The Most Terrifying Movie Scenes of All Time

8 minute read

By Jonny Hughes

While some people cannot stand watching scary films, there are also many of us that like nothing more than to be scared senseless. It is a unique experience. Although we know that it is all fiction and we are safe, it still has a psychical effect on your body. A genuinely terrifying scene will not just scare you at the moment, but stick with you for days after. To terrify audiences properly, it takes a lot of skill and a collaborative effort from everyone working on the movie. Prepare yourself, as these are the 12 most terrifying scenes ever.

Warning: Some of these scenes contain explicit language, adult situations, and/or violence

12. The Strangers – “Is Tamara there?”

After watching this movie, you will feel your heart jump anytime that somebody knocks on your door. This lasting impact is the sign of good horror. Taking place at a vacation home in the middle of nowhere, Kristen and James hear a slow knocking at their door at 4:00 AM. When they open it, they find a very creepy girl who asks if Tamara is at home, before leaving and saying that she will “see them later.” They send her away, and James goes out to pick up cigarettes. Then comes the scene in question, where Kristen is home alone and once again hears the chilling knock at the door. The girl again asks for Tamara, and it becomes clear that something is not right. A very foreboding atmosphere seeps in, and after speaking to James on the phone, a horrifying shot is shown where a masked figure is standing in the house.

11. The Thing – Blood Test

We recently included this fantastic scene from The Thing in our tensest movie scenes list, and it is impossible not to include it once again. The scene is so effective because the tension is cranked up so dramatically, and then just when you least expect it, there is a terrifying jump scare. Most jump scares are a cheap way to evoke a reaction from the audience. Many are predictable, but not this one. The entire premise of the film surrounds the question of “who you can trust?”, since the monster can take any form. That concept is brilliantly explored here. Each person has a blood sample in a Petri dish, and they are tested one by one with a hot copper wire to see if there is a reaction. Just when MacReady (Kurt Russell) thinks he knows who it is, he (and the audience) are given a nasty scare and the plot thickens.

10. Rosemary’s Baby – The Conception

Another classic which has stood the test of time, Rosemary’s Baby is as scary today as it was upon its 1968 release. The scene that stands out as the scariest is Rosemary’s impregnation, which hits like a sledgehammer after the first section of the film telling a somewhat normal story. This switch from normality to anything but is harrowing, and the film soon spirals into horror. On the night they plan to conceive, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is brought chocolate mousse by her eccentric neighbor, which she throws away due to a chalky taste. She passes out and believes that she has a dream where she is raped by a demonic presence in front of her husband and strange neighbors. Roman Polanski perfectly captures the fading in and out of the feeling of falling asleep, but this is replaced by a horrific nightmare with fantastic use of music and disturbing imagery.

9. The Blair Witch Project – Final Scene

While The Blair Witch Project is heavily scrutinized and constantly parodied today, it was a standout horror film when it was first released. It was very effective at building tension and there are several chilling scenes throughout. None more so than the very final shot, where the fate of the documentary crew is revealed. At the start of the film, the skeptical crew is told of how the Blair Witch would kidnap, torture, and murder children in his basement. She would bring them inside in pairs, and force one to stand in the corner and face the wall and listen to him torturing the other. After losing a member in the woods and hearing him screaming, they find a derelict house and follow the screams to the basement. There is a struggle and the camera is dropped, and when Heather enters, her camera catches Mike facing the corner before Heather is knocked to the floor.

8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Leatherface’s Introduction

You will struggle to find a film more harrowing than Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is relentless from start to finish. There are many moments that could appear on this list, but perhaps the scariest scene is Kirk’s death and our introduction to one of the great horror villains – Leatherface. Hoping to find gasoline in a creepy nearby house, Kirk tentatively walks in to hear a pig squealing, which causes him to notice all kinds of skulls hanging from the walls. He (stupidly) ventures further in, only to bump into the incredibly frightening Leatherface, who delivers a sickening thud with his hammer. We then see a long shot where Leatherface drags him to the side, before menacingly slamming the door shut. This brutal scene sets the tone for the rest of the brilliant yet horrifying film, which is one of the greatest and most influential horrors.

7. Jaws – Surprise Dead Guy

What is so effective about Steven Spielberg’s classic Jaws is that the shark is not even seen until around two-thirds of the way through (this due to the mechanical shark constantly malfunctioning). Instead, there is a foreboding and ominous atmosphere, which is masterfully achieved by letting the audience imagine the shark for themselves. In what is (arguably) the scariest moment, Hooper and Brody go out on a nighttime search where they find a half-sunken boat. Hooper gets into his scuba gear and goes down to investigate, which leads to him discovering an alarmingly large great white shark tooth embedded in the hull. While we are stunned and a little bit frightened by this, suddenly the face of a dead body emerges from the hole much to the horror of Hooper and the audience. He drops the tooth, but they now know exactly what has been causing the deaths and they know that trouble lies ahead.

