Top 10 Horror Films of the 2000s

The best horror movies of the 2000s came from independent filmmakers in the US and Europe who found new ways to weave unique tales around traditional genre tropes…

10. Dead End (Andrea/Canape, France/USA, 2003)

dead end horror film top 10 2000s

Of a whole host of entertaining horror-comedies to be released during the decade “Dead End” stands out as the most frightening. I liked “Bubba Ho-tep”, “Severance”, “Shaun of the Dead”, and “Zombieland” but Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa’s film follows the formula set out by comedy-horror’s godfather John Landis. Landis still maintains that “An American Werewolf In London” is a horror film with a few funny bits but he has to admit it was the first to fully bring horror and comedy together to be at once gut-wrenching funny and gut-evacuating scary. “Dead End” is funny, but unlike the others, it makes sure it has some genuine scares up its sleeve and maintains a foreboding, suffocating tone throughout.
Discover More: Read my review (which I wrote way back in 2003)

9. Them (Moreau/Palud, France/Romania, 2006)

them ils romania horror best film 2006

If “Dead End” won the comedy-horror battle, “Them” (or “Ils” as it is known in its native language), won the middle class nightmare bout. It isn’t a new idea – “The Hills Have Eyes” was steeped in this concept of wholesome, morally well-meaning people meeting their doom when encountering a god-less under-class. America had a go with “The Strangers”, Britain had a go with “Eden Lake”, and German Michael Haneke had a go with “Funny Games”. But the stand out was “Them”, a film with so much tension you might need to buy a new sofa after finding you’ve dug your nails through the outer lining and are now spitting out foam. Directors Moreau and Palud favour a stylish, fast-paced thrill ride over character musing that grabs you from the first reel and never lets go. Even the shocking climax will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. The two talented directors would head to Hollywood after the success of “Them” and partake in some of that remake madness, making “The Eye” with Jessica Alba. True to their talent, the film was one of the better remakes during the decade.

8. Switchblade Romance (Aja, France, 2003)

switchblade romance horror film

So far we’ve had the best horror-comedy and the best middle class nightmare, now is the time for the best of the torture porn. A sub-genre I’m not fond of is sometimes served with a film that features character and suspense as well as ultra-gore. “Switchblade Romance” was run close by Greg Mclean’s Australian shocker “Wolf Creek”. Both films feature seemingly unending terror that increases with every minute. You care for these characters and you feel their pain. “Switchblade” is the better of the two because it has the better ending and has a little more up its sleeve than the more straight-forward “Wolf Creek”. Both films are worth checking out if you haven’t done so already – it would make for a great double bill!

7. The Devil’s Backbone (Del Toro, Spain, 2001)

devil's backbone del toro best horror film 2000s

Now we get to that good old ghost story. I’m always reminded of the camp fire from John Carpenter’s “The Fog” when thinking of ghostly tales – how they take on a new lease of life when told around the flickering orange and red colours of an open fire. “The Devil’s Backbone” was one of the earlier horror films released in the decade and one of the first times audiences were wowed by Guillermo Del Toro. He would follow the film with “Blade II”, “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth”. The film is a well-told tale of ghostly happenings at an orphanage in Spain during the Civil War. It features one of the best jump-out-of-your seat moments of the decade. If you like “The Devil’s Backbone” also check out Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Others” and Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Orphanage”.

6. [REC] (Balaguero/Plaza, Spain, 2007)

rec spain 2000s 2007 zombie horror

There were several Blair Witch-esque home-video style horror films released during the 2000s including a remake of “Rec”, renamed “Quarantine”. The one that made the most money was, unsurprisingly, Hollywood’s big-budget attempt – “Cloverfield” – which was backed by a mammoth marketing campaign. However, the only film running “Rec” close for the Blair Witch Award for best filming of ones own death was “Paranormal Activity”. Both films found the scares through an authentic setting that wasn’t afraid to acknowledge traditional convention while creating something fresh. “Rec” has a bit more going on to merit its place in this top 10, but both films deserve to be recognised as two of the best horror films of the 2000s.
Discover More: Top 10 Found Footage Horror Films

5. Let The Right One In (Alfredson, Sweden, 2008)

let the right one in vampire movie alfredson sweden

Heralded as a refreshing look at Vampire myth, “Let The Right One In” benefits from director Tomas Alfredson’s limited knowledge of gothic horror fiction. By toning down much of the mythology he focuses the film on its characters – a bullied 12 year old boy and a similarly aged vampire girl who form an unlikely friendship. It reminds me of one of my favourite 1980s vampire films “Near Dark” which also looked to streamline the mythology and focus on the inherent needs of the characters – namely, survival.

