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The 30 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time, According to Science

This study monitored viewers' heart rates to rank the most frightening flicks.

While campy horror, pointless gore, and truly terrible special effects may hold a special place in many a horror-lover's heart, when it comes to being truly terrifying, not all movies in the horror genre are created equal. In fact, there are clear victors when it comes to scaring the living daylights out of viewers, and we know what they are, because a scientific study has determined the scariest horror movies of all time.

Combining Reddit recommendations and critics' reviews, Broadband Choices came up with a list of horror movies to present to their 250 subjects, all of whom are hooked up to monitors to have their heart rates tracked as they watch. Using 64 BPMs as the average resting heart rate, researchers determined, for each movie, the audience's average heart rate throughout the film, the average increase, and the average highest spike. Compiling that data in 2022, Broadband Choices published their results, ranking the 30 scary movies that got fans' hearts racing the fastest. Read on to find out how many you've managed to endure.

READ THIS NEXT: This Is the Worst Horror Movie of All Time, According to Critics.

The Black Phone (2021)

Ethan Hawke in The Black Phone
Universal Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 69 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 5 BPM

Highest spike: 90 BPM

Ethan Hawke stars in this Scott Derrickson thriller as a child predator who snatches up kids when he's driving around town in a van, dressed as a clown and wielding a bouquet of black balloons. After being trapped in a basement, one of the so-called Grabber's captives is aided from beyond by a few of his victims, and while that part of the plot was a little corny for some critics, the chills come from Hawke's performance.

For The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw writes that the actor's "creepy bad-guy potential is a plausible new career direction" and describes his villain as "unnerving."

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Heather Donahue in The Blair Witch Project
Artisan Entertainment

Average movie heart rate: 70 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 6 BPM

Highest spike: 96 BPM

Found footage horror owes a great deal to this massive indie hit. The Blair Witch Project follows a group of college film students who get much more than they bargained for when they take to the woods to film a documentary about a local urban legend. Though the audience (spoiler alert) never even sees the "witch" in all her glory, the movie still has one of the most memorable final scenes in horror.

Slate critic David Edelstein shouted out co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez's less-is-more approach, saying, "They have reanimated the genre not by adding to it but subtracting from it—by cooking it down to its bare bones and then rattling those bones like fiends."

Poltergeist (1982)

Heather O'Rourke in Poltergeist
MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Average movie heart rate: 71 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 7 BPM

Highest spike: 98 BPM

One of the great haunted house horror flicks, Poltergeist launched a franchise and activated a generation of genre fans. It revolves around the Freeling family, whose home is invaded by malevolent spirits who terrorize them and kidnap their daughter.

Reviewing the 40th anniversary re-release in 2022, Peter Bradshaw wrote for The Guardian that while the magic of movies has advanced considerably since it hit theaters in 1982, this classic still stands up. "Poltergeist's special effects may look a little hokey now," he said, "but this film can still throw the furniture around."

Alien (1979)

Sigourney Weaver in Alien
20th Century Fox

Average movie heart rate: 71 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 7 BPM

Highest spike: 81 BPM

"In space, nobody can hear you scream," goes the tagline of Ridley Scott's sci-fi/horror masterpiece Alien. In movie theaters, on the other hand, everyone can. Starring Sigourney Weaver as genre icon Ellen Ripley, Alien terrified audiences with the story of ship from Earth boarded by a monstrous extraterrestrial.

In his review, Roger Ebert praised the movie's pacing and the way it builds suspense, saying, "The result is a film that absorbs us in a mission before it involves us in an adventure, and that consistently engages the alien with curiosity and logic, instead of simply firing at it."

The Grudge (2004)

Yuya Ozeki in The Grudge
Sony Pictures Releasing

Average movie heart rate: 72 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 8 BPM

Highest spike: 90 BPM

A U.S. remake of the Japanese horror flick Ju-On: The Grudge, this 2004 ghost story stars Sarah Michelle Gellar as the caregiver of an elderly woman living in a Tokyo house possessed by the vengeful spirits of a family who were violently murdered there.

While it didn't receive glowing reviews, it has enough jump scares to raise viewers' heart rates considerably. "It's mechanical moviemaking, but when it works you're likely to quiver, cower and leap with fright," is how BBC critic Jamie Russell put it.

Oculus (2013)

Brenton Thwaites and Karen Gillian in Oculus
Relativity Media

Average movie heart rate: 73 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 9 BPM

Highest spike: 91 BPM

One of Mike Flanagan's (Doctor Sleep, Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House) earlier features, Oculus, also makes the list, with its bleak tale of a family under the influence of a mysterious mirror, which may access another world.

