Top 150 Genre Film Festivals + Submission Tips [June 2021 Update]

Adrian Țofei, January 2015

Latest update: June 21, 2021

UPDATE: I have finally added direct submission links to all the festivals currently on FilmFreeway or Festhome: FilmFreeway links colored green | Festhome links colored red  (all the other updates are now colored blue)

While working on a private list of the most important genre film festivals to submit my first movie Be My Cat: A  Film for Anne, I decided to make it public to be useful to fellow filmmakers as well. It instantly got over 5,000 shares (including by top festivals like Sitges or Fantasia), helping thousands of filmmakers around the world, both new and established (based on the feedback I received, calling it “the holy grail“, “gospels” or “the ultimate list“), so I decided to continue the work by constantly researching festivals and updating the list usually once or twice a year.

I take into consideration in my research over 30 other lists (see below), the opportunities the festivals offer to indie filmmakers and actors (distribution offers, publicity, networking, awards, attracting reviews in relevant publications and selections/invitations to new festivals, discovering new talents, boosting the chances for getting new projects), the number of world premieres they screen (which can be an indicator for discovery festivals), the number of years running, their status in the film industry, the location, communication, hospitality, atmosphere and safety, how they make the selected/attending filmmakers feel, the size (the number of films selected and the number of audience, press and film industry members attending), the quality of the selected films, the quality of the information on their websites and social media, the entry fee, submission process and selection process, plus my own experiences with my first movie Be My Cat: A Film for Anne and other various recommendations.

I only included international genre film festivals: horror, fantasy, sci-fi, found footage and underground. For all the festivals, regardless of type, check out my Top 100 International Film Festivals (TIFF, Sundance, Tribeca & SXSW have very popular & powerful sections for genre films, those and Cannes’ side sections are the best places for the world premiere of your genre feature film). You may also find useful my brand new Festival Strategy for We Put the World to Sleep.

I’ve also marked with “attended“, “selected” or “in the jury” the festivals that I attended or selected my movie or had me in the awards jury, for full transparency and also to make it clear when my ranking is based on research and feedback only, or also on my direct experience.

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Before starting the top, here are the lists that helped me make mine, with codes to identify in which lists each festival is mentioned (updated & newly-added lists are colored blue):

Top 10 Genre Film Festivals:

Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 7 years old to be included in top 10.

  1. Sitges Film Festival – Sitges, Catalonia, Spain, 53 years – RHoFa7, MIFF, R100, sFIAPF, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MM25, HR3, MMGe30, GGe20, AASh, V50, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
  2. Fantasia International Film Festival – Montreal, Canada, 24 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, R100, IW100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MM50-2020-2019-2018-2017-2021, MM25, noMMHoSF5, HR3, MMGe30, GGe10, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, G50
  3. Fantastic Fest – Austin, Texas, US, 16 years – RHoFa20, MIFF, R100, IW100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MMHoSF5, MM25-2017, HR20, MMGe30, GGe20, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
  4. Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival: BIFFF – Brussels, Belgium, 38 years – RHoFa7, MIFF, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, MMGe25, GGe3, DC55, MMGe50
  5. Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival: BiFan (formerly Puchon/PiFan) – Bucheon, South Korea, 24 years – RHoFa7, MIFF, R100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, GGe3, V50, DC55, MMGe50
  6. Toronto After Dark Film Festival: TADFF – Toronto, Canada, 15 years – RHoFa7, MMHo13, HR20, MMGe30, GGe20, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
  7. Beyond Fest (now accepts submissions for both features and shorts) – Los Angeles, California, US, 8 years – MMGe10, MMGe30, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, GGe10
  8. The Overlook Film Festival (formerly Stanley Film Festival) – New Orleans, Louisiana, US, 7 years – IW100, MMGe10, MMGe30, noMMHoSF5, GGe50, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50
  9. FrightFest – London & Glasgow, UK, 21 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, MMGe5, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, FD, GGe10, MMGe25, DC55, MMGe50, FFGe100
  10. Fantasporto – Porto, Portugal, 40 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, HR20, GGe50, DC55 – selected/attended in 2015

Top 25 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 11th to 25th)

Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 5 years old to be included in top 25.

