Ranking the A Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise
Here at Flickchart, we love ranking movies. After all, that is the premise of the site. In honor of the glorious Halloween season, let’s rank one of the most definitive horror slasher franchises: A Nightmare on Elm Street. Centered on the exploits of Freddy Kreuger, this series has followed the dream demon as he has hacked and slashed teens to death since 1984. The installments have ranged from excellent to terrifyingly awful. Which movies haunt our dreams (in a good way) and which give us nightmares? Read on to see our answer.
“I’ll get you my pretty… and your little soul too!”
This opening quote from Freddy is right one about one thing: this movie is soul-stealing. The 1991 installment was the last entry in the main franchise (aside from the non-canon entries and remake) and for good reason. Freddy’s Dead is just a bad movie. Cheesy, boring, and completely unnecessary, Freddy’s Dead is the epitome of sequel money-milking run amok. The title says it all, as this movie killed Freddy and the Nightmare franchise nearly for good.
Director Rachel Talalay‘s directorial debut does almost everything wrong. The script is one of the most bare-bones in the series, which is saying something. The barest constructs of what could be called a plot follows “John Doe” (Shon Greenblatt) as one of the last surviving children of Springwood, Ohio. Freddy has managed to kill off every child in town over the space of a decade and has become very powerful. He uses Doe to move beyond the confines of Springwood so he can continue to kill more children.
This movie spits all over the legacy and mythos of the franchise, and all for the worst. Whereas Freddy’s source of power was initially rooted in the concept of fear, he is now revealed to be powered by “dream demons” who keep bringing him back because. . . movie. These awkward worm puppets are incredibly stupid and have ridiculously cheesy voices. Freddy is given so much background that all of the intrigue and mystery of his character is lost. The burned killer from the first movie, motivated by a fiery fight for revenge, is in this movie the product of abuse and spousal troubles. He’s revealed to have a daughter who ends up killing him for good in what has to be the single most awful scene in the entire franchise.
The best part of the movie is also the best part of most of these movies: the deaths. The most innovative one is where Freddy kills a partially-deaf teen in an intriguing experiment with the movie’s sound design. The rest of the movie’s kills are more silly, as Freddy has devolved from the darkly humorous monster of the first film to a practical jokester. The acting in the movie is across the board bland aside from Robert Englund who always gives Freddy his best effort no matter what script he has to work with. Regardless, Freddy’s Dead is a waste of time and not worth watching except for die-hard fans of the franchise. Even then it’s almost not worth it, as the slaughter of Freddy’s character and dignity is the movie’s most cringe-worthy kill.
- Global Ranking: #4,671
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- Win 31% of matchups
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I was tempted to place this film at the bottom of the list. The movie is devoid of creativity and about as prime an example of soulless (hah!) corporate remakes as you can find. If you’ve seen the original film, you’ve seen this one except for several caveats. It’s directed by Samuel Bayer in his first and only feature length movie (I wonder why) and produced by Michael Bay and other corporate Hollywood people. It’s exactly what A Nightmare on Elm Street would be like if produced by Michael Bay and directed by some one-and-done rando: there’s no mystery, no atmosphere, no slowly-growing dread, and nothing interesting about it.
It’s a near beat-for-beat recreation of the original, but without any of Wes Craven‘s talent — or for that matter any other talent. Take one of the most iconic shots of the original: Freddy pokes his head into a wall above a sleeping girl and the wall seemingly stretches out to accommodate the burnt killer. It’s recreated here with CGI and no sense of tension or dread, and thus falls completely flat. It’s frankly embarrassing that they managed to take such good material and muck it up so completely. Bay and Bayer’s idea of dread seems to be to make the color palate of the film as dark and miserable as possible. They restore Freddy’s child molester background that Craven originally intended for the first movie but chose not to use due to an actual string of molestations in LA at the time. At this later date, too, it feels inappropriate and out of place.
The only redeeming value that elevates it above Freddy’s Dead is some of the acting. Jackie Earle Haley can’t touch Englund, but he does have a vague air of menace about him. It’s apparent that he’s struggling to act beneath volumes of make-up (though thankfully not relentless CGI). Rooney Mara is also decent enough as the leading female protagonist, Nancy, even if she can’t equal the naturalism of the original performance. This movie is at least as pointless as Freddy’s Dead, though, and I can’t recommend it even to fans of the franchise.
- Global Ranking: #10,539
- 9/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 31% of matchups
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I don’t flat-out revile this movie like other fans of the franchise often do. That’s not to say that it’s a good film, but its terrible reputation seems a little overstated to me, as there are some decent scares and creative ideas.
