Some of the biggest directors of their respective generations appear on this list British horror movies, with the individual films boasting star-studded casts. And barring a couple exceptions, they mostly hold great name value today. The films in the list’s upper echelon represent some of the greatest and most famous entries into the horror genre that cinema has ever seen. But on the other hand, others will without a doubt appear more unfamiliar.
And for what it’s worth, The Omen (1976) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) were both co-produced by other countries, and were made by an American director and a Spanish director (respectively). They won’t apply. All that said, these are the thirteen greatest British horror movies, ranked.
13 Dog Soldiers
Several movies that appear on this list were made by auteurs, directors who write the scripts to each film that they make. But here with Dog Soldiers (2002), filmmaker Neil Marshall also sat in the editing room to piece together the final product. It follows a small squadron of British soldiers, training in the Scottish highlands when they stumble upon a massacre. There’s just one survivor living to tell the gory tale, with the source of the attack providing a particularly frightening twist.
The film boasts a strong status as a cult classic today, with audiences homing in on the action sequences and memorable one-liners as the highlights of the film. And while Dog Soldiers doesn’t boast many stars among its cast, it’s rendered a surefire pick to start the list thanks to great screenwriting efforts from Marshall along with a keen sense for direction.
12 Attack the Block
With engaging camerawork and well-written dialogue in tandem with an engrossing premise and talented actors, Attack the Block (2011) deserves a spot on the list for various reason. It blends genres, as many other entries on the list will, going down as something of a science-fiction horror comedy. John Boyega appears as the lead before he ever held a lightsaber, while Jodie Whittaker shows up before ever being known as the Thirteenth Doctor.
Then, there’s Nick Frost. A hilarious performer with several well-known titles under his belt, he does appear in a film much later in the list. But more on Shaun of the Dead (2004) in a bit. Regarding Attack the Block: its plot picks up on Guy Fawkes Night in London, following a street gang who encounter a deadly race of alien invaders. And while this is a comedy primarily, there are creepy atmospherics and convincing performances that render Attack the Block a surefire pick for the list of best British horror movies.
11 The Innocents
Based on the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, this entry features famous British actress Deborah Kerr in one of her greatest all-time roles. The Innocents (1961) follows her protagonist, a governess assigned to watch over two children in a large estate, only to find that the home and the children are being possessed. It’s an intriguing story, and director Jack Clayton made a compelling final product.
But there are two other names worth noting: William Archibald and Truman Capote. The latter is one of America’s most acclaimed literary figures of the twentieth century, and he co-wrote the script for The Innocents alongside Archibald, who also adapted the story into a stage play. And arguably, this is the greatest version of the story.
10 The Descent
The only filmmaker to appear twice on the list is writer-director Neil Marshall who, after gaining cult status with Dog Soldiers, went on to outdo himself with this, another horror film called The Descent (2005). If you’ve ever been interested in spelunking or have even gone out and done it, you probably skipped this. It doesn’t just induce feelings of claustrophobia from the other side of your T.V. screen — it will also force you to stay isolated from that side, safely on your couch and away from any caves with frightening creatures like the ones in The Descent.
The plot follows six women who go exploring within a cave in North Carolina. And the cave-dwelling creatures of The Descent facilitate some terrifying moments, with engaging camerawork and matching tactics of editing to boot. This is among the most fan-favorite titles on the list, and it probably would end up higher had Marshall focused more on character development. Alas, the scares provided hereby do land the film within the list’s top ten.
9 The Ritual
Even when characters such as those in The Ritual (2017) physically place themselves in the most ridiculous of situations, it’s hard not to root for them anyway. After all, they most of the time fall victim to some of the most gruesome and sorrowful death scenes that cinema can offer as a whole. That’s undoubtedly the case here. But verisimilitude aside, the general premise of ancient evils stalking four friends in the Scandinavian wilderness hits home for anyone looking to get spooked.
Critics were a trifle divided upon release, and audiences by no means gathered in spades to attend the showing at their local movie theaters. But again, this one should hold up perfectly for a specific corner of horror fans, with terrifying antagonists and imaginative death sequences that will haunt the respective viewer anytime they step into the woods. It’s not the perfect film, but The Ritual nonetheless holds up as a high-quality horror movie produced in Britain.
8 Village of the Damned
Adapted from a novel called The Midwich Cuckoos (1957) by John Wyndham, this science-fiction hybrid has aged just wonderfully from a standpoint of behind-the-scenes filmmaking. That’s mostly thanks to director Wolf Rilla. But Village of the Damned (1960) is also an endlessly eerie project thanks to a creepy atmosphere in tandem with chilling performances. It was remade into a film of the same name in 1995, but there’s a vast valley in quality between that version and the original.
Both features chronicle the titular village whose residents one day all fall asleep suddenly, only to wake up and find that each woman of child-bearing age is now pregnant. What’s worse: the children are born quickly, and they’re anything but normal. An off-the-wall premise that played out brilliantly the first time around, enough to warrant a thematic sequel along with the aforementioned remake. And the original remains an absolute mainstay of British horror all these decades later.
