Best Slasher Movies of All Time, Ranked


Though the origin of the slasher film doesn’t have an exact beginning, the subgenre of horror undoubtedly kicked off in the 1970s. When talented directors pooled their talent to create a new kind of horror villain, one steeped in rubber masks and sharpened instruments, it helped create a launch pad for one of the most iconic horror subgenres to this day. Films like Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had inimitable killers that still resonate with audiences today, prompting a plethora of sequels and remakes decades after their original release.

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After horror peaked in the ’80s, with countless directors getting their shot at a slasher film, the subgenre hit a wall in the ’90s. That said, thanks to Wes Craven, slashers underwent a revitalization. Films like Scream, Candyman, and I Know What You Did Last Summer were huge successes, becoming self-sustained franchises. Even today, the genre is still going strong with the relaunch of the Scream franchise and the successful Halloween reboot trilogy. The strengths of these kinds of films include their incredible body counts, numerous teens getting wasted, and terrifying killers that bear a human visage. With all this said, these are our picks for some of the best slasher movies of all time.

Updated Jan. 21, 2024: This list has been updated with additional features and even more information.

12 The Burning (1981)

The Burning (1981) poster

The Burning

Release Date
May 8, 1981

Director
Tony Maylam

Cast
Leah Ayres , Brian Backer , Larry Joshua

Integral to the surge of slasher films in the early ’80s is The Burning. This film, set in a summer camp, spins the tale of teenagers becoming prey to a disfigured caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David), hellbent on revenge for a botched prank. The film is notable for being one of the relatively few horror films the famed Jason Alexander ever appeared in, on top of its plentiful amount of graphic violence, made possible by the talented hands of Tom Savini. It goes without saying that the comparisons between The Burning and Friday the 13th were somewhat warranted

The Burning Developed a Cult Following

Such a revenge plot, juxtaposed against the solitary summer camp setting, epitomizes the slasher genre’s archetypes from this period, thereby bolstering the genre’s popularity. With his garden shears in hand and grotesque face etched in the minds of audiences, Cropsy left horror enthusiasts profoundly affected. The Burning, immediately following its launch, secured a fervent following among slasher film devotees.

While Friday the 13th might have been released first, thereby being the first thing audiences think of when they imagine summer camp horror, The Burning should not be overlooked. The two films are, at points, one and the same — although one of them has Jason Alexander, and the other doesn’t.

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11 Deep Red (1975)

Dario Argento’s Deep Red, a celebrated Giallo masterpiece released in 1975, introduced a distinctly Italian touch to the slasher genre. The film involves a music teacher, Marcus Daly (David Hemmings), as he’s drawn into a sequence of gruesome murder investigations. Though it may not have reached the level of cultural saturation of Argento’s Suspiria, it is without a doubt recognized as one of his best works, both at the time of its release and from a retrospective viewpoint.

Deep Red Is a Standout Giallo Film

Its complex plot and striking visual appeal make it a standout in Italian horror cinema. Deep Red carved out its unique identity with a focus on intricate storytelling and shocking plot twists, deviating from the primal, visceral horror common in its American peers. Argento’s painstaking attention to minute details and his carefully choreographed suspense sequences brought a novel and exhilarating perspective to the slasher storyline. Argento’s distinctive style and direction have been praised for their contribution to Italian and global horror cinema, underlining the film’s timeless allure and the director’s trailblazing brilliance.

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10 Sleepaway Camp (1983)

At peace with the cheesy 1980s aesthetic at the time, but with a far more perverse, depraved, and fetishistic look at the teen life of Long Island, Sleepaway Camp is a disgusting but thoroughly entertaining traverse through the slasher genre. The film follows a disturbed and painfully shy teen girl, Angela (Felissa Rose), as the people that bully her at a lowly summer camp begin to mysteriously die. Robert Hiltzik directed this feature, with Sleepaway Camp being only one of two films to his name. It should be mentioned that the only other film he directed was a direct sequel to Sleepaway Camp, Return to Sleepaway Camp, which would ultimately release in 2008.

For those in the know, Sleepaway Camp earns a spot on the list solely for featuring one of the most shocking twists in horror history. The utilization of teenage actors gave the film some additional credence with its grisly kills and occasionally stilted acting, especially when you look at other films that released in 1983. Still, it’s hard to truly discuss Sleepaway Camp because of its infamous ending — the final image the film ends on is arguably one of the most disturbing shots in horror history, with its big reveal still prompting studious discussions to this day.

