THE TOP 15 HORROR DIRECTORS OF ALL TIME
For this Halloween blog, I’ve put together a list of the greatest horror directors of all time. As I’ve done with other lists, I scoured the internet and compiled lists of the best horror directors from websites like Ranker, IMDB, Pop Matters, and others. After I got all the data together, I counted how many times each director was mentioned on each of the best-of lists. Two directors, the top two, were ranked somewhere on every list, so they were the clear-cut winners, and I would call it a tie for the best of all time, even though I have a clear winner and a favorite in my mind. I’ll include a list of my top ten favorites at the end of this post, which will be different from the top ten I listed from my research.
Just a quick note before we begin: I didn’t want to include any directors who had only directed one horror movie, and that excluded some of the greatest film directors like Stanley Kubrick, William Friedkin, and Steven Spielberg – and it would also be excluding some of the scariest and best horror films like: The Shining, The Exorcist, and Jaws. Spielberg was tough to exclude because he directed Jaws and also worked on Poltergeist. Some believe he really directed Poltergeist, but Tobe Hooper got the credit, so I had to exclude Spielberg.
So, without further ado, here are the top 15 horror directors in reverse order and some of the films they are most famous for:
15. Roger Corman: The Terror, The Raven, The Masque of the Red Death.
14. Ti West: The House of the Devil, Cabin Fever 2, The Innkeepers.
13. James Whale: Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1932), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
12. Guillermo del Toro: Cronos, Mimic, Blade II, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak.
11. Mike Flanagan: Absentia, Oculus, Gerald’s Game, The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix limited series), Doctor Sleep.
10. Lucio Fulci: City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, Zombi, The New York Ripper.
9. Alfred Hitchcock: Psycho, The Birds, Rear Window, Vertigo, Frenzy, Family Plot.
8. Dario Argento: Cat O’ Nine Tails, Profundo, Phenomena, Inferno, Tenebrae, Suspira, Opera.
7. James Wan: Saw, Insidious, Dead Silence, Death Sentence, The Conjuring.
6. Sam Raimi: The Evil Dead series, Drag Me to Hell, The Gift.
5. George A. Romero: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, The Crazies, Creepshow, The Dark Half, Monkey Shines, Martin.
4. Tobe Hooper: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, Lifeforce, The Mangler, Toolbox Murders, ‘Salem’s Lot (TV miniseries).
3. David Cronenberg: Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, The Fly, Videodrome, The Brood, The Dead Zone, Dead Ringers, Crash, eXistenZ.
2. Wes Craven: The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, My Soul to Take, Red Eye, Shocker, Cursed, The Serpent and the Rainbow.
And number 1: John Carpenter: Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Christine, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Village of the Damned (1995), Vampires, The Ward.
Here are some of the runners up that received at least one vote on the various lists I looked up:
Clive Barker: Hellraiser, Lord of Illusions, Nightbreed.
Tim Burton: Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow.
Joe Dante: The Howling, The Twilight Zone (one of the episodes), Piranha (1982).
Takashi Miike: Audition, Ichi, The Killer.
Jordan Peele: Get Out, Us.
Roman Polanski: Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, The Ninth Gate.
Eli Roth: Hostel, Cabin, Hostel: Part II, Knock Knock.
Robert Wise: The Haunting, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Body Snatcher.
Todd Browning: Dracula, Freaks, London After Midnight.
Well, there you have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts if you think any notable directors were left off the list. Let me know if you agree or disagree, or let me know who some of your favorites are.
I’d also like to add a quick list of my ten favorite horror film directors in reverse order:
10. Guillermo del Toro: He doesn’t only do horror movies, but when he does them he’s brilliant. Mimic is one of my favorites and Cronos has always stuck with me. The Devil’s Backbone is creepy and well worth watching.
9. Clive Barker: Although he didn’t direct many films, I’d still put him in my top ten of horror directors (and horror writers). Hellraiser was a masterpiece that has stood the test of time, but I believe Lord of Illusions is an often overlooked horror classic.
8. Eli Roth: If someone could be on my top ten list for just one film, it would be Eli Roth. Hostel had a definite effect on me. Like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel seemed so plausible and realistic. But Roth has directed some other memorable films like Cabin Fever.
7. Brian De Palma: I was surprised De Palma wasn’t mentioned more often on the lists of best horror directors that I looked up. Of course Carrie is usually listed in the top twenty-five of best horror films, but De Palma has directed other classics such as: The Fury and Dressed to Kill.
6. James Wan: Saw is one of the greatest horror films I’ve ever seen, with one of the best twists of all time. It would be difficult for him to top such a masterpiece as that, but he’s directed some other very good films like Insidious and The Conjuring.
5. David Cronenberg: What can I say that hasn’t already been said about David Cronenberg? He’s directed classics such as Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, The Brood, and The Fly. I think The Dead Zone is often underrated. And Videodrome and eXistenZ really creeped me out when I watched them.
4. Tobe Hooper: Few films are as visceral and disturbing as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but Hooper is also credited with directing Poltergeist (some debate this as I mentioned above), another movie usually listed in the top 25 horror films of all time. But my personal favorite might be ‘Salem’s Lot.
3. Alfred Hitchcock: The master of suspense, and some would say the master of storytelling. Someone once said that all you need to learn about screenwriting you could learn from watching Hitchcock’s films. While most of his movies would be classified as suspense rather than horror, Psycho and The Birds are legitimate horror films.
2. Wes Craven: Craven is responsible for two of the most popular horror series: A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream. But some of his early films are memorable and gritty like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. One of my personal favorites of his, and another often underrated film, is The Serpent and the Rainbow.
And number 1: John Carpenter: My clear favorite is John Carpenter. What a body of work he’s done (so far). He’s directed classics like: Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982), Christine, In the Mouth of Madness, The Fog, Prince of Darkness, They Live, Cursed, and Vampires. I think In the Mouth of Madness is often overlooked, and They Live has stood the test of time. My personal favorite would be The Thing – maybe my favorite horror film of all time.
There you have my top ten. Please feel free to comment. I’d love to hear your favorites and your thoughts.
I hope everyone has a Happy Halloween!