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Horror vs. Thriller: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 19, 2023
Horror primarily evokes fear through supernatural elements; thriller emphasizes tension and suspense.

Key Differences

Horror focuses on creating an atmosphere of fear and dread, often using supernatural or macabre elements to do so. Thriller, on the other hand, centers on suspense, tension, and the complex psychological effects of the events on its characters.
In horror, the main goal is to shock and scare the audience, making them confront their deepest fears. In a thriller, the objective is to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, eagerly anticipating the next move.
Horror often deals with the unknown or otherworldly, with monsters, ghosts, or malevolent spirits. Thriller typically remains in the realm of the plausible, involving real-world situations like espionage, crime, or mysteries.
Protagonists in horror frequently find themselves up against insurmountable odds, often battling pure evil. In thriller, the protagonists might be ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, requiring their wit and will to survive.
Emotional responses differ: horror aims to evoke fear and shock, while thriller seeks to create suspense and excitement.

Comparison Chart

Main Emotion Targeted

Fear and dread
Suspense and excitement

Typical Elements

Supernatural beings, ghosts, monsters
Real-world situations, mysteries, crimes

Character Challenge

Battling pure evil or overwhelming odds
Overcoming dangerous situations using wit and will

Objective for Audience

To shock and scare
To create suspense and keep them on edge

Realm of Stories

Often otherworldly or unknown
Typically plausible and real-world

Horror and Thriller Definitions


A genre intended to frighten, scare, or disgust the viewer.
The new horror movie left audiences terrified for days.


A genre characterized by suspense, tension, and excitement.
The spy thriller had audiences biting their nails till the end.


An intense feeling of fear or dread.
The news of the accident filled her with horror.


Something that thrills, especially a sensational or dramatic event.
The final match was a real thriller, with a last-minute winning goal.


An unfavorable or negative response to something.
To her horror, she realized she had forgotten the report at home.


A work of fiction or drama designed to hold the interest by the use of a high degree of intrigue, adventure, or suspense.
His latest novel is a political thriller set in Washington, D.C.


Something causing feelings of fear or aversion.
The scene at the crash site was a horror to behold.


A person or thing that causes thrilling excitement.
The new roller coaster at the amusement park is a thriller.


A shocking or revolting event or act.
The atrocities of war are unspeakable horrors.


A story or situation filled with unpredictable twists and turns.
That detective show is a real thriller; you never know who the culprit is till the very end.


An intense, painful feeling of repugnance and fear.


One that thrills, especially a sensational or suspenseful book, story, play, or movie.


A state or condition marked by this feeling
Stood in horror looking at the scene.


Something that thrills.


A suspenseful, sensational genre of story, book, play or film.


A suspenseful adventure story or play or movie


What kind of challenges do protagonists face in horror?

In horror, protagonists often face pure evil or insurmountable odds.

What does a thriller aim to evoke in its audience?

A thriller aims to evoke suspense and excitement.

Can a movie or book be both horror and thriller?

Yes, many works blend elements of both horror and thriller.

How do thriller protagonists typically overcome challenges?

Thriller protagonists use their wit, intelligence, and determination to overcome challenges.

Are jump scares more typical in horror or thriller?

Jump scares are more typical in horror.

What is the primary emotion targeted by horror?

Horror targets fear and dread.

Are supernatural elements more common in horror or thriller?

Supernatural elements are more common in horror.

Is "psycho" a horror or thriller movie?

"Psycho" is often categorized as both a horror and thriller film.

Can real-world events be considered horror?

Yes, real-world events that are shocking and terrifying can be described as horror.

Which is more grounded in reality, horror or thriller?

Thriller is generally more grounded in real-world situations.

Are detective stories considered thrillers?

Yes, many detective stories fall under the thriller genre due to their suspenseful elements.

Are thrillers always fictional?

No, thrillers can be based on true events or be purely fictional.

Which genre tends to have more gore, horror or thriller?

Horror typically has more gore compared to thriller.

Can a horror story be set in the past, present, or future?

Yes, horror stories can be set in any time period.

Can horror elements be psychological?

Yes, psychological horrors play on human fears, anxieties, and phobias.

What's an example of a horror-thriller movie?

"The Silence of the Lambs" is an example of a horror-thriller movie.

Can comedy be mixed with horror and thriller?

Yes, there are sub-genres like horror-comedy and thriller-comedy.

Are mysteries and thrillers the same?

No, while both involve suspense, mysteries focus on solving a puzzle or crime, whereas thrillers emphasize tension.

What's the key difference between a horror novel and a thriller novel?

Horror novels aim to scare readers, while thriller novels aim to create suspense.

Do thrillers always have a happy ending?

No, thrillers can have a range of endings, from triumphant to tragic.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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