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There’s only one thing that horror movie fans love more than watching horror films: Putting them into loosely ordered “best-of” lists.
The problem with most of those lists is that they’re full of spoilers—not a big deal if you’re trying to validate your preformed opinions, but pretty important if you’re looking for something to watch. With that in mind, we set out to create a completely spoiler-free list of the top horror movies ever made.
Here’s our list. If you disagree with these selections, remember: You’re free to make your own list. That’s part of the fun, right?
50. The Conjuring
By 2013, the “haunted house” subgenre desperately needed a reboot. The Conjuring didn’t deliver one, exactly; it took cues from films like The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist to create a finished product that was pretty by-the-numbers.
Fortunately, it managed to do just about everything perfectly, packing plenty of spine-tingling scenes into its near two–hour runtime. It’s the rare homage that rises above its source material, and for any modern horror fan, it’s just good enough to be considered essential.
Best for: Fans of haunted houses who don’t really care about character development.
This 1985 cult classic has plenty of laughs, but the gross-out moments are horrifying enough to make it a worthy entry on this list. It gradually goes off the rails, starting with a simple story of a medical student and eventually ending with…well, lots of re-animated stuff.
Look, that doesn’t qualify as a spoiler—sometimes the plot’s all in the title.
Best for: Anyone who loves tongue-in-cheek horror with plenty of gratuitous guts.
As far as creature features go, Pumpkinhead isn’t innovative, and it certainly won’t make you think. The acting is mediocre, and the plot has plenty of holes.
Why, then, is it so much fun to watch? The stellar special effects certainly deserve some of the credit, as does the depth of the fantasy-inspired folk tale at the heart of the script. While many late-80s horror movies haven’t stood the test of time, Pumpkinhead is still a harrowing experience.
Best for: Watching on a late night when you’re fairly sure that you’ve seen everything else on this list.
47. It Comes at Night
It Comes At Night is a post-apocalyptic family drama, and those three words should give you a fairly good idea of whether or not it’s up your alley. Critics lauded its brilliant direction and exceptional acting, but some audiences dislike the slow pace.
There’s not a ton of action, but it’s ultimately a disturbing survival horror film that ranks among the genre’s best.
Best for: Anyone with a healthy (or not-so-healthy) fear of the unknown.
46. Under the Shadow
This Persian-language film was critically lauded, which usually means boring for mainstream horror fans. That’s not the case; there’s truly terrifying imagery here, and the twisting plot should keep viewers on the edge of their seats for the entire 84-minute runtime.
Under the Shadow is an allegory for women’s rights in Iran, and the allegory is clear from the first scene. With that said, you don’t have to have a political interest to enjoy Under the Shadow’s sublime ghost story. This is an excellent example of a horror movie with a purpose, but it doesn’t skimp out on the scares.
Best for: Ghost story fans who don’t mind subtitles.
David Lynch’s first major film is a groundbreaking work of surrealism, but we almost didn’t include it on this list. It’s certainly not a traditional horror film in any sense; it’s shot entirely in black and white, the dialogue seems almost random, and there’s no clear plot.
Go in with an open mind, and you’ll leave horrified. Just don’t try to dig too deeply into the strange imagery—this is pure surrealism, designed to make you feel like you’re in a waking nightmare.
Best for: Arthouse horror fans who aren’t immediately put off by the phrase “arthouse horror.”
44. Ginger Snaps
Two sisters encounter a werewolf. Predictably, there’s a bite; then things get fun.
This Canadian film brilliantly uses lycanthropy (which means “werewolf stuff,” if you’re not big on your occult terminology) as a metaphor for puberty. The movie has real heart, and you’ll actually care about the fate of the characters, which makes the brutally violent scenes even more terrifying.
Best for: Fans of werewolves looking for something different (or anyone who thinks that puberty is its own horror story).
43. Fright Night (1985)
It’s difficult to make a movie that’s both funny and scary. This cult classic accomplishes that feat thanks to a charismatic cast and fantastic practical effects; it’s one of the most underrated horror films of the ’80s, and also one of the most rewatchable movies on this list.
Fright Night was remade in 2011, and that version is worth a watch, too, but the 1985 original is the true classic.
