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The Top 50 Best Haunted House Movies Ever

We’ve all had the same experience. You’re all alone, it’s the middle of the night, the lights are out, and then… there’s a noise. Maybe it’s a small noise, maybe it’s a loud bang, but what you know for certain is that you did NOT make that noise and it only makes logical sense that SOMEONE is out there, and since you’re the only person in the house there’s only ONE logical explanation: ghosts, and they’re PROBABLY out to get you.

The idea of a haunted house goes back about as far as houses themselves, and horror filmmakers have been toying with the idea since 1896, when French director Georges Méliès released his film The Haunted Castle, a short film that some consider to be the very first horror movie. As the horror genre grew to become a cornerstone of the entertainment industry, haunted house movies have continued, going in and out of fashion periodically over the decades, with great haunted house movies – and quite a few bad ones – earning enormous amounts of money and entertaining (read: terrifying) audiences over and over again.

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It’s been a good year for haunted house movies already, so it’s high time to take a serious look back at the history of the genre and highlight The Top 50 Best Haunted House Movies. It might surprise you to learn that two films from 2017 made the list. It might not surprise you to learn that modern master of horror James Wan has a whopping four films on the roster as well.

But before you go any further, take note: We are being very forgiving with our definition of “haunted house movies”. Some of these films don’t take place in houses at all, but rather in haunted mental institutions, hotels and – in one bizarre case – even a health spa. In some of these films we eventually learn that the culprit wasn’t a ghost at all, but the story plays out as if it might have been, so we’re letting that slide.

So, for the purposes of this discussion: If it plays like a haunted house movie, it counts as a haunted house movie, even if the details are a little unusual. With that in mind, pull the covers up over your head, put a flashlight under your chin, and take a peek at our terrifying, funny and sometimes tearjerking picks for The Top 50 Best Haunted House Movies!

An American family moves to Japan, where they are haunted by the ghosts of two samurai and their manipulative lover into playing out an age-old tale of betrayal and revenge. Kevin Connor's The House Where Evil Dwells is kinda goofy sometimes - especially when those ghosts go scuba diving - but it's never boring, and the ending is an over the top treat.

Photo: MGM/UA

The remake of William Castle's classic, gimmicky ghost story is slick, gross, bizarre, and a lot of fun. Tony Shalhoub stars in Thir13en Ghosts as a father who inherits a house full of spirits, and gets trapped inside with his family. Matthew Lillard steals the film as a medium who would kill to be anywhere else.

Photo: Warner Bros.

John Carpenter's last feature film (at this rate) stars Amber Heard as a troubled young woman who believe her mental institution is haunted. The Ward doesn't break new ground but it's a suspenseful thriller with excellent performances, and if it truly is Carpenter's last feature film as a director, it's a worthy send-off.

Photo: XLrator Media

James Wan's first Insidious is pretty much a Poltergeist riff with a couple of tweaks (multiple houses, a weird-ass séance), but it's an entertaining one. Wan already knew how to get his audience to jump out of their seats, but he's clearly honing his skills in this early entry in the franchise.

Photo: FilmDistrict

The third installment of Lucio Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy isn't the best (we'll get to that one later), but The House By The Cemetery is still intoxicatingly vicious. A family moves into a house without realizing that there's something unspeakable in the basement. It doesn't make a lot of sense (like a lot of Fulci films) but it's bizarre and creepy and violent as hell.

Photo: Fulvia Film

Oliver Reed and Karen Black move their family into a gorgeous new house in Burnt Offerings, but there's a catch: they to take care of the reclusive old woman in the attic. Black accepts the job a little too eagerly, and Reed begins to notice that something is terribly wrong. A great cast and a palpable sense of dread make Dan Curtis's film one of the more respectable haunted house thrillers.

Photo: MGM

Abigail Breslin keeps reliving the same day over and over again, the day that she died, in a clever haunted house thriller from Vincenzo Natali. Haunter is a supernatural puzzle box, and watching it gradually solve itself is a delight.

