Most Profitable Horror Movies of All Time
Sometimes movies are so surprisingly successful it’s scary. Though many blockbusters these days are action movies or superhero movies, horror movies still get plenty of box-office love. And because so many horror movies can be made on shoestring budgets, the profit margin on a major hit can really make everyone involved scream with joy.
Definitions of the horror genre vary. Does there need to be gore? Can aliens can join in without it becoming sci-fi? We stuck to a broad, traditional approach that cuts across categories. Our list includes tons of scares, lots of twists, loads of screaming and, of course, plenty of carnage.
These are the most successful horror films of all time, ranked by net profit.
50. Friday the 13th (2009)
Budget: $19 million*
Worldwide gross: $91,379,051
*Budget and worldwide gross projections are from Box Office Mojo and have not been adjusted for inflation.
Bottom Line: Friday the 13th (2009)
A horror cult classic with an iconic villain, this movie was a remake of the 1980 slasher film that introduced audiences to the machete-wielding, white-mask-wearing Jason Voorhees.
This movie rebooted the franchise for a new generation of horror lovers. However, the franchise already was considered one of the most profitable in the horror world.
Why? Because of its merchandising and marketing outside of the movies themselves.
49. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Budget: $35 million
Worldwide gross: $115,664,037
Bottom Line: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
The original 1984 horror cult classic "Nightmare on Elm Street" did well at the box office and inspired a whole world around the creepy slasher villain Freddy Kruger.
While this movie did well at the box office, it wasn't enough to relaunch the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise.
48. The Amityville Horror (2005)
Budget: $19 million
Worldwide gross: $108,047,131
Bottom Line: The Amityville Horror (2005)
This 2005 film is a remake of the 1979 original movie of the same name. Both movies were inspired by the 1977 novel written by Jay Anson.
Though the book claimed to be inspired by true events, there’s a lot of controversy around whether these events were based on fact or fiction (spoilers: it was fiction).
Audiences didn’t seem to mind either way. They happily came out to see this unnerving horror film in huge numbers.
Budget: $1.5 million
Worldwide gross: $97,009,150
Bottom Line: Insidious
Here’s another example of a terrifying horror film that delivered a hefty profit on a shoestring budget and inspired a horror franchise.
Directed by James Wan, the film follows a family grappling with their son after he becomes a conduit for demons and ghosts to interact on the physical plane.
This film’s plot, and every subsequent film’s plot, was inspired by cases of demonologists, who study and attempt to control demons.
46. The Haunting (1999)
Budget: $80 million
Worldwide gross: $177,311,151
Bottom Line: The Haunting (1999)
The 1959 novel "The Haunting of Hill House" inspired multiple movies. "The Haunting" is a remake of the 1963 movie with the same name, and features Liam Neeson, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Owen Wilson.
"The Haunting" melds the family-oriented psychological thriller with the genuine scariness of a house possessed. Most recently, the same novel has inspired the popular Netflix show "The Haunting of Hill House."
45. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Budget: $9.5 million
Worldwide gross: $107,071,655
Bottom Line: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
This remake of a popular 1974 film with the same name capitalized on the gore and slasher style, but updated the story for a new generation.
Interestingly, this film was the first film produced by a company called Platinum Dunes. The company produced many successful horror franchises, including "The Purge."
Budget: $1.2 million
Worldwide gross: $103,911,669
Bottom Line: Saw
This movie was the directorial debut of the powerhouse James Wan, who would go on to direct a ton of profitable and popular movies and establish "The Conjuring" universe.
This 2004 film, however, put him on the map. With stars Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, it delivered horror, gore and scares on multiple levels. Plus, it did so with a just over $1 million budget, which made its overall net profits skyrocket.
"Saw" would go onto inspire its own gore-filled franchise.
43. Sleepy Hollow
Budget: $100 million
Worldwide gross: $206,071,502
Bottom Line: Sleepy Hollow
With a significantly higher budget than many other horror movies on this list, "Sleepy Hollow" still delivered a dramatic profit. Inspired by Washington Irving’s classic short story of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Christina Ricci and Johnny Depp costarred in this creepy period-piece directed by Tim Burton.
