The 2000s weren't just a great decade for cinema—it was a fantastic era for horror films, giving us many iconic, disturbing, and downright scary movies that will be remembered for years to come.
If you're craving to watch a modern horror movie that's more than empty jump scares and packed with cinephilic depth, here are our picks for the best 2000s horror movies that'll always be worth watching.
5. American Psycho (2000)
Despite ranking fifth on our list, American Psycho might just be the most intriguing horror film of the 2000s.
Based on Bret Easton Ellis's book of the same name, the story follows the affluent stock broker Patrick Bateman. He has a well-paid job, an attractive fiancée, and... an irresistible urge to kill people.
As we follow his murderous endeavors, we gain insight into the mind of someone who's insecure, narcissistic, and deeply psychotic.
Director Mary Harron infuses the film with intelligent satire while weaving in horrific moments of madness and murder. You might be laughing in bewilderment at the start of a scene, but it all becomes increasingly suspenseful as you realize that Bateman's psyche has just taken a turn for the worse—and things are about to get ugly.
Mostly, it's Christian Bale's masterful depiction of Bateman that accounts for roughly 90% of why this film is so frightening. The phone call to his lawyer at the end of the film represents one of the most unsettling performances delivered by this Oscar-winning actor.
In short, you truly believe you're watching somebody who has gone completely insane. His perpetual smile that reveals sharp, cannibalistic intent serves to make the film uniquely unnerving.
4. The Descent (2005)
A group of cave spelunkers decide to go off-route to explore the hidden recesses of the Appalachian Mountains. What was supposed to be a fun day of cave diving instead turns into a nightmarish bid for survival as they realize that they aren't alone in the caves.
Much like Steven Spielberg in Jaws (1975), writer and director Neil Marshall succeeds by keeping the cave creatures hidden for so long. We get subtle, nerve-wracking hints that there's something living in the cave system—but we aren't fully shown what they are.
It's the costume design of the subterranean creatures in The Descent that stand out. After seeing these monsters, you'll think twice before walking into a basement, let alone a cave system.
3. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Director Guillermo del Toro has created some of the best gothic horror movies in cinema history. While both The Devil's Backbone (2001) and Crimson Peak (2015) are worthy mentions, it's Pan's Labyrinth (2006) that remains his crowning achievement.
Set during the Francoist regime in Spain, the story follows a young girl named Ofelia as she must complete a series of tasks in order to become immortal and help her mother.
However, there are myriad obstacles and issues along the way, including a gargantuan toad, a child-eating monster with eyes in his hands, and a faun who believes she's the reincarnation of the heir to the underworld.
Guillermo del Toro strikes a perfect balance between scaring us and mesmerizing us with his particular style of magical realism. He doesn't rely on jump scares or lazy attempts at fright, as the production design and stellar costumes do most of the work.
Pan's Labyrinth is a successful horror film in how it reaffirms that the imaginative horrors we create in stories are nothing compared to the realities of war and tyranny. The Pale Man is a most frightening creature, but Captain Vidal is the true monster of this film.
Vidal's actions represent only a fraction of the atrocities committed over the Spanish Civil War, and yet one simple scene involving a bottle was five times more disturbing than anything else this horror had to offer.
2. Let the Right One In (2008)
Just before the Twilight films tainted the vampire subgenre forever, we were gifted one final gem: Let the Right One In (2008). In this film, a twelve-year-old who's bullied by his classmates makes one good friend—but the only issue is that she's a bloodthirsty vampire.
In anyone else's hands, this synopsis would've been grounds for a lighthearted, comedic spin on the genre. But with Tomas Alfredson in the director's chair, we got a tale that's grim, unforgiving, and scary.
The film is complete with both suspense and jump scares, giving any true horror fan everything they could want in a horror film. With a great deal of the scenes taking place at night, we watch as a realistic version of a vampire's exploits are depicted in gritty fashion.
There's also a surprising amount of heart in Let the Right One In, as two lonely souls—one an outcast, the other undead—find solace in each other. This brilliant Swedish film only made €10 million at the box office, but it deserved much more. Watch it if you haven't already!
1. 28 Days Later (2002)
Much like his idol Stanley Kubrick, director Danny Boyle has found success in every single genre he worked in. He's made dramas, biopics, crime thrillers, and even ventured into science fiction.
However, his (arguably) best contribution to cinema also happens to be the best horror movie of the 2000s: 28 Days Later (2002).
The narrative follows Jim, a man who has just woken up from a coma. Upon walking outside, he realizes something cataclysmic has happened and fears he might be the only man left alive. But after running into a deranged man covered in blood, loneliness becomes the least of his problems.
28 Days Later was a breath of fresh air for the zombie subgenre. Slow, moaning bags of decomposing flesh were no longer frightening; instead, making them suffer from a neurological virus reenergized them. They seemed alive again, except now absolutely demonic. Boyle delivered the most spine-tingling addition to the genre with zombies that snarled, shout, and ran.
More importantly, the idea that an epidemic could cause the entire world to fall into such disrepair is horrifying, especially in hindsight after experiencing the last couple of years first-hand.
28 Days Later sits at the top of our list for best horror movies of the 2000s because it's not just about the creatures but the societal impact they have on those left alive, resulting in survivors who have become cold, callous, and downright inhuman. It all seems frighteningly possible.