Horror movies, who doesn’t love them? If one particular film genre has a similar impact to an amusement roller coaster ride, it is the horror movie genre. These movies can drag you through many emotions and are pretty much designed to get your pulse racing and your heart pumping. In particular, jumpscare is the most reliable (and fun) technique the director can utilize to get a rise out of their audience.
However, not all jumpscare scenes are made equal. There are cheap jumpscares that are pretty much added to startle the audience out of nowhere using loud sounds or an in-your-face shot of the monster. No, we are not talking about those types of jump scares here. Today, we are going for the best-crafted ones that catch you unaware but are also perfectly and cleverly set up. These are the horror movie jump scares that will stick with you long after the movie is done.
Before we begin, though, it is pretty apparent that this list will be filled with spoilers. So, spoiler warning, folks.
Best Horror Movie Jumpscares of All Time
1. The Exorcist 3: Legion (1990) – The Hospital Hallway Scene
Where to begin with this one? While the third Exorcist film is often overlooked in favor of the first entry, a true horror masterpiece, it undeniably has one of the most memorable jumpscare scenes of all time. The setup is perfect, the mood is tense, and anxiety levels are ratcheted up to number 11. However, that particular scene is effective in how routine the setup is to the bone-chilling climax.
The scene described here is the famous hospital scene with the nurse in red doing rounds in a pretty quiet hallway. The scene is shot at an almost static angle without any sound except the tapping of the nurse’s heels on the floor. The scene also feels like it is going on forever, in a good way, due to the anxiety that the viewers are undoubtedly experiencing.
You know something might happen, but when? And when the inevitable does happen, the scene immediately cuts off (no pun intended) to let the audience’s mind fill in the gruesome details. But, again, it is simple and effective and will be seared into your brain for the rest of your life.
Duration: 1 h 50 min
2. Insidious (2010) – The Face of Fire
Insidious already has four installments, but nothing comes close to the first one’s iconic scares. The movie is about a family haunted by malevolent spirits when their son falls into an inexplicable coma. Later on, it is revealed in the film that the son, Dalton, like his father, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), has the ability to astral project.
Unfortunately, the son could not return to his body and got lost in The Further, which is similar to limbo. With Dalton’s body and spirit disconnected, the body attracts different lost souls who wish to return to the land of the living. Unfortunately, other more insidious beings are also drawn toward the family.
There are several memorable jumpscares in the film, but one that will stick with audiences occurs during a most unexpected moment. The less it is talked about for those who have yet to see the film, the better, as this scene completely caught everyone off-guard. Interestingly enough, it did not feel cheap as the buildup was quite subtle.
The jumpscare also happened too fast for anyone to properly process what they saw, making it even more disturbing and creepy.
Duration: 1 h 43 min
3. Lake Mungo (2008) – A Vision of Death
This underrated found footage/faux documentary or “mockumentary” film is more drama than horror, but it has some of the creepiest and spine-chilling scenes. The movie is about a documentary crew following the lives of a family who has experienced a tragic loss. Their daughter, Alice, drowned, believing that she was still with them due to several unexplained occurrences.
The film touches upon grief and how people tend to cope with such an unexpected loss of a loved one. Audiences are shown events that happened before and after Alice’s death via home videos and accounts of each family member. One particular unnerving plot is Alice’s premonition of her impending death. This culminates in one of the most disturbing moments in the film when Alice experiences a vivid premonition of her future.
Again, the less said about this scene, the better, but it ranks high as one of the best jump scares of all time. The setup and execution will leave an indelible mark on your psyche.
Duration: 1 h 27 min
4. Hereditary (2018) – Mommy, Stop!
Considered to be among the greatest modern horror movies today, Ari Aster’s horrific and disturbing masterpiece is a one-part family drama and another part demonic possession movie. Hereditary took the torch lit by The Exorcist 45 years prior and updated it for modern times.
Hereditary is generally a slow-burn type of horror film as it focuses more on the mental breakdown of a family in mourning due to the death of Charlie, the youngest daughter. The mother, Annie, played impeccably by Toni Collette, is still haunted by the death of her estranged and mentally ill mother, who she fears has passed on the illness to her.
A series of disturbing occurrences plague the family, which slowly pushes Annie over the edge. Everything culminates in a terrifying and shocking climax that includes one of the most unexpected jumpscares in recent memory. The film felt like it went from 2 to 10 with how it pummeled the audience with one unsettling after another. Be prepared for the movie’s final act, as it is an unrelenting dash to the finish line that will drag you kicking and screaming.
Duration: 2 h 7 min
5. Lights Out (2016) – Keep the Light On
Lights Out are one of those rare horror movies that primarily uses jump scares throughout the movie but is incredibly successful in its execution. This is a full-length feature film based on the award-winning horror short of the same name. In most cases, these types of movies tend to underdeliver. Still, Lights Out expands on the mythology of the original short film that helped breathe new life and levity into the story and characters.
