When it comes to long-running horror franchises, the two that come to everybody’s mind are the “Nightmare On Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th” series. Both incredibly iconic (and fodder for Halloween costumes ’til the end of time), the franchises boast 20 films in total. If you’re looking to jump in for the best installments, that might be daunting — so, luckily, CBR has you covered. Breaking down every single film in each series, we’ve ranked all 20 movies in order of worst to best, for your convenience.
Disagree with our ranking, or have an opinion on the many outings of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger? Sound off in CBR’s TV/Film forum with your thoughts!
20. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
“Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare” is one terrible way to have ended the core “Nightmare On Elm Street” film series. Even the presence of a young Breckin Meyer (who dazzled us years later in “Rat Race”) and the lovely Lisa Zane (a solid musician, and sister, in her own right) couldn’t save it. Embodying the worst of Freddy Krueger, the film undermines and makes a mockery of the character — letting us know as much the first time we see him in the film, when he appears in what looks like a “Wizard of Oz” homage.
The film is a solid example of how far not to take Freddy’s humor, and what kind of detriment having boring protagonists is for a “Nightmare” movie. If there’s one good thing that can be said about this movie, it’s the quote from Nietzsche at the beginning, followed by the ode to Freddy’s “Welcome to Primetime, Bitch!” one-liner from the much, much better third “Nightmare” movie, “Dream Warriors.”
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19. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
You’d think throwing Jason Voorhees in New York City could be fodder for some great horror material, and a solid refresher for the franchise. Think again! An incredibly slow outing, and probably the worst of the “Friday the 13th” sequels (even though it does snapshot a late ’80s New York that had a Michael Keaton “Batman” advertisement in Times Square), “Jason Takes Manhattan” has a cast of truly forgettable characters and a series of bland deaths that don’t really do anything to elevate the franchise or what makes Jason Voorhees so terrifying.
“Jason Takes Manhattan” should be called “Jason Takes Forever to Get to Manhattan… And When He Does It Looks Like One of the Seinfeld Sets.” Seriously, New York, apart from a couple scenes in Times Square, looks incredibly fake in the film, and is relegated to dark alleyways and boring rooftops. Could we not have seen Jason murder at some of the more iconic New York City hotspots? Nope, because that would make for a good movie.
18. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
“Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” (the fifth film in the franchise) is a bad new beginning. Part of that could be because the fourth film was supposed to be the last in the series — as it killed Jason Voorhees — and closed the door on the main plot. But you’d think Hollywood could’ve mustered up some plot to bring back the iconic killer. Rather, “A New Beginning” leads us onto the idea that Jason’s been revived, only to reveal that the killer is actually a copycat. Might as well have been a dream…
The film does, however, follow an adult Tommy Jarvis — who we were introduced to in the last film — now grown up and completely insane as a result of his earlier experience with Jason. Instead of serving as a cool continuation to Tommy’s story, it really undermines the last film, depicting the character as a skittish, mostly mute shell of himself that isn’t a whole lot of fun to watch. If there’s one thing this movie has going for it, it’s some of the kills — including a brutal death-by-tree sequence that’s definitely worth checking out.
17. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Listen, “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday,” has a solid premise, so it should’ve been a solid movie. The film introduces a more supernatural idea — that Jason Voorhess is a spirit or demon, rather than an actual being — which is a cool, inventive notion. Plus, we get a little more backstory into Jason’s family as we’re introduced to his half-sister, who has the mystical ability to end Jason’s reign of terror by stabbing him with a magical blade. Out there stuff, sure, but it could have been done well.
The only problem is, the film promises that, well, Jason goes to hell… which never exactly happens. Also, the exploration of Jason’s spirit isn’t actually explored that much. We basically get a story about a body-jumping villain, that possesses random folks, and we rarely get to see Jason himself enact any murders. If we want one thing from a “Friday the 13th” film, it’s Jason killing people.
16. Jason X
Man, “Jason X” is goofy as hell. It’s fine if you like that kind of thing, but that’s not the way we dig seeing Jason Voorhees. Transporting him to the far future, the film sees the time-displaced killer ravage on a crew of one-dimensional — equally goofy as hell — protagonists that we can’t take seriously, or care about for that matter.
