15 Female Mathematicians Whose Accomplishments Add Up

Katherine Johnson at NASA in 1966
Katherine Johnson at NASA in 1966
NASA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In many periods of history, women have been discouraged from applying their minds to mathematics—but a few persevered. The world-altering contributions of these 15 notable female mathematicians include making hospitals safer, laying the groundwork for the computer, and advancing space flight.

1. HYPATIA

Hypatia (c.355–415) was the first woman known to have taught mathematics. Her father Theon was a famous mathematician in Alexandria who wrote commentaries on Euclid’s Elements and works by Ptolemy. Theon taught his daughter math and astronomy, then sent her to Athens to study the teachings of Plato and Aristotle. Father and daughter collaborated on several commentaries, but Hypatia also wrote commentaries of her own and lectured on math, astronomy, and philosophy. Sadly, she died at the hands of a mob of Christian zealots.

2. EMILIE DU CHATELET

Emilie Chatelet portrait by Latour
Maurice Quentin de La Tour, Wikipedia // Public Domain

Emilie Du Chatelet (1706–1749) was born in Paris in a home that entertained several scientists and mathematicians. Although her mother thought her interest in math was unladylike, her father was supportive. Chatalet initially employed her math skills to gamble, which financed the purchase of math books and lab equipment.

In 1725 she married an army officer, the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chatalet, and the couple eventually had three children. Her husband traveled frequently, an arrangement that provided ample time for her to study mathematics and write scientific articles (it also apparently gave her time to have an affair with Voltaire). From 1745 until her death, Chatalet worked on a translation of Isaac Newton’s Principia. She added her own commentaries, including valuable clarification of the principles in the original work.

3. SOPHIE GERMAIN

Sophie Germain (1776–1831) was only 13 when she developed an interest in mathematics, one that could be blamed on the French Revolution. Since the fighting raged around her home, Germain could not explore the streets of Paris—instead she explored her father’s library, teaching herself Latin and Greek and reading respected mathematical works. Germain’s family also tried to discourage her academic leanings. Not wanting her to study at night, they denied her a fire in her room, but she lit candles and read anyway, bundled in blankets.

Since women’s educational opportunities were limited, Germain studied secretly at the Ecole Polytechnique, using the name of a previously enrolled male student. That worked until the teachers noticed the dramatic improvement in the student’s math skills.

Although Germain never worked as a mathematician, she studied independently and wrote about the subject. She is best known for her work on Fermat’s Last Theorem, considered at the time to be one of the most challenging mathematical puzzles. A 17th century mathematician named Pierre de Fermat claimed he could prove that the equation x^n + y^n = z^n had no integer solution when n was greater than 2, but his proof was never written down. Germain proposed a new way of looking at the problem.

Germain also became the first woman to win a prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences, for writing about elasticity theory. Today that prize is known as the Sophie Germain Prize.

4. MARY SOMERVILLE

A portrait of Mary Somerville
Thomas Phillips, Wikipedia // Public Domain

Mary Somerville (1780–1872) was born in Scotland, and was not particularly interested in academics as a child—she only attended school for a year. However, when she encountered an algebra symbol in a puzzle at age 16, she became fascinated with math and began studying it on her own. Her parents tried to discourage her, worried that her intellectual preoccupations might drive her insane. (At the time, a popular theory held that difficult study could damage a woman’s mental health.) But Somerville continued to study, teaching herself Latin so she could read earlier versions of works by Euclid.

She also corresponded with William Wallace, a professor of mathematics at Edinburgh University, and solved mathematical problems posed in contests, winning a silver prize in 1811.

Somerville’s first husband did not encourage her interests, but when he died, she remarried. Her second husband, Dr. William Somerville, an inspector of the Army Medical Board, was proud of her work in mathematics and astronomy. For her work translating a book titled Celestial Mechanics and adding commentary, she was named an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Physicist Sir David Brewster called her “certainly the most extraordinary woman in Europe—a mathematician of the very first rank with all the gentleness of a woman.” When John Stuart Mill petitioned the British government for women’s votes, he filed his petition with Somerville’s signature first. She was proof that women were men’s intellectual equals.

5. ADA LOVELACE

A portrait of Augusta Ada, Countess Lovelace
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The next time you download some electronica, you may want to remember Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (1815–1852). Lovelace was born during the brief marriage of poet George, Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke, Lady Wentworth. Her mother did not want her to be a poet like her father and encouraged her interest in mathematics and music. As a teenager, Ada began to correspond with Charles Babbage, a professor at Cambridge. At the time, Babbage was working on his ideas for a calculating machine called the Analytical Engine, now considered a precursor to the computer. Babbage was solely focused on the calculating aspects, but Lovelace supplied notes that helped envision other possibilities, including the idea of computer-generated music.

