It’s no secret that horror movies are not for everyone. Many find horror movies to be too much to handle, especially if they scare easily. And that’s okay! Everyone is different, after all.
However, whether it’s through some morbid curiosity or the fear of missing out, some movie-goers with a strictly non-horror watchlist may wish to give the genre and some scary movies a try. But diving straight into the deep end is unwise, as that can turn them off horror for good. Luckily, some mild horror movies are perfect for anyone who wants to start first in the shallow end.
Updated on October 16, 2023, by Ryan Heffernan and Hannah Saab:
In the midst of the spooky season, even those who are most opposed to scary movies may find themselves suffering from a bit of FOMO as film lovers the world over embrace all the scares horror cinema has to offer. For the cautiously intrigued, this list presents some relatively light though acclaimed suggestions which are great beginner horror movies to enable new fans to ease into all the thrills the genre has to offer this Halloween.
30 ‘Child’s Play’ (1988)
While modern horror movies featuring terrifying dolls such as 2014’s Annabelle are often regarded as downright horrifying, Child’s Play is much more bearable for those who are easily scared. For one, it’s riddled with 80s cheese, and the character of Chucky (Brad Dourif) isn’t as frightening anymore. Although, he was considered much scarier when the film was newer.
Chucky is a living, foul-mouthed doll who happens to be an evil killer. While this is a terrifying premise, seeing a child’s doll swearing its little head off is funny to watch, turning it into one of the least scary horror movies. The practical effects also make it very unconvincing in the 21st century, which helps with any potential nightmares.
Watch on Max
29 ‘Ready or Not’ (2019)
In 2019’s Ready or Not, Samara Weaving stars as Grace Le Domas, a seemingly unassuming young bride about to marry into a wealthy and secretive family. When they play a game for the sake of family tradition, Grace learns of the family’s deal with the devil to keep their wealth, and she’s soon being hunted by each member as part of the twisted ritual.
Ready or Not is a darkly comedic horror film that mocks extreme wealth and the habits of out-of-touch people. While there are crossbows, guns, and some uncomfortable scenes showing the injuries and deaths over the course of the evening, the entire film offers a mostly entertaining and often funny viewing experience that will have viewers rooting for its badass protagonist.
Watch on Fubo
28 ‘Midsommar’ (2019)
Midsommar tells the story of a group of college students who travel to Sweden to research the reclusive Harga cult so that they can write a thesis on them. Despite being critically acclaimed, the movie is more creepy than scary.
The main reason it’s not terrifying is that most of the horror film happens in broad daylight, not in the characteristic darkness of other movies in the genre. Another reason it’s less frightening is that nothing overtly supernatural happens in the movie. The film may be about a cult, but no demons, ghosts, or cryptids exist. There are a few body horror scenes and psychedelic scares, but there is a complete and total lack of jump scares, making it tolerable for even the most easily startled.
Watch on Kanopy
27 ‘Crimson Peak’ (2015)
Crimson Peak comes from master film director Guillermo del Toro, and features the likes of Tom Hiddleston, and Mia Wasikowska. Wasikowska plays a young American girl who falls in love with a British entrepreneur named Sir Thomas Sharpe, who Hiddleston plays. They marry, and Sharpe brings his new wife to his home, a haunted manor known as Crimson Peak.
This movie centers around ghosts, and while the spirits encountered in the movie are decently frightening, they don’t appear as often as one would expect for a horror film. There are a few jump scares here and there, but it’s not the constant bombardment of terror that can be found in many more intense horror films, making this an easier option for newcomers to the genre.
Watch on Netflix
26 ‘The Blair Witch Project’ (1999)
The Blair Witch Project is considered by many to be one of the scariest movies of all time… or at least, it was. At the time of its release, this found-footage film petrified an entire generation with fear. This was due to a brilliant marketing campaign in which the three main actors played themselves, which was supplemented by the fact that the production company told the public that they had gone missing.
This, of course, wasn’t true, and all three actors are still alive and well. Thanks to the internet, the mystery associated with this iconic found footage movie has disappeared, making it far, far less frightening than it used to be. The titular witch is never seen in the movie, not even once, leading some to believe the witch was never real, to begin with. The terror comes from the supernatural events that happen while the cameras aren’t on. It’s more of psychological horror if anything.
Watch on Paramount+
25 ‘Dracula’ (1931)
One of the first horror movies ever made, Dracula is loosely based on the Bram Stoker novel of the same name. Many know the vampire Dracula as a classic horror character, and it was in this movie that he made his first appearance on screen. While the movie may have been incredibly scary for the time, its creepiness doesn’t hold up nearly a century later.
