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16 Top Grossing Horror Movies of All Time

Updated December 28, 2018
11 min read
Best Horror

Horror has always been one of the most popular genres in film. The success of such films has led to the birth of many sub-genres that go beyond the traditional ghost story. As a result of this, filmmakers have duly been giving us dozens of horror movies every year. Some of them work while others really don’t. Like with every popular genre i.e. superhero, action etc, the universe of a horror film encompasses franchises, sequels, reboots and so on and so forth. To be clear with you, this is not a comprehensive list of horror films and nor is it a compilation of the greatest horror films ever made. This is just to show you the sheer variety that horror has to offer and may be an indication as to why they are so wildly popular. These films also happened to be hugely successful at the box-office as they are were able to touch the magical $100 million dollar mark. Other films could have been added here, but their overall quality was not as good the ones that made it.

16. The Ring (2002) – $249,348,933

Remakes are generally not a good idea as the success ratio with them is quite low. So when it was announced that there would be a Hollywood version of the Japanese film ‘Ringu’, many people were very skeptical. But to everyone’s surprise the film turned out to be pretty good. What made the film work was the strong direction of Gore Verbinski and solid performances from the entire cast. The film won over both the critics as well as the audience and went on to be a huge success. The success of the film led to the release of two further films in the franchise but they weren’t as good as this one.

 

15. It (2017)- $553,182,790

Well, enough has already said about the film. I will just say: Marketing works. And so does Stephen King.

 

14.  Sleepy Hollow (1999) – $206,071,502

This adaptation of the short story by Washington Irving, helmed by the duo of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton proved to be a hit critically and commercially. Some films are scary because of the characters, while others are scary because of the atmosphere they create. This definitely falls into the latter category. Burton is someone who is an expert creating a mood for a film and it works big time here. The film went on to win a Academy Award for Art Direction. What makes the film unique is that its not a horror film in the traditional sense but it is nonetheless scary. The combo of Depp and Burton has proven to be rather disappointing in recent times but in 1999, it worked wonders.

 

13. Paranormal Activity (2007) – $193,355,800

Here is a example of a film that took a template that hadn’t been explored too well for a long time and managed to create box-office gold with it. The found footage type of horror film is not guaranteed to succeed, but when done properly, it can be effective and so it proved. The 2007 film’s success has led to the birth of a full fledged franchise filled with sequels and spinoffs. It is estimated by some to be the most profitable film of all time, on the basis on return on investment. It is an undoubtedly a proud feat to be achieved by a first-time director. Another aspect that is worthy of praise is how the film managed to wow the critics as well.

 

12. The Conjuring (2013) -$137,400,141

Without a doubt one of the scariest films made this decade, it shouldn’t really be a surprise given who was directing it. James Wan has proven to be one of the new-age masters of horror. His filmography is filled with many impressive entries in the horror genre. The film makes good use of its real-life inspiration to create a spine-tingling tale. The use of jump scares is very effective throughout the film. And so once again, we have a franchise building film that is both scary and thrilling in equal parts.

 

11. 1408 (2008) –  $193,355,800

Despite the huge success that the film enjoyed upon its release, this along with ‘The Mist, remain two of the most underrated horror films of this century. This is no surprise given the fact the stories for both films, comes from Stephen King. The film manages to stay away from the usual tropes and instead focuses on the psychological aspects. This lends the film the opportunity to scare people in a completely different way. A huge part of the film depends on John Cusack’s performance and he pulls it off really well. Aided by a superbly creepy turn from Samuel L. Jackson, the film messes with your head in the best way possible.

 

10. Gremlins (1984) – $148,168,459

Mixing comedy with horror seems like a strange idea but they have proven to be very successful over the years. And one really good example of that combination is the 1984 classic, ‘Gremlins’. Directed by Joe Dante based on a script by Chris Columbus, the fresh treatment and the unique storyline struck a chord with the audience. The slightly dark nature of the film proved to be a sticking point with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) who wanted to alter the rating of the film. This film along with ‘Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom’, would result in a landmark declaration that created the PG-13 rating. More than anything, the film is a showcase of how to balance two diverse genres.

 

9. The Conjuring 2 (2016) – $320,270,008

The sequel to the 2013 hit had a very tough task on its hands. Not only did have to be as good as the first film but also prove that the future of the franchise would begin on a positive note. And boy it worked, big time. Once again under the direction of James Wan, the sequel took what worked in the first film and made it work again. While it probably relied more on jump scares this time around, they were superbly executed. What makes the film worthy of such praise is that for once, a sequel didn’t disappoint.

