Top Movies: The 31 Scariest Movie Moments for Halloween

When we set out to make our Halloween Top Movies list, the number of titles we were shooting for was 13, a nice scary number (think Friday the 13th). Well, that quickly changed when we realized just how many genuinely scary cinematic moments there are out there!

So instead, we’re offering the inverse of the original 13. We came up with the following 31 scariest movie moments (31 — an inverse of 13, 31 days in October, Halloween is on Oct. 31 … get it?!)  as our favorites in terms of sheer, effective terror. I’m sure if we took another couple of hours, we could easily come up with an another 31!

One thing we noted after looking at our handiwork is that a solid third of the choices are scary but DO NOT take place in traditional horror or monster movies, which we think is kinda cool.

A couple housekeeping items: We’ve limited this list to English-language features; if we opened it up to the international community, we’d get lost in a mash-up of truly terrifying flims that might not be familiar to the more casual movie-goer. And, we’re presenting the list in alphabetical order, because, really, they’re all so good, we couldn’t settle on a ranking.


Alien, 1979

Alien (1979)
I still remember seeing this one with my parents and my mother leaping onto me when that little xenomorph burst through poor John Hurt’s chest, knocking over my popcorn and my soda (which probably cost a total of $3.75 back then).
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Aliens (1986)
The most frightening bit for us in Aliens, the only sequel on our list, finds Sigourney Weaver grabbing her gun and flamethrower and descending in a freight elevator to the cavernous depths of Planet LV-426, readying for a battle with the ever-sliming Alien Queen. What more can we say? It’s all scary after that.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
That final scene in which Heather and Mike are running through the abandoned house looking for their missing friend Josh still delivers well-earned shivers.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Lionsgate

Carrie (1976)
Sissy Spacek’s bloody hand shooting out from her grave and grabbing Amy Irving’s arm during the final dream scene is a heart-stopper.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from MGM and distributor Fox

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1968

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Sure, this is a family musical, but that sequence in which the Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann) lures kiddies into his cage by tempting them with candies is downright sinister.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox

Cliffhanger (1993)
A Stallone action movie? Absolutely, or don’t you remember the opening scene when he attempts to save his pal’s girlfriend who’s dangling from a cable over a bottomless mountain crevice?
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The City of the Dead (1960)
A young woman studying witchcraft, a foggy New England town, and a human sacrifice sequence scored to demonic chanting add up to pure horror in this British cult favorite.
Available on DVD from VCI

Deliverance, 1972

Deliverance (1972)
“He got a real purty mouth, ain’t he?”
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video

The Exorcist (1973)
There are so many scares and shocks in this movie, from head-spinning to the projectile vomiting to the crucifix violation, but for genuine, extended fear, we’ll go with the intro to the exorcism scene when Fathers Max von Sydow and Jason Miller slowly ascend the stairs to do battle with The Devil himself.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner

Fantastic Voyage, 1966

Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Those white corpuscles going to town on a microscopic Donald Pleasence at the climax of this film still makes us squirm.
Available on DVD from Fox

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Tevye’s musical nightmare about his butcher’s dead but still jealous wife elevates the invasive horror of Jewish guilt to terrifying new heights.
Available on DVD from MGM/Fox

Freaks (1932)
The finale plays like a nightmare: A group of deformed and disabled circus “freaks” slither through a muddy late-night rainstorm to avenge the murder of one of their own by the “beautiful people.”
Available on DVD from Warner

The Hitcher, 1986

The Hitcher (1986)
The opening 10 minutes finds hitchhiker Rutger Hauer quietly terrorizing nice-guy C. Thomas Howell on a rainy highway, forcing him to repeat the words “I want to die” at knife point.
Available on DVD from HBO/Warner

Liebestraum (1991)
A personal favorite, this lesser-known thriller from the always-provocative director Mike Figgis contains a dark and dreamy stalking scene in a decaying, abandoned department store that’s downright chilling.
Available on DVD MGM/Fox

