BFI: A great horror film from every year, from 1922 to now (2022)

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A century of malevolent masterpieces. One film per year.

28 October 2022

By Anton Bitel, Michael Blyth, Anna Bogutskaya, Katherine McLaughlin, Kelly Robinson, Matthew Thrift, Kelli Weston, Samuel Wigley

Horror cinema didn’t begin in 1922. There were ghosts in the machine as early as 1896, when the medium’s early magus, Georges Méliès, packed a giant bat, the Devil, various phantoms and a final vanquishing by crucifix into a spooky three minutes.

Adaptations of gothic classics, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, were already fixtures on the screen by the 1910s – and by 1920 the feature-length horror film wasn’t a scary kid anymore. Alongside a polished Hollywood version of Jekyll and Hyde, those German expressionist lodestones The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Golem marked the macabre coming of age of a genre that wanted to frighten, disgust and haunt us.
But as In Dreams Are Monsters, our autumn celebration of horror, takes place in the centenary year of both F.W. Murnau’s unofficial Dracula adaptation Nosferatu and Benjamin Christensen’s witchy pseudo-documentary Häxan, 1922 seemed the ideal place to begin our year-by-year rundown of frighteners.

Why year by year? Because it’s a better way to plumb the dark corners of horror’s cinematic history than a straightforward top 100. Selecting just one film per year leaves you with some nightmarish decisions for vintage years like 1960 – Psycho, Peeping Tom, Eyes Without a Face or Black Sunday? – and 1973, when December alone saw the release of The Exorcist and a double bill (!) of Don’t Look Now and The Wicker Man. And who really, for 1954, wants to pit Godzilla against the Creature from the Black Lagoon?

Yet by travelling through the history of horror a year at a time, we can get a sense of the evolution of the genre – the strange, contorting, lycanthropic process by which we arrive at the fertile market we’re living in today. Bad moons rise, and purple patches come and go: the arrival of Universal’s gothic monster cycle and Hammer; the birth of the modern zombie movie and the slasher; the shots in the arm of J-horror and – though let’s not call them that – the ‘elevated horrors’ of the 2010s. But the journey also takes us through some barren terrain when either censorship took the fun out of the genre (the late 1930s) or audiences simply seemed to lose their thirst for it (the late 1940s and early 1950s). Even on these wind-blasted heaths, however, gems are to be found.

Before we get started, an arbitrary ground rule: we’ve omitted any horror films appearing on the IMDb top 250 list on the grounds of over-familiarity. So no Psycho, The Exorcist, Jaws (1975), Alien (1979), The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) or The Silence of the Lambs (1991). The internet already knows and loves these films. We do too. But in picking over the carcass of a century of terror, we just wanted to keep things fresh.

– Samuel Wigley

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  1. 1 new

    Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens

    1922 — a.k.a. Nosferatu, in 28 top lists Check
  2. 2 new

    Schatten - Eine nächtliche Halluzination

    1923 — a.k.a. Warning Shadows, in 1 top list Check
  3. 3 new

    Das Wachsfigurenkabinett

    1924 — a.k.a. Waxworks, in 5 top lists Check
  4. 4 new

    The Phantom of the Opera

    1925, in 10 top lists Check
  5. 5 new

    Kurutta ippêji

    1926 — a.k.a. A Page of Madness, in 12 top lists Check
  6. 6 new

    The Unknown

    1927, in 11 top lists Check
  7. 7 new

    La chute de la maison Usher

    1928 — a.k.a. The Fall of the House of Usher, in 10 top lists Check
  8. 8 new

    Un chien andalou

    1929 — a.k.a. An Andalusian Dog, in 25 top lists Check
  9. 9 new

    The Bat Whispers

    1930, in 0 top lists Check
  10. 10 new

    Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

    1931, in 7 top lists Check
  11. 11 new


    1932, in 18 top lists Check
  12. 12 new

    King Kong

    1933, in 26 top lists Check
  13. 13 new

    The Black Cat

    1934, in 8 top lists Check
  14. 14 new

    Bride of Frankenstein

    1935, in 19 top lists Check
  15. 15 new

    The Devil-Doll

    1936, in 2 top lists Check
  16. 16 new

    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    1937, in 25 top lists Check
  17. 17 new


    1938 — a.k.a. I Accuse, in 2 top lists Check
  18. 18 new

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    1939, in 4 top lists Check
  19. 19 new

    Son of Ingagi

    1940, in 0 top lists Check
  20. 20 new

    The Wolf Man

    1941, in 2 top lists Check
  21. 21 new

    Cat People

    1942, in 15 top lists Check
  22. 22 new

    I Walked with a Zombie

    1943, in 10 top lists Check
  23. 23 new

    The Uninvited

    1944, in 2 top lists Check
  24. 24 new

    Dead of Night

    1945, in 9 top lists Check
  25. 25 new

    The Spiral Staircase

    1946, in 7 top lists Check
  26. 26 new

    The Red House

    1947, in 2 top lists Check
  27. 27 new

    Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein

    1948 — a.k.a. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, in 6 top lists Check
  28. 28 new


    1949, in 1 top list Check
  29. 29 new

    Sunset Blvd.

    1950 — a.k.a. Sunset Boulevard, in 35 top lists Check
  30. 30 new

    The Thing from Another World

    1951, in 7 top lists Check
  31. 31 new

    Valkoinen peura

    1952 — a.k.a. The White Reindeer, in 5 top lists Check
  32. 32 new

    House of Wax

    1953, in 4 top lists Check
  33. 33 new


    1954 — a.k.a. Godzilla, in 12 top lists Check
  34. 34 new

    The Quatermass Xperiment

    1955 — a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown, in 2 top lists Check
  35. 35 new

    Invasion of the Body Snatchers

    1956, in 19 top lists Check
  36. 36 new

    Night of the Demon

    1957 — a.k.a. Curse of the Demon, in 7 top lists Check
  37. 37 new


    1958 — a.k.a. Horror of Dracula, in 8 top lists Check
  38. 38 new

    A Bucket of Blood

    1959, in 2 top lists Check
  39. 39 new

    Les yeux sans visage

    1960 — a.k.a. Eyes Without a Face, in 14 top lists Check
  40. 40 new

    The Innocents

    1961, in 12 top lists Check
  41. 41 new

    Carnival of Souls

    1962, in 5 top lists Check
  42. 42 new

    The Birds

    1963, in 18 top lists Check
  43. 43 new


    1964, in 13 top lists Check
  44. 44 new


    1965, in 17 top lists Check
  45. 45 new

    Operazione paura

    1966 — a.k.a. Kill Baby, Kill, in 3 top lists Check
  46. 46 new


    1967, in 5 top lists Check
  47. 47 new

    Night of the Living Dead

    1968, in 20 top lists Check
  48. 48 new

    Spalovac mrtvol

    1969 — a.k.a. The Cremator, in 13 top lists Check
  49. 49 new

    Kladivo na carodejnice

    1970 — a.k.a. Witchhammer, in 3 top lists Check
  50. 50 new

    Let's Scare Jessica to Death

    1971, in 1 top list Check
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Last updated on Oct 28, 2022; source