From the earliest days of cinema, horror has proved enduring in its popularity, yet also an endless cause of controversy. There have always been those who complain loudly that films which explore the dark side of the human experience can only have a damaging effect on audiences. At the same time, though, there are few more surefire ways to sell movie tickets than for someone on a high horse to declare that you shouldn’t go see it.

As restrictions on film content relaxed from the late 60s onward, horror movies responded accordingly. Such shockers as The Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre went to far greater extremes in their depiction of bloodshed and brutality than cinema had ever gone before, ushering in a new era of fright flicks that prompted even greater alarm from opponents of the genre. However, the massive success of The Exorcist and Jaws also proved that there was big money in shocks and gore.

By the end of the 70s, hits like Halloween, Dawn of the Dead and Alien set a template that countless filmmakers would imitate in the decade that followed. Advances in make-up and visual effects allowed for increasingly ambitious and outrageous visions. Masked slashers, marauding zombies and all manner of monstrosities came blasting forth onto the screen, often accompanied by neon lighting and screeching synthesizers. (It was the 80s, after all.)

We’re sure you’ll agree that many of the best scary movies ever made come from the 80s. We invite you to vote up your favourites below, and if you think we’ve missed any then feel free to add them at the bottom of the screen.

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Aliens

Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror Alien made a significant impact on the genre film climate, but when James Cameron was tasked with calling the shots on its 1986 follow-up, the result was one of the most distinctive, memorable sequels ever, which really stands apart as a great film in its own right. We rejoin Alien's sole survivor Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as she awakens after drifting through space in suspended animation for 57 years. To her horror, LV-426 - the planet on which she and her crew encountered the deadly Xenomorph - has now been colonised. However, when contact with the colony is lost, Ripley is enlisted to serve as an adviser on a rescue mission, alongside a team of Marines. On reaching the planet, Ripley's worst fears prove correct: the colonists are all dead, and the aliens have taken over. Alongside the Marines, she must now battle to stay alive and wipe out the alien threat, which is even greater than she imagined. The real masterstroke of Aliens is that, rather than try to match Alien as a horror movie, it goes in a different direction, embracing gun-toting action - hence the tag line, 'this time it's war.' Cameron had already proven his skill as an action director with The Terminator, and Aliens further cements this, with explosive set-pieces aplenty. Central heroine Ripley really comes into her own here. Weaver commits hard to the role, and landed a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her efforts; a rare accolade for a sci-fi film. However, Aliens is a tremendous ensemble piece all around, with memorable supporting turns from Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein and Bill Paxton. Two more Alien sequels came in the 90s, followed by the two Alien vs Predator films and Ridley Scott’s prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. However, most would agree the series has never again reached the heights it did with Aliens.

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An American Werewolf In London

In the early 80s, director John Landis was famed for his comedy hits Animal House and The Blues Brothers - so when he decided to try his hand at horror with 1981's An American Werewolf in London, no one was quite prepared for the results. David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are Americans back-packing across Britain. Ignoring the advice of locals, the duo cross the Yorkshire moors by night, where a horrifying attack leaves Jack dead and David badly wounded. Waking in a London hospital, David is cared for by nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) with whom he develops a romantic connection - but he's haunted by horrific nightmares, and visions of his dead friend Jack, warning David that he is about to become the same as the creature that attacked them: a werewolf. While Landis handles the comedy as skilfully as on his earlier films, the director takes the horror elements entirely seriously. The result is a film that’s just as scary as it is funny, hence An American Werewolf in London is frequently held up (alongside Evil Dead II) as the greatest comedy horror film of all time. An American Werewolf in London was a true ground-breaker for special effects, thanks to Rick Baker’s still-astonishing werewolf transformation, for which he was awarded the first ever Best Makeup Oscar. The film also had a big fan in Michael Jackson, who enlisted Landis to direct his iconic 1983 music video Thriller, for which Rick Baker again provided the makeup.

