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Oct 23 2018

Top Ten Quickie - Best Horror Performances?

Eeek!We have planned absolutely nothing for Halloween on the blog just yet so in case we don't here is an impromptu list (mostly off the top of my head) for discussion fun.Since horror is not my preferred genre,it was actually quite hard to come up with the male actors list but the female list was easy but for the difficulty of narrowing it down.Can you believe I had to leave theExorcistwomen off the list?

10 Best Lead Actresses in a Horror Film

  • Isabelle Adjani - Possession
  • Toni Colette - Hereditary
  • Bette Davis - Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
  • Shelley Duvall - The Shining
  • Mia Farrow - Rosemary's Baby
  • Jodie Foster - Silence of the Lambs
  • Nicole Kidman - The Others
  • Vanessa Redgrave - The Devils
  • Sissy Spacek - Carrie
  • Sigourney Weaver - Alien

More after the jump...

I had to leave so many great performances off this list.Sorry especially to Essie Davis inThe Babadookand Ellen Burstyn inThe Exorcist.Actresses have excelled so often in this genre

10 Best Leading Actors in a Horror Film

  • Antonio Banderas - The Skin I Live In
  • Jeff Goldblum - The Fly
  • Anthony Hopkins - Silence of the Lambs
  • Jeremy Irons -Dead Ringers
  • Daniel Kaluyya - Get Out
  • Robert Mitchum - The Night of the Hunter
  • Jack Nicholson - The Shining
  • Haley Joel Osment - The Sixth Sense
  • Anthony Perkins - Psycho
  • Oliver Reed - The Devils

I showed you mine,now you show me yours.Boo!

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Reader Comments (60)

Actress: I'd probably remove Nicole Kidman and Redgrave for Jennifer Tilly,Bride of Chucky and Jenny Agutter,An American Werewolf in London.
Actor: I'd remove Goldblum,Irons,Osment and Kaluuya.If we're allowed more than one entry per actor,I'd put in all three film flavours of Bruce Campbell's Ash Williams and David Naughton,An American Werewolf in London.If we're only allowed one entry an actor,original Evil Dead and Army of Darkness would be replaced with Simon Pegg,Shaun of the Dead and Kaluuya would be back in the mix.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia


I remove Toni for Hereditary and put The Sixth Sense because she is god damn good!
And add Mercedes McCambridge as the Devil voice in The Exorcist.


Remove Kaluya and Goldblum and add:

the father in The Witch (I forgot his name!His voice is towering!)
Kevin Space - Brad Pitt - Morgan Freeman in Se7en

I loved your lists!

And if I could add one ensemble for horror film I would add

The entire young an child cast of The White Ribbon.Outstanding!!

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJon

Charlotte Gainsbourg's fearless work in ANTICHRIST is worth a mention.Her performance is easily one of the best in 2009.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTony

This Deborah Kerr in The Innocents erasure...far too much.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Rech

Isabelle Adjani forPossessionand Charlotte Gainsbourg forAntichrist.You can't get more intense than those 2 women.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I had a much easier time thinking of women than men...

Isabelle Adjani,POSSESSION
Charlotte Gainsbourg,ANTICHRIST
Audrey Hepburn,WAIT UNTIL DARK
Julianne Moore,[SAFE]
Bette Davis & Joan Crawford,WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
Mia Farrow & Ruth Gordon,ROSEMARY'S BABY
Sissy Spacek & Piper Laurie,CARRIE
Shelley Duvall,THE SHINING
Kathy Bates,MISERY
Ellen Burstyn & Linda Blair,THE EXORCIST
Scarlett Johansson,UNDER THE SKIN
Sigourney Weaver,ALIENS
Nicole Kidman,THE OTHERS
Catherine Deneuve,REPULSION
Vanessa Redgrave,THE DEVILS
Susannah York,IMAGES

Max von Sydow,HOUR OF THE WOLF
Anthony Perkins,PSYCHO
Daniel Kaluuya,GET OUT
Jack Nicholson,THE SHINING
Oliver Reed,THE DEVILS

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I think Kaluuya's work in Get Out is a bit overrated.It's a good reactive performance.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTr

For me leaving Essie Davis off the list is just a travesty.But I like every performance you have on the list.Perhaps a top 10 is just too limiting.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Isabelle Adjani in Possession is simply the only performance I can allow.Such a tremendous showcase.Also a good first date movie - if he can handle that film,he can handle me.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

these were just the leading performances so dont be upset if you loved a supporting performance as some of those mentioned.

October 23,2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Barbara Hershey in The Entity

Michelle Pfeiffer in What Lies Beneath and mother!

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMarcelo - Brazil

Film Bitch Awards predictions: Toni Collette finally gets her gold medal.I mean,Essie Davis is not in the list after getting a silver!

