Horror’s already looking great in 2023. There are established masters doing some of their best work in years, undeniable new talents making waves with their first or second big features, and old franchises breaking records at the box office. And it’s still only March.
With so many good horror movies out in just a few months, it’s already time to start listing the best of the best, and giving options for everyone from the scaredy-cats to the horror-curious to the freaks (in a good way) who can’t get enough fright and gore. No matter what you like, there’s probably already a 2023 horror movie for you, and to help you find it, we put together a list of the year’s best horror so far, ranked by how likely they are to give you a chill — and what kind of chill that might be.
Because everyone deserves the exact fright they want, we’ve ordered them based on scariness. Scariness isn’t an easy thing to define, so we’ve divided the topic up into two categories: terror, which could be anything from creepiness to something genuinely frightful, and gore, which is just about how bloody a movie ends up getting. Each category gets a rating out of five, then we add the two numbers to reach a (more or less) scientific scariness score.
So for everyone looking for a good scare, here are the best horror movies of 2023 (so far), ranked from least to most scary. And for a broader look at the year in movies, here’s our list of the best movies of 2023 so far.
Run time: 1h 42m
Director: Gerard Johnstone
Cast: Allison Williams, Violet McGraw, Ronny Chieng
A horror comedy with an emphasis on comedy, M3GAN is easily one of the most fun and least scary movies on this list. It’s also one of the best. The story follows a career-obsessed toy engineer named Gemma who has been tasked with taking care of her recently orphaned niece, Cady. Instead of actually doing anything, Gemma builds a robot to parent Cady, and things quickly go off the rails. Murder and mayhem ensue, but thanks to the movie’s constant barrage of jokes and its PG-13 rating, it stays fun and creepy without ever actually getting too far outside the comfort zone of just about any moviegoer. —Austen Goslin
How scary is M3GAN?
Total scariness score: 3/10
Run time: 1h 23m
Director: John Hyams
Cast: Gideon Adlon, Bethlehem Million, Dylan Sprayberry
John Hyams is one of my favorite directors working today, so it’s no surprise that his COVID-19 slasher Sick worked well for me despite many of the COVID elements of the movie not landing. A modern master of tension, pacing, and brutal action scenes, it all comes together in a slick 80-minute package, following two college students who travel to a cabin in the woods at the start of the COVID outbreak, and encounter an unexpected guest.
More tense than scary, there is nonetheless some gore in this one, including some broken bones and a few spurts of blood. —Pete Volk
How scary is Sick?
Total scariness score: 5/10
Sick is available to stream on Peacock.
Run time: 1h 57m
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman
Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature is a dystopian vision of the world as nothing more than a playground for the uber-wealthy (yes, even more than it already is). The movie is set at a resort where the wealthy go to get away in a country where all of its strict laws can be bent, broken, or otherwise twisted if you’ve got the money. There’s cloning, murder parties, drug-fueled orgies, and Alexander Skarsgård on a leash, so basically everything you need for a good tropical vacation, or a good trippy horror movie that asks a lot of questions about how you know you’re really you or if you’ve been replaced by something lesser. As for gore, Infinity Pool is a little less subtle, going hard on the blood and guts of the clones and showing close-ups of people dying in all sorts of horrible ways. —AG
How scary is Infinity Pool?
Total scariness score: 6/10
Knock at the Cabin
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Cast: Dave Bautista, Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge
Seldom has a day passed that Knock at the Cabin has not crossed my mind since I first went to see it in theaters. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest psychological horror thriller centers on a family, Eric, Andrew, and Wen (Jonathan Groff, Ben Aldridge, and Kristen Cui), who are terrorized by a group of four heavily-armed kidnappers while vacationing in a remote cabin located in rural Pennsylvania. The kidnappers, however, have no intentions of either harming them or demanding ransom; quite the opposite. Leonard (Dave Bautista), the unofficial leader of the group, tells the family that he and his “associates” have been commanded by a higher power to plead with the family to sacrifice one of their own. The alternative? The death of every single human being on the planet, with the exception of the family.