Despite being low on the scare scale, it’s still a classic movie for the ages and sets many standards for the genre, which is why Dracula is an essential watch for any horror newbie looking to dip their toes in.
24 ‘Annihilation’ (2018)
Annihilation is another movie that’s more creepy than scary. Starring Natalie Portman as the protagonist, Lena, it follows a group of biologists and former soldiers investigating a mysterious area known as The Shimmer in search of a missing expedition team.
Based on a sci-fi novel of the same name, much of the horror in the film comes from the mutated wildlife that can be found in The Shimmer. There are a few jump scares, but it’s nothing incredibly terrifying. There are also some psychological horror elements, but for the most part, it serves as a sci-fi movie with a complex and intriguing plot.
Watch on Paramount+
23 ‘Hush’ (2016)
Hush is a criminally-underrated slasher masterpiece, plain and simple. This is because it breaks so many conventional horror movie boundaries. For one, much of the movie is silent. This is because it’s told from the perspective of a deaf-mute writer, who can’t hear most of the things happening around her, and can’t speak or scream. The film being silent makes it a nice break from the loud, scream-filled, intense approaches of other horror films, which is why it’s not quite as scary as others.
Another unconventional but brilliant choice is that the killer who traps the writer in her home is not some paranormal entity or malevolent slasher. He’s just a man. Sure he wears a creepy mask, but he wears it for all of five minutes. For the rest of the movie, his face is completely exposed, which makes him much less threatening. The writer doesn’t make many bad decisions, which is more than can be said for many cheesy horror flicks. She cannot call for help, and she tries (unsuccessfully) to run, but it becomes apparent that she is running out of options, so her only choice is to fight back.
22 ‘Army of Darkness’ (1992)
Evil Dead (1981) may have started as a horror franchise, but as the films went on, they gradually became more and more ridiculous. Army of Darkness is a perfect example of this. The third film in the Evil Dead franchise functions as a sort of action/comedy/horror hybrid. It is technically a horror film with a few mildly scary parts, but they are easily overshadowed.
While it may scare its viewers, it also has its fair share of comedy and cheesy 90s action, complete with one-liners and outrageous dialogue, ultimately making the scary parts easier to get through.
Watch on Prime Video
21 ‘The Witch’ (2015)
The Witch comes from the now-popular A24 Studios, the same production company behind Midsommar, and features a lot of similarities, despite the two films having different directors. The Witch takes place in 17th-Century New England after a family of settlers is exiled from their village and is forced to establish a new home in the region. Unfortunately for them, the nearby forest is home to a witch.
When their baby disappears under mysterious circumstances, the family begins to tear itself apart in the wake of the supernatural events that begin to occur. The film is an easy watch for horror newbies as there is a grand total of one jump scare throughout the entire film, and it focuses more on creeping the audience out rather than scaring the pants off of them. What’s more, the witch herself is seldom seen.
Watch on Max
20 ‘Cloverfield’ (2008)
Cloverfield is another found-footage film about a giant Toho-esque monster that suddenly appears in New York and begins terrorizing the city. Typically, giant monster flicks aren’t quite classified as horror movies. This one, however, is. There are a few scares scattered here and there through the frantic camera movements, but for the most part, it’s just tension.
Moreover, the monster isn’t seen until the end, so it can’t disturb the audience based on its looks. Regardless, it’s a solid movie and a brilliant modern monster film.
Watch on AMC+
19 ‘Us’ (2019)
Director Jordan Peele‘s Us stars Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson, a woman who takes her family to Santa Cruz, California, for a beach holiday, only to be greeted by a group of mystery doppelgängers. The Wilsons’ doppelgängers are revealed to be part of a group of underground beings known as the “Tethered,” who have been living in a parallel universe and have emerged to seek retribution on the surface world. As the Wilsons fight to stay alive against their doppelgängers, they discover a startling link between themselves and the Tethered.
Us was a financial and critical success, with many commending its performances, directing, and social commentary. It’s also among the not-too-scary horror movies for beginners, as the premise is so unique that it’s hard to imagine it happening in real life. The pacing is also not as frantic as more intense horror movies.
Watch on Netflix
18 ‘It Follows’ (2014)
The horror film It Follows revolves around Jay (Maika Monroe), a young woman who is chased by a mysterious entity after having a sexual experience with her lover. The force that assumes the guise of a person can take any shape and can walk at a constant speed, always following its victim. The only way to get rid of it is to transmit it to another person via sexual contact. Jay and her companions are forced to confront their own mortality and the value of their lives as they struggle to flee the force and discover a way to beat it.
Directed by David Robert Mitchell, the film received critical acclaim and was praised for its unique premise and tense atmosphere. The main criticism centered on its “horror” elements being disappointingly underwhelming, which is why it’s perfect for viewers who don’t want anything too frightening.
