(Photo by Lions Gate/courtesy Everett Collection)
Welcome to the new millennium. The decade horror came home to America. The decade horror went global. Welcome to the 80 Best Horror Movies of the 2000s.
If horror movies reflect the fears and concerns of a people, it’s notable that America claimed torture-porn as their de rigueur subgenre. Something in Saw and its ilk’s slow-roasted dismantling of human flesh appealed to a nation consumed by post-9/11 paranoia and a bombardment of wartime images and atrocity. But while torture-porn movies made a killing at the box office, none were ever particularly well-reviewed; only Hostel arrives here. Recovering from the ’90s doldrums, the best horror movies came from overseas, as digital cameras lowered the cost to film and the rise of the internet made knowledge and dissemination of these movies as simple as a mouse click. In fact, of the top 10 movies here (which includes the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Host), only two were shot in America. Other trends seen during this decade: Asian originals and occasional remakes (The Ring, Thirst), found footage (Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield), the return of the living dead (Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later), and nostalgic throwbacks (Slither, Death Proof). The only stipulation for a movie to be considered for this list was a Fresh rating from at least 20 reviews.
Time to add some scary MIDIs to your MySpace and set AIM status to away (FOREVER), because here comes the best scary 2000s movies!
There’s all manner of method to the madness in our selections of the scariest movie scenes ever. Some use high amounts of gore. Others deliver unnerving calm and quiet before shattering the senses. A few feature amazing monster makeup and effects. The one common thread between them all: They work. And work not just at producing a moment of fear, but sustaining that fear, sometimes for minutes on end, to drill deep into our psyche and staying there for decades. These are the stuff of nightmares, what we see when we close our eyes at night. These are the 25 scariest movie scenes of all time. Warning: spoilers abound!
What’s the scariest movie scene you’ve ever seen? Tell us in the comments.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection.)
The scene: The chest burst
One of the things that sets Ridley Scott’s sci-fi nightmare apart from the other horror fare of its era is its relatively slow burn, playing on the claustrophobia of space and the fear of the unknown. So it comes as a shock to the system when a “facehugger” hurtles out of an egg and attaches itself to John Hurt’s Kane, puncturing the atmospheric dread with a visceral jump scare. But the moment that became indelibly stamped in pop culture history comes just a few scenes later, after the facehugger has detached itself and Kane is recovering from the incident. As the crew enjoys a meal together, Kane suddenly begins to choke and convulse on the table, and a small, lizard-like creature bursts through his chest and scrambles away, effectively birthing a horror villain that would terrorize space crews for decades to come.
(Photo by IFC Midnight/Courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: Baba breaches bedroom
A lot has been written about The Babadook: It’s a story about grief, and it’s a story about feminism; it’s less a horror film than a domestic drama; and somehow through it all its central bogeyman has emerged a wonderfully camp gay icon. We’re all for it. But in the midst of the think pieces and the movie’s surprising afterlife, one thing often goes overlooked: The Babadook is just a really, really scary horror traditional horror flick, too. Take the scene in which the Babadook (dook, dook) taunts Amelia (Essie Davis) in her bedroom. On paper, it’s nothing we haven’t seen in any Conjuring or Insidious flick, but as executed by director Jennifer Kent and acted by Davis (robbed of an Oscar nom, and yes we’re still sore) it’s almost unwatchably tense. Sound and darkness work overtime to drum up the suspense before the Babadook himself appears, jerkily terrorizing the woman on the edge of a breakdown.
(Photo by Artisan Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: Putting babies in the corner
Anyone who tells you this super-low-budget 1999 phenom isn’t actually scary just hasn’t watched it all the way to the end. Because if you can sit through the moment Heather discovers Mike standing in the corner of that abandoned house and not tear the leather off your La-Z-Boy’s arms then you’re a much tougher horror-watcher than we are. The traumatizing screams and image of Mike standing ultra-still in the corner are scary enough – add in the fact that none of it is explained and this is a fright-filled finale for the ages.
