Slasher movies make up one of the biggest subgenres in horror, with origins rooted in Italian giallo films of the 1960s and 1970s.
Not to be confused with splatter films—which focus heavily on graphic, gory violence—slasher movies tend to follow a murder (or several murders) carried out with some kind of bladed weapon.
It sounds weirdly specific, but there are actually tons of slasher movies, and they're usually categorized into three cinematic eras:
- The golden age (1970s–1990s)
- The self-referential era (1990s–2000)
- The modern neo-slasher cycle (2000–present)
Here are my picks for the best slasher movies of all time, with most of them coming from the golden age of slashers!
13. Happy Death Day (2017)
Directed by Christopher Landon
Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Comedy, Horror, Mystery (1h 36m)
Being deathly hungover and viciously murdered is the last way you'd want to spend a birthday. It's also the last day you'd want to be stuck repeating in a Groundhog Day-style time loop. Unfortunately for Tree Gelbman (played by Jessica Rothe), she gets lobbed with both.
"Happy Death Day!" is the more appropriate phrase that Tree's sorority housemates should be shouting when she stumbles home from a night out, chucking away her candlelit cupcake. Tree is doomed to relive her worst moment repeatedly until she can find a way out.
Christopher Landon lightens the gory load of horror cinema with flecks of comedy and self-aware millennial satire. It's one of the least bloody movies to still qualify as a slasher, gently easing us into the genre.
12. Friday the 13th (1980)
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
Starring Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Jeannine Taylor
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 35m)
Sean S. Cunningham's sleeper hit Friday the 13th was 1980's most commercially successful slasher film, drawing in millions to theaters despite a slow start.
Like many horror movies of the time, Friday the 13th struggled to make noise in the wake of Halloween's success. But once it managed to get on the map? Boy, it made quite the racket!
Friday the 13th is interesting because it was the first independent film to be distributed by a major Hollywood studio (in this case, Paramount Pictures). This was due to the fact that slasher movies were in, so it was a pretty low-risk bet that it would turn a profit.
Friday the 13th takes place on Camp Crystal Lake, where a bunch of people were mysteriously killed in 1958. When the camp is reopened in 1979, the same thing happens again. The killer in question is Jason Voorhees... or so people think.
He's the guy in the hockey mask you see every Halloween, who later reappears in a string of sequels and slasher-crossovers.
11. Candyman (2021)
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett
Horror, Thriller (1h 31m)
One of our modern selections, Candyman is a sequel to the 1992 original by Bernard Rose. The story was taken from Clive Barker's six-part horror anthology called Books of Blood, released between 1984 and 1985.
Director Nia DaCosta's supernatural slasher was stuck in development hell for years before the studio agreed to make it. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stars as a visual artist who's obsessed with the legend of the "Candyman" and paints gradually darker portraits.
The ghostly, hook-handed figure supposedly haunts the Cabrini-Green housing projects in Chicago, putting razor blades in candy given to kids. But it turns out that there's a whole "Candyman Hive" of real-life victims to watch out for!
10. Pearl (2022)
Directed by Ti West
Starring Mia Goth, David Corenswet, Tandi Wright
Drama, Horror, Thriller (1h 43m)
You've no doubt seen the clip of Mia Goth screaming at David Corenswet as the embodiment of female rage. It comes from a scene in Pearl, where Goth stars as a mentally unstable girl living in 1918 Texas.
Pearl shouting at her new projectionist lover until she's red in the face is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, everything in this film is red: her dress, her lipstick, the barn, and the blood on her hands.
Stuck on a farm, Pearl yearns for the kind of exciting life seen in the movies, and it's a life that she's prepared to kill (or rather, slash) for.
9. Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark
Starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 38m)
Christmas is a clever setting for all kinds of movies. The festive period is supposed to be a time of joy, family, and celebration, so when things go bad, the colorful lights only emphasize the bitterness.
Bob Clark's Canadian slasher Black Christmas does just that, turning "Silent Night" into "Evil Night" (as the film was originally titled).
The babysitter victim isn't a new archetype in horror films, rooted in an urban legend from way back in the 1960s. This, in conjunction with the murder spree of William Patrick Fyfe in Montreal, was the inspiration behind Black Christmas.
The word "babysitter" might bring to mind John Carpenter's Halloween, but that was actually made four years after Black Christmas and was actually influenced by this not-so-Christmas film.
Like a lot of slasher films—and even many horrors and thrillers—it all starts with some creepy phone calls. A group of sorority sisters are hounded by threatening calls, then stalking, then killing.
Black Christmas wasn't an instant success, but has since been re-evaluated as one of the greatest slasher movies ever made.
8. Child's Play (1988)
Directed by Tom Holland
Starring Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Alex Vincent
Horror, Thriller (1h 27m)
A lot of people refer to this movie as Chucky, both because of the antagonist and the title of later installments. But the very first in the series has always been called Child's Play!
Funnily enough, Chucky himself isn't evil. He's actually just a Good Guy doll (ironically named) that contains the soul of a knife-wielding serial killer named Charles Lee Ray (played by Brad Dourif). And it's the Barclay family that first suffers Chucky's wrath.
Fun fact: Charles Lee Ray's name was derived as a combination of Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, and James Earl Ray.
The Good Guy doll is now instantly recognizable, and the film's cult status earned Chucky seven sequels and a TV series.
7. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Directed by Tobe Hooper
Starring Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
Horror (1h 23m)
The fact that the title contains "Chain Saw" and "Massacre" makes The Texas Chain Saw Massacre an obvious pick for any list of slasher movies. It's a title that turns away everyone who'd hate this kind of movie, while reeling in hardcore horror fans.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre features an unfortunate group of friends who run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. The resulting tale makes for one of the scariest slasher movies ever made.
What made Tobe Hooper's grisly horror so controversial is also what got it banned in several countries: the only people around are Leatherface (who wears a mask out of human skin) and his cannibalistic family.
6. Peeping Tom (1960)
Directed by Michael Powell
Starring Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer
Drama, Horror, Thriller (1h 41m)
Being a Peeping Tom is already gross, but we're not just talking about climbing a tree and peering into a window like George McFly.
The homicidal, voyeuristic themes of Michael Powell's British thriller are distinctly Hitchcockian, but Mark (played by Karlheinz Böhm) does more than just secretly film girls. He kills them, too.
With a blade stuck to his tripod, Mark records the terrified expressions of his victims as they die. In fact, he films pretty much everything, pretending to be making a documentary but really just being a weirdo.
Although Alfred Hitchcock is often credited as pioneering the slasher genre with his 1960 film Psycho, Peeping Tom was released five months prior and was arguably the true first.
5. American Psycho (2000)
Directed by Mary Harron
Starring Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas
Crime, Drama, Horror (1h 42m)
Perfectly portrayed by Christian Bale, Patrick Bateman is unlike any character cinema has seen. He's charming, well-groomed, wealthy, with a gorgeous fiancée. The only thing is, he's a full-blown sociopath who compulsively kills for fun.
Set in the 1980s, American Psycho is one big jab at materialistic, New York yuppie culture. After sweating profusely at his co-worker's business card, Patrick decides to get Paul (played by Jared Leto) drunk so he can chop him up like bits of wood.
What's remarkable is how casually Patrick carries out his murders, the way he smiles through a remark like "Did you know I'm utterly insane?" as if homicide were completely normal.
Patrick's eerie mix of coolness and insanity is what makes him such a legendary anti-hero. He's more concerned with clear skin and face masks than the pile of corpses in his closet, which have been mostly desecrated with axes, chainsaws, and nail guns.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Horror (1h 31m)
What's most frightening (and effective) about A Nightmare on Elm Street is that the villain only appears in your dreams, but the injuries incurred show up in real-life. In other words, death awaits every time you sleep.
Freddy Krueger is basically the ghost of a child-killer, his face still melted from being burned alive by their parents. In the dream (or nightmare) world, he's a powerful force to be reckoned with. But on Earth? He reverts to his vulnerable, human state.
Freddy has appeared in tons of spin-offs (not all good) and has been played by various actors, but his debut was in Wes Craven's supernatural slasher (which academics have read to have queer connotations that Craven denies intending).
Blending real with imaginary, A Nightmare on Elm Street was hailed for its cultural significance and themes of morality and perception.
3. Scream (1996)
Directed by Wes Craven
Starring Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette
Horror, Mystery (1h 51m)
Teenage girl Casey (played by Drew Barrymore) receives an alarming phone call at the beginning of Scream, one which even references the film Friday the 13th.
The sadistic caller wears a black robe and ghostly mask, watching Casey from the window and asking her a trick question: "Who is the killer in Friday the 13th?" Obviously, she says Jason (a wrong answer) and that costs her boyfriend's life.
Directed by horror fanatic Wes Craven, Scream is satire that only follows the conventions of the slasher genre to poke fun at it. Yes, this means Craven is poking fun at his own previous work!
The group of teen friends, the phone calls, the masked killer—we've all seen it before, but Scream still manages to be an amazing film.
The self-aware aspect of Scream helped make it even more popular, and it was even called Scary Movie before it was bought by Dimension Films. Scream isn't quite the parody that the eventual Scary Movie ended up being, but it was credited with "revitalizing" slashers.
2. Halloween (1978)
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tony Moran
Horror, Thriller (1h 31m)
Though it wasn't the first, Halloween gives us the most famous example of the babysitter slasher victim.
Portrayed by Jamie Lee Curtis, Laurie is unnerved by a man who stalks her all day. After brushing off Michael Myers (big mistake), he follows her into her babysitting house on Halloween night.
With a similar look to Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers wears a white mask and coveralls, knife raised in hand. What makes him even creepier is the fact he doesn't speak; he's a silent figure looming in the shadows.
1. Psycho (1960)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 49m)
Psycho is by far the least gruesome slasher movie on this list. We barely even see the blade that famously kills Marion in the shower! So, why is it number one? Well, because it's Psycho!
Unless you've been huddled under a rock, you've probably seen this one. You might've even studied it in school. Sure, by today's standards it's barely a horror movie, but back in the day, Psycho was a daring film that railed against the censorship board.
Janet Leigh is the star of the film. Or, at least, she is for a bit because Alfred Hitchcock kills her off halfway through.
Viewers of the time would have been rocked by this plot twist, but we now know that changing the narrative halfway through and targeting blonde female victims were Hitchcock's thing.
Norman Bates doesn't boast a human face mask or a chainsaw, but he does wear his dead mother's clothes while carrying a pocket knife. Less is more, and Norman Bates (famously played by Anthony Perkins) is certainly as scary as any Leatherface.