Scientists Determine Scariest Movies of All Time, With Surprising Results


New research has revealed the 50 scariest movies of all time, and the winners may not be the films you’d expect.

The ranking is the fourth annual report from broadbandchoices Science of Scare Project. Researchers equipped 250 participants with heart monitors which recorded their reactions as they watched hundreds of hours of spooky movies. The scores are determined based on heart rate (HR), as well as heart rate variance (HRV), and then are assigned a “Scare Score” out of a possible 100.

As a point of comparison, the animated movie Shrek has a Scare Score of three out of 100, Science of Scare shared in a statement to press, via Daily Mail.

With a Scare Score of 96 out of 100, Sinister was determined to be the scariest movie of all time. It was previously voted the scariest movie of all time in 2020, before being unseated two years in a row by trendy Zoom-horror Host (which fell to No. 2 this year).

“Our audience experienced a 34 percent uplift in heart rate when watching [Sinister], from 64 BPM up to 86 BPM across the movie, with the film’s scariest moment sending hearts pounding to 131 BPM,” researchers said in their statement. According to the report, the results indicated “a perfect balance of startling moments and slow-burn scares.”

Scott Derrickson’s post-found-footage thriller stars Ethan Hawke as a true crime novelist who moves his wife (Juliet Rylance) and children into a house where a series of notorious family murders have taken place. Before the silly third act, it’s a genuinely unnerving movie, with haunting visuals and a terrific industrial score.

Surprisingly, the top ten preferred lower-budget, direct-to-streaming titles over legacy ones. Rounding out the top were 2022’s experimental film Skinamarink, James Wan’s haunted house yarn Insidious, and Wan’s (now scientifically proven) less effective The Conjuring.

Though it ranked fourth, Insidious achieved the highest BPM spike of the 50 films listed, rising to 133 from a resting heart rate of 64. This means it contains the scariest scene of any movie surveyed. However, the results didn’t elaborate as to which particular moment got viewers so worked up.

Just below Insidious with a BPM spike of 132 was The Conjuring. Sinister (131), Host (130), A Quiet Place Part II (123), and claustrophobic creature feature The Descent (121) also notched significant BPM spikes.

Much further down the Scare Score meter were classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (No. 23), A Nightmare on Elm Street (No. 25), Halloween (No. 26), and The Exorcist (No. 32), indicating that what might have been tremendously effective 50 years ago doesn’t cut it for today’s savvier audiences.

Supporting that trend were the vast number of 2023 titles that made the list, including Talk to Me (No. 10), Evil Dead Rise (No. 36), and Saw X (No. 38). Rather bizarrely, the poorly reviewed Nun 2 (No. 26) was voted to be scarier than The Exorcist.

You can read the full list of results below.

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