Many of the best slasher movies of all time can be found in the 80s. It is hard not to be at least a little romantic about that decade. At the same time, you can find contenders for the greatest slasher movie of all time throughout the 70’s. There are examples before the term was coined, as well. You can go back decades before 1978’s Halloween came out.
Certainly, there are great examples of slasher movies from the 1990s, 2000s, and the present. There is a basic structure to their tropes and expectations that can be easily shaped to the entertainment demands of the times.
In the 80s, they were so prolific, film critics like Roger Ebert made it a point to try and destroy them. In the 90s, we still wanted stories about some sort of masked/unseen killer, hacking idiots and tragic heroes to pieces. We just wanted them to be ironic, so that’s where these stories went for a while.
In the 2000s, others still wanted to prove slasher movies could be brutal, intense, and devoid of any winking into the camera.
Then we became nostalgic.
If you just want one opinion on the greatest slasher movies of all time, you will find that here. However, if you’re weird like me, you can also enjoy the way slasher movies often do a fascinatingly good job of reflecting what most people seem to want from these films. That’s in addition to the complex thrill of watching people die in creative ways, and of watching others survive to live another day.
Unless they die in the sequel, obviously.
From incredible special effects, to brutal surprises, to other elements that can define a truly great slasher film, there’s more versatility within any list of the best slasher movies than you might think.
There are also, in many cases, remarkable final girls (a famous slasher movie trope), extremely ambitious madmen (often men, yes), and people who simply exist in the film to be slaughtered. If you love slasher films, chances are you love all those things.
Note: the below is in a chronological order.
The Best Slasher Movies
1. Peeping Tom (1960)
Director: Michael Powell
Two movies on this list are frequently debated as to whether they belong on any list of the greatest slasher movies of all time. One of those movies is Peeping Tom, the movie that essentially destroyed director Michael Powell’s career.
Is this unforgettable, deeply affecting movie about a serial killer who uses a camera to capture the final moments of his victims, a slasher movie? Perhaps a proto-slasher. The debate goes on.
Obviously, I consider it to be a slasher, even if the genre didn’t really get started until Black Christmas and Halloween came along some years later. The elements of the slasher are certainly here, more often than not.
Watch if: You want to see an ancestor of the slasher genre, which also happens to be one of the most disturbing psychological horror movies of all time. Avoid if: You have very specific qualifications for what makes a slasher.
2. Psycho (1960)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
The second of the two entries most frequently debated in terms of whether they qualify as slasher movies.
Psycho, like the previous entry, has too many elements of the genre to be disregarded.
I wouldn’t call it a pure slasher, but there’s enough to justify its inclusion here. If nothing else, Norman Bates paved the way for not only a slew of slasher movie icons, but also created an archetype that still influences several different types of horror.
Arguably one of Alfred Hitchcock’s last true masterpieces, Psycho remains a genuinely good movie that should be seen at least once for its historical value.
Watch if: You want to see what all the shower scene fuss is about. Avoid if: You don’t have a lot of patience for unlikable leads and dated attitudes towards crossdressing and the like.
3. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Director: Tobe Hooper
I don’t think there’s any question that Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking masterpiece is a slasher movie. I also don’t think Hooper ever set out to make something that would fit the genre particulars. It can also be said that TCM’s influence on slashers is relatively minor, when compared to the likes of Halloween.
Nonetheless, it is a slasher, and it’s one of the best of all time. The sudden explosion that hurls us into the desires of a cannibalistic family that lives in a remote portion of Central Texas is one of the best of its kind in film history. Nothing in movie history refuses to let up quite like TCM once the story kicks into a higher, angrier gear.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre draws a lot of strength from its cast. Everyone has a favorite, but the best might belong to Marilyn Burns, as one of the most unshakable horror movie survivors of all time, and Gunner Hansen, whose Leatherface is still the best of the bunch.
