This ranking of horror franchises is part of the 2019 edition of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
All kinds of movies get sequels, and blockbusters often grow into franchises, but there’s something special about a horror film that earns a follow-up and continues to grow from there. Whether it be with monsters that die only to return to life, new riffs on the terrors we thought we understood, or simply a continuation of the nightmare, horror sequels typically promise more of the monster magic and creepy scares we’ve come to love.
Of course, as with every other genre, most sequels offer a series of diminishing returns. We’re here to champion the good to great ones, though, the franchises that — more often than not — maintain quality, purpose, and imagination with their various entries. We keep coming back for more because they keep delivering the goods. You could say that our month-long 31 Days of Horror Lists feature is a franchise of sorts. You could, but that’s silly, so instead why not just join Chris Coffel, Valerie Ettenhofer, Kieran Fisher, Brad Gullickson, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, and myself for a look at the ten most consistently good horror film series.
10. Psycho (1960-2017)
No one needs to defend Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock‘s proto-slasher, adapted from Robert Bloch‘s novel, is an undeniable masterpiece and will be talked about for as long as cinema exists. Norman Bates and his mother are forever locked in our pop-culture consciousness. The films that demand your reconsideration are Psycho II and III. People, you gotta go back and watch these sequels. Anthony Perkins delivers a heartbreaking turn in the follow-ups. They’re soul-crushing portrayals of a broken mind trying to mend itself sprinkled with satisfying kills to satiate the gore-hound crowd; they’re murders that Hitch most certainly would have delighted in perpetrating if the censors at the time would have allowed such naughtiness. And, ya know what? Psycho IV ain’t half-bad either. Directed by Mick Garris, The Beginning attempts to track the trauma that birthed a killer twenty-three years before Bates Motel would stretch the concept into three seasons of television. And while you’re revisiting the Psychos, you might as well give Gus Van Sant‘s remake another try. Consider how the simple act of casting can radically alter the tone and feel of a film. The remake is not the blasphemous assault on Alfred Hitchcock that you remember, but a deeply fascinating celebration of performance. (Brad Gullickson)
9. Child’s Play (1988-2017)
There have been seven Childs Play films (not counting the recent remake), and creator Don Mancini has had a hand in each of them. Imagine that, if Wes Craven or John Carpenter had kept steering the Elm Street and Halloween ships where they may have gone. We probably wouldn’t have had Dream Child, or The Revenge of Michael Myers. Maybe we would’ve had something as inspired as Bride or Curse of Chucky, later series films that subverted regressive gender stereotypes while addressing the original films misogynistic bent. Even the less-than-stellar sequels, like Child’s Play 3 and Seed of Chucky, are surprisingly progressive upon reevaluation, letting the films be seen in a completely new light, Mancini’s underlying intentions becoming clearer. This is what you get when you have a singular creative voice, and Mancini’s championing of the character he created is blatantly clear in each of the original series’ films. Franchises are afforded a few duds after decades of storytelling. With Child’s Play, even its duds leave you with something – a new idea, a fresh gore gag – to take away long after the credits roll. (Jacob Trussell)
8. Final Destination (2000-2011)
I’d argue that this franchise contains three movies that are actually brilliant — 1, 2, and 5 — which is an impressive feat for a five-film series. But the lesser efforts aren’t bad by any means, either. The Final Destination saga is built on a simple premise — Death killing people who narrowly escaped their fate the first time — that allows disposable characters to be dispatched in gruesome ways. Horror needs more fun event franchises like this one, and enough time has passed since the last sequel to warrant at least one more outing. (Kieran Fisher)
7. Scream (1996-2019)
Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson‘s Scream came along at just the right time as stale studio efforts stacked with attractive “teens” had already grown tiresome. The film revitalized the format by making them — gasp! intelligent and interesting — and by delivering a script that kept even hardened horror fans on their collective toes. From its Psycho-inspired casting of Drew Barrymore to its multiple killer revelation, the film remains a killer slice of fun, smart, and entertaining as hell slasher cinema. The sequels that followed never quite lived up to the first, but there are joys to be found particularly in the best sequel, the frequently maligned Scream 4. (Yeah, I said it.) Craven’s passing most likely put the nail in the coffin of more sequels, but a television series has managed three seasons so far to mixed results. People like it, but even if you don’t it shows the longevity and wit of Craven’s creation to be something worth celebrating despite all the lame teen-centric slashers that followed. (Rob Hunter)
6. Saw (2004-2017)
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Saw franchise is that — and this is said with nothing but wholehearted love and admiration — these films go in one ear and out the other. With eight films in the franchise and another on the way, the Saw films can easily bleed into one another, to the point where it’s difficult to remember exactly what transpires in each film and what information is revealed when. The first entry in the franchise is pretty much universally acknowledged as the best and it’s definitely the film that is most easily distinguished from the others with its original story. But its sequels each have their fair share of intricate death traps and plot twists that make re-watches a consistently surprising experience. A franchise this twisted is only benefited by the feeling of seeing it all again as if it was the first time. The films ebb and flow slightly in quality, but even in the franchise’s weakest moments, there’s another kill lurking around the corner to spike an interest again. Some might say that the later films become repetitive but to them, I ask how a true horror fan can become so jaded as to not find enjoyment in a carousel death trap? I know I certainly do. (Anna Swanson)
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists