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5 Horror Movies Directed By Academy Award Winning Directors, Including Jaws

Jaws on a rampage
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Here’s something that might sound like an anomaly. I have seen every movie that has ever won Best Picture, and I really love critically acclaimed prestige films, but horror movies are my favorite genre of cinema. I’m talking the bloodier, the better. Sure, I want to watch Marty and Parasite. But I just as eagerly want to watch House of 1000 Corpses and Monkey Shines. And thankfully, because of directors like Steven Spielberg, who directed Jaws, I can have my blood-soaked brain and eat it, too. Like a zombie!

Ah, yes. The auteur who also cut his or her teeth on horror films before they accepted the most prestigious honor at the Academy Awards. There are actually quite a few Academy Award-winning directors, like Kathryn Bigelow, who directed both The Hurt Locker AND Near Dark, out there, but I wanted to focus on some of my favorite horror movies by some of my favorite directors. Now, you have likely seen some of these movies, but there are a couple on this list that you may be quite surprised by.

Roy Scheider in Jaws

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Jaws - Steven Spielberg

Here’s an interesting scenario—A horror movie that is actually up for Best Picture. Jaws is in that rare class of only 6 horror movies that have actually been up for the highest honor, only for it to lose to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Honestly, it’s kind of hard to argue with that loss, but hey, you could make the argument that Jaws should have won that year.

You already know the film. Jaws is about three unlikely partners who band together to hunt a killer shark. The film is one of the most recognizable movies of all time, and John Williams’ menacing score is enough to trigger fears of going back into the water. Steven Spielberg would later go on to win Best Director for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, but he’s been nominated a bunch of other times, too, such as for films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Munich, and a few others. Sadly, he wasn’t nominated for his directing on Jaws, but he should have been. It’s not easy making people look very afraid of a mechanical shark.

Michael Caine in The Hand

(Image credit: Warner Bros. )

The Hand - Oliver Stone

Oliver Stone is known as the serious director who directs serious pictures. He won the Academy Award for Best Director for the films Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July, and he was nominated for JFK. In every way, Oliver Stone is a legend who made several thought-provoking and introspective films.

But he also directed a hammy movie starring Michael Caine about a comic book artist who loses his hand in a horrific car accident and then goes on a psychotic killing spree. The Hand is full on bonkers, and it features Michael Caine in one of his most sinister roles. He suffers from blackouts, and when he wakes up, people end up dead. How could you not love a movie like that? In fact, Oliver Stone’s directorial debut was the horror movie, Seizure, which is also pretty good. But for my money, The Hand is Oliver Stone’s best picture. And no, you didn’t read that wrong. I told you in the beginning that my favorite genre is horror, didn’t I?  

Peter Jackson in Bad Taste

(Image credit: Endeavour Productions)

Bad Taste - Peter Jackson

Nowadays, Peter Jackson is putting together Beatles documentaries that make their way onto Disney+, and of course you’re familiar with his Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy (and also his arguably not as impressive The Hobbit trilogy), to which he won Best Director for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. And yeah, all those films are great. I especially love Heavenly Creatures, which I always feel is highly underrated.

That said, Peter Jackson is one of the greatest horror directors of all time. You may have seen Michael J. Fox in The Frighteners, as that was a lot of people’s introductions to Peter Jackson. But before that, he delivered the cult classic Dead Alive (also known as Braindead). Still, I want to talk about his debut picture, Bad Taste, because you really have to see it to believe it.

It’s a film featuring aliens that want to eat Earthlings for lunch, and it features four “heroes” known only as “The Boys”, who are going to send these aliens back to where they came from. Peter Jackson stars in the film in two roles—one is as an alien eating somebody’s brains like cereal, and another as one of “The Boys” named Derek (Who won’t flee because “Dereks don’t run”), and seriously, it is one of the most gloriously ridiculous films you will ever have the pleasure of watching. God, I wish Peter Jackson would make another film like Bad Taste.

Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

28 Days Later - Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle is an interesting case study since he’s the kind of director who seems to always have his foot in the Shallow Grave (That’s a Danny Boyle reference, by the way). Even his dramatic work, like Trainspotting, had what I would deem horror elements to it (like the baby crawling on the ceiling), and even films like 127 Hours did its best to make the arm removal as grisly as possible. And Sunshine starts off as a sci-fi flick, but later turns into something of a slasher in its final act. The director won Best Director, though, for his very-un-horror like movie, Slumdog Millionaire, which also won Best Picture. 

But you’re not here for any of that. You’re here for the horror, and Danny Boyle made a name for himself in the zombie genre with his hit movie, 28 Days Later (Even though, they’re not technically zombies since they have “the Rage Virus”, but I’m not getting into all of that). 28 Days Later helped popularize fast moving zombies (As opposed to George A. Romero’s slow and shambling zombies), and Danny Boyle was one of the directors who helped usher in the zombie mania of the 2000s. I don’t know if I should be upset by that or kiss his feet, but either way, 28 Days (and 28 Weeks, which he didn’t direct) Later is legendary.

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Exorcist - William Friedkin

Lastly, I want to circle back to horror movies that have also been nominated for Best Picture like Jaws, since The Exorcist is the original horror movie to nab that title. William Friedkin is another interesting case study, like Danny Boyle, since he never really shied away from his horror roots once he made a name for himself. 

Movies like the vastly underappreciated Bug, and Killer Joe, are examples of films that—if not completely horror—definitely have a place in the horror pantheon for their scenarios and characters. Friedkin would go on to win Best Director for The French Connection, and side-note, did you know that the chicken restaurant, Popeye’s, is actually named after Popeye Doyle from The French Connection (Sorry! I just love trivia!)

Anyway, The Exorcist is one of those few horror films that people actually put up there with other great films of the ‘70s like The Godfather and Dog Day Afternoon. You know the story. A girl gets possessed, a priest and an exorcist come to her house, and the girl jabs her privates with a crucifix and tells a holy man that his mother performs fellatio in the underworld. A good time for the entire family!

And that’s it. I could have also name-dropped other directors like Guillermo Del Toro and James Cameron, but I’m pleased with the list as it is. For news on the best horror movies or upcoming horror movies, make sure to swing by often.

Rich Knight

Lover of Avatar (The Last Airbender, not the blue people), video games, and anything 90s, he will talk your ear off about Godzilla, so don't get him started.