Watch if: You want to see a masterclass in tension and implied brutality. Avoid if: You have an overly-romanticized impression power tools.
4. Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
If you ask me, trying to build value for Black Christmas around the fact that it came out before Halloween is kind of asinine. It doesn’t really matter.
While Black Christmas is a clear influence on slasher movies, aside from also being just a great horror film, it still didn’t jumpstart the slasher genre as it is known today. It proved Holiday-themed horror movies could make some bank, as long as the budget stayed low. That is important enough.
Directed by Bob Clark, who later made A Christmas Story, you get a great cast (including John Saxon and Olivia Hussey), good pacing, and a truly unsettling ending. You can argue that Black Christmas is better because it came out first, or you could just enjoy the movie’s many enduring qualities.
Watch if: You want a movie that validates your hatred of Christmas. Avoid if: You actually like Christmas.
5. Deep Red (1975)
Director: Dario Argento
If you want to know what slasher movies did between 1960’s Psycho and 1978’s Halloween, it could be argued that several elements of the genre found a home in Italian giallo movies. Deep Red remains not only one of the finest giallo films of all time, but also one of the best from director Dario Argento.
The mystery side of the movie focuses on an unknown killer with black gloves and a can-do attitude. The style and pace of the movie offer one brilliant assault on the senses after another.
Is it a slasher? Not to be glib, but there’s an awful lot of slashing going on.
Watch if: You like it when your media violence is stylized as hell. Avoid if: You don’t like ambitious mysteries, or you want to wait to start until 1978 for your impending slasher movies marathon.
6. Halloween (1978)
Director: John Carpenter
While John Carptenter’s Halloween was not the first slasher film, it did set the tone for the rest of the 70s, then the 80s, and then beyond.
The hundreds and hundreds of slasher movies released after Halloween, which tells the story of a jaunty homicidal maniac named Michael Myers, returning to his hometown for a fresh killing spree, all owe some form of debt to this film. That is obviously important in a historical appreciation of these movies, but keep in mind that Halloween in of itself remains as entertaining, and even frightening, as ever before.
It established Jamie Lee Curtis as one of the first scream queens of the slasher era, and it offers one of the definitive Donald Pleasance performances (as Michael’s bug-eyed doctor).
Watch if: You want to see a horror classic and a trendsetter Avoid if: You can’t un-see the William Shatner mask
7. Maniac (1980)
Director: William Lustig
Directed by William Lustig (who later went on to do the Maniac Cop series), and co-written by character actor Joe Spinell, who pulled double duty by playing the maniac in question, there are few slasher movies as bleak and grimy as Maniac.
It helps that it was shot in New York City, during the height of the city having a grand old time on the edge of oblivion. It also helps that Joe Spinell, who appeared in movies like The Godfather and Rocky, taps into one of the scariest portrayals of a killer that anyone had seen up to that point.
Not surprisingly, the ugliness of this movie, the depths of madness, and the fact that Spinell was an intense-looking guy all conspired to ensure Maniac would be poorly received. It isn’t an unreasonable response, to be honest. Despite the 2012 remake being pretty darn good, nothing is quite the marriage of despair and sleaze that Maniac establishes.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best examples of a horror movie with a car crash atmosphere. Avoid if: You can’t take a shower immediately after.
8. Friday the 13th (1980)
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
What Halloween started, particularly in terms of establishing momentum for slashers, Friday the 13th shaped even further. A lot of slashers, particularly throughout the 80s, would generally stick to borrowing/ripping off from one or the other. The initial Friday the 13th cements the idea of stacking the story with a noticeably high body count.
The fact that slashers were just getting started at this point gives this first film an odd innocence that still comes through. A lot of slasher archetypes are here, but the movie doesn’t have the weight of trying to do something original with the 8th sequel, or whatever happens when too many of one franchise are released.
The original Friday the 13th is an innovator that still retains the unique energy it possessed at the times of its release. You also get a young Kevin Bacon, and some Tom Savini (an essential figure in slasher movie history, among other achievements) makeup for a genuinely intense climax.
