The horror film industry was in a bit of transition as the new millennium began. A lot of ground have been covered during the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, with the 2000s representing a chance to try and reinvent the wheel a little bit. The result was a collection of horror films forced to think up ingenious new ways to scare people, while delivering a unique premise at the same time.

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It was an era of bold premises and challenges to the format that included a lot of misses. However, there were also a lot of hits that continue to spurn great sequels and franchises to this very day. Some of the best are underrated, while others flew under the radar. The remainders were full-blown hits that entered the public consciousness and became part of pop culture mythos.

10) Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Quinn Lord as Sam in Trick ‘r Treat (2007) via Warner Bros. Pictures

Throughout the 20th century, anthology movies often flew under the radar of mainstream horror fans. This changed in the 2000s, especially when it came to great films like Trick ‘r Treat,best described as a spiritual follow-up to the comedy/horror anthology classic Creepshow.

Halloween is always a big horror movie staple, but it’s easy to lose track of what makes the holiday so special. Trick ‘r Treat was able to utilize the best aspects of Halloween to deliver in spectacular fashion, with several short form tales designed to entertain.

9) The Descent (2005)

Shauna MacDonald as Sarah in The Descent (2005) via Celador Films

The Descent is a scary movie because it attacks the viewer on two fronts. The first revolves around a cave spelunking trip gone horribly wrong, complete with dark corridors and claustrophobic settings in otherwise alien-like environment. The second are the creatures that inhabit the cave, which are actually plausible on some fronts.

That’s the major draw of the film, which scares the viewer by tapping into the timeless and deeply rooted fear of the dark. It does this while grounding the premise in atmosphere that feels not just authentic, but probable as well. 

8) 28 Days Later (2002)

Cillian Murphy as Jim in 28 Days Later (2002) via DNA Films

It’s tough to be unique in the zombie genre, but 28 Days Later managed to accomplish it on several fronts. The movie begins with a man awakening in a hospital to learn that London, England has gone deathly silent in the wake of a terrifying viral outbreak. 

Viewers got to experience what it was like to be in such circumstances by going through the mystery along with Cillian Murphy’s character. Danny Boyle directed this film to perfection, utilizing degraded VHS-style footage on purpose, in order to cement the film in a foundation of narrative authenticity. 

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7) The Mist (2007)

Thomas Jane as David Drayton in The Mist (2007) via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Very few films manage to have a far more depressing ending than the original, but The Mist accomplished that by taking Stephen King’s original short story, and upping the tension considerably. It’s considered an instant cult classic that still deserves far more recognition than it received. 

Stephen King even approved of the changed ending, which is one of the most traumatizing in recent memory. That doesn’t even take into account the rest of the film that has a bunch of small town citizens stuck in a supermarket as monsters terrorize them through an enveloping mist.

6) High Tension (2003)

CeĢcile de France as Marie in High Tension (2003) via Alexandre Films

High Tension is a French film about two women trying to escape a murderous psychopath. While that premise alone isn’t enough to stand out amongst the crowd, High Tension’s unbelievable twist makes it notable, which we won’t spoil for viewers who have yet to give it a go. 

Besides that, the film is exceptional on all fronts. Its special effects, acting, and directing are all top notch, which makes it worthy to stand alongside its landmark counterparts.

5) Paranormal Activity (2007)

Katie Featherson as Katie and Micah Sloat as Micah in Paranormal Activity (2007) via Blumhouse Productions

Paranormal Activity is controversial amongst the horror community, as a lot of fans think it’s overrated, but there’s no denying the impact it had on horror for years to come. It capitalized fully on the found-footage horror motif brought to prominence by the original Blair Witch Project, which spawned countless copycats. 

Like that seminal film, Paranormal Activity also managed to gross a ton of money on a shoestring budget. It was an indie film that managed to make waves in Hollywood, and even birthed a franchise, as well as knock-offs and parodies in the process.

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4) Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Sarah Polley as Ana Clark in Dawn of the Dead (2004) via Universal Pictures

In the wake of the first zombie movie, there were many copycats, but for some reason they all pretty much followed the same formula. It wasn’t until Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead that zombies finally became terrifying for the new millennium.

Besides the updated zombie trope, it also features some great actors and characters that inspired a new generation of zombie films. This doesn’t even take him to account the film’s opening, which is extremely well shot. Still, diehard zombie fans remain divided over the Olympic sprinting prowess of the film’s titular undead. 

3) Saw (2004)

Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon in Saw (2004) via Twisted Pictures

Horror is one of the few genres that amateur filmmakers can try to make an impact in. The story behind Saw’s creation is almost as compelling as the film itself. The premise was fairly simple – two individuals are locked in a room, and forced to make the most terrible decisions of their lives.

The story kind of evolved from there, and created one of the most successful horror franchises in recent memory. It did this all without any supernatural elements, and yet somehow elevated Jigsaw alongside other horror icons like Jason and Freddy, even if his motives were not explicitly evil. 

2) Cloverfield (2008)

Michael Stahl-David as Rob Hawkins in Cloverfield (2008) via Bad Robot Productions

Cloverfield is exceptional for a multitude of reasons. Besides the brilliant marketing scheme it employed, it’s also a monster movie, yet it was filmed in a way that is undoubtedly horror-themed. As such, it was equal parts Godzilla ripoff, disaster film, and found footage horror narrative.

The truly unique monster design went a lot way towards giving the film a sense of uniqueness and believability, even if it would not make a reappearance in the franchise’s loosely-linked pseudo-sequels. 

1) The Ring (2002)

Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller in The Ring (2002) via MacDonald:Parkes Productions

It’s very difficult to remake a horror film – especially a foreign horror film – and exceed the original. The Ring did just that, however. It managed to somehow capitalize on the source material to create an even more complex story with more nuance and character development.

It’s no surprise that in its wake there were dozens of other remakes to Japanese horror films. It also created a pop culture phenomenon with its “seven day” motif. In fact, it’s one of the few horror remakes from that era that withstand the test of time, fully cementing itself in pop culture references for years to come. 

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