Lovelace also translated an article about the Analytic Engine by French mathematician Louis Menebrea. Her notes include an algorithm showing how to calculate a sequence of numbers, which forms the basis for the design of the modern computer. It was the first algorithm created expressly for a machine to perform.

Lovelace was a countess after her marriage, but she preferred to describe herself as an analyst and a metaphysician. Babbage called her “the enchantress of numbers”—but she might also be called the world’s first computer programmer.

6. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE

A black-and-white photograph of Florence Nightingale
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) is best known as a nurse and social reformer, but a lesser-known contribution of hers continues to save lives. In her efforts to improve the survival rates of hospital patients, Nightingale became a statistician.

When the “lady with the lamp” returned from service during the Crimean War, she expressed sadness about how many soldiers had become sick and died while lying in the hospital. “Oh my poor men, who endured so patiently,” she wrote to a friend. “I feel I have been a bad mother to you to come home and leave you lying in your Crimean graves.”

As part of her plan to reform hospital care, Nightingale began gathering statistics. The figures she gathered indicated that a lack of sanitation was the primary reason for the high mortality rate. Efforts were instituted to make hospitals cleaner and thus safer.

Not only did Nightingale’s discovery save lives and change hospital protocol forever, but she also designed charts that were easy on the Queen’s eyes. Statistics had been presented with graphics only rarely before, and Nightingale’s work helped pioneer the field of applied statistics. She is particularly known for inventing a new kind of graph known as a coxcomb, which was a variation on a pie chart. She said that the graph was designed “to affect thro’ the Eyes what we fail to convey to the public through their word-proof ears.”

7. EMMY NOETHER

Portrait of Emmy Noether
Wikipedia // Public Domain

Like Hypatia, Emmy Noether (1882–1935) had a well-known mathematician for a dad. Her father, Max Noether, was a German math professor, but becoming a math teacher would be a longer process for her. After being certified to teach English and French, she also wanted a degree in mathematics, but she had to wait—the University of Erlangen in Bavaria did not let women officially enroll until 1904. Noether eventually received her doctorate in mathematics, but because her university had a policy against hiring female professors, she instead helped her father in his work at the Mathematics Institute in Erlangen (without being paid), researching and writing papers on the side.

In 1918 she proved two theorems, one of which is now known as "Noether's Theorem." After that she researched ring theory and number theory, both of which would later prove useful for physicists. Finally, in 1922, she became an associate professor and received a small stipend.

But her teaching career in Germany was short-lived. Because of growing anti-Semitism, she and other Jewish mathematicians had to flee the country in 1933. She moved to the United States, and taught at Bryn Mawr College until her death.

After her death in 1935, Albert Einstein described Noether in a letter to The New York Times with these words: "In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began."

8. MARY CARTWRIGHT

Mary Cartwright (1900–1998) achieved a few notable firsts: She was the first woman to receive the Sylvester Medal for mathematical research and the first to serve as president of the London Mathematical Society (1961–62).

In 1919 she was one of only five women studying mathematics at Oxford University. When she did not score well on her tests, she briefly considered giving up math. Fortunately, she chose to persevere, and went on to lecture at Cambridge University. She later earned a doctorate in philosophy and had her thesis published in the Quarterly Journal of Mathematics. After being awarded a research fellowship, she went on to publish more than 100 papers. One of her theorems, known as Cartwright's Theorem, is still frequently applied in signal processing. She also contributed to the study of chaos theory. In 1969 Queen Elizabeth II honored Cartwright’s accomplishments by proclaiming her Dame Mary Cartwright.

9. DOROTHY JOHNSON VAUGHAN


Dorothy Vaughan (left) at NACA
Beverly Golemba, Wikipedia // Public Domain

The excitement of space travel was made possible by years of painstaking work conducted by “human computers”—specifically, a group of mathematically proficient women who calculated a variety of scientific and mathematical data at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA. Dorothy Johnson Vaughan (1910–2008) was one of them, and her contributions are featured alongside those of several other African-American female mathematicians at NACA in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

After working as a math teacher, Vaughan took a job at NACA in 1943. In 1949, she was promoted to lead the division’s segregated work group West Area Computers, which was entirely composed of African-American female mathematicians. She became an expert in coding languages such as FORTRAN (now a popular language for high-performance computing). She described working in space research as being on “the cutting edge of something very exciting.”

