The Scariest Demon Possession and Exorcism Horror Movies

Ever since "The Exorcist" stunned viewers in the early '70s, movies about demonic possession have fascinated viewers worldwide. Here are my picks for the best of the bunch. For the sake of this list, we're sticking to possession by demons and not by human spirits (e.g., "Child's Play" or "Shocker") -- as much as one can be discerned from the other.

20
of 20

Constantine (2005)

Constantine
Courtesy Village Roadshow Pictures

This visually striking comic book adaptation stars Keanu Reeves as a man with otherworldly abilities who exorcises demons in an effort to win admission into Heaven.

19
of 20

The Rite (2011)

The Rite
Courtesy New Line

A serious-minded, more reality-based exorcism movie than most, this tale of a young priest who's lost his faith being introduced to the world of demonic possession by a veteran exorcist (the always great Anthony Hopkins) is refreshingly restrained and cerebral in its approach.

18
of 20

The 8th Plague (2006)

The 8th Plague

This low-budget splatter flick plays like an homage to "The Evil Dead". A group of people searching for a missing woman becomes possessed by a locust demon via a mystical symbol scrawled on the walls of an abandoned prison. And like "Evil Dead", "The 8th Plague" overcomes a lack of resources with kinetic direction, a dark edge, and buckets of blood.
 

17
of 20

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) / Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

Exorcist: The Beginning
Courtesy Warner Bros

These are alternate versions of the same story, the third sequel(s) to "The Exorcist" in which Father Merrin first encounters the demon Pazuzu in post-World War II Africa. "Dominion", directed by Paul Schrader ("Cat People"), is the more cerebral of the two but wasn't considered commercial enough, so the studio handed the reins over to Renny Harlin ("Deep Blue Sea"), who returned with "The Beginning". Despite negative reviews, each has its own appeal and probably would've received more credit had they been standalone films rather than being made in the shadow of "The Exorcist".

16
of 20

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose
Courtesy Screen Gems

Based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a German girl who died during the course of an exorcism, this film intelligently combines the seemingly incongruous genres of demonic possession horror and courtroom drama, as a priest goes on trial for causing a possessed girl's death.

15
of 20

Burnt Offerings (1976)

Burnt Offerings
Courtesy MGM

When a family agrees to house sit for a summer, they don't realize that the house has a life of its own: a dark force takes over the mother (Karen Black) and torments the father (Oliver Reed). Whether it's a demon or a ghost is never quite clear, but it certainly is evil with a capital "EEEEEE!!!!"

14
of 20

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness
Courtesy Universal

One of John Carpenter's more overlooked efforts, this tale of academic researchers investigating (and subsequently becoming possessed by) a "liquid evil" oozes creepy atmosphere -- amongst other things.

13
of 20

Fallen (1998)

Fallen
Courtesy Warner Bros

An enjoyable cat-and-mouse game -- with a killer twist ending -- plays out between a homicide detective (Denzel Washington) and a demon named Azazel who commits a series of murders while jumping from body to body.

12
of 20

The Convent (2000)

The Convent
Courtesy Trimark

One of the more underrated horror movies of the 21st century, "The Convent" is essentially a rip-off of "Night of the Demons" -- with teens becoming possessed by demons in a haunted convent instead of a haunted mortuary -- but it brings the sort of wit, energy and gory effects that made "Demons" such a ​cult hit. Plus, demonic nuns just look cool.

11
of 20

The Exorcist III (1990)

The Exorcist III
Courtesy Warner Bros

After the disastrous "Exorcist II", original "Exorcist" author William Peter Blatty came on board to both write and direct this entry, setting the series back on course with dazzling visual panache, even if the film wasn't a commercial hit. However, it's earned a following over the years, and it can be argued that it's even scarier than the original "Exorcist" (at least, Blatty has said so). Although the plot involves a dead serial killer possessing people to continue his violent spree, he gets a helping hand from the demon Pazuzu, so we'll go ahead and add it to this list.

Note: If the striking visuals aren’t surreal enough, consider the list of cameos who appear in the film, including Larry King, Patrick Ewing, Fabio, and C. Everett Coop.

10
of 20

Night of the Demons (1988)

Night of the Demons
Courtesy Anchor Bay

This slaughter-fest about demons possessing teens throwing a Halloween party in an abandoned mortuary embodies the brainless fun of '80s horror movies, spawning two sequels and a remake.

09
of 20

Paranormal Activity (2009)

Paranormal Activity
Courtesy Paramount

Taking "The Blair Witch Project" to the next level, this POV film uses "found footage" to document the haunting of a suburban couple by a demonic presence that takes over one of them.

08
of 20

REC (2007) / REC 2 (2009)

'Rec' movie poster
Courtesy Filmax

The tense Spanish horror movie "REC" (which didn't hit the US until 2009 but was remade as "Quarantine" in 2008) plays like a zombie viral infection film -- as a "disease" turns the residents of an apartment building into bloodthirsty maniacs -- but it turns out that the plague is actually demonic in nature. Interestingly, "REC 2" eliminated this supernatural element altogether.

07
of 20

The Last Exorcism (2010)

The Last Exorcism
Courtesy Lionsgate

Like "REC" and "Paranormal Activity", this is a first-person "found footage" film, in this case documenting a sham exorcist's encounter with a teenage girl whose possession is frighteningly real. Strong characters and an intriguing mystery make the possession almost secondary.

 

06
of 20

The Amityville Horror (1979)

The Amityville Horror
Courtesy MGM

The story may or may not be true, but the film, in which a demonic force possesses the father of a family who moves into a suspiciously cheap riverside property, remains chilling to this day.

05
of 20

Demons (1985)

Demons
Courtesy Anchor Bay

Over-the-top violence, apocalyptic themes, and a rousing soundtrack propel this Italian cult favorite about a mystical mask that turns theater patrons into a demonic horde.

04
of 20

Session 9 (2001)

Session 9
Courtesy Universal

This low-budget film proves that you don't have to be explicit to be shocking and bloodcurdlingly scary. Its plot, about an asbestos cleanup crew working in an abandoned asylum, is open to interpretation. Could there be a ghost in the building that affects their actions? A demon? Or nothing at all? The conversations it spurs are all part of the movie's brilliance.

03
of 20

The Evil Dead (1981) / Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Evil Dead 2
Courtesy Anchor Bay

The groundbreaking "Evil Dead" and its unapologetically goofy sequel feature the adventures of Ash (Bruce Campbell) as he battles demons unleashed by the Book of the Dead (the Necronomicon) who possess inanimate objects and people alike -- to both scary and hilarious effect. 

02
of 20

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist
Courtesy Warner Bros

The standard by which all other demonic possession movies are judged, "The Exorcist" has terrified millions of viewers over the years with its then- (and still somewhat) shocking portrayal of the possession of a young girl, introducing now-standard possession movie elements like levitation, vomit, profanity and body contortions.

01
of 20

The Shining (1980)

The Shining
Courtesy Warner Bros

Although it's generally thought of as a haunted house (or rather, hotel) movie, "The Shining's" plot is somewhat similar to "The Amityville Horror", with the father of a family slowly becoming taken over by a presence that drives him to kill. However, it isn't portrayed as explicitly "demonic" in nature as it is in "Amityville"; like "Session 9", there are some things left to interpretation. Although there are ghosts in the film, there's also a general malevolence inherent in the building that author ​Stephen King has described as an "inhuman evil", so why couldn't it be some sort of demon? However you want to describe it, The Shining is filled with iconic imagery and hair-raising moments that stick with you for a lifetime.