Top 21 Scariest Movie Scenes of Each Year (2000 - 2020)

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Top 21 Scariest Movie Scenes of Each Year (2000 - 2020)

VOICE OVER: Kirsten Ria Squibb WRITTEN BY: Sammie Purcell
These terrifying movie moments had us covering our eyes in fear! For this list, we'll be looking at one film scene from each year that scared the absolute pants off of us. Our countdown includes "Saw", “Zodiac”, “Requiem for a Dream”, "Get Out", “Parasite”, and more!
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Top 21 Scariest Movie Scenes of Each Year (2000-2020)


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 21 Scariest Movie Scenes of Each Year (2000-2020).

For this list, we’ll be looking at one film scene from each year that scared the absolute pants off of us.

Beware of spoilers ahead, and let us know if we missed any of your favorite scary sequences in the comments below.

2000: Shock Therapy

“Requiem for a Dream”
Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem For a Dream” might not be a horror film, but even so, it has the ability to scare you within an inch of your life. The story follows four people who struggle with drug addiction, and explores how that affects them mentally, emotionally and physically. Played by actress Ellen Burstyn, Sara starts hallucinating after she begins taking amphetamines in an attempt to lose weight. She’s eventually admitted to a psych ward and undergoes shock therapy. The film does a chilling job of putting you in Sara’s shoes, making you feel as though her hallucinations are your own. Sure, it works as a PSA about the perils of addiction, but it’s also just a terrifying sequence.

2001: The Diner

“Mulholland Dr.”
If you’re looking for nightmare fuel, this scene in “Mulholland Dr.” is sure to deliver. David Lynch is known for his uncanny ability to blur the line between dreams and reality, leaving the viewer confused as to what’s real and what’s not. During this scene, a man named Dan talks about a nightmare he keeps having – and slowly, but surely, elements from his nightmare enter into the environment. He walks outside and heads toward the dumpster behind the diner, where the creature from his nightmare awaits him. This scene takes place early in the film, and sets the tone, ensuring the audience won't know what’s real.

2002: Samara Comes to You

“The Ring”
Welcome to the scene that spawned a Scary Movie spoof and many a nightmare. “The Ring” has a pretty simple premise – there’s a cursed video, and anyone who watches it dies in seven days. As a viewer, you spend a lot of time watching scary things on TVs in this movie, but the most horrifying television experience comes at the end. Samara, the ghost who’s been haunting the characters, crawls directly out of the television set before killing one of the main characters. The idea that the thing that scares you on TV could burst through the screen and into your home? That’s gonna haunt you.

2003: Abandoned Hospital

“One Missed Call”
This truly terrifying Japanese horror film follows a young woman named Yumi, who receives a haunting phone call, seemingly from her future self. In her attempt to solve the dark mystery, Yumi teams up with detective Hiroshi Yamashita, and their investigation eventually brings them to a creepy abandoned hospital. Time is of the essence, however, as it becomes more and more apparent that Yumi’s life is nearing a horrifying end. Yamashita thinks he’s discovered and stopped the source of the evil, but this only leads to a pretrifying confrontation between Yumi and the ghost allegedly responsible. What follows is at the same time both cathartic and chill-inducing.

2004: Reverse Bear Trap

“Saw”
Fans of the “Saw”franchise know there’s no shortage of gore and guts, and plenty of scares to go around. But when the first “Saw” came out in 2004, audiences were blown away by how far the movie was willing to go – and the reverse bear trap scene stands out from the rest. One of the characters taking part in Jigsaw’s deranged game, Amanda, wakes up with a reverse bear trap contraption stuck to her head. She’s immediately told she has 60 seconds to get out before the trap crushes her head. The image of Amanda in the gnarly device has become emblematic of the franchise, and one of the most enduring, scary moments from 2004.

2005: Night Vision

“The Descent”
Getting stuck in an unmapped cave is scary enough – seriously, that’s a horror movie on its own, no scary cave cannibals necessary. To up the ante even further, director Neil Marshall decided to add monsters into the mix for this 2005 horror masterpiece, “The Descent.” The story follows a group of six women who go spelunking. The scariest scene in the movie comes when the women discover they’re not alone. As they use night vision mode on a camera to search for their way out, a horrifying, humanoid creature appears out of nowhere. These monsters would be scary in any circumstances, but shooting the scene with night vision makes it that much more confusing and tense.

