countryside looking (er, listening) for new victims.
Where to watch it:Paramount+; VOD

22. The Deep House

Release Date: November 5
Cast: Camille Rowe, James Jagger, Eric Savin
Writer: Rachel Parker & Julien David
Director: Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury
Why it's good: A found footage haunted house movie? Pretty sure we've all seen that before. Oh, what's that? The house is at the bottom of a lake? And we're working with the French filmmakers who gave us the memorably brutal thriller Inside (2007)? Those should be reasons enough for any horror fan to give this novel concoction a fair shot—if only to marvel at how tough this movie must have been to shoot.
Where to watch it: VOD

21. Come True

Release date: March 12
Cast: Julia Sarah Stone, Landon Liboiron, Carlee Ryski
Writer: Anthony Scott Burns, Daniel Weissenberger (Butchers)
Director:Anthony Scott Burns (Our House)
Why it's good: A desperate young woman signs up for a mysterious sleep study, only to discover that an entirely new realm of terror is waiting for her. This dense and intelligent piece of well-wrought sci-fi horror takes a few big swings, and generates an impressive collection of creepy moments. And, without spoiling anything, it's got a wild payoff waiting at the end.
Where to watch it:Hulu; VOD

20. The Vigil

Release Date: February 26
Cast: Dave Davis, Menashe Lustig, Malky Goldman
Writer: Keith Thomas
Director: Keith Thomas
Why it's good: There are numerous good horror films that deal with Christianity in some fashion, so it's nice to add this smart, creepy, low-key thriller to the list of Jewish-themed scary movies. The story focuses on a conflicted young man who agrees to stand an overnight vigil over a recently deceased member of the Orthodox Jewish community, but of course something malevolent is afoot too. Offers several cool jolts and a fascinating look at a little-represented culture.
Where to watch it:Hulu; VOD

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (9)

19. Superdeep

Release date: June 17
Cast: Milena Radulovic, Sergey Ivanyuk, Nikolay Kovbas
Writer-director: Arseny Syuhin
Why it's good: I'm a huge sucker for subterranean horror stories, and while this Russian export isn't quite as novel as last year's Sputnik, there's certainly a lot here to appreciate. Loosely based on an actual event (more like an actual location), it's about a group of scientists who travel (super) deep underground, only to discover something biologically horrible.
Where to watch it: Shudder

18. Till Death

Release date: July 2
Cast: Megan Fox, Eoin Macken, Callan Mulvey
Writer: Jason Carvey
Director: S.K. Dale
Why it's good: On paper, it sounds just like any other home invasion or cat-and-mouse thriller—an unhappy wife is targeted by her husband's enemies. But thanks to a tight script, several solid moments of suspense, and a very strong lead performance from Megan Fox, this tense movie turns out to be an unexpected winner.
Where to watch it:Netflix; VOD

17. The Medium

Release date: October 14
Cast: Narilya Gulmongkolpech, Sawanee Utoomma, Sirani Yankittikan
Writer: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Director: Banjong Pisanthanakun
Why it's good: This low-key slow-burn from Thailand requires a patient viewer, but those who get into what's being offered here won't mind putting forth the extra effort. It's the story of an alleged medium from a remote village in Thailand, and what goes down as she's being interviewed for a documentary film. Again, it takes a little while to warm up, but warm up it does.
Where to watch it: Shudder

16. Last Night in Soho

Release Date: October 29, 2021
Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Diana Rigg
Writer: Edgar Wright & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Director: Edgar Wright
Why it's good: A young fashion designer finds herself projected back to the swingin' 60s era of London, and at first it feels like a fascinating dream—and then things take a much darker turn once our heroine becomes fascinated by a beautiful singer who has a few creepy admirers. No plot synopsis can sum up how cool the performances, the production design, and nifty thriller technique are. Wright is at the top of his game with this offbeat, compelling film.
Where to watch it: VOD

