In the comments for Did any actor ever win an Oscar for their work in a horror movie?, there was a lot of discussion over whether or not a thriller should be considered to be a horror movie.

IMDb classifies Rosemary's Baby to be a Drama/Horror movie. However, Black Swan is classified as a Drama/Thriller movie (and at least one pundit has said that it was really a horror film that only got an Oscar because it was able to not be associated with the frequently award-snubbed horror genre). Then there are some movies like Blair Witch that are both Horror and Thriller.

What exactly is the difference between these two genres? What would cause a movie to be a horror movie, but not a thriller (and vice versa), and what would cause them to be both?

(I imagine that there are film scholars and such who have weighed in on this, and I'd like to see something more authoritative like that instead of just the average Joe's opinions).

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    Related: Is there any term for the following subgenres of horror movies?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 17:31
  • Just an opinion, but to me a horror movie necessarily involves a supernatural element of some sort. Thus a movie like Scream, or other "slasher" type movies, I don't consider to be horror, but rather a thriller.
    – GendoIkari
    Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:36
  • @GendoIkari Since Scream is explicitly intended as a deconstruction of the horror genre, isn't it a perfect counterexample for that definition? Do you have any particular reason for considering horror movies without supernatural elements to be "not horror"? Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:43
  • @GendoIkari Also note that (AFAIK, since I haven't actually seen it, I've just read about it) the first Friday the 13th film does not contain supernatural elements. Is it therefore "not horror"? Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:44
  • @GendoIkari Most monster movies that have a scientific basis wouldn't fall under that criteria (e.g. Frankenstein, Dr. Jekkyl and Mr. Hyde, most zombie movies). Also, non-supernatural "psychological horror" films like Psycho. Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:49

3 Answers 3


To give you an example of both in the same movie (although it's not really classified as a horror movie), let's take a look at The Shining.

  • The creepy girls, the blood from the elevator: these things are horror. They are supernatural things that cannot be stopped but the people in the movie are subjected to them anyway. Horror movies usually present a more active threat (e.g. Jason Voorhees is unstoppable and comes to kill you, not creep you out like the twin girls in The Shining), but the creepy events in The Shining are still horror elements. There's no plot twist, there's just the presence of something that should not be there and can't really be stopped in any way (similar to Jason Voorhees or many horror movie villains)
  • Jack Nicholson's character unraveling, however, makes it a thriller. It's not supernatural. It's still terrifying for his wife, but not supernatural. You can argue that the actual axe attacks are more horror than thriller (because it's an active threat and the wife cannot stop him from trying to kill her), but the buildup to it (Jack Nicholson's character slowing falling apart) has the hallmarks of a thriller, because it builds up to a story that could have been averted if someone paid attention to it.

Horror = seemingly inevitable but predictable doom, where the climax of the movie is either getting away or stopping the evil.

Thriller = Tension filled story that's not predictable, where the climax is usually the revealing of the real evil.

Other examples:

  • While The Sixth Sense deals with the supernatural, it is classified as a thriller and not a horror movie because the dead people are not an active threat. They don't intend to kill or maim, they are only there to drive the story whose climax ends in a reveal that casts the story in a new light.
  • Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween are clear horror films. There is an active killer coming to get you, he's seemingly unstoppable, and you don't need to understand anything about him to know that you're going to be killed and should run away. The tension is in trying to get away and survive. These villains cannot be stopped simply by knowing their identity, e.g. calling the cops on them would not stop them.
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer, however, is a thriller. Although there is still a killer coming for people, they can avert the story by figuring out who the killer is. Once the killer is known, the police can easily apprehend him. Often, the movie ends in a showdown between the protagonist and antagonist, which foregoes the need for calling the police. But the important part here to notice is that calling the police could have ended the story, which doesn't happen in horror movies. The tension of the story comes from the mystery of the unidentified killer.

Mainly the horror movies have supernatural entities(ghosts,Spirits,black magic and too much blood).While the thriller genre is mainly the one having lots of suspense, mysteries or mainly you can say the race against time. Horror movies are the one which scares the hell out of you while the thriller are the one which forces you to think the race against the time.

When these two combines like in case of "Blair Witch" they go to Black hill forests to uncover the mystery so there is something which says no it might be some one manly who is responsible for the kills then after sometimes it turns out to be something supernatural so they beautifully combined both the genre causing the scare and thought .

But mainly the plots of most of the thriller and horror genre tends to be somewhat same and both starts with expedition camps from youngsters and after that some mysterious things happen like killings which might be due to some supernatural elements or some mystery behind the which has race against the time but mostly they tend to be similar but are different.


For thriller movies, this genre was created so as to thrill the viewers. That’s why thrillers easily make their viewers sit at their seats but does not make them jump out of their seats or scream.

From Wikipedia:

The thriller film's key characteristics are excitement and suspense. The suspense element, found in most films' plots, is particularly exploited by the filmmaker in this genre. Tension is created by delaying what the audience sees as inevitable.

Horror films are designed to horrify their viewers. It can make you shout, scream, or even jump.

From Wikipedia:

Horror films often deal with viewers' nightmares, fears, revulsions and terror of the unknown. Plots within the horror genre often involve the intrusion of an evil force, event, or personage into the everyday world. Prevalent elements include ghosts, extraterrestrials, vampires, werewolves, demons, gore, torture, vicious animals, evil witches, monsters, zombies, cannibals, psychopaths, and serial killers.2

When a movie contains virtues of both genres, it will be tagged as such.

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    I'm not sure you've accurately characterized either genre. I don't really see any necessity for "wittiness" in thrillers, and "better plots" seems entirely subjective. (Tucker and Dale versus Evil has a great plot but no thriller elements whatsoever.) Similarly, while I expect Friday the 13th style "slasher" movies are probably "generally predictable" (modulo some jump-scares), I don't see why you'd characterize that as an intrinsic element of the genre. Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:41
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    Also, "horror movies contain supernatural elements" is a vast over-generalization; see this answer. Commented Jan 26, 2017 at 18:41
  • Yeah, but the measures you employ seem quite out of place. The whole "wittiness" thing doesn't really make much sense, as does the "give you more events to discuss". This lacks any backing. There's thrillers with less witty plots and horror films with extremely witty plots. A better story doesn't turn a horror into a thriller. You might be onto something with the predictability and supernatural elements, but as it stands this is too generic an unbacked claim and needs to be elaborated on.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Jan 27, 2017 at 1:35

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