The 90s was an era of exploration for filmmakers, and genres such as horror underwent significant experimentation. This led to tons of films being churned out every year, ranging from sci-fi horrors and slashers to supernatural horror films — some poorly made and others brilliantly crafted. Nonetheless, this era gave rise to popular franchises like the Silence of the Lambs, Candyman, Scream, driven not just by the increased demand for horror films, but their remarkable box office success.
What does it mean when people say a horror film is good? Well, often, the film succeeds in eliciting fear, tension, and suspensem, or remains stuck in the minds of viewers while presenting a well-structured story. The 90s had a plethora of horror films, but not all were equal. Scream was one of those exceptional gems from that era and there were many other fine ones. In fact, the franchise has spawned up to six films, with the most recent hitting the screens in 2023. A seventh installment is on its way, ensuring that this beloved 90s horror film remains fresh and continues to captivate its devoted fanbase.
In the sea of horror films from the 90s, these stand as the cream of the crop. Here is the best horror movie of every year in the decade.
Misery is proof that horror movies don’t necessary have to rely on gore, blood, or monsters to be terrifying. Instead, they harness the power of well-timed suspense, creepy settings, and haunting scores to leave a lasting imprint in the audience’s mind. This chilling tale delves into the dark side of fan obsession as it follows the story of a famous writer, Paul, who is rescued from a car accident by an unstable Annie Wikes. As the story unfolds, Paul discovers that Annie’s sinister intention to keep him hostage.
Misery undoubtedly ranks amongst one of the best Stephen King’s adaptations, showcasing remarkable performances by Kathy Bates and James Caan, all skillfully directed by Rob Reiner. Bates deservedly won an award for her outstanding portrayal of one of the scariest villains in horror movie history.
1991: Silence of the Lambs
Rarely do horror movies get high scores on sites like Rotten tomatoes or IMDb, yet Silence of the Lambs is one of the highest-rated horror movies on there. This horror film is one of those that relies on psychological terror to deliver its chill as it centers around Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Agent Clarice Sterling’s unlikely partnership. Based on Thomas Harris’s 1988 novel and inspired by real-life serial killers, it follows the cat-and-mouse game between these two characters for over two hours, without ever becoming tedious.
Under the exceptional direction of Jonathan Demme, the film has earned its place as one of the greatest horror films in cinematic history. It wouldn’t have been the same without the chilling and memorable portrayal by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster’s exceptional acting. Silence of the Lambs has since inspired other series and movies like Clarice and The Bone Collector.
1992: Candy Man
Some myths are better left alone or as mere stories, but not for the skeptical grad student Helen in this provocative slasher film, who gets more than she bargains for. Bernard Bose’s Candy Man uses the exploration of urban legends to deliver one of the scariest horror films ever made. It delves into mythology, beliefs, racism and the consequences of challenging the supernatural all through Helen’s obsession with the Candyman.
Set in the eerie Cabri-Green housing project, the film traces Helen’s research journey as she stumbles upon the gruesome legend of a hook-handed supernatural entity. Her unrelenting curiosity leads her to unleashing his murderous soul, resulting in piles and piles of dead bodies. Bose skillfully combines shocking gore and imagery with a creepy atmosphere and stylish cinematography to make this a spooky and well-crafted horror film.
1993: Body Snatchers
Body Snatchers represents the third cinematic adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel of the same name and delves into the unsettling concept of alien invasion and body snatching. Its plot follows as a military family discovers extraterrestrial beings are replacing humans with emotionless duplicates. As they fight to survive, they must avoid being assimilated by the aliens while uncovering the horrifying truth behind the invasion.
While Body Snatchers boasts impressive scares and top-notch effects, it inevitably invites comparisons to the 1956 original version and the 1978 remake. Despite the mixed feelings about its brilliance in comparison to the others, it is a spine-chilling and totally terrific horror film that stands in its own right. It exudes a moody and dark atmosphere, delivering several scares, including some bloody and explicit sequences horror enthusiasts love to see.