(Photo by New Line Cinema / courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: The nun comes to life
Taken on its own merits, The Conjuring 2 was a solid movie, even if it didn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor. But it’s somewhat telling that its most memorable scare came courtesy of an entity who spends much of the film on the fringes of the primary story and whose presence was so immediately chilling that it spawned its own spin-off movie. The scene in question takes place inside the Warrens’ (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) own home, when Lorraine experiences a vision in which she is trapped and attacked by the demon nun Valak. Director James Wan milks the tension for all its worth, as a dark shadow moves across the walls and positions itself behind the painting of the nun’s face before it lunges at Lorraine with a shriek. We all checked our pants after that.
(Photo by Lions Gate/courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: Monsters revealed
Neil Marshall’s The Descent is considered by some the scariest movie of the past 20 years, and for good reason. The movie hooks us in with its claustrophobic setting – a tiny and very unstable cave system somewhere in Appalachia – and its dynamic group of women with their complicated pasts and relationships. Then, when it has us right where it wants us… MONSTERS. And f—king scary ones at that. The movie’s most intense scene is also the first time we see these humanoid beasties, and Marshall masterfully mixes slow-building dread, dramatic distraction, and a helluva jump scare for the big reveal. We’re so caught up in the drama over Juno getting the group lost that we almost don’t notice that thing standing RIGHT THERE.
(Photo by British Lion Films)
The scene: The ending
Up until the very end, you don’t know what the exact nature of the threat is in Don’t Look Now. You’re only aware that something sinister creeps on the fringes, vaguely menacing Donald Sutherland’s character as he wanders Venice with his wife after the accidental drowning of their young daughter in America. It’s the uncomfortable way people talk to him. Or is that just how it always feels in a foreign country? It’s in the way light reflects onto the camera. Or isn’t that how light always bounces around? It’s in Sutherland’s unsettling visions of his wife and daughter. Or is he just processing grief? But it all snaps into place for Don’t Look Now‘s vein-icing final sequence, giving terrible logic and clarity to the preceding 100 minutes.
(Photo by Warner Bros./ Courtesy: Everett Collection.)
The scene: Spinning heads
William Friedkin’s controversial film, based on a novel that fictionalized purportedly true events, is famous for the raucous reactions it inspired from terrified audiences who nevertheless flocked to see it in droves. It managed to entertain just as effectively as it scared the pants off of everyone, and perhaps no scene captures that special magic as well as the moment when Linda Blair’s possessed Regan – after having performed a rather sacrilegious act with a crucifix – spins her head 180 degrees to face her frightened mother (Ellen Burstyn). Regan does spin her head again later, during the climax of the film, but this first scene is so vulgar, violent, utterly shocking, and ultimately horrifying that it’s impossible to pull your gaze away from the screen.
(Photo by Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France)
The scene: Face/off
Director Georges Franju started his career as a documentary filmmaker, an invaluable skill set for his second narrative feature Eyes Without a Face. It’s the story of a desperate father who, after disfiguring his daughter in a car accident, spends his night killing women, slicing off their faces, and attempting to attach them to his daughter’s. The concept is gross enough, but the way Franju uses his calm and deliberate camera (indeed, like shooting a documentary) during the film’s infamous central surgery scene gives the fictional proceedings the sheen of reality.
(Photo by A24 /Courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: An allergic reaction
Like Alex Wolff’s Peter in the movie, we were left completely speechless and frozen the first time we saw THAT MOMENT in Hereditary. We’re being vague for now, because it’s such a recent film and the moment is such a spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the movie stop reading now…. OK, if you’re still with us, you know what we’re talking about: Charlie (Milly Shapiro), struggling for breath in the back seat, pushes her head out of the car window and connects with a passing telegraph pole. The whole sequence, from the chocolate cake at the party to the wheezing in the car to the moment of impact, is brilliantly choreographed, but this is one of those scares that was also heavily aided by the film’s publicity. Charlie was at the center of the marketing campaign, leaving viewers to think she would be a central figure right through to the end; when she gets it about a third of the way in, we suddenly know that anything can happen in Hereditary. If Psycho broke the “don’t kill your main character” rule, and Scream stepped all over the “don’t kill your biggest star” rule, Hereditary went one further: Don’t kill the kid.