However, we do have to give kudos to the bravery of the filmmakers that decided to take Jason to the future. On paper, it’s a fun idea, and could be fodder for some solid sci-fi set-pieces — but it really wastes the opportunity, which is a great shame, because we’ll probably never see Jason in such a goofy as hell setting ever again. Truly a product of its crappy, crappy time, “Jason X” is best missed, unless you’re with a few friends and feel like crushing back a couple six-packs while taking in some inanity.
15. A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
With “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child,” director Stephen Hopkins attempted to go back to the franchise’s darker roots — a step back from the direction of the previous film, “The Dream Master” — one that unfortunately brought the momentum of the franchise, which was still of great quality and doing increasingly better at the box office, to a screeching halt. If there’s one thing a long-running horror franchise needs, it’s sequels that build on the established world, or at least take it to new terrifying levels. The fifth “Nightmare” film, unfortunately, does neither.
Suffering from an inconsistent tone and weakening of the characters established in the last film, “The Dream Child” attempts to go darker, but still doesn’t result in a scary or outright inventive “Nightmare” film. Though there are some cool moments, like the black-and-white sequence, the film never really offers something new to the franchise, or anything that’s all that memorable, especially compared to the previous two outings.
14. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” isn’t a particularly bad “Friday the 13th” outing, it’s just incredibly boring due to its slow pacing and thin characters. Released in 1988, “The New Blood” was supposed to be the first crossover between Freddy and Jason, until discussions fell through with studios New Line and Paramount over creative differences. Thus, we got a supernatural, telekinetic protagonist who faced off against Jason in the final film.
The premise alone sounds cool, especially since Jason got more supernatural and zombie-like as the series progressed, but the pay-off wasn’t really there until the end of the film, when we finally saw the telekinetic character, Tina (played by Lar Park-Lincoln), unleash her psychic attack on the iconic killer. Especially since this film follows the terrific sixth outing, “Jason Lives,” “The New Blood” feels extra underwhelming, following up on a film that brought new life to the long-running franchise.
13. A Nightmare On Elm Street Remake
The 2010 “A Nightmare On Elm Street” remake was a long time coming. It’s hard for a studio, with an iconic character like Freddy Krueger on its hands, to pass up free money. But remakes aren’t inherently bad things — as evident with the “Friday the 13th” revival. However, the revival of “Elm Street” didn’t pack the same punch.
Boasting a powerful opening sequence, and an origin for the new version of Freddy, the film got off on the right foot. Unfortunately, what followed quickly floundered, rehashing too many elements of the original and not injecting enough of its own modern flare. The remake also didn’t take advantage of the 21st century visual effect possibilities. Rather, the late-’80s sequels to “A Nightmare On Elm Street” did much better in building on the past, while coming up with new, inventive dream sequences for scares. If there’s one highlight, it has to be the performance from Jackie Earl Haley, who proves there can be a solid successor to Robert Englund’s iconic portrayal of Krueger.
12. Friday the 13th Part III
Released, naturally, in 3D, “Friday the 13th Part III” feels like one big gimmick through and through. The last of the original films to follow-up basically the same formula as the first, “Part III” packs some truly over the top characters, including rednecks and stoners, that are simply hard to watch at times. We almost want Jason to kill these characters senselessly… Ok, we really do.
Apart from its goofiness, “Friday the 13th Part III” mostly flounders because of its ironically one-dimensional characters that don’t give the audience anything to latch onto. There’s nothing iconic about this instalment, except for the hockey mask the Jason dons for the first time in the film. If there’s a standout moment, it has to be the opening credits, which boasts one of the finest theme songs to ever grace the silver screen. You really have to listen to believe it:
11. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
The first “Nightmare” sequel, “Freddy’s Revenge,” doesn’t really get what makes the series a franchise, and sticks out as a sore thumb in the context of the rest of the films. Mostly unconnected to the previous outing — minus the fact that the main character lives in Nancy’s old house — the sequel explores Freddy’s ability to possess a human host, and does so to mixed results. Though the visual aesthetic of the film works pretty well, especially in the transformation sequence, it’s not all that terrifying.
