Boss fights are almost as old as video games themselves, but while most land somewhere between mild annoyances and controller throwing exercises, a few are just plain terrifying. There are some bosses we truly dread facing, not because of the challenge they pose, but because they stalk the shadows, are seemingly invincible, or look and sound like the things of nightmares.
While this is a list that mostly includes bosses from horror games, that alone wasn’t a prerequisite for inclusion. There are some otherwise wholesome games that include surprisingly disturbing boss fights. We’re also using a fairly loose definition of boss fight here, as some of the most terrifying sequences are more about running away than actually defeating an enemy. With that in mind, these are the 15 scariest video game boss fights ever.
15. Andross – Star Fox 64
Star Fox 64 is for the most part a really bright, happy game where you and your animal pals become the heroes of the Lylat System. There’s nothing really scary about it, at least until you get to the somewhat baffling (and exceedingly creepy) final boss.
When you finally come face to face with Andross after he’s taunted you all game, he’s just a giant head and set of hands floating in space. Depending on which route you took to his home planet of Venom, once you’ve dealt with the head, he’ll then either charge right at you as a newly revealed robotic skull, or you’ll enter an open arena battle where you have to shoot down his giant brain. Either way, it’s a really freaky and out of place boss fight for an otherwise tame game.
14. Jen – Prey (2006)
While the 2017 game that shares the same name (and little else) has a much creepier vibe overall, nothing in it really compares to the horror of this boss fight in the original Prey. The game opens with Tommy and his girlfriend Jen abducted by aliens, and you’re led to believe that this is going to be a fairly typical “rescue the girl and get a happy ending” kind of game, but when you actually find Jen, things don’t exactly go as planned.
At first, it seems like she’s okay, just being held inside some sort of alien container. But when the pod opens, it turns out the aliens have fused her torso to a cybernetic lizard monstrosity. What follows is an extremely disturbing boss fight with Jen frequently screaming for Tommy to help her as the beast she can’t control attempts to murder her love. It’s quite possibly the best and most heartbreaking illustration of the body horror subgenre in gaming.
13. Giygas – EarthBound
EarthBound is fondly remembered as a fairly silly, offbeat, and kid-friendly RPG. And for 30 hours or so, that’s exactly what it is. But then you face the final boss, Giygas. In his first form, he’s not even that bad, just a fairly weird and very EarthBound-like alien in a mechanical spider-like tank. But when he sheds that form, things get very disturbing.
The true form of Giygas, or at least what you can perceive, is a swirling black and red horror with a nightmarish face twisted in a perpetual scream. The music shifts to a much faster and sinister tune as the fight goes on, and then things just keep getting weirder and darker as the faces keep morphing into something less and less recognizable, eventually appearing as something like alien TV static from hell. As the game creepily reminds you, “You cannot grasp the true form of Giygas’ attack.”
12. Ludwig the Accursed – Bloodborne
FromSoftware’s Gothic take on the Souls formula is full of disturbing imagery, but nothing else in the game will stick with you quite like Ludwig the Accursed. Located early in The Old Hunters DLC, you’ll first encounter a mutilated dying man beckoning for help before Ludwig reveals himself in all of his gory glory.
Is Ludwig man? Horse? Something else entirely? It’s not made clear. This is just a giant horrific chimera of body parts and screams that would give David Cronenberg nightmares. At least, despite his appearance, he goes down a lot easier than most other Bloodborne bosses.
11. Jason Voorhees – Friday the 13th (NES)
Is the NES version of Friday the 13th objectively terrible? Yes. But picture this: It’s 1990. You’re six years old. You think Jason Voorhees is awesome from what you’ve seen on TV and random merchandise in the mall, but you have somewhat responsible parents, and they won’t let you see any of his movies. They will, however, buy you a Friday the 13th NES game since there’s no way it’s going to contain the blood and nudity of the films in any recognizable form.
Now remember, the game is terrible, and there’s no internet to look things up. So instead, you wander around an 8-bit Camp Crystal Lake very confused as a big bright purple and blue Jason Voorhees randomly pops out with his machete as some surprisingly creepy, tinny music plays in the background. You die a lot until you finally corner him enough to defeat him… at least for a moment. This is the peak of scary bosses in retro gaming.
10. The Janitor – Little Nightmares
Taking heavy inspiration from Tim Burton movies and Tool music videos, Little Nightmares is an awesome platformer with a creepy vibe that’s never overly gory or violent. That doesn’t mean its enemies aren’t terrifying, though, as you’ll quickly find out when you meet the Janitor early in the game.
He may be blind, but that just makes him more dangerous, as the slightest sound will send his massive frame and arms twice the size of his body heading in your direction. And when he catches you (and he will catch you multiple times as he chases you through the level), it’s game over.
9. Pyramid Head – Silent Hill 2
Compared to some other bosses on this list, battles against Pyramid Head aren’t that difficult. The first time you face him, you can actually just avoid him without firing a single shot until he just goes away. And he actually moves quite slowly (though he hits hard and can kill you with one attack).
But like the rest of Silent Hill 2, Pyramid Head’s design is what makes him instantly iconic, and two decades later still hasn’t really been copied in any medium. No matter how you approach the fight with him, the constant whine of emergency sirens in the background and dilapidated surroundings create an unparalleled feeling of dread that really ratchets up the terror.
8. Xenomorph – Alien: Isolation
Alien is one of those franchises that has really drifted away from the spirit of the original film. The xenomorphs were never meant to be portrayed as an army that humans could easily mow down at their leisure, as so many games would have you believe. The real threat of these creatures is that they are nature’s perfect killing machines. They will use anything at their disposal to hunt you down, and when they find you, there’s almost nothing you can do to stop them.
