While horror movies don’t have to stray into R-rated territory to be scary, there is something oftentimes exciting about those that do. Horror, after all, is one genre that can find itself benefiting considerably from having as few restrictions as possible. And when it comes to the R-rating (or the equivalents outside America), anything deemed appropriate for those 17 and older is there for the filmmaker’s taking, ensuring violence can be grislier, language can be more profane, and other adult content can be more than just implied.

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The following horror movies are some of the best to have this sort of extreme or intense content, and it’s safe to say probably aren’t ideal for all viewers. Some are grislier than others, and some even have unrated cuts that technically make them more full-on than “merely” R-rated movies. Nevertheless, they’re not ranked below by extremeness, necessarily. That’s a factor, but they’re largely here in order of quality, starting with the great and ending with the greatest.

25 ‘Braindead’ aka ‘Dead Alive’ (1992)

Lionel's mother being bitten by the rat-monkey in Braindead

Braindead gets things off to a great start, when it comes to R-rated horror movies, as the official reason given for its rating was “an abundance of outrageous gore.” And anyone who’s watched the movie knows that that’s a fair assessment, as this Peter Jackson-directed zombie movie has ludicrously over-the-top violence and gallons upon gallons of fake blood getting spilled throughout.

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It’s both a comedy and a horror movie, meaning it’s probably sillier than it is actually scary, though it certainly has the capacity to shock or gross out viewers with its violent content. Even if it might not be the most frightening of R-rated horror movies, its abundance of outrageous gore means it at least deserves a mention.

24 ‘The Fly’ (1986)

a man stares at his reflection in the mirror

The 1950s version of The Fly is quite tame, considering movies were more restricted back then regarding what they could show, thanks largely to the infamous Hays Code. The even better 1986 version, however, was not restricted when it came to violence and frightening imagery, with David Cronenberg showing here how great he was at making effectively nauseating body horror.

The movie revolves around a scientist gradually transforming into a fly after an experiment gone wrong, and though it sounds silly on paper, the execution here makes it genuinely hard to watch and even quite tragic. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s unequivocally effective as an R-rated horror movie, for those who feel up for watching it.

23 ‘Get Out’ (2017)

Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington crying and looking shocked in Get Out.

A well-written blend of horror and social satire, Get Out understandably caused a sensation upon release, and is one of the most iconic horror movies in recent memory. It’s about a young Black man meeting the white parents of his girlfriend for the first time, and making some startling discoveries about who they really are, and what they may want from him.

Though there’s satire here, it’s not as broadly comedic as something like Braindead, meaning Get Out is genuinely intense and effectively creepy for much of its runtime. It also doesn’t quite rank up there among the most graphic R-rated horror movies of all time, but it is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century that also happens to be rated R, meaning it’s worthy of being mentioned.

22 ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981)

David Naughton as David Kessler in the painful werewolf transformation scene in 'An American Werewolf in London.'
Image via Universal Pictures

A movie that wonderfully blends horror, comedy, and tragedy, An American Werewolf in London is a deserved 1980s cult classic that endures to this day. It follows two backpackers from (you guessed it) America, and what happens when during their travels around England, they’re attacked by a werewolf, spelling death for one and a fate arguably worse than it for the other.

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It pushes things pretty far when it comes to violent and sexual content, making it one R-rated horror movie you probably won’t want to watch with your parents. Despite the comedic tone in parts, it’s also notable for having some genuinely alarming imagery, most notably in its infamous werewolf transformation sequences, executed with practical effects that still look awe-inspiringly gross more than 40 years later.

21 ‘Suspiria’ (1977)

Suzy (Jessica Harper) holding a knife while standing in front of curtains in 'Suspiria'

Compared to other Dario Argento movies, Suspiria isn’t too extreme, which makes it a good entry point for viewers new to the Italian filmmaker’s body of work. Other films of his do contain more graphic violence and adult content, but Suspiria is still firmly placed within the pantheon of R-rated horror, due to its murder scenes still packing a bloody, gory punch.

Narratively, the 2018 remake tells the same core story about a young dancer uncovering some dark, supernatural-related secrets at a prestigious dance school, but is more provocative when it comes to content. Both are R-rated, but in some ways, the remake of Suspiria is even more extreme.

20 ‘Possession’ (1981)

a woman holds a knife

Possession could well be one of the most upsetting horror movies of all time. While it has certain scenes that contain images some may find shocking, it’s also what the movie’s about, and the detail with which those things are explored that makes it have the kind of unsettling impact it does.

At its core, Possession is a movie about the dissolution of a relationship, and the immense psychological and physical toll it takes on two people who once loved each other. It’s an effectively horrifying movie about the darker and more depraved side of romance, and for as good a movie as it is, it’s also hard to imagine a worse one to watch on a date.