Interestingly, the film includes an inadvertent touch of homoeroticism, as it sees a teenage boy come to understand his sexuality. Though that makes “Freddy’s Revenge” a deeper film than one might expect — even if it’s accidental — the script by David Chaskin only scratches the surface of the theme.
10. Freddy Vs. Jason
It was a long, long time coming, but New Line Cinema managed, by the time 2003 rolled around, to get “Freddy Vs. Jason” off the ground. Unfortunately, while the premise alone is enough to get our asses firmly in seats, the film didn’t turn out so great. What it can say, though, is that it made more money domestically than any film in either franchise to date. It seems the winner of “Freddy Vs. Jason” was the studio after all!
The main fight between the two horror icons certainly delivered — and that’s what we were there for, at the end of the day — but the rest of the film mostly fell flat, feeling like a decent “Friday the 13th” sequel, and not so much a “Nightmare On Elm Street” film at all. We can see why the filmmakers might’ve had trouble combining the two worlds, but they could’ve, at least, given Freddy more than one kill…
9. Friday the 13th Part 2
For the most part, “Friday the 13th Part 2” sticks to a similar formula as the first — and that works, at least for a first sequel. The strong central characters, who actually feel empathy and aren’t simply horned-up teens, work really well for the story because we, honest to God, don’t want them to die. They’re actually good people, who aren’t all that careless, but fall victim to unfortunate circumstance and coincidence. Now, if only their empathy could save them…
“Part 2” manages to elevate the original by tackling an adult Jason Voorhees for the first time — who, yes, is finally the killer (even though he doesn’t wear a hockey mask in this one) — and the tragedy that a son experiences when he loses his mother. In Jason’s case, that means setting up a terrifying shrine with his mother’s severed head. That wonderful, horrific image will never, ever leave us.
8. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
One of the best “Friday the 13th” sequels out there, “Part VI: Jason Lives” injected new life into the franchise after the oh-so-weak fifth outing, “A New Beginning.” Redeeming the character of Tommy Jarvis, the film saw the character as a strong protagonist who was on a quest to prevent Jason resurrection at all costs. Unfortunately, in trying to end Jason once and for all, Tommy, of course, brings him back. At least it made for a cool sequence!
Seemingly “Terminator”-influenced, “Jason Lives” packs solid action apart from the death scenes, even throwing a car chase in there at one point. Tommy’s characterization is magnetic throughout the film, as we can’t help but root for the damaged guy to bring Jason down. In addition to its solid character work and action set-pieces, “Jason Lives” boasts a wicked sense of humor — with a touch of meta-ness at times — that makes the film all the more fun to watch.
7. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Years before being meta was cool, “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” hit screens in 1994, and with it came one of the most inventive horror reimaginings of all time. The film saw a “real-life” version of Freddy Krueger infiltrate our world, and thusly go after the filmmakers of the original movie. What resulted was a bold, clever and menacing take on Freddy Krueger that was a welcome return to slasher roots, at a time when the genre had faded dimmer than Ryan Lochte.
“New Nightmare” works not solely for its horror elements, but on a whole other philosophical level. The film ponders, years before movies like “Scream” and “Cabin In The Woods” did, our society’s fascination with horror, and the effect that has on us and our children. While this concept is weakened as the film goes on, it’s certainly an interesting one to explore in a slasher — especially one that was so ahead of its time.
6. Friday the 13th Remake
Outright, the “Friday the 13th” remake from Platinum Dunes is a reboot done right. It didn’t really need to happen, considering Jason’s zombie-like nature, sure, but because this is Hollywood (and the 21st century, after all) a reboot was inevitable. Of course it had to come from Michael Bay. Surprisingly, though, the movie turned out great.
Managing to combine various elements from the “Friday the 13th” mythos explored over the course of several of the original films, the remake packs a lot, and does so successfully, creating a streamlined origin for Jason Voorhees that actually makes a lot of sense — a little more sense, in fact, than it does in the original films. In addition to wonderfully-crafted deaths and a chilling performance from Derek Mears as Jason, the film boasts an ensemble of talented stars that really sell the material, including Jared Padalecki, Danielle Panabaker, Amanda Righetti and Travis Van Winkle, among others.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
The biggest box office success of the original “Nightmare” films, “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master” is considered one of the best “Nightmare” sequels — rightfully — because of its unique visual flare with each of its inventive dream deaths, and Freddy’s perfected sense of humor that was never quite nailed as well in the subsequent films.
