Ranking the Halloween Franchise
Halloween season makes for the best horror-movie-watching atmosphere, so last year we ranked the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. It’s only fitting that we continue the fun this year with another iconic horror franchise. This time, we take on Michael Myers and his large shiny butcher knife by giving a definitive ranking of the Halloween franchise. Like most horror franchises, this one is a mixed bag with some fantastic works of cinema and some Paul Rudd sneering and trying to act evil. Which films are which? Read on for rankings!
Halloween: Resurrection (2002) easily wins the distinction of the worst Halloween movie. Every decision in this movie was a mistake, including its conception. The franchise had smartly done a reboot/capstone of sorts with the previous film Halloween H20 by bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis and seemingly delivering a satisfying end to the franchise. But we all know how Hollywood loves a safe bet, so Michael Myers came back for his biggest kill of all: butchering the franchise. (I made this joke with Freddy’s Dead last year, but it just works so well!) Within the opening minutes of the film, director Rick Rosenthal (who directed the very first Halloween sequel) spits on the legacy of the franchise by having Michael kill Laurie. Her send-off is nonchalant considering her status as Michael’s singular target film after film. But that’s that, and then we move quickly on to a horrendous reality TV show plot.
No, really. The basic plot is that Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes are TV producers who create a reality show where college kids will enter the home of Michael Myers with cameras and livestream what they find inside. Myers has returned home now that his mission is accomplished, so of course, he decides to butcher these people. The only compliment I can give this movie is its homage to the first-person camera angles employed by John Carpenter in the first film — all our young victims wear headcams. That parallel could be mere coincidence, though.
The characterizations here are bland and terrible. Our main female protagonist is supposed to be “different” from her fellow victims, but “different” in this film simply means that she lacks an obnoxious, obvious characteristic that the other stereotypical victims have, and instead is the human equivalent of a big bowl of sauceless spaghetti.
Unfortunately, the kills in this movie aren’t even enough to provide much relief. Myers lacks the creative surrealism of Freddy or flat-out brutal savagery of Jason, so his films have depended on the ominous, silent nature of his character to provide chills and thrills. Yet here we have Busta Rhymes using karate against Michael Myers. I wish I could say this placed it into “so bad it’s good” territory, but the film lacks energy, creativity, or soul, so scenes like this just make you wish you had chosen a different franchise to write about for a film site listicle. Ironically, Resurrection would prove the death of the franchise, at least until a certain Zombie brought it back.
- Global Ranking: #10,950
- 10/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter (excluding the documentary)
- Win 21% of matchups
- 25 users have it in their top 20
The sixth entry in this franchise is also quite terrible. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) isn’t quite the maelstrom of awful that is Resurrection, but it’s embarrassingly bad. This film formally introduces the Curse of Thorn occult plotline as an explanation for Michael’s immortality and strength… a concept that subsequent films wisely chose to ignore. As we’ve seen in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, the more explanation added for the slasher movie killers and their actions, the more it ruins the mystique of the character and make something scary into something bland.
The idea here is that this Druid curse infects a child from various “tribes” and compels them to kill every part of their family on Halloween night. This explains why Michael Myers suddenly decided to kill his family, and why every movie takes place on Halloween. As silly of an explanation as it is, one can understand the writers scraping the bottom of the barrel. These movies have never been heavy in the plot department, and they were trying to add something new to the franchise. It’s just a shame that their ideas were so creatively devoid.
The infamous performance from this movie is Paul Rudd, who plays a grown-up version of Tommy Doyle (the boy being babysat by Jamie Lee Curtis in the first film). Rudd’s performance is cringe-inducingly awful, and it’s a good thing he managed to have a great career after this film, as it was his debut role. His attempts to act creepy and weird just come across as silly. He was just entirely miscast as this character and it destroys any chance of tension. Well, that and the bland direction from Joe Chappelle. It’s shocking when you learn that Chappelle was one of the major directors and producers on The Wire after watching this movie. None of his talent seems to have been present as this film, a series of poorly-executed shock kills set to weak riffs on the original film’s score.
