What are the best ghost movies? It’s time to honor cinema’s dearly departed by looking over the greatest ghoulish offerings of all time. That’s right, we here at The Digital Fix have our Ouija boards at the ready and have summoned the top ghoulish picks that this horror sub-genre has to offer.
Ghosts have been a fixture in entertainment for centuries, and are an entity you see across many different genres — and it’s easy to see why. Stories about lost souls returning to haunt us tap into the universal fear of death and the terrifying question of what happens to us after we die. It’s a fascinating concept that can be used to tell just about any story, be it a comedy movie, a romance movie, or of course, horror movies.
Whether it’s haunted houses, chillers, psychological thriller movies, or just some macabre fun, we’ve done some ghost hunting of our own to choose the best movies in the sub-genre. So if you’re ready to face some apparitions, here’s our list of the best ghost movies.
1. The Sixth Sense (1999)
Remember when “I see dead people” was the most quoted line in cinema? Well, it’s all thanks this M. Night Shyamalan movie and cultural phenomenon, The Sixth Sense.
A supernatural psychological thriller, the movie is horrifying, sports some amazing writing, gorgeous cinematography, and has one of the most famous twist endings ever. The Sixth Sense follows a child psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s trying to atone for his past by helping a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) with the uncanny ability to see dead people.
The Oscar-nominated movie is packed with supernatural spirits and shows how your past can haunt you in more ways than one. As the story unfolds, we see the downward spiral of all the characters, who become consumed with an overwhelming sense of loss and regret. If you’re looking for a fright, some top-tier acting, or just a great ghost story in general, The Sixth Sense is a must-watch.
2. The Innocents (1961)
Based on the 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, The Innocents is one of the best psychological horrors you can watch. It perfectly embodies the saying, “your mind is just playing tricks on you”, showing us a haunting, without ever telling us if what we are seeing is real or if it’s all just simply in the main character’s imagination.
The Innocents follows a Miss Gidden (Deborah Kerr), a governess who becomes convinced the two children she’s been charged with looking after are actually possessed by nefarious spirits.
By constantly making us question Gidden’s sanity, tension is built up to the extreme, and perfectly crafted ambiguity keeps you engaged throughout the entire film. The Innocents is an incredibly clever ghost movie that does an excellent job at putting you in Gidden’s shoes, making you question your own perceptions of the supernatural while also dragging you into a chilling mystery.
3. Poltergeist (1982)
Directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and produced by Steven Spielberg, you can’t talk about Hollywood hauntings without mentioning the spooky American classic, Poltergeist.
With its eerie atmosphere and fun story, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards in the year of its release, and to this day, the movie still has one of the creepiest doll scenes we have ever seen — sorry, Annabelle, but you just can’t beat possessed clowns.
One day a family finds themselves facing weird anomalies in their home, and supernatural danger ensues. From rearranging furniture to a television communicating with a little girl, this blockbuster has it all.
Although Hooper (generally known for darker and gorier projects) directed the film, there is a fun, lighthearted Spielberg-ness to Poltergeist, with humor sprinkled in-between all the unsettling scenes. While perhaps it isn’t the scariest ghost movie around, no one can deny that Poltergeist is always enjoyable, and stands as a class-A film.
4. Ghost (1990)
Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore prove that love never dies in the romantic movie Ghost. One of Jerry Zucker’s (Airplane!) most serious films to date, the movie follows a man (Swayze) who dies after a sudden mugging.
However, he isn’t ready for the afterlife just yet, especially after learning about a conspiracy that still threatens his very alive girlfriend (Moore). Although most people associate this film with pottery montages, or Whoopi Goldberg’s comedic genius, Ghost stands as a solid chiller in its own right. The iconic movie tells a gripping story of Swayze desperately trying to find ways to communicate with the living and constantly attempting to help the love of his now-deceased life.
Full of tension and sporting a touching love story too, Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990 for a reason. It also won the Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress (Whoopi Goldberg), cementing its place in cinematic history.
5. The Devil’s Backbone (2001)
The Devil’s Backbone is an unsettling masterpiece from award-winning director Guillermo del Toro. We usually see hauntings set in the modern day, and we rarely see historically focused phantom films like we do here.
Set in 1939, during the final year of the Spanish Civil War, this gothic film offers the perfect blend of supernatural fantasy with a real-life history leading to a fresh take on a ghost story that is bloody terrifying.
Set primarily in an orphanage, with a giant unexploded bomb in its courtyard, The Devil’s Backbone follows a young boy whose father was killed in the civil war. Upon arriving at the school, the young lad realizes that the tall walls of his new home hold a dark past and is full of spirits trying desperately to communicate with him.
One of Guillermo del Toro’s most underappreciated films, The Devil’s Backbone has a dynamic atmosphere, is an excellent anti-fascist piece of art, and touches on the very sad concept of sudden death, and deceased souls who need closure.
6. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Despite the huge amount of incredible Asian horrors out there, the South Korean chiller, A Tale of Two Sisters, takes the crown when it comes to unsettling ghouls.
Inspired by a folktale from the Joseon Dynasty era, the film was the first South Korean picture to be screened in American theaters and still stands as the highest-grossing Korean horror movie to this day. The movie opens with two sisters, who, after being released from a mental institution, move to the countryside to stay with their father and cold stepmother.
