Famous for horror productions such as Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, and his 1972 debut The Last House on the Left, Craven died Sunday of brain cancer in Los Angeles.
Though dream-demon Freddy Krueger is his most famous creation, Craven's cinematic talents ranged from comedy to crime thrillers, with 2005's Red Eye among his biggest hits. He was also a birdwatcher, serving on the board of California Audubon.
He is survived by his wife, Iya Labunka, and two children, Jessica and Jonathan Craven.
The BBC collected some early tributes posted online by colleagues and collaborators.
Reflecting on his career, he once said in an interview: "I tried to make movies where I can honestly say I haven't seen that before and to follow my deepest intuitions and in some cases literally my dreams."
Actors posted tributes on social media including actress Courtney Cox, who starred in Craven's 1996 Scream and appeared in the franchise's three subsequent films.
"Thank you for being the kindest man, the gentlest man, and one of the smartest men I've known. Please say there's a plot twist."
News of Craven's death was posted to his twitter account late Sunday night.
Justin Wm. Moyer wrote a long obituary, for The Washington Post, which traces the origins of Craven's art.
Born in 1939 in Cleveland, Craven's childhood came with the trauma necessary to an artist obsessed with the macabre: death and religion. The director-to-be lost his father, an alcoholic factory hand, in his youth, and was raised by a strict Protestant family.
"I came out of a very religious background," he said in 1984. "As fundamentalist Baptists, we were sequestered from the rest of the world. You couldn't dance or drink or go to the movies. The first time I paid to see a movie ('To Kill a Mockingbird') I was a senior in college. … My whole youth was based on suppression of emotion. As they say in psychological circles, my family never got in touch with their rage. So making movies — these awful horror movies, no less — was, I guess, my way of purging this rage."
Hollywood's lost a rare species in Wes Craven. The true Gentleman.
— Robert B. Englund (@RobertBEnglund) August 31, 2015
Director Edgar Wright remembers what it was like to be young in the VHS slasher era: "Rest In Peace, Wes. We willingly give you full permission to haunt our waking dreams forever."
Like many film fans who grew up in the 70's and early 80's, Wes Craven's name became to me synonymous with cutting edge horror. When I grew up in a VHS less house, I really could only dream of the horrors behind the forbidding posters or video box art of movies like 'The Last House On The Left', 'The Hills Have Eyes' and 'Deadly Blessing'. These were films I was not really allowed to see, but as a young horror obsessive I needed to know everything about them.