Jaws, 1975

Jaws (1975)
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” says Roy Scheider after we get our first close-up look at Spielberg’s legendary great white shark. He shoulda said “You’re gonna need a new pair of shorts….”
Available on DVD from Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Maniac (1980)
The climactic assault on the titular murderer by mannequin-like apparitions of his dead victims delivers low-brow but effective scares.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Blue Underground

Marathon Man, 1976

Marathon Man (1976)
“Is it safe?,” asks Nazi dentist Laurence Olivier to captive Dustin Hoffman a dozen times before he pulls out his dental probe and drill. It’s the anticipation of what’s to come that’s most terrifying…
Available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Zombies are overrunning the horror cinema these days, but the most frightening is still the undead ghoul who attacks Johnny and Barbara in the opening scene of this George Romero classic.
Available on DVD from countless labels

The Omen (1976)
A lovely young nanny shockingly hangs herself in front of her charge — who happens to be the son of the Devil — and all the other children, parents and scary-looking clowns who are attending his birthday party.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox

The Phantom of the Opera, 1925

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
“Feast your eyes, glut your soul, on my accursed ugliness,” cries Lon Chaney’s Phantom to Mary Philbin’s Christine at the climax of the hair-raising unmasking scene.
Available on DVD from Milestone/Image

Pitch Black (2000)
As if crash-landing on a planet that’s experiencing its first eclipse in 22 years isn’t bad enough, the moment the lights go out, a bunch of hungry nocturnal predators emerge — and they’re hungry!
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal

Play Misty for Me (1971)
Clint Eastwood waking up to discover a stalking Jessica Walter standing over him with a kitchen knife in hand is a scene that still startles us.
Available on DVD from Universal

Psycho, 1960

Psycho (1960)
It’s a toss-up for the scariest moment in this Hitchcock classic: Janet Leigh’s shower scene, of course, but don’t forget about Vera Miles spinning around the decaying Mrs. Bates just as her murderous, cross-dressing son Anthony Perkins comes down to play.
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal

Rear Window (1954)
Hitchcock again! After realizing he’s being spied on by across-the-courtyard photographer Jimmy Stewart, a murderous Raymond Burr turns his terrifying gaze at his accuser (and us).
Available on DVD from Universal

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Mia Farrow sitting in her gynecologist’s office and slowly realizing her doctor is a Satan-worshipper with designs on her unborn baby is a brilliant, slow-chill moment a la Roman Polanski.
Available on DVD from Paramount

The Shining, 1980

The Shining (1980)
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” — which is even scarier than “Heeeeerrreeee’s Johnny!”
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner

The Thing (1982)
A bunch of scientists and techies are tied to desk chairs as a morphing, drooling, pissed-off alien monster bears down on them. And it’s set in the Arctic, so it’s cold, too!
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal

Trilogy of Terror (1975)
A barefoot, bathrobe-clad Karen Black being chased around her apartment by a knife-wielding, teeth-gnashing Zuni fetish doll in this 1970s TV movie is one of the freakiest things we’ve ever seen.
Available on DVD from Dark Sky/MPI

Trilogy of Terror, 1975

Wait Until Dark (1967)
Alan Arkin’s crazed, knife-flashing stalker Roat lunges out of the darkness at a blind Audrey Hepburn, alerting her to his exact whereabouts — and scaring us out of our seats!
Available on DVD from Warner

When a Stranger Calls (1979)
Two lines: “Have you checked the children?” and “We’ve traced the call … it’s coming from inside the house!”
Available on DVD from Sony

The Wizard of Oz, 1939

The Wizard of Oz (1939)
We’re over our fear of the Wicked Witch of the West, but her darned flying monkeys still scare the hell out of us!
Available on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner

That’s it! Tell us what you think? Which of these are your favorite scary moments? Any you would add to the list?

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.