Ranking a series like Friday the 13th should be pretty easy. On some level, we all know which ones were the best, and which ones kinda sucked. But perhaps nostalgia is a greater factor in our judgments than we thought.
I watched them all as a kid, but only remembered a few of them. I discovered that they operate using a formula, which is very likely the reason the Friday franchise became the highest-grossing horror franchise of all time. It may not be the Citizen Kane of horror franchises, and the series never really set out to be more than good, plain fun. But that’s OK, too.
Every film in the series is an unashamed rip-off of other, more inventive films. That may seem harsh, but even the original is famously inspired by Halloween, and that’s according to the filmmakers themselves. The seventh part copies from Carrie and Firestarter, Jason X steals from Alien, and the remake is a rehashing of every torture porn flick you can think of.
In other words, the Friday movies, more than anything else, try to give audiences what they seem to want. But do they succeed?
Some of my rankings are likely to spur some hate, but I will defend them, I promise. My assessment is based on these factors:
- Quality of production (acting, writing, etc).
- Chill factor (how scary it is).
- Atmosphere and Tone.
- Overall experience (i.e. entertainment).
Regarding that last one, I specifically ask the question: How Friday-ish is this movie? Lovers of this franchise should know what I mean.
There are some things that just need to happen for it to be a Friday movie. Here is a brief list:
- Good-looking teens that show skin.
- Woods and a lake.
- One socially awkward male character.
- An epic rain-storm.
- Story that takes place in one day.
- Final girl that starts finding all the bodies at once.
- Someone, alive or dead, getting thrown through a window.
- References to other horror movies.
- At least one death by machete.
Above all, though, is whether watching the movie is any fun at all. If it is slow or humorless, it will be towards the bottom. If it has all of the elements listed above, it will be at the top.
I hope you enjoy the list, and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments!
12. Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning
The fifth movie offers the slowest pace of the franchise, and (for me, at least) the least satisfying ending of them all. And I really did give this movie a chance, too. I could be fine with a movie that technically didn’t have Jason Vorhees in it, as long as it was executed well. I think most fans would agree that this does not happen.
The protagonist is annoying, and largely absent from the film to enough of an extent that I began to believe he was going to turn out to be the killer. The thought of this was so repulsive to fans that McLoughlin was told by studios to go a different direction with Part 6, and that’s exactly what he did. There were a few good moments, like the outhouse sing-a-long and the country bumpkin doing donuts on the veranda. But mostly, this is a snoozefest.
11. Friday the 13th Part 3
For some people, it’s going to be a sin to rank this one so low. After all, it is the movie where Jason finally gets his mask. And that scene is indeed pretty glorious, too. Shelley is a truly believable character, and one of the best awkward male characters in the series. His confrontation with the biker gang is also pretty special. Unfortunately, though, this is about all the movie has going for it.
It starts with a recap of the last movie’s ending, and then a very long opening scene that is obviously intended to show off the movie’s 3D gimmick. But that means the movie doesn’t really start until 17 minutes in! It would be fine if the hook was interesting, but it just isn’t. The characters in the hook, like pretty much all the characters in the movie (except for two), are just not that interesting, and are even kind of annoying.
The final girl is given an unrealistic motivation, everyone is given horrible dialogue, some of the worst acting in the series happens in this movie, and so many poor decisions are made. Not to mention the fact that none of the characters in this movie seem to understand the concept of “up.”
10. Friday the 13th (2009)
The reboot has a lot going for it: the production design is amazing (seeing Camp Crystal Lake as basically a ghost town is pretty gnarly), Jason is a genuinely scary villain, and it is, after all, the second-most financially successful installment in the series. So what’s the problem?
First of all, this doesn’t feel like a Friday movie at all, it feels like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre all over again. Given the fact that it was made by the same studio, same director, and same producer, that’s not surprising. But the franchises are very different. The Friday movies are supposed to be fun and cheesy, not grim and nihilistic. Also, the pacing is a big issue for me. Like Part 3, which didn’t actually start until 17 minutes in, the reboot doesn’t start until the 23 minute mark, which is when the film’s title finally appears. 23 minutes! Having a long hook is one thing, but there’s basically a short film before the main film. I would forget about it, except that this short film is almost unwatchable in its humorlessness, bad acting, and overall bad writing.