15. Titane

Release Date: October 1
Cast: Agathe Rousselle, Vincent Lindon, Garance Marillier
Writer: Julia Ducournau, Jacques Akchoti, Simonetta Greggio
Director: Julia Ducournau
Why it's good: You can always rely on the French to deliver something memorably strange when it comes to indie horror films, and that's certainly the case with this audacious, fascinating sophom*ore effort from Julia Ducournau (after 2016's Raw). It's about a desperate young woman who discovers some uniquely unpleasant results after having sex with a car. Yes, you read that right.
Where to watch it: VOD

14. Censor

Release date: June 11
Cast: Niamh Algar, Michael Smiley, Nicholas Burns
Writer: Prano Bailey-Bond, Anthony Fletcher
Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Why it's good:A clever and quietly unsettling thriller about a British film censor in the 1980s who thinks she sees her long-missing sister in a sleazy homemade horror flick. What begins as a novel sort of mystery story gradually evolves into a freaky piece of psychological horror. Would probably make for a cool double feature with 2012's Berberian Sound Studio.
Where to watch it:Hulu; VOD

13. The Night House

Release date: August20
Cast:Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall
Writer:Ben Collins (Super Dark Times), Luke Piotrowski (Super Dark Times)
Director:David Bruckner (The Ritual)
Why it's good: The amazing Rebecca Hall stars as a recent widow who starts to learn some very disturbing things about her late husband. And since that's a fairly conventional set-up, it's a good thing that The Night House has a lot more to offer than that; it's one of those sedate and low-key horror films that's more interested in character and humanity and in simple door slams and jump scares. Not onlyis this a powerful rumination on loss and recovery, it's also quietly and confidently creepy.
Where to watch it: VOD

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (10)

12. Malignant

Release Date: September 10
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young
Writer:Akela Cooper (Hell Fest)
Director: James Wan (The Conjuring)
Why it's good:The horror-lovin' James Wan is never going to give up on the genre—no matter how many expensive tentpoleshe directs, like the upcomingAquaman 2—and this wild sub-genre mash-up is proof that the man is still having lots of fun. This time around, we're thrust into the horrific visions of a woman with a mysterious past; visions of murder that are somehow coming true! (Cue the ominous music.)
Where to watch it:HBO Max

11. Jakob's Wife

Release date: April 16
Cast: Barbara Crampton, Larry Fessenden, Bonnie Aarons
Writer: Travis Stevens, Kathy Charles, Mark Steensland
Director: Travis Stevens (Girl on the Third Floor)
Why it's good: Comedy and horror can be a risky balance sometimes, but when you've got a pair of lead actors who know how to handle the two, the result can be pretty great. Such is the case here as two genre veterans play a religious couple who run into a serious vampire problem and must also contend with some unexpected marital friction at the same time.
Where to watch it: Shudder

10. The Stylist

Release date: March 1
Cast: Brea Grant, Najarra Townsend, Laura Kirk
Writers: Jill Gevargizian, Eric Stolze, Eric Havens
Director: Jill Gevargizian
Why it's good: There is no shortage of compelling horror films that are essentially dark character studies of their main villain, and this nicely shot, dryly amusing slasher is the latest addition to the canon. Imagine Maniac (1980 or 2012), only this time around the killer is a highly disturbed hair stylist who likes to collect various souvenirs from her victims. The Stylist benefits from a disconcertingly classy visual motif, as well as a fantastic lead performance from Najarra Townsend (Contracted).
Where to watch it: VOD

9. V/H/S/94

Release date: October 6
Cast: Anna Hopkins, Kyal Legend, Budi Ross
Directors: Simon Barrett, Steven Kostanski, Chloe Okuno, Jennifer Reeder, Ryan Prows, Timo Tjahjanto
Why it's good: The consistently creepy found footage anthology series is back, and it's a worthwhile chapter indeed. Highlights here include a demonic rat, a haunted funeral home, and a gleefully gruesome piece of sci-fi body horror. But let's not ruin all of the surprises, right?
Where to watch it: Shudder

8. Psycho Goreman

Release date: January 22
Cast: Nita-Josee Hanna, Owen Myre, Adam Brooks
Writer-director: Steve Kostanski (The Void)
Why it's good: It's a gleefully goofy '80s throwback in which a pair of kids befriend (enslave?) a monstrous alien killer. It's all very gory and silly and fun, like a sardonic yet affectionate mockery of Harry and the Hendersons that lands a lot of good laughs through amiable shock value and unapologetic weirdness. The Astron-6 vibe may not work for everyone, but it sure does for me. (Also check out Manborg, The Void, and/or The Editor.)
Where to watch it: Shudder