However, once they return, strange things start to happen in the house. The movie is a slow burn that builds horror through its character dynamics, and big plot reveals that are designed to unsettle the viewer. There is also a constant sense of foreboding and a suffocating atmosphere, keeping you on the edge of your seat. A Tale of Two Sisters is a cerebral story, and one of the most atmospheric ghost movies, period.
7. A Ghost Story (2017)
A Ghost Story is an existential drama centered around a musician who dies and turns into (drumroll please) a ghost. However, he doesn’t become a creepy Conjuring kind of apparition.
No, refreshingly, he looks like he’s wearing a children’s Halloween costume, which adds to the beautiful simplicity of this movie. Death is sad, and A Ghost Story shows that through an emotionally impactful script and striking visuals that’ll shake you to your core.
The movie deals with themes surrounding loss, and questioning the meaning of life directly. Written and directed by David Lowery (The Green Knight), we see a ghost watch his past, present, and future, confronting his life while also trying to find something that’ll help him move on.
A highly original take on the sub-genre, the movie is packed with beautiful visuals, is full of sincerity, and is a quiet, emotional drama movie that’ll stick in your mind for years to come.
8. The Others (2001)
Written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar, The Others is a gothic thriller that’ll have you jumping at the slightest sound when walking about the house. Set in 1945, Nicole Kidman plays a mother of two children who are afflicted with photosensitivity, making them averse to light. After hiring three new servants to help keep her Victorian home perpetually dark, strange events begin to occur, and Kidman and her kids soon realize that they aren’t the only ones ‘living’ in the old house.
The acting is phenomenal and the film is visually stunning. From foggy outdoor scenes to dimly lit rooms, the cinematography is perfectly moody. The horror movie also has a fantastic twist, subverting the typical haunted house formula with its ending. All in all, The Others is an enjoyable spooky flick that is near impossible not to love.
9. Ghostbusters (1984)
When you’re looking for the best ghost comedy, who are you gonna call? One of the best movies of all time, the quirky supernatural 1984 classic Ghostbusters. Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, the movie follows a gang of fired professors, who set up a paranormal investigation service in New York. They get commissioned by Dana, a haunted musician whose fridge has turned into a gateway to another dimension.
Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis, the film is a hotpot of comedic talent, with some of the best ensemble work to be seen.
The cast performs together perfectly, embodying the movie’s fun script that has just the right amount of laughs, horror elements, and even a touch of fantasy to capture all our spooky imaginations. A film near and dear to all of us here at The Digital Fix, Ghostbusters is a timeless flick and a ghost movie for any occasion — all hail Zuul, and roll on the Ghostbusters 4 release date.
10. The Changeling (1980)
A slow-burn cult classic, Peter Medak’s The Changeling is one of the most loved ghost films of all time. Ghost movies usually consist of a family unit, and rarely do you find a single person facing off against specters in their home all by themselves.
After the sudden deaths of his wife and daughter, a composer rents an eerie Victorian mansion, trying to escape his past – however, things don’t really work out that way. Not long after moving, strange phenomena become the norm, and some creepy supernatural goings-on occur. The Changeling is unquestionably terrifying, embodying everything that makes the concept of ghosts and hauntings horrific.
The Changeling is straight nightmare fuel and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you wait for something to jump out of the shadows. The camera work also has a voyeuristic quality, as if we are witnessing the movie through the eyes of the ghost stalking its prey – making you cower in suspense until the credits start to roll.
11. Thirteen Ghosts (2001)
Steve Beck’s remake of the 1960 original is a puzzle-box chiller about a family who find themselves trapped in an evolving prison full of nasty spirits. Thirteen Ghosts isn’t a science fiction movie, but its mechanical haunted house that runs on negative spiritual energy places it remarkably close.
The scares are loud and abrasive, as was trendy for the late ’90s and early 2000s, making it seem a little try-hard in retrospect. Thankfully, Matthew Lillard is there to save the day, and the effects work does some heavy lifting too, with each phantom a grotesque all its own.
12. The Phantom Carriage (1921)
On New Year’s Eve, Death visits the last person who dies to make them the arbiter of the dead for the proceeding year. A drunk man named David loses a fight in a graveyard on one such occasion, to be visited by his deceased friend Georges, who’s driving Death’s carriage, and they reminisce before the changeover.
The Phantom Carriage is an unscrupulous film. Sometimes it feels like It’s A Wonderful Life, other times, it’s a straight drama movie as we learn about David and Georges’ past lives. Swedish director Victor Sjöström pushed many visual and narrative boundaries for something that has a particularly ghostly presence whenever you allow it into your life.
13. Crimson Peak (2015)
A twisted Gothic romance movie from Guillermo del Toro, this is a delightfully camp slice of the macabre in which Mia Wasikowska walks the corridors of an old, dark house in a white dress with a candlestick. It’s as classical as it is brilliant.
When Wasikowska’s character is told she’s writing a ghost story in the early stages of the movie, she says that actually it’s “more a story with a ghost in it”. And this sums up the movie too, where the ghosts are as much a moral force at the center of the story as they are a vessel for scares. Having said that, it still gave us nightmares.
And there you have it, ghouls, gals, and phantom pals, the best ghost movies of all time. If you are in the mood for more scares, check out our list of the best monster movies, the best slasher movies, the best body horror movies, and best vampire movies, or we have a guide to all the new movies coming in 2023.