This film is a bad omen for the Friday franchise. It set a record for highest-grossing opening for a horror film. This suggest that fans are hungry for another legitimate eighties-style slasher flick, and were hoping this would be it. Having a movie packed full of some of the highlights of Jason’s story — Mrs. Voorhees going nuts, Jason seeing her killed and taking revenge, Jason getting his mask, and so on — is a very good idea on which to base a reboot. But if it doesn’t feel like a Friday movie, what’s the point? By contrast, Wes Craven did a fantastic job with Scream 4, bringing a nineties-era story into the present. Why can’t a Friday movie do the same, and what would it look like? I’m betting it would be more like Cabin in the Woods, and less like Saw.
9. Freddy vs Jason
I really wanted to like this movie more, as well. The writing is definitely not bad here. The logic and execution of the premise for bringing Jason and Freddy together may not be perfect, but it’s enough for me to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride. There is a lot of good humor, and genuine character moments. The final showdown is also brutal and bloody, as it should be. But there are many flaws that take me out of it, and they were more pronounced on my second viewing of the film.
The main problem is that, like the reboot, this just doesn’t feel like a Friday movie. It is very clearly more Freddy’s story than Jason’s. Even some of Jason’s best moments, like crashing the bonfire party, don’t really seem to be his M.O. The Jason I know picks kids off in isolation and hides the bodies for the final girl to find later, that’s what he does! This could have been a glorious opportunity for Friday creators to actually present Jason as a Michael Myers-type character, since that is the original inspiration for the Friday movies in the first place. The end result of kids believing in Jason and not Freddy would still work just the same.
But the worst insult to Friday fans is the notion that Jason is secretly afraid of water. Give me a break. Maybe if you read a two sentence description of Jason’s origin and only had that to go by, you would think rationally that this would be acceptable. But name one moment in the entirety of the series in which Jason has demonstrated a fear of water? The dude spent years chained at the bottom of a lake, had some of his best kills in said lake, and even spent half a movie on a boat. Now he’s afraid of water all of a sudden?
Better would have been some creative dream manipulation involving his mother, perhaps by taunting him. All it shows is a total disrespect to Friday fans. Freddy vs. Jason is great if you are a Nightmare fan (which I also am), but a movie like this has the monumental task of doing justice to both, and in this case, it just doesn’t.
8. Friday the 13th Part 8: Jason Takes Manhattan
Now we move from the misfires in the series to movies that are in the middle. A lot of fans consider Manhattan to be one of the biggest misfires of them all, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and defend this one. The problems are not incorrectly stated by fans. We didn’t want a movie teased as being largely set in New York, only to find Jason on a boat for an hour. It also does have some of the worst creature effects, terrible acting, and plenty of plot-holes large enough to drive a truck through — like how Jason manages to follow the survivors all the way to New York by, I guess, swimming? Or the unexplained ghost-child-Jason that just appears for no reason?
But on the other hand, this film truly tries something different while largely remaining a Friday movie. It’s definitely darker than all the other films in what it has to say, but it is not so dark that we forget to have a good time. The rock star girl getting killed by her own guitar, and the fighter that gets to go out while standing on two feet after giving Jason everything he’s got, are evidence of this. It is as if the movie is saying, “Some of these kids welcome death, as long as it’s on their own terms.” We know they are going to die, but there’s something special about knowing they went out in a good way.
Because from the first images, Part 8 doesn’t sugar-coat the slimy underbelly of urban decay. Jason ends up representing the Grim Reaper in this movie, which is a pretty damn cool idea — an idea that goes back to Part 6. This is why the climax actually worked for me. Having the final girl rediscover a traumatic childhood event — however clumsily set up — during an involuntarily drug-induced dream state was, perhaps, one of the most interesting experiments in franchise. It may not have worked for most people, but it worked for me.
7. Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood
The best things about this movie are the creature effects, and the fact that, after having spent years chained to the bottom of a lake, Jason seems really, really pissed. So pissed that he says, “To hell with the machete… I just want to bag up a teenager and just throw her against a tree repeatedly.” That’s pretty intense.