Alien: Isolation features only one xenomorph, armed with some of the most advanced AI ever featured in a game. And while you can momentarily scare it off with your weapons, it won’t be gone for long. All you can do is to keep moving and hiding. But if you’re not careful and use items like the flashlight and tracker too much, even that will backfire, making it easier for it to find you. Almost a decade after release, Alien: Isolation remains one of the most difficult horror experiences around.
7. The Hunter – Dead Space
Dead Space has one of the more horrific concepts of any game – you’re alone in a derelict spaceship save for the undead, and the only way to defeat them is to dismember their twisted, decaying bodies. As frightening as the typical necromorph is, the Hunter tops them all. You can sever its limbs as many times as you want, but it’s just going to keep regenerating.
While putting the Hunter on ice keeps him from interfering in Isaac’s adventure for awhile, even that doesn’t stop him for good until he’s completely obliterated by the engines of a shuttle. Here’s hoping this boss fight is just as epic in next year’s remake.
6. Obscura – The Evil Within 2
First off, just what exactly is Obscura? It’s not exactly clear. At least two (maybe more) corpses make up this biomechanical monstrosity, and while it seems to have an old timey camera in place of an actual head, that doesn’t keep it from making some very…uh…interesting feminine sounds when Sebastian attacks it. Seriously, it’s hard to tell whether Obscura is in pain when you’re fighting it, or really, really enjoying the whole thing.
But what really makes Obscura terrifying is how it moves. Despite its human parts, it writhes and shimmies more like an insect, contorting its three legs in all sorts of impossible positions, and regularly jumping up on the ceiling. You have to face this thing twice in The Evil Within 2, and while you don’t have to actually do enough damage to drop it either time, doing so does give you a hefty reward.
5. Rat King – The Last of Us Part 2
Both of The Last of Us titles easily rank among the best games ever made, but despite being post-apocalyptic games heavily influenced by zombie apocalypse fiction, they’re not really known for being scary. It’s debatable whether you could even really consider them to be survival horror games. There is, however, one part of the series that is unquestionably terrifying: the Rat King.
Despite the name, the Rat King has nothing to do with actual rats. Instead, it’s a giant mass of infected that have been fused together over the years. After a brief chase through the corridors of the long neglected hospital, the Rat King takes damn near everything you’ve got to put it down for the count. Bring bombs and a flamethrower on top of your firearms. Even with all that, you’re going to have to a tough time taking this thing apart, especially when it splits into two parts.
4. Marguerite Baker – Resident Evil 7
Many Resident Evil fans will tell you that the seventh entry in the long-running series is the most frightening, with this boss fight against the Baker family matriarch usually cited as a major reason why. By this point in the game, you’ll be well acquainted with Marguerite and her giant flies, but when it’s time confront her in the Old House, she’s changed for the worse.
No longer even attempting to look like a sweet middle aged lady, she’s now an elongated, insectoid horror, and she’ll use that to her advantage to climb walls and ceilings to get away from you, then grab you with her disturbingly long arms when you least expect it. And then, of course, the flies come back into the fold one more time. The best way to take out Marguerite is to concentrate fire on her distended, abdomen hive, but she puts up a surprisingly tough fight.
3. Mr. X – Resident Evil 2 (2019)
One of the original invincible bosses, Mr. X is more terrifying than ever than the 2019 remake of Resident Evil 2. This tyrant establishes that he’s unlike any other enemy in the game right from the start. If you’re playing as Leon, he bursts through a brick wall. In Claire’s scenario, he literally shrugs off a crashed helicopter. And then, no matter what you do, he just keeps coming. A lot of gunshots can momentarily stun him, but after a few seconds, he’s right back up, moving from room-to-room in the Raccoon City Police Department until he finds you. The entire time, his grim, emotionless stare never changes.
The constant threat of Mr. X makes this part of the game extremely tense on the standard difficulty, and encounters with him can easily end your run on the higher difficulties. At least Leon finally gets the opportunity to take him down at the end of his story.
2. Laura – The Evil Within
Laura certainly knows how to make an entrance. The first time you encounter her in the criminally underrated The Evil Within, she bursts out of the floor in a fountain of blood screaming the entire time. Somehow, her actual appearance is even scarier. This terrifying, multi-limbed abomination looks like the love child of a spider and one of the ghosts from The Grudge.
When it’s time to fight her, she hits hard, teleports, and also has some of the highest health of any enemy in the game. Fire takes her down faster, but every time you set her aflame, she just starts screaming again. It’s rare for any horror game enemy to live up to its grotesque appearance, but somehow, the actual experience of fighting Laura is even more terrifying than her twisted visage.
1. The Baby – Resident Evil Village
By incorporating more of the action horror gameplay of earlier Resident Evil titles, Village is actually not nearly as scary of a game as the gritty Resident Evil 7. There is one major exception though: the Baby. Holy crap. That damn Baby. Midway through the game, you’ll have bested the series’ new take on vampires and werewolves, and you’re probably feeling pretty comfortable by the time you head to House Beneviento to face Donna and her sinister dolls.
But then, as you enter the house’s dimly lit basement without any weapons, you’ll start to hear the cries of a baby. That makes sense. Ethan is looking for his infant daughter and the stress is getting to him at that point, but that still can’t prepare you for what comes next: a massive, slimy wormlike baby…thing that looks more like something out of the Akira anime than a Resident Evil game. There is no fighting back. If it catches you, you die instantly. All you can do is run and hide as it stalks you in the cramped basement, making horrific distorted baby noises the entire time. If you can get past this boss without tensing up at least a little, then truly no game can scare you.