Top Ten Ghost Movies of All Time!

Aug 18, 2000 (Updated Nov 1, 2001)

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Well, first off, let me just say that even though this is placed under the Horror genre, I am not restricting myself to horror movies. This is my list of the Top Ten Ghost Movies of all time. (Er, at least, from what I have seen cinematically up to now.) Basically, if the movie has a ghost in it, it is eligible.

Before we begin with the obligatory countdown, I just would like to take a moment to clarify that a ghost, by one actual definition is: "the spirit of a dead person, especially one believed to appear in bodily likeness to living persons or to haunt former habitats." Thank you American Heritage Dictionary for the help.

I might add that other definitions of a ghost encompass such things as "demons" and the like, but I consider demons and ghosts completely different categories. True, both ghost and demons may be represented as evil creatures, but to me, a demon is something that wasn't human to begin with. Ghosts are, er, at least, were human at one point and have the capacity to be good or bad entities. Demons have always struck me as primal forces of evil that represent something that is devoid of humanity, period.

Other types of creatures that I do not consider to be ghosts include: vampires, zombies, werewolves, invincible knife-wielding psychos, invincible chainsaw-wielding psychos, devil or demon-possessed people (such as little Linda Blair), devil or demon-possessed objects (such as cars, dolls, trees, blenders and karaoke machines), witches, warlocks, giant pumpkin-headed ogres, knife-fingered janitors who have been murdered by angry parents only to have their remains burned in a large furnace in a boiler room, and any other permanently-tangible creatures.

Is it all clear now?

So, drum roll please...

10) House

Released: 1986
Time Length: 93 minutes
Rating: R

This movie stars The Greatest American Hero himself, William Katt. He plays a novelist who moves into his dead aunt's house. Of course, it is haunted, and things begin going bump in the night with a vengeance. This movie is quite intelligent because it is both creepy and funny. The House seems to have a psychological pathway to the writer's mind because IT haunts him with his memories of the war in Viet Nam. This is a weird, but truly original movie. It also stars Norm (George Wendt) from Cheers and Richard Moll from Night Court, and is directed by horror movie veteran Steve Miner (Friday the 13th, Halloween: H20)

9) The Blair Witch Project

Released: 1999
Time Length: 87 minutes
Rating: R

Contrary to what its title suggest, this isn't a movie simply about a witch. It's about the ghost of a witch, which to me, elevates the scare factor considerably. Not only was she supernatural before she died (tampering with the mystic arts), but she is back to haunt the living.

The film is shot on an absurdly low-budget in a mock-documentary format where a trio of travelers camp deep into a haunted forest in search of the titular ghost of legend. Naturally, they lose their map, and eventually, their bearings, as they continue to hear strange noises after nightfall and are plagued with mysterious markings placed on their campsite in the middle of the night. Personally, I thought his film was overrated -- it wasn't nearly as scary as people claimed it was. Yet, it had creepy moments and it captures the ol' "ghost story told around a campfire" feeling better than any other film I have seen. This is filmmaking at its most inventiveness. It also gets points for highly believable performances. It seems that the actors themselves are beginning to believe that they are doing more than filming a movie. (I think this is because the director didn't warn the cast what he was going to be doing. He wanted their natural reactions.)

8) Always

Released: 1989
Time Length: 123 minutes
Rating: PG

This is a Steven Spielberg film that few people actually saw, and fewer still, actually liked. Richard Dreyfuss plays a confident, but quirky, pilot who dies early in the film trying to help put out a forest fire. His girlfriend, played by Holly Hunter, is quite grief-stricken and can't seem to get over his death, especially since he has come back as a guardian angel of sorts and is following her around. It doesn't help his case any that she may be falling in love with another pilot. Can he let go? The film is highly sentimental, but the performances are dead-on (no pun intended) and it makes for a very pleasant movie experience.

7) What Lies Beneath

Released: 2000
Time Length: 130 minutes
Rating: R

Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) relies too heavily on sudden bursts of loud music to scare his audience, but damn it all, it works. He also teeters back and forth over a fine line between copying the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, and paying homage to him. Still, Michelle Pfeiffer gives a great performance as a wife who tries to convince her husband (Harrison Ford) that a ghost is haunting their house. In the end, the movie spirals a bit out of control thanks to a transparent (no pun intended again) script, but there are several, several genuinely creepy scenes and some pretty amazing special effects that burned their way into my mind for a loooong time. I was affected so much that I almost concussed myself later that night in a freak incident that involved a shower curtain rod and my overactive imagination. (For more details, read the whole review.)

