10 Most Underrated Horror Movie Actors


Numerous actors have starred in horror movies, from the scream queens and kings who have built their careers on the genre to award-winning stars who got their start there but ultimately moved on. And while horror is sometimes overlooked compared to other genres, an actor’s performance in a horror movie can make it or break it—the difference between a forgettable film and a classic can sometimes come down to its acting.

But for every scream queen or king whose name is practically synonymous with horror, there are also plenty of actors in horror whose performances haven’t gotten the recognition they deserve. For some, their horror films aren’t as well-known or highly regarded as their work in other genres, while others simply aren’t as famous or beloved as the genre’s recognizable icons, and still others turned out memorable performances but have only appeared in the genre once.

10 Bradley Cooper

‘The Midnight Meat Train’ (2008)

Image Via Lionsgate/Lakeshore Entertainment

Bradley Cooper has become an A-list actor thanks to his box-office success, but like many actors, his early work was in horror. His work in the genre is limited, but it includes The Midnight Meat Train, based on Clive Barker’s short story of the same name, and more recently, the star-studded Nightmare Alley. Cooper has been nominated for a number of awards, including 12 Academy Awards, six Golden Globe Awards, and a Tony Award.

Although Cooper is known for his work in comedies and, more recently, dramas, he stood out in gory slasher The Midnight Meat Train as a photographer who sought to take a picture of a man lurking in the subway with apparent ties to a string of disappearances. Cooper returned to horror for Nightmare Alley, in which he delivered a great performance in the starring role of a charming yet mysterious carnival worker.

Midnight Meat Train

Release Date
August 7, 2008


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9 Tony Todd

‘Candyman’ (1992)

Tony Todd has had an extensive career playing memorable characters, both on television and in movies. Among his best-known roles is Kurn from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He’s best known for Candyman and its two sequels, and he returned for the 2021 Candyman remake. He also appeared in The Crow, the Final Destination franchise and the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead.

Todd’s height and deep voice make him a commanding presence even in minor roles, as well as a menacing villain in Candyman, even though the character isn’t as famous as some other horror villains. Still, Todd played him wonderfully and is underrated in horror. Todd was also a great choice to play Ben in the remake of Night of the Living Dead, and it allowed him to step out of the villain role he was known for in Candyman.

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8 Sam Neill

‘Possession’ (1981), ‘The Omen III’ (1981)

Sam Neill in Possession
Image via Gaumont

Sam Neill is best known for his role as Dr. Alan Grant in the Jurassic Park franchise, and he has also appeared in Marvel’s Thor movies as Odin. He has also done television work, including drama The Tudors, as well as voiceover work, notably for animated sci-fi comedy Rick & Morty. His horror roles include The Omen III, Possession and more. He also released a book, the memoir Did I Ever Tell You This.

While it’s understandable that Neill is best known for a franchise as successful and beloved as Jurassic Park, it means his contributions to horror are sometimes overlooked, although some might consider Jurassic Park scary in its own right. In one of his best roles in another famous franchise, The Omen, Neill played a grown-up version of one of the most iconic kids in horror—Damien, the antichrist. He also impressed in Possession.

Possession (1981)

Release Date
May 25, 1981

Andrzej Zulawski

Isabelle Adjani , Sam Neill , Margit Carstensen , Heinz Bennent

124 minutes

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7 Kathy Bates

‘Misery’ (1990)

Close up of Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) holding a sledgehammer in Misery
Image via Columbia Pictures

Kathy Bates has an extensive film résumé, from starring roles to memorable minor characters. Her work in horror is limited but memorable—she starred in Stephen King adaptation Misery as Annie, the obsessed fan of a writer she rescued after a car accident near her home, and more recently, she appeared in anthology series American Horror Story. Bates’ work has earned her an Academy Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards.

Bates entertains no matter the role or genre, but her turn in Misery in particular was unforgettable as Annie went from caring and concerned to violent and menacing. Horror films don’t often receive recognition from major awards, but Bates won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role as Annie. Although the role and movie have received plenty of praise, Bates is often overlooked when it comes to great horror performances.


Release Date
November 30, 1990

James Caan , Kathy Bates , Richard Farnsworth , Frances Sternhagen , Lauren Bacall , Graham Jarvis


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6 Justin Long

‘Jeepers Creepers,’ ‘Drag Me to Hell,’ ‘Tusk’ and ‘Barbarian’

Justin Long in Drag Me to Hell
Image Via Universal

One of Justin Long’s first roles was in Jeepers Creepers, in which his character was attacked by a demonic presence, and he also returned for a small role in the sequel. He’s starred in a number of horror films since, as well as comedies. His early films credits also include Crossroads with Britney Spears, while his more recent and well-known work includes a co-starring role in Live Free or Die Hard.

Long is typically known for playing charming, likable characters, and although he got his start in horror and has plenty of horror credits to his name, he’s not often associated with the genre. He delivered impressive performances in movies like Drag Me to Hell, Tusk and Barbarian, and he often brings his experience in comedy to his horror roles, striking the perfect balance between the two genres and hitting just the right tone.