1994: In the Mouth of Madness
Renowned for its surreal and nightmarish imagery, In the Mouth of Madness is John Carpenter’s clever horror movie that follows John Trent’s investigation into the disappearance of a popular horror novelist, whose novels are known for their mind-altering effects on readers. What follows during the course of this investigation are layers of mysteries and increasing horrifying occurrences. With Carpenter’s signature style and atmospheric prowess, this film becomes one of the most brilliant horror movies known for its ability to play mind games with its viewers.
In the Mouth of Madness also presents a finely crafted horror film that will resonate with both fans and non-fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, as it explores the idea of reality and sanity being challenged by otherworldly forces. Despite its spine-tingling brilliance, this film is not as popular as Carpenter’s Halloween or The Thing, but nonetheless remains an underrated gem.
David Fincher’s Se7en, sometimes stylized as Seven, emerges as the standout horror film of the year 1995. This engaging and intense mystery thriller continues to be highly regarded even 28 years after its release. Fincher creates a dark and atmospheric world that amplifies the film’s sense of foreboding and unease. He meticulously constructs a rain-soaked and decayed city that feels like an additional character in the film.
Yet without the outstanding performances of Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and others who bring depth to their characters, this film wouldn’t have been the crime thriller classic it is now. There are also shocking twists and an unpredictable storyline that contribute to Se7en’s status as a memorable and unconventional entry in the thriller genre. However, due it to its graphic content and intense themes, this film may not be suitable for everyone.
Directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Willamson, Scream is indeed one of the most influential and iconic horror films from the 1990s. It is credited with revitalizing the slasher horror genre and introducing iconic figures such as Sidney Prescott and Ghostface to the world. What truly sets it apart is its clever writing, which blends horror with humor and keeps viewers guessing all through.
Scream borrows from well-known horror films such asFriday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Streetand is, till today, one of the highest-grossing slasher films in the United States. It marks the beginning of Sidney Prescott’s constant efforts to elude and uncover a masked killer named Ghostface. While it follows the typical slasher genre premise, it is not as predictable as others and succeeds in avoiding their clichés.
Cure is a slow-burning and atmospheric Japanese thriller directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and it is a thought-provoking exploration of the darkness that lies in the human mind. It is a truly twisty film that follows as Detective Kenichi solves a series of mysterious and gruesome murders committed by perpetrators who claim to have no memory of their actions. As he delves deeper into the investigation, he becomes entangled in a complex web of psychological manipulation and hypnotism.
Cure is a weird and gloomy horror film that teeters between horror and crime drama. It is a well-done film with brilliant directing and performances, and an open-ended conclusion that makes it even more thought-provoking. Kurosawa works his magic by constantly keeping the viewer unsettled throughout, though its plot might be a bit confusing to some viewers.
1998: The Faculty
The Faculty is a blend of horror, teen drama, and science fiction that plays with the theme of identity and mistrust, and follows the concept of bodysnatching in a pretty good way. Set in a high school in the fictional town of Herrington, Ohio, the film follows as students begin to suspect that their teachers are being taken over by parasitic alien organisms. These students who are initially from different cliques decide to join forces to uncover the horrifying truth.
This is a fun and thrilling take on the classic alien invasion story, making it a delightful choice for fans of sci-fi horror films set in high school environments. While it may not be as brilliant as the original Body Snatchers movies, Robert Rodriguez infuses the film with real paranoia as its plots slowly builds, making a truly terrifying and enjoyable horror flick.
1999: The Sixth Sense
The Sixth Sense features one of the greatest reveals in cinematic history, making it one of the most memorable and talked-about films of any decade. While it has elements of the supernatural, it relies mainly on psychological horror and suspense to create a truly unique and thought-provoking horror film. The Sixth Sense was so brilliant and critically acclaimed that it paved the way for M. Night Shyamalan’s reputation as a filmmaker known for his unique and visionary style.
Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment received well-deserved praise for their brilliant performances as the child psychologist Dr. Malcom and the young boy who communicates with the dead, Cole Sear. Much to fans’ dismay, it did not receive any Oscars at that time, which continues to be a subject of discussion amongst by many today, solidifying its status as a standout in the horror genre.