4. SCREAM (1996)

We all know about those tired horror movie clichés from the 80s. Never have sex, or you'll get slashed. Never say "I'll be right back," or you'll get slashed. When you have the chance, run out the front door instead of up the stairs, or you'll get slashed.

Scream takes the uniquely postmodern perspective of having characters that are not only aware of these "rules," but are expert in them and revel in them. Instead of being passive dumb wimps, the main characters of Scream know exactly what's going on: a killer is on the loose, gutting high school students. But questions remain: Who is it? And why is he stalking Sidney (Neve Campbell), whose mother was murdered exactly one year ago, allegedly by a man who's now the subject of a sensational trial? Getting into the mix are Sidney's boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), a freshly green deputy (David Arquette), and nosey newscaster Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox).

Scream became the sleeper hit of 1996 for at least two reasons. First, it doesn't dumb itself down to its audience. Filled with "in jokes" and pop culture references, it says out loud what we've all thought while watching crappy horror movies. Things get a lot scarier when the victims are on the same playing field as the viewer - it means that the director has to stay a step ahead of the audience in order to scare it. And lucky for us, director Wes Craven does that. The movie's pretty scary. But that's not its primary attraction . . . what sets this flick apart is the self-referential humor surrounding the characters' knowledge of horror movies.

The second reason Scream was so successful is because of its casting. By using established TV stars as drawing power instead of established movie stars, the film was made for a lower budget, and still attracted large audiences already familiar with the stars' work. Neve Campbell, from the TV show "Party of Five," plays the lead, and other stars included Cox (from "Friends"), Drew Barrymore, Ulrich, plus other up-and-coming teen stars. Nothing like a built-in audience to help create a box-office hit. Countless movies copied this technique (including Varsity Blues, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, and Dick), but none used it so effectively as Scream.


  • It cost only about $15 million to make, and grossed over $100 million

  • Followed by two sequels: Scream 2 and Scream 3

  • Won the MTV Movie Award for Best Movie and Actress

  • Launched the career of screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who went on to create the TV show Dawson's Creek