8 Movies That Reinvented The Horror Genre (For Better or Worse)

8 Movies That Reinvented The Horror Genre (For Better or Worse)
Image credit: Legion-Media, Paramount Pictures

From low-budget gems to unexpected masterpieces, these films carved their way into horror history.

1. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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The Blair Witch Project, with its shaky hand-held footage and improvised dialogue, turned the horror genre on its head and left it trembling in the corner. The film gave birth to the now ubiquitous found footage sub-genre, telling the story of three student filmmakers who disappear while filming a documentary about the titular Blair Witch. It was a marketing masterstroke, leveraging the internet to create an urban legend, with many viewers initially believing the events were real. The cast, unknown at the time, maintained the story by staying out of the public eye before and shortly after the release, enhancing the film's eeriness. Critics lauded its innovative approach, and it grossed a whopping $248.6 million against a measly $60,000 budget. For better or worse, after The Blair Witch Project horror was no longer just about high body counts and buckets of blood.

2. It Follows (2014)

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David Robert Mitchell's It Follows took the horror trope of promiscuous teenagers meeting a grisly end and gave it an intelligent, unsettling twist. The film presents a chilling premise where a mysterious entity pursues its victims after they've had sexual intercourse, only relenting when they pass the curse onto another through the same act. The movie doesn't rely on cheap jump scares, instead using its inventive premise to create a constant, looming sense of dread. It stirred a significant amount of conversation and thought within the genre, securing a solid 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and bringing in $23.3 million against a budget of just $2 million.

3. A Quiet Place (2018)

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John Krasinski 's A Quiet Place dared to challenge the traditional rules of horror, bringing forth a near-silent cinematic experience that oozed tension. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where blind alien creatures hunt by sound, the film relied heavily on visual storytelling and sound design, making every stifled breath and crunch of sand a terrifying ordeal. Despite its experimental nature, audiences fell in love with its unique premise, impressive performances, and genuine emotional core, leading it to earn $340.9 million at the box office. The cast, including Krasinski himself, along with his real-life spouse Emily Blunt, had to learn sign language for their roles, adding an extra layer of authenticity to the film.

4. The Babadook (2014)

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Jennifer Kent's The Babadook flipped the script on psychological horror by blending it with deeply emotional themes of grief and depression. This Australian gem tells the story of a widow and her son who are tormented by a monstrous entity from a children's book, the Babadook. The film is ripe with metaphor, equating the haunting Babadook with the relentless nature of mental illness. Despite limited marketing and a small release, the movie found critical acclaim, securing a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It's worth mentioning that Essie Davis, who plays the lead role, received international praise for her performance, despite being relatively unknown outside of Australia. The Babadook didn't just reinvent horror, it plunged it into the abyss of the human psyche, and the genre hasn't looked back since.

5. Get Out (2017)

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Jordan Peele's directorial debut, Get Out, reshaped the horror landscape by brilliantly blending spine-chilling thrills with biting social commentary. The film's story of a black man visiting his white girlfriend's seemingly perfect family is a masterpiece of suspense and satire. Behind the scenes, the film faced initial skepticism, with Peele revealing that Universal Pictures feared it wouldn't appeal to a wide audience. However, the film broke barriers, earning a stunning $255.5 million at the box office against a modest $4.5 million budget. It was hailed as a game-changer, earning a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and winning an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, a feat almost unheard of in horror.

6. Hereditary (2018)

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Ari Aster's Hereditary is a devastating and terrifying examination of familial trauma masquerading as a supernatural horror. The film, featuring an unforgettable performance by Toni Collette, follows a family being torn apart by grief and a terrifying legacy that's passed down from generation to generation. Despite its complex narrative and slow-burning nature, Hereditary was a box office success, grossing $80.2 million worldwide against a $10 million budget. It sparked debates and discussions, with viewers and critics alike interpreting its symbolism in various ways. Notably, Collette's harrowing performance stirred a debate about the Academy Awards' bias against horror films.

7. Paranormal Activity (2007)

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A decade after The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity breathed new life into the found footage sub-genre, turning it into a mainstream sensation. The plot is simple: a young couple records evidence of a haunting in their home. But it's the execution that left audiences on the edge of their seats. Working with a shoestring budget of $15,000, director Oren Peli managed to gross nearly $193.4 million worldwide. Behind the scenes, Steven Spielberg, having taken a copy of the film home, reportedly got so spooked that he returned it in a garbage bag. The film's success spawned numerous sequels and copycats, permanently changing the landscape of horror cinema.

8. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

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Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written with Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods is a deconstructive love letter to horror. It takes the worn-out trope of unsuspecting teenagers falling prey to a deadly threat in a remote cabin and flips it on its head, revealing a high-tech facility controlling the events. The film was shelved for years due to studio bankruptcy, creating a shroud of mystery around it. Upon release, it was hailed as a breath of fresh air, earning a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing $66.5 million worldwide.