When it comes to horror movies and slasher films, scream queens tend to get all the credit. And for good reason! After all, what would Scream be without Neve Campbell and Courtney Cox? What would Halloween be without Jamie Lee Curtis, or The Conjuring universe be without Vera Farmiga?
Meanwhile, the recurring men of the horror genre are often all too overlooked. If there are scream queens, then there can certainly be scream kings, too.
So to celebrate the Halloween season, we’ve rounded up a list of the top 12 modern-day scream kings, from Devon Sawa and Matthew Lillard to Evan Peters and the late Anton Yelchin.
Read on to check out the full list of our favorite scream kings.
Of all the actors on our list, it’s possible Devon Sawa takes the title of ultimate scream king. Not only was the star a full-on ’90s dreamboat, but his list of scary movie roles — both family-friendly and otherwise — is nearly inimitable.
Sawa starred as the human form of Casper the Friendly Ghost back in 1995, but later graduated to films like 1999’s horror comedy Idle Hands, 2015’s The Exorcism of Molly Hartley and this year’s Chucky television series. Most notably though, he kicked off the Final Destination franchise as good guy and primary protagonist Alex Browning, helping spawn five films, two comic books and countless gruesome onscreen deaths.
Max Thieriot spent five seasons perfecting his horror chops as Norman Bates’ brother Dylan Massett on A&E’s Bates Motel. However, he started flexing his scream king chops years before the creepy drama’s 2013 premiere, starring in modern classics such as Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take in 2010 and House at the End of the Street in 2012 alongside Jennifer Lawrence.
Younger audiences may know him best these days as FP Jones (a.k.a. Jughead’s dad) on Riverdale, but Skeet Ulrich’s iconic contribution to the entire horror genre is playing Billy Loomis (a.k.a. Sidney Prescott’s boyfriend) in the original Scream movie.
Outside of that killer role (no spoilers, but like, get it?), Ulrich also appeared in 1996’s The Craft as bad boy Chris Hooker just seven months before Scream hit theaters. Fast forward to 2018 when he went back to his roots by starring in the indie horror flick Escape Room.
Every manipulative psycho killer needs an equally crazy henchman, and in the universe of Scream, Skeet Ulrich’s Billy Loomis had Matthew Lillard’s Stu Macher. (Yes, we know we just said no spoilers, but c’mon, you’ve had nearly 25 years.)
However, Lillard’s not always a bad guy when it comes to the horror roles in his filmography. In the 2001 remake of Thirteen Ghosts, he played a psychic medium, and, of course, we can’t forget to mention his pitch-perfect casting as Shaggy in both the live-action Scooby-Doo movies as well as countless animated series and TV specials in the long-running mystery franchise.
To an entire generation of fans, Joshua Jackson will always be Pacey Witter from Dawson’s Creek. To others, he’s Charlie Conway in Disney’s The Mighty Ducks. Or maybe he’s Peter Bishop from Fringe or Cole Lockhart from The Affair.
But no matter what other iconic and memorable roles the actor has played, slasher fans will be able to point to his cameo as “Film Class Guy #1” in 1997’s Scream 2, which hit theaters one year before he rocketed to fame with Dawson, Joey and the gang.
He may only have a handful of lines debating with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Timothy Olyphant, but he left an indelible impression with his passionate defense of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Since then, Jackson’s also chalked up parts in scary movies such as 1998’s Urban Legend, 2005’s Cursed and 2008’s Shutter as well.
Kyle Gallner is the latest modern-day scream king to add to the long-running Scream franchise, with a role set for the upcoming fifth entry currently scheduled for 2022.
And he has plenty of experience in all kinds of horror films to back up his casting — from A Haunting in Connecticut and Jennifer’s Body (both in 2009) to the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and a guest appearance on The Walking Dead.
Back in 2017, Daniel Kaluuya’s role in carrying Get Out propelled his career to a whole new level, earning him an Academy Award nomination and ushering in high-profile roles in Black Panther, Queen and Slim, Judas and the Black Messiah and more.
But even before he was escaping from the Sunken Place, the actor was well-versed in horror-adjacent fare, starring in the 2011 BBC series The Fades as well as the memorable Black Mirror episode “Fifteen Million Merits.”
Evan Peters deserves his spot on this list for the varied and typically terrifying roles he’s inhabited across nine of the 10 seasons of American Horror Story alone
In his time on the anthology series, the Emmy winner has played teenage mass murderer-turned-sociopathic ghost; an inmate at an insane asylum suspected of being a serial killer; a college student turned into a veritable Frankenstein’s monster by a coven of witches; a circus performer known as Lobster Boy; and more. In one season alone — 2017’s Cult — he even portrayed Charles Manson himself (and Jesus, among a litany of high-profile cult leaders including Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite and David Koresh.)
Up next, Peters is also set to step into the shoes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer for the Netflix miniseries Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.
His elder brothers Macaulay and Kieran may be a bit better known thanks to projects such as Home Alone, Succession and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but Rory Culkin has been the Culkin brother to corner the horror market out of the three famous siblings.
After kicking off his career as a child actor in films like M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, the youngest Culkin has continued to churn out frightening fare such as 2015’s Intruders, 2016’s Jack Goes Home and 2018’s Lords of Chaos — all the way up to 2021’s The Last Thing Mary Saw. He even joined the Scream franchise by playing Charlie Walker in 2011’s Scream 4.
Before his tragic and untimely death in 2016 in a freak automobile accident, Anton Yelchin’s acting career was on fire. The late Russian-born star may be best remembered today as Pavel Chekov in the big-screen Star Trek reboot and its two sequels, as well as Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation, but he also has a number of horror titles listed in his lengthy IMDb credits.
Between 2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, Yelchin anchored the 2011 Fright Night remake alongside Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette and more. The same year as the aforementioned sequel, he also took on the titular character in the supernatural mystery thriller Odd Thomas.
In 2015, he starred in the acclaimed punk-rock horror flick Green Room.
Is there anything scarier than Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise in the 2017 remake of It? Other than maybe his reprisal as the murderous clown in 2019’s It Chapter Two? We think not.
However, providing nightmare fuel for an entire generation of children isn’t the only horror project on the younger Skarsgård brother’s resume. Back in 2013, he landed a main role on Netflix’s oft-forgotten original horror series Hemlock Grove, and eventually followed that up with roles on both seasons of Stephen King’s short-lived Hulu anthology series Castle Rock.
Though perhaps best remembered in pop culture as a veritable ’90s heartthrob, Ethan Hawke has become quite the scream king in recent years.
From starring in 2013’s The Purge, which kicked off a huge horror franchise, to lead roles in films such as 2009’s Daybreakers and 2012’s Sinister, Hawke has proven his horror chops on screen. The actor is also slated to play the terrifying antagonist in the upcoming supernatural horror film The Black Phone.