Spirits, poltergeists, otherworldly visitors: Hollywood ghosts go by many different names. Whether they’re possessing people, haunting houses, orphanages or schools, or just generally terrorizing those around them, these souls have a bone to pick with the living. Inexplicable events, angry demons and psychological games are just some of the things these movies have to offer. Additionally, there is something about having unforeseen forces terrorizing people in places we deem safe that is truly frightening.
Ghost movies offer petrifying elements: unexpected twists, disturbing images, and ominous noises that will linger for days to come. If you are ready for adventures in the paranormal world then keep scrolling to find some of the best ghost movies of all time.
Here are 20 of the most haunting ghost movies to watch.
1. The Changeling
When composer John Russell moves to an old Victorian mansion in Seattle after a tragedy, he soon finds out the house is already occupied—by the ghost of a young boy. What’s more, the ghost wants John’s help in investigating his mysterious death, and he won’t rest until John complies. Based on a true story, this ghostly tale terrifies.
2. The Devil’s Backbone
The Devil’s Backbone also features a little boy ghost out for vengeance. When young Carlos arrives at a orphanage during the end of the Spanish Civil War, fitting in with the other boys is hard enough. Things get considerably more bleak when Carlos learns about Santi, the spirit of a young boy who vanished just before Carlos’ arrival, and whom the other boys believe haunts the orphanage.
A red-blooded American family moves into a new home—which just happens to have been built on top of a relocated cemetery. Oh yeah, and it’s also connected to a ghost dimension: the portal is located in the youngest daughter’s closet. This is all pretty ironic, considering Dad is a real estate developer. Although this 80s flick doesn’t totally hold up today, we bet you won’t be able to stop the goosebumps from rising on your arms when Carol Anne announces, “They’re heeeere.”
4. The Others
In this terrifying, Turn of the Screw-like movie, a woman living with her two hyper-photosensitive children in post-WWII England begins to suspect there are “others” residing in the home with them. We won’t spoil the twist ending, though suffice it to say, there is definitely something paranormal going on.
5. The Orphanage (2007)
It’s hard to go wrong when you combine Guillermo del Toro—who in this case produced the film—and a story set in an orphanage. Laura plans on reopening an abandoned orphanage, when her son Simón goes missing after forging a friendship with a mysterious boy named Tomás. Once again, vengeful ghost orphans run rampant.
6. I Am a Ghost (2012)
In this extremely clever twist on the “haunted house” plot, it’s the ghost who’s the protagonist. Poor Emily can’t figure out why she’s stuck haunting her home. When a clairvoyant is hired to drive her away, Emily must face dark truths about her past. This microbudget horror movie far out-punches its $10,000 budget weight class.
7. Paranormal Activity (2007)
Laugh now all you want—when this low-budget box office smash was released in 2007, audiences were scared out of their minds. If your wife ever tells you she’s been followed by a “demonic presence” all of her life: Take it seriously.
8. Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)
It’s generally a bad idea to move into a house where people have been murdered. It’s even more unfortunate if those murdered in the house now haunt it as onryō, vengeful Japanese ghosts.
9.The Amityville Horror (1979)
In 1974, Ronald Defeo Jr. massacred his family at their home on Long Island. In 1975, the Lutz family moved into that very house, only to move out a month later, supposedly terrorized by the paranormal activity inside the home. This 1979 horror classic is a fictionalized account of their experiences at 112 Ocean Avenue.
10. The Awakening (2011)
More little ghost boys are afoot in The Awakening, only this time they’re at a boarding school rather than an orphanage. In 1920s England, profession skeptic Florence Cathcart spends her days debunking supernatural hoaxes. When she gets called to investigate a ghost at a remote school, she realizes she might have stumbled across the real thing.
11. The Conjuring (2013)
OK, we all thought, here’s yet another silly haunted house movie “based on true events.” And how wrong we were. The Conjuring, based on the experiences of the Perron family, is deeply, unsettlingly scary. The characters are well-developed, the scares are effective, and the climax is satisfying, as the paranormal activity inside the house reaches a boiling point.