This film sends off Donald Pleasence and his Dr. Loomis character, a major player in most of the franchise. Pleasence’s character is usually the one bright spot in these movies, and that’s true even here. He certainly isn’t enough to make the movie anywhere close to good, but his intensity satisfies even as he goes into his final showdown with Michael. Unfortunately this was Pleasence’s final role before his death, as he actually died in the middle of production, requiring a chopped-up and abrupt ending. It’s an unsatisfying conclusion to Loomis and Myer’s multi-movie standoff. Luckily, this movie would be entirely ignored by all future entries in the franchise, and viewers would do well to forget it as well.
- Global Ranking: #5,435
- 7/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 31% of matchups
- 27 users have it in their top 20
Like Halloween II before it, Halloween 5 (1989) picks up immediately after the end of the fourth film. The Jamie Lloyd character, after violently stabbing her foster mother at the end of fourth film, is committed to a child psychological ward suffering from nightmares and terror. Meanwhile, Michael Myers did not die after falling through a mine shaft at the end of the previous film (duh) and returns again to find his niece. Yes, the character that carries the middle films is the daughter of Laurie Strode. This film explores her developing psychic link with Michael, which serves to explain her having stabbed her foster mother in the previous film.
While an interesting concept, it felt like a mistake, especially given the grim turn suggested at the end of the fourth film in which this little girl turns into pure evil. That could have made an interesting continuation of the series, but the studio had perhaps learned too well its lesson from the third film: you can’t do a Halloween film without Michael Myers. So instead we get a contrived psychic connection plot that eventually builds to the Curse of Thorn nonsense in the sixth movie.
This film delivers some good kill thrills. Easily the most violent of the original movies, it has Michael butchering people in grand fashion with blood spurting everywhere, and even an impalement by pitchfork. The original cut featured even more blood and gore before producer Moustapha Akkad had it scaled back in favor of the more minimal approaches of Halloween and the fourth movie. This was probably a good idea, as the intense violence of this one does feel out-of-place compared to the other films.
Director Dominique Othenin-Girard was selected due to his work featured at Sundance. Needless to say, though, this isn’t some film festival art film. He tried the best, considering the script wasn’t even finished when filming began. The direction isn’t amazing but is certainly more competent than later films, and it was Othenin-Girard who pushed for more gore. The performance he gets from child actor Danielle Harris is actually pretty good; it’s odd when the one consistently strong trait of a horror series is its acting (minus Paul Rudd), but there you go.
- Global Ranking: #4,651
- 5/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 28% of matchups
- 24 users have it in their top 20
7. Halloween II (2009)
The second film in Rob Zombie‘s reboot of the Halloween series unfortunately bombed with general audiences so much that no Halloween film has been made since. A new film is coming out next year, but a hiatus of nearly ten year is fairly significant in light of the late 2000’s slasher reboot craze. Zombie’s sequel is unfairly maligned. It’s not a fantastic film by any means, but there are a lot of creative and interesting ideas, and the film’s visual style is perhaps the best out of any in the series aside from the original.
The sequel builds off Zombie’s remake by exploring the psychological trauma that Laurie Strode suffers from in the wake of the events of the original film. The opening hospital scene is really tense and powerful, and stands as probably the best sequence in Zombie’s two Halloween films. He also lets some surrealism loose with use of white horse imagery and the ghost of Michael and Laurie’s mother appearing to both of them. Many critics considered this pretentious in a slasher film, but it’s a welcome change of pace that contrasts with the grimy, earthy look of other parts of the film. Michael Myers features a long shaggy beard and walks throughout a grim Georgia landscape, putting a unique spin on the character that’s more than any non-Carpenter director can boast.