Best for: Fans of vampires—the real ones, not the sparkly ones.
42. The Sixth Sense
If you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense, watch it right now without researching it. You only get one chance to experience M. Night Shyamalan’s one decent film (okay, Unbreakable was alright, but it was hardly a masterpiece).
It was a breakout role for Haley Joel Osment, and it’s one of the best Bruce Willis movies outside of Die Hard. What more do you need?
Best for: Fans of psychological horror movies with a supernatural element (and Bruce Willis).
Filmmakers sometimes use the whole “found footage” gimmick as a way to get around technical limitations. Don’t have a great camera? No special effects budget? Grab your mom’s camcorder and make a found footage flick!
Creep is different. It follows a filmmaker who takes an odd job to make ends meet, and the plot simply wouldn’t work with a different structure. The story quickly takes focus, and as the creepy details start to add up, the film becomes one of the most disturbing—and, at times, hilarious—modern horror flicks.
Best for: Anyone who wants to see what an honest-to-goodness great “found-footage” film looks like.
40. The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly is one of Jeff Goldblum’s best performances, and it’s a touchpoint for the body-horror subgenre. Without giving too much away, it involves a fly.
Jokes aside, The Fly has tremendous special effects, but it really works because Goldblum portrays an earnest, likable protagonist. When everything starts going wrong, it’s easy to empathize with him—which makes the inevitable horror of the experiment-gone-wrong even more distressing.
Best for: Body-horror aficionados. It’s Cronenberg at his peak, and it’s every bit as disturbing as it was when it was released more than 30 years ago.
39. The Omen (1976)
What’s creepier than a weird little kid named Damien? Not much, as it turns out. The Omen didn’t really break new ground, and it’s lost some of its power over the years, but it still has some of the most haunting scenes ever put to film.
It’s helped by magnificent performances by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick, who play a couple desperately seeking answers for their adopted son’s strange behavior. No, The Omen isn’t high art, but it’s creepy as hell.
Best for: Anyone who gets the jeebies when little kids start acting strangely.
Borrowing from other “creepy kid” films like The Omen, Hereditary’s first act depicts a family dealing with the death of a grandmother. It focuses on a young girl whose bizarre habits contribute to the sinister atmosphere.
Then, the movie veers into unpredictable territory. It’s ambitious, cruel, and visually disturbing—certainly not for the faint of heart—with every revelation carrying serious weight. This is a groundbreaking debut for director Ari Aster, and it’s the kind of film that leaves you absolutely shaken.
Best for: Anyone with a strong stomach who wants something more ambitious than a typical demon-ghost thriller.
37. The House of the Devil
The House of the Devil is a love letter to ’70s horror, but while it draws from earlier films, it’s certainly not a tired retread. It’s a slow burn, and director Ti West effectively builds a sense of dread without focusing on jump scares and butchery.
Excellent performances by Jocelin Donahue and Tom Noonan make the slower scenes tolerable, and when the film finally picks up the pace, it’s both terrifying and captivating.
Best for: Viewers who enjoy realistic plots and who can appreciate a good throwback slasher.
36. Return of the Living Dead
When you picture zombies, you probably picture a horde of the undead screaming for “braaaiiins.” You’ve got Return of the Living Dead to thank for that image. It was the first film to feature zombies seeking brains, and it deserves its cult classic status for that reason alone.
However, this horror comedy is notable for other reasons. It’s one of the first films with “smart” zombies, it’s extraordinarily well written, and upon its release, it was hailed by film critics as a minor triumph. Even Roger Ebert approved.
Today, it’s overshadowed by flashier zombie flicks, but Return of the Living Dead has a certain charm that makes it one of the best horror films of its era.
Best for: New zombie-movie fans who’ve already seen Night of the Living Dead and other genre classics.
The most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s epic 1986 novel, 2017’s It is a coming-of-age movie with malevolent clowns. Really, what more do you need?
It’s much better than the 1990 miniseries (also available on Amazon) thanks to better acting, better special effects, and a much more tolerable runtime. It’s currently the most commercially successful R-rated horror movie of all time, and it’s one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever released (which is somewhat faint praise, given that films like Dreamcatcher exist).
