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Scary Movies Directed By Actors Ranked

Actor-directors (or is it director-actors?) are nothing new to cinema. You had Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the silent era, Orson Welles in Hollywood's Golden Age, and celebrated Academy Award winners like Robert Redford, Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, and Ben Affleck. More recently, there are multi-hyphenate, all-of-the-above creative talents like Donald Glover and Greta Gerwig. But many of these talented thespians tend to dabble in comedy and drama, two traditionally actor-director friendly genres. But there's a subset of actor-directors who've gone down a different, darker path — horror and thriller films. In many ways, these actor-directors may be the most impressive. 

Contrary to their reputation, scary movies require multi-talented directors who know how to use cinematography, camera work, performances, and editing to elicit a response from the audience — namely fear. Comparatively, your average drama or comedy director really just needs to point the camera at a talented performer. Many actor-directors have dabbled in the scary movie genre, and some even chose thrillers to make their debuts. It's not a bad strategy either, as it shows studios and moviegoers that your directorial debut isn't just a vanity project; you know and care about the craft of filmmaking. Every actor-director who's made a scary movie has succeeded at spooking us, but who's done the best at keeping us up at night? Plug in your night light — here's our ranking of scary movies directed by actors!

9. Dead Again - Kenneth Branagh

Kenneth Branagh is heir to Laurence Olivier as the most Shakespearean actor-director of his generation. Heck, he even played 'ol Bill Shakespeare in 2018's "All Is True." But while Branagh's best known for bringing the Bard to the big screen, he also directed "Thor," played Hercule Poirot in "Murder on the Orient Express" and "Death on the Nile" (both of which he also directed), and then there's his magnum opus — playing Dr. Arliss Loveless in "Wild Wild West." Hey, we all make mistakes. But in 1991, Branagh took a detour into darkness, directing and co-starring with his then-wife Emma Thompson in "Dead Again."  

Thompson plays a mute woman suffering from amnesia (talk about a double whammy) who joins forces with a private investigator (Branagh) to find out her history. Turns out she has a mysterious and possibly supernatural connection to a murder in the 1940s involving a couple. "Dead Again" is a solid neo-noir suspense thriller with some early '90s flare. Both critics and moviegoers generally liked it, with David Ansen from Newsweek saying that, "It may be cotton candy, but it's well spun." Less impressed was the legendary Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, who thumbs-downed the film, saying, "The film's constant inter-cutting of past and present lives becomes laughable." However, his reviewing partner, Roger Ebert, called it one of the best films of the year

"Dead Again" did surprisingly decent at the box office, earning $38 million, more than $82 million in today's dollars. In any event, "Dead Again" looks much better on Branagh's resume than "Wild Wild West."

8. Play Misty for Me - Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood is one of the most famous Western movie stars of all time and one of the most prolific directors in the genre. Heck, he's one of the most prolific directors, period, with dozens of directorial credits on his resume. And it all began back in 1971, not with a cop action flick or a Western but the original "overly attached ex-girlfriend" thriller, "Play Misty for Me." Clint plays against type as a San Francisco DJ who gets bored with his relationship, so he picks up a lady at a nightclub. Turns out this random one-night stand was actually a psychotic super-fan who calls into his station requesting he play "Misty." Also, she wants to stalk and kill him. We're not relationship therapists, but we think that might be toxic behavior. 

It's a straightforward '70s-era suspense thriller elevated by Eastwood's direction and the performance of the late, great Jessica Walter as the bonkers babe he bedded. While Eastwood's career would go much further, critics and moviegoers dug his directorial debut. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times even gave it the full four-star monty, saying, "There is no purpose to a suspense thriller, I suppose, except to involve us, scare us, to give us moments of vicarious terror. 'Play Misty for Me' does that with an almost cruel efficiency." The film taught us Eastwood had the makings of a great director ... and to not sleep with crazy people.

7. Misery - Rob Reiner

By the late 1980s, Stephen King was over film adaptations of his work, so he took a hard pass when studios dangled cash for the movie rights to his 1987 bestseller "Misery." That is, until one director's name came up. Spielberg? Scorsese? Coppola? No, Meathead. Actually, Rob Reiner, who after his star-making stint as Archie Bunker's left-wing son-in-law on "All in the Family" began a successful directing career — including an adaptation of Stephen King's novella, "The Body", which became "Stand by Me." King actually told Reiner that "Stand by Me" was his favorite adaptation of his work, though he added the caveat that this didn't mean much. It did get King to pry his fingers from "Misery" and got Rob Reiner a job. 