4. Frailty (Paxton, USA, 2001)

frailty bill paxton horror cinema movie film 2000s

“Frailty” was a surprise on two counts. It was a surprise firstly because actor Bill Paxton directed it, and even more surprisingly he did such a great job with it. It was the first feature-length film he had ever directed. It was also surprising because it quickly established itself as one of the most unique horror films ever made. It is like the “Double Indemnity” of horror movies – a retrospective story told through flashback via the conversation between Matthew McConaughey’s Fenton Meiks and Powers Boothe’s ultra-smooth FBI Agent Wesley Doyle. It is seeped in religious iconography yet it deals with its tale of demon-hunting without resorting to silly special-effects. Like a great book, it lets your imagination do the talking. The ending contains more than one twist and makes for a wholly different experience when you watch the film again.

3. Dead Man’s Shoes (Meadows, UK, 2004)

dead man's shoes top 10 horror films 2000s

In the mould of “Last Half On The Left” and “I Spit On Your Grave”, British filmmaker Shane Meadows looks at the revenge movie from the perspective of the wronged male rather than the exploited female. Paddy Considine delivers a strong performance as Richard, who returns home to avenge the suffering felt by his disabled brother at the hands of a local gang. Richard is cold and calculated, and like the best revenge films, the audience is placed firmly on the side of the avenging aggressor.

2. The Descent (Marshall, UK, 2005)

descent neil marshall 2005 uk scary movie

Another fine horror film from the UK comes from “Dog Soldiers” director Neil Marshall. Marshall is not afraid to steal from classic horror films of the past and his work is laced with references to the films of John Carpenter, George Romero, Wes Craven, and Ridley Scott. “The Descent” is his best film to date, following a group of friends as they explore caves in the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina. Marshall sets the tone by locking his characters in an unrelenting darkness, perfectly capturing the claustrophobia of cave exploration. It is a great setting for a suspenseful film – there is no exit, no escape.

1. American Psycho (Harron, USA, 2000)

american psycho harron horror film best top 2000s

The best horror film of the decade is also the most fun!

Introducing us to the infamous Patrick Bateman, Mary Harron’s adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel is a slick tale of a greedy New York investment banker who goes crazy and starts offing various people while listening to the music of Phil Collins.

Christian Bale makes it all work with a wonderful performance as Bateman, mixing suave sophistication with zany psychosis.

More: Check out This Guy Over Here’s Top 10 Horror Films of the 2000s

Written and compiled by Dan Stephens

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Discover More Horror on Top 10 Films: Dan Grant looks at the horror movies that scare him the most and the dumbest moments in the Friday the 13th franchise while Neal Damiano checks out a selection of the most disturbing slices of cinema. Elsewhere, I take a look at the best horror film beginnings, the scariest movie monsters, and the curious horror sub-genre that sees television become the bad guy.

Other Top 10 lists you might like: Top 10 Action-Horror Films | Top 10 Horror Films Sequels | Top 10 Scariest Robots, Cyborgs and Artificial Intelligence | Top 10 Ghost Stories in Film | Top 10 Found Footage Horror

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Castor Reply

    I have only seen American Psycho, The Descent and Let the Right One In. All three not being really “scary”. Do they even make truly scary movies anymore? I think not… I love American Psycho though, one of the most underrated movies of the 2000’s

  2. Rodney Reply

    I’m going to have to watch American Psycho again, apparently. I didn’t like it when I saw it the first (and only) time, but you seem to have a big thing for that film, so I might have to revisit and reapparaise my earlier thoughts on it.

  3. Dan Reply

    @Castor Very good question. And a tough one to answer. I’ve been genuinely hiding behind the sofa watching things like Paranormal Activity, Paul Shrader’s Dominion, and Dead Man’s Shoes had me going ‘What if…’ when I went upstairs alone after viewing the film. But generally they’re not as scary as they used to be. Is that because the films we remember terrifying us, we saw as children? The scariest movies I’ve ever seen – some of which I’ve listed on this site – were seen, largely, before my 18th birthday. Yet, they still carry some of that fear-factor with them even now.

    I think Hollywood, particularly, has become too self-referential. So every horror movie knows it’s a horror movie, so do the characters, and the scares are somewhat dimished for an audience. The likes of Funny Games, The Strangers, Eden Lake, Wolf Creek, the Saw sequels, Them – the sorts of torture-type movies are devastatingly effective in the way they get under your skin. They make you angry and afraid but with the exception of Them, I’m not a fan of the sub-genre. For me, watching someone get tortured is going to be difficult to see (I’m not going to like it) – unless a filmmaker/writer makes it more than just violent spectacle, it’s nothing more than Faces of Death.