Release Date
September 9, 2022

Zach Cregger


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5 Doug Bradley

‘Hellraiser’ (1987)

Close up of Pin Head (Doug Bradley) in 'Hellraiser'
Image via Entertainment Film Distributors

Doug Bradley has built his career on horror movies and is best-known for playing the iconic Cenobite Pinhead in the Hellraiser series, based on Clive Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart. He appeared as Pinhead a total of eight times, the final one being 2005’s Hellraiser: Revelations. Bradley has also done some voiceover work, and most recently, he has taken to YouTube to perform readings of famous horror short stories.

Despite playing one of the most famous monsters in horror, Bradley remains underrated as an actor. He is one of only a few horror actors to have played the same character in six or more consecutive films—and it’s difficult to imagine any other actor in the role. Bradley has also appeared in a number of other horror films, but Pinhead remains his most iconic role thanks to his unforgettable appearance and cold, menacing demeanor.

Hellraiser (1987)

Release Date
September 18, 1987

Clive Barker

Andrew Robinson , Clare Higgins , Ashley Laurence , Sean Chapman , Oliver Smith , Robert Hines

94 minutes

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4 Ethan Hawke

‘The Purge’ (2013), ‘Sinister’ (2012), ‘The Black Phone’ (2022)

Ethan Hawke as the Grabber in The Black Phone
Image Via Universal Pictures

Ethan Hawke made his film debut in Explorers and is known for such movies as Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, which includes the films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, and Boyhood, and he has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards. More recently, he’s appeared in horror movies such as dystopian thriller The Purge, as well as Sinister and The Black Phone, both of which were directed by Scott Derrickson. The Black Phone saw Hawke play a villain for the first time.

While Hawke is largely known for his work in dramas, he has been increasingly impressive in horror films, and his work in the genre has proven his range. His role in The Black Phone as the menacing villain known only as The Grabber is particularly memorable, as well as unnerving. As he increases his horror repertoire, he’s beginning to build a reputation as a scream king but is still somewhat underrated.

The Black Phone

Release Date
June 24, 2022

Scott Derrickson

113 minutes

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3 Toni Collette

‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999) and ‘Hereditary’ (2018)

Toni Collette in Krampus
Image Via Universal

Australian actor Toni Collette has decades of work behind her, with films across genres, from dramas like Little Miss Sunshine to comedies like Muriel’s Wedding. When it comes to horror movies, she often plays mothers, and the films she’s been in are among the most acclaimed in the genre, including The Sixth Sense and Hereditary. In addition to her film roles, she also starred in The United States of Tara.

Collette finally got some of the recognition she deserves thanks to Hereditary, but she still remains underrated overall for her work in horror. Hereditary showed her range—as well as a memorable but accurate portrayal of grief—and her outburst at the dinner table is among one of her best moments in the film, showcasing just what she’s capable of. Her work in The Sixth Sense was also memorable, as she played the role of Cole’s concerned mother.


Release Date
June 8, 2018

Ari Aster

127 minutes

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2 Tom Atkins

‘The Fog’ (1980), ‘Creepshow’ (1982), and ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ (1982)

close up of Frank McRae (Tom Atkins) with a cigarette in Maniac Cop
Image via MoviestillsDB

Tom Atkins has dozens of credits to his name, and many of his roles have been cops. Much of his work has also been in the horror genre, including classics like The Fog and more recent films like My Bloody Valentine. He has also made some television appearances, including Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Oz, Walker, Texas Ranger and more, and is best known for his role in The Rockford Files.

No one plays cops in horror films quite like Atkins—although that’s not all he’s done. His numerous roles mean he has worked in the genre consistently and with some of the biggest names in horror, including John Carpenter, George A. Romero and more, but he’s not typically as recognized as some of his fellow horror actors. His most famous horror roles are those he played in the ‘80s, most notably The Fog, Creepshow and Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Release Date
October 22, 1982

Tommy Lee Wallace

Tom Atkins , Stacey Nelkin , Dan O’Herlihy , Michael Currie , Ralph Strait , Jadeen Barbor


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1 Jeffrey Combs

‘Re-animator’ (1985)

Jeffrey Combs operating on a severed head in Re-Animator
Image via Empire International Pictures

Jeffrey Combs is best known for playing numerous characters in the Star Trek universe—a total of nine characters across four different series. Combs has also been in a number of horror movies, most notably the memorable role of Herbert West in Reanimator, as well as its two sequels. And while it’s his most well-known horror role, it’s far from his only one, as his extensive horror credits include eight films with Reanimator director Stuart Gordon.

Although horror fans love Combs and he has worked extensively in horror, he hasn’t received the widespread credit he deserves and isn’t as recognized as other names and faces in the genre. The fact that Combs played so many different characters within the same franchise is a testament to his talent on its own, but on top of that, he’s delivered some fantastic horror performances, as well, never failing to entertain.


Release Date
October 18, 1985

Stuart Gordon

Jeffrey Combs , Bruce Abbott , Barbara Crampton , David Gale , Robert Sampson , Gerry Black


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NEXT: The 25 Best Horror Performances That Should’ve Been Nominated for an Oscar


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