Once the calendar flips to October, fear seems to become big business, with movie ticket holders flocking to scary movies (which seem to be extending their reach well beyond the fall).
In fact, horror films have become a reliable go-to genre for Hollywood, although they are often overhyped and sometimes flop. Still, there has been a small group of scary movies that has found lasting cultural success and made a big splash at the box office. CNBC looked at available data from sources such as IMDB, Box Office Mojo and other outlets to compile a list of the 10 highest domestic-grossing horror films of all time.
—By Steven Hanley, special to CNBC.com
Posted 24 Oct. 2015
A supernatural thriller that launched a highly successful franchise of five sequels, "Paranormal Activity" chronicles the lives of young couple Katie and Micah. The pair becomes haunted by a supernatural presence that shows itself during their sleep, with terrifying results. The series has grossed nearly $400 million domestically, culminating in its sixth and final installment in the series, "The Ghost Dimension," which opened Oct. 23.
This American remake of the Japanese film "Ju-On: The Grudge," describes a mysterious supernatural curse that locks a person in a powerful rage before claiming their life and spreading to another victim. The movie earned tepid reviews, but movie watchers flocked to the vehicle, which starred "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" favorite Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role and earned more than 10 times its estimated budget.
Written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the film, which takes place in a small Pennsylvania village during the 19th century, chronicles the lives of the few villagers who live in constant fear of the creatures that inhabit the woods around them. "The Village" is one of the few horror films from the 21st century to have been nominated for an Academy Award — but not on the basis of its performances or special effects. It was nominated in the music category for best original score.
Based on a 1991 Japanese novel and a 1998 cult hit Japanese film, "The Ring" follows journalist Rachel Keller's investigation of a mysterious videotape. According to urban legend, and unfortunately for Rachel, the video will kill anyone who watches it within a week. "The Ring" ended up being one of the sleeper hits of 2002.
In this 2013 thriller, the Perron family moves into an old, dilapidated farmhouse in Rhode Island, which they quickly come to realize is surrounded by terror. The family calls in paranormal investigators, played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, to defeat the menacing spirits that haunt the house before all hope is lost.
This horror movie is unique in that nearly all lines in the film were improvised, as most of the events recorded were on-camera surprises. The story follows three film students who embark upon a two-day trek through the woods in search of the Blair Witch, a local urban legend. Powered by a slim budget of less than $1 million and word of mouth, "Blair Witch" rapidly became one of the most financially successful independent films of all time.
Starring Harrison Ford, the movie tells the story of Ford's character's wife, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who slowly begins to lose her mind at their lakeside home in Vermont. She believes that their lakeside paradise is being haunted by some sort of spirit who may be connected to the disappearance of a woman who lives next door.
If there was ever a "classic" on this list, it comes here at No. 3 with "The Exorcist." Inspired by the real-life 1949 exorcism of a boy named Roland, the movie depicts the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and her mother's desperate attempts to wrest her back. The movie is iconic for its many terrifying scenes, including Linda Blair's rotating head and spewing green vomit. "The Exorcist" is widely considered one of the scariest movies of all time.
The great white shark that made countless swimmers terrified to jump into the water actually was the recipient of three Academy Awards in 1976. Directed by Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg — and filmed in the wealthy New England vacation enclave of Martha's Vineyard — "Jaws" tells the story of a crazed Great White shark out for blood.
Arguably the most well-reviewed, and certainly the most commercially successful, film of M. Night Shyamlan's career, "The Sixth Sense" starred Bruce Willis as a therapist trying to help a young boy who claims to be communicating with dead spirits. The movie's cult status was cemented by a bone-chilling line uttered by Haley Joel Osment — "I see dead people" — that became an instant cultural catchphrase.