10. MARJORIE LEE BROWNE

Mathematician and educator Marjorie Lee Browne (1914–1979) was one of the first African-American women to acquire a Ph.D. in math. Becoming a respected educator meant overcoming personal tragedy (the death of her mother at a young age), as well as race and gender discrimination. Fortunately, her mathematically gifted father and teacher stepmother encouraged her educational interests. She attended a private school, graduated Howard University cum laude and earned her doctorate at the University of Michigan.

Browne taught math at North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University), where she was named chair of the math department in 1951. She helped her school acquire grants, including a 1960 grant to set up a computer center, one of the first of its kind. Thanks in part to her work, the school became home to a National Science Foundation Institute for secondary education in mathematics. Browne also received the first W.W. Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education.

11. JULIA ROBINSON

Julia Robinson’s (1919–1985) early education was interrupted more than once by illness. One bout of rheumatic fever required a year of recuperation and would continue to affect her health. When Robinson returned to school in the ninth grade, she developed an interest in math. She graduated high school with honors in math and science classes, then eventually attended Berkeley, where she married an assistant professor named Raphael Robinson.

After being told she could not have children due to the residual effects of the rheumatic fever, she renewed her devotion to math, receiving her doctorate in 1948. That year she began to work on the mathematical problem known as David Hilbert’s Tenth Problem, which occupied her for decades. Her work toward solving the problem with an international team of other mathematicians is the subject of a one-hour documentary titled “Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem.” In 1975 Robinson was the first woman mathematician to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She also became the first woman president of the American Mathematical Society.

12. KATHERINE JOHNSON

Katherine Johnson receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015
NASA, Wikimedia // Public Domain

When Katherine Johnson (born 1918) wanted to study math, she faced a big obstacle. White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where she lived, did not offer schooling for black students past eighth grade. So, her father drove his family 120 miles so she could attend a high school in another town, leaving Katherine and her mother there while he continued to work in White Sulphur Springs. The math prodigy graduated by the age of 14. When she attended West Virginia State College, several professors recognized her unusual ability and mentored her. She graduated summa cum laude at the age of 18, with plans to teach. After doing so for a little while, she went to work for NACA as one of the mathematicians known as “computers who wore skirts.” Her knowledge of analytic geometry resulted in her assignment to the all-male flight research team, where she helped calculate the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s first trip into space. She was so good at her job that she stayed on the research team after Shepherd’s trip, working at Langley Research Center from 1953 to 1986.

“I went to work every day for 33 years happy,” she said. “Never did I get up and say I don’t want to go to work.” She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and her work is also celebrated in Hidden Figures.

13. MARY JACKSON

Photograph of Mary Winston Jackson
Wikipedia, NASA // Public Domain

Mary Jackson (1921–2005) grew up in Hampton, Virginia, graduating with honors from high school and receiving a bachelor’s degree from Hampton Institute in mathematics and physical science. She was hired as a research mathematician at the NACA campus in Langley, and was eventually promoted to aerospace engineer, specializing in aerodynamics.

“After five years of working in that department and taking additional courses at the Hampton Center of the University of Virginia I was invited to become an engineer-in-training through a special program and I’ve been an aerospace engineer ever since,” she said.

She later worked with flight engineers at NASA and was repeatedly promoted. After three decades, Jackson achieved the highest level of engineer, but then chose to focus on efforts to help women and minorities advance their careers. She is also featured in Hidden Figures.

14. CHRISTINE DARDEN

Color photograph of Dr. Christine Darden
NASA, Wikipedia // Public Domain

Dr. Christine Darden (born 1942) is a mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer who spent her 25-year career at NASA researching sonic booms—the sound associated with the shock wave of an object traveling through air faster than the speed of sound. After a brief stint teaching and researching aerosol physics, she landed at the Langley Research Center. There she performed calculations for engineers, eventually writing computer programs to automate the process. She became one of the first female aerospace engineers at Langley, writing a computer program to measure sonic boom. After earning a doctorate in mechanical engineering, she became the leader of NASA's Sonic Boom Group. Darden conducted research on air traffic management, as well as other aeronautics programs, and has authored more than 50 publications. She is also featured in Hidden Figures.

15. MARYAM MIRZAKHANI

As a girl, Maryam Mirzakhani (1977-2017) was not very interested in math, and dreamt of being a writer. “I never thought I would pursue mathematics until my last year in high school,” Mirzakhani told The Guardian.

The choice turned out to be a wise one: In 2014 she became the first woman and the first Iranian honored with the prestigious Fields Medal, awarded for her work on hyperbolic geometry—a non-Euclidean geometry used to explore concepts of space and time.

Mirzakhani taught math at Stanford University. Curtis McMullen, her doctoral advisor at Harvard, described her as having “a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics.” 

This story first ran in 2017.

