A variety of utterly devastating apocalypse scenarios, sympathetic creature features, and seemingly thousands of remakes made up the 2000s for horror. The cynical thing to say would be that the decade was filled with little more than soulless reimaginings, torture porn, and meta horror comedies attempting to expand on what Scream started in 1996.
The more accurate thing to say would be that horror in the 2000s was filled with examples of good movies within all of those categories mentioned above. Any list of the best horror movies of the 2000s will have a lot to choose from. And then some, as 2000s horror also saw a number of exceptionally creative films being released. Like any decade for the genre, many of them flew under the radar.
Regardless of the specific decade we’re focusing on, one of the constants will always be the overwhelming number of new horror films being released at any given moment. Look at any given week between January 2000 and December 2009 and you’re going to find at least several horror films that were released.
The genre never stops, which also means it never stops surprising us with the many different ways horror can be realized on the screen.
The 2000s may not have been to every horror fan’s taste, but you’d be hard pressed to find one who can’t list at least a few classics from the period.
The Best Horror Movies of the 2000s
1. 28 Days Later (2002)
Director: Danny Boyle
It doesn’t get much better with 2000-era horror than the opening of 28 Days Later. Cillian Murphy plays the poor bastard who goes into a coma before the zombie apocalypse and wakes up to the world that has been transformed by a mutant “Rage Virus” that was released into the populace. Long before COVID forced millions to stay at home for the better, 28 Days Later tapped into extreme, overwhelming isolation and confusion when our protagonist wanders the empty streets of London. It’s an opening that people still discuss to this day.
There’s much more about 28 Days Later that brings merits inclusion in any conversation about the best horror movies of the 2000s. The film repeatedly builds some chilling, grim tension, and never fails to use that momentum to deliver a visual or emotional haymaker. Characters die horribly. The situation never quite improves. These people, with a cast that includes Brendan Gleeson and Naomie Harris, are forced to try to survive one of the most brutal zombie nightmares (despite Danny Boyle’s insistence that these are not zombie movies) anyone has ever brought to life, no pun intended.
28 Days Later would get a very good sequel in 2007, and that’s worth a watch for fans, but it doesn’t quite touch the suffocating, violent dread of its predecessor.
2. American Psycho (2000)
Director: Mary Harron
It isn’t hard to understand why American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis isn’t a fan of director Mary Harron and screenwriter Guinevere Turner’s extremely funny take on his expansively dark first-person novel.
While the source material has its own kind of humor, it also has a lot more respect or at least empathy for Manhattan yuppie and aspiring serial killer Patrick Bateman, with a lot of the satire derived from Bateman’s observations. In the film, which continues to divide critics and viewers to this day, the satire is focused equally on Reagan-era good times and Bateman himself. Christian Bale’s manic, sincerely scary, and viciously humorous performance as Bateman creates a character who is as fascinating, even entertaining, as he is completely pathetic.
American Psycho sets us on a crazed, often funny course with Bateman’s disintegrating sanity and laughable ideals. The movie shows us exactly what to expect in tone and style right from the start. Then it throws in some intense moments of horror to really mess with your head.
3. Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Director: Don Coscarelli
Elvis Presley and a (black) John F. Kennedy do battle with a long-dead Egyptian Mummy in a faded East Texas nursing home. If the utterly palpable despair of this facility doesn’t kill two of the most lovable protagonists in modern horror history, the supernatural, ravenous-for-human-souls mummy that is using the Shady Rest Retirement Home as a cruise liner buffet certainly will.
Bruce Campbell playing Elvis Presley can sound like a joke for those who know the man’s work but have never seen him in the best performance of his career so far. The humor inherent in much of Campbell’s career can be found here but filtered through a deeply diligent character study of an actual human being. Campbell hits every note an actor would want to hit when playing someone as iconic as Elvis Presley — it’s not an exaggeration to call this the best on-screen performance of an actor playing Elvis ever.
Bubba Ho-Tep, directed by Phantasm creator Don Coscarelli, has a number of hilarious dialog exchanges and circumstances to guide it, as well as some genuinely unsettling atmosphere and practical creature feature magic. However, it is the very real heart of a story about aging that gives Bubba Ho-Tep additional and welcome layers.