This movie was set to be a low-budget slasher-style film. But some creative disagreements eventually brought Tim Burton on board, and he changed the film’s direction.
It was generally well received by critics and audiences, and even won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
42. The Ring Two
Budget (estimated): $50 million
Worldwide gross: $161,451,538
Bottom Line: The Ring Two
Though it wasn’t as much of a worldwide sensation as the original — it grossed around half of what the original "The Ring" did — the sequel still performed well at the box office.
"The Ring Two" was profitable and popular enough to inspire a third movie in the series, a 2017 film called "Rings," which was also successful.
41. Happy Death Day
Budget: $4.8 million
Worldwide gross: $125,479,266
Bottom Line: Happy Death Day
"Happy Death Day" is what happens when "Groundhog Day" is crossed with a slasher flick.
In "Happy Death Day," a college student (Jessica Rothe) is murdered on the way to a party, only to wake up in her bed, having gone back in time to repeat the day. And be murdered, over and over again.
Comedy-horror movies are difficult to pull off, but when they work, they can make bank. "Happy Death Day" was the surprise hit of 2017, grossing over $120 million on a tiny $4.8 million budget.
40. The First Purge
Budget: $13 million
Worldwide gross: $137,056,262
Bottom Line: The First Purge
"The First Purge" is the fourth film in the "Purge" franchise and serves as a prequel, detailing the events that occurred to create the murder-happy 12-hour span of lawlessness known as the purge.
The film focuses on an alternate 2014, where the New Founding Fathers of America is the new party in power. As an experiment, they decide to make Staten Island a place where, for 12 hours, all citizens can do whatever evil deeds they want. Those who stay are given $5,000. Those who participate are rewarded even more — should they survive.
Smartly marketed on the Fourth of July with satirical movie posters, "The First Purge" performed extraordinarily well at the box office, making over 10 times its budget.
39. The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Budget: $19 million
Worldwide gross: $144,216,468
Bottom Line: The Exorcism of Emily Rose
A horror film "inspired by true events" or "based on a true story" intrigues plenty of thrillseekers. This feature used that same tactic, loosely basing this story on a real-life story of Anneliese Michel, a young German woman with epileptic psychosis who claimed to be possessed by multiple powerful demons.
Two Catholic priests attempted multiple unsuccessful excruciatingly long exorcisms for 10 months and were eventually charged with negligent homicide after the girl died from starvation.
This story recounts the court cases of the priests and rehashes some of the creepy craziness they unleashed. But like many movies, it takes some creative liberties. Those creative liberties paid off at the box office.
Budget: $15 million
Worldwide gross: $146,428,180
Bottom Line: Mama
This creepy film includes a highly active supernatural element.
Unlike some movies where the ghost or demon jumps out randomly, this one eerily helps save and raise human children. So much so, they refer to her as their mother.
The storyline is creepy, refreshing and generally satisfying. Unsurprisingly, audiences worldwide made this movie a major commercial success.
37. Van Helsing
Budget: $160 million
Worldwide gross: $300,257,475
Bottom Line: Van Helsing
As much fantasy as it is horror, the budget for "Van Helsing" was ambitious, to say the least.
Paying homage to the classic monsters of the major movie studios in the 1930s and '40s, Hugh Jackman stars as the titular character who ruthlessly hunts familiar faces like Count Dracula, Frankenstein and Mr. Hyde.
Most critics didn’t like the film, earning it a Rotten Tomatoes score of 23 percent. But that didn’t stop millions of people worldwide from helping make this film a pretty spectacular profit.
36. Don’t Breathe
Budget: $9.9 million
Worldwide gross: $157,100,845
Bottom Line: Don't Breathe
This critically acclaimed creepy story of three delinquent intruders trying to steal supposedly easy money from a blind man had audiences reeling.
When the intruders are caught by the military-trained blind man with secrets of his own, they must attempt to get out and save themselves from his ruthless pursuit.
