15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

With everyone seeing Insidious Chapter 2 this weekend I thought we could count down 15 other ghost stories to keep up at night.  It is interesting that a lot of good ghost films feature boys who see dead people.

#15: Two Thousand Maniacs (1964) The godfather of gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis takes us on an adventure in the south where a small town is still very upset about losing the Civil War. The kills are highly imaginative and coated in vibrant red viscera. The “barrel roll” is a must see. If you haven’t experienced the odd beauty of Two Thousand Maniacs, then its inclusion in this list may be a spoiler.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#14: Ghostbusters (1984) This is one of those films that never feels dated, whether it is a nostalgic viewing or your first time it never ceases to entertain. While not overtly horrific, except of course for Rick Moranis’ over-the-top awkward and cringe-worthy character. It does offer a few jump scares for the less desensitized. The greatness lies in the camaraderie of Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson – their bond is what ensnares most audiences.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#13: The Frighteners (1996) Before tackling The Lord Of The Rings and after his amusingly disgusting films (see Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles, and Dead-Alive) Peter Jackson made this semi-kid friendly spook show. Michael J. Fox interacts with the dead while making a living as a phony paranormal expert. The special effects are top notch and R. Lee Ermey steals the show as usual.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#12: Stir Of Echoes (1999) Richard Matheson was a poet of fear, his words will live forever. I Am Legend is a yearly re-read for me. In this adaptation, Kevin Bacon is in full Bacon form – whatever that means. His son seems to have the ability to communicate with the dead, almost a SENSE of the world beyond the grave. This is one of those great plot devices that is so original it would be interesting to see another film use it. After watching Stir Of Echoes something very odd happens, the only song that is stuck in your head for the following weeks is The Rolling Stones “Paint It Black.” It is almost as bad as the effect of “Time Is On Your Side,” after watching Fallen.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#11: Drag Me To Hell (2009) Sam Raimi’s return to form after the terror of Spidey 3. Carnival shocks abound in Raimi’s allegory for the American debt crisis. A woman is cursed when she is forced to turn a gypsy down for a loan – that will teach the banks what can happen when they fail to help the penniless.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#10: The Devil’s Backbone (2001) Guillermo del Toro’s pirates vs. ghosts film isn’t heavy on the scares but is an example of wonderful storytelling. If you haven’t seen it, I apologize for getting your hopes up about pirates, there are no pirates in a literal sense. There is, however, a giant diffused bomb that provides a symbol of foreboding for all the characters.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#9: The Orphanage (2007) Produced by Guillermo del Toro years after Devil’s Backbone and featuring more orphans and another young boy who befriends a ghost. This time the boy goes missing and it is up to the spirits to help his mother uncover the mystery. This slow burn has an amazing pay off.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#8: The Sixth Sense (1999) A boy who sees dead people and his therapist team up to battle their fear of ghosts. M. Night Shyamalan built his his own trap with Sixth Sense – he made a near perfect film with a twist. After this film his twist endings became his cliché, until he decided he didn’t care about his audience anymore and made Lady In The Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#7: The Ring (2002) Okay, really? Another boy sees the dead. This time the boy’s mother leaves a cursed tape lying around and instead of getting cartoons he gets a dose of student avant-garde filmmaking. This experimental film was made by a dead girl and those who see it die in seven days unless they force someone else to see it – now that’s an interesting way to promote your film. From my understanding: in the original books the curse eventually effects the world and those who have shared the viewing experience are affected by a deadly disease. Too bad the sequel didn’t touch on this at all.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#6: The Fog (1980) John Carpenter’s masterpiece about a small coastal town invaded by a fog filled with ghosts. For such an odd concept Carpenter knew he’d have to have some great actors to pull it off so he casted Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, her mother Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, and we also get Carpenter regular George ‘Buck’ Flower. The Fog offers good scares and a morality tale.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#5: The Others (2001) While Nicole Kidman awaits any news of the first Doctor Who, who’s battling in WWII, she must maintain her mansion with a list of bizarre rules. Her children cannot be exposed to direct sunlight so the house has to be ran a certain way: all the doors must be locked and curtains drawn. Her children are not vampires in case you were wondering, instead there is something more nefarious occurring in the home. With The Others we have another slow build, probably too slow for some, but while waiting we are able to see wonderful cinematography and little details that each have the opportunity to elicit shock.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#4: Paranormal Activity (2009) Though I love older films with much more fervor than most of the current genre titles, Paranormal Activity scared the hell out of me in the theater. The ability to build and release tension created a Pavlovian effect in audiences. It’s night time, we’re ready to anticipate another encounter. Found footage creates fear by paying tribute to classical tactics, where less is truly more. Though these films are bound by a minuscule budget they use the old adage to their advantage: What an audience can imagine is always more terrifying than what we can show.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#3: Poltergeist (1982) Tobe Hooper, under the guidance of Steven Spielberg, created a film so terrifying that if it were release today as it would have also acquired an R-rating for being too scary. This film taught us a valuable lesson, never build your house on top of an Indian burial ground. This film created an irrational fear of clowns and trees that followed me through my entire childhood.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#2: The Shining (1980) Yet another film where boys and ghosts interact, but this is the granddaddy of all ghost stories. I suggest a double feature of The Shining and Room 237, it may be the best four hours ever. The Shining works because there is no set-in-stone meaning, some say it is an allegorical tale for the death of the American dream – I kinda like that. Whatever meaning you have of the film and its ending, the perfection of The Shining will stay with you forever, and ever.

