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Updated by GOAT Series Staff on Apr 17, 2018
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Greatest Horror Movie Scene of All Time

What is the greatest horror movie scene of all time?

The Exorcist - Head Spin

This scene struck fear into the hearts of anyone who saw it back in the 70s, and it has been just as effective in terrifying audiences ever since. The Exorcist was one of the first horror films to be awarded a substantial production budget, and the producer's parlayed this rare blessing into a healthy box office success. The ample war chest afforded Friedkin the freedom to use special effects that, while they may seem trite today, were downright bloodcurdling at the time of the film’s debut. We now know the vomit was pea soup and the head spinning is simple makeup and cinematography, but there is still something so compelling about this scene, because of the horror implied by the frightened priests, and the evil completely taking over this young and innocent girl. By the time we reach this climactic scene, the viewer is rooting for the priests to get rid of the demon, yet still stuck in the grip of terror that it invokes.The storytelling keeps the horror alive, and this moment has undoubtedly stood the test of time.

Release Date: Dec. 26th, 1973 | Director: William Friedkin | Subgenre: supernatural horror – original | Major Actors: Linda Blair, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller

Budget: $12.00 mm | Domestic Box Office Gross: $193.00 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 87%

Alien - Chestburster

Sci-fi horror really hits a nerve because of the possibility that lies behind the stories – the scientific community is in near agreement that malevolent spirits can’t pick people up and throw them across the room, but evil aliens from deep space? That possibility is bone-chillingly real. Adding to that fear, the famous exploding chest scene in alien is some of the most authentic acting you'll see in film . . . . the actors weren’t told what was going to happen, and the pop-out wasn’t written into the script. Not to mention the grimy latex effects of the alien itself, and the fact that this is one of the initial effective uses of the jump scare. The Chestburster scene in Alien surely stands among the greatest moments in the entire horror genre.

Release Date: May 5th, 1979 | Director: Ridley Scott | Subgenre: sci-fi horror - original | Major Actors: John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skeritt, Harry Dean Stanton, Sigourney Weaver

Budget: $11.00 mm | Domestic Box Office Gross: $79.00 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 94%

The Blair Witch Project - Ending

The found footage landscape has become flooded in recent years with knock-offs and reboots left and right, but once upon a time, The Blair Witch Project was a pioneer in its field. Widely hailed as the scariest found footage flick of all time, the film works because we'd never seen anything like it before, but also because the story and acting are superb. This last scene, where the group is lured into the basement and end up meeting a fate unknown, is extremely unnerving, and raw. The director creates a haunting maze of spooky sights and sounds that make you want to escape the place as much as the characters themselves. Perhaps the most haunting quality of all is this scene's lack of a pay-off; you expect the witch to be revealed in a shock at the very end – but it never does.

Release Date: July 30th, 1999 | Director: Daniel Myric | Subgenre: found footage - original | Major Actors: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard

Budget: $25,000 | Domestic Box Office Gross: $140.54 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 55%

The Shining – Bathtub

This is hands-down one of the most horrifying moments in cinema history. Things are getting weirder and weirder for Jack as he spirals further into madness, and the moment he realizes he's necking a rotting corpse instead of a beautiful ghost takes the film over the edge from bizarre to total nightmare territory. The combination of Danny’s shocked face, Jack backing up in horror, and of course the nastiest hug-seeking corpse we've ever seen in film creates a moment that will be lauded as sheer horror genius for generations. The Shining would prove to be one of Kubrick’s finest moments in cinema, and that image of the old lady in the tub will have you checking behind the shower curtain for far longer than you'd like to admit.

Release Date: May 23rd, 1980 | Director: Stanley Kubrick | Subgenre: psychological horror - based on book | Major Actors: Billie Gibson, Jack Nicholson, Dany Lloyd

Budget: $19.00 mm | Domestic Box Office Gross: $44.00 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 93%

Misery – Hobbling

This is an unusual horror film – there are only two characters throughout most of it, and what makes it so scary is not any special effects or horrible demons, but the depths of depravity to which Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) will sink to protect her un-willing captor, the famous author Paul Sheldon (James Caan). This scene takes the cake when it comes to the cringe factor; the sight and sound of the metal on bone as Wilkes maims her prisoner is sadly unforgettable. It's all the more disturbing when viewed through the lens of the initially good-natured and lovable Kathy Bates character. Perhaps she channeled that Annie Wilkes character with her staple roles on American Horror Story, where we get another taste of her dark side. This one definitely still stands up today as an overall terrifying film, and the stellar acting performances of the two main characters will ensure it goes down as one of the greatest horror films of all time.