Top 50 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 26th to 50th)

Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 3 years old to be included in top 50.

Top 100 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 51th to 100th)

Colored blue are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 2 years old to be included in top 100.

Top 150 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 101st to 150th) 

Newly-added section! Colored green are the festivals with direct FilmFreeway submission links. Colored red are the festivals with direct Festhome submission links only. Festivals must be at least 2 years old to be included in top 150.

Submission Tips:

(the newly-added submission tips are colored blue)

  • First of all, if you’ve never made a film before, but you’re thinking of making one, don’t listen to advices about what’s required, if that puts you down. You don’t necessarily need a script or a professional camera or a team or a lot of money. Escape the mental entrapment about what filmmaking is. The best is to find your own ways.
  • In case you have no idea whatsoever about how festivals work, here are the basics: the film is not considered a professional artistic film until vetted by at least one festival which has a certain degree of recognition in the industry. The festivals are the gatekeepers. Thousands of them are listed on submission platforms where you put your film out (via private link with password), and then you choose which festivals to submit to (some also accept submissions via email or directly on their websites). Most festivals hire programmers to watch all the films and select a few. In continental Europe, Asia and South America, a lot of fests get funded from the state budget, but in North America, UK and Australia, almost all of them take submission fees, which can still be waived in some cases. For feature films, make sure to have the world premiere in a top festival. Your success will depend on that.
  • Promote your film (project) like crazy. Use social media, send press releases, anything you can to ignite people’s interest and ultimately the interest of the film industry. A good percentage of your film’s success will be about the expectation and buzz surrounding it. 
  • Keep your genre feature film below 90 minutes if possible and never above 100 minutes. Most festivals are commercially oriented and don’t wanna risk boring their audiences and fade away in popularity. Even the artsy ones!
  • Keep your short film below 10 minutes if possible and never above 15 minutes. Festivals prefer to screen a bigger number of shorter short films instead of a single longer short film.
  • Some festival programmers won’t watch your feature film entirely and might reject it based on the first 10-20 minutes. Try to have a powerful beginning or one that shows potential for a powerful development and entices the viewer to watch more.
  • Get feedback about your final cut from people with experience in the film industry that you trust before submitting to festivals.  
  • For feature films, it’s very important to have the world premiere in a big festival. All the selections after the world premiere will be in smaller or at best similar festivals, never in bigger festivals. Plan carefully your world premiere (and also the premieres at continental and country/state/big city level), don’t settle for a little-known festival if you think your movie can do more than that.
  • For short films you don’t necessarily need to have the word premiere in a big festival. A short film can travel the festival circuit in smaller festivals, gathering publicity, before being selected to a bigger one. Although premiering in a big one is still an advantage. 
  • Don’t waste your money and/or chances submitting to world premiere your feature film in festivals which don’t screen world premieres, but select most of their films from other festivals. Focus initially on discovery festivals known for screening world premieres and leave the rest for your regional premieres.
  • Check out the genres & types of films the festival usually screens. If you’ve made a low budged found footage film, but the festival never screened low budget found footage films in the past, you might want to keep the money to submit to festivals which are more relevant for your film. Check out also the geographical region the festival focuses on.
  • Keep the cover letter very short – about three phrases of essential info if possible. Programmers are very busy and might not read long letters. Same for the synopsis, try to keep it short and catchy, similar to an IMDb plotline.
  • Include in the short cover letter the best things about your movie and yourself, to catch the programmers’ interest, like known cast & crew, past known films of yours, awards and top festivals, diversity or niche focus, anything else unique or sensational about your film. When submitting for any type of premiere (world, regional, local), mention that in your cover letter.
  • A lot of important European, Asian, South-American & African film festivals have no submission fees, because they get state support. Find them and definitely submit your film (also keep in mind that some festivals with fees for features have no fees for shorts).
  • Don’t fall for partial discount offers received via email, thinking they are personalised and the festival is interested in your film. Most of the times they are not, those are discount codes listed publicly on the submission platform or mass-sent to filmmakers. When a festival is interested in your film, they offer you a 100% discount code or fee waiver. With a few exceptions, the partial discount is just a marketing strategy.
  • Ask for fee waivers before submitting if you have good reasons to do so which are relevant for the festival, like important awards & festivals for your current or previous film, known actors, being an alumni or anything else sensational, unique or valuable that would make the festival staff want your film.
  • Knowing someone in the festival or with more power in the industry can help with at least getting a fair consideration. I used to advise against this practice, but since the established names have so many advantages, it is only fair that indie filmmakers try to use whatever they got to increase their chances of selection.
  • Do your online research and also submit to major competitions like the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes, the European Film Awards and other regional or national major film awards not listed here. For a chance at the Oscars, don’t miss the Academy Awards Qualifying Festivals for documentary features, documentary shorts, and short films (including animated shorts), and the 5 festivals known to be top Oscar boosters for feature films (Toronto, Venice, Telluride, Sundance, Cannes).
  • The biggest and best festivals for the world premiere of your genre feature film are actually not the ones in this list, but in the top 10 of my Top 100 International Film Festivals list. TIFF, Sundance, SXSW & Tribeca have very popular & powerful sections for genre films, those and Cannes’ side sections should be your priority.
  • When you get accepted and/or win an award in an important festival, email the other festivals you are waiting a decision from and inform them about your success (but try not to bother them with too many emails).
  • And finally, if you get into festivals and distributors express interest in your film, always negotiate an advance payment (minimum guarantee – MG) or at least a gross corridor. Otherwise chances are you will see little to no money later. Go without an advance or gross corridor only if the backend split is great and you trust the distributor, or if no other distributor wants your film and that’s your only chance of distribution.