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

#1: The Haunting (1963) Tagline: You may not believe in ghosts but you cannot deny terror. Robert Wise created a perfect ghost story filled with skeptics and psychics. A doctor brings a motley crew of people to Hill House to investigate if it is truly haunted. The mansion has a history of death and insanity, as time goes on for these investigators it becomes apparent that the house only wants one of them. “We couldn’t hear you in the night. No one could. No one lives any nearer than town. No one will come any nearer than that. In the night. In the dark.”

15 Best Supernatural Ghost Story Movies

Okay, so what did I miss?  What should have been number 1?  Let me know in the comments below.

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  1. You missed Ghost, of course. Patrick Swayze, the sexiest most sensitive ghost of all time! Glad you got my favorite ghost film in there: The Orphenage. Good list!

  2. The Fog would be my no.1 one of my fave films.

    The most scary Ghost film i’ve ever seen was a made for TV film about a family who move into a new home that is haunted by a demon. Sally Kirkland stars in it, i think it’s early 90′s. I can remember loads of black shadows following them around the house and it even follows them while they are camping. I also remember a demonish spirit pouncing on the father while walking down the stairs in the middle of the night. It scared the shit out of me when i was a kid and has always stuck with me. I ‘d love to see it again but it’s not on DVD :( Has anyone seen this film?

    • Thanks for making my search a lot easier Doc, i just found the whole film on youtube :)

  3. Pretty good list (although I’d leave a few of these off my personal list..), but I’d say the glaring omissions are The Innocents (1961) [C'mon, that is a ghost classic! Beautifully shot! Creepy kids! Deborah Kerr!!!] and The Legend of Hell House (1973) [which was mentioned above in the comments, but I'm mentioning it again, cause it's great!], as well as Carnival of Souls (1962) and Kuroneko (1968). Also I have to recommend The Eclipse (2009), a film that isn’t really a ghost movie yet it has ghosts and it has a couple scares that will make you shit yourself. Also, it has Cirián Hinds… I totally and highly recommend it.

  4. Yeah, as Kevin above says, The Changeling with George C. Scott. Chilled me as a kid and watched it again recently and still loved it. Some of the recent films like The Conjuring seem to be going for that same chill effect and aesthetic.

  5. You missed the best and most terrifying plus suspenseful movie, which you had mentioned earlier before the list, of course, The Conjuring. That’s my number one and you should watch it yourself and have the fright of a movietime.

  6. The original Ring movie from 1998, by Hideo Nakata, is SO much better than the american remake. In fact, I left the theatre while watching the remake, it being so soft compared to the original. Really, it’s worth a watch.