2006: The Pale Man

“Pan’s Labyrinth”
“Pan’s Labyrinth” takes its themes from fairytales, but as any fan can confirm, horror is never off the table for a Guillermo del Toro film. When a mystical faun tells 10-year-old Ofelia she may be the reincarnated princess of the underworld, he gives her three tasks to complete before she can return to her kingdom. She passes the first one relatively uneventfully, but the second proves much harder – and scarier. Ofelia must get a dagger away from The Pale Man – a vicious monster that eats children. He’s absolutely terrifying to behold, with eyeballs in the middle of his hands and pale, folding skin. It’s a uniquely horrifying encounter for all viewers—regardless of age.

2007: The Basement Scene

“Zodiac”
There’s plenty of things to be scared of in David Fincher’s “Zodiac” – its namesake serial killer, for one. The film follows the search for the infamous Zodiac Killer in 1960s San Francisco, mainly the efforts of political cartoonist Robert Graysmith. The film recreates many of the killer’s crimes, but the most terrifying moment isn’t a murder at all. When Graysmith receives a tip that a man named Bob Vaughn might have some information on the Zodiac, he goes to Vaughn’s home. As the scene progresses, Graysmith (and the audience by extension) gets the sinking feeling that Vaughn is more involved with the murders than first thought. Your heart beats faster and terror overtakes you as Graysmith races to leave – it’s a masterclass in tension.

2008: Stranger in the Background

“The Strangers”
What could be scarier than faceless strangers terrorizing you in your own home for no reason at all? 2008’s “The Strangers” explored that idea to great effect. The film is a slow burn at first – Kristen and James are spending the night at a cabin after a friend’s wedding. When James leaves to go buy cigarettes, someone knocks on the door, scaring Kristen. She calls James, but unbeknownst to her, the assailants have already entered the house. The camera moves from her face to show the entirety of the room – and a masked figure slowly moves in from the shadows. It’s so subtle, you might not even notice it on first viewing. But when you do, you’re likely to scream.

2009: Hans Landa Interrogates a French Farmer

“Inglourious Basterds”
Another entry from an unlikely place, “Inglourious Basterds” offers typical Quentin Tarantino fare – dark humor, gratuitous violence and about a million movie references. But it also gives us a truly harrowing opening scene. The film takes place during World War II and opens on Hans Landa, played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz, interrogating a French farmer about the whereabouts of a Jewish family. Landa starts the encounter friendly enough, but there’s an undercurrent of something sinister – and it grows when the camera pans to the Jewish family in question hiding under the farmer’s floorboards. As the scene progresses, you slowly realize Landa knows, and those last images will stay with you forever.

2010: The Demon

“Insidious”
Even if you haven’t watched “Insidious,” you’ve likely seen the most famous image from the 2010 horror movie. The story revolves around married couple Josh and Renai, whose son becomes possessed. In one heart-stopping scene, Josh’s mother Lorraine tells him how she had a dream about a scary, mysterious figure lurking in their son’s room. As she tells the story, all of a sudden a terrifying, red-and-black faced demon appears behind Josh. The demon shows up in a moment where the audience expects a little bit of a reprieve from the scarefest, and so the anxiety goes from 0 to 100 in a split-second.

2011: The Tunnel of Death

“Kill List”
Rule number one of any horror movie – never run underground! Unfortunately, the protagonists of 2011’s “Kill List” missed the memo. In director Ben Wheatley’s psychological horror film, two former British soldiers-turned-hit men take on continuously more high stakes jobs until things get out of hand – and that’s putting it mildly. During one job, the two killers – Jay and Gal – encounter a sinister cult. After an altercation, the cult chases them underground, capturing Gal and mutilating him until Jay is forced to kill him out of mercy. The sequence pairs the uncertainty of the unknown with brutal gore, making for an unforgettable horror scene.

2012: Lawnmower

“Sinister”
Jump scares are a hallmark of the horror genre, and when done poorly, they can feel cheap. But, when they’re done right – they can still be incredibly exhilarating. Such is the case with 2012’s “Sinister,” a film about a writer who discovers home videos of murder in the attic of his new home. The writer – Ellison – watches the videos to try to uncover the truth about what happened in his house, but one of the videos delivers a more than grisly surprise. The video focuses on a seemingly innocent object – a lawnmower. The growl of the mower grows louder and louder, until unexpectedly – it rolls over a head. And if you don’t jump five feet in the air when it does, you’re braver than us.