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Gremlins

This 1984 horror comedy from director Joe Dante and executive producer Steven Spielberg proved to be a game-changer for the movie business in ways that the filmmakers might not have anticipated. Written by Chris Columbus (who went on to write The Goonies and direct Home Alone), Gremlins is set in the idyllic small town of Kingston Falls in December, Gremlins centres on Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan), a young bank teller whose father Randall (Hoyt Axton) gives him an unexpected early Christmas present: a mysterious but extremely cute little animal called a mogwai. However, the mogwai - which they name Gizmo - comes with three important rules. First, he must be kept away from bright lights; second, he must never get wet; and third, he must never be fed after midnight. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a story if all three of those rules didn't get broken - and once they have been, Christmas in Kingston Falls turns into a disaster zone, as the quaint little town comes under attack from the malevolent Gremlins. Director Joe Dante came to Gremlins having made his name with horror movies Piranha and The Howling, so it's hardly surprising that his first move into more family-oriented movies would still be on the sinister side. The often intense scenes of threat and violence sparked an outcry from parents and critics, who considered the film far too dark for the PG rating it had been granted in the US. This controversy over Gremlins - as well as similar outrage over gruesome scenes in another 1984 PG-rated blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - prompted Spielberg to suggest the introduction of the PG-13 certificate. The MPAA agreed, and the PG-13 was introduced later that year. Still, despite the nasty bits, Gremlins is still largely good-natured fun. The creatures are very cartoonish in look and temperament, and this humour keeps things from getting too grim. The comedy came even more to the forefront in Dante's 1990 sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which saw the return of Zach Galligan plus supporting actors Phoebe Cates and Dick Miller.

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Predator

By 1987, Arnold Schwarzenegger was already established as the biggest action star on the planet - but he'd rarely been pitted against an adversary that seemed to pose him a genuine threat. This changed with Predator, the sci-fi action thriller that became one of the Austrian Oak's most enduring hits. Dutch (Schwarzenegger) is the Major in command of an elite commando team. Hired by old buddy Dillon (Carl Weathers), a solider-turned-CIA agent, the team fly out into the Central American jungle on a rescue mission. However, when events take a sinister turn in the jungle, the team realise there's something out there hunting them - and, as Sonny Landham's Billy puts it, "it ain't no man." Predator was the first major movie from director John McTiernan, who - thanks to both this and his follow-up film, 1988's Die Hard - would become one of the biggest Hollywood action filmmakers of the decade that followed. Sadly, his later collaboration with Schwarzenegger - 1993's Last Action Hero - didn't turn out quite so well. With Schwarzenegger heading up a cast of muscular he-men, Predator is one of the most testosterone-heavy films of the 80s. Infamously, it very nearly co-starred another action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was initially cast as a very different-looking alien hunter. However, as Van Damme was far shorter than most of the cast (and was said to be difficult on set), it was decided the 7'4" Kevin Peter Hall would make a more imposing adversary. The Predator was also redesigned by Stan Winston, giving us the dreadlocked, crab-faced monster we know today. Reviews were lukewarm on release, but today Predator is held up as one of the best action movies ever. Sequel Predator 2 followed in 1990, before 2004's sci-fi action crossover Alien vs. Predator and its 2007 sequel Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. Since then, the series has been rebooted twice with 2010's Predators and 2018's The Predator.