I think the majority of the criticism stems from the film’s overly-obvious homoerotic undertones and the way that material was handled. Director Jack Sholder finally admitted in 2010 that he was exploiting gay panic in the film, which is further compounded by the fact that the main protagonist, Mark Patton, was gay himself and still in the closet at the time. Though many involved in the production insist that this was coincidental, Patton has said that he felt exploited at times.
There are valid concerns, but even so, there is material here to appreciate. This 1985 sequel to the original hit movie is one of the most narratively detached of the main sequels. It continues little from the story of the first movie aside from the house of the previous film’s protagonist. Later sequels would start a tradition of carrying over the last surviving protagonist from film to film, but the characters in this entry belong only to this entry. Teen boy Jesse Walsh deals with the nightmarish Freddy through clues left behind in a diary from Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy.
Further emphasizing the departure from the other films is Freddy’s plan to use Jesse to get into the real world. This plan seems especially odd given that Freddy’s power lies in the Dream World, but the movie doesn’t really bother to explain the logic. It’s simply meant to serve the metaphor of Jesse struggling with his identity as a gay man, and it does make for some effective scares as Freddy slowly starts ripping out of Jesse’s body. There are several creative death scenes, though Freddy also begins his slow descent into the wise-cracking jokester of the later films here. Despite this, Englund and the rest of the actors form one of the better casts in the series. In fact, Patton might be the best protagonist aside from Langenkamp.
Overall, there was plenty of potential here for this to be one of the superior films in the franchise. It’s unfortunately hampered by some poor script choices, including the cringe-inducing ending of the main female helping Jesse beat Freddy (his gay identity) back by declaring her love for him over and over. The power of love may be a strong thing, but this ain’t the 80’s franchise for that. Get of here, McFly! Still I think Nightmare 2 is worth a visit and should be given more consideration than it receives.
- Global Ranking: #3,795
- 5/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 29% of matchups
- 35 users have it in their top 20
Though Dream Child is a fair bit better than some of the later movies, it was still very indicative of a franchise beginning to lose its steam. Director Stephen Hopkins is now better known for his TV work, but his second movie was this 1989 sequel. Hopkins makes some good choices and some bad ones. On the one hand, he adds a Gothic aesthetic that matches the tone of the franchise fairly well. An early scene in which Kreuger’s mother is raped by hundreds of insane patients, resulting in her becoming pregnant with Freddy, is well done from a technical standpoint. The set design and lighting are distinctive and help this movie stand out from earlier entries in the series. On the other hand, we have the plot point I described in the previous sentence. The simple explanation provided in the first movie is all that is needed to establish Freddy as a character. The sequels just kept providing more lore and background than was necessary.
In any case, Freddy’s plan in this film is to use Alice, the last surviving female of the previous film, as a conduit for him to have a child filled with his darkness born into the world. And to the filmmakers’ credit, there are good decisions made with this story. The script is filled with some powerful parallels to how society treats young pregnancy and the burdens of motherhood. Lead actress Lisa Wilcox praised the movie for being willing to tackle those issues, though acknowledged that a slasher series was probably not the best vehicle to do so. Indeed, the movie is a little on the nose at times, especially in the context of a film where Freddy is spouting off one-liners and constantly referring to women as b*tches.
Dream Child has plenty of flaws. Much of the acting is questionable and seems to bespeak halfhearted efforts from many of the cast. The story becomes well beyond nonsensical at times, as with the whole issue of Freddy’s mother’s ghost having to stop him and how Freddy is reborn. Also, for a slasher film, the number of deaths is very low. Granted, the deaths are pretty well-done, but the movie feels lackluster in comparison to the rest of its subgenre. Still, franchise fans will find plenty to like, and the movie’s brisk pace means that nothing overstays its welcome for too long.
- Global Ranking: #4,861
- 7/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 27% of matchups
- 29 users have it in their top 20
The early 00’s were a time for 80‘s fanboy dreams to come true. Multiple horror franchises clashed, from 2004‘s Alien vs. Predator to this 2003 film. Freddy vs. Jason served as the final entry in both franchises (until their inevitable relaunches) and was perhaps a fitting way for the series to end. While this isn’t a critical darling by any stretch of the imagination, it has a maniac energy and is over the top enough to be fairly entertaining. The premise is that Freddy has lost all of his power due to nobody in Springfield remembering him anymore and thus not fearing him (thankfully, this ignores the stupid dream demons from Freddy’s Dead). He recruits Jason from Hell to return to Springfield and start hacking people up to make them think that Freddy has returned and restore his power. It works until Jason won’t stop killing and Freddy decides to take Jason down to protect his kills. It’s kind of a silly plot, really, but its not like either of these franchises has had especially notable storylines.
