Scream is a 1996 American satirical slasher film directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson. The film stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, and Drew Barrymore. Released on December 20, it follows the character of Sidney Prescott (Campbell), a high school student in the fictional town of Woodsboro, California, who becomes the target of a mysterious killer in a Halloween costume known as Ghostface. The film combines black comedy and "whodunit" mystery with the violence of the slasher genre to satirize the clichés of the horror movie genre popularized in films such as Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and Craven's own A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Scream was considered unique at the time of its release for featuring characters who were aware of real-world horror films and openly discussed the clichés that the film attempted to subvert.
Inspired by the real-life case of the Gainesville Ripper, Scream was influenced by Williamson's passion for horror films, especially Halloween (1978). The script, originally titled Scary Movie, was bought by Dimension Films and was retitled by the Weinstein Brothers just before filming was complete. The production faced censorship issues with the Motion Picture Association of America and obstacles from locals while filming on location. The film received positive reviews and was a financial success, earning $173 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing slasher film until the release of Halloween (2018). It still remains the highest-grossing slasher film in adjusted dollars. It received several awards and award nominations. The soundtrack by Marco Beltrami was also acclaimed, and was cited as "[one] of the most intriguing horror scores composed in years". The score has since earned "cult status". Scream marked a change in the genre as it cast already-established and successful actors, which was considered to have helped it find a wider audience, including a significant female viewership.
Scream was credited with revitalizing the horror genre in the 1990s, which was considered to be almost dead following an influx of direct-to-video titles and numerous sequels to established horror franchises of the 1970s and 1980s. These sequels drew decreasing financial and critical success, as they exploited clichés upon which films in the genre had become reliant. Scream's success spawned a series of sequels, though only Scream 2, released the following year, achieved an equal level of commercial and critical success. In the years following the release of Scream and its sequels, they were accused of inspiring and even inducing violent crimes and murders.
High school student Casey Becker receives a flirty phone call from an unknown person, during which they discuss horror movies. However, the caller turns sadistic and threatens her life. He reveals that her boyfriend Steve Orth is being held hostage on her patio and demands she answer questions about horror films. After Casey gets one wrong, Steve is murdered in front of her. When Casey refuses to answer more questions, she is murdered by a masked assailant as her parents come home. Shortly after, they find her corpse hanging from a tree.
The following day, the news media descend on the town and a police investigation begins. Meanwhile, Sidney Prescott struggles with the impending first anniversary of her mother, Maureen's, murder by her lover Cotton Weary. While waiting at home for her friend Tatum Riley, Sidney receives a taunting phone call. After she hangs up, she is attacked by the killer but evades him. Sidney's boyfriend Billy Loomis arrives shortly after, but after he drops his cell phone, Sidney suspects him of making the call and flees. Billy is arrested and Sidney spends the night at Tatum's house, where she receives another ominous call.
The next day, Billy is released and suspicion shifts to Sidney's father Neil Prescott, as the calls have been traced to his phone. School is suspended in the wake of the murders. After the students have left the school, the killer stabs Principal Arthur Himbry to death in his office. Tatum's boyfriend Stu Macher throws a party to celebrate the school's closure. The party is attended by Sidney, Tatum, their friend Randy Meeks, and many other students. Reporter Gale Weathers attends uninvited to cover the situation, as she expects the killer to strike. Tatum's brother Deputy Dewey Riley also looks out for the murderer at the party. The killer corners Tatum in the garage and murders her by crushing her neck with the garage door. Billy arrives to speak to Sidney privately and the two have sex, while Dewey and Gale investigate the area nearby. Many party attendees are drawn away after hearing news of Himbry's death, leaving only Sidney, Billy, Randy, Stu, and Gale's cameraman Kenny.
After having sex, Sidney and Billy are confronted by the killer, who attacks Billy. Sidney narrowly escapes from the house and seeks help from Kenny, but the killer slashes his throat. Gale and Dewey, having discovered an abandoned car that belongs to Neil Prescott, make their way back. Gale tries to escape in her van but drives off the road to avoid hitting Sidney and crashes. Meanwhile, Dewey is stabbed in the back while investigating in the house, and Sidney takes his gun for protection. Stu and Randy appear and accuse each other of being the killer. Sidney retreats into the house, where she finds Billy wounded but still alive. She gives Billy the gun before he lets Randy into the house and shoots him. Billy reveals that he feigned his injuries and is actually the killer, with Stu shortly outing himself as his accomplice. Billy and Stu discuss their plan to kill Sidney and pin the murder spree on her father, whom they have taken hostage.
The pair also reveal that they murdered her mother and framed Cotton for it, as she was having an affair with Billy's father, which drove his mother away. Gale, who survived the crash, intervenes, and Sidney takes advantage of this to turn the tables on her attackers, knocking out Billy with an umbrella and dropping a television set on Stu's head, killing him. Billy then awakens and attacks Sidney, but Gale shoots him. Randy is revealed to be wounded but alive, and remarks that the killer always resurfaces for one last scare. Sidney takes the gun and shoots Billy in the head, killing him for good. As the sun rises and police arrive, Dewey, badly injured, is taken away by ambulance and Gale makes an impromptu news report about the night's events.