Ranking the “Friday the 13th” Franchise
Another Halloween, another ranking of a horror franchise. Last year, we ranked the Halloween franchise. Now that there’s a new Halloween out, we thought ranking the Friday the 13th franchise would make perfect sense… or something. This franchise nearly made it to a lucky 13 entries last year, but lawsuits held up production of further films. With the suit having been recently resolved, a new Friday the 13th is bound to arrive eventually and get us to the thirteenth film. Until then, here is our definitive* ranking of our favorite hockey-mask-wearing killer’s films.
Just be careful about going to Camp Blood; there’s a death curse!
*You can make your own, more-definitive ranking by adding these films to your own Flickchart!
Though Part III is a total schlock-fest and other entries embrace their own brands of craziness, A New Beginning stands as the worst entry. It has better production values and might be a better-made film than some of the earlier ones, but its script is so nonsensical that it can only be considered an all-time low for the franchise. There are minor attempts at creativity, as we are erroneously led to believe that Tommy Jarvis is the killer and is dressing up as Jason due to his tortured psyche. Yet the switcheroo at the end makes so little sense that it has become infamous in the annals of horror history for how poorly-justified it is.
Jason is not the killer here; someone dresses up as him and reenacts his killing methods, and the actual Voorhees is nowhere in the movie. As dumb as the reveal of the real killer is, it comes after a string of goofy dialogue and horrible acting that rivals it for inanity. Absurd redneck stereotypes populate the film alongside 80s-era black stereotypes. Characters who don’t fall neatly into those categories act like aliens — not remotely realistic.
There is some over-the-top entertainment in the form of one character being murdered in an outhouse while “unloading” after eating enchiladas. His girlfriend sings to him on the toilet before he gets murdered in one of the goofiest sequences in the series. There is another fun kill in the form of the would-be Jason wrapping a belt around someone’s eyes and around a tree causing their head to burst. A New Beginning is easily among the most violent and sexualized entries in the series, with lots of nudity and blood. Yet none of this is enough to redeem the fact that most of the film is dry and boring and impossible to care about.
- Global Ranking: #4,535
- 7/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 28% of its matchups
- 26 users have it in their top 20
This isn’t the first film in the series with “Final” in its title, nor is this actually the last film in the series. And in some ways, it shouldn’t have existed at all: Jason Goes to Hell was one of two films made while Freddy vs Jason was in development hell (pun intended). Wes Craven was busy pursuing his New Nightmare concept, leaving Jason up in the air. With the rights to the Jason character sold to New Line Cinema, Sean S. Cunningham decided to concoct a script that could proceed regardless of what eventually happened in Freddy vs Jason. This resulted in a film where Jason himself is almost entirely absent aside from a dark heart thing that transfers from person to person, possessing them. First-time director Adam Marcus was put on the project and pulled together one of the most mediocre efforts in the series, which is saying quite a lot.
The cheapness of the film starts with the score. Despite using the original film’s composer Harry Manfredini again, this score sounds goofier and cheaper, with the iconic theme used sporadically. Heavy use of MIDI is never a winner in cinema. Compound that with a truly awful cast, and Jason Goes to Hell feels like one of the worst films in the series. And, though continuity was never a strong suit, the film infamously goofs up which eye Jason is missing for the brief moments he is on screen. In an attempt to become relevant, the film ties into The Evil Dead series by featuring the Necrominion as well as finally teasing the Freddy vs Jason concept at the end of the film. But the difficult-to-follow script overshadows these dubious positives, and the frequent use of nudity screams of desperation.
- Global Ranking: #6,970
- 10/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 26% of its matchups
- 20 users have it in their top 20
If this series hadn’t jumped the shark in previous entries, it certainly does so here. The film opens with a giant cruise ship leaving Crystal Lake for New York. If you’re thinking that a cruise liner wouldn’t fit on Crystal Lake, well you’ve already got some idea of how ridiculously dumb this movie is. But if you’re hoping that you’re in store for a fun camp-fest, prepare to be disappointed. The film reneges on its titular promise by spending the first hour of the film aboard the aforementioned cruise ship and the rest in nondescript alleys and tunnels.