Best for: Coulrophobics (that’s people with a fear of clowns, in case you’re not up on your Latin prefixes).
The only PG-rated film on this list, Poltergeist was produced by Steven Spielberg, and it might be the ultimate haunted house flick. Craig T. Nelson stars as a hapless father who discovers that his home might be haunted (spoiler alert: It is).
While it’s not excessively violent, the imagery is probably too powerful for younger children, even today—which might be a testament to the film’s staying power.
Clive Barker’s nightmarish tale of a mysterious puzzle box launched a massive number of sequels (with diminishing returns) and introduced Pinhead, one of the most instantly recognizable characters in horror. It doesn’t quite hold up; when released in 1987, it seemed excessively violent and demented, but it’s almost tame by modern standards.
Still, the original Hellraiser draws its horror from its human characters, not its demons, and it remains pretty effective.
Best for: Anyone who doesn’t mind a film with absolutely despicable characters.
32. Dawn of the Dead (1979)
The sequel to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead arguably has better ideas. It’s one of director George Romero’s better movies, and it manages to provide a subtle critique of consumerism while still showing zombies ripping people apart.
While its predecessor invented the zombie genre, Dawn of the Dead broke the basic rules and set the stage for other zombie movies with braaaiiins.
Best for: Zombie fans who’ve already watched Night of the Living Dead and don’t mind ghouls in cheesy blue makeup.
31. The Babadook
A widowed mother and her troubled son deal with a malevolent supernatural entity. We know, we know—you’ve heard that story before, right?
The Babadook is a love-it-or-hate-it thriller that has some profound things to say about the difficulties of parenthood, but fortunately, it’s also packed with great scares and disturbing moments.
Best for: Viewers who can appreciate a slow-burn horror movie with (purposely) frustrating characters.
Directed by John Carpenter and based on a story by Stephen King, Christine looks like the perfect horror movie on paper…until you realize that it’s about a crazed, love-sick car that starts attacking people.
Okay, it’s not exactly The Shining, but Christine is dumb enough to work.
Best for: People who saw the cover and thought, “Hey, that’s a pretty attractive car.”
29. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Donald Sutherland stars in this remake of a 1956 alien invasion movie. It’s better than the original in just about every way, and far more frightening for modern viewers. The paranoia and mystery surrounding the alien menace make this more than just a great science fiction movie; it’s a classic horror film and a clear influence on later sci-fi horror works like The Thing.
Plus, Donald Sutherland’s in it. Did we mention that?
Best for: Reliving your alien abduction nightmares.
28. Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th helped to launch a whole subgenre of rip-off slasher flicks. Because it established a really successful formula—masked maniac gradually picks off a group of oblivious teens—it’s not quite as powerful as it was when it was released.
Still, anyone who calls themselves a horror fan has to see the original at least once.
Best for: Terrifying kids who are headed off to summer camp.
27. Sleepaway Camp
For most of its runtime, this 1983 film provides fairly standard camp horror—literally, since it takes place at a summer camp—but with tremendously disturbing special effects that elevate it over other ’80s slashers.
By today’s standards, it has some problematic themes, but viewers who can forgive its missteps will enjoy a surprisingly tight mystery with several unforgettable moments.
Best for: Fans of ’80s horror movies who think they’ve seen everything else on this list.
26. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven’s masterpiece introduced Freddy Krueger, a demon who stalks his victims in their dreams. In the first film, Krueger is a brooding, menacing figure of pure evil—not a goofy ghoul making corny puns (we’re looking at you, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4).
This also stars a young Johnny Depp in his first role. Depp later parodied his own heartthrob status in a brief cameo in the sixth Nightmare on Elm Street movie, but by that time, Freddy Krueger wasn’t very scary anymore.
Best for: Horror fans who have somehow missed the original.
25. An American Werewolf in London
Two friends go backpacking in Northern England when they hear a strange wolf in the distance. Then…well, read the title of the movie.
Directed by John Landis, this has legitimately terrifying horror scenes and legitimately funny comedy, along with a few disturbing concepts and some of the best effects ever put to film.
Best for: Fans of horror comedy. If you skip this film, at least watch the werewolf transformation scene.
