In recent years, Jordan Peele has pivoted from a longtime career as a comedian to become one of the leading voices of horror cinema. His 2017 horror debut Get Out was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won for Best Original Screenplay. His 2019 follow-up Us, a slasher flick about a family that’s confronted by their evil doppelgängers, cemented his new reputation as one of the top horror directors of the moment.
Not content to limit himself to working on his own projects, Peele has also lent his producing talents to a variety of horror content, including the new Twilight Zone series, the upcoming TV adaptation of Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country, and Nia DaCosta’s hotly-anticipated remake of Candyman.
Unsurprisingly for someone who has demonstrated such finesse in the genre, Peele has shown himself to be an aficionado of all things horror, with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the field. In this way, he seems reminiscent of celebrated horror-adjacent auteur Guillermo del Toro, whose film The Shape of Water actually nabbed the Best Picture statue that Peele’s Get Out was up for.
Both del Toro and Peele proudly wear their influences and inspirations on their sleeves, with Peele regularly handing out “homework assignments” to his actors and crew before they undertake one of his horror films. His mandatory viewing staples include movies like Martyrs, A Tale of Two Sisters, and The Sixth Sense, to name a few.
In addition to the aforementioned titles, here are 11 must-watch horror movies, as recommended by Jordan Peele. With a stamp of approval from one of the most exciting modern practitioners of the art of scaring the living daylights out of viewers, we can guarantee you’re in good hands.
The Shining (1980)
When it comes to must-watch horror movies, they don’t come much more highly recommended than The Shining. Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s haunted hotel novel may not have pleased King very much, but most everyone else loves it, including Peele. Not only did he include it on the list of movies he asked Lupita Nyong’o to watch before she played the lead in Us, but he actually during the Us press tour. He also told the Wall Street Journal that Shelley Duvall pulled off his all-time favorite performance in a horror flick in her role as Wendy Torrance: “The scariest person in the movie is the good guy. She did a perfect job of committing to the fear and from that, brought the horror to the movie.”
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Peele told USA Today about a perhaps less immediately obvious inspiration for his debut feature film: Rosemary’s Baby. “The fact that those movies work for me, a man, so well is proof to me that people could just experience the world through Chris’ eyes for an hour and a half,” he told the paper, referencing Get Out’s Black protagonist, played by Daniel Kaluuya.
Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995)
“She’s, like, the first Black final girl that I can remember,” Peele told The Wall Street Journal while discussing Jada Pinkett Smith’s character Jeryline in the first Tales from the Crypt movie. He went on to clarify that in his opinion, Jeryline is the best final girl of all time, and also the one that he identifies with the most.
The Babadook (2014)
Also on the list of films that Jordan Peele gave to Lupita Nyong’o to watch before shooting Us is director Jennifer Kent’s 2014 debut. The Babadook reflects some of the fairy tale elements that come into play in Peele’s 2019 opus. Plus, Peele liked the movie so much that he once took the time to. (Spoiler alert, of course.)
The Fly (1986)
“So scary, so inappropriate for how old I was,” Jordan Peele told The Wall Street Journal about the first time he watched David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly. “And yet, I was able to watch it and understand it and by the end, I felt less scared than I did before watching it. So, that’s how I knew the power of horror.”
It may seem obvious that Peele is a fan of Bernard Rose’s Candyman—a 1992 film that expands on a Clive Barker short story, bringing it to Chicago’s Cabrini-Green public housing development to refocus on themes of racism and gentrification. After all, Peele is producing Nia DaCosta’s 2020 spiritual sequel. “If there was no Candyman,” Peele told Empire magazine, “I don’t know that there would be a Get Out.”
When asked by The Wall Street Journal what his favorite horror B-movie was, Peele was quick to reply with Critters. “In retrospect, [it’s] fairly bad,” he said of the alien invasion Gremlins knock-off from 1986. “But it gave me a wrong sort of feeling. Those little things were so mischievous and so…evil. They had those evil-ass faces.” For which you can thank the Chiodo Brothers, three special effects artists who also worked on Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
“It changes the way we think of how to tell the story of a monster,” Jordan Peele told USA Today, referencing Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws. Spielberg famously had difficulties with the film’s mechanical sharks, leading to less screen time for them—a decision that ultimately cultivated the audience’s fear of the unknown. Peele was impressed with how the filmmaker turned those setbacks into advantages. “The most beautiful revelation with Jaws,” Peele said, “was that the audience’s imagination is far more powerful than what you show them.”
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Anyone who has seen one of Peele’s films knows how important music is in shaping them. So, does Peele have a favorite horror movie soundtrack? When The Wall Street Journal asked him that question, he told them it was the theme from Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, composed by Charles Bernstein.
The Birds (1963)
Jordan Peele has been called the “modern-day Alfred Hitchcock,” and he has made no bones about being a fan of the legendary director. A horror thriller about violent and unexplained bird attacks, The Birds is one of the films that Peele recommended Lupita Nyong’o watch before filming Us.
At the beginning of Jordan Peele’s Us, we see a commercial for the charity event Hands Across America on a TV flanked by several VHS tapes that—as has been widely discussed—contain Easter eggs and teasing hints of what is to come. One of those films is C.H.U.D., a classic 1984 B-movie fable about homelessness in the time of Reagonomics, as told through a story about the eponymous Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.
Hanna Cheek, an actress and the daughter of C.H.U.D.’s director—and whom Jordan Peele once called his “first girlfriend”—told Quartz that Peele loved C.H.U.D. “At my house, we had a manhole cover from the set, and I remember Jordan being really excited. He was definitely clear that it was in his arsenal of favorites.”