12. House on Haunted Hill (1959)
In this 1959 horror classic—DO NOT bother with the horrid 1999 remake—Vincent Price plays an eccentric millionaire, who invites five people to see if they can spend one night in a haunted house in exchange for $10,000. Of course, the house is filled with some very real terrors, including several ghosts.
13. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Arguably the only good movie M. Night Shyamalan ever made, The Sixth Sense is a modern-day horror classic, with one of the most infamous twists in movie history. When little Cole is troubled by paranormal visions, psychologist Malcolm Crowe is called in to help. If you haven’t seen this movie yet (where have you been?), make sure you watch it again after the twist is revealed, to discover all of the great clues you probably missed upon your first viewing.
14. The Shining (1980)
Considered by many to be the greatest horror movie ever made, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining can teach us all an important lesson: If your husband is offered a job as winter caretaker at a giant hotel which is completely shuttered in the off-season, DON’T let him accept. The hotel might be filled with ghosts, just like The Overlook, and all this paranormal activity might just drive your husband into a homicidal rage, as it did with Jack.
Related: 10 Horrifying Books Like The Shining
15. The Ring (2002)
Legend has it that if you see the cursed tape, you'll die seven days later. After Rachel's niece, Katie, tragically dies, she is urged to investigate the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death. Rachel, a Seattle journalist, quickly uncovers plenty of oddities: Katie and her friends all died in strange incidents the same night, the only witness to Katie's death has been institutionalized, and Rachel discovers the tape. After watching the bizarre and haunting images, Rachel receives a phone call warning her she has seven days to live. When Rachel begins to experience supernatural symptoms of the curse, she decides to bring in her video analyst ex-boyfriend to help unearth who—or what—is behind the killings.
16. Stir of Echoes (1999)
Set in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago, Tom Witzky begins to grow tired of his routine life and desires to break free from the life he knows, including his pregnant wife and young son, who apparently speaks with the dead. He takes the rather extreme measure of challenging his sister-in-law to hypnotize him. Soon, the hypnotism results in terrifying visions. To stop the visions, he must figure out exactly what they are–which becomes both easier and harder when he realizes that his son can see the girl at the center of the visions as well.
17. Insidious (2010)
In 2010, the amount of influence James Wan was about to have on the horror industry became clear with the release of Insidious. When the Lamberts move into an older house, they think they're finally settled. Instead, their young son, Dalton, falls into a deep coma. Soon, the house's–and the Lamberts'–paranormal history is unearthed in terrifying ways.
18. The Innocents (1961)
Based on the novella The Turn of the Screw, this film follows Miss Giddens, a governess hired to look after two young children. After being orphaned as infants, Flora and Miles were placed under the care of their bachelor uncle who has "no room, mentally or emotionally". After the death of a previous governess, Miss Giddens has been called to the manor. Her charming charges soon show a darker side–and the housekeeper tells Miss Giddens that she believes the children have been possessed by evil spirits. Is this all just the governess's imagination? Or is something truly paranormal happening?
19. Lake Mungo (2008)
Lake Mungo is filmed like a documentary despite being a fictional tale—making the gruesome images all the more horrifying. While out swimming with her family at a dam in Ararat, Australia, sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer dies by drowning. After her body is recovered and a verdict of accidental death returned, her grieving family buries her. The family can't seem to find closure when they begin to encounter a series of strange events, pointing to one fact: Alice led a double life. You will find yourself completely immersed in this film that is part mystery, part thriller, and all around haunting.
20. The Haunting (1963)
Netflix's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's classic tale may have gotten all of the praise lately, but for our money, 1963's The Haunting is the best take on the story. When reports on a troubled New England mansion start to surface, anthropology professor Dr. John Markway decides to investigate the house. Despite the home's mysterious history, Markway decides to occupy Hill House in order to closely observe the paranormal activity. The longer Markway and his group remain, the graver the danger each of them is in.
Featured still from "I Am a Ghost" via Ersatz Film