I make a sometimes huge distinction in my mind between what I consider a best movie versus a favorite movie. This is perhaps no clearer than when someone asks me what my favorite horror movie is. That would be Scream. I could watch Scream over and over again without getting sick of it, and find it endlessly quotable and entertaining. Like many of my favorite movies or games it was something I watched at a (too) young age that left a huge impression during my formative years.
If someone asks me what the best horror movie is, I would say The Shining. I don’t watch it as often as Scream or find it as entertaining, but I acknowledge it is a well-crafted movie that most people find to be a respectable answer even if they don’t like horror.
But I often find myself answering The Shining instead of Scream when I’m asked what my favorite movie is. I do think people are often looking for a certain level of prestige when they ask someone what their favorite movie is, so I feel a need to “deliver” even if it isn’t exactly true.
This came up again recently when I’ve seen people ranking the Black Christmas movies. Ranking movies seems to indicate you would rank them from best to worst. Which for me (and likely most viewers) would be:
- Black Christmas (1974)
- Black Xmas (2006)
- Black Christmas (2019)
But if you asked me to rank my favorites it would easily be:
- Black Xmas (2006)
- Black Christmas (1974)
- Black Christmas (2019)*
*I’ve only seen this one once, so that might change over time.
If I ranking the original Black Christmas last in terms of what I thought was the best movie this blog would probably get cancelled real fast. But admittedly, if I have to a watch a Black Christmas, I’m personally going to choose the 2006 remake most times.
So I thought it would be helpful to elaborate on how I distinguish favorite horror movies versus best horror movies:
- Rewatchability: The key distinction for me is how often I will rewatch one of my favorite movies versus a movie I consider to be one of the best movies. I rewatch favorite movies a lot because they are comforting and entertaining. These are the first movies I’ll show to a friend or at a party. And I guarantee I’ve seen any of my favorite horror movies more than the ones I would consider the best horror movies.
- I’m Not Going To Waste My Time Defending Them to Non-Horror Fans: Some are classics I would argue everyone should watch (like Scream), but I’m not going to argue about why I love watching Black Xmas or My Bloody Valentine 3D to someone who is not a horror fan to start with.
- Entertaining: My favorite movies often involve humor, heavy stylization, and a quick pace. Even if they aren’t as atmospheric or artistic as the best movies, they are fun whether they intend to be or not.
- Definitively Horror: My favorite horror movies are often unabashedly horror unlike “the best” horror movies which people tend to try and qualify as a mix of genres. My favorite horror films are often deeply rooted in horror tropes and conventions.
- High Audience/Low Critical Scores: I know I’m implying my favorite horror movies aren’t some of the best horror movies, and I don’t intend it that way. But they often appreciated just as much if not way more by their audience than the mainstream critics. When I see a film with a high audience score and a low critic score, I know I’m going to at least be entertained most the time:
- How Do I Feel at the End? My favorite horror movies make me feel excited or happy by the end. They tend to have a clean resolution (or the open ending is silly and expected like the “reveal” a slasher villain might come back for a sequel).
- Rewatchability: Rewatches are rarer with these often due to a more somber emotional headspace they create. Rewatches often make the film more rewarding each time. I will occasionally show these to a friend, but it is typically someone I trust to appreciate the experience. Definitely not party material.
- I’d Go to Bat for Them: These are movies I’d be a little more willing to go to bat for if someone (horror fan or not) was being dismissive of their merits as films. They may not be the first movies I’d whip out at a party, but they are great movies.
- Hypnotic: These movies are often more serious or grim. They require attention to fully appreciate them, but provide a rich and deep experience in return. They are generally not looked down upon the way entertaining films are
- “Elevated Horror”: Whenever a horror movie achieves critical or mainstream acclaim, there are often attempts to qualify their classification as horror. They will be described as “very scary” but the word horror as a descriptor will be removed or qualified as “psychological” or “elevated” horror. I think when non-horror fans watch these movies, they feel the movies are transcending the genre because “they actually like them.” I would argue those viewers are not always familiar with how far the genre can stretch.
- Low Audience/High Critical Scores: This tends to be the hallmark of elevated, slow-burn horror that plays with the genre. Think A24 releases. These are often movies I tend to appreciate more each time, but seeing a high critic score for a horror film that fans don’t seem to like gives me far more pause than the reverse. I also tend to associate the best movies with having some impact on the genre that even non-horror fans are aware of and appreciate.
- How Do I Feel at the End? The best horror movies often have grim or unsettling endings that make it hard to be in the mood to watch them over and over.
I think with both these distinctions there is room for crossover. Movies don’t have to just be a favorite or the best. But just because a movie is excellent doesn’t mean it is one of my favorites. Thank you for coming to my blog talk.