Unfortunately, Zombie’s attempts to take the grimness further also creates some of the film’s main problems. Namely, it gets lost in its own whirlwind of blood and violence. The interesting themes and ideas get overshadowed by Myers chopping up people every few scenes. Like most Zombie films, it overindulges in all the ways that Tarantino has mastered and Zombie hasn’t.
The use of 70’s soft-rock in many scenes creates a disorienting off-feeling that really adds to the aesthetic. The reimagining of Loomis as a hack author attempting to use his experience with Michael for commercial gain was a neat concept that could have been a great commentary on horror film writers and directors as a whole. Malcolm McDowell certainly puts in a good faith performance and smartly avoids trying to act in the shadow of Donald Pleasence. Tyler Mane becomes the first actor to play Michael twice, and his imposing presence fits Zombie’s style well.
Halloween II isn’t smart enough to give its themes any staying power, and the typical slasher struggles to get off the ground despite some creative surrealistic imagery. Still, this is the first entry on this list that is worth watching for non-diehard fans.
- Global Ranking: #9,815
- 9/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 32% of matchups
- 14 users have it in their top 20
6. Halloween II
Feels like we’re seeing double here, doesn’t it? Bad puns aside, I nearly placed the ’09 film over the original sequel. Despite claims by many fans as this one is nearly as good as the original, it languishes at #6 on this list. Halloween II (1981) has more competent direction than many of the sequels, and largely maintains the simplicity of the first film while adding the now iconic plot point that Laurie Strode is Michael’s sister. But it is also marred by blandness and a cheap-feeling cash-in on Carpenter’s surprise mega-hit.
The sequel once again features Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence, but its scares are the best part of the film. Director Rick Rosenthal does a great job emulating Carpenter’s style with the first-person perspective shots, ominous deep breathing from Michael, and other techniques that do build up some dread and tension. There are several great sequences in this, including the somewhat well-known hospital scene. But Curtis seems muted and bored in this one, aside from a great scene where she silently crawls across a parking lot trying to scream for help. Pleasence is fairly dull as well, just going through the motions.
The movie is an extension of the first film rather than its own entity. It picks up right after the frightening twist ending of the first and continues into the later events of the night. This leaves the film without much plot and little sense of momentum. Where the first film masterfully builds its way towards an intense conclusion, this one is more like a long downward slide without the memorable peaks of Carpenter’s classic.
Global Ranking: #1,922
- 2/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 37% of matchups
- 75 users have it in their top 20
Halloween 4 (1988) has exactly what Halloween II lacked for me: a scene with real staying power. I binge-watched this series over the course of a week, and the ending of this film is still one of the most memorable moments in my mind. It has such a overwhelming sense of dread, depression, and horror that it carries the movie into the top 5. That’s not to say Halloween 4 is entirely defined by this scene. Aptly titled, it brought Michael Myers back after the apparent misstep of the third entry.
By rejecting the anthology approach, this movie helped to cement the Halloween franchise’s identity as a series of increasingly terrible slasher flicks. Yet even amidst the decline of the franchise and the whole slasher subgenre in the late 80’s, this one manages to be a highlight. While it lacks the artistic power of Carpenter’s original film, it still manages to deliver scares, and proves that Donald Pleasence can make these movies work even if nothing else can. Myers returns as an immutable force of destruction when he tears apart an entire police station full of officers (much like Arnold in the first Terminator). Contemporary critics lambasted the turn toward bloodbaths over dread and tension, yet compared to some later kills in the series this one is relatively silent and terrifying. Michael truly embodies evil, and the police station scene shows it.
In the even more powerful last scene, Michael mercilessly pursues Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie. Michael is seemingly defeated, but Jamie takes on his mantle of evil and murders her foster mother in one of the grimmest endings in a slasher series. The suggestion that the evil we are dealing with can never be destroyed and will infect another child is like staring into an endless pit of despair. Pleasence’s performance captures this perfectly with his constantly crying “NO!” in a primal shout of despair. It’s a shame the fifth entry didn’t follow up on the potential of this ending. Even with hillbilly stereotypes and the well-worn trope of half-naked teenagers, this scene and others cement the fourth as a solid flick.
