When I think about throwback movies, I usually end up reminiscing about the uplifting comedies, cartoons, and musicals that carved out a cozy space in my heart early on. But there's another side of nostalgia that can be just as fun to explore. I'll never forget the first scary movie I ever watched from the relative safety of my sleeping bag at a birthday party or going to bed still shaking from catching a little bit of the thriller my parents were watching. Those were formative experiences that taught me that leaning into fear can be enjoyably exhilarating, especially under controlled circumstances. The streaming service has dozens of frightening modern movies to choose from, but these are the 13 most chilling throwback movies on Netflix.
It may seem counter-intuitive to watch something gory or menacing when you're all in your head about real-life struggles. But scary movies are escapism at its finest. How can you stress about doing your taxes while you're watching a half-man/half-fly terrorize in black-and-white? What's a mild tiff with your partner when there's a witch on the loose in a Maryland forest? These chilling movies are a one-way ticket to distraction, whether they're old favorites or brand new to you.
1. The Shining
Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick take cabin fever to the extreme in this horror classic. A caretaker and his family are haunted by the malevolent spirits occupying a remote hotel, which manifest as creepy twins, rivers of blood, and a repetitive attempt at the Great American Novel.
2. Mulholland Drive
A preface: you don't need to understand Mulholland Drive fully to let it get under your skin. David Lynch's abstract noir is a must for Twin Peaks fans.
Coastal types might find this thriller difficult to watch, because maybe it's never safe to go back in the water. The animatronic shark is more threatening than any CGI version would be, and the score deserves at least 3/4 of the credit for that unmistakable feeling of impending doom.
4. The Blair Witch Project
Found footage horror owes everything to The Blair Witch Project, the faux home movie that had first rounds of audiences wondering if the Maryland incident really did happen.
Anthony Hopkins' take on the posh cannibal is up in the annals of unforgettable movie monsters. And Julianne Moore takes over for Jodie Foster as his foil Clarice Starling in this sequel to The Silence Of The Lambs.
6. Cape Fear
Martin Scorcese cast frequent collaborator Robert De Niro as a psychopathic predator in his remake of the 1962 original. Cape Fear also yielded an incredible Simpsons homage, if that's more your speed.
7. From Dusk To Dawn
Vampire strip club.
The '80s were a golden age for camp horror, and this movie — the start of a franchise — has all the blood-drinking and skin-wearing that a forbidden sleepover movie requires.
9. The Fly
You've maybe seen the 1986 remake with Geena Davis and Jeff Goldblum, but have you seen the first incarnation of The Fly? Horror king Vincent Price stars in an early sci-fi great that will have you reaching for the swatter.
10. Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Meta, self-referential, and often very funny, Wes Craven's New Nightmare also wrings some genuine scares out of its Freddy-haunts-the-crew movie-within-a-movie plot.
11. The Usual Suspects
Because there's nothing more unsettling than a truly skilled liar.
As a horror visionary, Stephen King excels in turning images you've always thought innocuous against you. (Well, except for clowns. Clowns have been evil forever.) In Cujo, King transforms the family dog into a rabid killing machine.
13. Vanilla Sky
Tom Cruise stars opposite Penelope Cruz who's reprising her role from the original Spanish psychological thriller. Dreams and reality are almost indistinguishable for a recovering accident victim, and he must decide once and for all which of those he'll choose.
Netflix offers plenty of throwback movie options that'll throw you off-balance, change your perspective, and help you set aside your actual problems for a little while.