Yet again, a film with a smaller budget had a huge worldwide gross. The writer and director Fede Álvarez tapped into some primal fears that made the movie universally appealing to horror lovers and general scare-seekers alike.
35. Scream 2
Budget: $24 million
Worldwide gross: $172,363,301
Bottom Line: Scream 2
It’s no huge surprise that the breakout hit "Scream" saw a sequel not long after it originally premiered. The film smartly followed the same characters in the same world with very similar plots and goriness.
Despite the fact that people knew what they were in for more than with the original, plenty were more than willing to see the film.
It also inspired two more sequels and the comedy "Scary Movie."
34. Insidious: Chapter 2
Budget: $5 million
Worldwide gross: $161,919,318
Bottom Line: Insidious: Chapter 2
Like so many other movies on this list, this is a sequel. In the horror world, when you find a formula that seems to resonate with people, it’s not a terrible idea to stick with it. At least that’s what the filmmakers behind the "Insidious" franchise seemed to believe with their sequel.
James Wan, the same director behind the gruesome "Saw" and the creepy (and commercially successful) "The Conjuring 2," added his particular flair for freakiness to this movie. And it worked really well, especially considering the small budget, which, of course, meant even more overall net profit.
Budget: $14 million
Worldwide gross: $173,046,663
Bottom Line: Scream
If you’ve ever screamed "What are you waiting for?" up to the sky while spinning around, you already know that "Scream" is easily one of the most successful scary movies of all time.
It broke so many scary movie "rules," including killing off a major star in the opening sequence and immediately making the viewer feel uneasy about who might live and who might die.
Even the sequels made a ton of money.
32. Interview with the Vampire
Budget: $60 million
Worldwide gross: $223,664,608
Bottom Line: Interview with the Vampire
Today, "Interview with the Vampire" is a kind-of-cheesy movie that's good campy fun. But when it came out in 1994, "Interview" was disturbing enough to cause people to walk out of the theater, including Oprah Winfrey, who also considered canceling an upcoming interview with Tom Cruise.
"I believe there are forces of light and darkness in the world, and I don't want to be a contributor to the force of darkness," Winfrey said. That statement is almost as melodramatic as "Interview."
"Interview" was a big-budget picture that made roughly three times its budget back at theaters. For those hoping for more Anne Rice adaptations, AMC purchased the rights to "The Vampire Chronicles" and the "The Lives of the Mayfair Witches" series for a rumored $30 million to $40 million.
31. Paranormal Activity 2
Budget: $3 million
Worldwide gross: $177,512,032
Bottom Line: Paranormal Activity 2
After "Paranormal Activity" became a hit, Blumhouse Productions decided to create a prequel to scare people into a deeper understanding of the original events. And create a franchise they could milk.
"Paranormal Activity 2" followed the same formula, but hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The same found-footage style with a creepy, demonic presence that made the original movie so successful helped this one be extremely profitable in its own right.
30. The Grudge (2004)
Budget: $10 million
Worldwide gross: $187,281,115
Bottom Line: The Grudge (2004)
A remake of a Japanese film of a similar name, "The Grudge" doesn’t follow a traditional storytelling structure. It jumps around in time and space.
Combined with the creepy nature of the plots and subplots, it’s a genuinely jarring and disturbing horror movie.
The movie’s success led to two sequels and a possible reboot.
29. What Lies Beneath
Budget: $100 million
Worldwide gross: $291,420,351
Bottom Line: What Lies Beneath
Horror movies often use lesser-known or unrecognizable actors, which helps with the budget and with the suspension of belief.
But this major hit starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer proved that two big stars can front a horror film, and tons of people will still come out and see it.
28. The Others
Budget: $17 million
Worldwide gross: $209,947,037
Bottom Line: The Others
"The Others" was inspired by a classic serialized novella from the late 19th century, "The Turn of the Screw," and was a major hit.
This delightfully chilling movie follows Nicole Kidman’s character as she navigates strange happenings in the home she’s tasked to take care of.
