Has The Quality of Horror Movies Declined Over Time?

Many people argue that modern horror movies pale in comparison to their predecessors so we set out to test this theory. Beginning with the 1960s, we looked at the 15 highest grossing horror movies of each decade (USA box office adjusted for inflation) and how each movie was rated on Rotten Tomatoes (a popular movie review aggregator).

This data is presented in the table below.

Movie critc ratings of popular horror movies 1960 to present

Movies from the 1960s and 1970s appear to score much higher than movies from later decades. For example, just three movies from the 2010s (The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, and Don’t Breathe) and two from the 2000s (Paranormal Activity and The Others) have a higher Rotten Tomatoes rating than 80% while 12 movies from the 1960s and 10 from the 1970s achieved this feat.

Horror Movie Ratings 1960 - Present

The graph above shows the average Rotten Tomatoes ratings of the 15 highest grossing movies of each decade. From the graph, it is clear to see that the average rating of popular horror movies has been declining steadily from an average of 82% in the 1960s to around 50% in recent years.

This isn’t to say that quality horror movies aren’t being made, the Top 100 horror movies according to Rotten Tomatoes has 28 horror movies from 2010 and later. This is no doubt helped by the huge quantity of horror movies being made these days and a number of older movies lacking the required number of reviews to make the list but nevertheless, this is an impressive number of movies. Unfortunately very few of these get a decent theatrical run. Of the 28, just 10 received a wide domestic release (2000 theaters or more), while 13 received a very limited release (less than 100 theaters), and 4 received no theatrical release at all.