19 ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981)

bruce campbell the evil dead0

Some might find its goriest scenes a little cheap-looking by modern-day standards, but it’s easy to imagine The Evil Dead being a good deal more shocking for audiences to witness back in the early 1980s. It’s one of the most iconic low-budget horror movies of all time, and though it would classify as R-rated now, and has been released unrated on physical media, it was originally X-rated back when it first came out.

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That does demonstrate how The Evil Dead was boundary-pushing content-wise, and indeed more shocking to people back then than it might be now. Either way, it still holds up as a creative and very impressive work of low-budget horror, and one of the most daring and admirable of its day.

18 ‘Let the Right One In’ (2008)

Lina Leandersson as Eli, a girl covered in blood in 'Let the Right One In'
Image via Magnolia Pictures

It’s unsurprising for vampire films to get bloody, considering vampires have to, you know, feast on blood and all. Let the Right One In certainly doesn’t shy away from some of the grisly realities that would come with having to get by on such a diet, with the film centering on a vampire who has the appearance of a young girl.

It’s not over-the-top when it comes to depicting violence, but certainly has its gory moments, particularly towards the film’s end. It also works well as a bittersweet coming-of-age film, and is moody, emotional, and oftentimes eerie, being one of the most engrossing and effective vampire movies of all time.

17 ‘The Thing’ (1982)

Kurt Russell R.J. MacReady in The Thing.
Image via Universal Pictures

One of the most paranoia-inducing horror movies of all time, The Thing is also noteworthy for being one of the goriest of the 1980s. All the gruesome creature effects and death scenes are pulled off with some of the most well-crafted practical effects of all time, ensuring that even though this movie’s getting on in years, the gory moments are still sickening and even hard to look at.

It was probably too much for some people back in 1982, leading to The Thing being well-known for not resonating with audiences upon release, but eventually becoming a cult classic. For its convincing special effects and constant, nail-biting tension, it’s certainly up there among the greatest R-rated horror movies of all time.

16 ‘The Lighthouse’ (2019)

Willem Dafoe in The Lighthouse
Image via A24

Several years after directing the superb (and also R-rated) supernatural horror movie that was The Witch, Robert Eggers returned with a bang and released The Lighthouse. This one feels funnier and more entertaining than his debut, yet it’s also more out-there and disorientating, centering on two lighthouse keepers on a small island who go mad from isolation… and each other.

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It’s probably more a matter of taste whether The Witch or The Lighthouse is better, but The Lighthouse perhaps earns its R-rating even more, so gets included here. And for what it’s worth, Eggers made his gnarliest and bloodiest movie yet with his subsequent feature film, The Northman, though that one doesn’t belong to the horror genre.

15 ‘Videodrome’ (1983)

James Woods looking at Debbie Harry on TV in Videodrome
Image Via Universal Pictures

It’s hard to single out just one David Cronenberg movie to pinpoint as his most twisted, but Videodrome would undeniably be a contender. It’s body horror at its more horrific, following the president of a TV channel who’s so desperate for ratings that he begins broadcasting a gruesome show where contestants are tortured on camera.

It’s not exactly subtle as a takedown of the media’s love for violence, and the capacity for viewers to seemingly eat it up, but bluntness sometimes works, and arguably does so here. In typical Cronenberg fashion, there’s plenty of on-screen gore and generally nightmarish imagery, ensuring Videodrome more than earns its mature rating.

14 ‘Hereditary’ (2018)

Hereditary - 2018 - ending

Hereditary is one movie that’s as twisted as it is twist-filled, being up there with the most shocking horror movies of the past decade. It centers on a group of family members who discover dark secrets about their ancestry while in the midst of dealing with an unspeakably grim tragedy that threatens to be their collective undoing.

The more traditional horror scares are indeed traumatizing, and the film is punctuated with brief bursts of upsetting violence, but it’s the exploration of grief in Hereditary that proves to be most harrowing. It’s as compelling as a family drama as it is a psychological horror movie, making it one film that proves hard to forget, even if some particularly troubled viewers may find themselves wanting to.

13 ‘The Conjuring (2013)

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson investigating a haunted house as Lorraine and Ed Warren in The Conjuring
Image via Warner Bros.

Kicking off a surprisingly fruitful film franchise with sequels and spin-offs, The Conjuring took the horror world by storm upon its release in 2013. It follows the husband/wife team of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who make up a team of paranormal investigators who help a family deal with a possible haunting in their isolated farmhouse.

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While the majority of R-rated movies – horror or otherwise – find themselves given that rating because of violence, sex, bad language, drug use, or some combination of the above, The Conjuring is something of an outlier. Its R rating was essentially given for the scariness of the film’s most terrifying scenes, which those behind The Conjuring might well have wanted to wear like a badge of honor, considering the movie feels like it was shot with a PG-13 rating in mind.