There is certainly plenty of stupid material and shoddy workmanship here. Director Ronny Yu chooses to inject crappy screamo rock music at random points, robbing many scenes of their impact. The opening of the film sees Freddy throwing a temper tantrum and spouting off more dialogue than he needs for six movies. Freddy showing up as the hookah-smoking caterpillar midway through the movie is really silly, too. The fight between Freddy and Jason in the Dream World is rather uncreative, as the filmmakers forget what made the Nightmare franchise unique and different from other slasher films; Freddy basically just uses the Force and makes Jason crash into things, a far cry from the inventive deaths in the earlier films.
Even so, there is a delightful fanboy joy that comes from seeing two iconic horror icons square off. The final battle is a little more worthy — the two hack each other to bits resulting in a big, bloody mess. Plenty of homages are paid to both franchises, though Nightmare gets more attention. Robert Englund delights as Freddy in his final-ever performance of his most famous role. Jason gets perhaps the best kill in the film when he guts somebody and breaks them in half with a bed. Fans of both franchises will find something to like, and though this doesn’t stand up against the top entries in the Nightmare series, it is plenty of fun to watch.
- Global Ranking: #5,412
- 8/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 24% of matchups
- 145 users have it in their top 20
How appropriate is it that the 4th film is 4th entry on the list? 1988‘s The Dream Master is very middle-of-the-pack. It tries to outdo the creativity of the third film and falls somewhat short. Still, it features a good mix of schlock, story, and brutal murder. While this is the film where the balance between cheesy one-liners and dark humor tips more into the cheese territory, Englund is clearly having lots of fun and that helps viewers have fun, too.
Following the events of Dream Warriors, the surviving cast members have been living a relatively normal life. That is, until their dark dreams begin again, and in one of the greatest, schlockiest scenes in the series, a dog turns into a demon and pisses fire all over where Freddy is buried in the Dream World, thus reviving him. Yes, that actually happens. It’s great. It’s up to the dream kids to beat him again, though this time we get a different female protagonist in the form of Alice.
Director Renny Harlin is obviously the best director on the series aside from Wes Craven. Craven even praised Harlin as the one director who got the story more than any other in the series. This film features some fairly brutal kills, including the famous cockroach transformation kill that lives up to its gross-out premise. Another creative one comes in the form of a waterbed, with some inventive visual effects that make it one of the better kills in the series.
A common thread through these mid-range Nightmare films is the acting and scripts. The cast is a mixed bag, with some line deliveries being particularly cringe-worthy. The story is fairly bare-bones, mainly centering on Freddy trying to exploit the powers of one girl to pull others into her dreams to expand his killing spree beyond Elm Street. Still, the final showdown between her and Freddy in a church feels appropriate to the themes and content of the franchise. This would have made a suitable ending to the Nightmare series, but alas, the money train continued onward. Dream Master is a decent enough flick that fans of the franchise and even others may be able to get something out of.
- Global Ranking: #3,041
- 4/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 32% of matchups
- 27 users have it in their top 20
Part Nightmare bookend and part Scream prelude, this 1994 entry marks the triumphant return of Craven to the director’s chair exactly ten years after he began the series. Likely disappointed by the lackluster ending of the series in Freddy’s Dead and the overall downhill turn of the franchise, Craven decided to try again with something completely different. As I said, you can see the beginnings of Craven testing out ideas for Scream in New Nightmare. Taking place in the “real” world, this meta film examines not only the tropes of the slasher series, but the effects horror films might potentially have on their stars. Following Heather Langenkamp as herself, she struggles with nightmares of Freddy Kreuger that slowly begin to bleed from the world of fiction into reality.
This movie is exceptional among the Nightmare films for more than one reason. For example, the acting is actually good! From Langenkamp to Englund to Craven himself, all of the performances are spot-on as “real” versions of themselves. This makes the questions raised about slasher films and their effect on society and the people involved feel all the more potent. As a man who’s dedicated so much of his career to horror, Craven displays a high degree of awareness about what he’s doing. Freddy in this movie is appropriately darker and more menacing. The giddy jokester that had dominated the series for so long is largely set aside in favor of a more burnt and intimidating foe.
