Though the horror-film genre has often had narrow, if enthusiastic, audiences, through the years, a number of horror films have broken through and become some of the biggest box office hits of their era. "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) was a huge hit in the silent era, making the equivalent of more than $100 million in today's dollars. The film starred Lon Chaney, the "Man of a Thousand Faces," and Mary Philbin.
Universal Pictures built its success on horror films in the '30s and '40s. One of the biggest hits of 1931 was a now-classic version of "Frankenstein." The film stars Boris Karloff, left, as the monster.
Another of Universal's big 1931 hits was "Dracula," which stars Bela Lugosi as the vampire in the role that made him famous -- and stereotyped him for the rest of his life.
"House of Wax," from 1953, was the first color 3-D film from a major studio. It became one of the highest-grossing films of the year. Vincent Price stars as a sculptor who populates his wax museum with corpses.
The gripping "Psycho" (1960) may have been the closest director Alfred Hitchcock came to pure horror. The film's shower scene, starring Janet Leigh, still has the power to shock, and motel manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) remains one of cinema's creepiest villains.
Director Roman Polanski's 1968 film version of "Rosemary's Baby" stars Mia Farrow as an upscale New Yorker impregnated by Satan.
George Romero's 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" was made for just over $100,000 and grossed more than $30 million worldwide. It also invented the modern zombie movie, with brain-eating undead ghouls threatening the human population.
The best-selling novel "The Exorcist," about a possessed child, became the hugely successful 1973 film "The Exorcist," starring Linda Blair. The film, directed by the William Friedkin and starring such notable actors as Ellen Burstyn and Max von Sydow, earned 10 Oscar nominations -- acclaim rare for a horror film.
"Halloween" (1978), a low-budget film from director John Carpenter, became a big hit, boosting the career of the director and his star, Jamie Lee Curtis. It also led to a number of similar slasher films in which a masked villain pursues a series of victims.
"A Nightmare on Elm Street," from 1984, introduced the character of Freddie Krueger, who haunts the dreams of teenagers in a fictional town, and launched a franchise that eventually included nine films, a TV series and countless people wearing a stained hat and a bladed glove for Halloween. The success of the first film helped make the name of its studio, New Line Films. Years later, New Line financed the "Lord of the Rings" films.
"The Silence of the Lambs" won a slew of Oscars, including best actor (for Anthony Hopkins, pictured), best actress (Jodie Foster) and best picture. The 1991 film stars Foster as an FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer and Hopkins -- who has just 16 minutes of screen time -- as Hannibal Lecter, a jailed killer who assists her.
"Scream" (1996) was both horror film and horror film parody, directed by one of the genre's masters, Wes Craven, who also did "Elm Street." Its success (and wit) helped energize the genre. Drew Barrymore, seen here, was one of the film's performers.
Director/writer M. Night Shyamalan is fond of twists and probably put them to best use in his first major film, 1999's "The Sixth Sense." Psychologist Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) hears Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) say he can see dead people. Shyamalan's film balances psychological horror with a moving story.
The "found footage" idea of "The Blair Witch Project" (1999) gave rise to countless copycats. In the film, a trio of students are making a documentary about the Blair Witch, only to find themselves victimized by unseen terrors. Made for just $60,000, it grossed more than $250 million.
"Saw" brought mass-market horror films a new level of graphic intensity. In the 2004 film, two men are chained in a bathroom, with each directed to kill the other. Its success led to six sequels and other films determined to out-gross the last -- in more ways than one.