Ever since The Exorcist stunned viewers in the early '70s, movies about demonic possession have fascinated viewers worldwide. Here are my picks for the best of the bunch. For the sake of this list, I'm sticking to possession by demons and not by human spirits (e.g., Child's Play or Shocker) -- as much as one can be discerned from the other.
19. The Rite (2011)
A serious-minded, more reality-based exorcism movie than most, this tale of a young priest who's lost his faith being introduced to the world of demonic possession by a veteran exorcist (the always great Anthony Hopkins) is refreshingly restrained and cerebral in its approach.
This low-budget splatter flick plays like an homage to The Evil Dead, as a group of people searching for a missing woman become possessed by a locust demon via a mystical symbol scrawled on the walls of an abandoned prison. And like Evil Dead, The 8th Plague overcomes a lack of resources with kinetic direction, a dark edge and buckets of blood.
These are alternate versions of the same story, the third sequel(s) to The Exorcist in which Father Merrin first encounters the demon Pazuzu in post-World War II Africa. Dominion, directed by Paul Schrader (Cat People), is the more cerebral of the two but wasn't considered commercial enough, so the studio handed the reins over to Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea), who returned with The Beginning. Despite negative reviews, each has its own appeal and probably would've received more credit had they been standalone films rather than being made in the shadow of The Exorcist.
Based on the true story of Anneliese Michel, a German girl who died during the course of an exorcism, this film smartly combines the seemingly incongruous genres of demonic possession horror and courtroom drama, as a priest goes on trial for causing a possessed girl's death.
One of John Carpenter's more overlooked efforts, this tale of academic researchers investigating (and subsequently becoming possessed by) a "liquid evil" oozes creepy atmosphere...amongst other things.
13. Fallen (1998)
One of the more undeservedly underrated horror movies of the 21st century, The Convent is essentially a rip-off of Night of the Demons -- with teens becoming possessed by demons in a haunted convent instead of a haunted mortuary -- but it brings the sort of wit, energy and gory effects that made Demons such a cult hit. Plus, demonic nuns just look cool.
After the disastrous Exorcist II, original Exorcist author William Peter Blatty came on board to both write AND direct this entry, setting the series back on course with dazzling visual panache, even if the film wasn't a commercial hit. However, it's earned a following over the years, and it can be argued that it's even scarier than the original Exorcist (at least, Blatty has said so). Although the plot involves a dead serial killer possessing people to continue his violent spree, he gets a helping hand from the demon Pazuzu, so I'll go ahead and add it to this list. Note: If the striking visuals aren’t surreal enough, consider the list of cameos who appear in the film, including Larry King, Patrick Ewing, Fabio and C. Everett Coop.