(Photo by Universal)
The scene: The opening scene
Much has been made of Spielberg’s expert use of the unknown and unseen in Jaws, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the movie’s opening scene in which a woman is jerked to and fro by something moving beneath her in the black abyss. (Stuntwoman Susan Blacklinie had hooks attached to her Levi’s and was being pulled by divers.) The scene is also the first time the world got to hear that iconic John Williams score, its pulsing slow-build instantly becoming a mood-building classic. We eventually went back in the water after seeing Jaws, but never at night.
(Photo by Weinstein Company/Courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: A transcendental experience
Martyrs was part of the New French Extremity movement, where a wave of filmmakers put out horror films hit harder than ever before. Part home invasion, part torture porn, all blood and gristle, Martyrs details a cult-like group who torture young, beautiful women to the brink of death to uncover insights into the afterlife. It all comes to a head with the final sequence, where one of the main characters is flayed alive. Worse: She survives. Even worser: The experiment actually works, as the character enters a transcendental state. The knowledge she gleans about the afterlife and passes on, however, proves too much for the living.
(Photo by Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: Annie breaks Paul’s legs
When it comes to visceral gross-out scares, the Saw films may win for degree of difficulty and Hostel (remember that one?) may be the king of holy-f—k gore. But for impact, nothing beats Rob Reiner’s Misery, in which barely a drop of blood is spilled and not a single eyeball plucked. We’re cringing just remembering the moment Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes’ places a block of wood between a tied-down Paul Sheldon’s (James Caan) feet and breaks his ankles with the swoop of a giant sledgehammer. The crunch! The unnatural bend of the ankle! The slow and methodical description of “hobbling” that Wilkes gives before she takes her epic swing! Jigsaw ain’t got nothing.
(Photo by Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: The 21st night
Oren Peli’s game-changing found-footage film did for the bedroom what Blair Witch did for the woods. The fast-forwarded footage of Katie (Katie Featherstone) standing by her bed and watching Micah sleep was the reason some of us got separate bedrooms – with locks – from our loved ones for months after the hit film’s release. But the movie saved its best shock for last: On night 21, a now fully possessed Katie leaves the bedroom, lures Micah out with a torrent of screams, and then – after a seemingly endless silence – throws him at the screen and proceeds to eat him. Well, at least we think that’s what might happen. Like Blair Witch’s unexplained finale, this one leaves us with lots of theories to chew on.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
The scene: The shower kill
Hitchcock didn’t invent the slasher, but we’ll be damned if he didn’t perfect it with Psycho and its seminal scene: Marion Crane’s iconic shower death. Even after you analyze the hell out of it – the Hershey’s chocolate syrup in place of blood; the edits that never once show knife penetrating skin – the moment loses none of its ability to shock. The key is the build-up, that wonderful shadow of Norman behind the curtain, and then the brutality: those quick-cut thrusts matched by that iconic burst of Bernard Herrmann’s score.
(Photo by Filmax/Courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: Dragged into darkness
This is a found footage nightmare set in a quarantined building in Barcelona where a zombie virus infection is breaking out. Our protaganist Angela is a newscaster who at first merely wants to report on the mysterious closure of the building, and then becomes the news herself when she ges swept into the quarantine. [REC] is a roller coaster of a film, culminating in its final scene, presented in eerie quiet and night vision, as Angela, seeming like she just might make it out, is dragged into the darkness while the dropped camera rolls on. It’s such an effective moment, it was of course spoiled on the theatrical for the American remake Quarantine.
(Photo by DreamWorks/courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: The cursed video
It took us far longer than seven days to wipe the images from this bizarro piece of video art from our minds. Gore Verbinski’s U.S. remake of The Ring is full of excellent creepouts – Samara emerging from the TV; the distorted victims’ faces – but the ace up its sleeve is the video at its center. This unnerving mish-mash of static, random ominous imagery (a tree aflame, a woman brushing her hair), and insistent screeching is truly dread-inducing. Even after it’s been aped by the opening sequence of nearly every season of American Horror Story, the Ring video still makes an impact.