2013: Wardrobe Witch

“The Conjuring”
Misdirection plays a crucial part in many a horror scene, but one of the most memorable has to be from 2013’s “The Conjuring.” The film follows paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who travel to Rhode Island to look into a mysterious force terrorizing the Perron family. One night, the Perron daughters believe something is hiding in their wardrobe. They open it, and to their relief, find nothing. But, of course, nobody is safe in a horror movie. The camera pans up to find Bathsheba – the horrifying entity haunting the family – crouching menacingly on top of the wardrobe. The scene is a masterful moment of horror, playing on audience expectation to great effect.

2014: The Tall Man

“It Follows”
2014 had a lot of memorable horror characters – this is the year that gave us “The Babadook,” after all. But nothing beats the Tall Man. “It Follows” isn’t very fast paced or filled with jump scares. Yet that same quality makes the scary moments even more heart-pounding. When Jay is stalked by a nameless, faceless creature that only she can see, things quickly go haywire. The creature can look like anyone and follows Jay wherever she goes – including her home. One night, the creature takes the shape of a freakishly tall man with sunken eyes. When he looms over Jay, it’s one of the scariest images of the year.

2015: The Shed

“The Witch”
Robert Eggers’s “The Witch’ has no shortage of petrifying images to choose from – or sounds, for that matter. The absolute gut punch of a peek-a-boo sequence immediately comes to mind. So does Black Phillip’s first words. But there’s no scarier scene than when the family shuts their children in a shed overnight, thinking their oldest daughter is a witch. The visuals and sounds from this scene embed themselves in your head and don’t let go – from the witch’s crackle, to the crow nursing from the matriarch of the family. It’s dark, bloody and scarring.

2016: Keep the Gun

“Green Room”
The genius of “Green Room” comes from its relatively simple set up – which then leads to one of the bloodiest gore fests of the decade. The film follows punk band the Ain’t Rights as they scrape by on tour. When a show falls through, they manage to book a last minute replacement gig. Unfortunately, it’s run by neo-Nazis. After the band plays their set, they stumble on the scene of a murder in the green room. The band tries to get away, and end up taking one of their captors hostage. A tense negotiation occurs, and then all hell breaks loose. The ensuing struggle is tense, bloody and harrowing in equal measure.

2017: The Sunken Place

“Get Out”
Jordan Peele’s masterpiece is a perfect blend of horror and social commentary, and one of the best examples is “The Sunken Place.” When Chris is unwillingly hypnotized, he falls down into the sunken place. But it isn’t filled with jump scares or horrifying monsters. No, what makes it so scary is the symbolism behind it. Peele has described the Sunken Place as a metaphor for marginalized groups and the systems that suppress them. Pair the imagery of falling with Daniel Kaluuya’s harrowing performance, and you’ve got a horror film that’s too real for comfort.

2018: The Attic

“Hereditary”
Ari Aster’s “Hereditary” made a splash as one of the scariest films of 2018, giving us plenty of scenes to choose from. The film follows the Graham family, who are haunted by a mysterious presence after the death of their grandmother. We could have gone with the scene where Charlie, the daughter, well… loses her head. But believe it or not, that’s not the most horrifying thing that happens in this movie. At the end of the film, it’s one horror after another. The matriarch of the family beheads herself with a piano wire, while members of the grandmother’s coven stand and watch. Yeah, that’s not the family reunion you want.

2019: Birthday Ghost

“Parasite”
2019 gave us a plethora of instantly iconic horror scenes. There’s the sacrificial Attestupa in “Midsommar”. And the introduction of the tethered in “Us”. But for this entry, we had to go with a scene that we just can’t get out of our heads - especially when we’re alone at home! Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” may not be your typical horror movie, but that doesn’t stop this scene from sending a chill down your spine. On his birthday, the youngest member of the Park family – Da-song – sneaks downstairs to eat his birthday cake. As he does, a horrifying face peeks up from the cellar, scaring the boy – and us – out of our wits.

2020: The Restaurant

“The Invisible Man”
Anchored by Elisabeth Moss’s thrilling performance, 2020’s “The Invisible Man” adapted H. G. Wells’ classic novel into a modern tale about abusive relationships. In the film, Cecilia desperately tries to convince everyone around her that her ex Adrian is stalking her using futuristic tech. Adrian spends the movie psychologically torturing Cecilia, but his worst – and scariest – offense comes when he slices Cecilia’s sister’s throat in the middle of a restaurant – and then frames Cecilia. It happens so fast and it’s so brutal that it takes a few seconds to sink in, and then you’re left gasping for breath.
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