  7. The changeling is far too often forgotten but is a terrifying film with a real story. If you have not seem it, get it now. George C Scott is superb.

  8. How “The Changeling” wasn’t in the top 5, let alone even mentioned, but “Paranormal Activity” was… blows me away.

  9. I would really include: Evil Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, amityville and A Tale of two sisters.
    That is a great list, although I am not much a fan of Del Toro or the Sixth Sense.

  10. Well I didn’t like the list at all. It misses far too much in favor of films more well known but by far lower quality.

    Here’s my list:

    1. The Fog (1980)
    2. The Uninvited (1944)
    3. The Shining (1980)
    4. The Entity (1981)
    5. The Changeling (1980)
    6. Mama (2012)
    7. Ju-On (2003)
    8. Lake Mungo (2008)
    9. The Haunting (1963)
    10. Dead of Night (1945)
    11. Poltergeist (1982)
    12. Ringu (1998)
    13. The Woman in Black (2012)
    14. Darkness Falls (2003)
    15. House (1986)

  11. Tamina – sorry this is a late reply but yes as others mentioned it is The Haunted (1991). Funnily enough I watched it years and years back and looked it up recently after seeing The Conjuring as I was sure I had seen The Warrens in another film previous to this.. and lo and behold yes – The Warrens were the investigators on that case too.

    Personally I thought The Haunted was much better than the Conjuring even though it was a TV movie.

  12. Good list, but there are definitely some key films missing, such as the previously mentioned “The Entity”, “The Changeling”, and “The Legend of Hell House”… all creepy as HELL… I’m particularly surprised about “The Changeling”, I would think that’s an obvious choice… also, IMO “Legend of Hell House” is better than “The Haunting”, but both well deserved entries… I would also have personally included “Burnt Offerings” and “The Sentinel” :)

  13. On a side note, I was really happy to see “The Devil’s Backbone” on the list… a FANTASTIC film all around… Del Toro is a brilliant storyteller, he certainly knows how to spin a good fairytale… I wish he’d go back to his roots

  14. These three movies are older but they are
    awesome The Changeling(George C. Scott) and The Other(not to be confused with The Others which is already on the list) and a made for T.V. Movie called Don’t go to sleep

  15. A Tale of Two Sisters was awesome. Mama was awesome. The Woman in Black was awesome. I would happily replace Paranormal Activity with any of these films. Take your pick. Otherwise, good list. I’ll have to check out The Haunting.

  16. Another obvious missing one is Ghost Story with Fred Estaire. I’m not personally I great fan but I’ve seen it on many many best ghost film lists. Then of course there’s those films with segments and some of them have good ghost moments.

    It could always be argued that Blair Witch is a ghost film since the Witch herself is never seen and we are never given any indication that she has any kind of physical presence.

    There’s always Darkness Falls which I loved and I would certainly include in a top 20. Then there’s Gothika which deserves a mention. But it’s always the older films like The Changeling, THe Entity and The Uninvited which are the glaring ommissions.

    Seriously… you think Sixth Sense is BETTER than these? THat’s bordering on criminal!

    Let alone Paranormal Activity being on there which is pretty dire as a film and found footage is done so SO SO much better by others such as Lake Mungo

    • “Let alone Paranormal Activity being on there which is pretty dire as a film and found footage is done so SO SO much better by others such as Lake Mungo”

      Lake Mungo was Not scary, it is only scary if you get scared watching people talk about ghosts…give me a break!

  17. I loved “The Uninvited” (1944). It has some humor to it, the ghostly effects are awesome and there isn’t any gore. “The Legend of Hell House” (1973) is sufficiently creepy. It’s an old one starring Rodney McDowell.

  18. I’m glad to see so many other people mention it, The Changeling is a masterpiece and it seems weird to have comedies on the list but not this or anotherchilling classic mentioned several times in the comments, Ghost Story.

    I’ll concede Paranormal Activity is extraordinarily popular but it still seems a sad placeholder in the list.