October 23,2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Marsha Mason in Audrey Rose is one of the greatest.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

My two favorite actresses in a horror movie?Emma Thompson and Laura Linney in Love Actually.That's the scariest movie I ever saw.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJames from Ames

You know you're a MF,Nathaniel?We've had hardly agreed on this site,but your choices here align a lot with mine.Terrific taste...:P
Besides that,I want to point out how underrated Jason Miller's performance is in The Exorcist since he's barely mentioned when people cite the movie (the autocorrect just highlighted the word EXORCIST in a different color.Help...;_;).
Also,there can not be Toni Collette without Alex Wolff..Wherever that kid goes from now on,he already has a performance for the books (or at least my books) in the section of excellence in acting.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

Solid lists,although I'm with Jon in favoring Collette in The Sixth Sense over her in Hereditary.There are so many great performances in these films that it's hard for me to pick favorites - but,I'd strongly consider adding Maika Monroe for It Follows and Barry Keoghan for The Killing of a Sacred Deer (maybe that's not strictly horror,but if Baby Jane and movies like it count ...).

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

My #1 of all-time will always be Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby.She is hard to cast but sensational when she is in the right role in a great movie.

And I would count Black Swan as a horror witch case Natalie Portman should make the list.A mesmerizing,unforgettable turn that transformed Portman's reputation.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

That's a great list Roger.I love The Shining since it reveals the moon landings were fake,and is generally so creepy,like our President.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTom Ford

Agree with Gainsbourg and Adjani but for the love of me why are people still not realize that Silence of the lambs is A-Not scary B-Jodie is at best mediocre in it (really the lambs the're crying?Please.....)

October 23,2018 | Unregistered Commenterstjeans

No particular order:

Nobuko Otowa,Onibaba
Anthony Perkins,Psycho
Freddie Jones,Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Max Schreck,Nosferatu
Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein
Jeff Goldblum,The Fly
Jeremy Irons,Dead Ringers
Vincent Price,Theater of Blood
Essie Davis,The Babadook

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDan H

Not going to emphasize the exclusion of Bates.But shocked you didn't include Julianne Moore for Safe.

October 23,2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

In no particular order and also think I included 11 but whatever....

Toni Collette,Heriditary
Sigourney Weaver,Aliens
Angela Bettis,May
Nicole Kidman,The Others
Liv Tyler,The Strangers
Essie Davis,The Babadook
Ashley Judd,Bug
Alison Lohman,Drag Me to Hell
Ellen Burstyn,The Exorcist
Shelley Duvall,The Shining
Sissy Spacek,Carrie

October 23,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan (the 1st)

I also really had to figure out the differences between a thriller and a horror film.I consider Misery,Silence of the Lambs and Antichrist thrillers.I also had to remove Neve Campbell for Scream 2,which was hard to do.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan (the 1st)

How has no one mentioned Neve Campbell or Courtney Cox in Scream.HOW.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMikenewq

My favorite all time performance ever is Sissy Spacek in Carrie

I agree with Adjani and Davis but Kidman....i feel like she is always very stylized and dont transmite me many emotions.Haven't seen the rest of the list.

I could add Angela Bettis in May,Harvey Scrimshaw in The Witch,Eui-sung Kim in Train to Busan,Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker's Dracula,Drew Barrymore in Scream and i know that is a mini-series but the performance of Tim Curry in IT is just one of the greatest horror performances.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterCesar Gaytan

Neve Campbell in SCREAM!Courteney Cox should have got a Supportng Actress nom.Unlike Neve's "final girl but with depth"role,Gale Weathers is a type not often seen in this genre: A fame-hungry tabloid journalist so desperate for a story she flirts with a deputy and and sneaks her way into a high school party!

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Very commendable list,but where is Deborah Kerr in the Innocents?Such an amazing performance: perhaps the best of het entire career (and that's saying something!) And on the male side: why not throw in something like Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator?Such a great,fun performance!

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDieter

I have to agree with Dieter on Deborah Kerr in The Innocents.I would also vouch for Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion,Garance Marillier in Raw,Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow,and Julie Harris in The Haunting.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

Kathy Bates for Misery is definitely one of my favorite Oscar wins of all times.
"I'm your #1 fan"Always gives me chills….
Where's the line betweeen Thriller and Horror?I think Robin Williams was simply amazing in One Hour Photo!

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Nathaniel THANK YOU for including Shelley Duvall on this list.It BLOWS MY MIND reading some of the vitriol that gets thrown her way for her work in that movie.She's freaking incredible in it!!MVP for sure,in what is arguably the hardest part that the movie ultimately pivots on most.

You have great taste in horror leading ladies,though I'd maybe swap out Nicole (sorry) and Sigourney (love her but the first Alien isn't really an actor movie so much and she gets way more to play in the second movie) for the Davis and Burstyn.I would also feel guilty about Moore in Safe but I don't know I completely buy that as horror.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Love this list,although one leading performance that's (somewhat surprisingly) stayed with me over the years is Neve Campbell in Scream 3.It's such a muddled,inconsistent movie but the layers she adds to her character's barely buried trauma gives the film unexpected resonance.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered Commenterben1283

@Sonja I think that the line that separate horror from thriller is the fictional/fantasy/paranormal elements and the thriller use to be more focused in the twisted mind from a character or resolve a crime/mistery instead of a massive bloody number of deaths.