The worldwide gross leaves little doubt that audiences clearly loved the movie. But critics also embraced it, especially in director Alejandro Amenábar’s native Spain.
27. Annabelle Comes Home
Budget (estimated): $32 million
Worldwide gross: $225, 248,905
Bottom Line: Annabelle Comes Home
Unsurprisingly, yet another film from the highly profitable "The Conjuring" franchise makes the list.
Even though it wasn’t quite as scary as some of its nightmare-inducing predecessors, "Annabelle Comes Home" delivered on enough thrills to make audiences come out in huge numbers.
26. Paranormal Activity
Worldwide gross: $193,355,800
Bottom Line: Paranormal Activity
"Paranormal Activity" was made for next-to-nothing and made monster profits.
Like "The Blair Witch Project," it capitalized on the idea of "found footage," creepy shots that made people truly believe they were looking into a real-life story of a young family being haunted by a demonic ghost.
People believed it enough for the filmmakers to make millions in profits and inspire a number of spin-offs and sequels.
25. The Village
Budget: $60 million
Worldwide gross: $256,697,520
Bottom Line: The Village
Arguably one of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan’s best works, "The Village" played on paranoia, mystery and – in typical Shyamalan fashion – a major twist ending.
Though plenty of critics argued that some parts were predictable and played out, plenty of people enjoyed it.
Plus, it was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Original Score category.
24. The Ring
Budget: $48 million
Worldwide gross: $249,348,933
Bottom Line: The Ring
The movie that inspired a million wet-haired and slow-walking Halloween costumes, "The Ring" was an American remake of a Japanese horror film from about a decade before.
Its huge financial and critical success not only led to many sequels, but it also opened the door for more foreign horror film remakes.
23. Paranormal Activity 3
Budget: $5 million
Worldwide gross: $207,039,844
Bottom Line: Paranormal Activity 3
Using the same cast and same formula (small budget, huge scares), Blumhouse Productions was able to metaphorically capture lightning in a bottle yet again. If that lightning were made of money.
Not only did tons of people come to see the film in theaters, making it a major worldwide success, but the small budget meant that the overall net for the movie was incredibly impressive.
22. Shutter Island
Budget: $80 million
Worldwide gross: $294,804,195
Bottom Line: Shutter Island
With Leonardo DiCaprio on screen and Martin Scorsese at the helm, it’s hard to imagine this film not being extremely successful. But horror is definitely its own genre and even the most successful stars can get too far out of their element dabbling in it.
That certainly wasn’t the case with this thrilling and twisted adaptation. Both audiences and critics generally enjoyed it. And, like many good horror films, it has a surprise ending that leaves you plenty unnerved and eager for a rewatch.
Budget: $20 million
Worldwide gross: $255,105,930
Bottom Line: Us
The highly anticipated Jordan Peele film capitalized on the popularity of his original directing debut, "Get Out." With the help of serious star power from Lupita Nyong’o and a hauntingly mysterious premise, people came out in droves to see this film.
Though some of the reviews were mixed, most of the public enjoyed the movie. And thanks again to its relatively small budget, it was able to net an impressive profit.
Plus, the "Us" characters and their iconic scissors are now featured at various Universal theme parks as part of the "Halloween Horror Nights" experience.
20. Resident Evil: Afterlife
Budget: $60 million
Worldwide gross: $300,228,084
Bottom Line: Resident Evil: Afterlife
It’s the fourth installment of the popular film series, but the first to be filmed in 3D.
Despite less-than-glowing reviews, the "Resident Evil" franchise had developed a faithful audience, and they came out to see Milla Jovovich murder hordes of zombies.
19. Halloween (2018)
Budget: $10 million
Worldwide gross: $255,485,178
Bottom Line: Halloween (2018)
The original 1978 "Halloween" may not have smashed box-office records, but it did become a cultural classic. And years later, the remake (with the original star Jamie Lee Curtis on board) proved the ongoing popularity of the movie.