25 Words You Didn't Know Were in the Dictionary

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iStock

With perhaps three-quarters of a million words in the English language, it's fairly reasonable to suggest that you probably won't get around to learning them all, and that there'll be plenty of words hiding away in the dictionary that you’ll never need (or want) to know.

In some cases, that's a real shame: Look closely enough and the dictionary contains dozens of eminently useful words, like euneirophrenia (the pleasant feeling of contentment that comes from waking up after a nice dream), zwodder (a cloudy, befuddled mental state caused by not getting enough sleep), and snollygoster (a disreputable politician). But in other cases—as with the 25 weird and obscure words listed here—not knowing or using them might be totally understandable.

1. ARCHIMIME

Two male friends laughing and imitating each other
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As well as being one of the strangest words in the dictionary, archimime or archmime is also perhaps one of the strangest occupations in history: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an archimime was "a chief buffoon or jester" whose job involved attending funerals and impersonating the deceased person. (No, really.)

2. AWESOMESAUCE

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Yes, this slang word for anything particularly awesome was added to the dictionary (or at least the online arm of Oxford Dictionaries) in 2015, along with the likes of fur baby, wine o’clock, manspreading, and mkay.

3. BATRACHOMYOMACHY

A frustrated-looking businesswoman at a meeting, leaning back in chair with her hand on her head
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If you know your classics, you might know this one already: A batrachomyomachy is a petty quarrel or pointless argument. That might sound straightforward enough, but when you find out that it literally means "a battle between frogs and mice," things take a turn for the unusual. The word batrachomyomachy actually derives from an ancient Greek parody of Homer's Iliad in which a frog accidentally drowned a mouse that was sitting on its back, sparking a brutal war between the two species.

4. BUTTOCKER

A smiling man wearing a head lamp working at a mine
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A buttock (in this context at least) is the next portion of a coalface to be broken up and mined out. A buttocker, according to an early 20th century Glossary of the Mining Industry, is someone who does precisely that.

5. CALLIPYGIAN

A young woman doing yoga with one leg raised in the air
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Derived from the Greek word callos, meaning "beauty" (as in calligraphy or calisthenics), someone described as callipygian has beautifully shaped buttocks. Originally an architectural term from the early 1800s used to describe the figures of classical sculptures and artworks, the word has been in wider use since the late 1900s.

6. CEPHALOMANCY

Close up of a donkey on a grassy mountain
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Sages and forecasters have used ever more bizarre methods to tell the future over the centuries, from observing the shapes of the clouds (aeromancy) to the shapes and patterns of the ashes from a fire (tephromancy). Among the strangest of all these fortune-telling practices was cephalomancy—a method of foretelling the future in which a donkey's head would be boiled or roasted on an open fire, and significance taken from the movements or crackling of its bones. One particular use of this kind of divination was in assessing a guilty party: A list of names would be read aloud while the head was cooked, and if the donkey's jaw moved or cracked when someone's name was spoken, they were said to be the guilty party.

7. EUOUAE

Antique sheet music set up on a church lectern
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Euouae is actually a mnemonic abbreviation used to memorize the sequence of a particular cadence in a certain hymn (and so the jury is out as to whether it actually constitutes a word). Nevertheless, it's found its way onto the pages of some dictionaries and as such is said to be the longest word in the English language consisting entirely of vowels.

8. FEAGUE

A white horse in a barn
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According to the English lexicographer Francis Grose's aptly-titled Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, feague is a verb meaning "to put ginger up a horse's fundament." If that sounds too ridiculous to be true, don't worry: You can always replace the raw ginger with a live eel. Both methods, Grose explained, were apparently once used "to make him lively and carry his tail well," thereby earning his owner a better price at market. Etymologically, the word is something of a mystery­, but one theory suggests that feague might once have meant merely "to agitate" or "to enliven," and the later more specific (and more unpleasant) meaning derived from there.

9. GANDER-PULLING

A group of white geese on a blue background
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Take a live goose. Cover it in grease. Suspend it by its feet from a crossbar. Then ride a horse underneath it and, as you go by, try to pull the goose’s head off. That’s the definition of the sport (if it can be called a sport) of gander-pulling.

10. HIPPANTHROPY

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Coined in the 1800s, hippanthropy is the mental delusion that you are turning into, or have turned into, a horse. Not quite the word you want? Try boanthropy, the delusion that you're an ox. Too specific? Try zoanthropy, the delusion that you are turning into an (unspecified) animal.

11. HOPLOCHRISM

A steel sword point over a background of burned paper
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Derived from a Greek word, hoplon, for a weapon, hoplochrism is an old form of medicine in which the weapon or tool that caused a wound would be treated and anointed in the same way as the wound itself, in the belief that doing so would somehow speed up the healing process. You can decide for yourself whether it ever worked.