Of course, this movie would rank higher, if it wasn’t for some of the stupidest writing decisions in the series. Zombie Dad is probably the worst one, but there are plenty throughout this film. It also has some bad acting and seems to grind to a halt whenever Jason’s not on screen. I will say, though, that given Jason’s newfound supernatural strength acquired in Part 6, it seems axiomatic that a showdown with an equally powerful heroine would not be out of place.
And although it is clearly inspired by Firestarter and Carrie, seeing Jason go toe to toe with a telepath makes for a very entertaining finale. The presence of a guardian figure that turns out to be knowingly abusing her represents a shift in tone in the franchise, which is continued in Part 8. The idea of adults being not only unhelpful but often harmful is common not just in later Friday movies, but slasher movies in general.
6. Jason Goes To Hell
This choice is one that I know I will be getting some flack for, so I’ll take an extra minute to defend it. I actually gave this one quite a lot of thought, and it wasn’t easy. But at the end of the day, I enjoyed this movie on my second viewing of it as an adult far more than I thought I would. And I really tried to hate it.
Let me start with a few concessions. It is understandably jarring to have a film largely absent of the man with the mask, and some of the mythology doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. It also seems to start as though the last movie never actually happened, therefore disrupting the expectations that Friday fans had developed for continuity. It also has some pretty lame CGI, and the slug thing really seems to be from another movie entirely. Honestly, this film seems to violate so many of the rules that I’ve just talked about when it comes to what makes a Friday movie a Friday movie. So why would I go easy on a movie that’s obviously so bad?
Well, when it gets it right it’s really quite good. I’m talking about breaking the fourth wall. Sure, it’s no Wes Craven’s New Nightmare or anything like that, but there are hints all throughout the movie that the whole thing can be seen as a love letter to not only the franchise but to B-movie horror in general. This is the first time Sean Cunningham, who directed the original, returned to make another installment. It was also the first to be released by New Line, so it’s not like fans couldn’t have expected it to be a little different. But did it go too far?
I don’t think so. Most of the Friday formula is there: horny teens showing skin and getting killed in the woods, the rain storm, the body getting thrown through a window, the awkward male character (which finally gets to be heroic for a change!), the death by machete, lots of really cool deaths, etc. But the movie references are where it shines. My favorite is the nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing, which can be seen in the shot of the dead body of Jason’s sister, which features a crate that references an Arctic expedition. And while the CGI is pretty terrible, there’s a lot of really good practical creature effects in this movie. Notable is the very Reanimator-like autopsy scene, where we get closeups of all of Jason’s body parts.
And the crime should not be to have an expanded mythology, as long as it doesn’t seem to violate what has come before. I’ll leave you to judge whether it does that, but in my opinion, it doesn’t. It is in keeping with the original goal, which was to make horror movies that were every bit as fun and engaging as the ones filmmakers like Cunningham, as a fellow horror fan, was watching at the time. So if you can give it a try with horror lore in mind, you may be surprised by the easter eggs you’ll find. I can agree that the film could have benefitted from another rewrite, but it has plenty of good character moments, and a pretty epic rampage in the final act, if you’re willing to go along for the ride.
5. Jason X
This movie, I’ve learned, is developing something of a cult following, so hopefully I won’t have to play defense too much here. This movie is so much fun. It is the most self-aware film in the series, and it relishes in the ridiculousness of its own premise. This is the reason the film works. It almost feels like a game, and it makes me giddy to see moments where Jason is so smart he can even adapt when a computer simulation is used to trick him.
At the same time as it accomplishes the task of being a sort of update on the franchise, it is also accelerating everything about it. It elevates the humor as well as the violence, and the body count is through the roof! It walks a fine line between being an action film that is violent and a legitimate horror film that has a lot of suspense and action. I think it succeeds more in the latter.
The pacing is pretty incredible, but what I love the most is the rising action. Every thing that can be thought of as a possible escape or weapon or other strategy for survival is methodically thwarted, one by one, as good sci-fi horror should do. First, the entire security team is killed in one gruesome scene. Then the pilot is killed, along with the space station that would have saved them. Another rescue is attempted, but this is destroyed in a character-driven way. When Uber Jason finally appears, as absurd as it seems, it feels earned. It is like, of all the movies in the franchise, this is probably the best entry that clearly demonstrates characters that really do seem to be cursed with bad luck. And what is more Friday than that?