24. The Ring
Naomi Watts stars as a journalist investigating a strange VHS tape. According to an urban legend, the tape causes the death of the viewer—and no, it’s not Carrot Top’s Chairman of the Board.
Look, The Ring has a tremendous plot, and the concept behind the tape is enough to make you swear off VHS forever (if you hadn’t already), but we’d like to point out a horrifying fact: We actually included a link to the Carrot Top movie in the previous paragraph. Don’t click it—some cursed videos can’t be unwatched.
Best for: People who get seriously creeped out when browsing the supernatural section of Snopes.com.
23. The Blair Witch Project
This is really where the dubious “found footage” genre took off, and for that, we’re not sure whether we should’ve ranked The Blair Witch Project higher or lower, but here it is.
It completely changed how movies are filmed and marketed, but if the film sucked, that wouldn’t be much of an accomplishment. The Blair Witch Project is well done with mysterious lore, decent acting, and a slow, meticulous plot that’s light on effects but big on scares.
Best for: Viewers who want a subtle psychological horror film that was, at one point, unlike anything else.
22. The Evil Dead (1981)
Directed by Sam Raimi, The Evil Dead shouldn’t have worked. It was a low-budget film with an insanely over-the-top script and more guts than you can shake a boomstick at, and actor Bruce Campbell’s hammy acting puts the film squarely in the “camp” category. After a positive review from Stephen King, however, The Evil Dead took off, launching a huge media franchise (along with Campbell’s impressive career as a B-movie actor).
While The Evil Dead is ridiculous to the point of absurdity, it’s also a ton of fun. Raimi’s inventive with the scares, and when the plot fails to make sense, the over-the-top practical effects save the day.
Best for: Fans of ridiculous ’80s horror movies who don’t mind tons of violence and occult symbolism.
21. Evil Dead 2
The sequel to The Evil Dead wasn’t as demented, but it embraced the ridiculousness of its plot. Bruce Campbell hams it up, using his excellent skills as a physical actor to deliver a truly memorable performance. Today, he’s rightfully treated as horror-flick royalty, and Evil Dead 2 shows why.
Best for: Anyone who watched the first Evil Dead film without turning off the TV in disgust. The third film, Army of Darkness, is also worth a watch, although it doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the first two cult classics.
Both underrated and ahead of its time, Candyman is a chilling supernatural slasher that actually tackles tough themes. It’s a mystery film at heart, with a tight script based on horror maestro Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden.
The Philip Glass soundtrack is the (candy) icing on the (candy) cake.
Best for: Slasher fans who like a little bit of nuance to their on-screen butchery.
Creepshow is an anthology film, meaning it contains several horror stories rather than one overarching plot.
By nature, anthology horror movies are pretty hit-and-miss. That’s not the case here; writer Stephen King worked with legendary director George Romero (of Night of the Living Dead fame) to bring several of King’s best short stories to the screen. The result: Decent special effects, great writing, and (intentional) B-movie production create the cinematic equivalent of a trashy carnival ride. This isn’t high art, but it’s everything that’s great about horror.
Best for: Viewers who want a popcorn movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
By 1996, slasher films had plateaued in a big way. To audiences, nothing was particularly shocking about characters like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers; they behaved in predictable ways, slicing through the same basic cast of idiotic teenagers in every single film.
Scream reinvented slashers by acknowledging the formula. It’s a meta-commentary on slashers, but it’s also a really, really good one.
Best for: Viewers looking for something a little smarter than a by-the-numbers slasher. The first Scream sequel is also worth a watch.
17. The Cabin in the Woods
This film is a tribute to the horror genre as a whole, but it’s also a fine example of a modern thriller with well-formed ideas. The plot should keep audiences guessing, and while there’s plenty of writer Joss Whedon’s humor, it’s a horror film at heart.
Best for: Horror fans looking for a clever take on the genre. Be prepared to watch it a few times; the numerous allusions to other horror films are half the fun.
16. Get Out
Jordan Peele is one of the funniest men alive, and it just so happens that he also made the greatest thriller this side of Hitchcock. Peele’s directorial debut is a haunting, nuanced take on American race relations that also packs some serious scares. Critics loved it, but don’t let that scare you off.
