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The Best Horror Movie Trailers Of All Time

A good horror trailer is a very tough needle to thread. First of all, it obviously has to be scary, but it can't do that while also sacrificing every single great moment from the film it's promoting, or the audience feels they've already seen everything they need to see. Second of all, it has to also look appealing, and not so unpleasant that all but the die-hard fans of the gruesome will avoid it. And, of course, it has to intrigue you beyond simply being a 90-second mini movie. You have to want to know more, even though the "more" in question is terrifying.

How good horror trailers are made and what they contain has evolved over the decades, but great horror trailers all seem to have that final trait in common — they all make us want to know more, whether they're packed with scares or just exist as a simple proof of concept. Every horror fan has their own favorites, but here are a dozen of the absolute best horror trailers of all time, all of which made us want to immediately go see the films they're promoting.

The Shining

The teaser trailer for The Shining tells you a lot about the movie. It tells you that Stanley Kubrick directed it, that Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are starring in it, and that it's based on Stephen King's bestselling novel of the same name. And... that's just about it. It doesn't show you anything about the movie's characters or plot, or what the stakes are, or who or what we're actually supposed to be afraid of.

And yet, this trailer still works nearly four decades after it was released. If you know King's novel and what's in store for the characters in this film, then this trailer is simply an evocative hint at the carnage and terror to come. If you know nothing about the book and the only information you have about the film is provided by these scrolling credits, then you're simply watching this incredibly striking static shot play out before you, probably with wide eyes and a dropped jaw. Even after you've seen the film, you'll realize that this image still doesn't tell you anything about the actual plot, other than the metaphor of blood being spilled in this haunted hotel. It's just so striking and evocative that it ultimately becomes mesmeric, like we're being hypnotized into watching this film whether we want to or not.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist has a reputation for being one of the scariest films ever made, if not the scariest film ever made. When a movie carries a moniker like that, you have to wonder what it was like to see it marketed to a new audience in real time. Like The Shining, it had the advantage of being based on a bestselling novel, so there's already some name recognition, but that aside, what would a trailer for such a film look like? The answer is an outright assault of horrific images.

There's very little in this trailer about life before demonic possession crept into this family. There aren't a lot of happy images of Linda Blair living normally before evil took hold. We are simply shown that something horrible has happened, a mother is at the end of her rope, and there's very little hope left to cling to. Then, amid all of that, the titular exorcist emerges in a spotlight, in the film's most famous shot. The movie trailers of the 1970s weren't necessarily good at avoiding spoilers (they weren't really trying), but they definitely knew how to get right to the point.

The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project did not invent the found footage subgenre, or even the found footage horror movie, but this particularly popular variety of scary movies would not be the same today without it. It's a landmark film, and that's thanks in part to a clever marketing strategy that never seemed to let on too much that the whole thing was fictional.

The earliest teaser trailers for the film, about three students who get lost in the woods while making a documentary about a local witch legend, set it up almost exactly as modern documentary trailers might. We were given a title card letting us know the premise, with the chilling final line "A year later their footage was found," and then simply shown glimpses of said footage without any "this is only a movie" context to let us know we were watching people pretend. It simply looked like frightened people who, as far as we knew, were no longer alive. Of course, the whole thing really was just a cleverly executed viral marketing campaign, but in 1999 it was much easier to believe that wasn't the case, and trailers like this only added to the mystique.

Goodnight Mommy

Some horror trailers go for the most outright obvious jump scare moments they can find, and it's easy for an audience to find the beat and get happily lost in the thrills for a couple of minutes. Other trailers lean into the unsettling nature of the plot of the film they're promoting, and the result is something that's less like fun and more like intrigued discomfort. The trailer for Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy is very much the latter. 

We see the quiet planning between two brothers and the mysterious masked figure of the mother, all while the editing and score drive home the point that something very wrong is happening, even if the trailer never makes it quite clear what that something could be. Then, the key moment happens: a cockroach crawls into the mother's mouth, and she calmly bites down and begins chewing. That it's done so calmly and deliberately only makes it more unsettling, and that's the theme of the entire horrifying trailer.

The Conjuring

The Conjuring was one of the biggest horror hits of 2013, grossing more than 15 times its budget as a runaway blockbuster that has since spawned a sequel and three spinoff films, with more on the way. It's easy to see why. The film packs in many of the greatest hits of haunted house movies, from terrifying apparitions to strange invisible forces to creepy jump scares, all seen through the lens of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who act as a guiding force for the audience. 

The trailers for the film help drive this point home. They're all scary, but one that holds up as particularly effective is a teaser that leans into one of the film's most memorable horrors: the clapping hands that seems to appear from nowhere. This teaser is bookended by claps. The first comes rather quietly, just in the background, where the characters are unaware that anything strange is going on, and thus they don't react. Then at the end, we get the famous clap-in-the-dark moment that remains one of the film's most effective scares. It's a showcase of how versatile these horror devices can be.

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense was an era-defining horror movie that established M. Night Shyamalan as a major player in genre filmmaking, made Haley Joel Osment a star, and brought new focus to the importance of a good plot twist in a certain kind of thriller. Its trailer is nothing particularly groundbreaking in terms of editing — it looks like it's promoting a film that's very much of its time. What makes it so effective years later is the way it includes all the right moments at exactly the right time.