Leave it to director Renny Harlin to deliver such a visual treat with “The Dream Master.” The director’s later efforts might be questionable, but he truly nails the balance of terror and comedy with “The Dream Master.” On a pure level of fun, it doesn’t get much better than Freddy’s fourth outing, as we’re gifted with a solid ensemble, for the most part brought over from the third film, and a truly satisfying ending that seems as though it could’ve capped off the franchise. If we had it our way, “The Dream Master” would’ve been the last “Nightmare” film in the core series, before “New Nightmare” dazzled us a few years later.
4. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
With what was supposed to be the last “Friday the 13th” film, “The Final Chapter,” turned out to be a box office smash, and one heck of a film in its own right, inadvertently pushing the studio to churn out more films in the franchise. While what followed could be questionable, “The Final Chapter” certainly deserves the praise it gets from hardcore “Friday the 13th” fans, and definitely stands as the greatest sequel the franchise ever saw.
Packing solid performances from the likes of ’80s sweethearts Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman, the film delivers with wonderful characters that we actually want to survive — and that goes a long way in a “Friday the 13th” movie. The real heart of the movie, though, is Feldman’s Tommy Jarvis, a horror-obsessed kid, who ultimately takes down Jason Voorhees — legitimately — until, of course, he had to go and resurrect him by accident two movies later.
3. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Horror sequels don’t get any better than “A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.” From a basic film criticism standpoint, the threequel tops the entire franchise in terms of sheer cinematic quality. Depicting some of the most horrific deaths in the entire franchise — including the classic marionette suicide sequence — the third film in the “Nightmare” series builds on the world established in the first film and elevates it to new terrorizing levels within the context of a mental health facility and the dreams of its haunted patients.
A lot of what makes “Dream Warriors” great can be attributed to the incredible talent that worked on the film. Behind the camera, you’ve got original “Nightmare” helmer Wes Craven back producing and contributing to the story, alongside proven writers Bruce Wagner, Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell, before their careers really blossomed. And with Russell directing — who has proven his chops handling strange, animated concepts in a live-action context since — the visual mastery is evident throughout. Plus, actors Patricia Arquette and Laurence Fishburne, among many others, turn in solid character performances to really sell the material.
2. Friday the 13th
There are some solid, even more inventive sequels, but nothing quite compares to the original 1980 “Friday the 13th” when it comes to the franchise as a whole. The one that started it all, “Friday the 13th” introduced us to Camp Crystal Lake, and the dangerous of premarital sex and drugs. Perfecting the formula of horniness + horror, “Friday the 13th” goes down in history as the archetypical slasher film.
With the original “Friday” film, Sean S. Cunningham, Victor Miller and Ron Kurz tapped into every adolescent fear instilled by parents everywhere. Teaching the simple lesson that, if you disobey order, bad things will happen, the original “Friday the 13th” didn’t even need a Jason Voorhees as a killer to cement it as an iconic piece of cinema. In fact, the revelation that the killer is Jason’s mother, Pamela Voorhees, drives the film’s themes home that much better. Who better than a real parent to punish you for carelessness and childish deviance?
1. A Nightmare On Elm Street
How could this not top the list? With “A Nightmare On Elm Street,” Wes Craven crafted one of the most iconic, influential and overall sensational horror franchises out there. Craven’s imaginative take on a real-life series of nightmare-related deaths taps into an inherent subconscious fear of dreams in each and every one of us, while also serving as an allegory for the horrific condition of sleep paralysis.
With the creation of Freddy Krueger for the film, Craven also created one of — or perhaps the — most memorable and beloved horror villains out there. From his burnt face to iconic razor-sharp claws and wicked sense of humor, Krueger endures as a terrific antagonist that you actually cheer for — but there’s a dimension to him that goes a little deeper than Jason; as does the entire series for that matter. “A Nightmare On Elm Street” is a master class in horror cinema that, with each outing, no matter the quality, manages to hit a note of fear that’s unparalleled in any other horror franchise.
How would you have rated the Freddy and Jason-led movies? Does your list agree with ours? Let us know in the comments!
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