Watch if: You don’t take this stuff too seriously. Avoid if: You have a ride or die mentality with hockey masks.
9. My Bloody Valentine (1981)
Director: George Mihalka
My Bloody Valentine still has one of the best atmospheres of dread and doom ever brought to a slasher. The movie is quietly upsetting throughout, even as it offers moments of inventive violence. Speaking of the violence, the heavily-edited theatrical version should be avoided at all costs. My Bloody Valentine is also a rare example of a slasher that doesn’t feature teenagers as the victims/protagonists.
Beyond its strong plot and likable characters, My Bloody Valentine also proves that slashers could be creative within their qualifications. While this Canadian horror classic might share certain traits with other examples of the top slasher movies, it is a showcase for the various ways in which a movie could distinguish itself within the genre.
Watch if: You want something with a striking touch of the unsettling. Avoid if: You want to keep your Valentine’s Day associations positive.
10. The Funhouse (1981)
Director: Tobe Hooper
The Funhouse was written by Tobe Hooper, whose previous credits include The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That’s another one people debate. Regardless, while I wouldn’t call TCM one of the best slasher movies of all time (certainly, one of the greatest horror movies ever), I would give that distinction to The Funhouse.
Released in 1981, The Funhouse is one of the better examples of taking the basic slasher formula and pushing everything around it to be as weird as possible. At his peak, Tobe Hooper can manipulate cinematic chaos with the best of them.
Obviously, the movie is set in a funhouse at a carnival. Beyond that, I think it’s best to just strap in for a film that is equal parts absurd and creepy.
Watch if: You always knew there was something going on at those cut-rate local carnivals. Avoid if: You prefer smart protagonists, or demand that things generally make sense.
11. The Burning (1981)
Once again, we come to the legendary makeup FX of Tom Savini. Between the slashers and the zombies, it is easy to see why Tom is one of modern horror’s icons. The Burning isn’t quite as well known as Friday the 13th or Dawn of the Dead, but it deserves to be.
Filmed in Western New York, which has always been a faintly creepy locale, The Burning makes a good case that if the people involved are creative and passionate, it can come through in the telling of what seems like a fairly standard story these days.
A prank goes horribly wrong, and the recipient returns a few years later for revenge. Pretty simple. Except the style and execution of The Burning is anything but.
Watch if: You want to see one of the best revenge slashers of all time. Avoid if: You live in Western New York.
12. Madman (1981)
Director: Joe Giannone
Both the legend and very real threat of Madman Marz join as one malevolent spectre in the underrated 1981 film Madman. Despite being a little messy in its execution, especially when it comes to characters that could at least be easy to tell apart, Madman has atmosphere, a strong script, and the essential pacing the best slasher movies need to keep us watching.
Madman also obviously benefits from a memorable killer. Marz is a nasty customer, with something a little more manic and savage than some of the other more famous faces on this list. There is something vaguely supernatural about him, which creates a nightmarish atmosphere that suits this film extremely well.
Madman unquestionably has its fans. This is not hard to appreciate. Marz may not have a lot of depth to him, but his energy (created by Paul Ehlers’ exceptional performance) makes him much less a blunt force for destruction than some of the other famous slashers.
His scenes with the stronger characters in this, including Dawn of the Dead’s Gaylen Ross as Betsy, and a full throttle ending, gives Madman a lot to offer diehard slasher fans.
Watch if: You want to see an underrated early 80s slasher gem Avoid if: The idea of essentially a compromise between Friday the 13th and Black Christmas really doesn’t interest you.
13. The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Director: Amy Holden Jones
By 1982, movies were already deconstructing and subverting slasher genre expectations. The Slumber Party Massacre was written as a parody, and yet filmed as a straightforward slasher movie. The end result is one of the most interesting entries on this list.
