Mental Floss
ENTERTAINMENT

The 20 Least Scary Horror Movies of All Time, Based on Jump Scares

Jake Rossen
Scary movies don't always need to kill your nerves.
Scary movies don't always need to kill your nerves. / Klaus Vedfelt/DigitalVision via Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

Call it scary movie hesitancy. For a certain segment of the population, horror movies are something to be avoided at all costs. Viewers can sometimes identify with characters a little too much, prompting more anxiety than amusement.

If you’re in this category but still want to experiment a bit, the gambling advocates at FindMyCasino.com have compiled a least of what they’ve dubbed the “least scary” horror movies of all time. While that’s highly subjective, the site did have a formula: Taking a list of the top 100 horror films from IMDb.com, each title was searched at wheresthejump.com, which tracks jump scares in films. The fewer the jump scares, the less scary the movie.

That approach doesn’t account for existential or psychological dread, but it’s a start. Here’s a list of 20 films (and where to stream them) that may satisfy a horror craving without forcing you to sleep with the lights on.

1. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) // Jump Scares: 0

This adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel contains zero jump scares, as do the next three films on the list—effectively tying them all for first place. But you’ll still be chilled by the intellectual evil of Hannibal Lecter, an imprisoned killer who matches wits with Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling. Originally, Gene Hackman was set for the Lecter part, but ultimately opted out of playing such a dark character.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

2. Cannibal Holocaust (1980) // Jump Scares: 0

An early entry in the found footage genre sees a group trekking into the Amazon to locate missing filmmakers, who turn out to be victims of a cannibal tribe. The footage was so convincing that director Ruggero Deodato was actually accused of killing actors (he didn’t) and was put on trial in Italy. No humans were harmed, but scenes of actual animal cruelty led to the film being widely condemned.

Watch it: Shudder via Amazon Prime

3. The Blair Witch Project (1999) // Jump Scares: 0

Found footage hit the mainstream with this hit about another group of curiosity-seekers investigating the legend of a witch in the Maryland woods. The dialogue was largely improvised: When an actor wanted to break character, they would use the code word taco.

Watch it: Hulu or HBO Max

4. Bone Tomahawk (2015) // Jump Scares: 0

This gnarly Western sees Kurt Russell leading a troop to confront cannibals on the outskirts of town. It was shot in a mere 21 days.

Watch it: Pluto TV

5. Carrie (1976) // Jump Scares: 1

The first adaptation of a Stephen King novel is among the best, with Sissy Spacek confronting bullying teens at her high school prom with telekinetic fury. The film’s marketers managed to misspell King’s name as “Steven” in early trailers.

Watch it: fuboTV

6. Sleepy Hollow (1999) // Jump Scares: 1

Tim Burton’s take on the Washington Irving tale of the Headless Horseman stars Johnny Depp and opts more for laughs than scares. Depp said he took inspiration for the skittish character Ichabod Crane from Angela Lansbury.

Watch it: Amazon Prime ($3.99)

7. Coherence (2014) // Jump Scares: 1

This low-budget film sees a dinner party go sideways as metaphysics comes into play. The actors largely worked from notes rather than a script.

Watch it: Amazon Prime

8. Psycho (1960) // Jump Scares: 2

Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller about troubled motel proprietor Norman Bates is thought to be the first American film to show a toilet.

Watch it: Peacock

9. The Fly (1986) // Jump Scares: 2

Jeff Goldblum sees a science experiment go awry when his DNA is spliced with that of a housefly. Though not scary in the strictest sense, the movie sure is disgusting. Mel Brooks produced the film and came up with the tagline: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”

Watch it: HBO Max

10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) // Jump Scares: 2

Tobe Hooper directed this classic about a murderous clan that terrorizes a group of traveling twentysomethings. Hooper believed there was so little gore that the film deserved a PG rating. (It got an R.)

Watch it: freevee via Amazon Prime

11. Let the Right One In (2008) // Jump Scares: 2

The Swedish vampire film about a sharp-toothed girl who befriends a boy is more of a coming-of-age story than a straight horror tale, though it’s got plenty of shocks. The film had a less successful American remake in 2010.

Watch it: Hulu or Amazon Prime

12. I Saw the Devil (2011) // Jump Scares: 2

This South Korean film sees a man seek revenge on a serial killer for murdering his pregnant wife. Co-star Choi Min-sik later appeared on the Netflix hit Squid Game.

Watch it: Hulu

13. Hostel (2005) // Jump Scares: 2

Eli Roth directs this visceral film about a tourist destination in Slovakia with a poor checkout policy. The movie’s depiction of the country angered Slovakians, which prompted Roth to host a press conference assuring them it was “movie Slovakia” and not intended to be a faithful depiction.

Watch it: Hulu or HBO Max

14. Midsommar (2019) // Jump Scares: 3

Florence Pugh stars as an American with relationship problems traveling to the famed Swedish festival and finding it’s not all that it seems. Director Ari Aster, the helmer behind Hereditary, called it a “breakup movie.”

Watch it: Paramount+

15. The Shining (1980) // Jump Scares: 3

Jack Nicholson is Jack Torrance, a writer who slowly becomes unhinged while snowbound with his family at the Overlook Hotel. Nicholson is said to have improvised his classic “Heeeere’s Johnny!” line while attempting to dismember wife Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duval) with an axe.

Watch it: HBO Max

16. Gerald’s Game (2017) // Jump Scares: 3

Another Stephen King adaptation sees Carla Gugino handcuffed to a bed after her husband suddenly drops dead. Director Mike Flanagan later helmed another King adaptation, 2019’s Doctor Sleep.

Watch it: Netflix

17. Raw (2016) // Jump Scares: 3

A vegetarian discovers a taste for human meat. A few graphic scenes allegedly prompted some audience members to faint during a 2016 screening at the Toronto Film Festival.

Watch it: Netflix

18. The Others (2001) // Jump Scares: 4

Nicole Kidman stars in this gothic chiller about a woman caring for her two light-sensitive children during World War II. Tom Cruise, who was married to Kidman at the time of production, was an executive producer.

Watch it: Not Currently Available

19. Bird Box (2018) // Jump Scares: 4

Sandra Bullock stars in this film about a mother protecting herself and her two children from strange beings that can kill with a look. A viral challenge in which people attempted activities while blindfolded prompted Netflix to urge people to stop.

Watch it: Netflix

20. The Last House on the Left (2009) // Jump Scares: 4

This remake of the 1972 Wes Craven cult classic is significantly less chilling than the original, though both earned strong responses for their depictions of violence and assault.

Watch it: fuboTV

If you’re ready to graduate to the hard stuff, here’s a list of films with the most jump scares.

Looking for a new movie to watch, or at least a movie that's new to you? Mental Floss's new book, The Curious Movie Buff: A Miscellany of Fantastic Films from the Past 50 Years, offers behind-the-scenes details and amazing facts about some of the greatest movies of the past half-century. And it's available now at your favorite place to buy books, or online right here.

facebooktwitterreddit