Release Date: Nov. 30th, 1990 | Director: Rob Reiner | Subgenre: psychological thriller - based on book | Major Actors: Cathy Bates, James Caan

Budget: $20.00 mm | Domestic Box Office Gross: $61.28 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 89%

Prometheus – C-Section

This reboot of the Alien series might not be as terrific in story as the original epic, but my initial comment about sci-fi horror still holds true: this is so bloodcurdling because it could be real one day. The parasitic invasiveness of this species makes your skin crawl from the very beginning, and once it gets inside protagonist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), she knows she has to get it out at any cost. I am sure most females will agree – nothing terrifies like a forced scientific C-section, shown in graphic detail. The cold, technological brutality combined with the gore and body imagery make this an unforgettable scene you wish you could forget.

Release Date: June 8th, 2012 | Director: Ridley Scott | Subgenre: sci-fi horror - reboot | Major Actors: Noomi Rapace

Budget: $403.40 mm | Box Office Gross: $126.48 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 69%

Night of the Living Dead – First Zombie Attack

This classic scene may seem a little dated now – “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” But this scene is huge, as this was one of the first zombie attacks in a major motion picture. What is par for the course now, even in TV shows like The Walking Dead, was cutting edge at the time that this film was released. What is so terrifying about this scene is that it doesn’t have any of the staple things that make zombies get under our skin today - a totally rotted body, or a whole heard coming after the protagonists. Instead, it’s insidious – the old man gets closer and closer, seeming more and more uncanny, until he finally attacks. The scene really highlights what is truly horrifying about zombies – how closely they resemble us.

Release Date: Oct. 1st, 1968 | Director: George Romero | Subgenre: zombie horror - original | Major Actors: Judith, O'Dea, Russell Streiner, Bill Heinzman

Budget: $114,000 | Domestic Box Office Gross: $5.84 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 88%

Friday the 13th – Ending

Nowadays, if something doesn’t jump out to scare you at the end of a horror film, that’s almost more of a surprise. But believe it or not, there was a time when this now-cliché technique was still unexpected. The original Friday the 13th was groundbreaking in so many ways, pioneering both the slasher genre and the idea of the never-ending horror franchise. And this little gem at the end of the first movie is another critical contribution to the history of horror film. Just as you think Alice is going to wake up in the canoe and all will be well, a grotesque and gory Jason child jumps out of the lake to attack. Not only does the scene have elite jump-scare value, it cemented the theme of "It's never really over" within the Friday the 13th franchise for all time.

Release Date: May 9th, 1980 | Director: Sean S. Cunningham | Subgenre: slasher - original | Major Actors: Ari Lehman, Adrienne King

Budget: $550,000 | Domestic Box Office Gross: $39.75 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 61%

The Ring- Television

The turn of the century is a questionable era for film, but one of the great exceptions to this rule is the American version of The Ring. The specter of Samara Morgan in the infamous "watch this tape and you will die in 7 days" video will have your hairs standing on end from the moment you lay eyes on her. The genius of the film was the way that we are slowly offered small bites of insight into the story of this creepy girl. And everything comes to a climax in this scene, the last in the film, when our hero Noah pops in the infamous tape and Samara starts to emerge from the screen. While this is undoubtedly creepy to watch without any context, part of what gives this scene so much power is that up until this point, Samara was an entity, an idea, someone to be pitied despite how scary she is. Now the viewer knows she is evil and knows she has the power to kill, and she is coming through the TV and right towards you! Watch this scene late at night and you'll never look at your television the same way again.

Release Date: Oct. 18th, 2002 | Director: Gore Verbinski | Subgenre: psychological horror/techno horror - remake | Major Actors: Naomi Watts, Daveigh Chase, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman

Budget: $48.00 mm | Box Office Gross: $129.13 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 48%

The Descent – Crawler Attack

This is another found footage film that is effective because of its intense, suspenseful cinematography and creative sequencing. Being trapped in a cave is horrifying enough, but when you add in bloodcurdling monsters who hear and smell you instead of see you, things get even more bizarre and horrific. This scene is one of the best examples of a cinema-quality found footage; where it's clearly not an amateur film-maker behind the camera, yet the effect still works. We get a clear view of the creatures in this segment, but that only increases the terror, since the camerawork and makeup are so well-done.

Release Date: August 4th, 2006 | Director: Neil Marshall | Subgenre: found footage - original | Major Actors: Shauana MacDonald, Natalie Mendoza, Alex Reid, Saskia Mulder, MyAnna Buring, Nora-Jane Noone

Budget: $5.50 mm | Box Office Gross: $26.02 mm | Rotten Tomatoes Audience Rating: 75%