12. LANT

Two cold beers in glasses on a wooden bar
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As a noun, lant or leint is stale or aged urine, which was once stored and preserved for its chemical and supposed medicinal properties. As a verb, to lant is to mix urine into beer to make it taste stronger. If ever there was a word you might never want to come across, surely it's this.

13. POGONOLOGY

A close-up of the lower half of a strawberry blond, bearded, freckled man's face
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First used in English in the 18th century, a pogonology is a treatise on or written description of a beard.

14. PTOMATIS

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If ever you needed an incentive to drink, owning a ptomatis might be it. Derived via Latin from Ancient Greek, a ptomatis is a cup or similar drinking vessel that needs to be emptied before it can be put down, as it is shaped in such a way that it won't stand upright open-end up.

15. QUOMODOCUNQUIZE

uccessful businesswoman multitasking with six arms at once, holding various implements
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Q-words are always a bit on the unusual side, but quomodocunquize is in a field of its own. Derived from a Latin word, quomodocunque, meaning "in whatever way possible," to quomodocunquize is to make money or earn a living by any possible means.

16. RUNNING-BUTTOCK

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Thankfully not as unpleasant as it sounds: A running-buttock is the name of a wrestling move dating from the 17th century.

17. SHIVVINESS

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A shive is a tiny splinter or fragment of something. Derived from that—in the sense that a loose thread or tag in a garment might be unpleasantly scratchy—shivviness is the uncomfortable feeling caused by wearing new underwear.

18. SMELLFUNGUS

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In his A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768), the author Laurence Sterne invented a character named Smelfungus (albeit with one L) who was habitually unimpressed with everything he cast his eyes on during his travels. Sterne based the character on fellow travel writer (and chronic nitpicker) Tobias Smollett, and in doing so gave the English language a brilliant word for a dour, pessimistic faultfinder.

19. SOOTERKIN

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As definitions go, that of sooterkin is probably among the strangest of all in the dictionary: It refers to a monstrous part-human creature said to be given birth to by Dutch women who sat on stove tops to keep warm.

20. SPANGHEW

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According to a quotation in the English Dialect Dictionary, spanghewing was the name of "a cruel custom" that involved "blowing up a frog by inserting a straw under the skin at the anus." The inflated frog was then bowled across the surface of a pond, and whoever could toss or spanghew their frog the furthest won the game. Thankfully, nobody goes around spanghewing anymore and so the word—on the rare occasion it is used—is typically used to mean "to hurl violently into the air."

21. SYPHILOMANIA

A blood vial that has tested positive for syphilis
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Should you ever need a word for it, the tendency of doctors "to overdiagnose syphilis, or to treat patients for syphilis unnecessarily," is syphilomania according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

22. TATTARRATTAT

The back of a long-haired young woman knocking on a door with a blue knocker
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James Joyce invented this word for the sound of someone knocking on a door in his novel Ulysses (1922). As well as being just a particularly strange word, it also has the distinction of being the longest palindrome in the OED.

23. THUMB-BUMPER

A happy smiling man in a blue shirt giving a thumbs up
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In addition to being a term from pinball, a thumb-bumper is 'one who closing his fist firmly but with the thumb sticking out fiercely drives it against the buttocks of another." Why you would have to do that, and why it happened frequently enough to warrant a definition in the English Dialect Dictionary, is a mystery. And probably best kept that way.

24. TYROTOXISM

Various types of cheese on a cutting board and a wooden table
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Should you ever need a word specifically to describe being poisoned by cheese, here it is.

25. WHIPPERSNAP

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To behave like a whippersnapper? That's to whippersnap.

The 20 Best Horror Movies of All Time

Paramount Home Video
Paramount Home Video

From creature features to haunted house capers, the horror genre has been giving audiences the willies since the dawn of film. Here are our picks for the 20 best of all time. (If you’re bemoaning the lack of, say, Alien or The Fly, check out our list of the Best Sci-Fi Movies of All Time first—there are just too many excellent films to justify any duplicate entries.)

1. FREAKS (1932)

Director Tod Browning’s best-known work of horror is doubtless Dracula—but his best is Freaks, about a group of sideshow performers who vow vengeance on the beautiful trapeze artist who’s married to one of their own for his money. The film was controversial upon its release, due in large part to Browning’s casting of actual “freaks”(credited in the film as “Siamese Twin,” “Half Woman-Half Man,” “Human Skeleton,” “The Living Torso,” “Human Skeleton” etc). MGM demanded extensive cuts to the film, which were insufficient to keep it from being banned in the U.K. until 1963. According to Freaks’s production manager, a woman “tried to sue the studio, claiming the film had induced a miscarriage.”

2. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

Universal, under the guidance of producer Carl Laemmle Jr., had a whole raft of brilliant horror films in the 1930s: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Mummy, The Old Dark House. The list goes on. But raised high up above its companions—as high as its eponymous character’s hair—is James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein. Whale was initially reluctant to direct a sequel to his blockbuster success but was convinced by the promise of increased creative freedom. It was a good thing, too; if Whale hadn’t been able to tell his superiors at Universal what was what, we may have ended up with something like an early treatment for the film, where Dr. Frankenstein and his wife Elizabeth literally run off and join the circus. Frankenstein’s Monster finds them, demands a bride, and is later eaten by circus lions.

3. CAT PEOPLE (1942)

Producer Val Lewton, who worked at RKO throughout the 1940s, is famed for a style of horror film that prizes atmosphere over spectacle. You rarely see the monsters in films like The Leopard Man or Isle of the Dead, because Lewton just plain didn’t have the budget for it. The first—and best—of the films Lewton produced is director Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, in which a woman (Simone Simon) is subject to a family curse where strong feelings of anger or sexual arousal turn her into, well, a Cat Person. A classy and subtle (as per Lewton’s style) look at the way society villainizes female sexuality, the film was remade in 1982 by Paul Schrader, who abandoned the previous film’s nuance for BDSM, incest, and a scenery-chewing Malcolm McDowell.

4. DIABOLIQUE (1955)

Psycho is to showers as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s masterpiece Diabolique is to bathtubs. The film, about the goings-on in a rundown French boarding school, is widely cited as having influenced Hitchcock’s Psycho. Certainly, Psycho’s “no late admittance” policy—unusual at the time—had been applied to Diabolique years before. In addition, Hitchcock tried to get his hands on the rights to Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac’s Celle Qui n’etait Plus (She Who Was No More), which would become Diabolique, but Clouzot beat them to the punch and proceeded to “[block] those rights for a year, thus effectively preventing Alfred Hitchcock from getting his hands on the story.” Hitchcock instead acquired the rights to later novel by the pair, D’entre les morts (From the Dead), which would become Vertigo.

5. PSYCHO (1960)

With Psycho, Hitchcock broke new ground in a lot of ways. For one, he changed the way film was exhibited. Prior to Psycho, it was a generally accepted practice that moviegoers could enter a theater at any point during a screening. Hitch, determined that people wouldn’t wander in halfway into the movie and wonder where mega-star Janet Leigh (killed off in the famous shower sequence in the film’s first third) was, had theaters put up notices to the effect that late admittance was not allowed. And speaking of: In Alexandre O. Philippe’s doc 78/52, which is all about Psycho’s shower scene, horror director Richard Stanley posits that the film “might have also started the rather negative trend of victims undressing before they’re butchered, which is something that’s haunted slasher cinema throughout the '70s.”

6. BLACK SUNDAY (1960)

Icon of the Italian giallo movement Mario Bava made his official feature debut (he’d done uncredited work saving other people’s pictures before) with Black Sunday, loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story Viy. Barbara Steele starred in two roles: Asa, a witch killed in the 17th century, and her descendent Katia, whose life Aja plans to take for herself from beyond the grave. Following her work on Black Sunday, Steele made other horror films and became an icon of the genre … which got her some pretty wicked admirers.

Per a Diabolique Magazine profile, “When she was at the height of her fame in Italy an invitation arrived by messenger from the newly appointed dictator of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi to join him for an informal brunch. Barbara recalled that the entire affair was lavish but a bit off-putting since each chair had an armed guard stationed by it fully equipped with submachine guns.” Years later, she received a request for a signed photograph (which she consented to) from a young man named Jeffrey Dahmer.

7. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who penned the books upon which Diabolique and Vertigo are based, were hired by director Georges Franju to adapt a novel by Jean Redon for the big screen. The film was developed by producer Jules Borkon specifically as a way to get into the horror genre that French audiences liked so much when it was American films—specifically, the Gothic horror films of the late ‘50s—being imported. A practical man, Borkon advised Franju to avoid excessive blood and animal torture, which the English and French censors, respectively, did not like. Ditto mad scientists, because, wrote David Kalat in his Criterion Collection essay on the film, “the Germans are touchy on about the whole Nazi doctor thing. This Borkon said while handing Franju a project about a mad doctor who tortures animals while cutting off women’s faces.”

Boileau and Narcejac got around this potentially very thorny (and bloody) problem by focusing the story on the mad doctor’s daughter, Christiane—though a moment near the end of the film was still shocking enough that it reportedly caused seven viewers at the Edinburgh Film Festival to faint and many others to leave the theater early. (Franju’s response: “Now I know why Scotsmen wear skirts.”)