IndieWire's Eric Kohn called it "one of the scariest American horror movies in years," which builds "a fundamental state of dread that grows heavier with each murky twist."

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28 Days Later (2002)

Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 73 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 9 BPM

Highest spike: 92 BPM

Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later reinvigorated the zombie genre in 2002. Cillian Murphy plays a man who comes out of a coma to realize that an epidemic has brought about the end of society as we know it and teams up with other as-yet-uninfected humans to survive.

Seattle Times reviewer Moira Macdonald described enduring the film as "a bone-chilling experience, not unlike immersing a hand into frigid water and keeping it there, despite every instinct to the contrary."

The Exorcist (1973)

the exorcist still frame
Warner Bros. Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 74 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 10 BPM

Highest spike: 86 BPM

No best-of horror marathon is complete without William Friedkin's adaptation of The Exorcist, which originally hit theaters in 1973. The possession of 12-year-old Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) yielded some of the genre's most terrifying (and stomach-turning) moments, making The Exorcist a film that never loses its edge, no matter how many times you return to it.

"This movie doesn't rest on the screen," is how Ebert put it. "It's a frontal assault."

It (2017)

Bill Skarsgård in It
Warner Bros. Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 75 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 11 BPM

Highest spike: 102 BPM

There are other evils to be feared in the town of Derry, Maine, but we're pretty sure Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård, who Salon's Matthew Rozsa said "gives a performance that chills you right to your core") is largely responsible for the first chapter in the two-part feature film adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 novel making it on this list.

Fortunately, this coming-of-age horror hit has enough humor and charm among its young cast to keep squeamish audiences going through the scary parts.

[REC] (2007)

Manuela Velasco in Rec

Average movie heart rate: 76 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 12 BPM

Highest spike: 115 BPM

From Spain, the 2007 found footage scarer Rec captures an unfolding nightmare through the eyes (and camera equipment) of a field reporter and her cameraperson who become trapped in an apartment building being ravaged by an infection that's turning residents violent.

For Time Out, Nigel Floyd wrote that the movie doesn't run out of steam too soon, despite its simple premise, and that "the edge-of-the-seat tension is sustained to the very last second."

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Gunnar Hansen in Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Bryanston Distributing Company

Average movie heart rate: 77 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 99 BPM

Highest spike: 13 BPM

Produced on a shoestring budget and starring mostly unknowns, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is considered a slasher classic today. A fairly high tolerance for violence is required for this one, which follows a group of roadtripping friends who find themselves at the mercy of a family of cannibals.

Prequels, sequels, and remakes followed—all featuring the titular tool-wielding Leatherface—but for many fans, none have lived up to the original.

Halloween (1978)

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween
Compass International Pictures / Aquarius Releasing

Average movie heart rate: 77 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 1 BPM

Highest spike: 103 BPM

There are now 13 movies in the Halloween franchise, but many fans will tell you that the original is still the greatest. In his 1978 review of the first movie featuring the Haddonfield-haunting Michael Myers, The Hollywood Reporter critic Ron Pennington credited genre god John Carpenter for "build[ing] a properly terrifying atmosphere" and breakout star Jamie Lee Curtis' "excellent" performance.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street
New Line Cinema

Average movie heart rate: 77 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 13 BPM

Highest spike: 105 BPM

Another original that still sends viewers' heart rates skyrocketing, A Nightmare on Elm Street comes from horror legend Wes Craven and introduces Robert Englund's claw-handed Freddy Krueger. A killer who can stalk and slash you in your dreams is scary enough, but this 1984 classic takes movie gore and grossness to new heights.

The Ring (2002)

Daveigh Chase in The Ring
Dreamworks Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 78 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 14 BPM

Highest spike: 111 BPM

Another English-language remake of a Japanese horror hit, The Ring came a few years before The Grudge, and—according to the science—is even scarier. The plot revolves around a mysterious video tape (it was 2002, those were still around), which is said to start a seven-day countdown clock to the viewer's death. As Naomi Watts' journalist character tries to unravel the urban legend, she finds out what—and whom—the tape has captured.

And it's not just the footage that will haunt you—Salon's Andrew O'Hehir called the movie "a clammy, claustrophobic bad dream in which the power of evil cannot be contained by love or death or technology or any other force."

A Quiet Place (2018)

Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place
Paramount Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 78 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 14 BPM

Highest spike: 120 BPM

An almost-silent horror movie may sound like it would be a hard sell to modern audiences, but The Office star John Krasinski's directorial effort A Quiet Place got a lot of love from both audiences and critics.

After an invasion, humanity's survivors are forced into complete silence, since the slightest amount of noise will result in them being almost immediately dispatched by the terrifying creatures that now live among them. We follow a small family as they attempt to move noiselessly through the world, already mourning the loss of one of their own.