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The Lost Boys

Directed by Joel Schumacher, The Lost Boys is a teen-oriented horror movie that rejuvenated the vampire for a new generation of audiences. With a handsome, charismatic ensemble cast, this 1987 box office hit helped launch the careers of many of its young up-and-coming stars. Set in the fictitious California beach town of Santa Carla (but in fact mostly shot in Santa Cruz), the film centres on teen brothers Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), new in town with their struggling single mother Lucy (Dianne Wiest). Michael soon becomes infatuated with mysterious local girl Star (Jami Gertz) and falls in with her friends, a rebellious gang of long-haired, leather-clad bikers headed up by David (Kiefer Sutherland). After drinking a strange red liquid as part of a gang initiation, Michael finds himself experiencing nightmarish symptoms, and the younger Sam quickly realises the horrifying truth: his big brother is turning into a vampire. With a title that nods to Peter Pan, The Lost Boys was originally conceived as a children's film for Richard Donner to direct, as a companion piece to his earlier hit The Goonies; but when Donner decided instead to offer Joel Schumacher the director's chair, Schumacher 're-vamped' the project into something hipper, edgier and more mature. The Lost Boys marked the first collaboration of the 'Two Coreys,' Haim and Feldman, the latter of whom appears as comic book store clerk and self-proclaimed vampire hunter Edgar Frog; the teen idol duo would re-unite in several other films in the years ahead. It also gave an early role to Alex Winter, who would achieve fame alongside Keanu Reeves in 1988's Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Meanwhile, Kiefer Sutherland would re-unite with director Joel Schumacher in another teen-friendly horror, 1990's Flatliners. Two direct-to-DVD sequels would follow in 2008's Lost Boys: The Tribe and 2010's Lost Boys: The Thirst, while a TV reboot of the franchise is currently in the works.

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The Shining

Although it received a tepid response upon its 1980 release, Stanley Kubrick's The Shining has since been hailed as "the most stately, artful horror ever made," and is considered one of the most terrifying films of all time. Adapted from the landmark Stephen King novel of the same name, The Shining sees aspiring writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) take a job as a caretaker at the mysterious Overlook Hotel for the winter months. While there, he and his family (Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd) encounter a series of strange and horrifying situations that ultimately drive Torrance mad. The film has become infamous for the scene in which Torrance tears through a door with an axe in an attempt to kill his wife and child. It was revealed in Making The Shining, a fly-on-the-wall documentary created by Kubrick's daughter, Vivian, that Shelley Duvall collapsed from exhaustion after providing a series of escalatingly hysterical takes. Nicholson's infamous line, "Here's Johnny!", taken from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, originally fell on deaf ears with the British Kubrick and was nearly cut. It has since become one of the most enduring lines in film history. The Shining was something of a sleeper hit at the box office, ultimately grossing $46.2 million on a budget of $19 million, though critical responses were mixed. A Variety review pilloried the film, lamenting that "Kubrick has teamed with jumpy Jack Nicholson to destroy all that was so terrifying about Stephen King's bestseller." King himself was similarly nonplussed, and even supervised a rival version made for television. In retrospect, the miniseries has been compared unfavourably to Kubrick's film.

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The Terminator

Directed by James Cameron and starring former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger as the eponymous killing machine, 1984's The Terminator is a science fiction film that proved to be a breakthrough for both its director and its star. Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) is sent back in time from a post-apocalyptic future where machines have overthrown humanity, his mission being to protect Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), whose son will grow up to lead the human resistance. However, the machines have also sent something back in time: a terminator, a machine encased in living tissue with the sole purpose of eliminating Connor. Made on a budget of only $6.4 million, The Terminator topped the North American box office for two weeks and accrued a worldwide haul of $78.3 million. Not only that, but the film spawned a wildly successful sequel in 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day as well as a further four films. The Terminator continues to be a pop culture stalwart, most notably for Schwarzenegger's delivery of "I'll be back," a line repeated not only in further films in the franchise, but also in other Schwarzenegger projects and countless other films. The actor had previously struggled to find work in Hollywood due to his thick, Austrian accent, but a string of action and comedy roles soon arrived in droves. Schwarzenegger would later parlay his iconic performances into a run for the governorship of California; while running, and once elected, he frequently became known as 'the Governator' in reference to his 1984 role. The character was most recently revived in 2019's Terminator: Dark Fate, which saw Schwarzenegger reunite with Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and James Cameron as producer.

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