Our beloved scream queens are horror royalty, but the genre’s most memorable men — the iconic scream kings — deserve their flowers, too.
Scream Queen is such a popular term in this community that it was turned into a television show where you could expect to hear an ear-piercing shrill every three minutes, or your Hulu subscription fee would be refunded.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Neve Campbell, and Sigourney Weaver all come to mind as our first old-school survivalists. Modern audiences may also think of Anya Taylor Joy, Samara Weaving, or Maika Monroe, among several other strong and savvy heroines navigating dangerous territories.
Though women fought through the bias and blood that kept them from being major horror players until the term “Final Girl” was coined in the ’90s to describe patterns of female involvement in horror, men somehow lack as many descriptors when they’re the main players in the genre.
What about our Scream Kings?
There’s never much fuss over a male star showing up to thwart evil time and time again like the ladies, until recently. The first mention of a defined “scream king” I can find is Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame. The movie itself remains impressively terrifying to this day, even with the 80’s special effects, over-the-top acting, and sexually aggressive trees. Bruce Campbell defied the odds and outlived all the innocent women of the cabin in the woods to become the blood-soaked chain saw-wielding icon triumphantly dominating evil that we can all vividly recount.
He defined a Scream King (earning him a place on this list), wielding weapons maniacally and destroying monsters at the root, even if they were in the bodies of his friends. He fights tooth and nail to survive like any final girl and to this day stands with the Evil Dead franchise.
In keeping with my modernist approach, I bring you (in no particular order) a dozen living Scream Kings that are defining this era of horror with their polished performances and involvement in various creative genre films and cult classics.
1. Justin Long
The “boyish face with the friendly smile,” Justin Long’s descriptors don’t make him sound like much the horror feature. However, his third film would begin a lifelong trip into horror film with the title role in 2002’s Jeepers Creepers.
While most know Long’s friendly face from the cult classic Dodgeball, his filmography is dotted with spooky appearances, especially recently. Staples, like Drag Me to Hell, Tusk, and Creepshow, followed with Long’s most intense role to date, in my opinion, coming to fruition in Barbarian.
Playing an accused rapist, he toes the line of this innocent until proven guilty almost all the way until the end.
His frantic oscillating moral compass and distress keep you wondering all the way up until he makes a disgusting choice, showing exactly what he thinks the value of a woman’s life is compared to his own. Justin Long’s most recent performance between pitiful and loathsome was inspired and prepped him well for It’s a Wonderful Knife, his holiday slasher film that recently debuted. I can’t remember being so dismayed by why I hated a character so much, and I was not even sure he was guilty.
A fantastic performer, no doubt, and with a list of credits fitting a Scream King, I think Justin is a hard one to beat when it comes to faces in the genre as of late. Long has transcended sub-genres, and I believe he can fit anywhere within horror, making him a welcome addition to any production’s cast as a true king.
2. Nicholas Hoult
Somewhat of a newcomer to the genre, Hoult has established himself in comedic and dramatic pursuits in the genre, much to audiences’ delight.
Known for his rise on the British television show Skins, Hoult didn’t seem like another type that would land in horror. However, somewhere between Hoult’s jump into X-Men and his landmark role in Mad Max: Fury Road, he was in a strange little film called Warm Bodies, where he plays a zombie that falls in love with a living survivor.
After this, it’s nearly a decade before Hoult graces the genre three times over in the span of five years with the enthralling horror drama The Menu, where he plays the insufferable Tyler, or Renfield, where he plays the title hero opposite Nicolas Cage as a narcissistic Dracula.
Work is closing on the new Nosferatu project from Robert Eggers (The Witch, The Lighthouse), where Hoult will be featured as Thomas Hutter. With this many new developments on the horizon, and with this performer’s penchant for taking on unorthodox roles, I have a feeling we might see Hoult take his minor Scream King status and ascend to greater heights in the future.
3. Tony Todd
Bringing one of horror’s most beloved urban legends to life, Tony Todd is a Scream King through and through as he embodies the iconic Candyman first featured in 1992.
Having begun starring in roles beginning with the 1986 fantasy Sleepwalk, Todd would find himself in his defining role soon after. Post Candyman, Todd fell into more horror work over time, starring in Candyman sequels and soon ending up a messenger for the dead in the Final Destination series.
His smooth crooning voice and mysterious delivery made him the ideal man to know death’s design in the existential millennial franchise in which death has a design, and only Tony Todd seems to know the blueprint.