With a surprisingly small budget by modern standards, the film grossed huge amounts worldwide. And thanks to that small budget, it netted an incredibly large profit, making 24.5 times more than what it cost to produce.
18. The Blair Witch Project
Worldwide gross: $248,639,099
Bottom Line: The Blair Witch Project
Easily one of the most memorable movies in modern history, this film captured lightning in a bottle.
With unknown names at the helm, it was unclear to many people if this was genuinely found footage of thrillseekers who got lost in the woods or if it was entirely fictional.
Despite the fact that it was, of course, fictional, the huge profits made from the film were very, very real.
Budget: $6.5 million
Worldwide gross: $257,047,661
Bottom Line: Annabelle
Creeped out by dolls? Then you'll certainly see the appeal of a film like "Annabelle."
The movie came out shortly after "The Conjuring" and didn’t receive generally positive reviews like the latter. But that didn’t matter to audiences who loved it and continue to love it.
They love it so much that its sequel – which is a prequel ("Annabelle: Creation") – was also really successful at the box office.
16. Get Out
Budget: $4.5 million
Worldwide gross: $255,457,364
Bottom Line: Get Out
One of the biggest cultural sensations in recent history, this incredibly refreshing horror film came from comedian-turned-Academy-Award-winning director Jordan Peele.
The storyline not only creeped people out, but it gave them something to talk about. Metaphors and parables abound in "Get Out," which deals with Black subjugation and other racial justice issues.
It struck a chord with millions of people and became a very financially successful hit film.
15. The Silence of the Lambs
Budget: $19 million
Worldwide gross: $272,742,922
Bottom Line: The Silence of the Lambs
This classic horror movie was successful financially and critically acclaimed. It won the "Big Five" Academy Awards in 1992: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.
The film introduced us to iconic Hannibal Lecter, one of cinema's scariest and most enduring characters, and quickly joined the ranks of horror masterpieces alongside "Psycho" and "Halloween."
The U.S. Library of Congress preserved it in the National Film Registry in 2011.
Budget: $87 million
Worldwide gross: $351,692,268
Bottom Line: Hannibal
Rarely do sequels do better than originals, but rarely do you encounter a villain as spine-tinglingly horrifying as Hannibal Lecter.
The movie is adapted from a 1999 novel of the same name, which was particularly gory. Though many of the original cast and creative team who were part of "The Silence of the Lambs" declined to be involved, eventually esteemed director Ridley Scott signed on.
And when the filmmakers convinced Anthony Hopkins to reprise his character, it’s no wonder people came out in droves to see the disturbing killer back in action.
Budget: $9 million
Worldwide gross: $278,454,358
Bottom Line: Split
This intense psychological movie may be considered more thriller genre by some people, but it’s still disturbing and terrifying on plenty of levels. The main villain has multiple personalities and imprisons and tortures three teenage girls. It takes place as a standalone sequel to “Unbreakable."
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the movie operated on a small budget considering the talent and scope of the film. It grossed a ton of money worldwide, which made it even more profitable thanks to its relatively low cost.
12. The Conjuring 2
Budget: $40 million
Worldwide gross: $320,392,818
Bottom Line: The Conjuring 2
It’s clear that audiences love to be terrified by the world of "The Conjuring." So it's no major surprise that the sequel to the original movie did extremely well in the box office and had an increased budget.
With the same stars on board, this sequel follows up with the Warrens, this time following the married paranormal investigators to England.
It’s clear from the number of spin-offs in the same universe, there’s plenty of freaky fodder to work with in this franchise.
11. Annabelle: Creation
Budget: $15 million
Worldwide gross: $306,515,884
Bottom Line: Annabelle: Creation
Like the other "Annabelle" movie on this list, this movie explains how the unnerving doll, Annabelle, became the deadly possessed doll that it is.
It garnered more critical praise than other Annabelle films and annihilated the box office.