"A Quiet Place is an undoubtedly taxing affair for the nerves; fortunately, it's also a deeply affecting one," critic David Sims wrote for The Atlantic.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Olwen Kelly in The Autopsy of Jane Doe
IFC Midnight

Average movie heart rate: 78 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 14 BPM

Highest spike: 122 BPM

Watching any autopsy would make most people nervous and more than a little nauseous, never mind whether it's one as strange and creepy as this one. Usually, horror movies begin before the title character gets the chop, but not so in this case. Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch star as a father/son coroner duo who end up with a bigger—and more dangerous—post-mortem mystery than they probably ever bargained for when an anonymous corpse arrives in their morgue.

For The Wrap, Michael Nordine wrote that The Autopsy of Jane Doe is "a cut above most horror flicks, especially the jump-scare-heavy fare that tends to be dumped into multiplexes this time of year."

Hush (2016)

Still from Hush

Average movie heart rate: 78 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 14 BPM

Highest spike: 89 BPM

Hush, another film from Oculus director Mike Flanagan, is a bit of an inversion of the conceit behind A Quiet Place. In this thriller, a deaf writer (Kate Siegel) who also cannot spea, is stalked in her home by a masked killer who stays out of sight until it's too late. The A.V. Club's A.A. Dowd called the Netflix exclusive "ruthlessly efficient" and "an effectively straightforward exercise in suspense."

The Descent (2005)

Still from The Descent
Pathé Distribution

Average movie heart rate: 79 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 15 BPM

Highest spike: 121 BPM

In The Descent, a group of spelunking women explore the depths of a system of caves, only to discover that they are definitely not the only ones down there. The low-budget effort became a surprise hit for subjecting viewers to a relentless onslaught of terror.

As A.V. Club critic Scott Tobias put it, "The Descent sustains a level of intensity that most horror films can barely muster for five minutes."

The Babadook (2014)

Still from The Babadook
Entertainment One

Average movie heart rate: 79 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 15 BPM

Highest spike: 119 BPM

Before he became the most unlikely of LGBTQ+ icons, the Babadook was the titular monster of this Australian horror movie, which is as much about grief as it is scaring the pants off of anyone watching. Essie Davis plays a widowed mother whose young son becomes convinced that the main character of a pop-up book that's inexplicably materialized in their house is real and after him.

The Babadook received almost all raves on its release, with no less an authority than Exorcist director Friedkin calling it the scariest film he'd ever seen.

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Madison Wolfe in The Conjuring 2
Warner Bros. Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 79 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 15 BPM

Highest spike: 116 BPM

Part of The Conjuring universe and the second movie to center the fictional versions of real-life paranormal investigator couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), The Conjuring 2 brings the Warrens to Great Britain to assist a family dealing with flying furniture, a seriously out-of-character daughter, and a lot of other unpleasant stuff.

To add to the general sense of unease, this haunting and possession are based on a real mystery, the series of disturbances at a council house by what was dubbed "The Enfield Poltergeist."

Paranormal Activity (2007)

paranormal activity still
Paramount Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 80 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 16 BPM

Highest spike: 115 BPM

If Blair Witch isn't the first movie that comes to mind when you think of found footage horror, then it's probably 2007's Paranormal Activity instead. Told entirely through "security cameras" and other everyday sources, it's the story of a young couple attempting to capture the actions of a demon that wife Kate believes has been attached to her since she was a child.

Today, there are seven movies in the series, but the original is still the most well-regarded (and bone-chilling), with an 83 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

A Quiet Place Part II (2020)

Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place Part II
Paramount Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 80 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 16 BPM

Highest spike: 123 BPM

This sequel picks up almost immediately after the first Quiet Place ends, setting Emily Blunt's character and her children off to look for safety and to possibly fight back against the aliens holding Earth hostage. It's just as tense as the first movie, especially the scenes that put a newborn baby in danger.

Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper praised the follow-up as a "meticulously crafted, spine-tingling, fantastically choreographed monster movie that expands the canvas, works as a standalone story and leaves us wanting more from this franchise."

Dashcam (2021)

Annie Hardy in DASHCAM
Momentum Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 81 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 17 BPM

Highest spike: 112 BPM

Dashcam may not boast great reviews—it currently sits at 48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes—but that's not for lack of moments that will make you jump out of your seat. Most of the complaints target protagonist Annie (Annie Hardy), an annoying livestreamer who is paid to give a ride to an elderly woman who quickly begins exhibiting some serious aggression and some freaky supernatural powers.