- Global Ranking: #3,342
- 3/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 33% of matchups
- 36 users have it in their top 20
I honestly considered not even reviewing this one. As most know, Halloween III has nothing to do with Michael Myers or the Strodes or Dr. Loomis. Its a Halloween movie in name only and really has no business being compared to the other films. But this is Flickchart, after all. Ranking incomparable movies is our MO! So Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) will occupy the fourth spot on this list. How did a movie about Celtic cults and cable brainwashing end up in the Halloween franchise, and why is it so (relatively) good?
Producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill had the idea of transforming the franchise into an anthology series. Each new entry would take place on the night of Halloween, but would feature new stories and characters. A solid idea, but one that would end Carpenter’s involvement with the series (until 2018 that is). Audiences responded quite poorly to the lack of Michael Myers, and the movie failed both commercially and critically. Over time, though, Halloween III: Season of the Witch has become somewhat of a cult classic.
The film’s underlying message and themes are conveyed quite well. The movie attacks consumer culture in a creative way even if it’s a bit too obvious at times. Some may complain that the thematic content is lost in a messy wash of androids, witchcraft, and other horror tropes, and while the combination is a bit unwieldy, it makes for a quirky and unique film that isn’t afraid to be absurd. Best of all, director and writer Tommy Lee Wallace isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. He doesn’t always knock it out of the park, but he scores more often than not (this extended baseball metaphor isn’t at all influenced by this October’s fantastic Astros-Dodgers series.)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch will forever be the odd duck of the franchise. But forget the rest of the series and accept it as a quaint little seasonal horror flick. Its kitchen sink approach mostly works, even though many of its characters are irredeemable and/or dull. Plus, it features the wonderfully annoying “X Days ‘Til Halloween” song that is still catchy today.
- Global Ranking: #4,186
- 4/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 28% of matchups
- 33 users have it in their top 20
The Halloween franchise was all but dead after Resurrection (I dare to make that joke twice in one article!). What does Hollywood do with franchises suffering under the weight of excessive lore and poor box office returns? REBOOT THEM! That this would only be the first of a series of slasher remakes to follow (Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, and A Nightmare on Elm Street to name a few) could only increase one’s cynicism about it. Even so, Rob Zombie was enlisted due to his genuine passion for wanting to do something different with the material. Carpenter’s only request to Zombie on the remake was to make the material his own. Rob promised his hero and friend that he would do just that. How did he fare?
Well, it was Zombie’s own creative choices that hamper the film. Zombie dives into the backstory of Michael Myers, creating an abusive childhood for the future murderer. Most of the runtime is spent exploring his time as a child as well as when he is locked in the asylum at hands of Doctor Loomis, here played by Malcolm McDowell. While some of these scenes are interesting in a tangential sort of way, they largely take away from the mystique of Michael Myers. Gone is the indestructible force of evil. Instead, we have yet another crazy guy turned psycho by bad parenting. Zombie makes up for it in certain scenes, such as the one where Myers brutally drowns Danny Trejo. Trejo’s character had been Michael’s sole friend inside the asylum, but Myers’ indifference to that illustrates his signature brand of inhuman evil.
Beyond the tacked-on prequel material, the film is essentially a repeat of the original. Zombie is a decent filmmaker in terms of visuals and pacing, but he can’t escape the trap of repeating moments from the original movie. So why do I have it ranked third?
It must be admitted that Zombie’s movie features some of the best acting in the series. True, Pleasence is missed, but he’s replaced by a more-than-capable Malcolm McDowell. His take on the character is different enough that it helps Zombie’s film stand apart. Tyler Mane is the best Michael Myers outside of the original movie; his presence as a shaggy-haired hulk fills the screen with power and dread. He truly is an imposing force in this movie. The young actress playing Laurie Strode, Scout Taylor-Compton, is also very effective and naturalistic. She doesn’t feel like an actress, but like a real victim of terror.