Conceptually, this had the potential for being extremely fun and over-the-top. One can imagine Jason shoving someone off the top of the Statute of Liberty or impaling someone on the Wall Street bull statute. Instead, we spend an hour on a ship with a bunch of boring cardboard characters including a cruel older intellectual — not the first of his kind in the series. What the Jason writers have against teachers and psychologists, I don’t know. Budgetary concerns likely killed all of that potential, but we do get a few glimpses of what could have been. Jason sees a giant billboard with a hockey mask on it upon arriving in New York, which is worth a good chuckle. He also kicks aside a street gang’s boom box and humorously lifts his mask when they try to challenge him. But moments like these are few and far between, even after we finally arrive in New York.
There are some good deaths including one where someone attempts to box with Jason and he effortlessly punches their head off. Yet the film abandons all spatial consistency as Jason just teleports around wherever the film needs him to. Gone is the clear progression of movement from the first two films in the franchise. I’d like to say this one is worth seeing because it is sufficiently ridiculous, but honestly it’s just too dull, and avoids being the worst film in the series only by the simplicity of the script compared to the messes of A New Beginning and Jason Goes to Hell. Not that logical consistency is at premium here either, mind you.
- Global Ranking: #3,882
- 9/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 31% of its matchups
- 18 users have it in their top 20
9. Friday the 13th (2009)
The remake of Friday the 13th was the second attempt from Michael Bay’s production company at rebooting an iconic horror franchise. After the massive financial success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remake, Bay went after the famous hockey-mask killer hoping to scare up some box office dollars. Despite making a substantial bit of money, this is the last film in the series so far, falling short of the magical number 13. That might be because Marcus Nispel‘s entry is a ponderous morass of a film. Many of the entries in the series are far from great cinema, but they at least have a nifty 80s aesthetic and strike the Friday the 13th tone of visceral killings and the right amount of sexualization. This remake is entirely without charm and seems to fail to understand what made Friday the 13th enjoyable in the first place.
Even Jared Padalecki (of Supernatural fame) delivers a rather flat performance and makes for a weak protagonist. The film cobbles together the plotlines of the first four Friday the 13th films, taking the brother hunting for his sister story and making it the main focus of this film. Like the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, this film recreates classic moments from the franchise but with artless cinematography on technically-strong but visually-unappealing modern filmstock. Deep, well-written characters have never been a staple of this series, but at least some of the films have had characters with personality. This collection of well to-do suburbanites is among the weakest we’ve seen. Even our pot-smoking comic relief is only mildly more entertaining than the others. This entry is never as nonsensical as some of the lowest points in the Jason saga, but you’ll struggle to find one that’s more lacking in anything that would appeal to fans.
- Global Ranking: #7,926
- 12/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 31% of its matchups
- 80 users have it in their top 20
In this movie, for the second time in a row, the filmmakers felt the need to recap the events of the previous films, complete with extended clips from those movies. Perhaps they did it here to remind viewers of the much better films that proceeded it. Part III is a massive fall off a cliff from Part II despite the return of director Steve Miner. It’s hard to believe he’s entirely to blame, though, given the shoddy script he had to work with. Still, almost none of the great directorial techniques return from the previous outing despite a continued commitment to a minimalist aesthetic.
Although this movie follows in the footsteps of its betters with another great title sequence, we are bombarded with an opening theme reminiscent of hokey disco. An apt start for a film built on hokey. Terrible actors deliver terrible lines, scene after scene. Much of the dialogue in this entry is delivered in an unmistakably amateur way, including gems such as “How do we do it?” (referring to sex), “I have warned thee,” and “Sex, sex, sex, y’all are getting boring.” An even greater cardinal sin for a slasher film is the near-total lack of violence or nudity to make up for the lack of intelligence. Jason doesn’t kill anyone until nearly 50 minutes into the film. One might be tempted to praise the movie for restraint, but that leaves us with absolutely nothing to care about. It’s all topped off with the silliest biker gang we’ve ever seen.
