Top 10 Horror Movies: 1980s



Top 10 Horror Movies: 1980s

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Telly Vlachakis.

Prepare to be afraid. Be very afraid. Join as we count down our picks for the top 10 horror movies of the 1980s. For this list, we're looking at those horror gems that established new groundwork, low-budget underground revelations, and the birth of the horror-film franchise. This is a part of a series of videos, spanning the decades of horror cinema from the 1920s to the 2000s. WARNING: Contains mature content.

Special thanks to our users msche80397, John Nolan, Norris Vaughn, christian cardoza, nickberck22, Martin Morbid Wilhelmsson, PacMan MK, HoltLegoMC, mojoo, troll, Heartbreak Cody, pacman1865, fsanders2, coolminecrafter8000, hyprmania52, David NM, Jaime Enrique Gutierrez Pérez, Jack Redshaw, richardbain, Emily JoAnn Warden, Michael Morris and Jeremy Bowen for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest
Script written by Telly Vlachakis.

Top 10 Horror Movies: 1980s

Prepare to be afraid. Be very afraid. Welcome to, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the top 10 horror movies of the 1980s.

For this list, we’re looking at those horror gems that established new groundwork, low-budget underground revelations, and the birth of the horror-film franchise. This is a part of a series of videos, spanning the decades of horror cinema from the 1920s to the 2000s.

#10: “Hellraiser” (1987)

We start things off very bloody with Clive Barker’s demented gothic masterpiece. Based on his own novella, this gory marvel follows the poor unsuspecting victims of a possessed puzzle box. After Frank tracks it down and is able to open it, it turns into a Pandora’s Box, unleashing unimaginable demonic creatures whose only purpose is to torture people in a hellish otherworld. When he escapes and is resurrected, Pinhead and his Cenobites go on a soul-hunting mission. With controversial and creative effects, and sadomasochistic imagery, this sleeper hit made Clive Barker a household name.

#9: “Child’s Play” (1988)

Although a moderate success at first, “Child’s Play,” like most of our ‘80s list, became a cult phenomenon. When serial killer Charles Lee Ray is cornered in a toy store, he makes sure his soul gets transferred to a doll he just found. The possessed doll soon finds itself in the hands of a young Andy Barclay. The rest of the mayhem writes itself, but the creativity behind making Chucky come to life, and not keeping him in the shadows the whole time, makes this fright fest stand out. Chucky is menacing but entertaining, and all-out frightening.

#8: “Poltergeist” (1982)

This Academy Award-nominated blockbuster has a slight taste of golden oldies drive-in funhouse thrill-ride to it, but once it gets going, its simple haunted house story grabs you and doesn’t let go. Monster under your bed? In your closet? In your TV? Evil clowns? Dead bodies in your pool? It’s got it all, and leaves no stone, or grave, unturned. With a powerhouse team like Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg behind it, and released just one week apart from “E.T.,” people knew what kind of extravagant special effects and storytelling to expect and “Poltergeist” certainly delivered.

#7: “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” (1987)

Although the original “Evil Dead” has many merits, and is highly influential, “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn” is what happens when you give a visionary all the freedom he needs. After much underground success, and an endorsement by Stephen King, funding for a sequel became possible, and a young Sam Raimi saw an opportunity: not just for a sequel, but for a sort of re-imagining; what would “Evil Dead” have looked like with a huge budget? Throw Ash into the same cabin, facing the same demons, add more comedic elements, and enjoy the purely insane pandemonium.

#6: “Friday the 13th” (1980)

What kicked off the longest-running horror franchise of all time, this cheaply-made sleeper hit was developed as a response to the success of “Halloween,” and other holiday-themed horror flicks. Sean S. Cunningham created something unstoppable though; what started off as a revenge thriller about a killer stalking sex-crazed teens at Camp Crystal Lake turned into one of the most iconic masked faces in horror, and which also spawned sequels, spinoffs, a TV series, books, comics, video games, you name it. Jason has been to hell and back, many times, and it seems like nothing is going to stop him.

#5: “An American Werewolf in London” (1981)

Comedy genius John Landis shocked everyone with his 1981 horror comedy, mostly with how easily he scared everyone. The story follows two young American backpackers in England who get attacked by a werewolf. Although only one of them survives, he is plagued by his dead friend’s ghost, warning him of the impending full moon. What follows is an Oscar-winning transformation that will never be forgotten. Released alongside other 1981 werewolf gems, like the equally frightening and classic “Wolfen” and “The Howling,” our #5 pick stands out for being sophisticated, for having aged well, and for being a bite above the rest.

#4: “The Fly” (1986)

Body-horror master David Cronenberg is best known for bringing the chills without using conventional methods, like ghosts, demons and monsters, as evident in the brilliant “Videodrome” and “Dead Ringers.” But in 1986 he took a step back, and aimed his disturbed mind at a very classic monster, and we will forever thank him for it. Jeff Goldblum’s slow transformation and deterioration into the Fly is the stuff of nightmares; images you will never unsee, and moments that will make even the toughest guy hide behind a pillow.

#3: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)

Director Wes Craven was inspired by the true story of a group of people who actually died while they were dreaming, and created the man of your nightmares. Putting a twist on the whole slasher craze, this dark fantasy series follows the demented and unrelenting Freddy Krueger, a demonic child-killer, and king of one-liners, who is able to enter your dreams and use creative ways to end your life. Something as innocent as a nap can mean death for the kids of Elm Street, try as they might to stay awake.

#2: “The Thing” (1982)

Although “The Fog” was a worthy follow-up to “Halloween,” it wasn’t until “The Thing” that John Carpenter is able to sink his teeth into his audience again and never let go. More of a very twisted reimagining of the novella and less of a remake to the 1951 classic, we follow Kurt Russell and his team of researchers in a tiny Antarctic station as they are being torn apart by an unseen parasitic alien life form. It quickly devolves into pure claustrophobic paranoia, since the alien can take the form of any one of them.

Before we bleed into our top spot, here are a few honourable mentions.
- “Fright Night” (1985)
- “The Howling” (1981)
- “Re-Animator” (1985)
- “Day of the Dead” (1985)

#1: “The Shining” (1980)

Master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has successfully turned every genre into cinematic art: comedy, drama, war film, sci-fi, historical epic. Which is why people anxiously awaited to see what he would do with horror. He took another master’s source material, and turned Stephen King’s already-classic novel into what was hailed as “a masterpiece in modern horror.” Unforgettable performances, iconic imagery and dialogue, stunning locations, ominous camerawork; Jack Nicholson’s descent into insanity boils ever so slowly below the surface that people can only stare in stunned terror and pray it never happens to them.

Do you agree with our list? Which horror classic from the ‘80s would you sink your teeth into? For more thrilling top ten lists published daily, make sure to subscribe to
What about My Bloody Valentine, and Prom Night?