    @Rodney I would encourage you to re-watch American Psycho but it’s the dark, offbeat humour that makes me love it so much. It’s this humorous sensibility that could conversely turn others off the film.

  4. Fitz Reply

    I remember hearing Bale was cast as Batman in Begins and checking this out. Needless to say I thought he was a much better pick for The Joker, but he certainly nailed Batman as well.

  5. rtm Reply

    Not being a horror genre fan, I’ve only seen your #1 pick. It is a terrifying one, though it’s probably billed more as a psycho thriller rather than horror. Amidst the terror and savagery, the movie does have some very funny scenes, i.e. the business card scenes, so it’s really a genre-bending film as it can be considered a very dark comedy/satire. One thing for sure, Bale was brilliant. I can’t imagine Leonardo DiCaprio in this role, so I’m glad he didn’t end up doing it.

  6. Luke Reply

    Once again, great picks. Kudos for recognizing Let the Right One In. Have you seen the trailer for Let Me In, the American remake… it looks awful.

  7. Dan Reply

    @rtm American Psycho does fall into loose category between horror, comedy, and mystery-thriller. But like Pan’s Labyrinth (a film I love), I made a decision that saw one film stay and one film go. I think Pan’s Labyrinth is more dark fantasy in the same vein as Lord of the Rings than horror. Conversely, I was looking at Patrick Bateman stalking the prostitute with the chainsaw, blood all over his body, her screams ringing out throughout the building, and decided it was a horror film!

    I didn’t know DiCaprio was up for the role. As much as I think he’s become a great actor over the last few years, I’m glad Bale got it.

    @Luke Yeah, I have seen that trailer and noticed it was by the director of Cloverfield (a movie I hated) – so it’ll be terrible then! What the big studios don’t appear to realise (or perhaps they just don’t care) is that so many english-speaking audiences (in the UK, USA, and elsewhere) have already seen and loved the original. They won’t do it justice with a remake so it seems like a pointless exercise.

  8. Will Reply

    I’ve seen Devil’s Backbone, [Rec], Frailty & Descent from this list. I really enjoyed [Rec] and Frailty, they are both fantastic. The other two not so much, but they are better than most of the trash so I don’t mind their inclusion so much. Descent has a some good moments but the characters are so ridiculously frustrating.

    Kudos from not including any of the awful Saw films. I’ll have to watch these other ones. I love a good horror movie.

    I would have added Romero’s Diary of the Dead, I thought that was such a return to form for him.

  9. Darren Reply

    Wow, it was not a good decade for Hollywood horror, was it? The Descent was great, but not too sold on American Psycho – but the book was scary as hell. Gave me nightmares.

  10. Dan Reply

    I’m going to have to check out the book Darren.

  11. Encore Entertainment Reply

    I’ve only seen American Psycho too, and I still don’t think it’s a horror flick as much as a sick (albeit hilarious) joke. But I’m crazy like that.

  12. This Guy Over Here Reply

    There are some great films here, and a ton I’ve never heard of! I love me some Paddy Considine so I am going to be Netflixing that film asap. Also glad to see The Devil’s Backbone made it on the list! I feel like that film is overlooked by many – myself included :\

  13. Heather Reply

    Wow, totally off base here. Firstly, I’ve seen only Frailty (excellent choice) and American Psycho, which I consider dark comedy rather than horror. I know Rec and Let The Right One In are ones I need to get to, but as of now, I would have added 28 Days Later and perhaps Dawn Of The Dead to my list. Lovely though, that there are a few I wouldn’t have though like The Descent. I’d forgotten about it, perhaps I should give it a go.

  14. Fitz Reply

    The 28 Days/Weeks series should’ve made an appearance here.

  15. James Ewing Reply

    Of those I’ve seen on this list, I’d say this was an awful decade for horror.

    The Descent, while effective once in the actual descent, suffers from too many grating jump scares on the front end.

    The Devil’s Backbone, while compelling, never quite makes ghost story work with the period piece, or at least not nearly as well as Pan’s Labyrinth did.

    Let the Right One In suffers from the atrocious adult subplot which adds nothing to the core of the story and features awful CGI cats.

    The only great horror films from this decade, for me, has been Funny Games. Albeit a shot-for-shot remake, it’s still an effective and thoughtful horror film.