6. The Exorcist – Head Turn

The Exorcist may seem dated if you watch it now and this somewhat reduces the impact that it has on a modern audience. However, this moment is impossible to leave out, since it is an iconic horror scene which caused audiences to lose their minds upon release. Some theaters even provided “Exorcist barf bags” when you bought your ticket. In this particular scene, a possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is having an exorcism carried out by two priests — a real battle between good and evil. The demon shows its terrifying power by rotating Regan’s head a full 360 degrees, along with an incredibly evil look in its eye. This is closely followed by the famous “pea soup” moment, where the demon projectile vomits all over the room. Not only is this an incredibly shocking scene, but it is also haunting due to the immense evil on display.

5. Misery – Leg Hobbling

It is no secret that Stephen King is the master of horror when it comes it novels. But it is also known that he is usually not a fan of most of the film adaptations of his work. Not the 1990s Misery, however, which won an Oscar for the performance of Kathy Bates. She puts in an incredible yet terrifying performance as Annie Wilkes – a psychotic fan who holds an author captive. In the most frightening scene, we see just how psychotic she is when she hobbles the author’s legs to stop him from escaping her “care.” Already strapped to the bed, she places a board between his ankles and clobbers one of his ankles with a sledgehammer. At this moment, the entire audience either recoils in horror or scream out in sympathy, but she is not finished. She then slowly walks over to the other side and repeats with an emotionless look on her face.

4. Mulholland Drive – Lunch at Winkie’s

When it comes to dreaming horror, David Lynch is the absolute master. This is evident with Twin Peaks and Eraserhead, but perhaps the most horrifying moment of his comes from Mulholland Drive. In this brilliantly crafted scene, Dan takes Herb to a diner and tells him that he has taken him there because of a terrifying dream he had, which took place at that very diner. He explains that in the dream he sees a man with a horrible face in the parking lot, and he can see him by looking through the wall. The sound design creates haunting tension as Dan becomes overwhelmed with fear, and the two go out into the parking lot to confront his fear. An incredibly surreal and strange atmosphere is created during the scene, and you genuinely feel terrified as Dan and Herb walk out into the parking lot to investigate.

3. The Shining – Here’s Johnny

This list could be littered with moments from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the classic Stephen King story The Shining. The moment we have chosen, however, is the iconic scene where Jack hunts his family in the hotel, and takes an ax to the door before poking his terrifying face through and exclaiming “Here’s Johnny!” (a reference to late-night talk show host Johnny Carson). Jack Nicholson is sensational in the role, and it is at this moment that he is his most terrifying. It is such a scary film moment, that it was actually revealed to be the most terrifying moment of all-time through a scientific study where heart rate monitors were used on audience members. The “Here’s Johnny!” moment made pulses jump by a whopping 28.21% beats per minute during the tests. With this scene and a handful of others, The Shining remains one of the great horror stories of all-time.

2. Psycho – Shower Scene

Perhaps the most iconic horror scene ever, this is also one of the most terrifying film scenes ever. More than 50 years on, this will still make you think twice about taking a shower. In the scene, Marion takes a shower at the motel but suddenly a female figure appears and brutally stabs her to death, seeing her blood trickle down the drain. At the time, this level of violence had not been shown before and it horrified the audience. It is still shocking and terrifying today, and this is a testament to how excellent the scene is, including the acting, camerawork, editing, and the famous score. Additionally, it was particularly shocking as it saw the lead character killed off halfway through the film. An honorable mention also goes to the closing scene, where an institutionalized Norman Bates creepily stares at the camera whilst we can hear Norma’s voice in his head.

1. Alien – Bursts Through the Chest

Although slightly dated, this remains the most terrifying scene ever and one of the great movie moments in history. It is largely due to the shock factor, but also the graphic nature of the scene which will always make you feel slightly queasy after watching. After the creature latches onto Kane’s (John Hurt) face, it eventually disappears and all seems normal again. During the crew’s final meal before re-entering stasis, Kane is laughing and joking until he begins coughing. He collapses onto the table, at which point his chest starts heaving. Horrifyingly, the alien then bursts through his chest and killing him and spraying blood everywhere, before escaping to the depths of the ship. Both gory and scary, this scene has it all and only marks the beginning of the terror. The special effects were fantastic for the time, and this has helped it remain such a scary, gripping and brilliant film.

Jonny Hughes


Jonny Hughes has been writing about movies and TV for Goliath since 2015.