6) Ghostbusters

Released: 1984
Time Length: 103 minutes
Rated: PG

Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Harold Ramis all bring top-notch performances to this spectacle (at the time) film directed by comedy great, Ivan Reitman (Analyze This). The film is about a group of scientists who investigate the paranormal and manage to create ghost-capturing devices, which elevate them to a super-hero type status. Ghostbusters is a classic. Where else can you be terrified of a spectral librarian or encounter a giant marshmallow creature? Throw in a funky soundtrack powered by Ray Parker's "Who You Gonna Call!" hit and you have a hilarious and constantly-amusing ghost movie.

5) Ghost

Released: 1990
Time Length: 127 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Another romantic ghost movie, Ghost features Demi Moore as a widow who can't stop mourning for her murdered husband (Dirty Dancing's Patrick Swayze). Swayze comes back to earth to protect her before she becomes the murderer's next target. Along the way, Swayze enlists the aid of a con-artist medium, played by Whoopi Goldberg in Oscar-winning form, who just so happens to be the only person who can hear him. Ghost is a nice combination of romance, drama, comedy, suspense, and even a little bit of action. Jerry Zucker's direction holds the film together and keeps it believable.

4) Beetlejuice

Released: 1988
Time Length: 92 minutes
Rating: PG

Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin star as a recently-deceased couple who are too kind and naive to effectively chase an annoying, modern-art loving family out of their beloved home. Also in the film are Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara and a scene-stealing Michael Keaton who plays an obnoxious undead freak who is all-too-happy to help the couple haunt their house. Not only is this film completely hilarious, but it is unique and fascinating -- which can be chalked up to a wonderful script and a masterful director, Tim Burton (Batman, Ed Wood). This movie contains many interesting notions pertaining to the Afterlife -- including some dark humor about how suicides end up working as public servants after they are dead.

3) Poltergeist

Released: 1982
Time Length: 114 minutes
Rating: PG

Possibly the scariest PG movie ever, this film had me afraid to eat leftovers for about three years (poor Craig T. Nelson has an encounter with some maggot-infested meat that causes him to rub his whole face off). Steven Spielberg did this movie so well that it still stands up to today's standards. The story involves a family that are attacked by the spirits of dead Indians because their house is buried over their bodies. Apparently, this is a serious offense to the spirits because they go to great lengths to scare the Hell out of the family. (Just go, leave everything behind, get out now -- you keep thinking.) The whole cast is great, but it is the special effects that ultimately steal the show. Animated clown dolls, vicious trees, TV static -- a lot of ordinary objects are turned into malevolent forces under Spielberg's perfect direction. The action, humor and suspense in this film are perfectly laid out to make for a constantly-fun experience.

2) The Shining

Released: 1980
Time Length: 143 minutes
Rating: R

Possibly one of the scariest films ever, Stanley Kubrick directs a haunting version of Stephen King's story about a boy with a special gift known as the "shining," or ESP. Jack Nicholson is a writer who spends a winter with his psychic son and nervous wife in a far-off hotel, serving as a caretaker for the resort's off-season. With fierce weather and a plethora of phantoms chipping away at his sanity, it isn't long before Jack is wielding an axe and chasing after his family. Everything about this film is creepy. The performances are perfect and the hotel itself seems to be alive. This is an intense movie because it is filled with truly horrific imagery (blood pours out of the elevators, an old, naked moldy lady gets out of the tub, two twin girls are hacked-up in a hallway). This is not a movie for everyone, but if you like horror, then no doubt you have seen it. It was the ultimate ghost movie for almost two decades, but then another movie came along...

1) The Sixth Sense

Released: 1999
Time Length: 115 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Not as terrifying as The Shining, certainly, but the best ghost movie of all time. M. Night Shyamalan came from nowhere and directed a movie that was so well received that it actually garnered several Oscar nominations. Haley Joel Osment (the best child actor I have ever seen) is a borderline-insane child haunted by visions of dead people. They follow him around constantly and he looks as though he's been to Hell and back. Bruce Willis plays a child psychologist who is haunted by memories of failing one of his former patients. He wants to help Osment and redeem himself.

This film was done perfectly. Not only was it one of the best horror movies, period, but it also is one of the best movies of all time. Few people saw any plot twists coming, and despite the film's shocking conclusion, it would still be highly enjoyable without it. Also, this film is ideal for repeat viewing because you get a chance to notice a lot of details you missed the first time when you were too busy riding the film's emotional roller coaster.

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