Best Movie Jumpscares

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Image Credit: MaliciaRoseNoire on Deviant Art.

Don’t you love when a movie revs up the tension and gets you to the edge of your seat, right before suddenly scaring the pants off you?

That said, there is a difference between a startle and a jumpscare. Startles can happen with a sudden burst of music, an unexpected special effect, or any fast movement.

Jumpscares, however, are more nuanced, and a bit of an art form. The best directors and filmmakers know how to execute them so they don’t feel like cheap suckerpunches, but rather highly satisfying scares that are well-earned by the setting, narrative, and characters.

This list names some of the best jumpscares for your next movie night. Just try not to spill your popcorn everywhere.

Warning: this list contains some spoilers.

Repulsion (1965)

Jumpscare Moment: Reflections

Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneaux
Rating: Not Rated
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Believe it or not, there was a time when audiences weren’t expecting to see someone revealed in a mirror. Repulsion was one of the first films to utilize this jumpscare technique.

In this scene, you watch as the closet door slowly swings shut, only to show a man standing in the background.

By modern standards, the scariest part is the musical sting accompanying the sudden reveal. At the time, though, this was a new and exciting way to make the audience jump.

 

Jaws (1975)

Jumpscare Moment: You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss
Rating: PG
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Where To Watch: HBOMax, Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Apple TV

Jaws may not be a horror movie—in fact, most of it sits firmly in the action category—but there is a certain amount of tension every time someone hits the water.

By now, the audience is well aware of the shark’s capabilities. When it suddenly surfaces for the chum, Brody isn’t the only one feeling like he may have bitten off more than he can chew.

 

Carrie (1976)

Jumpscare Moment: Need A Hand?

Director: Brian De Palma
Starring: Sissy Spacek, John Travolta
Rating: R
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Carrie focuses on the eponymous protagonist, a bullied teenager who discovers she possesses telekinetic abilities.

Her story is ultimately a tragic one, but she manages to take revenge on some of the people who made her life a living hell on her way out.

When one of the few survivors visits her grave at the end of the film, she finds that death may not be the end for Carrie.

 

Tremors (1990)

Jumpscare Moment: The Early Worm

Director: Ron Underwood
Starring: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward
Rating: PG-13
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

The special effects and the dialogue may seem hokey, but if you walked into this movie without knowing what to expect, seeing an enormous and hideous sandworm suddenly erupt from the ground would do more than just startle you.

Only the first encounter counts as a jumpscare, but it sure is an effective one.

 

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

Jumpscare Moment: The Great Escape

Director: Jonathan Demme
Starring: Jodie Foster, Sir Anthony Hopkins
Rating: R
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

For most of the movie, the audience has grown somewhat comfortable with the idea of Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

While his mannerisms and lack of blinking are unsettling, his cooperation with the authorities and overall pleasant demeanor lull viewers into a false sense of security.

That security is then ripped to shreds when Lecter makes his move. His grisly escape leaves no doubt to his savage brutality.

 

The Ring (2002)

Jumpscare Moment: Samara’s Reveal

Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson
Rating: R
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

This jumpscare involves a movie within a movie.

After viewing a mysterious tape, every viewer dies. While the audience gets some idea of the horrors involved, you don’t know what’s on the tape for some time.

That tension compounds until, finally, the audience is privy to the cursed footage. This reveal is another example of well-earned jumpscares: it doesn’t feel cheap, and the build-up is fantastic.

 

Ju-On: The Grudge (2003)

Jumpscare Moment: Skeletons In The Attic

Director: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito
Rating: R
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

This film is filled with jumpscares, but the most effective one takes place near the beginning of the movie.

A new tenant moves into a house with his wife and ailing, elderly mother. His wife begins the process of moving in and starts cleaning.

After a few strange sounds in the attic, she opens up a closet and climbs up to see what’s causing them.

That peek into the unknown is a long, tense moment for the audience, culminating in a jumpscare worthy of nightmares.

 

Sinister (2012)

Jumpscare Moment: Lawn Work

Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio
Rating: R
Rotten Tomatoes: 63%
Where To Watch: Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

Throughout this movie, the main character frequently finds himself watching found footage reels of innocuously-named home movies.

Each one is actually named after the type of incident that befalls the previous residents of the house. However, most of the films are tense and horrifying, rather than suddenly scary.

The “Lawn Work” reel breaks that trend, after making the audience speculate exactly what the cameraperson will do with that lawn mower.

The answer? Nothing good.

 

The Conjuring (2013)

Jumpscare Moment: The Sound Of Two Hands Clapping

Director: James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Rating: R
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Where To Watch: HBOMax, Fandango, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Apple TV

This claustrophobic scene sees the protagonist trapped in a cellar. Sounds echo from shadowy corners, and objects move without warning.

The tension ratchets up when a ball rolls across the screen, and the lightbulb bursts.

Though none of the actions on their own are particularly threatening, watching a woman struggle to light a match and look around, only for two hands to appear and clap, is sure to make you jump.

 

via GIPHY

Horror, action, and thriller movies alike are often guilty of cheap tricks to frighten audiences, then slapping the jumpscares label on them.

Sudden music changes, split-second reveals, or loud sounds might startle, but they don’t evoke real fear or tension.

Masterfully done, jumpscares feel like worthwhile payoffs after a tense and well-designed road. Whether a movie’s chock full of them, or planted with just one or two, they can leave a lasting impression long after the final credits roll.

For more film recommendations, check out the best pandemichorror, or generally scary movies now streaming on major platforms.