Horror movies often live in the shadows of the mainstream, their challenging topics and visuals often centring them somewhere outside of the zeitgeist-forming pop culture sphere. And yet, every once in a while a horror movie will seep into the public consciousness, speaking to a national or global populous in a way that most horror films never get the chance to. These films become the unforgettable horrors of their decades, of people’s lives, and inevitably end up causing such a stir that their success can be measured at the box office. Often, the higher the box office total, the more significant a horror film’s cultural impact.
In this edition of Ranked, we at The Film Magazine are analysing and critiquing the 10 highest-grossing horror films of all time in order to judge which films excel the most as pieces of art, of entertainment, and of cultural significance. We will be ranking these films from worst to best in terms of their overall qualities as pieces of cinema, relying on the box office figures from the-numbers.com, which only ranks movies that self-describe as horror and thus actually embrace the genre from which they have found success. As a result, there are several potentially controversial omissions such as The Sixth Sense (which is apparently a drama/mystery/thriller) and World War Z (which describes itself as an action-adventure film). These are: the 10 Highest-Grossing Horror Films Ranked.
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10. The Nun (2018)
Box Office Total: $363.4million
A prequel to the beloved and lucrative Conjuring Universe, The Nun is the sixth highest-grossing horror movie in global box office history more for its association with greatness than for any greatness of its own.
Co-written by The Conjuring director James Wan (who also directed the original Saw movie), The Nun is more a cash-in on a lucrative horror formula than it is a passion project – perhaps this is why Wan didn’t direct the film himself. Cheap jump scares and dull interludes ensure that The Nun doesn’t even come close to the heights of its franchise brethren.
Slow and seemingly disjointed, this horror prequel can be described as tedious, its position at the bottom of this list representative of it being a lesser kind of horror: the corporately backed cash-in variety that seeks to exploit an intellectual property rather than create something meaningful, challenging or memorable.
Recommended for you: The Nun – the Prequel We Didn’t Need
9. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016)
Box Office Total: $314.1million
As riddled with clichés as any B-movie horror or other Resident Evil film, this sixth instalment in the popular video game-to-movie franchise is far from high art, but for those fans who stuck with the movies through the rise, downfall and rise again of the video games, it offers some reward.
Unlike every other film on this list, you perhaps need a 24-hour period to brush up on all the lore, the references and so on, in order to truly come to love the schlocky story that Resident Evil: Afterlife tries to sell you. And, even to its own fans, it feels cheap and looks dramatically less sophisticated than not only other films of the period but of television shows like ‘The Walking Dead‘.
Afterlife isn’t going to win any awards, or be anywhere close to a 10 Best Horror Films of All Time list, but not every horror has to be. This 2016 Paul W.S. Anderson horror is turn-your-brain-off fun, filled with just enough zombie killing to maintain your attention at a watch party or to satisfy the urge for blood and guts.