Despite being a truly bad film, it does earn schlock points. Part III is at least fun in a campy way at times. Meant to be seen as a 3-D film, there are many shots that were clearly meant to pop out of the screen in theaters, including a notable kill where Jason crushes someone’s skull and causes an eyeball to pop out of it. Plus, we’re introduced to Jason in his hockey mask. The first appearance of Jason in the mask is a genuinely chilling moment when he ruthlessly walks up and harpoons a girl in the face. It’s no wonder that this look became iconic afterwards. Thanks partly to the physicality of the stunt actor and the classic Jason theme, the killer in the hockey mask does have a degree of gravitas. It’s not enough to save the film, but no slasher fan can afford to skip it.
- Global Ranking: #3,100
- 5/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 34% of its matchups
- 51 users have it in their top 20
With Freddy vs Jason delayed, sending Jason into future — and into space — seemed like a good option… right? In a series that has featured Jason fighting a psychic, and turning into a demonic heart, space almost seems tame by comparison. Jason X abandons any pretense of seriousness with use of deliberately goofy futuristic dialogue and a weird cyborg woman fighting the titular killer. The producers apparently wanted to keep Jason in everyone’s minds while the final details of Freddy vs Jason were being worked out. Yet if keeping Jason in the minds of the audience required a script as silly as this one, and an entry who’s continuity seemed predestined to be ignored, one has to wonder why they bothered.
Jason X admittedly offers some campy fun, and there is humor in seeing Jason get utterly decimated by a robot with highly advanced technology. After all, a zombie with a knife can only do so much. Then, of course, comes Uber Jason whose quick appearance comes and goes so fast you might blink and miss it. Enhanced Jason has the unfortunate problem of undercutting the unstoppable force of death that had been the main antagonist of the series. Despite being flatly shot by James Issac, Jason X avoids being the worst in the series as it at least displays some sense of winking irony. This isn’t Part VI, but a pale imitation of that style of humor is enough to elevate it past several other entries. Plus, that liquid nitrogen death scene is just damn cool.
- Global Ranking: #7,667
- 11/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 23% of its matchups
- 29 users have it in their top 20
The New Blood was the first of many movies made out of desperation due to being unable to bring the Freddy vs Jason concept into production. Talks between New Line and Paramount fell through, and thus the idea came about of pitting Jason against a Carrie-like figure. That is why Jason faces a psychic (yes, you read that correctly) girl in The New Blood. This idea does have an inherent amount of intrigue (and silliness), so perhaps something enjoyable might have been crafted from it. Instead, we are treated to a nonsensical entry that continues to turn the timeline into a convoluted mess.
By now, you get the idea. The New Blood is dominated by mediocre acting, some nudity, and reuses the trope of a person suffering from mental illness due to past trauma. Somehow, an entire summer house has sprouted up on Crystal Lake. It must be somewhere between the camp and the halfway house that were both depicted as sitting on the lake before. Our protagonist psychic accidentally murders her abusive father with her psychic powers and sinks him into the lake with Jason in a flashback that sends the already-messy timeline completely off the rails.
Still, we don’t watch Friday the 13th movies for continuity. As usual, the highlight of the film is Jason. He’s given some remarkable makeup work and costume design to account for his being trapped in a lake since the end of the last film. Jason is covered in sludge and muck with his flesh eaten away. One of the best shots in the film is when Jason rises out of the water and we see his exposed rib cage. There are also some brutal Jason kills. Jason picks up a girl in a sleeping bag and effortlessly slams her against a tree. He also rips someone’s heart out of their back. This marks the first appearance of famed Jason actor Kane Hodder, who would play Jason for the next four entries.
Unfortunately, the Jason murder-fest can’t make up for the film being a drudge the rest of the time. All of the character drama rings false, and the climatic battle between Jason and the psychic girl feels goofy. Not to mention, the application of her power is inconsistent, which drains all of whatever drama might have been present completely away. This one isn’t quite as dumb as the above entries, but we’re basically pulling strands of hay apart here to find a difference.
