16 Classic Horror Movie Posters
When it comes to movie marketing, the promotional poster has always been a major part of movie advertising. While they might not be seen as important these days, in an age where social media dominates, they are still a vital tool to help the public know what movies are coming to their local cinema. When it comes to the best, it’s hard to go past horror movie posters.
Unlike other genres, horror enables artists to craft chilling works of art that possess the uncanny ability to evoke a spine-tingling sensation even before the first scream echoes through the theater. Horror movie posters, particularly those from the 70s and 80s, are full of haunting imagery, vibrant colors, clever compositions, and plenty of blood. Whether it’s a classic slasher, monster movie, or a flick from France’s New Extremity genre of deprived filmmaking, horror posters give movie lovers a peek into a macabre world of terror that’s sure to send shivers down their spine.
As big fans of the horror genre, we’ve decided to look at some of the most frightening and chilling movie posters that have captured people’s imaginations over the years. These posters masterfully seize the essence of fear, leaving audiences on edge and eagerly anticipating the adrenaline rush that awaits them on the silver screen. Each poster serves as a tantalizing glimpse into the twisted narratives and nightmarish creatures that lie in wait, luring us with their captivating designs and promising a heart-pounding experience that will leave us trembling long after the lights come on.
16 Classic Horror Movie Posters
1. Halloween (1978)
John Carpenter laid the foundations for the slasher genre with his masterpiece Halloween. Set during the festivities the film is named after, the movie introduced the world to the supernatural killer Michael Myers who just won’t die. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis in her debut film role and veteran Donald Pleasence, Halloween is an edge-of-your-seat thriller with one of the all-time great horror villains.
The original idea for the poster was to have it feature Myers’ mask, but designer Bob Gleason had something else in mind, as he told Fangoria in a 2022 interview: “It was my original idea. I was working with B.D. Fox and Friends, a design firm specializing in movie posters, showed them a rough sketch and explained what I wanted to do. I want to have the knife, and I want to show the echoing pattern and have it be a jack-o’-lantern at the same time.
And they said, “No, get that outta here. It’s gotta be the mask” and basically dismissed it. It went about three days, and they called me back up and said, “You know, Bob, I think I like that idea.” So I brought it back to them and started working on painting it. I’m really fast with my paintings. I think it took me about three or four days. That’s it. I think because the movie is so iconic, and the image is simple but powerful. It really worked. I thought it was a really good idea, and it turned out that way.
I sold the original artwork early on, and the last I heard, the Heritage Auction House in Dallas, Texas called me up and said, “Is this your artwork?” And I said, “Yes.” Someone had painted over the hand, and I said, ‘Listen, for three grand, I’ll restore it.’ And I did, and it looked like a million bucks when I was through with it. It sold at auction for $84,000.”
2. Alien (1979)
Philip Gips was an American graphic designer and movie poster creator who came up with the iconic Alien one-sheet. The creepy movie poster features an alien egg breaking open as some glowing green ooze hovers above a distant planet. Then there is the catchphrase that tells you exactly what type of film this is: “In space, no one can hear you scream.”
Alien would go on to be a surprise box office smash, raking in over $100 million from a budget of just $11 million. The film laid the groundwork for kickass female leads and established Sigourney Weaver as a star. It also helped Ridley Scott elevate his status as a director and resulted in one of the longest-running science fiction franchises, with a further eight films (including the Alien vs. Predator flicks) being made over the past 40 years.
3. The Evil Dead (1981)
Sam Raimi’s debut movie is a hellish supernatural horror about a group of teens who accidentally unleash demons into the world. With four of the group possessed, the remaining friend Ash must battle each one and try and escape the cabin with his hand, and his life, intact. While not a box office smash, the film did great things for the horror genre, Raimi, and lead actor Bruce Campbell.
The poster, much like the film itself, is no frills, displaying a hand reaching up from the ground and strangling a woman who is trying to escape some form of horror. The addition of a comment from Stephen King, “…The most ferociously original horror film of the year…” was also a big part of The Evil Dead’s success, because if King gives it the tick of approval, you know it’s got to be good.
