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Cinema's most memorable nightmares


Attempting to recreate the quality of a nightmare on screen isn't easy outside of an art film. Or using that instrument that we're totally not developing in a secret laboratory.

But the nightmare sequence has remained a cinematic staple. Whether it's used as visual shorthand for a character's fractured psyche or an excuse to make everyone jump out of their seats, it's ever present.

We have the eight most memorable movie nightmares here. Let us know if we missed off your choice at the bottom.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

While there's a whole bucketload of grisly nightmares to pick during the Nightmare on Elm Street series, it's the very first one that still remains the scariest. Before Freddy Krueger became a wisecracking pop culture joke, he was a brutal and sadistic killer who haunted the dreams of many an 80s kid. Forget the dated soundtrack, this rule-setting death scene perfectly explains why the franchise was a sleepover mainstay throughout the decade.


An American Werewolf In London

The only thing worse than dreaming about your family being brutally murdered by a pack of mutant Nazis is dreaming about your family being brutally murdered by a pack of mutant Nazis and then dreaming about your girlfriend being murdered directly after. Especially when your girlfriend is played by Jenny Agutter circa 1981.



A classic horror trope, and a personal favourite of director Brian De Palma, this final "everything's okay but it's really really not but it kind of is because it's just a dream" scene was an almighty shock the first time around. It's been shamelessly ripped off and parodied since but nothing in the two Carrie remakes even came close to the effect this nightmare still has. Plus it's totally put us off visiting makeshift graves.


Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese's unapolegtically lurid thriller delivered in heaps, especially when it came to some striking, creey visuals. Leonardo DiCaprio's fractured mind allowed for a set of nightmare dream sequences, including this extended example which sees him go through hell in an effort to try and find out what the heck is happening to him.


Toy Story 2

It's a nightmare we have essentially every day, asleep or not. What if we become so irrelevant that the one person we love the most gets rid of us? And then an evil toy monster tries to suck us into an endless pit of nothingness. Okay so maybe not the second part so much but still, this sequence from Toy Story 2 strikes a surprising chord.


The 'burbs

Never fall asleep watching a horror film, especially if you're convinced that your new neighbours are evil. Tom Hanks fails to take this advice on-board and finds himself having a rather scary dream about being cooked. It's possible that he might have been consuming large amounts of cheese as well...



One of the most iconic scenes in Hitchcock's finest thriller sees James Stewart's tortured detective go from animated petals to dramatic filters to that horribly familiar feeling of falling within seconds. It's a masterful sequence that's been endlessly and deservedly deconstructed by film scholars.



Anyone who hasn't repressed their entire childhood will be able to remember that night terrors were pretty much the worst thing ever. In this clip from intermittently effective Nicolas Cage thriller Knowing, his kid has a fiery vision of the future while asleep. Cage then calms him down without shouting, which is a bonus.



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