A ranking of the films from the Scream franchise
I had given up on life. Hung up my ghostface mask, cloak, and shiny, stabby knife. I was ready to retire to a life of calm and peace, to watch only Jennifer Lopez rom coms while eating cherry twizzlers and doing a face mask.
But then Scream 5 came out.
Now here I sit, covered in blood and fresh out of a week-long Scream binge. So, it’s time to talk about all things Wes Craven, and give my conclusive rankings for the best and worst Scream films.
1. Scream (1996)
When it comes to the Scream franchise, nothing compares to the original. The first film follows Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell) as her hometown is terrorized by a masked killer, dead set on killing her, and as many townspeople as possible. Only a year after her mother’s murder, Sydney must fight off nosy reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and suspicions of her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), all while bodies drop around her.
Often credited with revitalizing the dying slasher genre, the witty, self-reflexive nature of the film won over audiences and created an instant hit. The highest-grossing slasher film (adjusted for inflation) until 2019, Scream is easily the most rewatchable film of its kind, and still feels as eerie and shocking as it did on the first watch. Since it did not have to battle with the established conventions of a franchise, each turn the story takes is entirely original and establishes its ‘anything can happen’ attitude by killing off its biggest star—Drew Barrymore—before the opening credits. Despite this, the remaining cast brings with them star performances that make you hope they will survive right until the killing blow. This film embodies all the best parts of a horror movie without taking itself too seriously, which allows the audience to let their guards down and appreciate what an exciting, gory romp it is. The original Scream is dangerous and funny, and is a movie audiences can watch just to remind themselves what is great about horror movies.
2. Scream (2022)
While I know it is bold to place a (let’s be honest) cash–grab remake so close to the original film, Scream 5 pulled out all the stops. Taking place 25 years after the murders of the first film, it follows Sam Carpenter (Melissa Barrerra) who has to return to her hometown of Woodsboro after her sister, Tara (Jenna Ortega), is attacked by the Ghostface killer. Accompanied by her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), she is thrust into a mystery—and everyone is a suspect.
While this iteration of Scream is obviously not as inventive as the original, it has almost as much fun as that one does. While some modern takes on Scream (specifically Scream 4) feel as though they are trying to lean more into a classic horror, this film plays with those troupes in a campy way. It addresses the recent uptick of auteur horror films in the past few years–and plays back into the classic style. It plays with the ‘everyone’s a suspect’ nature of the Scream films by having characters confront each other in nearly every scene, and swells its music at inopportune times to make the audience believe tragedy is about to strike. While I do not entirely love the ‘reboot character is a child of the original’ troupe, in a Scream movie it feels very intentional. More than anything, the reveal of the killer felt as close to an original as possible. It is someone you know with a good reasoning and connection, and the film does enough flip-flops that you will be hard-pressed to guess accurately. Additionally, this film goes as far as to kill long-time cast member David Arquette, which causes legitimate fear for returning characters Sydney Prescott and Gale Weathers. This film also saves a few members of it’s new cast–, implying they may have more to say in the new era of Scream.
3. Scream 2 (1997)
Full of self-fulfilling prophecies about the quality of sequels, Scream 2 delivers a solid balance of scares, nostalgia, and humor. It follows Sydney Prescott as she attempts to live a normal life in college despite her dark past. She is joined by her new boyfriend Mickey (Timothy Olpihant) and fellow survivors Randy (Jamie Kennedy), Dewey (David Arquette) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox).
Released only a short year after the original Scream movie, this iteration of the franchise still feels fresh and exciting, and utilizes its new location to throw off the viewer and question all of their surroundings. It has several exciting sequences, like when Sydney envisions Ghostface during her stage performances, and when Randy is on call with the killer in the middle of the quad. I will say the reveal of the killer feels a bit out of left-field, as the film dedicates much of it’s runtime to exploring other characters and doesn’t give many hints to the reveal. Despite this, the college party setting is the perfect playground for Ghostface, and features many gruesome killings. This film also dedicates much of it’s runtime to the relationship between Dewey and Gale Weathers, which introduces a sincere element that is often absent from the Scream movies.
4. Scream 3 (2000)
The last of the original Scream trilogy tries it’s best to amp up the energy. While on set for the fictional ‘Stab’ franchise based off the original Woodsboro murders, cast members began facing attacks from a Ghostface killer. Gale, Dewey and Sydney have no choice but to return and try to save this new generation—putting themselves in harm’s way in the process.
This Scream film borders on the point of being almost too self-aware. It’s full of long-winded monologues about the ‘rules of trilogies,’ and the self-insertion of a Wes Craven character makes it feel vapid and a bit obnoxious. While the re-creation of Hollywood sets and actors is a fun premise to play with, the new characters are petty and difficult to root for, which almost makes you wish ghostface would take them out sooner. The final battle takes place in an old Hollywood mansion, which makes its sequence thrilling and unpredictable. But, the reveal of Ghostface is very anticlimactic, as the killer reveals he was actually Sydney’s long-lost brother seeking revenge on her for something her mother did. Since we only learn this information after the killer is revealed, there is very little satisfaction in the unveiling. Additionally, due to the abilities of ghostface to appear and disappear, it feels unlikely that one killer would be capable of all that ghostface accomplishes in the movie.
5. Scream 4 (2011)
More than anything, this film is a product of its time. 15 years after the original Ghostface killings, Sydney returns to Woodsboro to promote her recently published self-help book. Upon her return, two high schoolers are killed, and Sydney must stay in town until the murders are solved.
The last film of the Scream franchise to be filmed before Wes Craven’s death in 2015, you would hope that it would be one of the better films in the franchise. However, it lacks the campy tone that makes the Scream films so enjoyable, and feels too much like a by-the-books horror movie. The deaths in this film are extremely gruesome, and the tension is rarely cut or played upon in the story. Additionally, the location feels tired and drawn-out, and doesn’t play with the suburban setting as much as they could. Credit should be given to the Ghostface reveal, as it has the perfect balance of surprise and suspense. However, the end of the film is also very drawn out—several attempts on the characters’ lives follow the reveal of the killer, tacking an extra 20 minutes onto the runtime. Still, the progression of the lives of the original characters feels very natural, and they fit into the new era relatively seamlessly, a feat that is difficult to achieve for many remakes.
It has already been announced that Scream 6 is entering production, with no word yet on which cast members will be returning. It is likely that Scream is entering another trilogy, following the success of the newly-released Scream 5. I wish the franchise all the best because in 20 years, when they announce the release of Scream 20, I will still be in the front row of the theater, laughing and screaming my head off.
Sarah Borsari is a third-year cinema and photography major who is probably not giving up on Scream any time soon. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.