New study ranks scariest horror films by average heart rate

Which one came out on top?

A new study has attempted to rank the scariest horror films of all time by monitoring viewers’ average heart rates.

The broadbandchoices ‘Science of Scare’ project followed the heart rates of over 50 people across more than 100 hours of horror films to try and determine the 35 scariest films of all time.

According to the findings, 2012’s Sinister comes out at the top of the table.


The Ethan Hawke film follows a true-crime writer who investigates a string of gruesome murders on film footage, and according to the study audience members experienced a 32% uplift in heart rates – from 65 beats per minute (bpm) to 86 bpm.

'Sinister''s Mr Boogie. CREDIT: Momentum Pictures
‘Sinister”s Mr Boogie. CREDIT: Momentum Pictures

The biggest increase during the film’s scariest moment was to 131 bpm, a little behind Insidious‘ biggest jump to 133 bpm.

However, the latter film sits just behind Sinister in overall rankings due to its average heart rate increase to 85 bpm, followed by The Conjuring at three (84 bpm), Hereditary at four (83 bpm) and Paranormal Activity at five (82 bpm).

Only four films more than 20 years old are in the rankings – The Exorcist, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – while James Wan in the most popular individual director, with three films in the top 10.

The Exorcist
‘The Exorcist’ is to be remade and the Internet is furious. Credit: Alamy


“With more people than ever facing a Halloween at home, our Science of Scare study was designed to help people find the most scientifically scary films ever made, to save them the time of searching through thousands of titles across streaming services like Amazon, Netflix and Shudder,” said study creator Daniel Clifford.

“Our list found that modern horror movies sent heart pounding faster than classics, with movies like Sinister, Insidious and the Conjuring series scoring particularly high on the list. While horror fanatics might be surprised to see some iconic movies such as Halloween chart comparatively low, it’s worth bearing in mind that while incredible films, they may not have the same instant impact years later.

“If you’re easy startled, then this definitive list of horror is not for you, but if you’re looking for something to get your heart racing this Halloween, then turn the lights off, but the sound up and remember to check under your bed before you go to sleep.”

Milly Shapiro as Charlie in Hereditary. CREDIT: A24

The study was created by collating a list of the 50 greatest horror movies – based on IMBD, Rotten Tomatoes, critics ‘best of’ lists and Reddit lists – and screening each one to a panel of 50 viewers across a variety of ages.

Audience members were then fitted with a heart rate monitor, tracking their heart rate throughout the film vs their average resting heart rate. The data was then averaged for each film.

The full list is as follows:

  1. Sinister
  2. Insidious
  3. The Conjuring
  4. Hereditary
  5. Paranormal Activity
  6. It Follows
  7. The Conjuring 2
  8. The Babadook
  9. The Descent
  10. The Visit
  11. The Ring
  12. A Quiet Place
  13. A Nightmare on Elm Street
  14. Halloween
  15. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  16. 28 Days Later
  17. The Exorcist
  18. Hush
  19. It
  20. Scream
  21. The Grudge
  22. The Witch
  23. The Blair Witch Project
  24. Alien
  25. The Thing
  26. Poltergeist
  27. Annabelle
  28. Friday the 13th
  29. The Orphanage
  30. Dark Skies
  31. Wolf Creek
  32. The Omen
  33. The Shining
  34. Get Out
  35. Audition