(Photo by Paramount)
The scene: Mother and child
The tension rises and falls throughout Rosemary’s Baby, never allowing the viewer to quite settle in and fully process what’s happening. A demonic rape her, some weird juice there, just to keep the viewer discombobulated. It all reaches a boiling point in the dream-like coda, when Rosemary wakes up after giving birth, in her empty apartment. She finds a hidden room where her husband and neighobrs have gathered, all in on the conspiracy for her to deliver Satan’s child, and welcome her in. You never see the baby, but Rosemary’s line says it all: “What have you done to him? What have you done to his eyes?!”
(Photo by Dimension Films)
The scene: ‘Do you like scary movies?’
Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s genre-reinvigorating classic kicks off with what many consider the greatest opening scene in horror history. Plot-wise, it’s basically When A Stranger Calls, ’90s-style – girl is alone in the house, receives stalk-y phone call, happens to have encyclopedia knowledge of the film genre in which she suddenly finds herself – but Craven brings so much smart and bravura skill to the direction of it that it kicks complete ass even decades later, after we’ve seen the countless imitators that followed and the shock of having a big-star snuffed out in the first 10 minutes has worn off. Credit too to Ghostface voice Roger L. Jackson, that perfectly placed pan of Jiffy Pop, and to Williamson’s script, a step-by-step screenwriting masterclass in how to ratchet up tension. “The question who am I, the question is where am I?”: Chills to this day.
(Photo by Warner Bros)
The scene: Jack on the attack
Kubrick stuffed his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel with so many scary moments and images, trying to pick just one could drive you to Jack Torrance levels of craziness. But we’re doing it anyway. While the Grady twins in the hallway are spooky as hell, and we still can’t erase the image of the bathtub woman from our minds, we had to go with the movie’s most iconic moment: Wendy trapped in a bathroom as Jack hammers at the door. Kubrick’s swinging camera, Jack Nicholson’s mania, and Shelley Duvall’s totally convincing fear combine to make this the most terrifying scene in one of cinema’s most terrifying movies.
(Photo by United Film Distribution Company /courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: The big reveal
For much of its runtime, Sleepaway Camp plays like any other teen slasher of the 1980s, with a bunch of kids who are summarily executed one-by-one by a mysterious killer. If some of the kills are overly creative — death by a thousand bee stings? a curling iron in the hoo-ha? — none of them compares to the twist at the end of the film, which comes from way out of left field. The quiet, young, bullied girl at the center of the movie, Felissa Rose’s Angela, is not only revealed to be the killer, she’s also outed as a man, dressed up as the opposite gender by his demented aunt.
(Photo by Bryanston Distributing Company)
The scene: Leatherface appears
The Texas Chain Saw Massacare is considered one of the most punishing, sickly transformative experiences in horror. And it’s not even 90 minutes long. And nothing happens for like the first 30 minutes. But once Leatherface appears, the movie never lets up afterwards. His grand debut happens inside his house, when a stupidly intrepid young adult enters looking for fuel for his car. Leathface pops out from a hallway and hits the dude in the hammer, the body crumpling and then twitching on the ground. Leatherface drags the body into the butcher room, and slams the door. There’s plenty of more scares to come, but this opening salvo is as disturbing as they come.
(Photo by Universal/courtesy Everett Collection)
The scene: Getting something off your chest
John Carpenter was well into his groove by the time he made The Thing, and he put all of his talents on display to contribute one of the most influential entries in the “body horror” genre not directed by David Cronenberg. We get our first glimpse of the “thing” fairly early in the movie when it absorbs a pack of huskies, and we see it again when it attempts to assimilate Peter Maloney’s Bennings. But the big scare comes when Charles Hallahan’s Norris appears to have a heart attack, and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) attempts to revive him with a defibrillator. Norris’ chest opens up like a giant mouth, complete with teeth, and rips Copper’s arms off before Kurt Russell’s MacReady blasts it with a flamethrower. Thanks to some top-notch practical effects and the judicious use of a jump-scare, the scene remains the most memorable and viscerally disturbing in the movie.