Slumber Party Massacre has all the tropes one might demand from this genre. It just adds a good deal more humor than the norm, especially at the time of its release.
The Slumber Party Massacre also has the distinction of being one of the few slasher movies written and directed by women (Rita Mae Brown and Amy Holden Jones respectively).
Watch if: You like stuff that walks a fine line between comedy and horror. Avoid if: You don’t care for stuff that knows it’s ridiculous.
14. Pieces (1982)
Director: Juan Piquer Simón
Pieces is not for everybody. This even holds true in the specific arena of slasher films. The movie is stacked with memorable kills, a whodunit component that’s at least entertaining, and a degree of heightened madness that seems to follow every character around.
Indeed, not only is every character in Pieces kind of out of their respective minds, but no one in this film by Juan Piquer Simón is very likable. Even by the standards of the day, this movie also features a noticeably brutal attitude towards its female characters. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy this, but you may find yourself occasionally shaking in your head in disbelief.
In fact, disbelief is a good mindset to bring to the table for a movie as ruthlessly violent and bizarre as Pieces. It is noticeably violent for its period, and some of the most infamous kills in this movie could give several modern films an unsettling run for their money. There is a lot to take away from Pieces. Not all of is good, but none of it is forgettable.
Watch if: You want to see a particularly violent slasher movie with oddball humor. Avoid if: You’re not a big fan of slasher films that feel like the director enjoyed what they were doing a little too much.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter offers a very satisfying culmination of the series up to that point. Beyond featuring an excellent Jason Voorhees in Ted White, the movie establishes a genuinely tense situation, bringing together a family, a bunch of idiot kids, and our buddy Jason to Camp Crystal Lake. The movie also features some of the least annoying teenagers in the entire franchise, with some characters even bordering on likeable.
The best performance in The Final Chapter probably belongs to Corey Feldman, who shifted his likable on-screen persona into something with darker implications than almost anything in this series. Later sequels would botch that potential, but don’t let that ruin how much fun The Final Chapter really is.
It’s not particularly scary, but it’s enjoyable and imaginative on a level this franchise rarely aspired to.
Watch if: You want to see the best of the Friday the 13th sequels, in addition to a slasher that stands surprisingly well on its own. Avoid if: You don’t have enough time to inevitably watch the rest of this series, which gets very hit or miss after this point.
16. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Director: Wes Craven
Through writer/director Wes Craven and star Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger took the fear of knowing someone is after you and applied it to devastating reality of knowing you must sleep sometime.
A Nightmare on Elm Street endures because it is still one of the most inventive slashers ever. This creativity would later shift to the execution of Freddy’s kills with the sequels, which may or may not please you.
The first one? It’s decidedly low-budget, weird, and quite vicious. In his best movies, Craven could make you understand exactly what he was talking about. He could make you emphasize with things that are scary to almost all of us, in some form or fashion.
Watch if: You want to see the first, arguably best appearance of one of the greatest movie villains of all time. Avoid if: You have enough problems being scared of things that may live under your bed.
17. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Director: Chuck Russell
Wes Craven returned to cowrite what eventually became one of the most celebrated horror sequels in recent memory. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 for some represents the best of all the various concepts and approaches to this universe, and to Robert Englund as the iconic Freddy Krueger more specifically.
It has creative visual effects on a shoe-string budget, a stellar combination of kids and adults to fight or inadvertently assist Freddy, and the touches of dark humor that would dominate later entries.
Perhaps a bit too much for some tastes.
Dream Warriors is arguably peak 80s horror combined with the peak of the Elm St series itself. It returns old characters to the series, presents new ones we actually like, and starts to move Freddy out of the neighborhood, and into a larger world.
Watch if: You want to see Freddy Krueger at arguably his very best. Avoid if: You live in constant fear of being suddenly exposed to Zsa Zsa Gabor.