James Caan (in a part originally intended for Warren Beatty) plays a novelist who, after a serious car wreck, is nursed back to health by his "biggest fan," played by Kathy Bates, in a part Bette Midler turned down but won Bates an Oscar. Turns out this fan doesn't care for what Caan did to her favorite character, so she does what any sensible person would do and imprisons him. Basically, she was a pre-internet Twitter fan. Watching "Misery" is not, well, misery (at least not from a quality standpoint), with Richard Schickel of Time saying, "Popular moviemaking — elegantly economical, artlessly artful — doesn't get much better than this." Stephen King adaptations don't either.

6. A Quiet Place Part II - John Krasinski

While John Krasinski will probably be known as Jim Halpert from "The Office" for the rest of his life, horror fans will also remember him for two impressive films in one frightening franchise — the "Quiet Place" series. Of course, the second film certainly had its string of bad luck, along with any other movie originally scheduled for release in 2020. "A Quiet Place Part II" had its world premiere on March 8, 2020, right before COVID-19 lockdowns took effect nationwide, pushing the film's official release date back to September 2020, then to April 2021, and then again to 2021's Memorial Day weekend. But "A Quiet Place Part II" appears to have been worth the wait, at least according to critics who really dug the film

Chris Hewitt of The Minneapolis Star Tribune gave it a full 4 out of 4 stars, saying, "I ... was skeptical Krasinski could top [the first film], but I'm here to shout loudly that he has." Stephanie Zacharek with Time was equally impressed and was poetic in her praise, saying, "Krasinski, once again, teases out an overarching vibe of near-despair that's effective for sure: Even more than the first film, this is a vision of neighborly Americana, shattered." Given the apocalyptic film came out one year after an earth-shattering pandemic, one suspects "A Quiet Place Part II" has hit differently in a post-COVID world.

5. The Gift - Joel Edgerton

Joel Edgerton has put together a pretty solid career as a "oh hey, I know that guy" actor. Casual moviegoers may recognize the Australian actor as "that guy" from "Zero Dark Thirty," "Warrior," or "The Great Gatsby." But he made his directorial debut for the 2015 thriller that he also wrote and co-starred in — "The Gift." The film stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as a married couple who have their perfect lives turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of a mysterious old acquaintance, played by Edgerton. The old pal starts leaving the couple mysterious gifts, leading to a shocking reveal about his relationship to the husband. 

While moviegoers were mostly so-so on "The Gift" (though it did manage an excellent $58 million worldwide on a $5 million budget), critics dug it. Top critic Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars, saying, "Just when we think we know where 'The Gift' is going, we're surprised. And then surprised again." And while Edgerton's follow-up film was the critically praised "Boy Erased," we certainly hope he'll return to scarier films after this top-notch gift of a thriller.

4. Us - Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele made perhaps the most impressive jump to horror of any actor-director when he went from one-half of the comedy duo "Key & Peele" to becoming the heir to M. Night Shyamalan as a thriller director who can score a blockbuster opening weekend on his name alone. As amazing as 2017's "Get Out" was both critically and commercially, Peele's 2019 follow-up, "Us," may have been more impressive. One, it showed Peele wasn't a one-trick pony. Two, the movie opened to $71 million, nearly three times its $20 million product, based solely on Jordan Peele's name and the creepy marketing material. That's the biggest opening weekend ever for an original horror film. "Us" didn't slow down either, with $175 million domestically and $256 million worldwide. 

So what's "Us" about? Honestly, we're not sure ... and we've seen it. Basically, a family on a beach vacation is stalked by four jumpsuit-wearing strangers who look exactly like them. Turns out it's not just the family being stalked by devious doppelgängers but the entire world. Peele's strange, inventive "Us" could've face planted, especially after the high expectations following "Get Out." But in addition to its massive box office, critics absolutely loved "Us," with Hannah Giorgis of The Atlantic calling it, "A sharp, often funny meditation on the terrifying power of human connection," and Dan Stubbs with NME saying the film "confirms Peele as that rarest of things — a true auteur." From comedy actor to horror auteur. Consider "Us" amazed.

