The Greatest Horror Films of the Past 51 Years

By Kevin Fallon

Can scariness be quantified? Sure. Here's how Psycho, Halloween, Paranormal Activity, and 37 others rank against one another when judged by commercial and critical success

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The low-budget thriller Paranormal Activity 3 scared up $54 million in its debut this past weekend, setting the record for the highest-grossing opening weekend for a horror film. As Halloween approaches, the flick will likely keep racking up money to become one of the most commercially successful horror films of all time. But will it rank among the greatest?

It's our theory that to be considered "great," a film can't just trick or treat—it needs to do both. It should be commercially successful and well received by critics. So we compiled a list of the 40 greatest horror films of all time, weighing financial and critical success equally. Here's how we did it:

  • To determine the film's financial success, we adjusted the grosses for each film in every series for inflation using a ratio of today's average movie ticket price to the average cost the year the movie was released.

  • To determine a film's critical success, we used Rotten Tomatoes' critics' scores. We then found the average for each franchise's films.

When all is said an done, what's the greatest horror film of all time? Unsurprisingly, it's Jaws, which beat out Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho and Jonathan Demme's Oscar darling Silence of the Lambs thanks to a combination of phenomenal box office gross (second only to The Exorcist when adjusted for inflation) and flawless critical acclaim (a full 100 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes).

Check out our gallery below to see where other horror classics land on the list—you'd be surprised how far down some cult favorites rank due to poor critical notices. Also note that every film on this list was released after 1960, as box office information for films released prior to then was not accessible. That means we'll all just have to agree that Bela Lugosi's turn in 1931's Dracula and James Whale's 1931 version of Frankenstein were "great" on their own merits, even without mathematical proof.

Read More

The Greatest Film-Franchises of All Time
The Dubious Spawn of Jaws
The Enduring Creepiness of Haunted-House Films

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/10/the-greatest-horror-films-of-the-past-51-years/247269/