Photo: IFC Midnight

The Conjuring 2 is bigger and wilder than the original, but also longer and sloppier. Either way, this account of the infamous Enfield Poltergeist - a supposedly true story that inspired multiple films on this list - is still plenty scary, and introduces memorable new demons into the ever-expanding supernatural franchise.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Ti West's The Innkeepers is a subtler sort of haunted house movie, about two employees of an old hotel who amuse themselves by investigating the many supernatural stories that are told about it. The story unfolds in its own time, luring you into a sense of false security before it stomps on you. As such, it may be a bit slow for some audiences, but if you're on West's wavelength, you'll love this.

Photo: Magnet Releasing

House II: The Second Story is a sequel in name only, and one of the most delightfully odd haunted house movies you're likely to see. A guy inherits his cowboy ancestor's house and winds up sharing the place with the decomposing old salt, as they try to protect a crystal skull from vengeful spirits and time travel to different eras via various doors in the house. Kooky monsters, and a great cameo by the great John Ratzenberger, have earned this weird little treasure a cult following.

Photo: New World Pictures

A legendary horror author is dying, and her live-in caretaker begins to believe her house is haunted in Osgood Perkins' poetic, unsettling I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House. The eery inevitability sucks you in, and won't let you go, but if you're looking for a good time with jump scares this is definitely not the movie for you.

Photo: Netflix

The produces of ghost hunting tv show choose the wrong mental institution to film their pilot episode in Grave Encounters, an inventive and very scary found footage horror film from The Vicious Brothers. Shocking imagery and a breathless pace make this a real crowd-please, but be warned: the sequel is a stinker.

Photo: Tribeca Film

Finally, the movie about a haunted fitness center that we all were asking for. Death Spa completely owns its ridiculousness, punishing its oversexed and superficial clientele with absurd gym equipment-related deaths, and building to one of the most over the top and bizarre finales in the history of the haunted house genre. Maybe it's not "good," but it certainly is amazing.

Photo: Dark Sky Films

William Castle's original 13 Ghosts is a spooky little treat, about a family who inherits a house full of ghosts. The gimmick (and Castle always had one) is that you have to wear special glasses to see the ghosts on screen, but you can make 'em out anyway, and they're either pretty darned creepy (the headless lion tamer) or super goofy (the mustachioed chef). Whatever. The low-budget effects are all part of the charm, and the film has an old school, spook house energy that makes it hold up better than his other haunted house flicks.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

The prequel to Ouija is a hell of a lot better than Ouija (thank goodness). Mike Flanagan's Ouija: Origin of Evil tells the story of a family of phony psychics who discover that their house really is haunted, and use that discovery for their own ends, not realizing until it's WAY too late that they've invited a truly malevolent force into their lives. It's a classy picture that leads to a disturbing conclusion. The only problem is, it has to twist itself into some ugly knots to make the story connect to the first film.

Photo: Universal Pictures

The remake of House on Haunted Hill is even better than the original, with Geoffrey Rush hamming it up as a Vincent Price-inspired tycoon who invites a group of unlikely suspects to spend the night in a haunted house. If they survive, and if they stay, they each get $1 million, but of course it turns out the house is really haunted after all. You can't take this movie too seriously. William Malone's film is more of an amusement park attraction than anything else. But it's a wickedly entertaining ride.

Photo: Warner Bros.

James Wan's Insidious: Chapter 2 is even better than the original. The haunting seems to have been sorted, but the family doesn't know that one of them has been infected by an evil presence. Patrick Wilson goes mad, the paranormal investigators are completely out of their depth, and Wan's bravura showmanship just keeps getting better and better.

Photo: FilmDistrict

Mike Flanagan's Oculus is about a haunted mirror, but its influence permeates throughout the childhood home of a brother and sister who watch as their parents devolve into madness. Years later, they return home to destroy the infernal looking glass once and for all. Inventive and disturbing, with a curlicue timeline that leads to some very painful places.

