12 of the Greatest Jumpscares in Classic Horror Movies


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What is a “jumpscare”? Well, if you live in a home without teenagers to explain it to you, it’s the thing that happens when you’re watching a horror movie and some abrupt sound, image, or other bump in the night causes you to jump out of your seat in shock.


Sadly, some jumpscares are unearned since anyone with access to a volume knob can create a sound loud enough to startle you. Many of today’s horror movies are predicated solely on this device to pass themselves off as scary. 2022’s “Smile,” for example, is not even remotely frightening and derives its entire reputation as a horror film from making sudden loud noises.


Conversely, when they’re done well by accomplished filmmakers, jumpscares add an extra layer of danger and dread to the proceedings, and they make you shrink from every frame of film that unfolds. They make you feel unsafe watching the movie. Here are some of the best ones from classic horror films that show what it looks like when a jumpscare is done correctly.

WARNING: This article contains spoilers.

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1. ‘The Thing’ (1982)

John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror film “The Thing” is about a shape-shifting alien wreaking havoc on an Antarctic research station. Sadly, we cannot refer to a video clip of the movie’s greatest jumpscare, which occurs while the facility’s doctor tries reviving one of his coworkers using a defibrillator. Let’s just say it doesn’t go as planned, and people who are new to this movie absolutely will not see it coming.

Image Credit: IMDb.

2. ‘The Exorcist’ (1973)

There are all kinds of nasty surprises in this movie, and for something released over 50 years ago, it’s still incredibly potent. Amusingly, the biggest jumpscare in the film doesn’t happen during any of its most legendary scenes. Instead, in one scene, a phone rings, and the movie has already given the audience so much anxiety that the mere sound of an old-school telephone doing its thing is enough to send some fleeing for the exits.

Image Credit: IMDb.

3. ‘The Shining’ (1980)

Like “The Exorcist,” the 1980 Stanley Kubrick movie “The Shining” takes its sweet time building dread through its slow pace, sound effects, and chilling music. Also similar to “The Exorcist,” its biggest jumpscare doesn’t happen during any of its key scenes. Rather, all that happens is a sudden flash to a title card that says “TUESDAY,” accompanied by a percussive sound. It was parodied on “The Simpsons” in one of its Halloween “Treehouse of Horror” episodes, although they changed which day of the week it was.

Image Credit: IMDb.

4. ‘Friday the 13th’ (1980)

The 1980 slasher movie “Friday the 13th” may be legendary and influential, but calling it “good” is a bridge too far. You can predict everything that’s going to happen once you realize the story consists of nothing more than murdering teenagers one by one. These murders are committed by the mother of a former camper named Jason, and after the last teenager standing gets rid of her, the movie feels like it’s over. That is, until this lone survivor is in a boat on a lake, and the boy suddenly emerges from the water to attack her. It’s the only scary thing in the entire movie.

Image Credit: DepositPhotos.com.

5. ‘Se7en’ (1995)


“Se7en” is more of a police thriller than a horror movie, but it’s undoubtedly gruesome enough to be horror-adjacent. The story concerns a serial killer who chooses his victims according to which of the seven deadly sins they represent, and one is chosen to represent the sin of sloth. When you see the victim, he seems to have been dead for a very long time, but when he’s revealed to be alive, you may have the same reaction that this poor YouTuber had.

Image Credit: IMDb.

6. ‘The Descent’ (2005)

“The Descent” is a movie about a group of friends who go on a caving expedition. It’s already terrifying before it even gets to the “horror” part, thanks to its many claustrophobic scenes that will put you off entering any tunnel for the rest of your life. The group becomes lost in the vast network of caverns and encounters cannibalistic mutant creatures living there, the first of which appears through night vision. Let’s just say that the reveal effectively gets viewers to leap out of their seats.

Image Credit: IMDb.

7. ‘Carrie’ (1976)

 Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is one of the only good film adaptations of his books. It’s also one of the only good Brian DePalma movies. The story of a bullied high school girl with telekinetic powers who gets revenge on the classmates who torment her, it ends with a scene of one of her surviving classmates leaving flowers at the site of Carrie’s former home. That sequence at the end of the movie features one of the great jumpscares of all time, as these YouTubers learned the hard way.

Image Credit: IMDb.

8. ‘Poltergeist’ (1982)

For a movie released in 1982 with a PG rating, “Poltergeist” is pretty scary. If you don’t know the story, a suburban family is living in a possessed house, and one night, the evil spirits make off with their youngest daughter. When she returns to them, it’s tempting to think the movie is over, but instead, it leads to a short sequence in which her brother is looking for his life-size clown doll that has suddenly gone missing. Even people who are not full-fledged coulrophobes know perfectly well that the evil clown will make an appearance, and when the kid goes looking under his bed for it, you can figure it out from there.

Image Credit: IMDB.

9. ‘An American Werewolf in London’ (1981)

“An American Werewolf in London” was directed by John Landis, who helmed “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.” If you wondered if a comedy director could make a convincing horror movie, the answer is “yes.” This movie has more than one very effective jumpscare, but there’s one that’s just unfair to audiences. The main character wakes in his hospital bed from a horrific nightmare, and his kindly nurse opens the curtains to let the daylight stream in so he can calm down. When she does, she’s attacked by one of the creatures from the nightmare. The fact that this jumpscare happens while you recover from a previous one is just mean.

Image Credit: IMDb.

10. ‘The Exorcist III’ (1990)

“The Exorcist III” never had a chance at commercial acceptance. It followed “Exorcist II: The Heretic,” which is widely and rightly regarded as one of the worst movies of all time, making people dismiss the third film without seeing it. Set fifteen years after the first film, it follows a detective investigating a series of murders similar to those committed by a deceased serial killer. It features one anxiety-provoking scene in a hospital in which a nurse is doing her nightly rounds, and we know from the quiet, dialogue-free buildup that something is going to happen. Finally, the killer emerges in a sequence that many horror fans consider the best jumpscare of all time.

Image Credit: IMDb.

11. ’28 Days Later’ (2002)

Like “An American Werewolf in London,” the zombie movie “28 Days Later” has a few effective jumpscares. For this discussion, we’re going with the one that takes place when our group of heroic survivors reaches a military compound, and the army men there are keeping one of the movie’s zombies chained up in the backyard. His reveal is terrifying enough on its own, but when he reappears after escaping, you may find the uneaten contents of your popcorn bucket all over the floor.

Image Credit: IMDb.

12. ‘Alien’ (1979)

The original “Alien” has one of filmdom’s greatest jumpscares. If you’ve already seen the movie, you know it’s when the titular alien is born while everyone tries to eat dinner. Known as the “chest-burster” scene to fans, it only has jumpscare value to those who don’t know it’s coming. Forty-five years after the film’s release, people still don’t expect this gruesome surprise, which is so shocking it’s usually followed by a minute or two of stunned silence from newbie filmgoers who just got the shock of their lives.

This article was produced and syndicated by MediaFeed.

Image Credit: IMDb.

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