Top 5 honner winner, ranked

5. “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)

“Pan’s Labyrinth”

The most beloved of Guillermo del Toro’s gothic fables, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is ingeniously suspended between fantasy and reality, the film squinting at every square inch of darkness in order to see a rich shadow world lurking just beyond the one we know. Viewers are still parsing over the extent to which the period fairy tale functions as a parable about Franco’s Spain, but this story of fauns and demons — of forgotten princesses, and the traces of beauty that remember them — is told with a universal touch. Specific context only adds to the dark power of Ofelia’s increasingly sinister trials, which find the little girl trying to achieve immortality before her fascist stepfather can finish her off. The Pale Man is still one of the most nightmarish creatures ever seen on screen, even if you don’t think of him as a vile expression of the Catholic Church. Every nightmarish idea that the filmmaker has ever had, squeezed into the shriveled body of a single monster, the Pale Man grounds “Pan’s Labyrinth” in an unshakeable horror, and forces us to see all of its wonder and beauty through the prism of something awful. — DE

4. “Aliens” (1986)

Sigourney WeaverAliens - 1986Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens”

Lieutenant Ellen Ripley doesn’t actually emerge as the hero of “Alien” for a good long while, but she’s front and center in “Aliens” from the very first. Sigourney Weaver earned an Oscar nod for her iconic performance — we like to think her delivery of the instant-classic line “Get away from her, you bitch!” sealed the deal — and the film won two of the six below-the-line prizes for which it was nominated; as with movies like “Mad Max: Fury Road,” that’s essentially the Academy’s way of saying “We like you, but you’re too much of a genre picture for any of the major awards.” No matter: James Cameron’s action-oriented sequel is a stone-cold classic that builds upon and expands the xenomorph mythos more awesomely than anyone could have expected. In between the one-liners and battles, it’s also tense and terrifying — not to mention one of the few sequels to rise to the level of its predecessor. — Michael Nordine

3. “The Exorcist” (1973)

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros/Hoya Prods./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885474c)Linda BlairThe Exorcist - 1973Director: William FriedkinWarner Bros/Hoya ProductionsUSAScene StillHorrorL'ExorcisteLinda Blair in “The Exorcist”

One of the most revered and profitable horror films of all time, William Peter Blatty’s classic was an Oscar sensation, nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including the first ever horror film Best Picture nod, and won Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound Mixing. Academy voters were swept away by the total package. Emotional turns from Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, and Jason Miller grounded this devilish tale, empathetic characters who stand the test of time, while Blatty’s controlled storytelling is a masterclass in pacing and dread. Meanwhile, several below-the-line nods showed Oscar voters’ appreciation for the brilliant look, feel, and sound of this immersive experience. Finally, one of cinema’s most influential titles was able to sidestep the usual horror stigma and reap legitimate awards fanfare from what started as a so-so critical response. — WE

2. “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968)

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885523r) Mia Farrow Rosemary's Baby - 1968 Director: Roman Polanski Paramount USA Scene Still HorrorMia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby”

“Rosemary’s Baby” won one Oscar and was up for another, but it’s the award it wasn’t even nominated for that’s most memorable. Despite giving herself over to the role (and essentially sacrificing her marriage to Frank Sinatra in the process), Mia Farrow didn’t receive a nod — the snub of all snubs. The film’s sole winner, supporting actress Ruth Gordon, speaks to the power of its horror: Evil isn’t an unknowable entity in Roman Polanski’s masterwork; it’s the satanist next door. Pregnancy is stressful enough when there isn’t a coven of witches chanting in the night — and, if poor Rosemary’s suspicions are correct, making a pact with Lucifer — and it’s made doubly distressing by tk. Unsettling from the time Farrow begins singing over those haunting opening credits, “Rosemary’s Baby” digs its claws into you and leaves as ghastly a mark on you as it does on Rosemary herself. — MN

1. “Alien” (1979)

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by 20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886256cb) Sigourney Weaver Alien - 1979 Director: Ridley Scott 20th Century Fox BRITAIN Scene Still Alien, le huitième passagerSigourney Weaver in “Alien”

“In space, no one can hear you scream” was the tagline for arguably the scariest movie ever made. Ridley Scott traps us inside cramped space ship Nostromo, and first propels the snaggletoothed space traveler (brilliantly designed by H.R. Giger) out of John Hurt’s chest, then sets the killer loose inside the ship to do battle with wife-beater-wearing warrant officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Scott, like “Alien” sequel director James Cameron, likes to showcase strong women, and Ripley broke the mold for female action heroes. No one manipulates unseen terror better than Scott. “Alien” is nonpareil in the space horror genre. — AT

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