- Global Ranking: #1,676
- 6/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 44% of its matchups
- 202 users have it in their top 20
It’s funny when the fourth film in a twelve-film series is subtitled the The Final Chapter, but that’s horror franchises for you. Creative choices are continually overridden by the studio’s demands for money. Although the studio was thought to be distancing itself from the franchise out of embarrassment, as soon as it pulled in enough money that embarrassment was quickly forgotten. Despite continuing to use creative title effects and the continuation of that weird need to recap the events of previous films via old footage, The Final Chapter represents a step away from the original three films. Abandoning the minimalist aesthetic, this one looks more like a normal film, with greater image quality. Not much else about it represents a rise in quality, though.
Again, we are bombarded with bad acting and ridiculous lines. A character shouts “Holy Jesus, God damn” over and over in a comical farce of normal human emotion. It’s laugh-worthy, but doesn’t make for a particularly strong film. We do have some big name actors, with Crispin Glover and Kimberly Beck in the cast. And director Joseph Zito brings a few interesting visual choices to the film; one clever sequence involves mild match cuts between Jason murdering people and teens watching a silent film. Appropriately, this is the first movie in which Jason’s physicality is used to develop his character.
This film marks the first appearance of Tommy Jarvis, the only recurring character in the series aside from Jason. Here he is played by Corey Feldman, who gives a decent enough performance considering the dearth of acting talent around him and the type of movie he is in. Jarvis takes a cue from the second film and helps kill Jason by appealing to his psyche. More parallels to the Halloween series emerge as well, with hints of a child taking over the killer role from the masked slasher. While not the worst film in the series, this entry offers little past a few decent kills from Jason.
- Global Ranking: #2,351
- 2/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 40% of its matchups
- 66 users have it in their top 20
4. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
We originally reviewed Freddy vs Jason two years ago for our ranking of the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. To be certain, that film is more part of that franchise, with Freddy narrating the opening of the film and the plot centering around Freddy’s attempts to be the greatest killer of them all. Still, Jason has his fun in the movie and it offers some of the best Friday the 13th-style killings in the franchise. The first death of the film features Jason bending a bed in half and snapping the teenager on the bed to boot. He also gets to terrorize a cornfield party for fun.
Freddy vs Jason isn’t exactly be a “great” film. Yet it is a ton of fun, and for those who have seen the entirety of both franchises, there is a gleeful fanboy/fangirl joy in watching two horror icons go toe to toe. Englund lives it up as Freddy, easily the best actor in a film of otherwise average performances. While the battle between Freddy and Jason in the Dream World still feels lacking, their final clash is a highlight of the movie. Director Ronny Yu knows how to hone the tone, and in a realm of mediocre Friday the 13th films, this one shines.
- Global Ranking: #5,618
- 8/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 25% of its matchups
- 164 users have it in their top 20
After the total bomb that was The New Beginning, the filmmakers had to hit the panic button, i.e., revive the real Jason. One would think this Hail Mary play would sink the franchise into even further mediocrity, yet director Tom McLoughlin brought not only Jason back to life, but the quality of the franchise too. Made with a knowing wit, Jason Lives serves as among the first satirical takes on slasher films with several instances of meta-humor that are genuinely entertaining.
While this film does feature the worst actor to play Tommy Jarvis among the three (Thom Mathews), I knew this film was on the right track when it started with a Bond homage in the form of Jason getting his own gun-barrel opening credit shot. Instead of shooting at the camera, Jason hurls a knife. True, Part VI destroys continuity by vastly retconning Jarvis’s trajectory from the previous film, and ignoring the bit about Jason’s body having been cremated. All subsequent entries would worsen the timeline problems too, so it’s hard to hold it against this film in particular.
It hardly matters, because throughout the film we get lots of smart humor and jokes about horror. A character openly comments that they probably shouldn’t drive in the dark towards a masked figure. Kids (yes, actual children are at Camp Crystal Lake for the first time) ask each other what they would have been if they had grown up, in reference to Jason stalking them all. Jason is funny too, taking a paintball to the chest and looking down flabbergasted at having been shot. McLoughlin was smart enough to take this franchise in the only sensible direction it could go six films in, and while this isn’t the best entry, Jason Lives proved that there was gas left in the tank.