Todd followed in more sequels and branched into television and video games, featuring in an episode of Masters of Horror and lending his voice to the game Back 4 Blood. Starring in horror productions as recent as last year’s Bitch Ass, I think it’s safe to say Tony Todd isn’t going anywhere, and he is a Scream King among men.
4. Dan Stevens
This might be another name you might not immediately think of when it comes to the strange and disturbing. However, mild-mannered Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame made such a hard left in his career that there’s a 2018 article titled, “How Dan Stevens Got Weird.”
I feel like it all began with the Adam Wingard horror thriller The Guest, in which Stevens plays a veteran family friend turned serial murderer. This performance allowed Stevens to experiment with his chosen roles, daring to take on powerful works like the gory, supernatural, religious drama Apostle or a more traditional horror role like Charlie in the star-packed thriller The Rental.
Stevens has made numerous television appearances in horror and sci-fi, starring in Legion as well as the animated delight Love, Death, and Robots. He was also spotted in Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
A good boy gone perfectly bad; I like this “weird” Dan Stevens and the roles he’s chosen over the safety of network soap dramas. With a role in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire coming up, we may see more of this Scream King in action yet.
5. Tobin Bell
An interesting character defined mostly by one role, Tobin Bell is still kicking as John Kramer into his 80s.
Beginning with only a snippet of this character in the original Saw film in 2004, Kramer became a sensation, and Saw X debuted this year to record numbers financially and critically. With a sequel announced, Saw XI, who knows where Bell goes from here? Yet, he has been the face of one of the most interesting and human serial killers in the genre.
Bell has been on record saying he’s not exactly a genre fan, but he does believe that horror movies can be layered while still being frightening, thus his intention to make more out of his time during the Saw franchise.
Prior to Kramer, Bell was in a variety of shows, including an appearance on The X-Files. He was also involved in less than-successful horror projects, such as the Boogeyman series, made an appearance on Creepshow, and recently turned up in an interesting title where he played a priest that you should see called Belzebuth.
Though known for portraying one of the deadliest killers in modern horror history, Tobin Bell is a magnificent performer and a certified Scream King who has made himself a pillar of the genre.
6. Bill Skarsgård
Another relative newcomer, this member of the famous Swedish acting family got his start on Eli Roth’s horror television series Hemlock Grove. But he became a sensation when he jumped into an iconic role it seemed no one else could fill: Pennywise the Clown.
Though having little horror experience prior, he was a natural fit to play one of the scariest villains in horror history, reprising the role in the sequel and later starring in the Stephen King and J.J. Abrams adapted show Castle Rock.
Other credits include Assassination Nation and one of the most frightening films where Skarsgard isn’t the antagonist: Barbarian. He also played a key part in one of 2023’s biggest films, John Wick: Chapter 4.
Though his work has been varied — and busy —over the last few years, his future work includes starring in the new Nosferatu from Eggers, which features Scream King Nicholas Hoult, and the remake of The Crow debuting next year.
Based on this schedule, he has been, and will be, busy with genre credits in the future; for now, enjoy the few offerings this Scream King has left you.
7. Kyle Gallner
An absolute industry staple, Kyle Gallner has been making cult classic horror movies since I was just old enough to be allowed to watch.
At age 23, he took up the first two horror roles that would put him on the map as Matt Campbell in The Haunting in Connecticut and everyone’s favorite goth snack Colin Gray in Jennifer’s Body. The performer would go on to star in A Nightmare on Elm Street remake just a year later, followed by appearances in projects such as Red State, Beautiful Creatures, and a feature on The Walking Dead.
2019 marked the resurgence of genre work for Gallner with one of my favorite viral possession pieces, The Cleansing Hour, and only ramped up from there with the actor starring in the smash hit Smile (due for its sequel in 2024), the slow burn thriller Mother May I? Genre fans could also find him recently in the thriller The Passengers.
With new dramas on the horizon and no announcements for Smile casting, it could be another spell before we see this Scream King pop up for another round — but Gallner is nothing if not consistent.
8. Nicolas Cage
Not previously known for being a Scream King (despite Vampire’s Kiss), Nicolas Cage emerged onto the horror scene suddenly and hasn’t backed down, much to our delight.
The Oscar winner and BAFTA nominee previously known for his roles in films such as Face/Off and Leaving Las Vegas went through a string of less-than-successful films in the 2000s, leading to different areas of the industry. While having been a Nosferatu fan and being a host of his own horror movie nights, not everyone was so aware that Nicolas Cage had a dark side.
