Cosmic horror has been established as one of the most chilling sub-genres in horror cinema. With a focus on the unknown, isolation, and the human mind, cosmic horror plays on the imaginations of audiences rather than going all out on gore and jump scares. Instead of ghosts, serial killers, or vampires, these stories focus on the endless possibilities of the universe's fictional horrors.

Early 20th-century author H.P. Lovecraft gave Cosmic horror prominence through stories like At the Mountain of Madness, The Hound, and The Call of Cthulhu. The genre can be challenging to pull off in cinema, but plenty of films have tried to capture the terror of the unknown and unimaginable. Everything from stories of paranoia to questions about reality itself has made up cosmic horror in cinema.

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10 Color Out of Space

Based on the classic Lovecraft story of the same name, Color Out of Space follows a rural family who comes into contact with an impossible color from space. Shortly after, they experience strange happenings around the area and even transform into horrific versions of themselves.

Starring Nicolas Cage, Color Out of Space does an excellent job of blurring the lines of reality for its characters, leaving audiences to wonder just how far changed each character is by the color. The movie is a slow burn, but by the end, it feels like The Shining meets science fiction.

9 Bird Box

Bird Box

One of Netflix's biggest surprise hits was 2019's Bird Box, a movie that followed a band of survivors after an unexplained phenomenon caused people who witnessed it to commit suicide. As the survivors attempt to make a stand for survival, they come to realize the unseen monster isn't the only threat they have to contend with.

Bird Box did an impressive job of instilling fear in the viewers despite never revealing the monsters. The idea of beings so horrifying that seeing them can cause someone to lose their sanity is a staple of cosmic horror and, indeed, one of the best ways to communicate true unseen terror to audiences.

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8 The Mist

Thomas Jane cries over his fallen son at the end of The Mist

Known for having one of the most tragic endings in cinema, The Mist takes place in a small town as it becomes engulfed in a mysterious fog that brings terrifying monsters. It follows a large group of survivors holed up in a supermarket, defending against the attacking creatures set on picking them off.

The Mist mainly focuses on the characters and how they break down from the thought of dying in the store, whether from the mist, each other, or something else. The film played on the fears of the unknown, both from the characters and viewers, only offering glimpses of the monsters and letting people's imaginations do the rest.

7 The Void

the void creatures

The Void begins with a police officer finding a survivor of a cult, whom he brings to the nearby hospital. After the cult surrounds the building, the people trapped inside are then set upon by the appearance of terrifying creatures who take over and transform the bodies of those it touches.

The Void deserves credit for creating the idea of something truly otherworldly as the threat behind its horror, something few films are good at pulling off. The isolation of the film is so good that by the end, the hospital setting practically feels like another reality, and audiences watch each unique and horrifying fate come to pass for the characters.

6 Sunshine

Sunshine Screenshot

Sunshine takes place in a future where humanity faces the threat of extinction from the impending death of Earth's sun. It follows a ship's crew sent with a specialized bomb designed to jumpstart the sun back into life. Much of its runtime is dedicated to the predictable problems and tragedy such a mission would entail, as well as character drama.

Sunshine doesn't deal with aliens, alternate universes, or Lovecraftian Elder Gods. Instead, it focuses on the effects that the loneliness of deep space, coupled with the dangers it contains, has on humanity. The appearance of Pinbacker is what changes the film away from deep space drama to full-blown horror.

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5 Phantoms

Phantoms Main Cast Ben Affleck Rose McGowan

Phantoms takes place in a small, mountainside town plagued with an encounter with an unseen, monstrous entity. It begins with the arrival of sisters Jennifer and Lisa Pailey, who find the place almost entirely abandoned, with the few traces of people they can find having been violently killed.

Phantoms follows the handful of survivors as they fight for survival against the "Ancient Enemy," a primordial being capable of assuming the form of anything it absorbs. The film is a great example of minimizing the monster and maximizing the tension, with the characters and viewers alike being constantly on edge.

4 The Lighthouse

Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe in 2019's The Lighthouse

Few films have mastered the intense isolation and plain weirdness of cosmic horror, and 2019's The Lighthouse. Set on a small island lighthouse post, it tells the story of two merchants charged with manning the post as they deal with strange occurrences on the island. Things only escalate when they realize they may be marooned there for months.

Starring Robert Pattinson and Willem DeFoe, the tense interplay between the characters and the sense of something horrific just around the corner makes for a gripping watch. As great as the acting is, the film's sounds truly sell it as the unnerving work of desolate cosmic horror that it is.

3 Event Horizon

Astronaut with a scratched up face from Event Horizon

Event Horizon mastered the mysteries and horror of space in a tale of a spaceship crew sent to recover a long-lost vessel after it inexplicably re-emerged. The crew began experiencing strange events, visions, and violence shortly after arriving onboard the ship.

Event Horizon toyed with the idea of inter-dimensional travel, hiding from viewers the exact horror of the world the ship had visited. Instead, audiences only catch brief glimpses and implications of a hellish dimension and the horrific effects it has on any who see or experience it.

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2 In the Mouth of Madness

Sam Neill in the Mouth of Madness

In the Mouth of Madness is a film that follows an insurance claims investigator, John Trent, who is sent to look into the disappearance of a high-profile horror writer, Sutter Cane. Traveling with the writer's editor, Trent's journey lands the duo in Hobbes End, the fictional town written about in Cane's novels.

As Trent's investigation continues, he realizes the town isn't just what Cane based his books on but that he is trapped in the book, specifically the final, apocalyptic one. Replete with monsters, murder, and mind control, the movie is a brilliant combination of metafiction and horror.

1 The Thing

The Thing, John Carpenter, Kurt Rusell, Macready

The Thing is, at its core, a classic example of paranoia-themed isolationist horror. It takes place in a US research station in Antarctica when the men stationed there encounter a shape-shifting monster. As the creature works its way through the group, the characters are left to wonder which of their fellow men is still themselves.

The Thing manages to instill in audiences the same paranoid feelings of its characters as it draws nearer to a showdown between them and the monster. The monster's true form is never shown, something that works to great effect as each character is distorted in uniquely grotesque ways.