3. A Quiet Place - John Krasinski

Coming into 2018, John Krasinski's directing career was nothing to write home about. In 2009, he'd helmed "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men," a movie that majorly bombed with critics and audiences. Then in 2016, he directed "The Hollars," which also majorly bombed with critics and audiences. In other words, the man was standing at home plate with two strikes against him ... and then he knocked it out of the park.

Krasinski finally found directorial success with his 2018 blockbuster "A Quiet Place" — a sci-fi horror movie that reinvigorated his career. In the film, Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt play a married couple in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, trying to keep their family safe from an unseen menace that attacks on sound. Any sound. Like, the sound of you scrolling through this article right now. It's intense. 

"A Quiet Place" had a cool setup, but the setup isn't worth anything without solid execution. Krasinski and crew delivered, earning across-the-board adulation from critics and moviegoers. Perri Nemiroff with Collider Video said it best when she explained, "Sure, it's just a movie, but 'A Quiet Place' is so effective that you'll be deathly afraid of making a sound." So what "Psycho' was to showers, "Jaws" was to the water, and "Play Misty For Me" was to sleeping with stalkers, "A Quiet Place" was to simply making noise. Of course, with $188 million domestically and $335 million worldwide (on a tight $17 million budget) — the most of any movie on this list — we imagine there were plenty of people screaming in the movie theater.

2. Get Out - Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele's journey from jokester to a modern master of suspense in the Hitchcock mold would be like if Adam Sandler became Martin Scorsese. It's that improbable, which makes it that much more impressive. And it all started with 2017's "Get Out." Peele's style of keeping outrageously inventive ideas grounded in reality and using sci-fi/horror as a way to tackle social issues has drawn comparisons to "The Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling, (so it's no wonder Peele hosted the 2019-2020 reboot). However, "Get Out" defies comparison, despite its simple premise of an interracial couple meeting the in-laws (who turn out to be murderers). "Get Out" is definitely a sci-fi horror film, but it's also hysterically funny, startlingly surreal, David Lynch-esque, and strikingly subversive — and it still works! 

"Get Out" is the kind of film you'd expect critics to love but to bomb in theaters, which is probably why Blumhouse only budgeted it for $5 million. That investment paid off, as "Get Out" earned $176 million domestically and $252 million worldwide, as well as heaps of praise from critics and moviegoers. As Mark Kermode with The Guardian put it, "Beneath the beatific smile of 21st-century liberalism, 'Get Out' finds the still grinning ghoulish skull of age-old servitude and exploitation unveiled during a rollercoaster ride into a very American nightmare." Peele's debut as a writer-director won him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and it's one of the best scary movies that an actor ever directed.

1. The Night of the Hunter - Charles Laughton

"The Night of the Hunter" was the first and only film directed by Charles Laughton, the British thespian of stage and screen, who won an Academy Award for 1933's "The Private Life of Henry VIII." Laughton directed his film in 1955 as his acting career was slowing down, though he delivered one last Oscar-nominated performance in 1957's "Witness For The Prosecution." But instead of helming a stage adaptation, Laughton adapted "The Night of the Hunter," based on the disturbing novel of the same name by Davis Grubb, itself based on a real-life murderer. 

Robert Mitchum gives arguably his career-best performance as the Rev. Harry Powell, who meditates on "love" and "hate" — which he has tattooed on his fingers — while murdering women and children. And things get intense when Powell sets his sights on a young widow and her two kids after learning they have $10,000 in stolen cash. The performances are impeccable, the script is terrific, but what makes "The Night of the Hunter" a masterpiece is Laughton, who uses silent era expressionistic techniques to take on this haunting tale of good and evil. Sadly, the film flopped, and Laughton never directed again, though "The Night of the Hunter" has since been vindicated by critics and fans. In 2008, the influential French film journal Cahier du Cinéma even ranked it the second greatest film of all time. While we may not go that far, "The Night of the Hunter" is the greatest scary movie ever directed by an actor.