4. Friday the 13th (1980)
The ones who place the original at the top of the list are probably doing so for romantic reasons, and I don’t blame them. I would do so as well, if I didn’t think the others are much better films overall. Still, the original deserves a lot of credit. It may have been capitalizing on the success of Halloween and other films, but its runaway box office success is earned.
However dated the acting and production quality seems to be upon a second viewing, the biggest takeaway should be the due respect it gives to its sources. The music, while not being quite as memorable as Carpenter’s iconic score for Halloween, is nevertheless impressive. Manfredini has said that the original theory for his music was that it only be heard when the killer was present. He eventually did away with this theory later in the franchise, but it adds a special minimalist quality to the film that is lost in those later films. Together with the equally minimalistic lighting, and the practically claustrophobic atmosphere of the movie overall, its Hitchcockian feel is refreshingly special compared to many of today’s horror films.
3. Friday the 13th Part 2
The second film fixes a lot of the production mistakes made in the first film. The acting and writing are much better, the music is largely still amazing, and there is even enough mystery regarding who the final girl will be to make the experience truly engaging. The only problem is that there is no ending at all. Furthermore, Part 3 never even bothers to explain how the final girl survives.
In any case, the film chooses wisely not to become overly complicated, and the basic plot remains the same as the first. The infamous double impalement scene and the wheelchair scene are notable highlights, but the best is the finale. Final girl Ginny thinking on her feet and tricking Jason into believe for a moment that she is his mother is one of the best moments in the franchise. Sure, Jason is an uncharacteristically oafish killer in this movie, but that only gives it charm, compared to later films.
2. Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter
There are too many classic moments in this chapter not to put it near the top of any list, which is where it is always found. This film gets just about everything right. The acting, the writing, the camera work, the music, the production design, etc. Crispin Glover and Cory Feldman are so iconic among Friday fans for a lot of really good reasons. Personally, I think Shelley’s character in Part 3 is more interesting than Glover’s when it comes to being the awkward male character, but this is only a minor thing. The reality is that this film has not one but two groups to care about.
The choice to include a child in this film is also very interesting. Cutting up teenagers is a no-brainer in slasher movies because that is who goes to see these movies, after all. But kids? In this movie, it really just functions as a raising of the stakes for the final girl, who now has to protect her little brother in addition to herself. The fact that Tommy is the one that deals the final blow to Jason is just icing on the cake of an otherwise excellent film.
1. Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives
For a lot of people, Part 4 is number one, but for me, Part 6 is easily the one that just nails it. It is a genuinely scary slasher film that hits all the right notes, and presents Friday the 13th as it was always meant to be. It was the perfecting of everything that came before it, and has never been done better.
I would even go a step further and call this movie art. If you don’t believe me, go back and rewatch it. You’ll be surprised by what you find.
First of all, the decision to put not one but dozens of children in this movie is not unintentional. Existential dread takes center stage when adults attempt to tell children that there is nothing to be scared of, right before running around in out of control fits of terror. Death is always lurking about, and the film seems to suggest that there is no kidding yourself about that. The councilors’ assurances become laughably absurd as the film goes on, and much attention is paid to this.
It’s easy to see why this stuff appears in this film. Director McLoughlin wanted to inject some postmodernism into the mix, which explains all of the wonderful metahumor throughout. My favorite is the gravedigger lamenting, “Why did they have to go and dig up Jason? Some folks sure do got a strange idea of entertainment.” The film goes on to poke fun at the strangeness of horror as entertainment. This absurdity is even hinted at in a scene where one of the children is shown to be reading “No Exit.” And what is more absurd than a 10 year old reading Sartre?
Jason in this film, for the first time, is presented unapologetically as analogous to the Grim Reaper himself. It is this film when Jason begins to be presented as a largely supernatural creature, and it is terrifying. But the best antidote to cosmic dread is humor, and the film has plenty of that as well.