In the United States, Eyes Without a Face was given the campy title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and paired in a double bill with The Manster (“Half Man – Half Monster – All Terror!”), which might explain why it took several years for American audiences to discover it for the haunting arthouse horror masterpiece it is.

8. THE HAUNTING (1963)

The gold standard in haunted house movies, Robert Wise’s The Haunting is based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House, in which a paranormal investigator enlists a team of strangers to document their experiences living in a purportedly haunted mansion. (Not to be confused with the Vincent Price-starring House on Haunted Hill.) The favorite horror film of no less than Martin Scorsese, The Haunting adopts the show-don’t-tell ethos of Wise’s mentor, Val Lewton, who was famous for his highly atmospheric, low-budget horror movies where you frequently don’t see the monster in question. To that end, the supernatural forces in The Haunting are rarely visualized, with the emphasis more on the deteriorating mental state of the fragile, frazzled Eleanor (Julie Harris). Harris suffered from depression on-set and isolated herself from her co-stars, the result of not feeling that they took the film as seriously as she did. Wise followed up The Haunting with a decidedly more peppy film: 1965’s The Sound of Music.

9. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

One of the reasons that George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead became such a touchstone of the horror genre is, well, it’s a damn good movie. But a more minor reason has to do with a copyright fluke that put the film in the public domain. (The theatrical distributor changed the title prior to the film’s release, but when they updated the title card, they forgot to add the required copyright notice.) No copyright means no royalty fees, which in turn meant that Night of the Living Dead got more play on TV and a larger home video release than it would have had otherwise. It also meant that other filmmakers could create their own twists on Romero’s zombie classic without having to pay the man for the privilege, helping to give rise to the robust zombie sub-genre that’s been eating brains ever since.

10. ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968)

Though directed by one film legend, Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby was at one point going to be helmed by a director of a different sort: William Castle. An icon of B-movie, gimmick-heavy horror—his most famous film is House on Haunted Hill, in which Vincent Price kills someone using an elaborate skeleton puppet, and for another of his movies, The Tingler, buzzers were installed in theater seats to gently zap moviegoers—Castle bought the rights to Ira Levin’s unpublished novel with an eye toward rehabilitating his image. (“We used to sit around our dining room table at night and instead of saying grace, my father would practice his Academy Award acceptance speech,” his daughter, Terry Castle, remembered.) Alas, it was not to be: Paramount, which co-financed Rosemary’s Baby with Castle, insisted that the film be directed by the more respectable Polanski, who was fresh off the success of his Euro horror hit Repulsion.

Though he initially found Polanski “cocky and vain,” Castle was won over by the younger director’s vision for the film, which basically boiled down to “Do it exactly like the book. Barely change anything.” Paramount won the fight, and Polanski signed on as Rosemary’s Baby’s director, with Castle producing. Some other Hollywood icons were involved behind the scenes, as well; Tony Curtis has an uncredited cameo as the voice of Donald Baumgart, and a cameo with Joan Crawford and Van Johnson playing themselves was filmed but later cut. (Johnson calling Polanski “Pinocchio” probably didn’t help.)

11. THE EXORCIST (1973)

The Silence of the Lambs’s route to Oscar success was paved by William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, which was the first horror film to be nominated for Best Picture. It received nine other nominations, too, including one for teenaged Linda Blair, playing the possessed Regan MacNeil. The nomination was met with controversy at the time, given the fact that Regan’s “possessed” voice was actually another actress: Mercedes McCambridge, who had to fight to receive on-screen credit. The Exorcist eventually won two Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound.

12. CARRIE (1976)

Between film and TV, there have been over 100 adaptations of the work of Stephen King—but Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma, was the first. Sissy Spacek got a rare-for-horror Oscar nomination for playing the title character, a telekinetic teen bullied by her fellow students and her mother. De Palma initially thought that Spacek, at 25, was too old to play the teenage Carrie, even going so far as to encourage her to skip her final screen test in favor of a big commercial she had booked. Thankfully, Spacek ignored the director’s advice; she showed up to the screen test with Vaseline rubbed into her hair “to make it all greasy and yucky. I didn’t brush my teeth … I had a little dress since junior high school that was all ratty and old, and when the hair and make up people saw me coming, they raced to me to fix me up and I was like, ‘No! Stay away!’ Then I raced over to a corner and sulked and got ready for my screen test." Recalled De Palma: “she made everyone else look silly.”