18. Candyman (1992)
Director: Bernard Rose
Candyman is another slasher movie that proved you could do more than just kill as many people as humanly possible. Nothing wrong with that, and Candyman (based on a short story by Clive Barker) is certainly a brutal example of its type, with a towering performance from Tony Todd as the Candyman in question.
Yet the film, directed by Bernard Rose from his own screenplay, also leaves room for an unshakable element of social commentary and historical context. Taken as a whole, Candyman shakes your senses in a way few slashers can or ever will.
Watch if: You want to be creeped out for a long time afterwards. Avoid if: You live alone.
19. Scream (1996)
Director: Wes Craven
Despite a tone that some have described as condescending, Scream is still one of the best efforts anyone has ever made to celebrate and gently tease the genre equally.
It makes sense Wes Craven directed Kevin Williamson’s screenplay (and Williamson himself became quite prolific within slashers for much of the 90’s) about a masked killer pursuing teenagers. The movie distinguished itself and won audiences over in 1996 for dropping the standard slasher concept into a culture wholly cynical of horror movies in general, and slasher films in particular.
It doesn’t hurt either that Scream has a genuinely charming sense of humor, combined with the perfect cast to assemble for something like this.
Craven came back for the rest of the series, which offered a few more surprises, but nothing quite as satisfying as the first installment.
Watch if: You like it when movies celebrate and send up conventions Avoid if: Self-referential horror movies make you want to self-referential yourself right off a cliff.
20. Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
Director: Scott Glosserman
Behind the Mask goes for a similar self-referential style to what you get from Scream and its sequels. However, whereas Scream plays things relatively safe, Behind the Mask aims to go over the top before you’re even a fourth of the way through. That doesn’t appeal to everyone, but The Rise of Leslie Vernon is proof positive that good slasher movies continued well beyond the heyday of the 1980s.
It doesn’t hurt that the movie also dips into the found footage frenzy that was going on at the time, with further still to offer on the growing popularity of horror films that have been categorized as torture porn.
The influence of Freddy, Jason, Michael, and the others on young Leslie Vernon is clear. At the same time, Leslie also aspires to take things in an entirely new direction. What helps make Behind the Mask a modern slasher classic is the fact that for several reasons, the film itself matches the ambitions of the madman.
You also get some immensely enjoyable supporting performances and cameos from Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, and the late, great Zelda Rubinstein.
Watch if: You want to see the concepts of Scream explored in a more surprising, less commercial kind of way. Avoid if: It sounds like someone stole your actual weekend plans.
21. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Director: Eli Craig
“Sweet” is not a word that generally follows a slasher film, yet that’s one of the better descriptors for Eli Craig’s Tucker and Dale vs. Evil.
This isn’t the first movie to play around with slasher or horror movie expectations. It is one of the funniest, anchored by hilarious and genuinely moving performances by Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine as two likable rednecks who get mixed up with some college kids and mass murder.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a standout horror comedy in an increasingly crowded field of such movies. It stands out by not only taking slasher movies seriously, but by knowing where to shift the comedic gears from one moment to the next. Sometimes, it’s character-driven. Other moments, it becomes a gentle roast of horror movie tropes. At still other times, it is physical comedy heaven.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil will surprise you with just how deep your enjoyment goes.
Watch if: You love horror comedies with good characters and impressive twists. Avoid if: You don’t like things which remind you of how ridiculous this genre can sometimes be.
22. The Final Girls (2015)
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson
Nearing the end of this list is another horror in the comedy vein. Does that mean slasher movies can now only offer self-effacing humor and parodies of tropes? Of course not. It does suggest that moving forward, slashers will have to work harder to embrace a certain sense of humor, or to at least know when the proceedings are in danger of descending into mediocrity.
Obviously, movies like The Final Girls work so well because they celebrate and tease with a consistent back-and-forth between the two. Only slasher fans could have made something like this, in which a recent orphan (Taissa Farmiga) attends the screening of a horror movie her recently-deceased mother had made some years earlier. That gets the slasher plot started.
