28 of the Best Ghost Movies of All Time

28 of the Best Ghost Movies of All Time
·14 min read

Of all the paranormal things that may pop up in scary films, ghosts have the power to be funny, family-friendly, scary, meaningful and deadly — sometimes all in the same film. And that makes watching any ghost picture a roller coaster ride of a different stripe than, say, serial killer movies.

"Ghost stories work best when the horror is subtle but chilling," says Bram Stoker Award-winning author James Chambers, co-editor (with Carol Gyzander) of the new ghost story anthology "Even in the Grave." "To create the right mood for the viewer, ghost movies should hold back certain elements a prose story might include."

That's true for all of the great ghost movies we've lined up for you below. Because in the end, most ghosts were once ... humans. Like us. That makes them relatable, even if they are dead, and even if they are kind of angry.

"Ghosts are an indication of what lies waiting for us after we pass away," says Bram Stoker-nominated author Gyzander. "Some may find the concept scary, while others can take reassurance from the idea that some element of ourselves or those we love will continue after death."

So turn on (or off!) all the lights and settle in with this list of fantastic phantasms from over the years, featuring new and old films, and ones reportedly based on true stories. Since some of these films are more funny than frightening, we've added in a Casper the Friendly Ghost-inspired rating system: One ghost (👻) means it's a Halloween movie is fit for the whole family; Five means you'll want to hide under a sheet of your own.

'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' (1947)

So you move to a seaside house only to find there's a catch: the dead previous owner (a gruff but Rex Harrison-shaped seaman) doesn't want you there. Fortunately, you're headstrong enough to win over even the dead, and pretty soon the pair of you are collaborating on his memoirs so you can afford to buy the house and live happily ever after — if not together. At least, not for many, many years. Bonus: If you love the film, there's a TV series based on it that ran from 1968 to 70.

Casper Rating: 👻👻

'The Legend of Hell House' (1973)

Full of the overwrought acting and super-saturated visuals typical of horror movies from the 1970s, this classic ghost tale features a physicist, his wife and two mediums who dare to spend a night in a seriously haunted house where both guests and paranormal investigators have been dying for 50 years. This ghost isn't above ruining the whole house in an effort to expel invaders.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻

'Hasu (House)' (1977)

Don't be fooled by the totally-out-of-place theme song in the trailer, a cheery tune better suited for a 1970s sitcom than one of the trippiest, weirdest ghost films you're likely to stumble across. "Hasu" ("House" in English) is full of all kinds of strange effects (those fingers playing the piano!), hellbent cats and lots of blood. There are some off-kilter funny bits, too — but you decide how you feel about a gaggle of young women visiting a house that slowly devours them all.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻

'The Shining' (1980)

Writing a novel is hard, people. That's why it totally makes sense for writers to go on isolated retreats. But Jack Torrance's (Jack Nicholson) stint at the Overlook Hotel might be too isolated. To the horror of his wife and psychic son, Jack becomes manipulated by the spirits who also live in the hotel. "The Shining" isn't just scary for its use of a Stephen King story and the menacing brows of Jack Nicholson (playing stunted author Jack Torrance): Director Stanley Kubrick's chilly style and jump-cut editing makes it a genuinely disturbing watch. Bonus: If you'd like to lighten the mood, check out this version of a "Shining" trailer, edited as if the film were family-friendly. It decidedly is not.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻👻

'Poltergeist' (1982)

"Poltergeist" is about a nice family who move into a nice house with a decidedly not nice history. Legend has it the house was built on an ancient burial ground, and the buried residents aren't happy with being confined to the basement. Steven Spielberg wrote the movie and director Tobe Hooper is best known for “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. You've been warned.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'Ghostbusters' (1984)

If you're seeing things in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? How about four guys who start their own business designed to capture and store ghosts — then have to deal with a bureaucracy that decides it's better to let them all loose? Yeah, that'll work. "Ghostbusters" (the original) is silly, a little scary and full of state-of-the-art special effects — for 1984, anyhow. Love for the franchise means there's an all-women "Ghostbusters" (2016) and a nostalgia-heavy "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" (2021) to keep you mired in the ectoplasm for a long time.

Casper Rating: 👻👻

'Beetlejuice' (1988)

Tim Burton turns the frighteners of the world into friendly, familiar specters. In this case, the ghosts aren't the puckish title character (Michael Keaton), but rather two recently-deceased homeowners (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who don't want anyone moving into their former dream home, which they're busy haunting. Add in a new family of trendy out-of-towners (and one Goth daughter in Winona Ryder) and this is a fun, occasionally gross exercise in learning how ghosts and people can live in harmony.