I would made a list apart from thriller just to include more actors and will be topped from Sandrine Bonnaire in La Ceremonie and Fele Martinez in Tesis.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterCesar Gaytan

In no particular order,and I had to leave many folks off:

Lead actresses:

Deborah Kerr - The Innocents
Zohra Lambert: Let's Scare Jessica To Death
Alexandra Essoe - Starry Eyes
Virginia Madsen - Candyman
Mia Farrow - Rosemary's Baby
Karen Black - Burnt Offerings
Nicole Kidman - The Others
Adrienne Barbeau - The Fog
Jessica Harper - Suspiria
Sissy Spacek - Carrie

Have to say I'm surprised that anyone considers Neve Campbell as a fave.She's fine in the Scream movies,but so one-note.

Lead Actors:

Haley Joel Osment - Sixth Sense
Tony Perkins - Psycho
Jeffrey Combs - Re-Animator
Jeff Goldblum - The Fly
Robert Englund - A Nightmare on Elm Street ('84)
Donald Sutherland - Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('78)
Alex Wolff - Hereditary
Mark Duplass - Creep & Creep 2
David Naughton - An American Werewolf in London
Robert Hunter - Night of the Hunter

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland in Don't Look Now!

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Of the performances you didn't include (and these are FANTASTIC lists,Nathaniel!),I would have to mention Max Schreck in Nosferatu and Ashley Judd in Bug right off the top of my head.

Any "best of"list that includes Isabelle Adjani in Possession is alright by me!

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Do not forget Ahsley Judd and Michal Shannon in BUG.
Catherine Deneuve in REPULSION.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered Commenterhernan

Neve Campbell,Scream 2
Toni Collette,Hereditary
Sissy Spacek,Carrie
(are we counting Kathy Bates in Misery as horror?)
Mia Farrow,Rosemary's Baby
Jodie Foster,Silence of the Lambs
Jamie Lee Curtis,Halloween

Robert Englund,Nightmare on Elm St
Daniel Kaluyya,Get Out
Anthony Hopkins,Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Perkins,Psycho
Ralph Ineson,The Witch

October 24,2018 | Unregistered Commentermikenewq

My TOP 5 performance by an Actress in a Horror Film are:
#1: Mia Farrow,ROSEMARY'S BABY
#2: Isabelle Adjani,POSSESSION
#3: Charlotte Gainsbourg,ANTICHRIST
#4: Scarlett Johansson,UNDER THE SKIN
#5: Sissy Spacek,CARRIE
and an honorable mention to Janet Leigh for PSYCHO
Sorry,I know actresses often excel in this genre,but I see no way to ignore Charlotte Gainsbourg for ANTICHRIST and Scarlett Johansson for UNDER THE SKIN.So,so,so good!!!

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Everyone -- i really dont like Gainsbourg in "Antichrist"...

Peggy Sue -- LOLOLOL

October 24,2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Another vote for Angela Bettis,(May) - such a disturbing performance.

When I was a kid - Vincent Price - Theater of Blood gave me nightmares!

October 24,2018 | Unregistered Commenterceebee

How has nobody mentioned the divine Angie Dickinson in DRESSED TO KILL

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Three others I love:

Jamie Lee Curtis - Halloween (best Final Girl ever)
Amy Steele in Friday the 13th Part 2 (2nd best Final Girl)
Maika Monroe - It Follows

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterRob

@Andrew - This is a best *lead* actress in a horror film list,so Dickinson doesn't qualify (even though she really is Dressed to Kill's MVP).

The horror/thriller line is a tricky one to gauge,but Misery is as much of a horror film as The Silence of the Lambs.In that case,Bates definitely deserves to be on a top 10 list,as does Williams in One Hour Photo 'cause...yikes!

Davis in The Babadook,Judd in Bug,and Madsen in Candyman are so,so good.I'd add as well Cécile de France in Haute Tension,a 2003 French horror film that lingers with (haunts?) me to this very day.She's fantastic in it.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

P.S.Mad respect for Shelly Duvall.#JusticeForWendy

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

If we consider David Lynch movies horror (which they can play that way),add Naomi Watts for MULHOLLAND DR.and Laura Dern for INLAND EMPIRE.

I'll also throw a bone to Kim Ok-bin for THIRST.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

Is Duvall actually giving a performance in The Shining or is everyone floored by the manifestation of Kubrick's onset abuse of her captured on film while she recites lines crumbling in terror from her director and not imaginary circumstance from her costar?

October 24,2018 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Lina Leandersson in Let The Right One In
Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive
Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs
Liv Ullmann Hour of the Wolf

Jake Gyllenhaal in Donnie Darko
Christian Bale in American Psycho
Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Perkins in Psycho

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterManuel

/3rtful,influenced by the filming circumstances,but don't rob the woman of her hard fought achievement of a performance.

October 24,2018 | Unregistered CommenterTameika


October 24,2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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