Based on Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel The Cabin at the End of the World, the terror of Shyamalan’s film is not found in its moments of gore, which are bracing yet brief. Nor is it attributable to the global scenes of apocalyptic imagery that unfold outside of the cabin’s walls, the kind of cataclysmic spectacle one would expect from a late-aughts Roland Emmerich disaster epic. No, these surface-level scares are only window-dressing for a far more terrifying, existentially troubling question that goes virtually unuttered throughout the course of the film but nonetheless exists at the fulcrum of its thematic focus and power. Why does God ask the most from those who have already lost so much? Furthermore, why are we so often asked to love those who would choose instead to hate us, so much so that we would be willing to sacrifice what happiness we have in our own lives for the sake of those who would likely never so much as spare a thought, let alone their own happiness, on our behalf?
It’s not exactly the type of question horror audiences are used to being asked, which more often skew toward more sensationalized subjects such as “Wouldn’t it be fucked up if someone like, kidnapped somebody and tortured them?” or “Wouldn’t if be fucked up if rich people like, cloned themselves and had weird sex and went on killing sprees?” Knock at the Cabin doesn’t propose such easy and escapist scenarios, but rather poses one that challenges its audience to look inward and ruminate not only on disparity between one’s beliefs and what one does unto others, but with the question how much they are willing to sacrifice for sake of a stranger.
I guess one of the reasons why Knock at the Cabin affected me so deeply is because, after I walked out of the theater and drove home, I couldn’t stop turning a question around in my mind. That question was and remains this: If this exact scenario were to play out today, and a trans woman, or a migrant child, or an unhoused person were presented with the same ultimatum given to Eric, Andrew, and Wen, and they chose their own love over the lives of others, could you blame them? —Toussaint Egan
How scary is Knock at the Cabin?
Total scariness score: 6/10
Run time: 1h 40m
Director: Kyle Edward Ball
Cast: Lucas Paul, Dali Rose Tetreault, Ross Paul
There’s a scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke Skywalker is commanded by his master Yoda to enter a cave in order to advance in his training as a Jedi. When asked by his apprentice what is inside the cave, Yoda gravely replies, “Only what you take with you.”
While Yoda was in fact describing the Dark Side of the Force, he could have easily been talking about Skinamarink. The feature horror debut of director Kyle Edward Ball has more than earned its reputation as one of the year’s most surprising and divisive releases. Produced on a crowdfunded budget of $15,000 and filmed in Ball’s childhood home in Canada, the film has been equated as cult favorite on par with that of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s seminal found-footage horror classic The Blair Witch Project not only for its content, but its controversial composition.
Skinamarink’s narrative is confounding at times and more often than not inscrutable, with its focus primarily on skewed off-center hallway shots, chasmic shadows, and flickering television screens beaming reflections of ghoulishly distorted cartoons. The basic gist of the film’s premise concerns two children, 4-year-old Kevin and his 6-year-old sister Kaylee, who awaken one night to find that their father has seemingly disappeared… along with every door and window in the house. Their mother appears bedridden until she too mysteriously vanishes without a trace. Worse yet, Kevin and Kaylee are not alone. Someone — or something — is also inside the house, twisting reality into ever more phantasmagorical shapes, and it wants the pair to come upstairs and play a game with them… or else.
Truth be told, Skinamarink is not going to land for everyone who sees it. This is mostly attributable to the fact that, much like the cave Yoda urges his young Padawan to enter, what you’ll get out of the film is entirely dependent on what you bring into it. If you come into this film expecting clearly defined characters, conventional cinematography, crystal-clear sound design, and a definite beginning, middle, and end, boy are you in for a frustrating watch. But if you approach Skinamarink with the mindset of, say, a latchkey kid with an overactive imagination who grew up in the ’90s, you’ll discover a film as primordial and terrifying as any of your most unspeakable childhood nightmares. Your mileage may vary! The only way to know for sure is to watch it.
A word of advice, though: Please turn your phone off and turn off all the lights when you watch Skinamarink. It really does make all the difference. —Toussaint Egan
How scary is Skinamarink?
Total scariness score: 6/10
Run time: 1h 50m
Director: Robbie Banfitch
Cast: Robbie Banfitch, Angela Basolis, Scott Schamell
The Outwaters is a found-footage movie about a group of friends who go missing while exploring the Mojave Desert. While most found footage is more about the horror you don’t see and the mysteriousness of the disappearances of the characters, The Outwaters prefers to keep its violence front and center, putting together what’s sure to be one of the gnarliest horror movies of the year with incredible-looking blood and guts. On top of that, the movie’s full of disconcerting images and creepy cosmic horror — at least when it’s bright enough for you to see what’s going on. —AG
How scary is The Outwaters?
Total scariness score: 9/10