- Global Ranking: #2,558
- 4/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 36% of its matchups
- 55 users have it in their top 20
2. Friday the 13th (1980)
Unlike most of these slasher franchises, the original is not necessarily the best film in Jason’s series. Yet Friday the 13th set the template. Sexually-charged teenaged camp counselors are at lakeside summer camp in New Jersey: the iconic Camp Crystal Lake. Actually, saying this film created that template isn’t quite accurate; released in 1980, its knock-off of 70s horror standards are fairly obvious. The film copies Halloween (not to mention Jaws) by showing the perspective of the killer, and embraces the minimalist aesthetic of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
Despite imitating better cinema, director Sean S. Cunningham does make this first entry work on its own terms. Watching from the killer’s perspective is a visceral experience, especially given that the film plays up the mystery of who the killer is. It might not be a spoiler at this point, but I won’t reveal it in case there are uninformed readers out there. Suffice it to say the late-act reveal is among the most effective moments of the entire series. Cunningham’s direction could never be called masterful, but the slow buildup works, with the audience slowly learning that some people know the killer as they display recognition before being murdered. The final scare shock is also a truly effective moment.
Despite these solid directorial instincts, the film can’t escape its fairly flat script. It introduces the almost puritanical themes that run throughout the series about teenage sexuality: the film seems to think these teens deserve to be killed just for the sin of having sex. It’s all wrapped in a thick layer of exploitation, but there isn’t much else to it.
The classic tropes of 80s horror are present here too. From old weird men warning our protagonists about the cursed place they are headed (this film’s line about it perhaps being the most iconic) to teenagers playing Strip Monopoly and wandering off alone to investigate weird noises, cliches abound. There’s even Kevin Bacon! Friday the 13th helped create an iconic horror brand, and for that much it deserves plenty of credit. Plus, it originated that iconic horror theme from composer Harry Manfredini that any fan of the series, or horror in general, knows well. And considering how much worse this franchise gets, this film deserves a high ranking.
- Global Ranking: #1,676
- 1/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 44% of its matchups
- 202 users have it in their top 20
In what might be a rarity for a horror franchise, we have a sequel that tops the original. Despite flirting with the idea of making Friday the 13th an anthology series, like Halloween attempted with its third entry, the filmmakers here chose to stick with what was popular — namely the concept of Jason Voorhees. What resulted was the best-directed entry in the franchise. Steve Miner, in his directorial debut, takes a lot of cues from the first entry. The script follows a similar structure: kids come to camp and are slowly picked off by a killer. The nudity factor increases and there is a rather steamy skinny-dipping scene.
Yet even with all of these series tropes, Miner brings a unique directorial vision to the film that makes it one of few truly tense films in this franchise. The aforementioned skinny-dipping scene is actually really well done and makes a great use of visuals to build tension. Miner also uses several great match cuts that work surprisingly well. For example, the feeble screaming form of a dying woman blends into the screams of an electric guitar. Such transitions underscore the film’s willingness to mess with our expectations, and the film’s ending also surprises those who remember the ending of the first film. Or at least initially; there is a tacked-on ending scene that somewhat undoes the strengths of the penultimate reveal.
This film also begins the Friday the 13th tradition of truly brutal kills. While Jason wouldn’t don the hockey mask until next film, he does achieve some over-the-top kills, impaling two helpless teens at once with a spear and also macheteing someone in the head as they fall down stairs in a wheelchair. One thing you can’t help but admire about 80s slasher films is their willingness to murder anyone. We also dig into Jason’s psyche a little bit, resulting in a fairly unique and inventive final confrontation.
Is this film a horror masterpiece on the level of Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street? No. But it doesn’t need to be. This franchise represents horror in its more exploitative and trope-laden form, and the sloppiness even of this entry help to achieve that. Even without his signature mask, Jason slashed his way into pop culture memory forever with this film.
- Global Ranking: #2,409
- 3/12 on Flickchart’s Friday the 13th filter
- Wins 36% of its matchups
- 77 users have it in their top 20