(Photo by Argos Films)
The scene: The truth
Forget everything you know about The Vanishing. Oh, that was fast — as if you’ve never seen the Jeff Bridges/Sandra Bullock kidnap thriller before. It was a lousy movie with the distinction of being a remake…with the same director. George Sluzier was brought to Hollywood to direct the remake, and it’s easy to see why: the 1988 Dutch original is a chilling, methodical examination about the mundane face of pure evil. Naturally, the American version has none of that. It also doesn’t have the original’s ending: When the hero finally confronts his girlfriend’s kidnapper, who offers him the opportunity to find out what happened to her. The answer is one of the most terrifying scenes in movie history.
(Photo by Columbia Pictures)
The scene: The phone calls
Pop in When a Stranger Calls and for the first 20 minutes, you’ll think you’re watching the scariest movie ever made. Carol Kane plays the babysitter, and she keeps on getting increasingly menacing calls to check on the kids upstairs. When she gets the call traced, naturally it’s coming from inside the house! Think this scene won’t work anymore because it’s been parodied and referenced to death since? Think again. It remains a masterclass in editing and suspense. The rest of the movie is pretty lousy, but that opening act can still dial up the tension decades later.
(Photo by British Lion Films)
The scene: The burning
Not quite a masterpiece these days but definitely a classic, The Wicker Man follows a prudish police officer as he investigates the disappearance of a young girl on a remote English island populated by pagans. As he follows the clues and contradicting statements of the village people, he edges ever closer to the titular wicker man, a sacrificial vessel to be burned at dusk. Even if you can get who gets put inside it, the sheer intensity and terror of the scene is still something to be witnessed.
(Photo by 20th Century Fox)
Blockbuster movies cost a bunch of money to make – jaw-dropping special effects and big-name actors don’t come cheap. In order to make the expense worth it, movie studios need to pull out all the stops to get moviegoers to buy tickets once the film premieres, and that typically involves a killer marketing campaign. These days, slick trailers, along with all sorts of unique real-world stunts and marketing gimmicks, can be as much of a production as the final movie itself.
These memorable marketing campaigns take different forms — sometimes it just takes a really well-done trailer and a memorable use of a song, as seen and heard in the trailer for Jordan Peele’s Us, which retools Luniz’s “I’ve Got 5 on It” in a deliciously creepy way. Other times movie marketers will stage mysterious real-world stunts to get excited fans involved. Whatever the method, a well-done marketing campaign for a well-done movie often means box office success.
Here are 10 of the most memorable movie marketing campaigns we’ve seen.
(Photo by Universal Pictures/20th Century Fox Film Corp.)
Studio: Universal Pictures / 20th Century Fox
Why you remember it: Because of two incredible taglines.
Let’s kick things off with a tie, as both films are shining examples of an older era of promotion, before viral marketing was a thing. Jaws was the first blockbuster, but Jaws 2 was briefly the highest-grossing sequel of all time until Rocky II bested it the following year. Part of the film’s success likely has to do with one of the greatest taglines of all time — “Just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water” — the work of famed and innovative producer Andrew J. Kuehn.
The following year, Alien came around with one of the other great taglines in movie history, “In space, no one can hear you scream.” Neither of these movies had real-world promotional activations, but they were united in memorable taglines that, thanks to their use of the second-person, made would-be viewers feel part of the cinematic horrors to come.
Did it work? As mentioned, Jaws 2 was a huge success, pulling in $208 million. Alien’s box office figure is a little disputed, as some creative Hollywood accounting originally recorded the film as a loss for Fox, but it went on to spawn an iconic, acclaimed sci-fi horror series. And, of course, those two taglines are now forever seared into the public consciousness.
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Why you remember it: Because Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool.
Deadpool is known as the Merc with a Mouth, and the film’s promotional team sure did have a lot to say about the film. There was so much marketing, and all of it projected an irreverent, slightly naughty sense of fun. There were parody posters, custom emojis, a feud with Wolverine (and Hugh Jackman), a costume reveal via faux-nude spread, and a flaming bag of poop yule log, to name just a few campaign highlights. Then there was Reynolds, who, as the person most responsible for making Deadpool happen, projected his passion for the wise-cracking hero and modeled his own social presence after the Merc.