Best for: Fans who can appreciate a perfectly directed horror movie that works on multiple levels. If you can’t stand films with social commentary, however, you’ll probably want to skip this one (also, you might not actually like movies).
15. The Witch
Wouldst thou like to live…deliciously?
This “New England folktale” chronicles the downfall of a Puritan family homesteading in the 17th-century American wilderness. The attention to historical detail is insane. The language is straight out of a Jonathan Edwards sermon, and they even recreate the accent of early America.
But the real star here is the goat. Give Black Philip an Oscar, already.
Best for: Horror fans who insist on historical accuracy. If you’re creeped out by the occult and you don’t mind authentic accents, get ready to live deliciously for 90 minutes or so.
14. Let Me In
Let Me In is a remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In. If you don’t mind subtitles, the original film is arguably superior, but the American film stands on its own as a thrilling entry in the vampire genre.
It presents a new take on vampires, but not in the sense of something like Twilight—the vamp in Let Me In is horrifying, violent, and unsettling. Granted, you’ll empathize with her throughout the film, but that’s partly what makes the unconventional plot so disturbing.
Best for: Vampire fans who aren’t too bloodthirsty to appreciate a good drama.
13. The Birds
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, this film imagines a world in which everyone forgets that they have birdseed in their pockets.
Well, sort of.
The Birds pioneered green-screen special effects, but it’s Hitchcock’s eye for suspense that makes this an undeniable classic. You’ll never look at pigeons the same way again.
Best for: Classic film fans will have the most fun, but pretty much anyone can enjoy it, provided that they’re not chicken (Get it? A chicken is a well-known type of bird).
12. The Silence of the Lambs
The Silence of the Lambs could be classified as a thriller rather than a horror movie, but that’s true for many of the films on this list, and Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of serial killer Hannibal Lecter is iconic.
Lead actor Jodie Foster is no slouch; she plays FBI agent Clarice Starling, who’s tasked with tracking down a deranged psychopath with Lecter’s help. The Silence of the Lambs won the 1992 Academy Award for Best Picture, and it’s second only to Psycho in the serial killer subgenre.
Best for: Amateur criminologists who want to get inside the head of a sociopath.
For the purposes of this list, we avoided horror films from the 1950s and earlier, since they’re a hard sell for modern audiences. They’re also…well, not very scary.
That said, Nosferatu, a loose retelling of the Dracula story, still has some of the most horrifying imagery ever put on film. It’s the blueprint for modern horror, and Max Schreck’s performance as Nosferatu remains as haunting as ever.
It’s a silent film, and some viewers might not have the patience required to appreciate it, but that’s their loss. Nosferatu is a classic by every definition.
Best for: Horror fans who want to see where the genre really got started.
Sigourney Weaver stars in this claustrophobic space thriller directed by Ridley Scott. Unlike other science fiction horror films, it takes place in a realistically boring universe; Weaver’s character is on a deep-space commercial starship crewed by blue-collar workers who seem more like miners than space cadets. As the film progresses, Scott keeps ratcheting up the tension, effectively using the ship’s dark corners to hide the film’s monstrous antagonist.
Alien was, of course, followed by the equally great Aliens, which didn’t make this list because it’s more of an action-adventure film than a horror movie. Still, you should see both—heck, even Alien 3 is worth a watch.
Best for: Sci-fi horror fans. If you’ve already seen it a dozen times, the nearly three-hour-long director’s cut is a real treat for hardcore fans.
9. Night of the Living Dead
Director George Romero lost the rights to this cult classic due to a clerical error, so it’s in the public domain. Because of that, you can find it online for free. Don’t go that route, though—the original soundtrack is part of the allure, and you can only get that from one of the official releases. Our pick is the Criterion Collection version, which presents the granddaddy of the zombie genre in all its original glory.
This was the first modern zombie flick, and it introduced many of the genre’s rules (for instance, the idea that zombies move slowly and want to consume human flesh). Without this, there’d be no Walking Dead, but don’t hold that against it.
Best for: Zombie fans who want to see where the genre actually got started.