4. The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Director: Rob Zombie
As a sequel to the mixed horror bag that was 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects is light-years ahead of its predecessor in every possible way. On its own terms, and especially as a sophomoric effort from Zombie as a legitimate horror filmmaker, The Devil’s Rejects is one of the most engaging black comedies of the 2000s. It’s a fascinating, and more importantly, enjoyable effort to be shocking and hilarious as often as possible.
The violence and dark humor will work for at least some, as Zombie applies a unique layer of grime and disintegration to the ongoing saga of the Firefly Family. Freshly escaped from a police raid, they embark on one of the most morbidly funny odysseys into the darkest of dark American dreams. The chemistry between the actors who make up the family, including Bill Moseley, Sherri Moon-Zombie, and the late, dearly missed Sid Haig, is ultimately what gives Zombie’s film something more than car crash fascination.
Nothing wrong with that, and The Devil’s Rejects never lets up with a sprawling cast of familiar faces and one brutal set piece after that. However, there is something sincere, and in a sick kind of way, something sweet about these characters. Or at least Zombie’s fondness for them.
5. Frailty (2002)
Director: Bill Paxton
This horror movie from legendary character actor Bill Paxton has a reputation for being an absolute rollercoaster of plot and performance. Atmosphere certainly counts for a lot in Frailty, as well, with the story of two brothers and their father as a new, horrifying breed of religious fanatic creating a place where hope is seemingly long dead.
Indeed, this may not be the one for viewers who need at least a modicum of the notion that good and evil are simple constructs, and that the preferred one will always triumph. Supported by incredibly frightening, nuanced performances by Paxton, Matthew McConaughey, and Powers Boothe, Frailty can feel like a horror movie based on a particularly bleak country-western song about the indifference of Heaven.
Or at least something that feels like indifference.
Frailty is guaranteed to haunt your bones and thoughts for a long time to come and while it wasn’t a massive hit upon release, it found support from the likes of Stephen King. It certainly at times plays like the best possible adaptation of the best type of King story.
6. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
The werewolf genre received one of its best entries to date at the start of the decade with Ginger Snaps. One of the best Canadian horror movies ever made, the movie at its heart is just a really well-made and well-told depiction of the classic werewolf story.
Where Ginger Snaps deviates from that in the best way possible is in its depiction of a relationship between two young sisters (Emily Perkins and Katherine Isabelle) who are obsessed with death and depicting the act of dying. Their relationship to each other and death is changed forever when the Ginger in question is bitten by a werewolf at the beginning of her menstrual cycle.
The body horror potential of adolescence and menstruation are explored to fascinating, uncomfortable lengths here. Ginger Snaps also approaches all these things with a vivid sense of humor in the script by director John Fawcett and co-writer Karen Walton. The scenes with Mimi Rogers as the well-meaning and smarter-than-she-sometimes-acts mom is a particular highlight.
7. Gozu (2003)
Director: Takashi Miike
In general, it’s almost impossible to discuss horror in the last 25 years without mentioning the overwhelmingly prolific Takashi Miike. Part ghost story, part straight-on horror to permanently whiten the knuckles, and part yakuza drama, with noticeable splashes of comedy throughout, describing Gozu as a busy movie might be selling it short. Even for a director famous for going full-tilt on some of the wildest premises you could devise for a horror movie, Gozu can feel like several movies are happening at once.
A yakuza boss orders an ambitious young foot soldier (Hideki Sone) to kill a colleague (Show Aikawa). Unfortunately, the colleague is also his brother. That is really all the plot you’re going to need. Explaining anything further would be simply robbing you of the context that does seem to exist and run consistently throughout this hyperbolic blend of horror and so much more.
Gozu keeps all of these genre plates spinning, and never once feels like you’re just trapped in a barrel filled with screeching noise and over-the-top cinematic pandemonium. It is a horror movie with a lot of characters, action, and other film types running amok. It still feels very much like a horror movie. Albeit an aggressively unhinged one.
8. High Tension (2003)
Director: Alexander Aja
The 40% rating for High Tension on Rotten Tomatoes is a good reminder that RT is an aggregate of reviews, and not a number that in of itself indicates whether the movie is any good. This is an enduring favorite among many, and perhaps something of a cult classic as time has gone on. Ask people for their favorites from the first half of the decade. A lot of horror fans will mention High Tension, even as some find the ending a little ridiculous.
We don’t. High Tension is all about audacity and succeeds in making us uncomfortable and horrified without any sense of relief for what feels like an eternity. This is because of the violence, which is as potent today as it was 20+ years ago, but also because High Tension gives us two protagonists who are interesting characters performed by talented French actresses. The story itself concerns two French women (Maïwenn Le Besco and Cécile de France) whose vacation in the countryside is brutally interrupted by a deranged truck driver (Philippe Nahon). Things get filthy, cruel, and memorably gory from there.
High Tension has a lot of ugliness to it. This is not just in terms of its desire to raise the stakes of edginess and how much you the viewer can take, but in terms of what we actually witness on screen as these
9. The House of the Devil (2009)
Director: Ti West
While at its heart a fun mix of Black Christmas aesthetics with a much darker take on the basic premise of Rosemary’s Baby, The House of the Devil is more than a retread. The push against your expectations will begin gently with a very slow-burn approach to this story of a young college student named Sam (a captivating Jocelin Donahue) who accepts a babysitting anyone watching this film would swear they themselves wouldn’t take.
Except we spend a lot of time watching Sam get to a point where we can at least understand why she has no choice. Our expectations continue to be swayed when Sam learns that she will in fact be taking care of a very old woman. Here we meet the Ullmans, with wonderful, creepy performances by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov, who leave Sam to her task. We wait; Sam waits. From seemingly nothing, a whirlwind of quiet tension builds up around not only the film, but within ourselves as we watch the gradual unfolding of this story.
Is the wait worth it? Depending on how patient you are, and where your expectations travel, absolutely.
10. Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Director: Karyn Kusama
Few movies in the past quarter-century, and no other film on this list, has undergone the critical revaluation that Jennifer’s Body has enjoyed in recent years. This isn’t something manufactured by marketing experts at a studio. The re-emergence of Jennifer’s Body as one of the best horror movies of the 2000s came about simply from the relentless championing of its cult fanbase.
And you know what, the diehards who believed in this story of a high school student (a gleefully menacing, sinister-and-sympathetic Megan Fox) who becomes possessed by a demon were right about Jennifer’s Body all along.
It never stops being a horror movie steeped in social commentary and gore, with Karyn Kusama’s strong direction working flawlessly with a screenplay by Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno). It also happens to be a strikingly original mediation of teenage girl adolescence, and the perils of a toxic friendship taking a supernatural turn. In this case, the relationship between Jennifer and her long-time best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried, meeting every challenge of her complex character).
Watching this friendship endure a horror movie nightmare ride of clever dialog and satisfying retribution is what truly sets this film apart from anything else of its time.
11. Lake Mungo (2008)
Director: Joel Anderson
Lake Mungo asks two very direct questions among its bone-chilling, immersive found footage format. The first question is a simple but heartbreaking one: What do you do when someone you love is taken from you at a young age? The family of young Alice Palmer, who has seemingly drowned while swimming one day, answers this question as a family overcome with grief, which leads them down a bizarre path in which the ghost of their daughter may haunt their surroundings.
Unfortunately, in trying to answer this question and its associates, the poor Palmers in Lake Mungo get a far more frightening query to contend with: What do you when you discover your teenage daughter was living a very different life from the one you thought she had?
The answers they uncover take us into the unknown in a way found footage never has before. The vast majority of movies in this genre focus on the paranormal, but where Lake Mungo differs is in how a family contends with not even having a recognizable face at the center of all the mysterious things going on around them. It’s one thing to deal with a ghost. It’s another thing entirely to face the ghost of a person you only thought you knew. The family’s agony in Lake Mungo is uniquely depicted as a mix of despair and confusion, and their journey also helps to make the movie a unique, meaningful entry in this category.