Festivals to Avoid:

  • Online festivals and award events listed on submission platforms. Most are scams and won’t help your career or film in any way, no matter how well rated and reviewed they are (unless they are big festivals that went online temporarily during the pandemic, or well established award events like the European Film Awards).
  • Festivals that appear valuable, but are just cash-cows for the owners. Some are outright fake (the event doesn’t happen), while most are pseudo-festivals or scams organised to get as much money as possible from filmmakers while offering them as little value as possible (most of the times zero value).
  • Warning signs: multiple different festivals in various locations around the world or the US run by the same company or person(s) (like the numerous festivals run by Billy Adkins in the US via his company Breaking Fate Entertainment: Chicago Horror Film Festival, Indie Horror Film Festival, Horror In The Hills, Smoky Mountain Film Festival, Cinema Soup Film Festival, Laugh Or Die Comedy Fest and more), huge number of submission categories with high fees, huge number of awards given (in order to satisfy filmmakers’ ego and buy their silence), big sounding titles that have no recognition in the industry and just sound similar to established festivals, the event happens far away (different country or city) from the administrative headquarters, the festival mass-sends discount codes to filmmakers to attract more submissions, they take advantage of selected filmmakers by making them pay for promo materials, trophy, the award gala or party, the festival happens in a hotel, in the city outskirts or other improper venue/location, there’s no industry or press or even audience present besides the attending filmmakers, the films selected in previous editions have little to no online presence, the event generally looks more like a business than a film event. 
  • Established festivals that don’t offer you a fee waiver and you have info that they view paid submissions mainly as a source of revenue and select/invite most of their films directly from premium sources like sales agents, distributors, contacts or other festivals. These festivals can offer you a lot of value if selected, but you can pay big money submitting thinking you have a chance, when you actually don’t.
  • If your film is found footage, before paying to submit to any festival, make sure they’re not found footage haters. Check if they ever selected indie found footage films in previous years. I wasted lots of money submitting my first movie Be My Cat: A Film for Anne to festivals which never selected a single found footage movie in their entire history (except for big found footage studio hits which are obviously invited for their notoriety and don’t count). Such fests most probably have programmers/directors who either hate the genre or think it will put their fest in a bad light, and chances are they won’t even consider your film regardless of how good it is. I won’t name any because things can change, what was valid for my film 5 years ago might not be the case anymore, so check out if the festivals you’re interested in selected any indie found footage film in the last 5 years.