Top Ten Jump Scares in Film

Some see them as a cheap trope to conjure a scare when the movie can’t scare on its own, but when used effective it can remain in pop-culture for many years after. Below is the Top Ten Jump Scares in Film and posted before each is a short clip of the scare, and that leading up to it. I will be spoiling the scare in the paragraph below so I highly recommend watching before you read; and have a second pair of pants next to you, just in case.

10.  Jaws (1976) – Scuba Diving

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Roy Schieder, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

Other Top Ten Appearances – Top Ten Steven Spielberg Directed Films

Whether Jaws should be deemed a horror film is a debate that has raged on in the community for over 40 years; this jump scare helps the case of it being one. Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) investigates a sunken boat in hopes to learn more about their enemy, a massive great white shark. But no one was expecting a body to quickly jump out at him. I personally encountered this scare in my first year at film school in a silent and packed theatre; one of the loudest shrieks I’ve heard from an audience.

9. Quarantine (2008) – It’s in the Attic!

Director: John Erick Dowdle

Cast: Jennifer Carpenter, Steve Harris, Columbus Short

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 58%

After something infects an apartment in Quarantine (maybe rabies, maybe a zombie virus; it’s never really clear) a journalist and her cameraman accompany a fire crew to an emergency call. After some creepy and grotesque situations occur, they find themselves in the attic investigating. The baby? Boy? Whatever’s in the attic, it’s horrifying and it haunted me as a kid, regardless of the fact I was 14 when the film was released.

8. The Sixth Sense (1999) – Vomit Ghost

Director: M.Night Shyamalan

Cast: Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Omsent, Toni Collete

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Know what I hate just as much as ghosts? Ghosts who vomit right in front of me. Tensions are high as Cole (Haley Joel Osment) strolls around his cold house but I don’t think any of us were expecting to see a little girl with throw-up leaking from her mouth when he got back to his tent. The Sixth Sense was definitely creepy, but jump scares weren’t the reason why so to see one right in the middle was a true shocker. Worse than the ghost may have been the homemade video of her mom dripping drain-cleaner into her soup; horrifying.

7. The Ring (2003) – I Saw Her Face

Director: Gore Verbinski

Cast: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, Brian Cox

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 71%

Not even close to the scariest scene in Gore Verbinski’s 2002 flick, but it is the one to make us jump the most. The jump isn’t as scary as the image; Becca’s (Rachael Bella) contorted and bloodless face is a paused image that went down in infamy. Samara (Daveigh Chase) crawling out of the TV may be the most memorable scene in the flick, but the closet is surely a close second. To an unsuspecting, 8-year-old Mark, it was, and still is, very traumatic.

6. Carrie (1976) – Carrie’s Last Stand

Director: Brian De Palma

Cast: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%

Carrie may not be the scariest of films, but the “out of nowhere” hand at the end is infamous for being one of the most intense jump scares of its time. Not only does the music increase the fear as it happens, but the movie more or less abruptly ends, leaving no time to die the tension down. Is it a deeper meaning about Carrie’s (Sissy Spacek) death and her reliance on Sue (Amy Irving) or is it just one last scare to leave the audience on?

5. The Conjuring (2013) – Clap, Clap

Director: James Wan

Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

The Conjuring was a welcomed inclusion into the horror genre from the director of Saw, James Wan. Being rated R with no blood, sex, or language and only terror is a rare feat and one that this film and its sequel achieved. The “Clap, Clap” scene, used in almost all of the film’s initial marketing, was effective regardless whether spoiled or not. A lengthy and suspense-filled scene concludes with what appears to be a pair of demon hands indulging in the childhood game, lit only with a match-flame.

4. Se7en (1995) – Sloth

Director: David Fincher

Cast: Brad Pitt, Martin Freeman, Kevin Spacey

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%


The next three may be more iconic, but when it comes to being most effective, almost all pale to the sloth jump scare in Se7en. The two prior victims of John Doe (Kevin Spacey) had been dead so there was zero reason to think this guy would be alive. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills’ (Brad Pitt) reaction mirror our own. Not to mention the consequences of the reveal; the man had been living like this for over a year, never leaving the bed to eat or use the bathroom. The single creepiest scene in an immensely creepy film.

3. Insidious (2010) – Lipstick Demon

Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 65%

Other Top Ten Appearances – Top Ten Blumhouse Productions

Despite the three forgettable sequels, the first Insidious is a finely directed, acted, and written horror/genre film. James Wan’s second film on the list, the feel is much more fantasy and aesthetic driven than horror, but still a chillingly effective experiment. Also the first PG-13 film from the director; fun fact. The movie has a few jumps (kid in the closet, baby monitor) but none are as insane and famous as the (oddly named) Lipstick Face Demon who appears behind Josh (Patrick Wilson). Not only is the face fascinatingly creepy but the sheer shock of seeing it is downright heart-stopping.

2. Signs (2002) – Brazilian Birthday Party

Director: M.Night Sayamalan

Cast: Mel Gibson, Jaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 74%

So much of this scene is absolutely horrifying. One of the most underrated horror films of all time (I do have a Signs tattoo; in case you were curious as to my level of love for it). Merrill’s (Juaquin Phoenix) glued to the news and when the anchor warns of disturbing images, he can’t look away. The birthday party is interrupted by the alien crossing the driveway; maybe not as scary as it should be but the music swelling, audible punctuation, and Merrill’s reaction makes it creepy to witness, even if the CGI isn’t up to date. 16 years later, and the Brazilian birthday footage is still the single creepiest scare I’ve ever seen; maybe not the scariest, but for damn sure the creepiest.

1. Sinister (2012) – Lawn Work

Director: Scott Derickson

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%

Other Top Ten Appearances – Top Ten Blumhouse Productions

I’m not kidding when I say that I had huge reservations about even having to watch this clip for my research, that’s how scared I am of it. No hyperbole, this scene is the most frightened I’ve ever been in a movie theatre. When watching homemade snuff film’s he found in his new house, to help with his true crime novel, Ellison’s (Ethan Hawke) final homemade flick is the most gut wrenching. After a lawn mower is started, being pushed by an unkown source, the single light and lack of music adds to the shock when it drives over a tied up victim. Hawke’s reaction is mild compared to my own.

Honorable Mentions

  • The Exorcism of Emily Rose – Contortion
  • The Dark Knight – Batman’s Hanging
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street – Freddy Grabs Mom
  • The Descent – Cave Person
  • The Shining – Live Twins, Dead Twins
  • Friday the 13th – Jason Attacks the Boat
  • The Ring – In the Closet

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