12. Let the Right One In (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
The loneliness of childhood is certainly nothing new in horror. Neither are horror movies built around the emotional, psychological, and even sometimes spiritual trauma of enforced isolation. Let the Right One takes the unknown and uses it to create a tangible force for what is arguably good in the life of an unhappy 12-year-old named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) in a Stockholm, Sweden suburb.
As the film takes us as far into understanding the isolation experienced by this child as it can go, we meet a young girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) with a dark secret. Their friendship is easy to accept as the brightest light to come into Oskar’s life in quite some time. Their affection drives the film and doesn’t suddenly dissipate when we learn that Eli is a vampire.
Let the Right One In takes every expectation you may have for the story at this point and forces you to reconcile them with a movie that is sweeter and sadder than you might be used to with this genre. The vampire side of this story doesn’t disappoint, but there’s a lot more going on here, as well.
13. May (2002)
Director: Lucky McKee
An awkward, beautiful, and brilliant young woman named May (Angela Bettis, who is due for a major horror comeback) finds it impossible to accept the notion that anyone could ever love her. It doesn’t help that she’s at least a little on the eccentric side, although this mild discomfort soon turns to the realization that May’s dark side might be her best side.
Even as the character remains sympathetic, gaining revenge on those who wronged her (Anna Farris is particularly memorable as an unfeeling ex), before settling on a plan to just build the definitive soulmate, May becomes one of the most gruesome character studies of the decade. The film is very driven on the journey of this one character, filtering slasher and monster movie tropes through her increasing bouts of instability. There is a current of humor running through this, but the comedic elements almost always come with a heavy dose of gore.
That’s perfectly fine, as May never falters with a funny, humane script, and a peerless turn by Bettis as the title character.
14. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Pan’s Labyrinth moved Guillermo del Toro, already a success for films like The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy, to a different realm of critical respectability. He earned the best reviews of his career up to that point, saw his film about a young girl discovering a world of monsters in the hellish final moments of the Spanish Civil War win several Oscars, and seemed delightfully unchanged by his success.
He had been making noticeably humane stories of gods and monsters for quite some time. With his flourish for makeup FX, respect for characters of all ages, and a subtle sense of humor, it was inevitable that he would eventually find admirers outside of horror devotees. Pan’s Labyrinth, which sets the dueling entities of unfathomable courage and overwhelming fear as a young girl (Ivana Baquero) tries to make sense of the death of family and the cruelty of a Falangist officer stepfather.
Her adventures take her to spectacular, visually splendid worlds, but we never stray too far from the horrors of the other side, which may or may not be fantasy, and of the reality waiting for us that is even worse.
The sequels are decidedly hit or miss, and not one of them comes close to the mystery Saw creates in its story of an enigmatic creator (Tobin Bell) of deathtraps which are seemingly designed to give those few fortunate survivors a new lease on life. Saw set the tone for the rest of these movies with multiple characters and story threads, seemingly trivial deviations from the main narrative, and the ability to run those deathtraps across an entire spectrum of approaches to suspense.
The first Saw may feature traps that seem quaint compared to the subsequent sequels, but the first entry in this series uses the traps in the flow of everything else. They don’t steal the show, although it’s obviously easy to see why they eventually would.
16. Session 9 (2001)
Director: Brad Anderson
Session 9 delights in swerving around what you’re expecting, creating a film that has not only surprises in its narrative of an asbestos cleaning crew encountering personal tensions and possibly the paranormal in an abandoned asylum, but also surprises in how it approaches the haunted house story. At its heart Session 9 stands with the best examples of this subgenre, focusing on atmosphere and character relationships while gradually increasing our comprehension of what’s really going on.
It’s a perfect example of building tension, with Session 9 starting almost immediately with one of the workers (Peter Mullan) hearing a disembodied voice in the darkness of a facility that most certainly houses some secrets of the blood-soaked haunted soul variety. A box of tapes is soon found that introduces the workers (including David Caruso in probably his best film performance) to the story of a former patient with a split personality disorder. Things get weirder from there, but never out of the realm of what this movie establishes for mood and style at the start.
Session 9 is packed with a compelling mystery, one in which several concerns mold into a fury of tormented rage that perhaps isn’t just because there might be some ghosts in the basement. The ending is a perfect culmination of what we go through with these men.
17. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Director: Edgar Wright
Shaun of the Dead caught a great many people by surprise, offering serious, surreal slacker comedy with an unexpected heart against a basic zombie apocalypse. It made stars of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, playing two best friends who are forced to rise to the occasion of being what will pass for a hero when the undead suddenly overrun London and beyond. It also established director and co-writer Edgar Wright as one of the most imaginative fans with an ability to add something sincere and genuinely original to some of his favorite types of films.
Wright in particular has risen to even greater heights, directing increasingly prestigious films, but none will ever be quite as much fun, or as quite as easy to like in every possible way, as Shaun of the Dead.
Featuring excellent examples of several types of humor, dozens of allusions to horror classics, serious zombie gore, and one of the best casts possible for one of the best horror comedies ever.
18. Slither (2006)
Director: James Gunn
The 2000s featured several films looking to create their own perfect union of blood, guts, and varying degrees of humor. Slither went for body horror, but also threw in some zombies and slug-like creatures.
This story of an alien parasite turning human beings in a small town into bottomless meat-eating ghouls is anchored by a script which created characters who could say hilarious things and still be very, very afraid of what was going on around them. Performances by Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker, and Gregg Henry each lean into this terror with memorable lines in their own delightful, hysterical way.
Slither famously bombed at a box-office that simply wasn’t ready for a creature feature with this much intelligence wrapped in some of the best gross-out horror movie moments of the entire decade. Slither is packed with great characters, and a lot of them are going to die in some pretty grisly ways.
Somehow, or perhaps not surprisingly given this is James Gunn, it never stops being funny. Even when the proceedings could at least be described as disturbing.
19. Suicide Club (2001)
Director: Sion Sono
If you don’t think this movie can get any more horrifying than its first five minutes, there is a fair chance that you just won’t get through this masterpiece from writer/director Sion Sono in one piece. Suicide Club starts with some of the darkest comedy you’ve ever seen, which really just depends on your definition of something that repels and fascinates simultaneously. There is never a point in which we feel safe, or like we are on firm ground.
Again and again, Suicide Squad revels in being one of the most unsettling mysteries you’re likely to ever see. How this component is explored is multifaceted, as the story of a mysterious rash of suicides throughout Japan sharpens its focus into an unnerving look at some truly horrendous human beings.
Suicide Club can be an overwhelming experience, with a blistering opening giving rise to a search for meaning that feels like its own degree of madness. As a schoolgirl named Mitsuko (Saya Hagiwara) and three police detectives are brought together by this virulent disease of sudden self-termination, we are left in a state of constant disbelief.
Something as surreal as Suicide Club can almost leave you feeling as though you survived someone else’s complicated nervous breakdown.
20. Trick ‘r Treat
Director: Michael Dougherty
From Godzilla to Krampus, writer/director Michael Dougherty knows how to make a really fun horror movie. Trick ‘r Treat is still arguably his best-to-date blend of Creepshow-style horror theatrics and genuinely creepy tension-building with disturbing visual and narrative touches. Trick ‘r Treat is an anthology film in which the stories share various connections to one another, and it’s going to give you a clear idea of its sense of humor almost immediately. Just the right amount of comedy, gore, and irony makes for a fun repeat watch. The stories connect nicely and reasonably, and in some sincerely surprising ways (the cheerful serial killer father and his young son living next door to a cursed bus driver is a treat that genuinely makes the movie funnier and more interesting).
There’s also not a single bad story to be found here. Anthologies are notorious for being the sort of proceedings where at least one story just won’t grab you as hard as the others do. There’re exceptions to this rule, and Trick ‘r Treat is one of them. Stories involving a young woman’s first time (not the one you’re thinking of either), a principal who just wants to carve jack-o-lanterns with his son (again, not the one you’re thinking of), and a group of disabled children whose horrific murder sets the stage for shocking and bizarrely humorous vengeance are among the tales covered here. Nothing lags.
The interwoven nature of Trick ‘r Treat is fun for a first-time viewer, but there’s something impressive when a single film stretches this far and covers so much so well.
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