7. Prisoners of the Ghostland

Release date: September 17
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes
Writers: Aaron Hendry, Reza Sixo Safai
Director: Sion Sono (Cold Fish)
Why it's good: Nicolas Cage leads an eclectic international ensemble in an equally bizarre casserole of sci-fi, western, horror, and dark comedy. Here, Cage is tasked with venturing into a violent netherworld in an effort to rescue an insane kingpin's granddaughter. This movie, which screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, might be 10% too gonzo for most mainstream viewers, but those who appreciate Cage's brand of genre insanity will find much to like here.
Where to watch it:VOD

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (11)

6. The Queen of Black Magic

Release date: January 29
Cast: Ario Bayu, Hannah Al Rashid, Adhisty Zara
Writer: Joko Anwar (Impetigore)
Director: Kimo Stamboel (Macabre)
Why it's good: A group of old friends gather at the creepy old orphanage in which they were raised, and all hell breaks loose from the jump. It's a remake of a 1981 film, and one of the coolest Indonesian horror films of the past several years. If you enjoy this one, you should also check out Satan's Slaves, May the Devil Take You, and May the Devil Take You Too.
Where to watch it: Shudder

5. Dementer

Release date: March 2
Cast: Brandy Edmiston, Larry Fessenden, Katie Groshong
Director-writer: Chad Crawford Kinkle (Jug Face)
Why it's good: This shocker deals with a former cult member who begins to worry that her disturbing past is about to catch up with her and spill over into her new role as a caregiver. Backed by some excellent performances and some very disturbing themes, it's one of the year's strangest (and best) indie horror releases.
Where to watch it: VOD

4. Bloodthirsty

Release date: April 23
Cast: Lauren Beatty, Greg Bryk, Katharine King So, Michael Ironside
Writers: Wendy Hill-Tout, Lowell
Director: Amelia Moses (Bleed with Me)
Why it's good: A talented young singer gets the chance to work with a renowned but creepy producer. Of course his studio is located somewhere isolated, and of course she goes there anyway. But this woman is carrying a secret of her own, and it might be even worse than her new patron's. Like lots of very clever horror movies, Bloodthirsty starts out in one somewhat conventional direction before heading off in some more creative ones.
Where to watch it:Amazon Prime; VOD

3. Werewolves Within

Release date: June 25
Cast: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil
Writer: Mishna Wolff
Director: Josh Ruben (Scare Me)
Why it's good: Horror and comedy go together like peanut butter and jelly, but, as with the sandwich, the trick is to get the proportions right. This fantastic creature feature whodunnit, based on a 2016 video game and starring I Think You Should Leave's Richardson, gets it right: it's chock full of funny moments, colorful characters, clever filmmaking techniques, and just enough full-bore horror to keep the fans happy. It's one of the year's best genre surprises.
Where to watch it: VOD

2. Antlers

Release date: October 29
Cast: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Graham Greene
Writer: Henry Chaisson, Nick Antosca, Scott Cooper
Director: Scott Cooper (Hostiles)
Why it's good: A kind schoolteacher comes to realize that one of her students has a difficult home life—and she has no idea how right she is. This moody, engrossing, and masterfully performed campfire story, which is inspired by Native American folk tales, delivers horror and humanity in equal measure.
Where to watch it: VOD

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (12)

1. Saint Maud

Release date: January 29
Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Knight
Writer-director: Rose Glass
Why it's good: Call it a character study, a slow-burn psychological thriller, or just a deeply fascinating tale of religious fervor, but there's no denying that this debut feature from Rose Glass is something special. It's about a young caretaker who is dealing with a crisis of faith—and a crisis of mental health at the worst possible time.
Where to watch it: Amazon; Hulu; Paramount+

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Scott Weinberg is a contributor to Thrillist.

The 57 Best Horror Movies of 2021, Ranked (2024)


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