Watch on Showtime
17 ‘Triangle’ (2009)
Christopher Smith directed the totally underrated horror thriller Triangle, which revolves around a group of friends who plan to go sailing together, only to get trapped in a bizarre and perilous storm. When they seek shelter aboard a nearby derelict cruise ship, unusual and frightening events begin to replay themselves in a never-ending cycle. They are forced to confront their own demons and secrets as they attempt to leave the ship and unravel the mystery of what is happening to them.
Critics praised Triangle for its creative and complex narrative, outstanding acting, and atmospheric directing. Non-horror fans will appreciate the film’s ability to keep viewers guessing. Audiences will be busy trying to figure out what’s going on – the film is more absorbing rather than terrifying.
Watch on Peacock
Director Mark Mylod‘s The Menu is a dark comedy horror film with a star-studded ensemble cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, and more. It follows a group of diners who take a boat to reach an exclusive and ridiculously expensive restaurant known for its eccentric celebrity chef (Fiennes), who has prepared a truly unique and horrifying meal for the selected guests.
With its biting satire, smart parody of foodie documentaries, and surprising laugh-out-loud moments, The Menu is the perfect choice for viewers interested in the way horror and comedy collide in films. It’s also among the latest entries in the recent trend of “eat the rich” cinema, which often relies heavily on the horror and thriller genres.
Watch on Max
15 ’Alien’ (1979)
Alien is a genre-defining sci-fi horror film that needs no introduction. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie follows the crew of the commercial space tug Nostromo as they return to Earth after receiving a distress call from an alien planet. When they investigate the signal, they come across a violent extraterrestrial species that start picking them out one by one. They are forced to confront their own fears and the boundaries of their humanity as they fight to survive against the creature.
Alien became one of the most influential science fiction films of all time after becoming a massive critical and financial success. The film received critical acclaim for its breathtaking cinematography, tense atmosphere and great performances, notably by Sigourney Weaver as the protagonist, Ellen Ripley. It’s an essential horror movie to watch for beginners, keeping in mind that it relies mostly on atmosphere, with the titular Alien having minimal screentime.
Watch on Hulu
14 ‘The Black Phone’ (2022)
If the popularity of Stranger Things and It are anything to go by, audiences love a good dose of nostalgia with their scares. The Black Phone follows this trend, set in the late 1970s and telling the story of a thirteen-year-old boy who is abducted by a sadistic child killer and locked in his basement where he learns he can communicate with past victims through a disconnected telephone on the wall.
While the film is obviously grim and has some supernatural undertones, it tends to feel more like a thriller than an all out-horror, and is balanced out by its retro backdrop and child characters. It’s an effective introduction to the unnerving fun that can be had with horror and the tension it provides.
Watch on Peacock
13 ‘The Ring’ (2002)
A breakout success of early 2000s horror, The Ring may be jarringly a product of its time now, but it still manages to provide a creepy and thrilling viewing experience if not a terrifying one. It follows an investigative journalist who starts looking into the mystery behind a cursed videotape after four teenagers – her niece among them – die exactly one week after watching it.
Part supernatural horror, part mystery thriller, The Ring is elevated by Gore Verbinski’s razor-sharp direction and Naomi Watts’ grounded yet powerful lead performance as an intrigued reporter and a desperate mother. While the horror movie does feature a couple of jumpy moments and some intense and unsettling sequences, it doesn’t rely on blood and gore to provide an experience and works just as well as an eerie mystery film as it does as a supernatural horror.
12 ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999)
Undoubtedly M. Night Shyamalan’s best film, The Sixth Sense works as both a spooky ghost story and a powerful drama. The film follows child psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who, after an encounter with an ex-patient, starts treating a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who can see dead people.
While the film features a few ghostly encounters, with some more intense than others, it finds dread in the quieter character-driven moments. While its shocking twist ending likely proceeds it for most viewers nowadays, The Sixth Sense is still a fantastic film that indulges just enough in its horror elements to provide a thrilling viewing experience without being nightmarish or ghastly.
11 ‘A Quiet Place’ (2018)
Best known as Jim Halpert in The Office, John Krasinski surprised everyone with his directorial smash hit A Quiet Place. Co-starring wife Emily Blunt, the film follows the survival of a family in a world where most of humanity has been wiped out by noise-sensitive creatures. The only way to survive is not to make a sound.
The film makes incredible use of its clever concept through masterful sound design and heart-pounding tension, but has elements of sci-fi that draw it away from conventional horror. The monsters themselves are unsettling, but are more alien-like than supernatural.