Hauntings and demonic possession are two of the most common themes in horror cinema, which means any movie that wants to take this route needs to be truly unique to stand out.
A well-crafted horror film is more than just jump scares. It gets you invested in the characters, explores deeper subjects with layered meanings, and even makes you re-evaluate your own beliefs as characters are forced to navigate their own dilemmas.
But, of course, it should also be frightfully scary! Here are the best horror movies involving hauntings and demonic possession.
16. The Unborn (2009)
Directed by David S. Goyer
Starring Odette Annable, Gary Oldman, Cam Gigandet
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 28m)
Though it takes quite a bit of time to develop its plot and really get going, The Unborn does feature several disturbingly possessed characters and creepy figures who haunt the main character.
The story revolves around a girl named Casey (played by Odette Annable), who has supernatural ties with haunting events that include her family's past and a "dybbuk" who lurks in her bloodline.
The Unborn uses twisted bodies of animals and people to escalate the horror experience. So, even if it was panned by critics, it's still worth checking out if you want some body horror.
15. Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
Directed by James Wan
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 46m)
Insidious: Chapter 2 starts right after the timeline of the first film. After going to the spirit realm to get his son, Josh Lambert (played by Patrick Wilson) is left behind in the other world—but his body in the real world seems to be okay and lives normally.
Despite living this "normal life," the Lambert family finds him suspicious and eventually realizes that "Josh" is actually possessed. As for the real Josh, he'll need to find his way out of the spirit realm.
14. The 8th Night (2021)
Directed by Kim Tae-hyung
Starring Lee Sung-min, Park Hae-joon, Kim Yoo-jung
Horror, Thriller (1h 55m)
The 8th Night is a mystery thriller with a legend-meets-reality story that revolves around a former exorcist, "stepping stones" (i.e. possessed people), and a myth about two demons who were sealed long ago.
After being disgraced for his research into the myth, a professor vows to prove to the world that what he found is real—by breaking the seal on the "Red Eye," birthing a monster that causes disaster around the world.
Upon finding out that the "Red Eye" was awakened, a monk (played by Lee Eol) who guards the other "Black Eye" orders the young Chung-seok (played by Nam Da-reum) to look for a successor guardian.
The 8th Night may not be an out-and-out scarefest like many Korean horror movies, but it's full of creepy scenes that'll haunt you.
13. Constantine (2005)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou
Action, Fantasy, Horror (2h 1m)
Not all demonic possessions happen in pure horror films. Constantine is a great example as a supernatural fantasy film with horror elements, but packed with badassery that makes it feel more like an action flick.
Constantine stars Keanu Reeves as John Constantine, an exorcist who can see angels and demons while in the human realm. As someone who can perceive it all, he maintains the balance between the elements as they coexist in one realm.
After helping the troubled detective Angela Dodson (played by Rachel Weisz), both Constantine and Dodson find themselves caught in an end-of-the-world plot involving the rise of a powerful demon and the unleashing of hell over the world.
12. Don't Listen (2020)
Directed by Ángel Gómez Hernández
Starring Rodolfo Sancho, Ana Fernández, Ramón Barea
Adventure, Drama, Horror (1h 37m)
In Don't Listen, a family experiences unexplained disturbances after they get a new home, with the worst of it being the voices heard by their son Eric (played by Lucas Blas).
Unbeknownst to them, their house has a reputation in the neighborhood as the "House of Voices" and is haunted by a spirit who uses voices to trick victims to their deaths.
When the father (played by Rodolfo Sancho) enlists the help of a parapsychologist (played by Ramón Barea), they unearth a mystery that ties the paranormal occurrences to witchcraft and the occult.
11. Truth or Dare (2018)
Directed by Jeff Wadlow
Starring Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane
Horror, Thriller (1h 40m)
Imagine you're playing an innocent game of truth or dare when an uninvited player comes in and escalates everything to a deadly level.
Blumhouse's Truth or Dare is a supernatural horror film that's filled with tension, emotion, and death as the titular game carries on and its players grow desperate to end it.
With every turn of "truth," a secret nobody wants to know comes out of the player's mouth. With every "dare," a player has to do what they're dared—otherwise, they die.
Of course, this is no normal game of truth or dare. Along the way, players become possessed by an unknown spirit as they play, and that spirit has all kinds of sinister intentions.
10. The Last Exorcism (2010)
Directed by Daniel Stamm
Starring Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, Iris Bahr
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 27m)
When The Last Exorcism came out in 2010, it was so influential that it got many viewers hooked on exorcism movies, eventually leading to other greats like The Rite (2011), The Possession (2012), and The Nun (2018).
The Last Exorcism is a found footage horror movie that pins exorcism as a kind of hoax as a priest and a filmmaking crew document all kinds of fake possessions and exorcisms—until they get to the case of Nell.
The best part of this film is when the priest confronts the demon who's possessing Nell, resulting in one of the most gut-turning, bone-crunching scenes in horror cinema history.
9. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Starring Megumi Okina, Misaki Itō, Misa Uehara
Horror (1h 32m)
One of the most well-known horror movies from Japan is Ju-On: The Grudge, which literally translates as "Resentment Curse."
Years ago, the Saeki family was murdered in a crime of passion, giving birth to a curse that turned them all into vengeful spirits. Now, anyone who enters their house ends up consumed by the same curse.
The ghosts of those who are killed by this curse also become carriers of it, which spreads to wherever they ended up being killed.