Starting with the 2017 horror comedy Mom and Dad, starring opposite Selma Blair, Cage began to build an impressive independent and commercial horror reputation. 2018 solidified one of Cage’s greatest performances in Mandy, quickly followed the next year with the psychedelic, apocalyptic Color Out of Space.
Recently, we’ve been gifted with some interesting titles such as Prisoners of the Ghostland, my personal favorite, Willy’s Wonderland, and the absolute sensation that was Renfield (garnering Cage a Saturn Award nomination to match his previous nods for both Mandy and Face/Off).
Bringing an enthusiasm only a true fan could have, Cage is a welcome staple to the genre that is slowly building a catalog of horror films you could have your own watch party for.
9. Daniel Kaluuya
Though perhaps first recognized from his appearance on the dystopian Netflix hit Black Mirror, Daniel Kaluuya has a diverse and fruitful acting career that includes landmark work with Jordan Peele.
Six years after Black Mirror and two years after Sicario, Kaluuya was cast in a life-changing role as Chris Washington in Jordan Peele’s Academy Award-winning original screenplay Get Out. A landmark social commentary, Kaluuya’s expressive delivery and emotional range made him a powerhouse choice for the lead in this film that garnered an Oscar for its inventive political devices turned even more horrific.
Though he would go on to star in the MCU with a role in Black Panther and would earn an Oscar for best-supporting actor in Judas and the Black Messiah, Daniel would be returning to work with Peele again just one year after his Oscar win.
The film Nope garnered critical and audience appeal, earning it a massive amount of nominations for honors such as The Chainsaw Awards acknowledging excellence in horror. Starring as the monotone son and horse trainer OJ Haywood, Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Steven Yeun team up to make Nope a frightful, otherworldly experience.
Though only having two major horror credits, Kaluuya is part of the politically defining horror of our generation and Peele’s master plan to rewrite the genre into something magical, making him, in my book, a burgeoning Scream King.
10. Keith David
A master of his craft, Keith David has worked with the master John Carpenter on two occasions for two full-blown horror classics, which is just one reason why he is a certified Scream King.
Making it to the final round of the guessing game in 1982’s The Thing and starring alongside Roddy Piper and Meg Foster in They Live, David had an early start to a horror career that would carry into as recently as last year. He would have a couple of horror credits between the 80s and the present, such as Tales from the Hood 2 and Black as Night, but his talents would land him an unforgettable role in Requiem for a Dream, the voice of Halo’s Arbiter, and the part of Dr. Facilier in Princess and the Frog before we would see him return to horror front and center, if only briefly.
David joins Daniel Kaluuya in Nope for only a scene, but seeing the man at work is always good.
Bringing in a true professional even for the cameo, Keith David is a Scream King with classic Carpenter works to savor and a voice acting resume that will get enthusiasts of animation buzzing with his contributions.
11. Bill Moseley
A true devotee to the genre, it’s hard to find a credit Bill Mosely has that isn’t horror. Beginning his career with Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 fame, Moseley never left horror and dove into projects such as the long-running series of films produced by Rob Zombie.
Starring in House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and 3 from Hell, Moseley is a splatter favorite and is game to play almost any depraved role.
His filmography from the 80s to the present is a blood trail leading into future titles such as Scared to Death, Frankenstein Gothic, and They Turned Us into Killers, showing this trajectory has no sign of deviation.
Unafraid to don a prosthetic wound and never one to shy away from some disturbing mass murder, Moseley is perhaps the most decorated Scream King on the list in terms of titles and duration dedicated to the field — with 137 credits to his name, very few of them are family-friendly.
12. Bruce Campbell
Last but certainly not least, the founding member of this category is rounding out this list.
Not having had much of a horror career prior, Bruce Campbell found himself cast as the lead as Ashley ‘Ash’ J. Williams in Sam Raimi’s 1981 game-changer The Evil Dead. The sequel would follow in 1987, starring Campbell again and bringing him back for a third installment in 1992, Army of Darkness.
Campbell became so synonymous with the series that he helped produce the show Ash vs Evil Dead, which ran for 30 episodes. Even in the most recent Evil Dead Rise film, Campbell is an uncredited “dissenting voice” on the crucial recording that unlocks the secrets of the dead, showing that even now, whether fans know it or not, Bruce is always with you.
Carving out a path for one of the most recognizable horror charters today and aiding in not just performance but production of an Evil Dead TV series, I think Bruce Campbell is likely the father of Scream Kings and the torch bearer for one of fans’ favorite franchises.