Anna Biller

The 30 greatest horror films of the 2010s

From extra terrestrials roaming the streets of Glasgow to razor-sharp allegories for Trump's America, the 2010s offered a fresh perspective of what horror movies could say and do.

by Katie Goh
03 December 2019, 3:00pm

Anna Biller

No other film genre can capture the psyche and mood of an era quite like horror. The supernatural, violence and artistic license lets horror filmmakers tap directly into our collective nightmares. Think the suburban slashers of the late 70s and early 80s that dissected the nuclear family, or the contaminated vampires in 90s horror movies that were substitutes for the AIDS crisis.

What the 2010s has captured in horror is instability, for some filmmakers a conscious decision or others, maybe not. The quality of horror in this decade has certainly been unbalanced. The early 10s was the final nail in the coffin for a run of uninspiring, tedious remakes and reboots of previously beloved movies (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, I Spit on Your Grave…). Original horror in the early 2010s was dominated by the supernatural and found-footage. James Wan’s low-budget Insidious and The Conjuring were box office smash-hits which immediately got franchised and overloaded with CGI.

But then something happened half-way through the decade. Suddenly, in 2014, a torrent of indie and original horror from debut filmmakers appears. Under the Skin, The Babadook, It Follows and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night all lead a charge of horror filmmakers bored with the predictive reboots and franchises – a golden age of horror is announced. Notably more women and people of colour helm the genre’s successes, while international films, particularly from Korea, become more popular in the US.

As we come to the end of the decade, a new subgenre of horror has been cemented, called “elevated horror” by some critics who view the 2010s wave of original horror as being more intelligent than slashers or franchises. Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsommar and the king of 2010s horror, Jordan Peele, are the most frequently name-dropped for changing how horror is perceived.

The term “elevated horror” could be construed as an inaccurate way of describing these films (and a way for some critics and fans to feel less guilty for enjoying genre movies). But however you describe the decade’s wave of horror, we can all agree that the genre is producing some of the most exciting new filmmakers of recent times. Hopefully, in the next decade to come, horror will become more inclusive - and more inventive and original as a result. In particular, let’s hope more women of colour will get the chance to create their visions.

The following list runs down the horror films that best define this decade, from paranoid movies about staying silent, to commentaries on being Black in America, to female filmmakers subverting horror’s misogyny. Warning: some mild spoilers ahead.

1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2013)
An eerie blend of sci-fi and horror, Under the Skin is an unnerving and often beautiful journey an alien takes through the unassuming streets of Glasgow, consuming the men she comes across. Mica Levi’s score is perhaps the film soundtrack of the decade – regardless of genre.

2. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
Jennifer Kent sits alongside Jordan Peele and Ari Aster as one of horror’s thrilling new voices. Her debut feature is all about the creepy manifestation of maternal anxieties. It also inadvertently created the internet’s greatest gay icon.

3. It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
A film about the horror of STDs (in the film if you do it, you also get it), Mitchell used lo-fi techniques to produce a psychological-driven exploration of taboo and sex.

4. What We Do in the Shadows (Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, 2014)
Who knew vampires could be so funny? Drawing out a four minute comedy sketch that asked ‘What do vampires actually do?’ into a comedy mockumentary, this hearty horror-comedy is the Kiwi cult hit of the decade.

5. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)
Combining the tropes of horror and wild west movies, Amirpour takes the common advice given to women -- don’t walk home alone at night -- and turns it on its head, to ask what happens when a young, fanged woman roams the streets after dark.

6. The Wailing (Na Hong-jin, 2016)
One of the most unsettling Korean horrors in years, this is a mad blend of ghosts, demons, zombies, religion and violence set in a remote village. Too much for some, the horror of The Wailing is in itself a virus: fear that gets under your skin and spreads.

7. Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho, 2016)
It’s a simple concept exercised in cinema before: terrifying species (read: zombies) on a method of public transport (read: train). But Yeon Sang-ho’s ingenious filmmaking and an excellent script makes this one of the decade’s most celebrated zombie flicks.

8. Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016)
A vegetarian enters veterinary school, has sex and suddenly develops a craving for human flesh. Ducournau’s daring film, which shocked audiences at the Cannes Film Festival, revels in its exploration of female sexuality.

9. Under the Shadow (Babak Anvari, 2016)
Among the horrors of war in 80s Tehran, a mother and child are suddenly haunted by a supernatural evil. A metaphorical reminder of the traumas of war.

10. Annihilation (Alex Garland, 2018)
Body horror meets sci-fi in this big, audacious film about an ecological crisis. What happens when humankind probes too deep and nature begins to mutate and fight back? The answer is a nightmare.

11. Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg, 2016)
A surprise sequel to the found footage hit Cloverfield, Trachtenberg’s film is a psychological abduction story about a woman locked in a basement, unbeknownst to the horrors unfolding outside of those four walls.

12. Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro, 2015)
No one beats del Toro when it comes to fantasy horror, and Crimson Peak was a surprise (and since underrated) gothic turn for the director. A film rich in literary and cinematic history for its genre, Crimson Peak is gorgeous, spectral and terrifying.

13. CAM (Daniel Goldhaber, 2018)
This decade’s horror movies were the first to explore the internet properly. The best example, perhaps, is about a sex worker who’s identity is stolen online. Shoutout to Searching and Unfriended that similarly use online found-footage to make horror out of search engines.

14. Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)
A stylish and hallucinogenic 80s inspired horror, Mandy features Nic Cage’s best performance in a long time as an outsider living an idyllic lifestyle cut off from the outside world that’s upended by the arrival of a violent cult leader. Vicious and nasty, Cosmatos manages to infuse Mandy with just the right amount of emotional catharsis.

15. Halloween (David Gordon Green, 2018)
Finally! A horror reboot that doesn’t suck! 2018’s Halloween works because David Gordon Green understands and appreciates the effectiveness of his source material. Secondly, he knows the sheer horror power of Jamie Lee Curtis.

16. Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)
Lauded The Exorcist for millennials, Hereditary is a paranoid portrait of grief, mental illness and… demon cults. A fucked up film about fucked up families.

17. Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
The horror film of the decade, Get Out is a stunning and sharp allegorical feat, transforming race relations in the Trump era and the contemporary African American experience into an oppressive masterpiece. It’s also, importantly, so much fun.

18. It (Andy Muschietti, 2017)
Another rare successful remake, It surprised everyone by deconstructing and rebuilding the classic horror story. It also spawned a resurgence in Stephen King adaptations -- some more successful than others.

19. Prevenge (Alice Lowe, 2017)
Alice Lowe stars and directs the superb Prevenge, about the horrors of pregnancy, the body and being a vehicle for another human being. Cutting, clever and well-written.

20. The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)
17th century New England and some strange women roaming around it -- what could go wrong? Sidelining typical horror tropes, The Witch is more interested in creating mood of impending doom. That is its greatest triumph.

21. The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2011)
A cheeky and misunderstood dissection of horrors’ tropes and tricks, The Cabin in the Woods follows a group of friends on a fun, bonding excursion that fucks up very quickly. This decade’s Scream; it’s silly, and it knows it.

22. Insidious (James Wan, 2010)
After the Saw series flatlined, James Wan returned with this messed-up haunted house movie about a family trying to understand why their son has slipped into a coma. The answer? Fucked up spirits, obvi! Insidious is basic fun, but very scary nonetheless.

23. The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013)
Wan’s second entry on this list marks the start of the most popular horror franchise of the decade. The Conjuring, based on the real life case studies of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, is taut, old-school horror done well.

24. Revenge (Coralie Forgeat, 2017)
Horror was not exempt from responding to the #MeToo movement. Revenge takes the standard rape-revenge tropes carelessly toyed with by male directors in the past, but reframes the subgenre offering a fresh, female vision.

25. The Purge (James de Monaco, 2013)
Hardly the most subtle films in the scary movie canon, The Purge and its subsequent sequels brought class criticism to popular horror, imagining a world that legalises all dangerous crime for one night of the year.

26. XX (Karyn Kusama, 2017)
An anthology of female horror filmmakers, XX is a showcase for some of the best female talent in the genre, famously featuring a short by St Vincent.

27. The Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2016)
A loving, lustrous homage to 1960s horror, The Love Witch follows a young woman using spells to make men fall in love with her. Unsurprisingly, it has some disastrous results.

28. Hush (Mike Flanagan, 2016)
One of 2010s favourite subgenres was the “Shut Up Or It’ll Get You” movie. Hush, an intruder film with the twist that the “victim” is a deaf woman, was a sleeper favourite. The more popular A Quiet Place and Don’t Breathe also made eating popcorn in the cinema a mammoth task.

29. Tigers Are Not Afraid (Issa López, 2019)
A haunting fairytale set in the backdrop of Mexico’s drug wars, López seamlessly wove a portrait of childhood with hard-hitting social and magical realism.

30. Us (Jordan Peele, 2019)
Following up Get Out was always going to be an impossible task, but Us is an ambitious, smart, home-invader movie about class warfare. It also affirmed Lupita Nyong'o’s position as this decade’s scream queen.

ari aster
Jordan Peele