12 ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968)

Rosemary peeking into the baby's cradle, scared

Though Rosemary’s Baby might not be as shocking to horror fans today as it would’ve been upon release, it’s easy to admire it for pushing boundaries during its time. Its daring story and nightmarish visuals have allowed it to age well, and it’s a classic horror film that can count itself among the best of the 1960s.

The film’s titular character moves into an apartment complex with her partner, and gradually becomes fearful of the neighbors, particularly because of the unusual interest they show in her unborn child. It’s slow-burn horror at its best, expertly building to a devastating finale that ensures Rosemary’s Baby holds up as a brilliantly disturbing film.

11 ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs’ (1)
Image via Orion Pictures

With iconic lead performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, a killer screenplay, perfect pacing, and excellent direction, The Silence of the Lambs soars in just about every way. It follows the unlikely partnership between a young FBI agent and an imprisoned serial killer, with the former getting the assistance of the latter to track down another killer who’s at large.

Some might argue against it counting as a horror movie, but it’s so relentless as a thriller – and its criminal characters sufficiently violent – that much of it succeeds in being terrifying. It’s a winning blend of crime, thriller, and horror movie, and isn’t shy about showing some very confronting things throughout its runtime, making it more than earn its R-rating.

10 ‘Alien’ (1979)

Close-up of the xenomorph from 'Alien' (1979)
Image via 20th Century Fox

The first movie in what’s become a long-running sci-fi/horror series, there’s a strong argument to be made that the original Alien is still the scariest of them all. There’s also an even stronger argument to be made that it’s the most straightforward of all the Alien movies, given it’s largely set in one confined location, and centers on crew members on board a spacecraft having to fight for their lives against a deadly alien organism that’s gotten loose.

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It’s one of the greatest movies Ridley Scott’s ever directed, and feels timeless when it comes to delivering slow-burn tension and scares. It’s not constantly violent, either, but its moments of graphic violence still have a tremendous impact (most notably the infamous chest-burster scene).

9 ‘Psycho’ (1960)

Norman Bates holding a knife in Psycho
Image Via Universal

It’s saying something about the disturbing nature of Psycho that it’s as old as it is, yet still earns an R-rating. For the standards of the early ’60s, Psycho was about as violent as American movies could get, with some infamously grisly murders, nightmarish and unpredictable sequences, and an in-depth look at a psychologically disturbed criminal on a notably frightening rampage.

It’s so iconic and beloved that it easily ranks among the greatest films Alfred Hitchcock ever directed, in effect standing out as a masterpiece among other masterpieces. Most will know many of its biggest moments before they ever get to watch the film, but even then, Psycho still packs a punch while enduring as a horror classic.

8 ‘Carrie’ (1976)

Sissy Spacek covered in blood as Carrie
Image Via United Artists

Seven years before Brian De Palma directed the spectacularly swear-heavy (and very R-rated) crime epic that was Scarface, he made Carrie, which is another movie that more than earns its rating. It tells the story of a teenage girl with telekinesis powers who’s relentlessly bullied at school, and eventually uses said powers to get revenge on those who wronged her.

Things aren’t too bad violence-wise until the memorably intense bloodbath (almost literally) that ends the film, where a school prom goes disastrously wrong. It’s a dark, compelling, and ultimately downbeat horror movie, striking a good balance between delivering horror thrills while also painting a sympathetic portrait of a young girl who’s bullied, with grim consequences befalling all involved in such behavior.

7 ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984)

Freddy Krueger's claws about to attack Heather Langenkamp's character in the bath in 'Nightmare on Elm Street'
Image via New Line Cinema

Kicking off a long-running series of sequels – some good, and some quite bad – the Nightmare on Elm Street series became one of horror’s most iconic, though nothing ever topped the original film from 1984. This was the one that introduced the world to Freddy Krueger and his unique method of killing his victims: stalking and slaughtering them in their dreams.

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It blends fantasy and horror elements to expert effect, and is memorably bloody in places (especially one infamous kill that features copious amounts of red liquid). It doesn’t push things too far content-wise, particularly compared to some other slasher movies of its time, but still firmly falls within R-rated territory.

6 ‘Scream’ (1996)

scream 19960

More than a decade after he released the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven made another decade-defining horror movie with Scream. This one was unafraid to get particularly meta, centering on a group of young people who were fans of horror movies, and used their knowledge of the genre to try and survive a mysterious killer who was intent on picking them off one by one.

Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream began a long-running series, with a decent number of solid sequels that nevertheless couldn’t ever quite top the original movie. It had the kind of attitude and snarky humor you’d expect an R-rated meta horror movie to have, and began a winning formula that ensures the Scream franchise remains a popular one to this day.

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