We’re just about a third of the way into the 2020s, and there are already some horror movies that can be called modern classics. One horror lover asks an online forum what other fright fans’ favorites are from the decade so far, and there are many great answers.
1. Malignant (2021)
James Wan took the money from making the highest-grossing entries in the Fast & Furious and DC Extended Universe franchises, Furious 7 and Aquaman, respectively, and made a delightfully strange passion project.
Malignant, written by Akela Cooper, follows a woman who begins to see a series of murders as they occur and tries to solve the mystery of why the victims are being targeted, and what they have to do with her. There’s no way to describe the silly heights the film reaches without giving too much away, but one fan says watching Malignant was the “most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a long time.”
2. We’re All Going to The World’s Fair (2021)
It’s hard to believe that We’re All Going to the World’s Fair is the feature debut from writer/director Jane Schoenbrun. It’s such a well-crafted and unique film that blurs the lines of reality and online fiction that it would make more sense if it came a decade into their career. The movie follows a tween who begins participating in an online horror game, but the audience can’t tell where the game ends and reality begins.
3. Pearl (2022)
The clip of Mia Goth screaming that she’s a star became a meme days after Pearl was released, and in our time, there’s maybe no better way of marking a film’s cultural impact than the memes it spawns. But her performance is so much more than that one moment, and the film, which follows Goth’s life as a 1910s farm girl with big dreams as the eponymous Pearl, is one of the most wonderfully strange horror movies of recent years.
4. Crimes of the Future (2022)
David Cronenberg returned to body horror after a more than twenty-year absence with Crimes of the Future, a film that’s less scary than it is thought-provoking but still features human bodies growing new organs in ways they never have before.
It’s a movie with big ideas about bodies and how they are changing to adapt to the ever-changing world we live in, which is truly where the horror comes from more than anything gory in the film.
5. Barbarian (2022)
Many scary movie lovers highlight Barbarian as one of the best horror movies to come out in recent years, and a huge part of that is just how surprising the movie is. It begins as a story about a woman checking into an Airbnb only to discover someone else is already there and develops into something no one could see coming. One fan says, “10/10 would turn every light on in the house again.”
6. M3GAN (2023)
Written by Malignant scribe Akela Cooper, M3GAN tells a fairly classic story of artificial intelligence gone rogue, but this time that artificial intelligence is in the body of a small tween girl. It’s another film that rides the perfect line between hilarious and horrifying and has several moments that are already iconic.
7. The Invisible Man (2020)
A very loose remake of the 1933 film, itself based on H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name, 2020’s The Invisible Man adjusts its focus from the eponymous invisible man to the woman he is tormenting. In this version, the invisible man uses his invisibility to terrorize an ex who escaped his abuse, which makes it sometimes difficult to watch, but also ensures that it packs a significant political punch.
8. The Empty Man (2020)
Based on the comics of the same name by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey, The Empty Man is another movie, like Barbarian, that begins as one thing and ends up another completely and is all the more interesting because of that transformation. The film starts as a mystery about missing teens but develops into something supernatural and potentially even mystical as it goes on.
9. Host (2020)
Host was made cheap and quick in the middle of lockdown, and you can feel that scrappiness when you watch it, but that’s a good thing. The film takes place entirely on a computer screen as several friends gather on a Zoom call for a séance, one that, as you might guess, goes wrong. It’s a movie that clocks in under an hour long but makes the most of its brief runtime and delivers one of the best and most formally exciting horror movies of the decade thus far.
10. Skinamarink (2023)
Speaking of scrappy, Skinamarink was made for just $15,000 and became a sensation earlier this year when it seriously divided horror fans. The movie doesn’t include any faces but does include several long shots of walls and hallways to tell its story of two children in a haunted house. It’s a singular film that one viewer in the discussion calls “one of the very few films that have made me feel genuinely terrified,” while another says that they didn’t really like the movie but “really appreciated the creativity.”
11. Old (2021)
Using memes as a barometer of cultural impact again, “the beach that makes you old” became a ubiquitous phrase online after the release of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie about, well, a beach that makes you old. The film tracks the experiences of a group of tourists who find that they are rapidly aging and unsure of how to deal with their new reality or escape the beach. It’s one of Shyamalan’s best movies and certainly, not one you’ll forget.
12. Terrifier 2 (2022)
Few movies make as big a stir as Terrifier 2, which drew headlines when some viewers reportedly passed out and vomited during some of the film’s more extremely gory scenes. You can’t buy that kind of press coverage, and Terrifier 2 certainly delivers visceral horror for fans who want to test their mettle. Its story about a murderous clown seeking out a teenager who may be the only person who can kill him is undeniably somewhat silly but played extremely straight, including all of its moments of extreme gore.
13. Mad God (2021)
Visual effects artist and stop-motion animator Phil Tippett worked on classics like the original Star Wars, Robocop, and Jurassic Park movies, so it’s no wonder Mad God, his first feature film, is an astounding piece of stop-motion magic. The movie follows a loose plot about an explorer who journeys underground, but the plot serves mostly to allow viewers to bask in the glory of Tippett’s incredible puppet creations.
14. Kandisha (2020)
Kandisha is a personal favorite I’ll take every opportunity to celebrate and one that I think will gather more of an audience as time passes. The film takes place in the suburbs of Paris, where one white, one black, and one Arab friend become the center of a series of deaths after one of them calls forth a man-killing demon.
It’s an intelligent horror movie that’s in conversation with films like La Haine and Candyman while also delivering some striking gore that reminds viewers that its directors made Inside, one of the best and goriest New French Extremity horror movies of the 2000s.
Kyle Logan is a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Alternative Press, Cultured Vultures, Film Stories, Screen Anarchy, and more. Kyle is particularly interested in horror and animation, as well as genre films written and directed by queer people and women. Kyle has an MA in philosophy from Boston College, is a member of the Chicago Indie Critics, and along with writing, organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.