13. HOUSE (1977)

In the 1970s, the Japanese movie market was being overtaken by fun, action-heavy Hollywood imports. Wanting a piece of the action themselves, Toho Studios hired Nobuhiko Ôbayashi, who had directed a series of experimental shorts and television commercials, to come up with a Japanese answer to Jaws. What they got was … er … not that. There wasn’t a human-eating piano in Jaws, or a demon cat, or a teenage girl who’s attacked by a bunch of futon mattresses. Ôbayashi’s psychedelic, bizarre horror comedy—about a group of seven teenage girls who go on vacation to one of the girl’s aunt’s house, only to realize the aunt is a witch and the house likes to eat people—proved a success among Japanese youth. It achieved cult status and was finally released in the United States in 2010.

14. SUSPIRIA (1977)

A surreal, gory, Technicolor extravaganza of witches, ballet, and murder, Dario Argento’s Suspiria is generally considered one of the finest examples—if not the finest example—of Italian horror. But one party involved in Suspiria wasn’t too keen on being associated with it: American distributor 20th Century Fox, which released the film under little-known subsidiary International Classics Inc. so as to avoid having its name attached to the film. Per Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ Suspiria, there were “concerns about the impact [Suspiria] might have to its recently boosted industry reputation on the back of the success of George Lucas’ Star Wars.”

15. HALLOWEEN (1978)

John Carpenter’s Halloween, which begins with a six-year-old Michael Myers stabbing his nude sister, remains the only slasher film to date on the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. Upon its 2006 induction, the Library of Congress’s Steve Leggett noted that the film “launched Carpenter’s career and started the slasher genre.”

Despite its status as the godfather of a particularly gory genre, Halloween is a film without any (literal) blood. That was intentional; writes David Konow in his book Reel Terror, it was Halloween cinematographer Dean Cundey’s belief that “even before the mad slasher craze, the feeling was that too much gore and special effects can call too much attention to itself, take the audience out of the movie, and make the story less realistic. ‘We actually spoke specifically about it,’ [said] Cundey. ‘I think part of what was so effective about Halloween is you could say any of this could happen.’”

16. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

John Landis's horror-comedy An American Werewolf in London is a groundbreaking bit of filmmaking for, among other things, its werewolf makeup effects. Practical FX guru Rick Baker won the first-ever Best Makeup Oscar for his work on the film; he was subsequently nominated for 10 Best Makeup Oscars and won seven. Baker’s work on American Werewolf particularly impressed Michael Jackson who, after seeing the film, contacted Landis and Baker to direct and do makeup design, respectively, for the music video for “Thriller.”

17. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences loves its biopics and its period dramas ... but horror movies? Not so much. Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs is to date the only horror film to win the Best Picture Oscar. And it won a lot more than that: it’s only the third film in Oscar history to take home wins in the Big Five categories, a.k.a. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay (Adapted Screenplay, in Silence’s case), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), and Best Actress (Jodie Foster.) The other two Big Five victors are It Happened One Night (1934) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

18. SCREAM (1996)

Where Halloween invented the slasher genre, Scream reinvented it for a new generation, combining horror with meta comedy that skewers years of slasher movie tropes. Scream also revitalized the career of Wes Craven, a founding father of horror who made a name for himself with films like The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Still, in the mid-‘90s Craven was trying to move away from the dark, violent cinema he was associated with in an effort to avoid being pigeonholed. As such, he initially turned Scream down.

“The turning point was when a kid came up to me at a film conference or a panel I was on,” Craven later recalled. “The kid said, ‘You know, you should really do a movie like The Last House on the Left again. You really kicked ass back then, and you haven’t done it since.’ I went home and I thought, ‘Am I getting soft?’ I’ve always had this ambivalence about doing violent films, and I’ve also had this other side that says, ‘This is your voice, this is what comes naturally to you. You do it really well, go do it.’ So I called Bob [Weinstein, producer] and off we went.”

19. RINGU (1998)

One of the most influential international horror films of all time, the success of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu helped Japanese horror “[break] out of its cult status” in the West, subsequently kicking off a wave of American remakes of Japanese horror films. Ringu was remade in 2002 by Gore Verbinski as The Ring, which made more money in Japan than its source material—though not much more; Ringu made approximately $13 million in Japan, compared to The Ring’s $14.1 million. Subsequent American remakes of Asian horror hits included The Grudge (originally Ju-On), Dark Water, and Pulse.

20. GET OUT (2017)

The most recent entry on this list, Get Out has already knocked out a few milestones. Two other horror films on this list, The Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist, won the Oscar for Best Adapted screenplay, but Get Out is the only horror film to win for Best Original Screenplay; on top of that, writer/director Jordan Peele is to date the only black writer to win that award. Other Oscar noms for this scrappy horror underdog are Best Director (Peele), Best Lead Actor (Daniel Kaluuya) and Best Film.

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