Yes, "I see dead people" remains the most famous line from the film, and indeed it's one of the most famous lines in movie history, but the trailer doesn't lead with that. Instead, it leads off with a quieter moment featuring Cole (Osment) and his mother sitting in traffic, and an ordinary conversation turns chilling when the boy reveals that a woman who was just killed is standing next to his car window. Then the most famous line arrives a few cuts later, but not before we've had time to sit with how creepy this kid's whole existence is. That makes all the difference.


Alien, Ridley Scott's sci-fi horror masterpiece, has one of the most compelling opening sequences of all time: a slow panning shot across space as the film's title is slowly revealed through a series of simple white bars that eventually intersect to form letters across the top of the screen. It's eerie and compelling, and it ensures that the director has your attention.

The trailer for the film takes its cues from that opening shot, offering up a tracking camera over an alien landscape as those same white bars slowly spell out a title. From there, we get a hatching egg that gives way to images from the actual film itself, as a nightmare in the darkness of space (where, we must remember, no one can hear you scream) plays out before us. In its own way, it's just as strange and unsettling as the movie itself, in miniature, even if the egg we're shown looks almost nothing like what's in the final film. It works anyway.


Many of the horror films that moviegoers eventually consume today are first trotted out at film festivals. Because of social media, diehard fans of scary movies begin hearing about these upcoming releases from festival attendees long before they're able to actually see them. That means the hype machine starts early and loud, making it very hard for films to live up to their own advance reputation.

From the moment it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Hereditary was being called the scariest movie of 2018, but it would be nearly six months before the film's theatrical release. That meant when the trailer finally landed, it had to make a very clear point about the film. It had to prove to us as moviegoers that we really were going to walk into the scariest film of the year if we bought a ticket, no matter how stale the buzz surrounding the film might feel to us. It works. Taking liberally from Toni Collette's brilliant lead performance and peppering the drama of grief with disturbing images from throughout the film without real context, the Hereditary trailer plays out like a waking nightmare we can't escape from.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is one of the most loved and best-received slasher movie sequels of all time, in part because of its efforts to play with the franchise's mythology in new and interesting ways. This teaser trailer for the film has nothing to do with that, but it doesn't matter. It's a very simple, very slow setup, as a camera pans around what turns out to be a little girl's bedroom. The familiar Freddy Krueger nursery rhyme plays on a music box as we follow the camera around the bed and over to the dollhouse sitting on the little girl's lap. Then, like a Jack in the Box, a familiar gloved hand pops free, and the title appears.

That gives us absolutely nothing to go in terms of the film's plot, or its stars, or anything else we might expect from the next installment. It simply tells the audience, after one really fun scare, that Freddy is back, and that they'd better get ready. That was the power of the Freddy Krueger brand in 1987, and that's what allowed us to get one of the most amusing horror trailers ever.

The Strangers

If you saw this trailer for The Strangers with an audience in a movie theater back in 2008, you will no doubt remember a very familiar phenomenon. The trailer begins and we get scenes of a couple in love going about a quiet evening at home. Perhaps there's a little tension between them, and we're about to see a trailer for a very direct romantic drama. Then the shot happens. You know the one. Liv Tyler is standing in the middle of the house, near the kitchen, and a figure in a mask emerges in the background. Murmurs of "huh" and "What the hell?" ran through the theater, and then real horror began, and there was no letting up.

This trailer lulls its audience into a sense of predictability before dropping the hammer of what's really going on, but not before this single casual bit of misdirection to make us feel unnerved before we feel terrified. It's a common tactic in horror trailers, but few have ever done it quite this well, and the scenes of horror that follow are perfectly timed, right down to the chilling last line explaining to the protagonists why they've been targeted: "Because you were home."

Black Christmas

The Black Christmas trailer is, like so many trailers of its era, rather long and not at all concerned about giving away spoilers. Most of the murder scenes in the movie can be found in this footage, including the very first one. In fact, the trailer makes liberal use of the film's famous final shot. There's no sense that the trailer is discouraging audiences from seeing the film by giving too much away, and that's because this lengthy trailer leaves out something very important and very intriguing: context. 

Watching this, we have no idea what would cause someone to do this — let alone do it on Christmas — and by the time the footage ends we are compelled to find out, particularly because the trailer includes footage of the killer's mindless rages within the sorority house, and his terrifying voice. Then, of course, there's that closing narration, featuring the film's famous tagline: "If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl, it's on too tight." It's a wonderfully creepy portrait in miniature of a holiday horror classic.


Us was always going to be one of the most talked-about films of 2019. Writer/director made sure of that when he made Get Out, a modern horror classic that earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2018. Horror fans everywhere were always going to flock to see the film, no matter what the trailers turned out to be like. Then the first trailer landed... and everyone was rightfully impressed.

Peele's film is still shrouded in secrecy, but it follows a family (led by Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong'o) who go on vacation and find themselves stalked by people who look exactly like them. The trailer shows us only snippets of what the resulting confrontation looks like, but its creepy secret weapon might be the way the doppelgangers seem to be constantly grinning in various ways, particularly in low light. That's something that will remain scary even with the context of the final film, but it's particularly disturbing when we have no idea why they're behaving in such a strange way. Us is going to be one of the biggest scary movie events of the year, and this trailer shows off a big reason why.