For most movie fans, thriller and horror genres are pretty much the same. They offer thrills and chills, maybe a bit of squeamish screaming and likely plenty of gore. But the two film genres do have critical differences. Some of these are big and others so tiny, you won’t even notice it unless you look for it.

If you’re in the film business, maybe writing your own screenplay or even directing your own video or film, it’s a good idea to get yourself acquainted with these subtle yet important differences.

What’s in the Name?

One of the main differences between the two genres can be found in their names. A horror film wants to “horrify” audiences whereas a thriller film only seeks to “thrill.”

With horror, the focus is on scaring people. They generally know there is a big evil present and the audience act as voyeurs to how these big evil haunts, destroys, or even kills the victims in an inevitable way. Oftentimes the climax of a horror film is in the main confrontation, the escape or the survival of the protagonist from the evil presence. Think for instance of Michael Myers from Halloween. He is a big evil and the focus of the film is to scare audiences knowing that Michael is hunting his victims one by one.

With thriller films, the aim is to focus on solving a mystery that is unfolding. The audience is partially in the know or takes up the clueless victim in the entire story. There is often a chase of some kind which in turn generates tension, thrill, and suspense. Most of the time, the evil in the film remains unknown and will be revealed towards the climax.

Why the confusion?

These two genres are usually confused for each other because both contain elements that would fit in each other’s descriptions. For instance, thriller films sometimes embed a series of scary scenes in it. What’s more, the two can be structured similarly. Like the first half of the act, the protagonist can be unknown or presents itself to the protagonists. Then there’s a point where the protagonists barely escape the threat temporarily before they eventually have to face it in the final or third act.

On top of that, there are plenty of films that blur the lines between horror and thrillers. Some of these films include 10 Cloverfield Lane, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and even The Shining. Kubrick’s film actually combines elements of supernatural horror with psychological thriller perfectly.

How to tell if you’re watching horror or a thriller?

There are key elements that each genre carries. In a thriller, it’s a big no-no for the audience to be able to predict what happens next. The uncertainty and suspense in the film are what it an actual thriller. On the other hand, in a horror film, certain predictability is sometimes required. When a group of young teens head off for a weekend of fun in a campground or an isolated area, you know that many of them won’t be able to live through it. It’s also almost necessary for viewers to know who the main evil is in a horror film beforehand. Otherwise, it won’t work.

Although the difference between horror and thriller may be subtle, they are important to know so you can apply the elements effectively on screen. If you’re a screenwriter or director, knowing the difference is almost a requirement. This will help you become a better storyteller since you can communicate your story to the audience the right way.

At New Dawn Films, horror and thriller films have a special place in our hearts. And we’re now campaigning to make our second full-length horror/thriller film – “An Angry Boy.”

Want to be a part of this new production? Find out how you can help make it a reality by heading to our Campaign Page.

For more scary stuff, you can also visit our Scary Mysteries Channel for the ultimate horror and thriller stories.