Budget: $33 million
Worldwide gross: $327,311,859
Bottom Line: Se7en
One of the most classic scary movies of modern filmmaking, this movie combines religious lore, outright gore and incredible performances from three major stars — Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Though this movie is sometimes called a psychological or neo-noir thriller, the general creepiness, violence and gore plant this comfortably in the horror category. Audiences and critics alike relished in its graphic and dark nature.
It was even nominated for an Academy Award for editing.
9. The Conjuring
Budget: $20 million
Worldwide gross: $319,494,638
Bottom Line: The Conjuring
Again supposedly inspired by real people, the chilling story of paranormal investigators attempting to solve a demonic mystery struck a chord with people.
The first in what would become the Conjuring universe, "The Conjuring" was a critical and commercial success.
8. Black Swan
Budget: $13 million
Worldwide gross: $329,398,046
Bottom Line: Black Swan
Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" is a masterful psychological horror film about a ballet dancer succumbing to madness while under overwhelming pressure to perform as in Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" ballet.
It's an unnerving movie with beautiful cinematography and a brilliant cast (Natalie Portman picked up an Academy Award for Best Actress for her leading role). Not everyone loved it — many critics thought it was overly melodramatic — but as a film, it's extremely well made.
7. A Quiet Place
Budget: $17 million
Worldwide gross: $338,563,752
Bottom Line: A Quiet Place
The real-life husband and wife team of Emily Blunt and John Krasinski created a modern creepy horror film that gave millions of people monster nightmares for months.
It was directed and cowritten by costar Krasinski, the former star of "The Office." He proved he had major range on camera and skills behind the scenes.
The relatively small budget combined with the huge popularity of the film helped make this movie a considerable success on many levels.
Budget: $72 million
Worldwide gross: $408,247,917
Bottom Line: Signs
An M. Night Shyamalan mega-success, the scary inspiration didn’t come from ghosts this time, but aliens.
Between the underlying feeling that this could happen to anyone at any time and the excellent performance of the leading man Mel Gibson, this film was a major success.
Though the budget was larger than many horror films, which tend to stay relatively low, this easily made a major profit – and even won several awards.
5. The Nun
Budget: $22 million
Worldwide gross: $363,560,762
Bottom Line: The Nun
Sometimes horror franchises use spin-offs that live within the same universe as another successful movie. That’s the case for "The Nun," which is a spin-off sequel to "The Conjuring 2."
The jumpy storyline mixes religion and horror in an effective way. Though critics were mixed in their response, audiences worldwide came out to see the scary film in droves.
4. It Chapter Two
Budget: $79 million
Worldwide gross: $473,093,228
Bottom Line: It Chapter 2
The kids are all grown up in "It Chapter 2."
After discovering that Pennywise was back and hunting children, a group of childhood friends terrorized by the clown during their youth reunite to defeat the supernatural creature.
"It Chapter 2" wasn't quite as good as the first film, but it was a heckuva lot better than part two of the "It" made-for-TV movie from 1990. And it was a huge box-office success, making six times its budget in ticket sales.
3. The Exorcist
Budget (estimated): $12 million
Worldwide gross: $441,306,145
Bottom Line: The Exorcist
Part of the massive lifetime gross of this movie is a result of it being one of the first major horror films to define the modern genre.
There’s a legend that the movie was inspired by real-life exorcisms, which often entices people to see a film – especially one as otherworldly as this.
Its ongoing popularity means that it is often re-released in theaters for new generations of people to experience the exorcism on the big screen.
2. The Sixth Sense
Budget: $40 million
Worldwide gross: $672,806,292
Bottom Line: The Sixth Sense
This is one of M. Night Shyamalan’s best films. The suspenseful thriller captured the hearts (and scared the minds) of millions of people worldwide.
The film’s popular quote "I see dead people … they’re everywhere" combined with the surprise twist ending delighted audiences and contributed to this film becoming a huge critical and commercial success.
Budget: $37 million
Worldwide gross: $700,381,748
Bottom Line: It
Many Stephen King stories have been turned into successful movies.
But this adaption of a King thriller blew away even the most generous box-office projections.
The creepy clown brought chills to people all over the world, and they came out in droves to be terrified.