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9 Candyman (1992)

candyman

Candyman

Release Date
October 16, 1992

Director
Bernard Rose

Backed by a romantically gothic film score from the maestro Philip Glass, director Bernard Rose creates a nightmare vision of Chicago with Candyman. Rose uses the world of academia and research to create a distance between Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), a grad student, and the environment she’s accessing to have an otherworldly experience based on deep trauma. Specifically, the trauma of slavery and gentrification manifests into a supernatural monster known as “The Candyman,” an iconic role played by the terrific Tony Todd. As the titular villain wields a hook and a swarm of bees, Rose finds herself caught in a desperate fight for survival.

A Stellar Clive Barker Adaptation

Taking inspiration from one of Clive Barker’s short stories, Candyman presented a unique interpretation of the typical slasher villains that permeated the 1980s and early 1990s. Its unconventional themes, unique presentation, and compelling performances from both Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen made it into a modest box office success, with Madsen winning several Best Actress awards from several institutions. The film inspired a successful franchise, with the most recent entry in 2021 serving as a direct sequel.

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8 Dressed to Kill (1980)

Acclaimed director Brian De Palma is known for being an heir to the suspense throne after the master, Alfred Hitchcock, with Dressed to Kill being his blatant homage to him. That’s not to disparage Dressed to Kill, as it contains numerous references to Hitchcock’s classic film. Released in 1980, Dressed to Kill tells the story of a vicious murder gone unsolved in the heart of New York City. With the only witness being Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), a sex worker, she attempts to bring the murderer to justice as danger creeps ever closer.

Dressed to Kill Is Visually Stunning

Partly inspired by Psycho, De Palma’s film features a protagonist who gets killed off early, a shower scene, a killer on the loose, and heavy-handed psychoanalysis in the climax to put the killer away. While the comparisons to Psycho are warranted, De Palma puts his visual flair in each and every scene, carving out his style only a few years before the release of Blow Out and Scarface. Featuring a stunning museum chase sequence where the killer stalks his prey, De Palma once again showcases directorial talents to keep his audience in a trance.

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7 Black Christmas (1974)

A horror film that lives under the artificial neon glow of Christmas lights and decor, Black Christmas is a slasher film that gave the subgenre a new feel because of its calendar holiday. The film itself establishes what would become a subgenre staple in slasher films. A group of sorority sisters, including Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey), find themselves at the mercy of a murderous stranger occupying their residence during the Christmas season.

Black Christmas Is a Holiday Slasher

Director Bob Clark — whose other famous Christmas movie, A Christmas Story, is a genre staple — knew the exact kind of aesthetic and technical approach to create the eerie sensation laden in the film’s compositions. The director constantly cross-cuts, uses split diopter shots, and dramatically utilizes point-of-view cinematography, creating a slasher classic and one of the most influential films in the genre. If the calls are ever coming from inside the house, you’ll know which film popularized the idea.

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6 Opera (1987)

Another entry from The King of Giallo, Dario Argento’s slasher film Opera focuses on an intimate part of the human body, one so obvious that the design is ingenious. Set in the world of opera singers, a stalker haunts Betty (Christina Marsillach) before she performs in a production of The Phantom of the Opera, with the bodies of her fellow performers piling up in her stead. Like other Argento films, the masked assailant is nothing short of monstrous.

Opera Is One of Argento’s Best

Argento keeps the audience’s eyes, and also those of the victim, so close to harm and danger, that the film has an uneasy, squeamish quality throughout its runtime. What proceeds is Argento’s mastery of the craft, taking its grim motif and placing it wherever you can imagine: peepholes, trash cans, and so forth. It’s a complex slasher, one that never telegraphs its next move, before coming to a polarizing end that still divides Argento fans to this day.

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5 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

With its petrifying villain, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), A Nightmare on Elm Street provided a creative spin on the slasher genre. Diving headfirst into the world of the supernatural, A Nightmare on Elm Street flips slashers on their head by attacking its victims in the one place they can’t hide: their dreams. When a vengeful monster returns from the dead to murder teenagers via their dreams, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is tasked with staying alive long enough to stop the madness once and for all.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Innovated in Multiple Ways

Krueger’s unique way of taking the life of his victims blurred the line between nightmare and reality. This innovative approach gave a surreal touch to the slasher story, greatly expanding its reach and garnering a new loyal fanbase. Director Wes Craven’s incorporation of ground-breaking special effects and fantasy components introduced a new paradigm within the slasher genre.

The fusion of dreamlike sequences with real-world terror was executed seamlessly through state-of-the-art effects, culminating in intensely suspenseful and gripping scenes. As time passed, A Nightmare on Elm Street garnered recognition for its substantial influence on popular culture and the horror genre. Iconic symbols, such as Krueger’s red and green sweater and his bladed glove, emerged from the film, which eventually led to a lucrative franchise. Thus, this unconventional slasher secured its place in the annals of horror cinema.