What makes Ju-On: The Grudge unique among horror films is that it doesn't really have a linear narrative, instead jumping around to keep up its mystery and deliver a surprising climax at the end.
Of course, Ju-On: The Grudge is also iconic for its nightmarish imagery that has caused millions of hours of lost sleep among those who watch.
While the American remake of the film (2004's The Grudge) features a Westernized take on the story, Ju-On: The Grudge offers a darker, more sinister, and more disturbing atmosphere.
8. Noroi: The Curse (2005)
Directed by Kōji Shiraishi
Starring Jin Muraki, Rio Kanno, Tomono Kuga
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 55m)
Noroi: The Curse is another unique Japanese horror film about hauntings, except this one uses a blend of found footage style and documentary style to deliver a truly suspenseful narrative.
The film follows the story of paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi (played by Jin Muraki) as he looks into the unsettling case of a house that has sounds of crying babies.
Little did he know that he'd end up caught in a sinister ritual that summons a demonic entity to the human realm, eventually causing a string of events that lead to several disturbing deaths.
7. The Possession (2012)
Directed by Ole Bornedal
Starring Natasha Calis, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyra Sedgwick
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 32m)
The Possession revolves around a family who's haunted by an entity that their little girl brings into their house.
As the story progresses, the development of the plot also gets increasingly horrifying as the truth about the box is revealed. With that, the hauntings and the unexplained events get even stronger (and creepier).
There are many scenes in The Possession that'll give you chills, like the hand inside the throat or the face in the MRI scan.
6. Prey for the Devil (2022)
Directed by Daniel Stamm
Starring Jacqueline Byers, Debora Zhecheva, Christian Navarro
Horror, Thriller (1h 33m)
What makes Prey for the Devil unique as a horror film is that it features a female exorcist, which is surprisingly uncommon in many possession movies featuring an exorcist as a main character.
It follows the story of Sister Ann (played by Jacqueline Byers), a nun who's given the opportunity to learn and practice exorcism because her superior believes that she possesses the gift and a warm attitude towards the victims of demonic possessions.
However, secrets and mysteries give rise to the film's twists and turns, including the sinister ties and relationships between the characters involved. All of this haunts her up to the very end.
5. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Directed by Scott Derrickson
Starring Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Drama, Horror, Thriller (1h 59m)
How would the people of the court perceive court statements involving spirits and demons? This is the big question at the heart of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which plays out like a blend between courtroom drama and supernatural horror.
The story revolves around the attempted exorcism of Emily Rose (played by Jennifer Carpenter), which was performed by Father Richard Moore (played by Tom Wilkinson). The failed exorcism landed the priest behind bars and he's now subject to a trial.
Strangely enough, Erin Bruner (played by Laura Linney), the lawyer who handles Father Moore's case, finds herself experiencing supernatural occurrences, too. (The Exorcism of Emily Rose is loosely based on the real-life story of a woman named Anneliese Michel.)
4. Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Starring Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso
Drama, Horror, Mystery (1h 39m)
Ouija: Origin of Evil is one of many horror movies that features the mysterious Ouija board. It looks like a typical board game, which tempts the characters to play it just for fun—without knowing that the very board calls forth evil instead of the soul they intend to talk to.
Ouija: Origin of Evil is the prequel to the movie Ouija (released two years prior in 2014), this time centering on a family living in the year 1967.
The mother Alice (played by Elizabeth Reaser) earns her living as a spirit medium, with her daughters Lina (played by Annalise Basso) and Doris (played by Lulu Wilson) as her accomplices.
When she adds the Ouija board to their scheme, disturbing events start to happen. They think the spirit they call is someone they loved, but it's an evil one tricking them into believing its dark plot.
3. The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by James Wan
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 52m)
The Conjuring is one of the best horror movies as it's based on real-life cases of hauntings and demonic possessions that were documented and investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The fact that it's based on true stories will certainly give you goosebumps, and its depictions of paranormal entities and how they pop up on screen are truly terrifying and not for the faint-hearted.
Because of its success, The Conjuring gave rise to an entire franchise of horror movies (collectively known as The Conjuring Universe), which gives us everything when it comes to our horror film needs. The franchise includes spin-off films like Annabelle and The Nun.
2. The Pope's Exorcist (2023)
Directed by Julius Avery
Starring Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe
Horror, Thriller (1h 43m)
As mentioned above, the thing that can really crank up the scariness of a demonic possession movie is knowing that it's based on real-life accounts of exorcism performed by real exorcists and practitioners.
That's the case with The Pope's Exorcist, which is based on the books An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories (both written by the Catholic priest and well-known exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth).
The Pope's Exorcist stars Russell Crowe as Father Amorth, who struggles to exorcise a demon that's currently possessing a boy. But it's more than that as dark secrets later unfold, bringing to light something that the Church had kept hidden and untold.
While some of the special effects in The Pope's Exorcist are underwhelming for a modern horror film, the themes of faith and demonic possession make for a pretty disturbing watch.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by William Friedkin
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair
Horror (2h 2m)
The classic film The Exorcist may not be as narratively fresh or intriguing as some of the more modern films featured above, but back when it first released, it was one of the scariest films ever made.
The Exorcist follows the story of Chris MacNeil (played by Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (played by Linda Blair), who's possessed by a sinister entity. With the help of priests and exorcists, they try to fight for the little girl's life and save her from the demon.
At release, The Exorcist sparked controversy for its themes involving religion and faith. Despite all that, it became one of the most successful horror films that spawned numerous sequels, spin-offs, and knockoffs.