15 Terrifying Movies That Prey on Your Phobias

movie phobias
Oren Aks/Thrillist
Oren Aks/Thrillist

Nearly 19 million Americans suffer from phobias, feelings of dread that turn everyday objects and occurrences into sources of panic attacks. Most people handle these deep-seated fears with rational thought. Others take more… severe measures. Whatever the case, Hollywood isn't out to help the phobic, regularly exploiting their fears in disturbing (and memorable) ways. Here are the movies to 100% avoid if you're prone to specific scares, and 100% check out if you want to test your bravery:

Acrophobia (fear of heights)

The Walk
Say what you will about this 2015 movie's basic biopic approach to Philippe Petit's life, but once Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his wandering French accent climb atop the World Trade Center armed with nothing but a pole and a wire, The Walk becomes an acrophobic's worst nightmare. The visual-effects crew will take your future vertigo as a compliment.
Where to stream it: Free on DIRECTV; buy on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mentions: The Towering Inferno (1974), Creepshow 2 (1987), Cliffhanger (1993)

Aerophobia (fear of flying)

Few things are as terrifying as the idea of being trapped in a dying airplane, and very few films have captured this fear as well as 1993's Alive. Based on actual events of the 1972 Andes flight disaster, Alive deals with horrors like exposure, starvation, and cannibalism, but the opening plane crash is something you recall every time you head to the airport.
Where to stream it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mentions: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), Fearless (1993), The Grey (2011)

Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)

Even though movie history's cluttered with B-movies about ravenous arachnids, this on-the-nose horror comedy from 1990 outdoes the competition when it comes to spider-based chills. We feel Jeff Daniels and John Goodman's pain as the specimens creep in from the shadows.
Where to stream it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention:Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Eight Legged Freaks (2002), Big Ass Spider! (2013)

Aquaphobia (fear of water)

The Poseidon Adventure
On top of the usual disaster-movie mayhem, 1972's action thriller had a dark psychological hook. It's scary enough to be trapped inside of a capsized luxury liner... then the water starts rising. While this submersible subgenre may seem a bit dated today, The Poseidon Adventure still manages to combine aquaphobia, claustrophobia, and naviphobia (fear of boats!) into one suspenseful story.
Where to stream it: Free on DIRECTV; rent on Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Jaws (1975), The Abyss (1989), Waterworld (1995)

Claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces)

There have been quite a few "buried alive" movies (including a few with that exact title!) but few have been as committed to the premise 2010's Buried, which stars Ryan Reynolds as a man who spends the entire movie trapped in a coffin. Yes, it's the definition of a gimmick flick -- but when the gimmick is pulled off this well, there's not a whole lot to complain about.
Where to stream it: Stream on Break.com; rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Body Double (1984), The Vanishing (1988 or 1993), The Descent (2005)

Coulrophobia (fear of clowns)

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
One of the coolest things about this 1988 cult classic is that, while it's obviously quite silly, the clown effects are so damn good that it's an instant nightmare for anyone who dislikes those laughing, red-nosed buffoons. Which is most of us.
Where to stream it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Poltergeist (1982), It (1990), Stitches (2012)

Cynophobia (fear of dogs)

Watching a loyal, lovable dog go bad is unnerving, and 1983's Cujo is among the sickest depictions. This Stephen King adaptation is one of the author's favorites, a dark, sweaty, intense thriller that owes just as much to claustrophobia as it does to cynophobia.
Where to stream it: Free on Netflix; rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), Man's Best Friend (1993), The Pack (2015)

Hemophobia (fear of blood)

The Thing 
The 1982 sci-fi is notoriously icky; a sequence in which Kurt Russell's MacReady applies a hot needle to a collection of blood samples is one of the most gloriously suspenseful moments in horror history. Lots of movies have aggressively bloody scenes; not many have scenes involving aggressive blood.
Where to stream it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Carrie (1976), The Shining (1980), Hostel: Part II (2007)

Monophobia (fear of being alone)

Cast Away
This modern retelling of Robinson Crusoe sounds dry on paper: one guy, stranded alone on an island, fights for survival. Fortunately that one guy is played by Tom Hanks. The man's struggles to maintain sanity in the face of overwhelming isolation may be good therapy for people who are suffering from the more conventional forms of loneliness -- or the reverse.
Where to stream it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention:When a Stranger Calls (1979), Moon (2009), All Is Lost (2013)

Mysophobia (fear of germs)

Cabin Fever
Tainted water turns a bunch of horny idiots into a bunch of shrieking, gore-soaked, flesh-peeling maniacs in Eli Roth's 2002 debut. While it's all very broad, goofy, and splattery, there's no way anyone with a serious germ phobia should watch this movie. Even the fearless will want antibacterial wipes handy.
Where to stream it: Free on DIRECTV; rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: 12 Monkeys (1995), Safe (1995), Contagion (2011)

Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)

This 1997 movie, about a film crew being stalked by a mega-snake on the Amazon, is full of terrible dialogue and goofy drama. It also boasts a nice handful of crazy snake mayhem. This is as close to an actual anaconda as I ever want to get. We can't imagine how Ice Cube feels.
Where to stream it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Venom (1982), Snakes on a Plane (2006)

Ornithophobia (fear of birds)

The Birds
Not only is this Hitchcock film as effective today as it was 40 years ago, but no amount of modern technology has been able to rip it off successfully. Boasting some revolutionary special effects, and an amusingly morbid sense of humor, this movie will keep you indoors for days.
Where to stream it: Free on DIRECTV; rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Beaks: The Movie (1987), Jurassic Park III (2001), Birdemic (2010)

Thanatophobia (fear of death)

Let's face it: the desire to cheat death is the purest expression of a fear of mortality. So even when the hip medical students in 1990's Flatliners "crack" the key to defeating Death, they've only delayed the inevitable (and made Death angry). And if movies have taught us anything, it's that you don't want to make Death angry.
Where to stream it: Free on DIRECTV; rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Dawn of the Dead (1978), Jacob's Ladder (1990), Final Destination (2000)

Trypanophobia (fear of needles)

Saw II
Nobody enjoys a shot, and many can't even watch a hypodermic needle from afar. Savvy moviemakers have used it as a springboard for short, sharp bursts of horror. Saw II's "needle pit" sequence delivers the most painful injection of them all.
Where to stream it: Free on Showtime Anytime, DIRECTV; rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention: Pulp Fiction (1994), Trainspotting (1996), Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Xenophobia (fear of things foreign or strange)

The 1979 classic works on two xenophobic levels: not only can the mysterious, vicious monster (seemingly) not be killed, but it also looks different every time we see it. Blame evolution. Truly, each indescribable design, plus dark spaceship hallways, will disturb anyone clinging to the familiar.
Where to stream it: Rent on iTunes, Amazon, YouTube
Honorable mention:The 'Burbs (1989), Gangs of New York (2002), The Art of the Deal (2016)

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Scott Weinberg is a film writer and critic who has written for outlets such as Playboy, FEARnet, Nerdist, and many others. He tweets @scotteweinberg but ignores mean people.