Top 100 Horror & Fantasy Film Festivals + Submission Tips [May 2020 Major Update]

Adrian Țofei, January 2015

Latest Major Update: May 2020

Major update emphasising discovery festivals! I’ve included the number of world premieres of feature films screened by most top festivals on my list in their latest edition (excluding special/gala screenings), which has caused major changes in the top! For the world premiere of their movies, filmmakers have a higher chance of selection when submitting to festivals which usually screen world premieres, compared to festivals which mostly screen regional premieres of movies coming from other festivals.

I might not find the time to finish the research on all the festivals on my list, since a lot of them do not mention the number of world premieres in their press releases or programs and I need to manually check out every movie. If you represent a film festival and would like to send me your latest edition’s number of feature world premieres (excluding special/celebrity/gala screenings), please do so using my contact info. Thanks!

I’ve also added more submission tips for indie filmmakers and updated the existing ones. Check them out at the bottom of this page!

P.S. If you find my list and/or tips useful, please consider supporting my efforts on Patreon.com/AdrianTofei. Thank you!

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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 got thousands of shares and ended up helping thousands of filmmakers around the world, so I decided to continue the work by constantly researching festivals and updating the list (usually twice a year), taking into consideration over 20 other lists (see below), the opportunities the festivals offer to both indie and bigger films/filmmakers/actors (distribution offers, publicity, networking, awards, attracting reviews in relevant publications and selections/invitations to new festivals, boosting the chances for the Academy Awards, 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 with live screenings: horror, fantasy, sci-fi, found footage and underground (by international I mean festivals that screen films from multiple countries). 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).

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

Top 10 Genre Film Festivals:

(Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest update. The number of world premieres is for feature films only, excluding special/gala screenings.)

  1. Sitges Film Festival / Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantastic de Catalunya – Sitges, Catalonia, Spain, 53 years – RHoFa7, AfEFFFF, R100, sFIAPF, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MM25, HR3, MMGe30, G50, GGe3, AASh – at least 12 world premieres in 2019 in the fantastic competition and the sections noves visions, panorama, midnight x-tremebrigadoon & orbita
  2. Fantasia International Film Festival – Montreal, Canada, 24 years – RHoFa20, SuEFFFF, R100, IW100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MM50-2020-2019-2018-2017, MM25, noMMHoSF5, HR3, MMGe30, GGe10 11 world premieres in 2019
  3. Fantastic Fest – Austin, Texas, US, 16 years – RHoFa20, SuEFFFF, R100, IW100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, MMHoSF5, MM25-2017, HR20, MMGe30, GGe3 – 18 world premieres in 2019
  4. Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival: BIFFF – Brussels, Belgium, 38 years – RHoFa7, AfEFFFF, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, GGe3 – 8 world premieres announced for 2020
  5. Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival: BiFan (formerly Puchon/PiFan) (focused on Asian genre films) – Bucheon, South Korea, 24 years – RHoFa7, SuEFFFF, R100, MMGe5, MMHoFa, GGe10 – 20 world premieres in 2019 (mostly Asian films)
  6. FrightFest – London, UK, 21 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, MMGe5, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, FD, GGe10 – 10 world premieres in 2019
  7. Fantasporto: Oporto International Film Festival – Porto, Portugal, 40 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, HR20 – 6 world premieres announced for 2020 in the fantastic, directors’ week & orient express competitions
  8. Neuchatel International Fantastic Film Festival – Neuchatel, Switzerland, 20 years – RHoFa20, AfEFFFF, MMGe15, MMHoFa, HR20, GGe10 – at least 3 world premieres in 2019
  9. Nightmares Film Festival – Columbus, Ohio, US, 5 years – MMGe30, GGe50 – 5 world premieres in 2019
  10. Cinepocalypse (formerly Bruce Campbell’s Horror Film Fest) – Chicago, Illinois, US, 7 years – MMGe30 – 5 world premieres in 2019

Top 25 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 11th to 25th)

(Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest update. The number of world premieres is for feature films only, excluding special/gala screenings.)

Top 50 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 26th to 50th)

(Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest update. The number of world premieres is for feature films only, excluding special/gala screenings.)

Top 100 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 51st to 100th)

(Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest update. The number of world premieres is for feature films only, excluding special/gala screenings.)

Beyond Top 100:

(festivals that barely missed the top, in alphabetical order)

(Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest update. The number of world premieres is for feature films only, excluding special/gala screenings.)

Submission Tips for Indie Filmmakers:

(the newly-added submission tips are coloured in green)

  • 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 needed, 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. Find your own ways.
  • Promote your film even before you start the production. 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 created around 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. I’ve mentioned the number of world premieres for most top festivals in my list, but I might not find the time to finish my research on all of them, since most do not mention it in their press releases or programs and I need to manually check out every movie. I’m also excluding special or gala premieres from my count, which are irrelevant for most filmmakers.
  • 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, 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 & African film festivals have no submission fees, because they get state support. Find them and definitely submit to those ones. I plan to also list feature submission fees for most festivals on my list (keep in mind that some festivals with fees for features have no fees for shorts).
  • Some festivals view paid submissions mainly as a source of revenue and select/invite most of their films from other sources like contacts, recommendations, other festivals, sales agents etc. 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 or valuable that would make the festival staff think “we might want this film“. I wouldn’t suggest asking for fee waivers for financial reasons only – that is relevant only for you, not for the festival, and by doing that you contribute to festivals receiving thousands of similar emails and ignoring all of them, including the ones which they wouldn’t normally ignore.
  • 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.
  • Don’t waste your money on submitting to award events or online festivals listed on submission platforms. They won’t help your career or your film in any way (unless they are big festivals that went online temporarily during the pandemic). There are also thousands of festivals on FilmFreeway which appear valuable, but are just cash-cows for the owners. Some are outright fake (the event doesn’t happen), while most are pseudo-festivals organised to get as much money as possible from filmmakers while offering them as little value as possible. Warning signs: multiple festivals around the world run by the same company, huge number of submission categories with high fees, big-looking titles like Berlin Independent Film Festival or Madrid International Film Festival that have little to no recognition in the industry, the event happens far away (different country or city) from the administrative headquarters, the festival mass-sends discount codes to filmmakers, they take advantage of selected filmmakers by making them pay for the trophy or award gala, the festival happens in a hotel, 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. 
  • But do your online research and 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, Tribeca & SXSW 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 at distribution.