 

8. Saw (2004) – $104,726,993

It is James Wan’s third entry on this list and if you feel that I’m favoring him, bear with me. There are a couple of reasons why this is an important film. The first being the originality of the film. Featuring a killer twist and a genuinely memorable villain, ‘Saw’ is a great film. The fact that it went on to become a box-office smash, just showed how much people were impressed with it. The film spawned a franchise that has gone on to become one of the most successful in the horror space. And it is to the film’s credit that none of the subsequent entries in the franchise have managed to recreated the magic of the first.

 

7. The Blair Witch Project (1999) – $248,639,099

The film that put the found footage genre on the map. Whatever your opinion of the film may be, it is undeniably an important film. The biggest reason for the film’s success was the fresh way the audience were scared. The film even led some people to believe that what they had seen was a true story. The way the film made this happen was by playing on the most powerful tool of them all, imagination. By never really showing what was causing the scares, it made the film that much more chilling.

 

6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) –  $215,862,692

Francis Ford Coppola is one of the greatest directors of all time. His career in the 80s and 90s was nowhere near as good as it was in the 70s. Despite the numerous struggles he faced, he managed to churn out quality cinema. And one such venture was his version of Dracula. The films featured a killer (no pun intended) cast and with an irrepressible Gary Oldman playing the titular role, the film would go on to become a huge success. Major praise was directed toward the performances and the overall style. Although the story of Dracula has been adapted numerous times, what Coppola was able to do with was novel and that made it work.

 

5. Get Out (2017) – $251,779,305

As far as directorial debuts, things don’t get much better than what Jordan Peele did with ‘Get Out’. Tackling a social evil such as racism is a tricky idea and when combining it with something like horror, it seems like a strange idea. But in hindsight, it proved to be a masterstroke. Apart from the wonderful writing and direction from Peele, he is ably supported by the cast and Daniel Kaluuya in particular who turns in an absolutely compelling performance. The themes that the film dealt with seem more and more important with each passing day and Peele needs to be lauded for exploring such themes. The true horror of the film is in our uneasy feeling of knowing that what we see actually exists.

 

4. Scream (1996) – $173,046,663

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A film that can be credited with revitalizing the genre, ‘Scream’ was a hugely successful and important film. The film tended to stay away from the tried and tested template of the usual horror film. It even went on to satirize some conventions of the horror movie. Directed by one of the stalwarts of the genre, Wes Craven who almost did a reinvention of the genre. The success of the film would lead to the birth of a franchise. But no matter how many more films we get in this franchise, none can even match up to the impact of the original.

 

3. The Sixth Sense (1999) – $672,806,292

One of the most successful films of the 90s, it was also the film which put M. Night Shyamalan on the map. It established him as a director to be reckoned with. It made Haley Joel Osment a star, it made people realize how good an actor Bruce Willis could be, it gave the audience a suspense filled ride and last but not least, an ending that remains captivating no matter how many times you see it. The film went on to win a host of awards and was also an example of how to make a horror film scary without resorting to blood and gore.

 

2. Alien (1979) – $104,931,801

When it comes to horror films, one of the most popular ways to induce fright is by using a creature. Many a film has resorted to using this technique and it has proven to be quite effective. And one of the finest uses of a creature was done by Ridley Scott and team in this 1979 classic. The success of the film opened many avenues for filmmakers who wanted to make horror films by incorporating different elements. Today, ‘Alien’ stands as iconic film with an even more iconic tagline. It also gave us one of the most kickass heroes in cinema, Ellen Ripley. And in between all of this, it managed to scare the living daylights out of us.

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1. The Exorcist (1973) – $441,306,145

As far as iconic horror films go, it doesn’t get better than this. As far as many people are concerned, this is the scariest film of them all. While this is obviously a subjective opinion, the film does make a very strong case for this title. Everything around the film has gone on to achieve a legendary reputation. This includes the troubled production process, the after-effects on the people involved with the film etc. And if we are talking about the film, it does to manage to elicit real scares from the audience. When it was released, viewers had to be given barf bags because they were so disturbed by what they saw. Despite the controversial content of the film, it went on to become a huge success and ended up becoming a landmark film.

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