The scariest movies to watch on Netflix right now
2021 is starting with good news: COVID-19 vaccines are here. Unfortunately, it will take a few more months (if not longer) for the American population to be sufficiently vaccinated such that staying at home all the time will no longer be quite so necessary. In the meantime, there will be plenty of time to kill with movie watching. If you're in the mood for scary stuff, we've got you covered.
Here is EW's list of the scariest movies you can watch on Netflix right now.
*Titles added for spring 2021 are denoted with an asterisk.
The Raid director Gareth Evans leaves his martial arts comfort zone for this Wicker Man-type story of an outsider (Dan Stevens) coming to an isolated community with their own violent pagan religion. Apostle is a mash-up of lots of different ideas, but it gets truly terrifying when Quinn (Mark Lewis Jones), one of the community's founders, starts asserting himself as an authoritarian patriarch. There are brutal fight scenes that recall some of the flavor of The Raid movies, and a good amount of demonic magic, but nothing is as horrifying as Quinn's reaction to learning his daughter has had premarital sex.
Related reading: Dan Stevens descends into the occult in Netflix's Apostle: EW review
As Above, So Below (2014)
Many of us probably first learned of the philosopher's stone from Harry Potter or Fullmetal Alchemist, but the version depicted in director John Erick Dowdle's 2014 found-footage film is a lot gnarlier than those. As Above, So Below is centered around Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks), essentially Lara Croft by a different name. This tomb raider leads a group of friends and acquaintances on a mission into the Paris catacombs hoping to complete her late father's quest to find the Holy Grail of alchemy — but they soon find themselves in a veritable Hell of collapsing walls, booby-trapped treasure, and jump scare-loving ghosts.
Related reading: How they shot As Above So Below in the Paris catacombs
The Blair Witch Project (1999)*
The film that revived the whole "found footage" genre still has enough power to scare you even after two decades and multiple sequels and spin-offs. Shot by film students on a shoestring budget, The Blair Witch Project became a horror sensation — not least for the brilliant marketing that made some viewers wonder if the events depicted had actually happened. But watching it now, even knowing that the actors did not actually die in the process, the improvised dialogue and up-close-and-personal camera shots still create a terrifyingly tactile illusion.
The Boy (2016)
The Uncanny Valley is the concept for the feeling when a representation of human life is so close to being real, but just short enough that it generates a terrifying limbo. Usually the term is applied to computers and AI, but a similar sensation must surely date back to puppets and dolls. It's the best explanation for the horror of The Boy, in which an American woman (Lauren Cohan of The Walking Dead) is assigned to babysit the son of a rich English family, only to discover that the "son" they're referring to is a porcelain doll.
Related reading: Brahms is back in The Boy II first look
The Conjuring (2013)*
The one that started it all. The Conjuring has spawned a whole galaxy of sequels and spin-offs since it hit theaters in 2013, but the original James Wan-directed supernatural horror film still makes a thrilling watch in and of itself. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga star as fictionalized versions of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, investigating the Rhode Island home that the Perron family has just moved into and found filled with unexplained phenomena. As a clairvoyant, Lorraine is able to see things that no other character can, and Wan uses this device to terrifying effect.
Related reading: The Conjuring: The 'real' story in pictures
The Conjuring 2 (2016)*
If The Conjuring makes you want to watch more movies like it (and given the plethora of follow-up films, you wouldn't be the only one so affected) then you're in luck because the direct sequel is also currently streaming on Netflix. The real-life Warrens are most famous for investigating the Amityville murders, and the second film tackles it head-on in a way that lives up to previous cinematic takes on the material. On top of that, The Conjuring 2 pits the Warrens against a whole other case of demonic possession, one that went on to inspire the 2018 spin-off The Nun.
Related reading: First look at The Conjuring 3: James Wan teases horror threequel
If you prefer your horror to be based on jump scares, boy oh boy is this the movie for you. The story of a videographer (director Patrick Brice) answering a strange Craigslist ad by an eccentric man (Mark Duplass) is full of one horrific surprise after another. At first it seems like the client is just a fan of surprises who likes playfully toying with his hired help, but each eerie coincidence is progressively more unnerving than the last. Duplass, who even in his warmer roles exudes an offbeat energy, is just perfectly cast as the titular creep. On top of that, the fact that the whole movie is filmed, found footage-style, by a character played by the director himself is a delightful meta touch.
Related reading: Mark Duplass talks about his found footage horror movie Creep
Creep 2 (2017)
It's rare that Netflix will stream multiple horror films from the same franchise on its platform at once, so be sure to take advantage of the fact that both Creep movies are currently on the site. Director Patrick Brice and star Mark Duplass both returned for this spooky sequel, which builds on the revelations of the first movie to ask, is a character like this any less dangerous if you know the truth about them? New character Sara (Desiree Akhavan) thinks so, but she might be in over her head.
