Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Most Terrifying Horror Movies According To James Wan

Filmmaker James Wan has certainly made his mark on the horror genre, having created some of the most memorable scary films of the 21st century. 

In 2004, Wan directed "Saw," which — along with having one of the most shocking movie endings ever — did extremely well at the box office, making over $103 million worldwide (via Box Office Mojo). The success of "Saw" launched a franchise, and there are now a total of nine "Saw" films, although Wan didn't return to direct any of the sequels. That's because while some of the sequels to "Saw" were being made, Wan was working on other notable horror films, such as 2010's "Insidious" and 2013's "The Conjuring," both of which received sequels that Wan was more personally involved in, either as director, writer or producer. In 2018, Wan took a break from the horror genre to direct "Aquaman" — and will be coming back for its sequel, "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom," which is slated to be released next year — but returned to his horror roots with 2021's "Malignant." 

Wan is undeniably one of the most prominent horror directors of recent years, but which films does Wan himself find terrifying? Well, in a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the director revealed exactly that — his five favorite scary movies. Read on to find out which films Wan finds the scariest and most effective.

The Others (2001)

Written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, "The Others" follows the devoutly religious Grace (Nicole Kidman) as she moves with her two children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), into a house on the English coast during World War II. Her children have a rare disease characterized by photosensitivity, meaning they have to stay inside during most of the day. When Anne and Nicholas claim that their new house has ghosts, Grace is skeptical at first — until she starts noticing strange occurrences as well.

Anyone who has seen the film knows that, like Wan's "Saw," the film also has a very memorable twist ending, involving the revelation of the house's ghosts. Shocking ending aside, Wan finds the entire film to be one of the best of its genre. As he told THR, "Alejandro Amenabar's movie with Nicole Kidman is exquisitely photographed, crafted and oldschool. It's truly one of the finest 'bump in the night' Victorian ghost stories ever committed to film."

Poltergeist (1982)

Generally considered one of the best horror films of all time, it makes sense for "Poltergeist" to have a spot on Wan's list. Written by Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais and Mark Victor and directed by Tobe Hooper, "Poltergeist" follows a family of the suburbs who begin experiencing a malevolent presence in their home. The ghost interacts with the Freeling family — Steve (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (JoBeth Williams), along with their three children — through their television set. Soon, their youngest child, five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke), is missing and the worried parents find themselves having to get help.

For Wan, "Poltergeist" is a major part of his own childhood — and served as a jumping off point into his future career. He told THR, "It's the movie that scarred me as a child and sent me down my obsessive path toward all things evil-doll/puppet-related. It has terrific sound design, too."

Lost Highway (1997)

"Lost Highway," directed by David Lynch (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Barry Gifford), is not always referred to as a horror film — it's usually classified as a neo-noir. However, few who have experienced the nightmarish and purposefully confusing narrative of "Lost Highway" would argue that it's a deeply scary movie, and Wan agrees. For him (via The Hollywood Reporter), it's Lynch's direction — and the elements frequently found in his films — that add up to "Lost Highway" presenting a scary experience for the viewer, including him. "This is the scariest nonhorror film: fragmented narrative, noirish atmosphere, insidious soundscape, moody photography," Wan said. "It all adds up to a classic David Lynch experience."

While it's hard to describe "Lost Highway," the plot follows two intersecting stories — that of jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) suspected of killing his wife, and that of young mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) seduced by a woman looking to cheat on her boyfriend. Both women — Fred's wife, Renee, and Pete's lover Alice — are played by Patricia Arquette. As for how the two plots intersect, well, even if you've seen the movie, the answers aren't so easy.

Jaws (1975)

Now considered one of the all-time great thrillers, "Jaws" became both a blockbuster and a favorite amongst critics when it premiered in 1975. Not only did it make $260 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, but it went on to win three Academy Awards (for editing, score and sound) and was also nominated for best picture (per IMDb).Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb — based on Benchley's novel of the same name — "Jaws" is set in the New England tourist town of Amity Island, where, during the summer, a series of shark attacks begin with the death of a young woman. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) then must hunt down the man-eating shark, alongside marine biologist Matt (Richard Dreyfuss) and professional shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw).

Wan revealed to THR that "Jaws" is one of the many Spielberg films that taught him valuable lessons about filmmaking. He said, "It's the movie that made me terrified of the great, watery unknown. It educated me on the power of suspense filmmaking (along with every other movie by Steven Spielberg) through camerawork, editing, music and mise en scene."

Ring (1998)

Directed by Hideo Nakata, the Japanese horror film "Ring" (or "Ringu") is based on the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki and was adapted for the screen by Hiroshi Takahashi. An American remake of "Ring" was made in 2002, titled "The Ring," which subsequently launched an English-language franchise with sequels coming out in 2005 and 2017. The film that Wan named to THR, though, was the Japanese original, which follows reporter Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), who, after her niece and three friends are found dead after watching a supposedly deadly videotape, sets out to find out what happened. After watching the tape herself, she gets a phone call and is told that she'll die in a week. Determined to fight it, Reiko and her ex-husband Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada) look deeper into the curse and seek out a way to break the spell.

Much like "Poltergeist," Nakata's "Ring" has special meaning to Wan and his adolescence. He said that "Ring" was the film that "reintroduced me to my love for the Asian horror stories that I grew up with."