In the vast realm of spine-chilling films, a select group of A-list Hollywood actors have managed to leave their mark. But let’s be honest, not all of them are known for their fearless expeditions into the genre. Yet, for devoted horror buffs around the world, these actors will forever be celebrated as the ultimate “masters of fear.”
While some of these actors have graced the screens of well-known horror flicks, others have showcased their incredible talents in hidden treasures that may have gone unnoticed by many. From the expected choices like the legendary Tony Todd to some surprisingly unconventional names like Nicholas Hoult, these unsung masters of fear have truly earned their rightful claim to the throne.
1. Matthew Lillard
Matthew Lillard is widely recognized for his comedic roles in films such as SLC Punk!, Without a Paddle, She’s All That, and Scooby-Doo. However, he has also made a name for himself in the horror genre. In 1996, he portrayed Stu Macher, one of the original killers in Wes Craven’s iconic film, Scream.
Interestingly, horror was where Lillard began his career. He made his film debut in Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College and later appeared in John Waters’s Serial Mom. After his breakout role in Scream, Lillard continued to work in the genre, starring in movies like The Curve (1998) and Thirteen Ghosts (2003).
In 2017, Lillard delivered a memorable performance in Twin Peaks: The Return. Unfortunately, his character met a brutal and mysteriously supernatural end.
2. Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke, known for his acclaimed dramatic performances and four Oscar nominations, has also made a mark in the horror genre. Although he gained the title of a scream king later in his career, he has always had a knack for horror.
One of Hawke’s earliest ventures into the genre was in the 2010 vampire film Daybreakers, which proved to be an underrated role for him. Since then, he has developed a fondness for horror and has taken on leading roles in notable horror films such as Sinister and The Purge.
In a recent film, The Black Phone released in 2021, Hawke stepped into the shoes of a horror villain for the first time. Portraying a vicious serial killer who wears terrifying masks, he showcased a new side to his acting abilities.
Overall, Ethan Hawke’s journey in the horror genre has been an interesting and successful one, adding a unique touch to his already impressive career.
3. Tony Todd
Tony Todd is a well-known actor in the horror genre, with his most iconic role being Candyman. He has a knack for playing both villains and protagonists, always leaving horror fans thrilled.
Candyman is the role that Todd is most recognized for, where he portrays a villain with some antihero qualities. However, this is not the only horror role that has brought him success.
Before Candyman, Todd starred in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, where he played the lead character. Since then, he has appeared in other genre films such as Final Destination, Wishmaster, Hatchet 2, and Hell Fest.
4. Patrick Wilson
Patrick Wilson is a versatile actor, recognized for his work in various film genres. However, he has notably showcased his talent in two renowned horror franchises, both under the direction of the legendary filmmaker James Wan.
In the Conjuring Universe, Wilson portrays the real-life demonologist Ed Warren, delving into the supernatural. Additionally, he takes on the role of a father tormented by malevolent spirits in the Insidious series.
Wilson’s diverse filmography includes appearances in the mind-bending Netflix movie In the Tall Grass and the cannibal western film Bone Tomahawk. However, one of his most unsettling performances can be found in the 2006 thriller Hard Candy. In this film, Wilson portrays an online predator who unexpectedly finds himself on the receiving end of a dangerous game.
5. Kurt Russell
Kurt Russell, the versatile actor, has made a name for himself in various genres, but he is particularly renowned for his roles in horror and sci-fi movies. His partnership with the iconic horror director John Carpenter began in 1981 with their collaboration on Escape from New York. The following year, Russell captivated audiences in one of the most terrifying creature features ever made, The Thing.
Russell continued to work with Carpenter in later films such as Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A. He also took on the role of a villain in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, showcasing his ability to captivate audiences in different types of movies. Additionally, Russell appeared in the western cannibal flick Bone Tomahawk, a role that is often overlooked but deserving of recognition.
6. Kiefer Sutherland
Known For: The Lost Boys
Underrated Role: Flatliners
Kiefer Sutherland is best known for his role in the popular Fox series 24, but he actually began his career in the genre with the 1987 film The Lost Boys, where he portrayed a teenage vampire.
During the 90s, Sutherland took on a variety of roles in films like Flatliners, The Vanishing, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He also made appearances in the dark and brooding sci-fi movie Dark City and the intense crime caper Freeway. These films truly stand out for their unconventional and out-there nature.
In the 2000s, Sutherland ventured into the serial killer thriller genre with Taking Lives and took on the lead role in the ghostly horror remake, Mirrors, directed by Alex Aja. Mirrors was a gory adaptation of a Korean horror film with the same title, adding an extra layer of intensity to the story.
7. Sam Neill
Sam Neill is widely recognized for his role in Jurassic Park. However, his talent extends beyond this blockbuster. Throughout his extensive career, he has taken on various roles, particularly in the horror and sci-fi genres. While he is known for his appearances in adventure classics like Jurassic Park, he has also showcased his skills in more straightforward horror movies.
In 1981, Neill made a significant impact in the horror genre. He starred in Omen III: The Final Conflict, which gained him recognition. Additionally, he appeared in Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession, a film that combines elements of break-up drama and creature features. Possession caused quite a stir upon its release due to its controversial nature. Following this, Neill took on another Lovecraftian classic, John Carpenter’s Into the Mouth of Madness.
Aside from these well-regarded horror flicks, Neill has also made appearances in other notable films. He starred in Dead Calm, Event Horizon, and Daybreakers, further showcasing his versatility and ability to excel in different genres.
8. Justin Long
Justin Long is well-known for his role as a barbarian in the 2022 horror hit, Barbarian. However, it’s important to note that he has also delivered exceptional performances in underrated roles. One such role was in the horror film Tusk, where Long showcased his acting skills.
Long’s talent in the horror genre has been evident for decades. In 2001, he made a memorable appearance as one of the main characters in the beloved creature-feature slasher mash-up, Jeepers Creepers. Despite it being only his third role, Long left a lasting impression.
Throughout his career, Long has continued to explore the horror genre, appearing in various films such as Drag Me to Hell, After.Life, and House of Darkness. These roles have allowed him to showcase his versatility as an actor.
In Barbarian, Long took on a different kind of role, playing against type. His performance received positive reviews, further cementing his status as a talented actor in the horror genre.
While Long has appeared in several comedies, his contributions to the horror genre should not be overlooked. His dedication to delivering stellar performances in this genre deserves recognition.
9. Bill Skarsgård
Bill Skarsgård, known for his role as Pennywise the Clown in the 2017 It reboot, comes from a famous family that includes his dad Stellan and brother Alexander. Playing the iconic Stephen King villain helped him gain widespread recognition.
In addition to It and its sequel, It: Chapter 2, Skarsgård has also taken on other horror roles in his career. One of his early major roles was in the Netflix werewolf show, Hemlock Grove. After his success in It, Skarsgård went on to appear in various genre titles such as Villains, Castle Rock, and Barbarian.
10. Donald Pleasence
Donald Pleasence is widely recognized for his role in the iconic Halloween films. However, his contributions to the horror genre extend far beyond his portrayal of Michael Myers’s doctor.
Pleasence first made his mark in the genre by playing Dr. Sam Loomis in John Carpenter’s original Halloween in 1978. He continued to embody the character in Halloween II, Halloween 4, Halloween 5, and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers.
Apart from the Halloween franchise, Pleasence also graced the screens in various other horror movies, including Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. He further showcased his talent in films such as Buried Alive, Paganini Horror, and Vampire in Venice.
Regrettably, Pleasence’s final film before his untimely passing in 1995 was Fatal Frames. Despite his absence, his impact on the horror genre remains undeniable.
11. Justin Long