Photo: Relativity Media

David F. Sandberg's impressive and entertaining Annabelle: Creation improves on the forgettable previous film, and tells the story of a group of orphans who move into a house haunted by a spirit attached to a creepy doll. Unexpected scares abound: you're practically guaranteed to jump out of your seat at least once.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Guillermo del Toro's sumptuous Crimson Peak plays more like a nightmarish Charlotte Bronté novel than a thriller. Perhaps that's why this story, about a young woman who marries a man whose decrepit house holds awful secrets, didn't satisfy early audiences, who were expecting something more conventional. But a second viewing reveals this to be a deliciously freaky piece of weird fiction.

Photo: Universal Pictures

The directorial debut of J.A. Bayona is moody tale of loss, about a husband and wife who open an orphanage together, but can't find their own adopted son after they move in. The Orphanage is big on atmosphere, letting the grieving performances build an unbearable sense of mystery and dread. 

Photo: Picturehouse

An author suffering from Vietnam flashbacks inherits a house full of ghosts, who decide to completely screw with his mind in Steve Miner's smart and unexpected House. Not quite as wild as the sequel, but more grounded in human drama (thanks to an unusually good performance by William Katt), Miner's film is an enormously entertaining and surprisingly impactful ghost story.

Photo: New World Pictures

A live BBC special about an alleged real life haunting starts out clever and quaint, and gradually becomes huge and horrifying. Deathwatch is so scary it gave children who watched it on live television post-traumatic stress disorder, and its easy to see why. It's a convincing replica of actual tv programming, and never breaks character as it subtly shifts into apocalyptic horror territory.

Photo: BBC1

A cowardly ghost is cursed to haunt his family estate until a member of his family finally does something heroic. That's easier said than done in the funny and wonderful The Canterville Ghost, starring Charles Laughton as a specter who only scares people because he's hiding his own fear, and who may finally have an opportunity to redeem himself by teaming up with an American soldier to save lives during World War II. A wonderful and unusual horror comedy, based on a novella by the great Oscar Wilde.

Photo: MGM

Stephen King took the haunted house story and confined it to a single hotel room in 1408, and the film adaptation takes that gimmick and runs with it, all the way to hell and back. John Cusack plays a writer investigating haunted hotels, and his latest assignment may be the one that finally drives him mad. Director Mikael Håfström seems to revel in pushing the limits of the concept as far as they can go. And they can go EXTREMELY far.

Photo: Dimension Films

Brad Anderson's refreshingly blue collar haunting Session 9 tells the story of an asbestos removal team working on a dilapidated mental institution, who learn a little too much about the horrifying events that transpired there. Madness follows in this deceptively simple, utterly eery supernatural thriller.

Photo: Universal Pictures

An Iranian woman is trapped at home with her daughter and stifled dreams. Life was hard enough before she ran afoul of a sinister djinn in Babak Anvari's Under the Shadow, and that gives this freaky tale an insightful, disturbing socio-political element. The systemic oppression in her country keeps her trapped in the house, dealing with a demon who exploits every anxiety that was already in her life.

Photo: Vertical Entertainment

The prequel Paranormal Activity 3 has to figure out a way to tell a found footage story years before ubiquitous video technology. The DIY solutions Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman come up with are ingenious, leading to one disturbing shock after another in this frightening tale of a father who discovers a demon has infected is house, and is targeting his two young daughters.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

The first Amityville Horror is an overlong, overserious, and very conventional horror story. The prequel, Amityville II: The Possession, is none of those things. The terrifying story of the family that died in the Amityville house before the events of the first film has disturbing inevitability building into its DNA, but manages to surprise anyway. These revolting and menacing will stick with you long after you've forgotten about the stuffy original film.

Photo: Orion Pictures

Ethan Hawke plays a true crime author who moves his family into the scene of a horrible crime in Scott Derrickson's novel and ominous Sinister. After he finds a box of gruesome home movies in the closet, he begins to suspect that the terrible murders that took place here were part of a supernatural series of events, and that his family might be the next in line for horror. Superb performances and a subtly disturbing style help Sinister live up to its name.