    I think the best ghost movie that isn’t horror would be Truly Madly Deeply. If the list canhave comedy there’s room to add a love story.

    Fun list all around though! Enjoying checking this site out especially as we enter the season.

  19. Severe lack of Asian films, Ju On, Ringu, Shutter, A Tale Of Two Sisters? I’d also remove The Ring and Drag Me To Hell (why you ask? Because it was dreadful, admit it to yourself). I’d move Paranormal Activity way up the list, although it is not a bad film. I’d also shove Ju On and Mama on there, plus possibly Shutter and The Innocents, because even as a new age horror fan, that made me uneasy when I went up to bed.

  20. First of all, thank you for the great list. There are several of my favorites on the list as well as many I haven’t seen.
    I’m a lover of the classic ghost tale, and so I would have to suggest Ghost Story (1981) starring a very old Fred Astair. This is a completely spooky, thrilling, and slightly poignant ghost-y tale that we just love.

    • This is a GHOST story list, not demonic or satanic movies. There was nothing about ghosts in The Exorcist.

  21. Here are a couple I think have been missed:

    Ghost Ship
    Dark Water
    The Amityville Horror
    Mama
    The Woman in Black
    What Lies Beneath

    -Chalkie

  22. I been trying to find this ghost movie that was about a family moving into a house, they found out it was haunted with three ghost women as sisters…they try to steal their souls and impersonate as them with a creepy music recorder from like 1800s or something. I dont know if im explaining well enough but thats all i can remember. And it had to be made in the year 2000 to 2005

  23. Another great Ghost movie which gave me the creeps: Grave Encounters.
    Another one is “The Conjuring”

  24. My own list for supernatural thrillers would be as follows:

    1) The Haunting – Robert Wise (1963)
    2) Legend of Hell House – John Hough (1973)
    3) The Changeling – Peter Medak (1980)
    4) The Skull – Freddie Francis – (1965)
    5) The Entity – Sidney J. Furie (1982)
    6) The Innocents – Jack Clayton (1961)
    7) Audrey Rose – Robert Wise (1977)
    8) The Woman in Black – Herbet Wise (1989) British TV Movie
    9) Apartment 143 (Emergo) – Charles Torrens (2011) Found footage better than Paranormal Activity.
    10) The Haunted – Robert Mandel (1991)

    I feel most modern supernatural thrillers are too full of artifice, and try too hard to help the viewer feel scared, cueing the viewer with jump scares (a very amateur tactic) and loud jarring music. William Friedkin showed how to unnerve the audience without the use of loud jarring music through the creative usage of contrasting soft and quiet moments with loud frenetic ones – see the Exorcist.

    Ghost movies most effective scares are created by inducing creepy and uncomfortable viewing. For instance, Paranormal Activity 3 with the panning camera mounted on a swivelling fan. As it panned from side-to-side, the audience was allowed to build up their own expected scare moment in their imagination…very effective.

    The Haunting and Legend of Hell House didn’t require ‘jump’ scares, as the subject itself induced a creepy apprehension in the viewer, and all the director needed to do was to play with the viewer’s imagination.

  25. I am so excited to see some know of The Uninvited (1944), The Innoncents (1961) and The Haunting (1963). These are THE BEST as far as I’m concerned. I did not like The Eclipse so much, but as a music teacher/musician, I liked the music, so I downloaded the soundtrack. It is always interesting to me how latin proclaiming the deity of Jesus ends up in horror movies. That is the cost of knowing what the Latin means – makes it no longer creepy. I did like HAUNTER which is a twist with the ghost being haunted by the living and another ghost. 6 SOULS is a good one too. I have been searching for good ghost stories and have found that Japan, Cambodia and Taiwan make some good ones. TWO SISTERS is a really good one. I don’t mind reading the subtitles if the story is good. That one is worth it! Check out Asian ghost stories, they are great stories!

  26. One of my favourites is Between Two Worlds (1944). It wasn’t scary and the end was a bit cheesy but it was very thoughtful.