4. Saw (2004)
One of the few modern horror movie posters to make its mark is the one for the surprise hit Saw. Depending on which country you live in, the poster either features a severed hand or foot with the tagline, “Every piece has a puzzle.” Fairly gory by today’s standards, the poster only hints at the exploits of serial killer Jigsaw and the murder and mayhem that is to come.
The creation of Aussie filmmakers James Wan (who directed the feature) and Leigh Whannell (who wrote the script), Saw kicked off one of the biggest horror franchises of all time, with the series now at nine movies with a tenth on the way.
5. The Thing (1982)
John Carpenter’s cult classic about an American Antarctica research station infiltrated by a shape-shifting alien that can take on the form of any organism it kills is arguably the director’s best film.
Kurt Russell is phenomenal as a helicopter pilot and reluctant hero R.J. Macready, the special effects from Rob Bottin still hold up today, and the blood test scene remains one of the great horror movie moments of all time. The movie poster by Drew Struzan is also fantastic, hinting at the horror to come.
6. Scream (1996)
One of the few horror franchises that continue to thrive, it’s hard to go past the first film when it comes to originality. Directed by Wes Craven from a script by Kevin Williamson, Scream plays with horror tropes and stereotypes and helped reinvent the slasher genre.
The poster by Chris Butler features the image of a woman holding her hand over her mouth with a look of terror in her eyes. The woman in question is Drew Barrymore, who *spoiler alert* is killed in the opening scene of the movie.
The image of Barrymore was a major part of the film’s marketing campaign and was seen everywhere, from billboards to magazine advertisements. It helped make the movie a worldwide success and demonstrates the power of the movie poster.
7. Jaws (1975)
It might not be presented as a horror, but there is no doubt that Jaws is a terrifying watch. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, the story is set in the fictional seaside town of Amity which is plagued by a killer shark. Not only did Steven Spielberg invent the summer blockbuster with Jaws, but he proved how important movie posters can be.
The simple yet horrifying poster shows the titular shark rising up from the depths of the ocean and getting ready to chow down on an unsuspecting swimmer. It tells you all you need to know about this box office smash. The poster itself is inspired by the cover of Benchley’s novel and is a great piece of creative graphic design by Roger Kastel.
8. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
This Silence of the Lambs made $272.7 million at the box office and became the first horror movie to win the Academy Award for Best Picture when it hit screens in 1991. Another movie based on a book, this time Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel of the same name, the movie is best remembered for Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of insane cannibal Hannibal Lecter. The English thespian went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor and turned into a household name thanks to his wildly entertaining performance.
The poster for The Silence of the Lambs features an image of Jodie Foster with a moth covering her mouth, which in turn is inspired by a Salvador Dali photograph. While it might not seem like much at first glance, once you’ve seen the film it makes perfect sense. If you look closely you can see a skull on the moth’s back and seven indentations that are meant to represent the seven victims of the movie’s killer.
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9. Friday the 13th (1980)
Another of the great slashers, the poster for Friday the 13th is a work of art. Designed by Spiros Angelikas and painted by Alex Ebel, the horror movie poster features the silhouette of masked killed Jason Voorhees holding a bloody knife. Inside that image are the five campers terrorized during the film, while the tagline, “They were warned… They are doomed… And on Friday the 13th, nothing will save them,” is quite ominous.
Fun fact: Angelikas also designed a second poster which was never used because it gave away the shock ending.
10. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
“Who will survive and what will be left of them?” The famous tagline from the iconic horror movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is enough to send chills down the spine, especially when placed next to an image of a man with a chainsaw getting ready to carve up a young woman he’s captured.
The poster is actually quite simplistic in its design but gets the message across that this is not a movie for the faint of heart. As anyone who has seen this 70s acid trip can attest, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the strangest, scariest, and most entertaining horrors movies that has gone on to spawn eight sequels and reboots, none of which come close to the terror of the original.
11. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Another Wes Craven classic, this movie focuses on the hideously disfigured serial killer Freddy Kruger who enters young kids’ dreams and kills them. Not only is the idea incredible, but the movie itself is one of the best horror slashers, with Kruger up there with Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees as one of the great horror villains.
Matthew Joseph Peak is the man responsible for the incredible poster artwork that shows Kruger’s scarred face and bladed hand hovering over the frightened Nancy Thompson, who is trying not to fall asleep. Discussing his inspiration for the design in the documentary Never Sleep Again, Peak said, “I had absolutely no direction from anyone. All of the Nightmare on Elm Street poster art was conceived from a pencil sketch idea and then brought to a type of opaque watercolor. A lot of movie work is, ‘Oh, here’s a picture of a person. Here’s a picture of the scene.’ And I never approached artwork that way. It’s always been on a concept basis and getting to the core of what’s there. I’m pretty proud of having done the first five and helping launch it. Helping create it.”
Peak would go on to create the poster artwork for the next four films in the franchise, giving us some incredible designs that fans still hang in their homes today.
12. The Exorcist (1973)
Often cited as the scariest movie of all time, The Exorcist is a frightening 70s horror that had audiences fainting, vomiting, and walking out thanks to the graphic nature of the flick.
While the poster certainly won’t have you projectile vomiting like the possessed Linda Blair, it is a creepy one-sheet that sets the scene for this supernatural thriller. Created by Bill Gold, the famous image of Max von Sydow standing by a lamppost as the light from the MacNeil house shines on him takes center stage, with the title in bold lettering above it.
The poster also gives a short but chilling explanation of what the movie is about. “Something almost beyond comprehension is happening to a girl on this street, in this house… and a man has been sent for as a last resort. This man is the Exorcist.” Scary stuff.
13. House On Haunted Hill (1959)
Where do you start with this one-sheet for William Castles’ campy but equally chilling horror about a group of strangers tasked with staying overnight in a haunted house with $10,000 up for grabs? As well as featuring the haunted house in question, there’s a skeleton hanging a woman, Vincent Price as main character Frederick Loren holding a severed head, and someone drowning in a pit of fluid.
The painting was by renowned artist Reynold Brown, who was also responsible for the artwork for movie posters for films such as Creature From the Black Lagoon, Spartacus, and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. His objective was to show audiences the horror of the haunted house and what was in store for them once they entered the cinema.
14. Poltergeist (1982)
Following the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Tobe Hopper was in high demand. Steven Spielberg liked what he saw and hired Hopper to direct a little horror he was producing called Poltergeist. As the title suggests, the movie is about a supernatural entity that terrorizes a young family.
While the poster might not show much besides a young girl with her hands on a television set, it’s inspired by a scene in the movie that will have you watching between the fingers. The poster also includes the movie’s taglines; “They’re here” and “It knows what scares you,” which is enough to give you the creeps.
15. Child’s Play (1988)
There aren’t too many horror movie posters more frightening than this one. Child’s Play, a movie about a serial killer whose soul is transferred to a doll named Chucky, is absolutely bonkers, but in a good way. Watching the red-haired Chucky come to life and chase after his victims with a kitchen knife still packs a punch all these years later.
The movie poster artwork is just as scary as the film, showing an injured Chucky about to stab his next victim. It’s quite unnerving and without any form of a tagline, it leaves you with more questions than answers about what is going on.
16. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Horror movies often have cool posters and Rosemary’s Baby is no exception. The movie, about a young woman who falls pregnant and believes she is carrying Satan’s son, is a tension-filled horror with plenty of shocking moments. The poster by Philip Gips is simple but quite unsettling.
The silhouette of a baby’s pram sits on what appears to be a hill with a green background featuring a horizontal image of actress Mia Farrow’s head. It’s a little creepy and unsettling, with the main details about the film (title, director, actors, etc.) displayed at the bottom.
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