Two years after Deadpool was released, Reynolds and the Fox marketing team went even harder with the promotion of Deadpool 2, taking over the DVD covers of other popular movies at Walmart and handling Stephen Colbert’s late-night monologue duties, before going further yet for in its meta promotion of Once Upon a Deadpool. The marketing behind the franchise is now officially one of the reasons we look forward to another Deadpool movie.
Did it work? Deadpool made $785 million at the box office and became the highest-grossing R-rated film ever. Not bad for a superhero movie.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Why you remember it: Because “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.”
David Fincher’s moody bio-pic about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is really an exceptional villain origin story, and the marketing for the film made that clear. The first trailer is scored to a haunting cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” as sung by a children’s choir, illustrating how there was something unsettling behind all this “friending.” Then there’s the poster, which features Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) looking at the viewer from the shadows, his face obscured by the memorable and ominous tagline in a crisp Futura font. Both the “choral cover of pop song” and “poster with words on a face” would go on to be often-imitated promotional tropes, but they were just the Google Plus to The Social Network’s Facebook.
Did it work? The Social Network made $224.9 million and was nominated for or won a host of major awards. Plus, Zuckerberg had some qualms with the movie – so that’s a success.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Why you remember it: Because of the secrecy and Alfred Hitchcock’s suspenseful set tour.
Modern moviegoers who were too young to remember seeing Psycho in theaters probably remember Hitchcock’s iconic slasher for the famous shower scene. Hitchcock knew that would be the case. Movie trailers weren’t what they were back then — the idea of multi-level movie marketing as we know it today didn’t really emerge until the late ’90s. But, Hitchcock was the master of suspense, and he knew how to get an audience shaking with curiosity and anticipation. The trailer for Psycho featured Hitchcock giving a tour of the Bates Motel, offering gory hints of what horrors might have happened there but stopping just short of giving anything away. That, along with a campaign to keep the shocking twist in the movie a secret – which went so far as preventing Paramount Studio execs from reading the script – had audiences eager to see what happened.
Did it work? Psycho cost about $800,000 to make and made more than $40 million during its initial release — and this is in 1960s dollars! It was a huge hit, went on to enjoy multiple theatrical reissues, and is generally regarded as a landmark horror movie. So, yeah, Hitchcock’s a great tour guide.
(Photo by @ 20th Century Fox)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Why you remember it: Because of Sacha Baron Cohen’s in-character interviews as Borat.
It’s fitting that a movie that blurred the lines between comedy and documentary (not to mention acting and reality) would have a similarly meta promotional campaign. Borat wasn’t a new creation, as Cohen’s character had been on the Da Ali G Show for years, but he wasn’t widely known. That let Cohen dupe the movie’s subjects — as well as many would-be ticket-buyers – into thinking that this kooky Borat character might be on the level.
Did it work? Borat made $262 million at the box office, much to Kazakhstan’s chagrin.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Why you remember it: Because of all the rampant speculation about the top-secret mystery plot.
A good marketing campaign doesn’t give everything away, it just teases some of the best stuff so that moviegoers are excited to see the rest. Cloverfield’s marketing was so memorable because it gave, well, essentially nothing away. The first trailer, which came by surprise ahead of Transformers screenings, didn’t even include the movie’s title or any plot details. This, along with some innovative virtual tie-ins (shout-out to MySpace), had fans wondering what it might be. A Lost movie? A Godzilla film? An anime adaptation? Something new?
Did it work? Like The Blair Witch Project, which pioneered this type of hype-building mystery promotion, Cloverfield was a hit. The film made $170.8 million against a budget of $25 million, and spawned a whole franchise/”universe” of sci-fi films united mostly by viral marketing, though none were as successful as the original.
(Photo by @ Warner Bros. Pictures)
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Why you remember it: Because of the spinning top mind-game (and the “BWWAAHHHH” sound).
Warner Bros. spent $100 million to market Inception, an increasingly rare blockbuster that was wholly original, not a sequel nor an adaptation. To get people excited about an unknown quantity, the studio banked on Christopher Nolan’s post-Dark Knight appeal and made an online viral game involving the spinning top that diehard fans tried to solve. The game unlocked the official trailer, and that was a great piece of advertising too, in no small part because of the booming Inception sound that rightfully became a meme.
