Empire Cinemas has released a report exploring the most fearful film moments in history.

The research reveals that fear is an emotion keenly sought by cinemagoers and many film fans actively choose to watch a scary film to feel alive (14%).

Almost one fifth (17%) of the UK say the most scared they have ever felt in their lives was when watching a film in the cinema, whilst the equivalent of over 5m1 people (11%) claim to have developed a phobia or fear after viewing a film on the big screen.

Psychologist, Dr Dave Lewis says: “When it comes to creating feelings of terror, movie makers have a number of powerful psychological tricks up their sleeve. One is to provoke what is called the ‘startle’ response. This is a primitive, inbuilt, reaction to anything unexpected and therefore potentially threatening.

"It triggers the audiences’ ‘fight or flight’ survival system; adrenalin floods through their bodies, their pupils widen, muscles tense, palms become sweaty, mouths go dry and pulses race. By combining a startling image, such as the moment an alien bursts from Kane’s chest, with suitably fear arousing music a director can produce gasps of horror from an audience. These involuntary reactions intensify the terror for everyone.”

The list of terrorising big screen moments was topped by the head-spinning scene in the Exorcist. The alien stomach-bursting scene, from Ridley Scott-directed sci-fi horror film Alien, put the fear into several respondents (21%) as did the genre-busting horror film Psycho, were Marion was stabbed in the shower, and the butchering of a prison guard in Silence of the Lambs (both 17%).

The Top Scary Moments in Cinematic History:

1 Exorcist – Regan’s head-spinning scene 28%

2 Alien – alien bursts out of the Kane’s chest 21%

3 Psycho – the merciless stabbing of Marion 17%

4 Silence of the Lambs – Lector attacks the prison guard 17%

5 Carrie – the hand emerges from the grave 14%

6 Jaws – Hopper finds Gardner’s boat 13%

Delving deeper into the minds of different generations, it seems the horrors that have graced our screens in more recent years may well be scary to the younger generation of film lovers, but the older generation are more frightened by the classics.

One quarter (26%) of 18-24 year olds voted the scene from The Ring (2002) of the girl emerging from the TV as their scariest cinematic movie moment, compared to just 5% of over 55’s. Whereas just 8% of 18-24’s voting the stabbing of Marion in Psycho (1960) as their scariest movie moment, compared to 28% of over 55’s.

The study also looked into how horror movies affect men and women differently. It appears men (17%) feel more alive when watching a horror film than women (11%). Additionally, more men (10%) than women (5%) admit that horror films have actually helped condition them to fear.

  • For further information and listings on all forthcoming films, visit www.empirecinemas.co.uk
  • Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension is released on October 21.