The Final Girls has its own unique fun with the expectations and downfalls of the genre. At the same time, it also appreciates its best qualities: Cinematic brutality in gory, artful glory, combined with a pace that occasionally gives you the impression that things are about to spiral out of control.
Watch if: You want to see a wholly unique tribute to slasher movies. Avoid if: You don’t really have a sense of humor about these movies.
23. Terrifier (2016)
They don’t come much simpler than Terrifier. In fact, this story of a mysterious, gleefully sadistic killer clown (kudos to David Howard Thornton for doing so much with something so straightforward) is so simple, you may find it lacking.
On the other hand, this film from writer/director/co-producer Damien Leone can be perfect for anyone who just wants protagonists they can like, a killer to move them along, and some truly inspired moments of slasher mayhem. Terrifier offers all three to the right kind of audience. Its purity and unabashed love of the genre itself, amplified for a modern audience, makes it an easy choice for any list of great slasher movies.
In fact, it might be one of the best of the 21st century.
While nothing about Terrifier really defies expectations, it is hard to imagine someone greeting this movie with cynicism. Even as we know what’s going to happen when Tara (Jenna Kanell) and Dawn (Catherine Corcoran) meet Art the Clown for the first time, we’re still in for a memorable ride.
For example, the twist at the end? Even if you see it coming, it’s still a blast to watch it unfold with such clean style.
Watch if: You want a decidedly unpretentious modern slasher movie. Avoid if: Modern horror movie violence is a little too intense for your tastes.
24. Halloween (2018)
Director: David Gordon Green
Even a soft reboot, which is what the 2018 Halloween did by cutting out everything after the 1978 classic, can be met with controversy. We were all intrigued with the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to her most iconic role. With her as the anchor, as the rest of the movie fell into place, it became apparent that Halloween had the potential to be something special.
And it was special, bringing Michael Myers back to audiences successfully and perhaps beyond expectation.
To a large degree, the film is a successful attempt to restore Myers as a mysterious, unstoppable instrument of violence. With a lot less backstory to address, as this movie ignores all the sequels and reboots, director David Gordon Green is able to get right to it.
This is sometimes little more than a trailer for the larger concept of Myers’ appeal as a horror legend, and you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Jamie Lee Curtis still finds some striking character traits to build on a woman we technically haven’t seen since Halloween Night 1978. The movie is better for how much input Curtis clearly brings here, although some of the supporting cast’s (including Judy Greer) development occasionally suffers for it.
Watch if: You want a strong, exciting slasher movie with your old friend Michael. Avoid if: You really can’t handle this movie establishing its own timeline.
25. Freaky (2020)
Director: Christopher Landon
The wildly entertaining mutant offspring of Friday the 13th and Freaky Friday, the 2020 surprise-hit Freaky is an impressive new contender for this list of the best slasher movies.
The Friday the 13th element concerns a notorious mass murderer (Vince Vaughn, who would seemingly make a solid Jason Vorhees) switching bodies with a teenage girl (Kathryn Newton, who makes up the other vital half of why this movie works so well). Why? Something about a magical dagger — it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is how beautifully this movie offers slasher movie gore, body swap comedy of errors, and some pretty good character moments. Freaky is a loving tribute to horror in general and slashers specifically. The film also generates a lot to like on its own terms. This includes a strong supporting cast in Uriah Shelton, Misha Osherovich, Alan Ruck (it is always good to see you, buddy), and Celeste O’Connor.
The other star of Freaky might be Vince Vaughn after the body switch. Going against expectations in every conceivable way and proving again why he has always been almost underrated as a character actor, Vaughn manages what may well be the most likable performance of his career.
Katharyn Newton also kicks a lot of ass after the switch — she makes that apparent almost immediately.
Watch if: You want one of the most entertaining hybrid horror-comedies in recent memory. Avoid if: You don’t like it when your beloved tropes are tussled.
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