By far and away, the most popular film to appear thus far on the list is Hellraiser (1987). And in terms of sheer name value, it even triumphs over most of the films still to follow. There’s an exception, but the point is: Hellraiser is among the most well-known horror projects ever filmed, regardless of region or filmmaker. But speaking of the director: Clive Barker also wrote the script, and he saw the final product into horrifying fruition thanks primarily to the design of its antagonist.
Identified as “Pinhead”, he’s portrayed by Doug Bradley as he leads a group of extra-dimensional beings known as Cinobites. This is a fairly famous plot, though. It is worth noting the vast legacy crafted hereby, with over ten entries to the franchise in total. It was recently rebooted with Hellraiser (2022), which surprised audiences well enough. But really, it was never a true match for the original.
6 Shaun the Dead
Though far from the scariest movie on the list, Shaun of the Dead by Edgar Wright is without a doubt the most hilarious. Sure, Attack the Block gives this entry a decent run for its money in the comedic regard. But there should be no denying the more uproarious title. The feature at hand marks writer-director Edgar Wright’s first of three collaborations with English actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and in the eyes of many film fans, it’s still their funniest project to date.
For those unfamiliar: Shaun of the Dead is set within a zombie apocalypse, with its title poking fun at the same category of films by American director George A. Romero. Specifically, the plot follows Pegg as the titular character, a sales agent named Shaun, while Frost co-stars as his buddy, Ed. The two actors developed a dynamic rapport that in many ways has since defined their respective careers, with Shaun of the Dead holding up just wonderfully today. It’s not meant to frighten, but it will undoubtedly make you laugh.
5 Don’t Look Now
For many fans and pundits, the greatest British horror film ever made is Don’t Look Now (1973). It’s in hindsight considered a classic, and it of course deserves a spot on the list — within the top five, at that. It follows a man named John, played by Donald Sutherland, who relocates with his wife (named Laura, portrayed by Julie Christie) to Venice after the passing of their daughter.
They encounter a pair of clairvoyants, and the plot escalates in thrills from there. The performances from the aforementioned leads perhaps stand tall as the film’s greatest feat, with clear aptitude in the screenwriting department as well. It’s easily the greatest film from director Nicholas Roeg, and in the end, there’s no denying its prowess as an all-time great of British horror.
4 The Wicker Man
No, not the reboot starring Nicolas Cage, but the original British horror film directed by Robin Hardy. Centering around the concept of neopaganism, The Wicker Man (1973) features spooky undertones from its first scene. Things don’t get frightening until the midpoint. But this is a truly well-made flick until the resonance of its finale, with brilliant behind-the-scenes elements of screenwriting and cinematography constantly at play.
It follows Sergeant Neil Howie, a police officer who arrives at Summerisle in Scotland in search of a missing girl. This is where the paganism comes into play, with Howie (a Christian) finds great unease in the religious practices of the island’s residents. Britain’s greatest horror actor Christopher Lee show up as the antagonist, Lord Summerisle, and his seamless deliveries and focused facial expressions land the film at hand in the list’s top five.
From one Christopher Lee film to another, Dracula (1958) features Lee in the titular role, the antagonist Count Dracula. Opposite him is Peter Cushing as Doctor Van Helsing, another famous character. Thanks to novel counterpart of the same name by Bram Stoker and the many other adaptations that came both before and after the one at hand, this film transcends the entire list in terms of popularity.
Considering the production company released a whopping six sequels, and four of those contained Lee reprising his role, it’s easy to cite the Count as his most iconic performance to-date. It just edges out The Wicker Man, but on any other day, Dracula could even come in at the penultimate spot. Top three isn’t bad, either.
2 Peeping Tom
Deemed in the eyes of some fans as the original slasher movie, Peeping Tom (1960) follows a friendless man named Mark Lewis (portrayed by Carl Boehm) who works in a film studio. But when night falls, he uses his expertise to take explicit photos of women. Hence, the title. And although it won’t appeal to everyone, Peeping Tom stands tall as one of the most brilliant projects on the list from a behind-the-scenes standpoint of filmmaking.
The quality of its performances is rivaled only by the caliber of its camerawork, with Peeping Tom boasting perhaps the greatest shot value on the list. And of course, Carl Boehm provides an all-time great effort, with the director Michael Powell becoming a legend of the horror genre for his work. It’s often cited as the slasher progenitor with good reason — it’s a masterpiece, and plenty of filmmakers took note.
1 28 Days Later
If it weren’t for a certain American director named George A. Romero with Night of the Living Dead (1968) and a few well-acclaimed sequels, British director Danny Boyle would have created the best zombie movie ever made here with 28 Days Later (2002). This marks the first starring role of Cillian Murphy’s career, and it follows his protagonist Jim, a bicycle courier who wakes up from a coma to find himself entrenched in a post-apocalyptic landscape.
Easily the greatest zombie movie of the twenty-first century, 28 Days Later received widespread praise upon release from critics and audiences alike. And if anything, it’s only garnered more name value as of late. It holds up just wonderfully, no matter the perspective of filmmaking you consider. It’s a masterclass of screenwriting, with brilliant camerawork to boot along with an indelible performance from Murphy. Though perhaps a hot take, 28 Days Later is the best British horror movie ever made.