Photo: Summit Entertainment

The first The Conjuring film is still the best (for now). James Wan introduces audiences to Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), real-life paranormal investigators who help a poor family overcome a malevolent demonic presence that has taken up residence in their house. The Conjuring sets the stage for horror and relishes in letting the spectacular shocks play out, and grounds that grand theatricality in satisfying human drama.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Guillermo Del Toro's insidious supernatural drama The Devil's Backbone takes place in the Spanish Civil War, at an orphanage with an unexploded bomb in the courtyard. The story of a young boy investigating the disappearance of another child at the orphanage takes on greater significance, exploring the confusing anxieties of being young in a time of great social turmoil, and while under the constant threat of violence.

Photo: Sony Pictures International

The newly widowed Gene Tierney buys a house by the sea and forces the persnickety seaman ghost who lives there, played by Rex Harrison, to deal with her presence, not the other way around. Tierney and Harrison have spectacular chemistry in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Their hopeful yet tragic love story lasts a lifetime and then some, and elicits tears of joy and sadness alike.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Alejandro Amenábar's atmospheric and entrancing The Others stars Nicole Kidman as a mother who, after World War II, is stuck at home with two children who can't go outside because of a medical condition. The isolation leads to paranoia and what could be hallucinations, and what could be supernatural visions. Nicole Kidman gives one of her best performances (and that's saying something) in this modern horror classic.

Photo: Dimension Films

Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play a couple whose marriage is cut short when he dies in a car accident. Covered in a sheet from the morgue, his ghost walks home and watches his wife mourn, then move on. But he's stuck where he is, missing her and watching with frustration and fascination as their home becomes home to other families. David Lowery's elegiac and philosophical A Ghost Story might be the saddest ghost story, but with that sadness comes a strange and undeniable beauty.

Photo: A24

A single mother and her troubled son are haunted by a storybook boogeyman in Jennifer Kent's astounding The Babadook, a harrowing tale of resentments growing out of control and taking on a life of their own. Eerily presented, viciously profound, with a lead performance by Essie Davis that ranks among the finest in the horror genre.

Photo: Entertainment One

Noël Coward's witty play, about a séance that accidentally raises a husband's ex-wife, who proceeds to get in the way of his new marriage, gets the big screen treatment from David Lean, with Rex Harrison starring in yet another classic ghost story. Blithe Spirit is as smart and funny as horror comedies get, setting many of the templates for the supernatural genre that are still played with today, and features a truly scene-stealing performance by the great Margaret Rutherford as a charismatic psychic.

Photo: Two Cities Films

Lucio Fulci's masterpiece, and the second film in his "Gates of Hell" trilogy, tells the story of a woman who buys a hotel, unaware that it's built on the gate to hell. That much makes sense, but the surreal horrors that transpire over the course of the horrifying and bizarre The Beyond defy explanation. And the film is all the more incredible for it.

Photo: Fulvia Film

Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey buy a haunted mansion, and have to protect a young woman from a supernatural presence in Lewis Allen's spooky and engrossing The Uninvited. The film's air of mystery still permeates today. Whether you find it scary or not, it feels as ethereal as ever.

Photo: Universal Pictures

A grieving widower moves into a large house to work on his music, and finds himself at the center of a disturbing supernatural mystery in Peter Medak's horror classic The Changeling. The brilliant George C. Scott sells the reality of this unreal situation, and a series of brilliantly simple set pieces - like an impossible bouncing ball - set the stage for genuine terror. 

Photo: Associated Film Distributors

In the influential found footage horror thriller Paranormal Activity, famously filmed for next to nothing, simplicity is a strength. It's the story of a young woman is haunted by a demon from her past, and her boyfriend who doesn't take that trauma seriously enough, dooming them both to tragedy. Subtle scares and realistic human drama ground Oren Pelf's film so much, it's easy to forget that this particular haunted house story ISN'T real.