Did it work? The marketing certainly planted the idea of going to see this movie in a lot of people’s’ heads, because Inception made $828.3 million at the box office.
(Photo by @ 20th Century Fox)
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Why you remember it: Because you solved an interactive mystery across a virtual Gotham City, and Heath Ledger’s untimely death.
The heroes of DC Comics save the day in fictional cities, like Metropolis. But, to promote the second (and best) of Christopher Nolan’s three Batman movies, the alternate reality game company 42 Entertainment made Gotham City real. Using websites like WhySoSerious.com, fake Gothamite newspapers, and Harvey Dent campaign materials, 42 Entertainment sent fans on a scavenger hunt all over the web and the physical United States — starting with San Diego’s Comic-Con, where one reward was the first image of the movie’s Joker. It gave fans a tantalizing glimpse of the drama to come, and let them feel like the Batman, the World’s Greatest Detective, himself. Add to that the tragedy of Heath Ledger’s untimely death ahead of the premiere of his incredible performance as the Joker, and you’ve got a super-powered level of expectations.
Did it work? The Dark Knight made over $1 billion at the box office and was popular enough to change the way the Academy Awards work.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Why you remember it: Because you had to demand it.
Paranormal Activity was an extremely inexpensive movie, one that seemed destined for a modest indie release and perhaps a chance at becoming a cult classic. But, the marketing team at Paramount had the bright idea of democratizing horror. Trailers were released featuring night-vision footage of shocked and delighted viewing audiences and promising a scary theater experience; would-be moviegoers had to vote on a website, hoping that there would be enough fan demand for Paramount to bring the film to their city or town. The website, which was made with the user-driven event calendar company Eventful’s help, added a sense of urgency and participation in what otherwise might have just been an overlooked found-footage flick.
Did it work? Paranormal Activity cost just $15,000 to make, and it made more than $193 million at the box office. It is, by most accounts, the most profitable movie ever made.
Studio: Artisan Entertainment
Why you remember it: Because you thought it was real.
Without The Blair Witch Project’s marketing, there would be no Cloverfield, no Inception, and essentially no viral movie marketing as we know it today. In the early days of the internet, Artisan Entertainment’s scrappy online team created a website and surrounding hype campaign that claimed the story of the Blair Witch was true. There were interviews with the “missing” characters’ parents and backstories from investigators trying to solve this “true” story. In the real world, missing posters went up around colleges and at film festivals. Because of all the marketing, The Blair Witch Project wasn’t just a low-budget indie horror flick — it was a real, ongoing mystery. Moviegoers and internet users have gotten more media-savvy, so this feat likely won’t be equaled, but The Blair Witch Project was the perfect storm, a way to use technology, advertising, and psychology to turn “based upon a true story” into box office gold.
Did it work? The Blair Witch Project made $248,639,099, which is more than 4,000 times what it cost to make the movie. Also, admit it — you thought, for a second, that it was a documentary.
What were some of your favorite movie marketing campaigns? Let us know in the comments!
2018 has been a banner year for Claire Foy thus far, having already starred in Unsane and First Man — both Certified Fresh — and she’s looking to keep it going with The Girl in the Spider’s Web, due out on November 9. The former star of Netflix’s acclaimed series The Crown takes over the role of vigilante hacker Lisbeth Salander in the new film, as she takes on cyber criminals in cahoots with corrupt government officials. Foy sat down with Rotten Tomatoes to offer her Five Favorite Films, gushing over Meg Ryan and Meryl Streep and describing how she would love to live in the world of a Hitchcock classic.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web opens everywhere on Friday, November 9.
Master horror producer Jason Blum’s has given us modern horror hits like the Paranormal Activity series, The Purge films, Sinister, Insidious, and the Oscar-nominated Get Out. This month his Blumhouse Productions goes classic with Halloween, the sequel to the seminal 1978 slasher movie of the same name, which sees Laurie Strode (a returning Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers (a returning Nick Castle) facing off once again in Haddonfield. Ahead of the movie’s release, Blum sat down with Rotten Tomatoes to reveal his all-time favorite horror movies, which range from a Certified Fresh Hitchcock classic to the movie he says put his company on the map.
