Actor Willem Dafoe has been in nine horror films throughout his career, and his contributions to the genre range from acclaim to disdain, inviting a ranking from worst to best. The screen veteran has spent years balancing indie art projects with more traditional fare. Appearing in everything from Lars von Trier films to Sam Raimi superhero blockbusters, Dafoe has managed to balance the accessible and the experimental in a way few actors can pull off.
This never stopped Willem Dafoe from taking risks in his choice of projects. From the winding historical epic The man from the north to appearances in installments of the MCU and DCEU, he’s kept his career path varied by signing on to star in a diverse range of roles. The actor’s fearless attitude is never more evident than when viewers watch his horror pedigree.
Where many actors dabble in a handful of horror roles early in their careers before moving on to more “respectable” projects, Willem Dafoe has never shied away from the darker, alien side of genre cinema despite his successful leading man status. While the four-time Oscar nominee might prioritize worthy dramas given his fame and acclaim, Dafoe instead appeared in a vampire film, a trio of bizarre art horror films, an adaptation of anime, gothic mystery, sci-fi body horror. from genre legend David Cronenberg, and a dark satirical black comedy/psychological chiller. Of course, all these risks did not pay off. Here’s a ranking of all of Willem Dafoe’s horror movies from worst to best.
Anamorph is an intriguing but ultimately disappointing dark psychological horror film intended to capitalize on the Seen franchise success. The winding story of Willem Dafoe’s detective trying to figure out why a case seems so familiar isn’t nearly as bloody gratuitously as its competitors. Alas, the overly long and convoluted plot of Anamorph isn’t particularly interesting either, making it the actor’s least essential horror outing.
The day breakers had the potential to be great. Set in an alternate future where vampires are the dominant species, the ambitious sci-fi horror tells the convoluted story of a heroic vampire attempting to find a cure for his kind while Willem Dafoe’s “cured” vampire leads a human resistance. Although he is not as neutered as the Dusk the harmless vampires of the saga, the bloodsuckers of The day breakers are clearly harmless. This proves problematic when they are the main characters of the film since the vampires of The day breakers aren’t likable enough to root for or creepy enough to be scared of, leaving this particular Willem Dafoe horror flick stuck in some unfortunate middle ground.
Death Note (2017)
There’s a lot to love about this Netflix adaptation. The gore is surprisingly plentiful and gleefully delivered, star Nat Wolff and his love Margaret Qualley are both likable and engaging, LaKeith Stanfield is more dependable than ever, and Willem Dafoe steals the show as the movie’s campy. horror (sort of) villain. However, Death threat was still a devastating disappointment for fans of the original manga and anime, and even for fans of the previous version of the live-action movie due to the many changes to the source material.
The horror drama of Lars von Trier Antichrist isn’t for the faint of heart, but the film makes that fact admirably clear right away by opening its action by sandwiching itself between the death of a small child and a graphic sex scene. Things only get darker from there as the grieving couple of Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg embark on an ill-advised journey into the remote woods to get over their grief. Viewers should expect extreme body horror from this experimental effort, but for those who don’t mind the incredibly graphic imagery, Antichrist is an undeniably striking, invigorating and atypically heartfelt film from the divisive von Trier.
Alley of Nightmares (2021)
Guillermo del Toro’s many horror movies run the gamut from coming-of-age fantasies to ghost stories to vampire action flicks, but none are as brutal as alley of nightmares. Ostensibly a crime thriller, its plot takes an appropriately nightmarish twist about an hour and never goes back. Willem Dafoe is scarier than ever in this relentlessly dark tale, but he’s as unsettling as Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper and the rest of the cast’s morally ambiguous monsters.
To be fair with the trippy exist, in which Willem Dafoe has a small role, it’s not as gross as David Cronenberg’s most extreme body horror films. However, the story of a game developer hunted by terrorists in what could turn out to be an elaborate virtual reality game is probably the filmmaker’s most mind-blowing endeavor. Although they are not as graphically violent as Future Crimes, exist saw Cronenberg reckon first with the futuristic fusion of man and machine and, despite all its dated moments, it remains a prescient piece of chilling sci-fi satire.
The Lighthouse (2019)
Before Robert Eggers was given a big budget and a bigger canvas for The man from the norththe filmmaker proved he’s no wonder of a movie with 2018’s claustrophobic horror flick Lighthouse. With a seemingly simple story of a pair of lighthouse operators (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) who slowly succumb to madness in their remote abode, this hallucinatory nightmare ends up being much more than the summary implies. Lighthouse is comedic noir, surprisingly creepy, and an interesting interrogation of male relationships, but it’s also notable for featuring another of Robert Pattinson’s odd overtones.
Shadow of the Vampire (2000)
The Ambitious Horror Meta Movie The shadow of the vampire sees Willem Dafoe playing a fictional, vampiric version of real life Nosferatus starring Max Shreck. Both a period piece about the making of the horror classic and stark, inventive vampiric horror, The shadow of the vampire is the kind of project that could easily get lost in its own self-satisfied intelligence. However, 2000’s psychological horror is instead a rich and compelling treatise on identity, artifice and cinema that also boasts one of Willem Dafoe’s most underrated performances in the actor’s long career. .
American Psycho (2000)
American psycho is a rare case of a supposedly unfilmable book becoming a spectacular blockbuster movie. Bret Easton Ellis’ adaptation keeps nearly all the gore of the source novel off-screen, focusing on the details of the titular stockbroker/serial killer’s day-to-day existence. American psychoThe bizarre ending may take a few viewings to decipher, but for viewers who want a clean dissection of the Reaganomics era and the moral rot at its core, Mary Harron’s film is hard to beat. Witty, spooky and quite unique in its tone, American psycho is a classic adaptation as well as a supporting star Willem Dafoestrongest horror movies.
Next: The Incredible Reason Why Willem Dafoe’s American Psycho Scenes Were So Disturbing