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Deborah Kerr plays a governess to two unusual children, who begins to suspect they've both been possessed, in Jack Clayton's impossibly ominous The Innocents. Adapted from Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, this gorgeously gothic film is one of the triumphs of the haunted house genre, and features one of the finest performances from Deborah Kerr.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

James Whale's brilliant proto-horror masterpiece The Old Dark House pre-dates most o the conventions of the haunted house movie genre, and has to make many of them up as it goes along. A dangerous drive in a thunderstorm strands passersby in a possibly haunted house, filled with strangers and deviants. The exhilaration of watching Whale's dynamic filmmaking, in service of a tale with very few connections, is an undeniably macabre experience, and a treat for any fan of the horror genre.

Photo: Universal Pictures

Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On: The Grudge is the third film in the series, the first to be released theatrically, and one of the scariest horror movies ever made. Unspeakable acts occurred at a house, and even long afterwards, the spirit of those events infects everyone who comes inside. It's a haunting by way of a virus, taking everything great about the haunted house genre and expanding it to uncomfortable places, and creating unforgettable scenes of terror along the way.

Photo: Lionsgate Films

The ghosts are the heroes in Tim Burton's subversive Beetlejuice, where two small town ghosts have to protect their home from the shallow, bourgeois family who moves in after they die. They hire a "bioexorcist" to get rid of the living, and get more than they bargained for. Beetlejuice is one of the funniest and most inventive horror comedies on record, and features a timelessly grotesque performance by Michael Keaton.

Photo: Warner Bros.

There are, arguably, better haunted house movies than The Legend of Hell House, but even so, John Hough's film feels like the ultimate haunted house movie. All the tropes are here, and they work perfectly. A team of researchers, scientist and psychic alike, team up to prove that a house is haunted, only to fall prey to its malevolent influence. The cinematography is stunning, the performances are heightened, the story is first rate. It doesn't get enough credit, but The Legend of Hell House is certainly one of the greatest horror movies around.

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Few movies can claim to be crazier than Nobuhiko Obayashi's Hausu, better known in America as House. The story is about a group of schoolgirls who go to a house and get bitten by severed heads and attacked by cat paintings and severed fingers that play the piano and a teacher who literally turns into a pile of bananas. But then it gets WEIRD. Unbelievable imagery and an otherworldly series of events await you in the weirdest haunted house movie ever (and one of the best).

Photo: Toho

Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg bring the haunted house into suburbia with the original Poltergeist, a movie that dances on the thin line between brutal horror and enchanting fantasy. A family discovers their house is haunted, and think it's pretty neat until their youngest daughter is sucked into another dimension. And then faces get ripped off, clowns attack and skeletons emerge from the mud. It's practically guaranteed to give kids nightmares, so be warned: Poltergeist's PG rating is very misleading.

Photo: MGM/UA

Stanley Kubrick's loose but brilliant adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining remains one of the shining examples of everything the horror genre has to offer. The atmosphere is so thick it's hard to breathe, the danger is always simmering, on the verge of a total boil. A family is tasked with taking care of an isolated hotel for the winter, but the seclusion - and the ghosts - begin to wear on Jack (Jack Nicholson), who begins to view his family as a problem that needs to be solved... violently. Iconic scares await you in one of the most brilliant horror movies ever made.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Robert Wise perfected the haunted house genre way back in 1963 with The Haunting, a pitch perfect adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House. Julie Harris stars as a young woman invited to stay in a haunted house to study the paranormal phenomena. You can argue that the ghosts are real or all in her head, but you can't argue that The Haunting's cinematography is some of the creepiest in movie history, and that Harris's gradual mental breakdown is masterful acting. The power of your environment to affect your psyche is exploited to tremendous dramatic effect in this, the greatest haunted house movie ever made.

Photo: MGM
Top Photos: A24 / Warner Bros. / Warner Bros.

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on Canceled Too Soon and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.