Hollywood horror movies often have tiny budgets compared to the biggest summer blockbusters. So, when a horror film does exceedingly well at the box office, it’s actually considered more successful than its big-budget counterparts when comparing money spent to money earned.
Audiences can’t seem to get enough of these films, and they’re willing to head out in record numbers to show their support — despite steadily rising movie ticket prices. Here’s a look at 13 horror movies worth watching that performed insanely well according to Box Office Mojo’s list of top horror films by lifetime gross income at the domestic box office.
13. ‘Scream 2’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $101.36 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $172.36 million
Although some sequels are box-office winners, horror sequels are usually some of the biggest film flops. This was not the case with “Scream 2,” the critically and commercially successful 1997 follow-up to the blockbuster original “Scream.” Just as in the first installment, “Scream 2” parodied the slasher genre and called out the most hackneyed horror movie cliches.
Wes Craven returned to direct the $24 million sequel, and much of the original cast followed him. But, several new arrivals, including Sarah Michelle Gellar, provided some new blood — both literally and figuratively.
12. ‘Annabelle: Creation’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $102.09 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $306.52 million
Produced on a budget of just $15 million, “Annabelle: Creation” terrorized audiences with one of the creepiest possessed dolls since Chucky. The namesake character is the hideous doll/monster from the $1 billion “The Conjuring” franchise. Although audiences first met Annabelle in 2014, the 2017 installment was a prequel, not a sequel.
The movie, which explores the genesis of the demonic doll, takes place in the 1950s when a heartbroken dollmaker decides with his bedridden wife that crafting Annabelle is the only remedy for the sorrow they endured when their own daughter died. Spoiler alert: It was wishful thinking on their part. Everything goes horribly wrong.
11. ‘The Conjuring 2’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $102.47 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $320.39 million
“The Conjuring” franchise owes a large part of its massive success to the second installment.
The 2016 thriller brings back Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as ghostbusters who are tasked with determining the validity of a supposed haunting in London. The haunting, they will discover, is real — as is the super creepy demon nun who runs the supernatural show. The movie had a budget of $40 million.
- Lifetime domestic gross: $103.05 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $173.05 million
Even when you include all movies across all genres and ratings, the “Scream” franchise is still among the most successful series in movie history — and it all started with the original in 1996, which was filmed on a $14 million budget.
One of the definitive horror movies of its decade, “Scream” owned the slasher-flick genre by examining its most overused cliches. The self-aware characters knew they were in a plot but still couldn’t avoid the wrath of the ghost-faced killer. The top-shelf cast included Drew Barrymore, Neve Campbell, Rose McGowan, Courteney Cox and David Arquette.
9. ‘Paranormal Activity 3’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $104.03 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $207.04 million
In 2011, a reviewer from The New York Times took away one fact above all else from the third installment of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise: “invisible demons do not like to be videotaped.”
Made on a $5 million budget, “Paranormal Activity 3” features Toby, a malignant force who travels back to 1988 to terrorize two girls, played by Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown. Fans of the franchise know their characters as adults from the previous installments.
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8. ‘Interview with the Vampire’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $105.26 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $223.66 million
Few horror genres have been done, redone and then done again more frequently than the vampire genre. But, few have done it as well as “Interview with the Vampire” did in 1994. This is probably one of the highest-grossing movies you didn’t know was a book.
As Roger Ebert pointed out in a review the year the movie was released, “Interview” held true to Anne Rice’s vision while putting a new spin on the familiar story of nocturnal, bloodsucking ghouls. It also — perhaps for the first time since “Nosferatu” in 1922 — made the viewer sympathize with vampires and their “endless sadness,” as Ebert put it.
A little help from the likes of Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Christian Slater didn’t hurt, either. The movie cost $60 million to produce.
7. ‘Paranormal Activity’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $107.92 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $193.36 million
When you look at money earned versus the cost of production, 2009’s “Paranormal Activity” might just be the most successful movie ever made.
The “found footage” genre flourishes because, at least in part, it can thrive on super-low budgets. But, at a cost of just $15,000 to make, “Paranormal Activity” set the bar lower — and higher — than probably any legitimate movie to come before or since.
6. 'The Nun'
- Lifetime domestic gross: $115.93 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $359.03 million
“The Nun” was released in September 2018 and was the top-grossing movie of any genre for the entire month. Taissa Farmiga and Demián Bichir lead the cast in this film about a demonic nun, which cost $22 million to produce.
5. ‘The Conjuring’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $137.4 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $319.49 million
The first installment of the franchise is 2013’s “The Conjuring,” which was produced on a budget of just $20 million. Supposedly based on a “true” story, “The Conjuring” tells the tale of a pair of paranormal investigators, played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who are shocked by the supernatural horror they encounter at an old farmhouse they’re investigating.
A review by Rotten Tomatoes, where the movie holds an admirable 86 percent fresh rating, called the movie “gleefully creepy.”
4. ‘The Blair Witch Project’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $140.54 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $248.64 million
Although the publication Screen Rant traces the “found footage” concept to a 1980 B-movie called “Cannibal Holocaust,” the genre undoubtedly owes its success to the 1999 sleeper blockbuster “The Blair Witch Project.” It changed the way movies were made and marketed during the dawn of the internet.
The true OG of the low-budget “found footage” genre was made on a $60,000 budget, but went on to pull more than 4,000 times its weight at the global box office.
3. ‘Get Out’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $176.04 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $255.46 million
The 2017 megahit “Get Out” was produced on a budget of just $4.5 million. Not only is the movie’s commercial success undeniable, but it currently holds a nearly impossible 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which called the thriller “funny, scary and thought-provoking.”
The movie, which chronicles the escalating horror a young man endures while meeting his new girlfriend’s incredibly creepy family, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams.
2. ‘The Exorcist’
- Lifetime domestic gross: $232.91 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $441.31 million
When it comes to horror blockbusters, there is “The Exorcist” and just about everything else. Raking in nearly a quarter-billion dollars at the domestic box office alone, the landmark 1973 story of a young girl possessed horrified audiences, appalled critics and delighted investors, who walked away with a gigantic profit on the movie.
CNN reported in 2000 that the classic cost $12 million to make. It remains the 10th-highest-grossing R-rated movie in history across all genres.
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- Lifetime domestic gross: $327.48 million
- Lifetime worldwide gross: $700.38 million
“It” is Stephen King’s classic tale of terror brought to life on the big screen. Made at a cost of $35 million, “It” has put up extraordinary box office numbers since its Sept. 8, 2017, release.
The story of a small-town demonic haunting — embodied in a monstrous clown named Pennywise — took in $123.4 million on its opening weekend alone, smashing the previous September debut record across all genres by more than $75 million.
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.
This list was compiled using Box Office Mojo’s list of top R-rated horror films. Please note rankings are accurate as of Oct. 15, 2018, and are subject to change.