The Forest (2016)
Aokighara Forest in Japan is often referred to as the "suicide forest" for the amount of people who go there to die. What better setting for a horror film? The thought of a natural environment weighed down with so much death, combined with the sadness that must drive one to such a death, gives this entire film a creepy atmosphere that's further compounded by figures who might be ghosts and Natalie Dormer playing twins searching for each other — it's not always clear which one is alive and which isn't.
Gerald’s Game (2017)
Stephen King's 1992 novel was long thought to be unfilmable — after all, what's cinematic about a woman handcuffed to a bed by herself with only her own memories to interact with? Enter Carla Gugino, who uses her considerable charisma to put this film adaptation from director Mike Flanagan on her back (little wonder they would collaborate again for another Netflix release, The Haunting of Hill House). The scenario is classic King ingenuity — what if you started a BDSM sex game and then your partner died before releasing you? — and Gugino convincingly portrays the relatable terror of a seemingly simple situation quickly devolving into a life-or-death struggle.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)*
What's scarier than family? TV viewers these days love to laugh at the rich family on Succession, but then again, none of them have ever killed or raped each other. David Fincher's adaptation of the best-selling Stieg Larsson crime novel immediately fills you with a sense of dread thanks to the cold colors of Swedish winter, but every revelation uncovered by journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) or hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) will churn your stomach more than the last.
Related reading: Why we're so fascinated by Lisbeth Salander
His House (2020)
One of horror's greatest strengths is using outrageous storytelling to channel experiences and ideas we might otherwise find unspeakable. Remi Weekes' remarkable debut film focuses on two Sudanese refugees (Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku) who are trying to make a new life for themselves in England, but can't seem to let go of their guilt about all their friends and loved ones who didn't make it out. This guilt is literalized in the form of the apeth, or "night witch," that haunts their new home. In order to survive this threat, Bol and Rial need to first reckon with what actually happened to them.
Related reading: The best horror films of 2020
Like Gerald's Game, that other Mike Flanagan Netflix horror film already present on this list, Hush has an imaginative yet simple premise. This story is about a deaf woman (Kate Siegel) being stalked by a killer she can't hear. Flanagan and his actors mine a lot of fun horror out of the premise, particularly. Anytime the killer is making moves just out of the woman's line of sight, you might end up screaming yourself hoarse begging her to turn around in time.
Further reading: Mike Flanagan recommends the best movie to watch over Halloween
The Invitation (2016)
Compared to most of the other films on this list, The Invitation boasts a seemingly innocuous premise. What's so terrifying about an L.A. dinner party, you ask? Lots of things, it turns out! Director Karyn Kusama mines horror out of both the the standard awkwardness of reunions between adult friends and former lovers who haven't seen each other in awhile, and especially the protagonist's increasing conviction that something truly terrible is about to happen.
It Comes at Night (2017)
Now here's a plague nightmare for you. Trey Edward Schults' 2017 film was always scary for how it zeroed in on the minutiae of post-apocalyptic living, but It Comes at Night definitely packs an even more horrific punch in the year of quarantine. The most unnerving thing about watching a world where masks are the only tenuous security blanket you have and every other human being appears like a threat to your own health and safety... is thinking about how it's maybe only a few steps down the road from where we are now.
Bong Joon Ho's one Netflix-exclusive film is not usually described as a horror movie, but it still gets much scarier than you might expect from a story about a girl and her animal friend. In classic Bong style, Okja combines all sorts of tones and genres. It's not as tightly controlled as Parasite, but Okja's terrifying moments are just as emotionally deep as its happy ones. Jake Gyllenhaal's performance has already become rather infamous for how high-pitched his performance is in this film, but it's not exactly a laugh riot; at one point, the combination of his hysteria with an assault on the titular animal is so horrifying you won't soon forget it. At the time it was released, Tilda Swinton's climactic deployment of blackshirt mercenaries to round up animal rights activists seemed like a terrifying vision of a possible future; these days, it plays like a terrifying replica of real life.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro's dark fairytale masterpiece produced some of the most arresting monster designs of the 2000s. Neither the Pale Man nor the Faun (both performed by Doug Jones) are easily forgotten once you've seen them. But the true genius of Pan's Labyrinth lies in how it compares these fantasy creatures to the real-life monsters of fascist Spain; which one is actually scarier, in the end?
Related reading: Dissecting a key scene from Pan's Labyrinth with Guillermo del Toro
Shutter Island (2010)*
No, not Inception. The other 2010 release featuring Leonardo DiCaprio in a suit unwrapping a puzzle-box plot while haunted by dreams of his dead wife is one of the scariest offerings currently on Netflix. Even though Shutter Island operates more in the spheres of neo-noir and thriller than horror, the Martin Scorsese film is suffused with such a haunting atmosphere that when the big revelations finally do come, you may find yourself relating to the DiCaprio character's struggle between living with monstrous truths or surrendering to a comfortable fantasy.
Related reading: Welcome to Shutter Island