Halloween opens everywhere on Friday, October 19.
Step aside Voorhees, we got another Jason killing it at the movies. After just a few years, starting with Paranormal Activity, producer Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions have changed the horror landscape with its brand of so-called ‘low budget, high concept’ releases, carving out a spectacular niche in a market that has seen the alleged demise of mid-budget movies and utter reliance on superhero flicks and blockbusters. Continuing this month’s focus on all things spooky, our gallery looks at 24 best and worst Blumhouse horror movies by Tomatometer (and don’t forget to read our Five Favorite Horror Films with the guy himself).
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Less than a decade ago in 2009, a tiny, inexpensive found-footage horror movie about a young family terrorized by an unseen evil did gangbusters at the multiplex and dramatically altered the genre’s commercial and creative landscape. That film was Paranormal Activity, which made almost $200 million from a reported budget of only $15,000, and it was unveiled to the world thanks to Blumhouse Pictures, a then-fledgling production company founded by Jason Blum.
The following years brought even more success to Blumhouse, which released such films as the Insidious franchise, the Purge franchise, and this year’s acclaimed Get Out, and eventually branched out to include comedies and dramas, like 2014’s Oscar-winnihg Whiplash. At its core, though, Blumhouse remains committed to the horror genre, and this week, its latest offering, Happy Death Day, hits theaters. The story revolves around a college student who relives the day of her death over and over again, gradually unraveling the mystery behind her killer. In the same spirit, Jason Blum has done a Five Favorite Films interview with us before, but we decided to revisit that with an appropriate twist. With that in mind, here are five of Jason Blum’s favorite horror movies.
Because it’s great and because it started it all for me. Paranormal Activity was the first of our independently made/studio-released films. It was also the ultimate low-budget high-concept movie, which is what we are always looking for. Paranormal Activity was the genesis of our model, of which I am so proud.
Because it broke every possible record of ours except one. The one record Blumhouse still holds is profitability as it relates to film budget vs. film gross. All our other records got crushed, and that keeps me humble and hungry, because it was not our movie.
Because Hitchcock was the greatest scary movie maker of all time. Period. Enough said.
Because I believe great horror should work as straight drama if you remove all the horror elements. Rosemary’s Baby is the perfect example of this. It is almost a straight drama anyway, but people think of it as the ultimate horror film. I love that.
Happy Death Day opens everywhere on Friday, October 13.
Why did they make God’s Not Dead 2? The divine hand of the free market christened the original God’s Not Dead with a $60 million box office tally, and against its $2 million budget, that makes it one of the most profitable movies ever in these United States. So, sweet Jesus, of course they would make a sequel! And that inspires this week’s gallery: the 24 most profitable low-budget (under $5 million) movies ever (in America)!
Filmmaker Oren Peli caused something of a box-office sensation with his no-budget, found footage spook show Paranormal Activity in 2009 — the 2007-shot horror frightened more than $100 million out of American audiences’ pockets, which is not bad considering the production budget was around $15,000 (or the cost of one of Michael Bay’s home video insert shots.) Peli found further success as the producer of the movie’s two profitable sequels, along with working on last year’s Insidious and TV’s The River. This week he serves as the producer on Bradley Parker’s Chernobyl Diaries, a horror about a bunch of tourists who decide it’s a good idea to take a holiday in the former Soviet Union’s most notorious nuclear waste zone — where they discover they’re not alone. (“In Russia, tour takes you,” etc. Thanks; we’re here all week.) While promoting the film, Peli took a moment to send in his Five Favorite Films via email — and here they are.
Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986; 91% Tomatometer)
Amazing Stephen King story, great cast and direction by Rob Reiner. Love the sense of nostalgia and friendship of the boys.
Another amazing Stephen King story. This movie is just about perfect. Love the sense of hope, revenge, and triumph.
Beautifully directed by Danny Boyle, I can watch this movie over and over again and never get tired of it.
Truly a masterpiece.
One of the scariest movies I’ve seen, and a direct inspiration to make Paranormal Activity.
Chernobyl Diaries is in theaters this week.