Trend Indexing: The extensive world of horror cinema often does not get the same critical reception or awards as the latest dramas or romances. But it cannot be denied that some of the best acting has come from this genre. Actors have the opportunity to display their full range, from intense grief to harrowing terror. Alongside masterful filmmaking, the actors elevate these movies into iconic works of horror.
Ranging from coldly charming cannibals, to crazed fans, to vulnerable grieving women, these are the performances that are praised most by passionate fans on Reddit. It’s time to celebrate the talent that has defined the landscape of horror for decades, right up to the present day.
10. Isabelle Adjani – ‘Possession’ (1981)
Image via Gaumont
In this 1981 psychological horror directed by Andrzjej Żuławski, Isabelle Adjani stars as Anna, who starts acting strangely after asking her husband (Sam Neill) for a divorce. Beeboodles named Adjani as their favorite horror movie performance and received 416 upvotes in agreement, with Psychologicaltip agreeing that she was “superb.”
Isabelle Adjani’s energy and dedication to the role made it truly explosive, with fans particularly citing her scene in the subway. She was praised for her role mainly in Europe, where she received the Cannes Film Festival award and the César Award for her performance as Anna. This might be an underrated gem for a horror movie watchlist.
9. Shelley Duvall – ‘The Shining’ (1980)
Image via Warner Bros.
Staying in the 1980s, the next performance to celebrate comes from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining, based on Stephen King’s book of the same name. Shelley Duvall stars as Wendy, alongside Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance and their son Danny (Danny Lloyd). In an isolated hotel, Jack begins to fall into madness, putting Danny and Wendy in danger.
Initially, Shelley Duvall’s performance as Wendy was heavily criticized. However, there has been recent discussion about Stanley Kubrick’s harsh treatment of Duvall. She has come forward and spoken of her extreme stress on set. Fans on Reddit came together to show love for her, saying her performance was over-criticized. With 456 upvotes, pair of secateurs called her “outstanding.”
8. Florence Pugh – ‘Midsommar’ (2019)
Image via A24
Florence Pugh has been everywhere lately, and for good reason. This British actress has been impressing moviegoers since Fighting With My Family and Little Women in 2019, but showed her range with Midsommar, Ari Aster’s cult folk horror. Gerryjd included Florence Pugh for best performance, with 707 upvotes.
Her portrayal of Dani, a grieving woman on a trip with her boyfriend, is uniquely terrifying. She captures an incredibly complex and vulnerable character that is being influenced by a cult. The most referenced scene is the ending, as Dani smiles into the camera. KVM14 called it “the cherry on top.” Her dedication to the role bodes well for her future projects.
7. Haley Joel Osment – ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999)
Image via Buena Vista Pictures
Haley Joel Osment was only 11 years old when he starred in the 1999 psychological horror The Sixth Sense, alongside Bruce Willis and Toni Collette. He portrays Cole Sear, who visits a child psychologist (Willis) claiming he can see and talk to dead people. This M. Night Shyamalan flick was a huge hit, and Haley Joel Osment was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
MichaelRoco1 named Osment for one of their favorite horror performances, and Trumpet1956 said it was “a really great performance from such a young kid.” Fans and critics cite his incredible facial expressions, as this young boy manages to look tortured and pained throughout the film.
6. Jack Nicholson – ‘The Shining’ (1980)
Image Via Warner Bros
Jumping back into The Shining, fans on Reddit gave praise to Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. MichaelRoco1 also named Nicholson, and Wibtathrowaway1997 said that he “genuinely terrifies me, like more than any horror movie monster I’ve ever seen.” Jack Torrance’s fall into chaos is expertly portrayed by Nicholson, who commands the camera in every scene, even with subtle fourth-wall breaks.
Jack Nicholson has had many critically acclaimed roles for which he received Oscars, but this was not one of them. Despite this, it remains one of his most referenced roles due to his dedication. He committed to Jack Torrance from the offset, and even improvised some scenes, including the infamous “Here’s Johnny” line. He was terrifyingly impressive; this is a must-watch for horror buffs.
5. Kathy Bates – ‘Misery’ (1990)
Image via Columbia Pictures Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Another Stephen King adaptation was bound to crop up, and this time it is Kathy Bates in the 1990 psychological thriller Misery directed by Rob Reiner. Kathy Bates portrays Annie Wilkes, an intense fan of writer Paul Sheldon who she helps and nurses after a car accident. Once she finds out his plans for her favorite book of his, she turns to rage and keeps him captive.
Kathy Bates received a lot of praise for her performance, even scoring an Oscar for Best Actress. WatersofNazareth showed appreciation for Bates, citing her performance as “enough to chill you to the bone.” Her range between presenting as kind and accommodating to murderous is incredible, and worth the widespread praise.
4. Jodie Foster – ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
Image via Orion Pictures
Jonathan Demme’s 1991 psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs starred Jodie Foster as trainee FBI Agent Clarice Starling, who is hunting a serial killer and enlists the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), famed psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. Based on Thomas Harris’ book of the same name, this film goes down in history as one of the best horrors of all time.
Included by MichaelRoco1, Jodie Foster’s performance as Clarice is outstanding and memorable, as she portrays even the slightest change in emotion with micro-expressions. It is easy to forget she is acting, down to her authenticity as she navigates being a woman in a male-dominated field. Foster was awarded Best Actress for her performance, and it was absolutely deserved.
3. Anthony Hopkins – ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ (1991)
Image via Orion Pictures
Moving straight on to Anthony Hopkins, his performance in The Silence of the Lambs is infamous and is widely regarded as one of the best overall performances in a movie. Diofer13 named Anthony Hopkins’ performance, gaining 988 upvotes. Kay-sera_sera said that Hopkins and Foster together was “pure magic,” even if Jodie Foster was a bit scared of Anthony Hopkins on set.
Anthony Hopkins became Dr. Hannibal Lecter; and got Best Actor for it. He has less screen time than Jodie Foster, but he is completely unforgettable. He makes for a truly terrifying villain, appearing still and composed until he isn’t. Because of these expert performances, The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror movie to have received Best Picture at the Oscars.
2. John Goodman – ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ (2016)
In this science-fiction horror directed by Dan Trachtenberg, 10 Cloverfield Lane stars John Goodman as Howard alongside Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Michelle (Winstead) wakes up trapped in a bunker with Howard, who tells her the outside world is no longer safe, and she plots to escape. A redditor included John Goodman for their favorite horror performance, and received 1.2k upvotes.
Howard is an odd villain, as he is very human. John Goodman portrays Howard in an eerie gentle way, until he cracks later in the movie. Blarglephish wrote that 10 Cloverfield Lane expertly built tension “with such a small set, and it’s all thanks to Goodman.”
1. Toni Collette – ‘Hereditary’ (2018)
Image via A24
Circling back around to Ari Aster, his feature directorial debut was Hereditary, a supernatural/psychological horror movie starring Toni Collette as Annie Graham. Annie loses her mother, and odd events begin to unfold as Annie and her family find out some terrifying truths about their family. Aster utilizes real occult texts for Hereditary.
Tormentedone007 named Toni Collette as the best horror performance, stating that she was “robbed of her Oscar,” receiving 1.4k upvotes. Her lack of recognition reignited the conversation surrounding horror movies not being included enough by the Academy. She made Hereditary intense and harrowing; her performance undoubtedly deserved more love. Her raw and terrifying portrayal of grief is haunting to the last second.