It Follows (2014)

Maika Monroe in It Follows

Average movie heart rate: 81 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 17 BPM

Highest spike: 96 BPM

It Follows, on the other hand, knocked critics' socks off. The 2014 horror flick centers college student Jay (Maika Monroe) whose boyfriend knocks her out and ties her to a chair after their first time having sex, only to tell her when she wakes that she is now the target of the malevolent force that had been doggedly pursuing him. Jay's only option is to outrun the entity—which takes the form of any number of different people and will not stop until it gets what it wants, no matter how far or fast she might run—or to pass the curse along to someone else through intercourse.

For, Simon Abrams wrote that It Follows conjures "an unbearable, unsinkable mood that descends when you come of age, and never completely dissipates, not even after climactic sexual, or other violent acts." That, and some pretty potent jump scares.

Terrified (2017)

Elvira Onetto in Terrified
Aura Films

Average movie heart rate: 82 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 18 BPM

Highest spike: 122 BPM

Terrified, from Argentina, is a "nonstop barrage of scares and super creepy set pieces," Meagan Navarro wrote for Bloody Disgusting—and its high average movie heart rate would also suggest that the filmmakers leave you little time to relax or take a breath. The movie follows investigators looking into a number of paranormal disturbances happening in a Buenos Aires neighborhood and is reportedly in the process of being remade by Guillermo del Toro.

Hereditary (2018)

Toni Collette in Hereditary

Average movie heart rate: 82 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 18 BPM

Highest spike: 104 BPM

Ari Aster's first feature film Hereditary is not for the faint of heart, though it is for those who appreciate nothing more than a tour de force performance by Toni Collette. She plays a mom of two children whose own mother has recently passed away—and seemingly took a pretty big secret to the grave. As the family learns more about their late grandmother and their own history, horrifying realizations come to light in nightmarish ways.

"Hereditary is a movie to be watched from between your fingers, and to be carried home as a feeling of unease under your skin," said Polygon's Karen Han.

The Conjuring (2013)

Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor in The Conjuring
Warner Bros. Pictures

Average movie heart rate: 84 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 20 BPM

Highest spike: 132 BPM

The franchise kicked off here, with James Wan's The Conjuring, sending ghost and demon hunters extraordinaire Ed and Lorraine Warren to a Rhode Island farmhouse newly occupied by a very unsettled family. While there's a lot of satisfaction in watching the Warrens do their detective work, The Conjuring is plenty frightening too, as the demon that's latched itself on to the new residents makes itself known in increasingly creative ways.

The A.V. Club's critic A.A. Dowd called it an "exercise in classical scare tactics, delivered through an escalating series of primo setpieces," and with that kind of reception, it's no wonder the series is still expanding.

Insidious (2010)

Still from Insidious

Average movie heart rate: 86 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 22 BPM

Highest spike: 130 BPM

Before he was Ed Warren, Patrick Wilson collaborated with James Wan on Insidious, playing a father whose son falls into a sudden coma that no doctor can explain. Even stranger things start to occur, including the comatose boy somehow leaving his bed at night, leading the family to hire a psychic (scream queen Lin Shaye). Once she determines what's holding the child in that state, they have to fight it, which is easier said than done and involves exposing some family secrets.

While not as beloved as The Conjuring, Insidious has a couple BPM on it. Owen Gleiberman wrote for Entertainment Weekly that it also has "some of the most shivery and indelible images [he's] seen in any horror film in decades."

Sinister (2012)

Ethan Hawke in Sinister
Summit Entertainment

Average movie heart rate: 86 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 22 BPM

Highest spike: 130 BPM

Another film on this list unwittingly inspired this one, since screenwriter C. Robert Cargill has said that the beginning of Sinister came to him in a nightmare he had after watching The Ring. This movie involves video footage too—this time, it's the snuff film a struggling true crime writer (Ethan Hawke) discovers and resolves to investigate, even if it means putting his family at risk of the same fate.

"Sinister is an undeniably scary movie," Roger Ebert wrote at the time, "with performances adding enough human interest to give depth to the basic building blocks of horror."

Host (2020)

Still from Host
Vertigo Releasing

Average movie heart rate: 88 BPM

Average heart rate increase: 24 BPM

Highest spike: 130 BPM

Unless you subscribe to the horror-focused streaming service Shudder, then it's unlikely you've seen the scariest movie ever, based on this study—it only got a theatrical release in the U.K., Russia, and South Korea. Then again, this movie is made to be seen on the small screen, since it takes place in one of the most ghastly of settings: a Zoom call.

Filmed and set during the COVID lockdown, Host shows the otherworldly consequences of a group of bored kids having a virtual seance and taps into some very timely dread. For The Guardian, Benjamin Lee wrote that it's "a lean, nasty little exercise that might not linger for very long but it shows what can be done during this difficult time."

Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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