With the jump scare stuffed A Quiet Place silently spooking audiences up and down the country, we’ve decided to compile the ultimate list of scariest sudden moments in cinema history.
So, climb onto the edge of your seat, take a deep breath, and brace yourself for some of the most intense moments in movie history.
11. A Quiet Place – bridge shock
We’ve already mentioned it, but A Quiet Place more than deserves its own place on this list – it’s a masterful example of building tension.
We could have picked from a whole host of scenes, but the film’s cold open – in which a small child is… Well, you’ll know it when you see it.
It’s too soon to go into detail about what actually happens, as the film’s still in cinemas, but it impressively sets the standard for the rest of the film’s intensity.
10. Cat People – bus scare
We can’t write this list without including the first ever example of the jump scare, which is so similar to modern jump sequences it feels ridiculously ahead of its time. The tension has been established – our heroine could be attacked by a panther (don’t ask) – when a sudden movement and a loud hiss makes us think she’s in trouble, only for the reveal to be a mere bus. It’s still scary now, so only the devil knows how audiences must have reacted at the time.
9. Texas Chain Saw Massacre – Leatherface appears
One of our teen leads, Kirk, steps into a creepy house and bellows ‘Is anybody home?’ (hasn’t this kid seen a horror movie?) We hear a pig squeal – a creepy sound at the best of times – then, when Kirk decides to investigate, he gets a hammer to the head from Leatherface, going straight into an unnerving death rattle, before being dragged inside a room that’s closed off with the large BANG of a metal door. Basically, a masterclass in how to introduce a horror icon.
8. Mulholland Drive – diner sequence
Proving that jump scares don’t just happen in horror films, they can also pop up in whatever we’re calling David Lynch movies this week. This one has all the logic of a nightmare, which is appropriate considering the context.
One man describes a dream to another man, then his dream comes true – with the actual scene is far scarier than that description makes it sound. Shout out to Lynch’s Inland Empire, which features another jump that could made this list – involving Laura Dern in a corridor. We’ll say no more than that.
7. Signs – birthday party crasher
It’s not a monster in the traditional (sixth) sense, but a creepy alien that’s allergic to water, but Signs using horror flick techniques to deliver its sci-fi story, including this perfectly delivered found footage fright moment.
A news broadcast announces that it has video from Brazil that “will disturb you” and we cut to a children’s party, shot on a VHS camera. The children’s voices mix with the increasingly sinister music, before BOOM, a creepy alien appears and scares the crap out of us (and Joaquin Phoenix, to be fair).
“All initial opinions are this is genuine,” says the newsreader – genuinely terrifying, that is.
6. It Follows – tall man
Some jump scares work best because they’re elegantly simple. In It Follows, the film’s established the fact that our lead Jay is the only one who can see the monster that’s pursuing her – a monster that can take any form, and could appear at any moment.
So, after a potential jump scare has proven to be nothing to worry out, we relax… at our peril – because suddenly we’re faced with the freakiest form so far – an abnormally tall man with dark eyes – looming into the safe space of Jay’s bedroom, suddenly and unnervingly. Nasty.
5. Se7en – sloth wakes up
Apparently, Se7en is a detective movie. No-one told us that; the first time we saw it we just assumed it was the scariest horror-noir we’d ever seen – with a serial killer, mutilated bodies and some of the weirdest supporting characters in cinema history adding to an atmosphere of dark dread.
The pinnacle of this horror feel was the perfect jump scare – a truly horrifying moment where a corpse-like figure splutters to life. No wonder Fincher wants to make the next World War Z movie – he’s already done a zombie sequence, this one.
4. Carrie – back from the grave
Brian De Palma is a director that doesn’t like to follow the rules, so we shouldn’t have been so shocked when he desecrated the sanctity of the traditional happy ending, to deliver a shock so surprising, it had audience members falling over their seats on their way to the exit.
In an end-coda to Stephen King’s Carrie, flowers are placed on a grave, and a bloody hand reaches up to grab the person laying them. De Palma shot the sequence backwards, then reversed to give it an otherworldly feel. Wrong on so many levels.
3. Insidious – demon head
Arguably the best modern jump scare movie, Insidious is so packed with freaky moments we buried the Blu-ray in the garden after the first time we watched it. And of all the shocks it contains, this one’s the smartest.
Cleverly combining a flashback to a dream – where we think the scare’s going to come – with a dining table ‘safe space’ where the story’s being told, the flashback has creepy creaking doors and scary music, with the kitchen table is much more sedate.
Which makes the sudden appearance of a demonic face in the place we thought was okay all the more shocking. Expert filmmaking.
2. Jaws – severed head
A sequence that had audiences screaming in the cinema, Jaws expertly uses music to make us expect an appearance from the titular shark, only to hit us with a gruesome severed head, in a moment that scares our hero as much as it does us.
Brilliant sound design, with an unnerving sound appearing on the soundtrack at the same time as the head reveal, combined with a gross practical effect, and this is horror movie heaven.
1. Exorcist III – shears nurse
A lot of the jump scares on this list use music to amplify the tension as they build to whatever horror’s about to unfold onscreen. What makes Exorcist III so unique is that, like A Quiet Place, it understands that silence is as scary as noise – with a long quiet moment testing audience’s ability to pay attention, before they’re hit with the surreal sight of a nurse with giant shears coming out of nowhere – scored by what now seems like the loudest soundtrack sting ever.