The main threat in the movie is a creature that only exists in darkness and shadows. That premise alone is ripe for the picking for a ton of jumpscare scenarios. The film follows the siblings Rebecca and Martin (Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman) as they confront a malevolent and evil spirit that haunts their mother. The plot touches upon more serious themes such as depression and weaves it with a supernatural element.
Indeed, the film relies heavily on jump scares, but the execution is on-point and does make sense under the context of the movie. Lights Out is a great way to spend an evening if you are looking for a shock-a-minute movie with the tension barely letting up. You might be inclined to sleep with the lights on afterward, though.
Duration: 1 h 21 min
6. It (2017) – Run, Egg Boy, Run
It is a 2017 remake of the classic TV movie based on Stephen King’s novel. This movie delivers on everything that scared us as children—ghouls, ghosts, creepy homeless persons, and a clown.
While it can be said that the original 1990 mini-series did not age well, most horror fans are glad that they got a genuinely terrifying re-imagining in 2017. Bill Skarsgard plays the eponymous evil clown Pennywise with such sinister gusto that audiences are mesmerized and terrified whenever he is on screen.
One of the most memorable jump scares in the movie happens when sweet little Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is investigating the history of the fictional town of Derry in the library. An out-of-place red balloon got his attention, and he followed down the archives section of the library. This is where one of the most disturbing imagery gives chase to the young boy within a maze of bookshelves and flickering lights. It is intense, scary, and has a jump-out-of-your-chair moment that seals its place on this list.
Duration: 2 h 15 min
7. Seven (1995) – The Sloth Victim
Seven is not exactly regarded as a horror film in the traditional sense, but its depiction of its serial killer is the stuff of nightmares. The movie follows two detectives, the hardened and jaded veteran, Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), and the younger and more idealistic Detective Mills (Brad Pitt). The two are investigating the murders of a serial killer who takes inspiration from the Roman Catholic’s Seven Deadly Sins.
The killer, only known as John Doe (Kevin Spacey), is a methodical, cold, and calculating psychopath who will push the two detectives to their limits. Generally, the movie shows some disturbing imagery of the victims that is enough nightmare fuel to last months. However, one specific victim, Sloth, takes the cake as the second most shocking moment in the film – the first being at the climax.
That particular jumpscare hits all the right chords – it is unexpected, undeniably shocking, the implication is disturbing, and it will stick with you long after watching the movie.
Duration: 2 h 7 min
8. It Follows (2014) – The Tall Man Cometh
It Follows is among the recent trend of outstanding and unique horror movies to arrive during the decade, and it will be considered a classic down the line. The film is about a curse inflicted on a young girl named Jay (Maika Monroe). The curse is passed on via intercourse, so yeah, this is a thinly veiled symbol of sexually transmitted disease. But what makes It Follows so memorable and scary is how the curse manifests itself.
Those who have the curse will have an entity that will follow them everywhere. This random person could look like anyone, but it is not human, and it won’t stop until it kills the current victim of the curse. It also casually walks toward its victim, which makes it even more threatening as if showing the inevitability of the victim’s fate.
The movie also holds one of the most bonkers jumpscares put on film. As Jay gets increasingly paranoid, the Entity manages to get into her home. Then, shifting into different forms, the Entity tops it off by transforming into an abnormally tall man. It is so jarring and unexpected that it will undoubtedly leave audiences screaming for the hills.
Duration: 1 h 40 min
9. The Thing (1982) – Open Wide
John Carpenter’s The Thing is based on a 1930s novella called “Who Goes There?” and is also printed as “The Thing from Another World.” Carpenter’s cult classic science fiction horror movie follows the story of a research team in Antarctica that uncovers the remains of an ancient alien underneath the ice. But unfortunately, the alien is not dead, and it starts to carve a path of carnage within the isolated facility.
What happens next is a night of paranoia as the research team learns that the alien can shapeshift into other living organisms, humans included. The movie stars Kurt Russell as helicopter pilot MacReady as he and the other research team members try to kill the alien creature before it kills them all.
One of the most iconic scenes in the movie and one of the most memorable jump scares of all time happens when the paranoia hits a fever pitch. As the group tries to isolate who is not human anymore, the creature strikes in the most grotesque way possible. The level of body horror within that scene alone is enough to make the most hardened horror fan squirm in discomfort.
Duration: 1 h 49 min
10. Deep Blue Sea (1999) – Pulling the Rug
Deep Blue Sea is a cheesy, B-movie-grade, fun popcorn movie that is considered today a cult classic. It stars Thomas Jane, Samuel L. Jackson, and LL Cool J, stuck in a sinking research facility underwater as it slowly gets flooded. What makes the situation worse is that the group is being hunted by three intelligent, genetically engineered super sharks. Yes, the plot is crazy, but it is in the crazy fun category.
Besides having Samuel L. Jackson in the cast, the movie also has the distinction of having one of the most memorable jump scares of all time involving Samuel L. Jackson. For those who have yet to see the movie, the scene indicated here flips an overused cliché in film on its head. However, it is best to go in blind here as the jumpscare is a self-aware moment where the movie is poking fun at its outlandish premise.
Duration: 1 h 45 min