In perhaps a knowing nod, the film’s final act does suffer. Even if this was intentional, it doesn’t help, as the film seems to lose its way in giving in to the idea that the actors must relive their roles to defeat Freddy for good. John Saxon is pleasant to see again, but his performance feels tired by the end as the film ends with the typical mixture of nonsense that is used to defeat Freddy. The film also makes so many references to the original film that it grows tiresome in its self-awareness. New Nightmare differs, though, from any other film in the series. Fans of more straight-up slasher work may find this film grating, but it’s deeper examination of horror and its role in society is beyond what most horror films ever attempt. For that, it deserves plenty of praise. Wes Craven gets to say goodbye to Freddy in the best way possible after the lows the franchise had reached, and it’s worth watching for that alone.
- Global Ranking: #2,069
- 3/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 40% of matchups
- 39 users have it in their top 20
This 1987 entry would mark Craven’s final contribution to the franchise until New Nightmare. Craven didn’t sit in the director’s chair (Chuck Russell did), but his touch is definitely felt. Collaborating with Russell and Frank Darabont of all people, they crafted a movie that, despite its slasher trappings, incorporated fantasy and action in fair measure to make one heck of an interesting horror film. Langenkamp’s Nancy returns as an intern at Westin Hills, a psychiatric hospital where the last of the Elm Street children reside after Freddy has killed off all the others. Nancy must work to cultivate the children’s “dream powers” in a bid to fight off Freddy and defeat him.
The aforementioned dream powers make this much less your typical slasher film and more slasher fantasy. Freddy busts out quips as usual, but they feel smarter than most. The deaths range from brutal (the veins puppet) to grimly hilarious (Freddy shouting “Primetime!” as he slams a girl into a TV). The film also places a greater focus on its characters than most slasher films, and along with innovative special effects this helps to make some of the deaths all the more interesting. Also welcome is the return of John Saxon as Nancy’s father from the first film. Saxon’s natural charisma is on display, and his presence along with Langenkamp helps close the door on the events of the original film.
Dream Warriors is simultaneously fun and horrifying. Freddy delivers some of the series’s most iconic kills, and the mix of brutal violence and creative deaths is what makes the Nightmare franchise shine. In addition to this, the series’ most direct and empowered fight against Freddy makes for some fun fantasy action. This film can’t claim the title of the best of the franchise, but it certainly is a good film and one worth watching both as a fan of the franchise and as a movie fan in general.
- Global Ranking: #1,733
- 2/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 39% of matchups
- 72 users have it in their top 20
An obvious choice, but there’s a reason that the 1984 original tops almost every Nightmare list. The film is just plain great. Director Wes Craven utilized a variety of influences in developing the iconic villain of Freddy Kreuger and the premise of the film. Articles on the nightmares of Vietnam war vets, childhood bullies, a random elderly passerby, and a desire to distinguish his killer from other slasher villains all worked towards creating the burned, cackling monster that is Freddy. With the iconic five-bladed glove in tow, Freddy began his reign of horror here and launched the fledgling distribution company New Line Cinema into a large production house that would go on to create the critically-acclaimed epic trilogy The Lord of the Rings.
There are many reasons why this film works so well. More so than any other film in the franchise, this movie plays tricks on the audience regarding what is reality and what isn’t. Craven’s subtle direction blurs the line very effectively, leaving you as an audience member to be shocked when Freddy’s leering face suddenly appears. It also helps that Freddy is left unseen for large portions of the film, with the scares originating from a variety of other sources. There are the ghostly pleas from Tina (Amanda Wyss)’s bloody body in a plastic bodybag as she is dragged through the hallways of a school by unseen hands. Or the iconic shot of a glove emerging between the legs of Heather Langenkamp‘s Nancy in a warm bubble bath. Factor in the distinguished dreamlike theme of the franchise that debuts here with its whimsical chimes and foreboding undertones and you have all the makings of a fantastic horror film.
The story at play here is simple yet effective. Freddy haunts the dreams of teenagers on Elm Street and murders them in revenge for his grisly death at the hands of their parents years earlier. It’s not complicated at all, and some might dismiss it as a too-simple excuse for murder. But the character work at play between Nancy and her drunken mother and distant father help convey the themes. The difficulties of youth and adolescence, the feeling that you aren’t understood and are haunted by unseen and powerful forces. . . this is the true power of Freddy and the Nightmare story that helps keep it so potent 32 years on.
- Global Ranking: #814
- 1/9 on Flickchart’s Nightmare on Elm Street filter
- Win 43% of matchups
- 623 users have it in their top 20
Though the Nightmare franchise has clearly not been the most consistent one over the years (and what slasher franchise is?), it is populated by some truly fantastic horror films. Though it’s probably inevitable that another remake will happen at some point, Englund’s role as Freddy has managed to acquire a staying power in the culture that has helped keep people awake long into night. So just remember this Halloween…
One, two… Freddy’s coming for you…
Three, four… better lock your door…
Nine, ten… never sleep again…