Otherwise known as the “Master of Horror,” John Carpenter is an American filmmaker, screenwriter, and composer known for his hugely culturally impactful and cult classic films. With a career that has been storied with huge commercial flops and huge commercial success, in addition to some of the catchiest theme music in cinema, Carpenter has become one of the most influential directors in American cinema, particularly in the horror, action, and science fiction genres.

Today, Carpenter is in semi-retirement focusing on musical projects, though he recently served as executive producer, co-composer, and creative consultant for the 2018 Halloween reboot. His invaluable contribution to cinema has been recognized by numerous contemporary directors today. Here are the ten best John Carpenter movies.

10 Christine (1983): 6.7

Based on the chilling Stephen King novel of the same name, Christine is a supernatural horror film about a nerdy teenager who purchases a vintage 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine, only to find out that the car has a jealous mind of its own and a deadly personality.

Carpenter chose to pursue the film as a job rather than a personal project saying of King’s book that, “It just wasn’t very frightening. But it was something I needed to do at that time for my career.” Christine was a commercial success and was met with generally favorable reviews. It has since achieved status as one of Carpenter’s cult films.

9 The Fog (1980): 6.8

John Carpenter directed, co-wrote, and created the music for The Fog, a supernatural horror film about a mysterious glowing fog that overtakes a small coastal town in California.

The Fog brings with it the vengeful spirits of mariners killed in a shipwreck a century ago. The film was a modest success critically and commercially for Carpenter but has since become a cult film and has been recognized as a classic in the horror genre. A novelization of the film was devised, as well as a toned-down reboot that was made in 2005, which was met with universally negative reviews.


8 Starman (1984): 7.0

Starring Jeff Bridges as a humanoid alien that comes to Earth, Starman is a delightful science fiction film underscored with dramatic elements as the Starman discovers life and love on Earth. The film was a commercial success and was highly praised by critics, especially Bridge’s performance, which netted him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

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This would make Starman the only John Carpenter film to be nominated for an Academy Award. The film inspired a television series of the same name from 1986 to 1987 and a remake is rumored to be in production with Shawn Levy directing.

7 In the Mouth of Madness (1994): 7.2

In the Mouth of Madness, like many of Carpenter’s films, while underappreciated in its own time, has since achieved a cult following and critical recognition. The film follows a freelance insurance investigator who is tasked with investigating the death of a popular horror novelist whose terrifying novels seem to be coming true.

The film pays homage to New England horror writers such as H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. Though the film was a commercial failure it has since been recognized as ahead of its time. Filmmaker Ari Aster, known for his chilling films Hereditary and Midsommar, has called In the Mouth of Madness one of his favorite films.

6 Escape From New York (1981): 7.2

In Escape From New York Kurt Russell stars, one year before his lead role in Carpenter’s The Thing, as soldier turned prisoner, Snake Plissken. In the dystopian future of 1997, the United States has converted Manhattan into a maximum-security prison. In exchange for his freedom Snake must infiltrate the prison in order to save the President, who has been kidnapped by terrorists.

The film was a summer box office smash and critical success that spawned a sequel Escape From L.A., which was also directed by Carpenter and was received less favorably by audiences. Escape From New York has been adapted into books, comics, and a board game. A remake by Robert Rodriguez is currently in the works.

5 They Live (1988): 7.3

Based on a short story called “Eight O’clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson and starring former wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, They Live is another Carpenter classic underappreciated in its own time.

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Piper stars as a Los Angeles drifter who discovers a mysterious pair of sunglasses that enable him to see that the media is run by skull-faced aliens disguised as humans. The film debuted at number one at the box office to negative reviews. Carpenter has said of the initial negative reviews that people “who go to the movies in vast numbers these days don’t want to be enlightened.” The film has since been heralded as a classic in the science fiction genre.

4 Big Trouble in Little China (1986): 7.3

Big Trouble in Little China was John Carpenter’s first foray into the martial arts genre. The film is another collaboration between Carpenter and Kurt Russell with Russell starring as Jack Burton, a truck driver who goes into the underworld of Chinatown to rescue his friend’s fiancé before encountering an ancient sorcerer.

The film performed poorly critically and commercially leaving Carpenter disillusioned with Hollywood and inspiring him to return to independent film ventures. After its release on home video, it has since become a cult classic and like many Carpenter films, has been adapted for various comics, games, and a potential remake.

3 Assault on Precinct 13 (1976): 7.4

Assault on Precinct 13 was written, directed, edited, and scored by John Carpenter who had total creative control. The film is an action thriller starring Austin Stoker as a police officer who, along with a convicted murderer, must defend a precinct from deadly gang activity. The film though it received mix reviews and minimal box office earnings, was made for only $100,000 and has since been recognized as a critical success for Carpenter, especially for being shot for such a low budget. A remake was released in 2005 starring Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne.

2 Halloween (1978): 7.8

Carpenter’s slasher film Halloween has become one of the most culturally recognizable horror films of all time. The film recounts the story of the mentally disturbed Michael Myers who escapes from the sanitarium where he is kept. Michael returns to his hometown fifteen years after murdering his sister, where he stalks a young babysitter and her friends.

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The film grossed over $70 million and has become one of the most financially successful independent films of all time. The success of Halloween has led to eight sequels, a remake with its own sequel, and a recent direct sequel to the original film also titled Halloween which will be followed by two more sequels in 2020 and 2021.

1 The Thing (1982): 8.1

Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr., The Thing is science fiction horror film about a group of researchers in the Antarctic who encounter a parasitic alien dubbed “the Thing.” The alien assimilates itself into the group creating paranoia that any one of the researchers could be the Thing unbeknownst to the rest.

The film performed modestly at the box office but was met with harshly negative reviews, even being called one of the most hated films of all time. Upon its release on home video, The Thing found its audience as a cult film and has since been recognized as one of the most influential horror and science fiction films of all time. It has become a pop culture mainstay and has spawned numerous media spinoffs including a film prequel and a reported remake in the works.

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