  16. Dan Reply

    @Heather As you liked Doomsday I would say a definite yes. I prefer The Descent and Dog Soldiers. They are still derivative but Dog Soldiers is at times very funny but equally scary. The Descent has some annoying characters (as so many of these films have) but the claustrophobia of their situation is brought to the fore brilliantly.

    @Fitz I did consider 28 Days Later for the list – an excellent film which I’ve grown to like more on subsequent viewings. But, alas, it couldn’t break into a Top 10. I started with a top 15 which I had to cut down. That was difficult! 🙂

    @James I had to decide whether Del Toro’s films were horror or dark fantasy…and then if there was even a difference! In the end, I went with The Devil’s Backbone since it is a fairly straightforward ghost story, whereas Pan’s Labyrinth is more in the vein of Lord of the Rings style fantasy. If I’d included it here it would be near the top.

    As I mention here, I’m not a fan of Funny Games and the torture-type movies. I don’t think there is any great creativity in showing almost non-stop violence towards conventionally good people. The enjoyment in the revenge movies is the revenge. Would Haneke therefore say those that enjoy the ‘revenge’ are therefore desensitised to the violence and in the end crave it. In his film he doesn’t give us the ‘good’, ‘entertaining’ violence, he just gives us the ‘bad’ stuff? Perhaps. But I’m not craving a happy ending. I just want a point to it all. Eden Lake had a point, even though I didn’t totally agree with it. Them, which I put in my top 10, was even more to the point. All three films (and I’d include the Australian film Wolf Creek in there too) fail to give the audience the ‘revenge’ or the happy ending, yet I prefer those movies to Funny Games.

  17. Olive Reply

    I have a confession to make Dan. I’m a complete scaredy-cat when it comes to horror films. They terrify me, even the cheesy ones. So, I avoid them whenever I can. The only one I could bring myself to watch, which is on your list is American Psycho. As you say there’s also some fun in it and I’m a big Christian Bale fan, which made it tolerable for me.

  18. Dan Reply

    @Olive That’s okay Olive. My other half doesn’t like horror films. I have to watch them on my own. Although, I have to admit horror still scares me behind the sofa! I think that’s why I like them so much.

  19. Marc Reply

    I’m with Castor only seeing the ones he’s seen plus [REC] which I think was the best of them all…also the the main character was so damned cute so that kept me doubly involved in the plot;)

    I’m just not a fan of The Descent; maybe it’s the claustrophobia or the fact that the fate of the entire group is utter hopelessness. Tried it 2 times…just not for me.

    I’d have to throw The Devil’s Rejects and the Dawn of the Dead remake on to this list; I think they’re incredible horror films. Also Trick r Treat surprised me but don’t think it deserves a spot here.

  20. Dan Reply

    @Marc: Thanks for the comment Marc. I think for the reasons you suggest about The Descent are the reasons why I like it. It’s technically very good and I think the claustrophobia aspect is handled really well, placing the audience into the experience of the characters. I also love how Marshall manages to through in so many references to classic horror films. It doesn’t feel as derivative here as it did in Dog Soldiers.

  21. Manikandan Reply

    Where is High Tension Dan..It is one of best film in Horror. Even the screenplay is too good. Cheers 🙂

  22. Lianne Reply

    @DAN good choice of top 10 even though only seen 7 of them. did you consider Audition or The Ring (japanesse version ONLY lol)

  23. Ben Boodman Reply

    Good list, but what about Ti West’s “The House of the Devil?”

  24. Guerbeix Reply

    EDEN LAKE! the best

  25. Will Reply

    Never seen a top 10 list like this that inlcudes Dead End, but a good choice in my opinion.

  26. Dan Grant Reply

    Good list and I’m really glad to see someone else praise Frailty, which is one of my favourite films as well. Cameron and Raimi and King all praised the film and for good reason. Thanks for including it.

  27. Dan Grant Reply

    I am disappointed that you did not include The Ring or Mothman Prophecies on the list though.

  28. Dead Reply

    I can dig some of these, but it’s another “horror” list that barely even seems to scrape the genre. I’m coming to understand that the lists here are often focused on either mainstream choices or fringe horror, “safe” stuff that sort of flits around at the edges of of the genre and plays with the themes but never actually steps in.

    Them (Ils) in particular, is one of the silliest, least effective “horror” films released in the entire decade. I’m still amazed when people praise it, and I wonder if they’ve ever actually seen it/any other films. It’s an utterly typical, bare-bones, cut-and-paste thriller. Made worse only by the hilarious and unbelievable villains and the steady stream of improbable plot contrivances that drives the action forward. How nice it must be for the French, when even such poor films are seen as high art by westerners desperate to appear clued in to something they don’t understand (i.e. horror).

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