Top 100 Genre Film Festivals + Submission Tips [2020 Update]

Adrian Țofei, January 2015

Latest Major Update: May 2020

Latest Update: August 2020

Main changes in the June & July & August updates: I’ve replaced top 10 with top 7, keeping the most established genre festivals, I’ve removed FilmFreeway’s list of best reviewed festivals as a support list (too many scam festivals rated high on FilmFreeway, like Madrid & Nice IFF, which have been exposed as scams), I’ve added at the end a descriptive list of scam festivals to avoid, I’ve updated the support lists and added two new ones (including MovieMaker’s latest 25 Bloody Best Genre Fests). I’ve added new festivals in “Beyond Top 100”, mostly from Spain, Brazil, Italy and Chile. 

Main changes in the May update: In order to emphasise discovery festivals, I’ve researched & 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’ve also updated the support lists, added more submission tips for indie filmmakers at the bottom of the page and updated the existing ones.

All major changes in the last three updates are written in green.

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), helping thousands of filmmakers around the world (I’ve received feedback from both established and new filmmakers 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, but sometimes even every month.

I take into consideration in my research over 20 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 with live screenings: 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).

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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 7 Genre Film Festivals:

Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. The number of world premieres is for features only, excluding special/gala premieres. Festivals must be at least 10 years old.

  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, V50, MMGe25 – about 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, MMGe25 – 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, MMGe25 – 18 world premieres in 2019
  4. Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival: BIFFF – Brussels, Belgium, 38 years – RHoFa7, AfEFFFF, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, MMGe25, GGe10 – 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, V50 – 20 world premieres in 2019 (mostly Asian films)
  6. FrightFest – London, UK, 21 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, MMGe5, MMHoFa, HR10, MMGe30, FD, GGe10, MMGe25 – 10 world premieres in 2019
  7. Fantasporto: Oporto International Film Festival – Porto, Portugal, 40 years – RHoFa7, exEFFFF, HR20, GGe10 – 6 world premieres announced for 2020 in the fantastic, directors’ week & orient express competitions

The May update had a top 10 (with Neuchatel, Nightmares & Cinepocalypse on positions 8, 9 & 10). Following the feedback I received & also considering how hard was to decide which festivals should fill the last 3 positions, I’ve decided to reduce the top to the 7 established genre festivals that also entered my Top 100 International Film Festivals list.

Top 25 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 8 to 25)

Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. The number of world premieres is for features only, excluding special/gala premieres. Festivals must be at least 5 years old.

Top 50 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 26 to 50)

Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. The number of world premieres is for features only, excluding special/gala premieres. Festivals must be at least 3 years old.

Top 100 Genre Film Festivals:

(in alphabetical order from 51 to 100)

Colored in green are the newly-added festivals & those that climbed in the top at the latest updates. The number of world premieres is for features only, excluding special/gala premieres. Festivals must be at least 2 years old.

Beyond Top 100:

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

Colored in green are the newly-added & re-added festivals at the latest updates. The number of world premieres is for features only, excluding special/gala premieres.

Submission Tips:

(the newly-added submission tips are colored 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.
  • If you just finished shooting your first indie film and have no idea 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 (private link with password) together with info about the film, and then you choose which festivals to submit to (some festivals also accept submissions via email or directly on their websites). Most festivals receive hundreds or thousands of submissions, and for that they hire programmers to watch all the films and select only a few. In continental Europe, Asia and South America, a lot of festivals get funded from the state budget, but in North America, UK and Australia, almost all of them take submission fees, which can be as low as $2 and as high as $200 per film. So you pay in order for someone to watch the film and decide if it’s going to be selected or not. When the festival gets enough money from the state and doesn’t ask for a fee, it is paid from taxes by the community, because it is assumed that any healthy community needs art.
  • 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, South-American & African film festivals have no submission fees, because they get state support. Find them and definitely submit to those ones (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 think “we might want this film“.
  • Knowing someone in the festival can help. I used to advise against this practice, but since the established names in the industry have so many advantages, it is only fair if indie filmmakers try to use whatever they can for fee waivers and a fair consideration. 
  • 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 at 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.