For a movie that didn’t really need to be remade, Zombie may have done it as well as anyone could.
- Global Ranking: #5,461
- 8/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 29% of matchups
- 107 users have it in their top 20
Yes, the 1998 film is the best of the numerous sequels. In a bold stroke, it ignores the entirety of the series beyond the first two films, picking up twenty years after the events of Halloween II. Jamie Lee Curtis has assumed a fake name, is raising a son, and works as a headmistress at a prestigious school. Some fans criticized the movie for tossing away all of the developments regarding Jamie Strode and the Curse of Thorn, but this bogged-down mythology was a weakness of the series to begin with. Michael Myers had lost his sinister nature amidst all the curses and family bloodlines, and the series needed to go back to basics. Director Steve Miner delivered.
No film can really replicate the original’s artful simplicity and terror. Yet H20 features Curtis at her best as a more confident and developed version of Laurie. The sharp focus on Laurie’s character and how she’s dealt with the trauma of the past gives the film a great grounding in humanity.
This film also contains early appearances from Michelle Williams and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Though neither deliver particularly noteworthy performances, both are fun to see and capable enough in their roles. LL Cool J also appears along with the great Janet Leigh. This cast certainly is a wide-spanning one. But despite a wide variety of capable actors, H20 ultimately works because it manages to ground us in Laurie’s character. It also gives us some of the best kills in the series and the most satisfying ending in years. Though the film drags in the middle with little of consequence happening, once Myers arrives the horror follows.
- Global Ranking: #5,169
- 6/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 25% of matchups
- 42 users have it in their top 20
John Carpenter‘s classic (1978) stands as one of the best in the slasher genre, horror genre, and cinema generally. Its micro budget forced Carpenter to be minimalist in production and work from simple ideas, using relatively few props, and employing less complicated cinematography. All of this worked in Carpenter’s favor as the stripped-down approach added to the terror. Michael Myers’ visage was a Captain Kirk mask painted white, something vaguely familiar but just a little bit off.
Score-wise, ever other movie in the series (and maybe every other slasher film since) struggles to outdo the power of Carpenter’s iconic score. Its ominous notes succeed, like everything else in the movie, due to simplicity. The film evokes something primal in all of us due to its combination of sound, pacing, and perspective. The first-person POV, like the infamous and also well-scored opening of Jaws, put us in the eyes of a killer as they hone in on a helpless victim.
Carpenter’s editing and pacing throughout the film are nigh-on perfect. We are introduced to the nature of the threat through a cold-open kill. Pleasence’s pure panic and intensity at learning that Myers has escaped cues us into the terror that awaits us. As we follow young Laurie Strode being stalked by the ominous shape of Myers, we feel unease slowly but surely ratcheting up. It all builds toward a powerful climax in which the unstoppable force is finally unleashed upon a group of doomed teenagers.
Carpenter crafts multiple unforgettable moments. Michael stabbing through the bedroom closet (shortly before the famous bathroom scene in The Shining), dressing up as a ghost before killing one of Laurie’s friends, and stalking a girl attempting to wash her clothes are just a few. The film ends with the ominous question, “Was that the boogie man?” The answer is even more chilling: “Yes it was.” Halloween preys on the fear that a person could just snap and become purely evil without any remorse or possibility of reason. In a way, Myers is death. Inescapable despite our best efforts. The chilling ending where Myers disappears and Carpenter quick cuts between several locations while the heavy breathing of Michael fills our ears sends chills down our spines. If there’s one Halloween film you watch this Halloween, make it Halloween.
- Global Ranking: #554
- 1/1o on Flickchart’s Halloween filter
- Win 46% of matchups
- 1778 users have it in their top 20