What’s the scariest movie of the past year? You might think the response could only ever be subjective, but one psychological experiment has been using science to provide a definitive answer to this question. Each year, the Science of Scare Project puts 250 people through the most frightening English-language movies while monitoring their heart rate to come up with an official ‘Scare Score’ out of 100. The higher the beats-per-minute (BPM), the more frightening the film. For context: they say that Shrek would have a Scare Score of 2/
Heart rate variance
In 2023 the Science of Scare Project added another factor to their experiment to make it even more accurate: the heart rate variance (HRV). This takes into account the time between each heartbeat, with the more nervous a viewer becomes the lower the HRV.
Don’t worry: the participants aren’t forced to watch scarefest after scarefest. The screenings are spread across the year, with the results being published ready for Halloween. 14 new scary movies were tested in 2023, so which was scientifically proven to be the scariest? Here’s the ranking.
Grammatical nightmare M3GAN is actually one of the best-reviewed scarefests of the past 12 months, boasting an impressive Rotten Tomatoes rating of 93 percent. The horror comedy, which starred Girls’ Alison Williams, essentially brought the Child’s Play concept kicking and screaming into the modern technological age.
Here, an orphaned young girl is given an unusual companion designed by her new guardian, roboticist aunt Gemma. Unfortunately, the toy soon develops a mind of its own — and it’s not the kind you want hanging around with an eight-year-old!
Scare Score: N/A
M3GAN was one of the new releases tested that failed to make it into the Science of Scare Project’s all-time Top 50 scariest movies currently headed by 2012’s Sinister, meaning we don’t have a Scare Score for it. Perhaps the fact that the film was certified PG-13 meant that the scares weren’t as severe as the R-rated efforts?
Or maybe the fact that there were just as many laughs as there were frights also helped to bring the test subjects’ heart rates down? Whatever the reasoning, this memeable favorite still proves to be a thoroughly entertaining watch.
Another release from the prolific horror maestro James Wan, Malignant was actually released back in 2021 but was only tested in the latest Science of Scare project experiment. Perhaps surprisingly, it also failed to make the all-time Top 50.
Admittedly, though, most of its major frights only occur during the truly unhinged second half, when pretty much all bets are off. The instant cult classic sees Annabelle Wallis play a troubled woman whose murderous visions eventually start to become true.