10 Greatest Horror Films That Don't Rely On Jump Scares

Horror films that proved that hair-raising suspense is much more effective than jump scares.

Kevin Spacey in Se7en
New Line Cinema

Ever since a bus screeched into frame in 1942 horror classic Cat People, jump scares have become a prominent fixture of the genre.

When they’re done right, these scares can be incredibly effective, taking us by surprise with genuinely creepy imagery. Both The Conjuring and Insidious are the perfect examples of horrors that do jump scares right. Unfortunately, though, far too many horrors rely solely on this tactic to generate their scares.

There’s only so many times we can watch a character look in the direction of an ominously spooky noise as the atmospheric music gives way to the musical sting of whatever ghostly presence is nearby before the experience wears thin. It’s cheap, lazy, and can easily see a horror devolve into a comedy.

Thankfully, there are still plenty of devilish delights out there that prove that jump scares aren’t what make films scary. Relying on their suspenseful atmospheres and gripping narratives to immerse us in unnerving tension, these flicks stand as being some of the most frightening horror offerings to date.

Although they may include the occasional jump scare, none of them are cheap or the main source of the encompassing terror.

10. Seven (1995)

Kevin Spacey in Se7en
New Line Cinema

Although it has arguably more in common with a crime thriller than your standard horror outing, David Fincher’s Seven – much like Zodiac - is just as spine-chillingly disconcerting than most conventional spook-fests.

Starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two detectives on the hunt for an elusive serial killer (played by Kevin Spacey), this flick sees the pair delve deep into the grimy underbelly of the city they call home. As the pair get closer to catching their culprit events only become more twisted. All of which leads to a climactic ending that unveils just how sadistic this murder really is.

Despite their being no paranormal entities waiting to jump out at the detectives Seven is nevertheless full of dread and suspense thanks to the dark, claustrophobic way in which Fincher presents this tense game of cat-and-mouse in which the killer always manages to stay one step ahead.

And this’s before we even mention the grizzly crime scenes. Slaying his victims in ways that represent the deadly sin they’ve believed to have transgressed, these deaths range from the twisted to the down-right repulsive.

You’re going to need a stronger stomach than you think to get through this terrifying mystery.


Glasgow-based cinephile who earned a Master's degree in film studies to spend their time writing about cinema, video games, and horror.