Making a top-10 list is difficult and exhausting, especially for scary movies ripe for watching on Halloween. After serious consideration of many films — at one point there were 28 films on this list — these are my top-10 Halloween films to watch during the holiday, accompanied by a couple of honorable mentions.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
You cannot talk about Halloween movies without bringing up A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film carries on a lot of the classic horror movie motifs that were coined in Halloween (see No. 3), and it succeeds in leaving the audience questioning the difference between dreams and reality. The movie spawned a franchise consisting of eight other films, and nightmares of Freddy Krueger have kept children awake at night ever since.
2. Ghostbusters (1984)
While not necessarily a typical Halloween film, Ghostbusters provides a family-friendly, fun Halloween atmosphere that doesn’t hold back on the supernatural ghost guts. Plus, how could you go wrong with Bill Murray and a large marshmallow man? Ghostbusters provides a change of pace in a genre mostly filled with movies meant to scare you shitless.
3. Halloween (1978)
Jamie Lee Curtis makes her film debut in this slasher. One of the first modern movies to capture the gory side of the holiday, Halloween set the stage for the many scary movie franchises that followed. It was one of the first in a long line of slasher films that followed 1960’s Psycho. The film was also a trailblazer when it comes to the concept of the killer dying and coming back to life in the film.
4. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
The artistry involved in creating Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas makes it easily one of the best Halloween films of all time. Burton created a stop-motion animation film that is spooky enough for the holiday, yet still fits the heartwarming mold that Disney movies are known for. The film’s impact is also evident because Disney re-released it throughout the 2000s and still remains a cultural touchstone to this day.
5. Young Frankenstein (1974)
Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder are a dangerous pair in this comedy film that parodies Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Young Frankenstein pioneered the modern comedy-horror film that made projects like Ghostbusters and Hocus Pocus possible. The film brings laughter into an otherwise frightening story and holiday, inspiring countless people to “walk this way,” as Marty Feldman says in the movie.
6. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
When I was growing up, it was an annual tradition to watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with my family. For that reason alone, it would be almost sacrilegious for me to leave it off this list. That being said, it still belongs on this list in its own right for its superb quality. The television special continues to be re-aired annually, securing it a place among the best Halloween movies.
7. Halloweentown (1998)
This is another movie that hits close to home for me. If you were born before 1998, as I was, then this movie was a staple of your childhood. Every year around this time, Disney Channel would play the Halloweentown movies on repeat. A classic film, it brought the spirit of Halloween to a new generation.
8. The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Blair Witch Project revolutionized horror movies by popularizing the use of “found footage,” paving the way for recorded footage flicks such as Paranormal Activity, released in 2007. The film is also largely accepted as the first movie to be marketed primarily on the internet, showing it broke new ground.
9. The Shining (1980)
Not much needs to be said about The Shining. The film is largely accepted as one of the best and scariest movies of all time. The Shining popularized many classic and quotable lines such as “redrum,” “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and “Here’s Johnny!” Many people could argue that this movie should be higher on the list, but I personally feel that the movies ranked before this are better.
10. The Babadook (2014)
One of my all-time favorite movies (let alone horror films), The Babadook is one part horror film and one part psychological masterpiece. It is a movie that will make you jump out of your seat and leave the viewing thinking about what you just watched. I love The Babadook for its ability to show that the real monsters are the things that people face on a daily basis, while still staying true to the horror genre. The Babadook shows that the struggle with grief and with mental illness in general is not something that ends when we stop letting it control our lives; it is a struggle that occurs constantly. At the end of the film, after confronting the Babadook and subsequently letting go of her grief, the main character must go down into the basement each day and feed the Babadook, symbolizing how each person has to continue to live with their own grief, feeding it, without letting it consume them.
Honorable mentions: Friday the 13th (1980), Hocus Pocus (1993), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), The Exorcist (1973), Casper (1995) and Beetlejuice (1988).