8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
For a long time, critics dismissed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a trashy, ultra-violent bit of exploitation. By modern standards, though, the film is pretty tame—at least in terms of what you see on screen.
So why is this at the top of our list? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre creates a sense of impending doom that’s unlike any other slasher flick. It’s sadistic, cruel, and hopeless from the first scene, and while it’s not exactly subtle, that’s the point. Evil doesn’t hide in the shadows; it comes right at you (and sometimes, it has a chainsaw).
Best for: People who don’t mind a slasher movie that’s utterly depraved.
The great John Carpenter scored his first mainstream hit with Halloween, and he popularized the slasher genre in the process.
Brilliant direction and a groundbreaking performance by Jamie Lee Curtis make this one of the best films of the 1970s. It’s full of jump scares, but it basically invented them; Carpenter stages every shot to surprise and terrify his audience. He also created one of the greatest villains in cinema in Michael Myers (whose mask, incidentally, is cast from the face of William Shatner).
Best for: Horror lovers who don’t mind jump scares. Every slasher fan should see this at least once.
Okay, we know we said that we wouldn’t have any spoilers, but Psycho’s imagery is so iconic that it’s hard not to shower in a couple of puns. If we really have to pull back the curtain without stabbing at a few turns-of-phrase, we’ll just say this: Alfred Hitchcock’s total mastery of the art of suspense absolutely holds up.
Psycho remains one of the greatest thrillers ever made, and it’s just as affecting today as it was in 1960. The only misstep is a misguided sequence that seems somewhat prejudiced by today’s standards. Otherwise, this film could come out in 2018 and still enthrall audiences.
Best for: Fans of thrillers and whodunits. Psycho is a mystery film at heart, perfectly executed with Hitchcock’s meticulous touch.
5. Rosemary’s Baby
Roman Polanski’s greatest thriller helped to show that horror movies could be artistic triumphs.
Mia Farrow stars as the titular character (well, one of them—she’s Rosemary), and as with Polanski’s other horror films, the protagonist’s constantly changing mental state drive the plot in unexpected directions. It’s dark, evil, and depressing, so naturally, it’s frequently cited as one of the greatest films of the 20th century.
Best for: People who think that parenthood is at least a little bit creepy.
4. It Follows
In terms of direction, It Follows isn’t exactly original, but that’s intentional. It’s a clear homage to the works of John Carpenter, right down to the synth-driven soundtrack. That’s not a bad thing, as it turns out; director David Robert Mitchell has plenty of fresh ideas, and the main villain’s concept is good enough to set up plenty of horrifying scenes.
While It Follows isn’t completely perfect, it’s the strongest film from the recent horror renaissance, and its best moments shine as brightly as anything else on this list.
Best for: Anyone who wants to see the best John Carpenter film that isn’t actually directed by John Carpenter.
3. The Exorcist
We’ll go ahead and reveal one key plot point: The Exorcist is about an exorcism. If you’re freaked out by demons and possession, you probably won’t be able to sleep for a week. If you’re not particularly worried about the occult…well, you’ll still love the creepy theme song.
The Exorcist became a cultural phenomenon thanks to great acting, perfect pacing, and stunning special effects. There’s a reason that it’s always in the top three on these types of lists.
Best for: Anyone who thinks that a movie made in the mid-1970s can’t possibly be scary (and wants to be proven wrong).
2. The Thing
Director John Carpenter chose frequent collaborator Kurt Russell for the lead role in this classic alien flick. The practical effects still hold up, and there’s a terrifying creature, but as with Night of the Living Dead, it’s the paranoia of the human characters that really pushes this film to the next level.
Oh, and it has a great soundtrack, too.
Best for: Fans of sci-fi horror who want to see Kurt Russell wielding a huge flameflower (so, basically, everyone).
1. The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece is still being discussed and dissected today, and for good reason. It doesn’t use jump scares, instead building an unbelievably tense atmosphere with perfect pacing, iconic cinematography, and career-defining performances from Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall.
While it’s based on a Stephen King book—King was notoriously unhappy with the finished project—it’s Kubrick’s attention to detail that makes this the greatest horror film ever made.
Best for: Anyone who appreciates great horror movies. If this isn’t on your list, you’re doing something wrong.