Casper Rating: 👻👻

'The Lady in White' (1988)

Yes, there are children at the center of this story, but "The Lady in White" might prove daunting for younger viewers. The story focuses on nine-year-old Frankie (Lukas Haas) who witnesses the ghostly apparition of a girl being murdered while he's locked in a cloakroom, and sets about not just befriending her ghost but solving the crime. There's a second ghost involved — the titular woman in white — who also lends a hand as the clues start drawing the mystery closer and closer to Frankie's home. A different take on the old ghost tale mystery, but one that does involve attacking and killing children so ... beware!

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'Always' (1989)

The spectral figure in "Always" walks the fine line between a ghost and a guardian angel, suggesting they might be one and the same. A reckless aerial firefighter (Richard Dreyfuss) is killed while saving a compatriot and told in the afterlife by a spirit (Audrey Hepburn) that it's now his job to help guide the living. He interprets this as haunting his lost love Dorinda (Holly Hunter). As such, he tries to get in the middle of her grieving process, but ultimately learns how to let her go so she can heal. Directed by Steven Spielberg, "Always" is a story about grief and mourning, and is about as sweet a ghost story as you could expect.

Casper Rating: 👻

'Ghost' (1990)

Ghosts continue to have a romantic, guiding touch in the classic Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore four-hankie tale. Sam Wheat (Swayze) gets shot by a mugger, leaving his girlfriend, Molly (Demi Moore), and a reluctant medium (Whoopi Goldberg) to figure out that it was no random killing after all. Meanwhile, the ghostly Sam figures out how to connect to the earthly plane to let Molly know that yes, he's keeping an eye out for her ... and possibly even saving her life. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had someone to make pottery with.

Casper Rating: 👻👻

'The Frighteners' (1996)

Don't let the title spook you. "The Frighteners" is a horror comedy about a man who uses the ability to commune with the dead to make some money. His supernatural schemes get serious when the ghost of a serial killer gets back to his old ways, despite being "on the other side," and only Frank (Michael J. Fox) can stop him.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻

'The Sixth Sense' (1999)

The kid (Haley Joel Osment) says he sees dead people, and only one psychologist (Bruce Willis) is able to help him figure out what he needs to do to fix, or understand, this particular talent. As with a lot of ghost-based stories, there's a hurdle to overcome in helping either the ghost or the living free themselves from the liminal space they exist in, but unlike in many there's a giant "gotcha" at the end which you probably already know is coming.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'Sleepy Hollow' (1999)

In most tellings of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," things do not go well for one Ichabod Crane. But with Tim Burton directing, Crane (Johnny Depp) becomes an investigator considered radical for adhering to a scientific method, who comes to the small New York village to investigate a series of beheadings. The movie has definite scares and dark jumps, but it's not the same old story you might have grown up hearing told around a campfire.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'The Devil’s Backbone' (2001)

Made before "Pan's Labyrinth," this Guillermo Del Toro film is also set in the Spanish Civil War era and provides audiences with another kind of nightmare fuel. Adolescent Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at an orphanage that reportedly has a cache of hidden gold, and soon starts seeing specters from the school. Isolated from wartime and bedeviled by treasure hunters, Carlos and his friends find themselves in danger faster than you can say "ghosts!"

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻

'The Others' (2001)

Grace (Nicole Kidman) is having a devil of a time: Not only is she living in an isolated house in post-WWII Jersey (near the UK, not New York), while caring for her two young kids who have photosensitivity and therefore can't go out in the sunlight, she's also having problems with unwelcome visitors. Strangers seem to be moving into her house. The piano plays on its own, and time feels very slippy. Is her house haunted? Yes, but not in the way she thinks.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'The Ring' (2002)

The beauty of "The Ring" (an American remake of the 1998 Japanese film "Ring") is found in the premise's simplicity: Characters watch some weird found footage on a video tape, get a phone call letting them know they have a week to live, and then die. More interesting is the way Rachel (Naomi Watts) goes about "investigating" the phenomenon as if it's a puzzle that can be solved after her young son views the tape. Is the girl in the well a true ghost? Has she achieved some kind of demonic abilities? And can the "Ring" curse be defeated? All of those questions have elusive answers and disturbing consequences.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'Insidious' (2010)

If a film like "Always" (see above) walks the line between guardian angel and ghost, "Insidious" walks the line between ghost and demon. Within the movie's mythology, ghosts can cross over into the bodies of the living and then animate them. Full of jump scares, "Insidious" is a film about the wickedest type of angry spirits, who fixate on a young boy who dreams a little too well.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻👻

'The Woman In Black' (2012)

High Gothic style at its most bleak and melodramatic. "Woman in Black" is about a lawyer sent to Eel Marsh estate, a remote home whose owner has died. He's meant to gather papers and prepare the house for sale, but then people start dying, houses start burning down, children get creepier and fingers start pointing ... at him. The post-"Harry Potter" Daniel Radcliffe as the beleagured lawyer is a fantastic touch, too.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'Oculus' (2013)

"Oculus" continues the cinematic tradition of ghosts being dead yet super-powered beings who can do basically anything. In the movie, a sister (Karen Gillan) tries to exonerate her brother (Brenton Thwaites) for the deaths of their parents when they were small. The real culprit? A mirror that contains mind-controlling spirits. "Oculus" is a film that will make you question what you actually just saw.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻👻

'The Canal' (2014)

When a film archivist (Rupert Evans) comes upon very old found footage of a crime scene and murder, he quickly realizes there's a direct connection between the footage and the home he lives in. Meanwhile, his cheating wife turns up dead in a nearby canal, causing him to spiral obsessively with capturing the ghost he believes is connected to the footage and who lives in his home. Things just get darker, and ghostlier, from there.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻

‘It Follows’ (2014)

So, remember how in "The Ring" you died seven days after watching a videotape? Well, I have bad news and I have terrible news. In "It Follows," an entity (which is both a shapeshifter and some sort of specter) is passed from person to person through sex, after which it follows you forever. The only way you can delay your doom is to have sex with someone else, and share the ... uh, love. Then it has to kill that person before it gets to you. Seriously, this is the worst dating service ever.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻

'Crimson Peak' (2015)

Guillermo Del Toro returns with another kind of ghost story, this one a classic Gothic romance about con artist siblings (Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain) who start out trying to steal Edith's (Mia Wasikowska) fortune to save their sinking fortunes and his floundering inventions, but end up on very different sides about how she should be handled. Ghosts, meanwhile, are a bit on the sidelines, yet critical to the plot: Not only does one warn Edith about the mansion, later in the game one proves critical to her escape from the house of horrors. Drenched in atmosphere and packed with a great cast, this one will give you the best kind of chills.

Casper Rating: 👻👻

'We Go On' (2016)

A movie that reminds you to be careful what you wish for. Miles (Clark Freeman) is on a quest, offering $30,000 to anyone who can provide definitive proof of life after death. He gets a lot of pranks and hoaxes, but three lines of inquiry seem promising ... until he gets the answers he's been looking for, and then some. It's as much an emotional journey as one with spirits who have their own agendas, and will leave you feeling, well, haunted.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'A Ghost Story' (2017)

In the spare, meditative "A Ghost Story," time is a slippery device. The story is told both backward and forward: A man and a woman (only referred to as C and M, played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) live in an ordinary house. There is a tragedy. The result: The one who dies sits up in the morgue beneath a sheet, and begins wandering. No one can see this ghost, but this ghost slowly finds a way to interact with the world ... and eventually come to peace. Some ghost stories leave you in tears of fright; this one might just make you grab tissues for another reason.

Casper Rating: 👻👻

'Coco' (2017)

"Coco" is set during the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, during which spirits are said to cross over and visit the living. Celebrants hold celebrations and picnics to be with the departed. In "Coco," there's trouble when a young living boy accidentally crosses over with the dead and has to figure out how to return to the living. Though it's a family-friendly Pixar movie, there are still some scary spirits he'll have to evade, and old family secrets he'll have to unearth.

Casper Rating: 👻

'His House' (2020)

It seems particularly cruel to subject South Sudanese refugees who've escaped a living hell to a second horrifying passage by placing them into a haunted house in the U.K., where they're seeking asylum, but this is the plot of "His House." There's clearly some kind of angry spirit living in the shabby home the couple (played by Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu) has been given, but in time things become clearer: There are ghosts who have traveled along with the couple. It just goes to show that starting over isn't so easy when the baggage is spiritual.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻

'Candyman' (2021)

The spirit of a wrongly-accused homeless man who'd been accused of tampering with candy is far from a sweet soul. All you have to do to summon him is say his name three times in front of a mirror ... and he'll wreak some serious vengeance on you. Naturally, anyone who hears of this urban legend seems bound to taunt it in front of a mirror, which leads to a lot of bodies, a very important bee, and the transformation of a new member of Candyman's "hive." You're better off calling out for Beetlejuice.

Casper Rating: 👻👻👻👻