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4 Scream (1996)

scream

Scream

Release Date
December 20, 1996

In the 1990s, the slasher genre felt all but done. However, one of its chief originators, Wes Craven, came back with a new idea. It was an idea that relished in the clichés, flipped them out, and gave them to an audience that knew what they wanted, but in a way that felt fresh and original. Scream is tongue-in-cheek in its nature, as a group of teens discusses all the horror movie rules as a killer who wears a ghost face mask runs amok.

Scream Brought Self-Awareness to Slashers

The moves, though telegraphed, created an emotional trauma that is visceral. Thanks to a stellar cast comprised of David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy, Courtney Cox, and Skeet Ulrich, the film has had legs for decades now, innovating in the horror genre once more by incorporating a level of self-awareness that has permeated the slasher subgenre since. Craven created another staple, one that has wits and a morbidly hilarious sense of humor. The franchise is still going strong to this day, with Scream VI being both a box office hit and the subject of praise from audiences and critics alike.

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3 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

A dirty and crackling film from start to finish, Tobe Hooper’s foray into the horror genre came in high on the low-budget, celluloid burner named Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film sees a group of teens traveling cross-country in the rural heartland of Texas. When their van breaks down in a dilapidated area, their discovery and exploration of an abandoned farmhouse puts them face-to-face with a family of sadistic cannibals, the most infamous of which being the iconic Leatherface.

Grim, Gritty, and Gruesome

Creating a dynamic of teens that would be mere flesh puppets for the cannibalistic villains, Hooper directs every gruesome killing with maximum carnage, before baking the film in the hot Texas sun. Though the film has a shocking lack of blood and outright gore, it’s the crushingly horrific atmosphere Texas Chainsaw Massacre exudes that makes up its terrifying scares. There’s a level of grit and uneasiness in its modest runtime that, at points, rivals even the most modern of horror flicks to this day, no doubt causing further unease due to its real-life inspirations. As it blesses the horror canon with the legendary Leatherface, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the dirtiest American films ever made, creating a legacy that has spawned numerous sequels and reimaginings to this very day.

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2 Halloween (1978)

John Carpenter’s Halloween created a legacy in film that is still thriving today. With the inimitable Michael Myers donning a terrifying remix of a James T. Kirk mask, Carpenter created an icon. Released in 1978, the film sees Myers escaping from a sanitarium in order to stalk and murder his former babysitter, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), with a hauntingly stiff and persistent demeanor. Revolutionary for the time, Halloween painted Myers less as a human being and more as a supernatural monster, even referring to him as “The Shape” in its credit sequence.

Michael Myers Is a Perfect Slasher Villain

As Michael Myers stalks the seemingly perfect little town of Haddonfield, Illinois, Carpenter fills the air and atmosphere with dread. Composing a score that is inseparable from the film’s tone, Halloween is spooky from beginning to end, with its iconic theme becoming a staple of the spooky season every October. The film would also be essential in giving Jamie Lee Curtis one of her best performances. Building off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas, Halloween set the template for the modern slasher and inspired multiple imitators — especially the similarly-iconic Friday the 13th franchise.

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1 Psycho (1960)

psycho

Psycho

Release Date
June 22, 1960

Cast
Anthony Perkins , Vera Miles , John Gavin , Martin Balsam , John McIntire , Simon Oakland

Alfred Hitchcock was at his most innovative with Psycho, as he gave us one of the most iconic horror villains in Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Psycho tells the story of a woman on the run, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), as she stays at the Bates Motel, which is managed by the shy Norman Bates. However, after a grisly crime, the film takes a swift turn into abject horror when Marion’s sister (Vera Miles) investigates her disappearance.

Psycho Is an Incredibly Important Slasher

Played with a subtle naivety that is transformed into psychopathy by Norman Bates, Psycho is one of the greatest slashers of all time. Not only is it one of Hitchcock’s most recognizable and influential films, but it’s also one of the most recognizable slasher films in history. Several incredible scenes have cemented themselves in cinematic history, with a plethora of homages and parodies found in countless films and television shows released since. Psycho is to slashers as Frankenstein is to monster movies, being a film that embodies the genre while influencing countless films since.

Of course, we’d be remiss to mention Psycho without its most integral scene. A scene from the master of suspense that will remain in the memory of film lovers forever is the infamous shower scene. Not only was that scene groundbreaking for its depiction of murder — featuring an incredible number of quick scene cuts in a short period — but also for the killing of whom we thought the main character would be in the first 20 minutes. This trick has inspired legions of horror films, with Psycho remaining an all-time horror classic beyond this shocking twist.

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The slasher genre wouldn’t be where it is without a plethora of remakes that were released throughout the 2000s. If you want to see our picks for the best horror remakes of the 2000s, check out our video below:



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