Scream Movies Ranked
What Scream movie is the best?
After nearly two decades of some of the most iconic horror franchises slowly descending into schlock, Wes Craven’s Scream launched the meta-filled horror parody series that somehow did what all those others were trying to do better than any of them. With the recently released Scream 6 hitting theaters this weekend and a seventh entry set to film later this year, the series seems to be more alive than ever. As the series has seemingly successfully risen from the dead, there’s no better time than the present to rank each and every one…well, actually not the TV show; we won’t be discussing the TV show in this list at all so argue about where that one belongs in the comments.
More than 20 years on from the release of the original Scream, the idea of meta is no longer novel or particularly clever. That’s not to say that meta cant be good but only that since the novelty has worn off, simply being meta isn’t automatically enough anymore. I wasn’t sure there was such a thing as being too self-aware until I watched Scream 5…Scream 5 is entirely too self-aware.
The fifth installment in the franchise, which also happens to be an attempt at a second legacy sequel, falls flat for so many reasons. Once again the characters have been modernized to better represent the teenagers of 2020, and in doing so the writers seem more concerned with ironically imitating and mocking the past than crafting relatable and believable characters making for a deluge of truly insufferable teenagers. In addition to the miserable character work the writers also seem to hold genuine disdain for the existing Scream audience. Not only does the movie parade around Woodsboro seeming to openly mock the memories of the originals but Jack Quaid’s character Richie has a rant at the end of the final confrontation revealing that he is who the writers imagine the fans of the original to be and is then written as though any frustration with disrespecting something he loves is totally unreasonable. That’s not to say that Richie was justified in what he did just that openly insulting your audience is never a good idea.
Being the first in the series to not be directed by Wes Craven and the second to not be written by Kevin Williamson, Scream 5 demonstrates an elementary understanding of the entire point of Scream that resulted in a clumsy over-execution. In some sort of attempt at a meta-commentary on the meta-commentary, Scream 5 ends up treating the first four movies as though they were straight-faced schlocky slasher/horror movies with no self-awareness whatsoever. The writers of Scream 5 were overconfident in their abilities, and their disdain for the Scream audience left that audience feeling at odds with the creators.
The conclusion to the original trilogy was the first in the series that is hard to argue is anything better than mediocre entertainment. That’s not to say the movie wasn’t entertaining, it certainly was; but despite the biting meta dialogue about the movie being the end of a trilogy meaning all bets are off, it failed to form nearly as strong a thesis as its predecessors. Instead of mocking the ridiculous rules and checklists like the first, or the endless barrage of sequels like the second, Scream 3 simply mocked the conceded microcosm of Hollywood and the behind-the-scenes processes of the film industry at large.
Opening the movie on Cotton Weary made for a fresh take on the initial kill scene and having essentially two versions of each character (the characters themselves and the characters who were the actors playing the characters in the movie within the movie) made for some fun sequences but generally Scream 3 falls flat. The concept of Scream 3 being about the production of the in-universe analog of itself, Stab 3, drags the entire plot down into a convoluted mess of confusion over ambition.
The best Scream movie that isn’t stellar, Scream 6 is a fun spin on reexamining Scream 2. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin absolutely found his footing after stumbling out the gate with Scream 5 and clearly learned that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Scream 6 checks all the boxes of a great Scream experience while easing off the oversaturation of meta and open insulting of the audience that was the bane of Scream 5.
Jenna Ortega is a bona fide movie star, and her performance, along with the rest of the leading cast, successfully brought the fun back to Scream for the first time in 12 years. Every ingredient from a fun mystery, excessive tension, and brutal kills was included. No fan of Scream will regret having spent their time and money in the theater as they leave, but ultimately until the writers learn how to craft a counter-culture commentary on modern Hollywood trends, Scream 6 will be as good as it gets, and the series will continue to fail to reach the heights of the earlier movies.
Unlike the rest of the genre, Scream was uniquely positioned from the very start to be followed by sequels. By building the entire franchise around a meta parody of the slasher/horror genre in general, the opportunity for sequels was built in. While the first movie was based on the subversion of genre tropes and a twist ending that nobody could have seen coming, the second movie had access to a buffet of sequel tropes to poke fun at.
In turning the buffoonery up several notches, Craven was able to make Scream 2 a genuinely hilarious movie. At one point in the movie Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Cici literally pushes a bike down a flight of stairs at Ghostface. There is always an argument to be made that the Scream movies are comedies, and that argument has never been stronger than it was in Scream 2. From the caricature-like levels of stereotypical characters to a plot-driven entirely by revenge, Scream 2 knew what it was and, more importantly, what it wasn’t resulting in a masterclass of how paint by numbers can result in art that is head and shoulders better than the original templates. Pure genius.
After Scream 3 had clearly worn out the concept, Wes Craven knew when the proper time to get out was. But in the late aughts, movies like Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Fast and Furious, Tron Legacy, Rocky Balboa, and Live Free or Die Hard popularized the concept of a legacy sequel and as such a new trend in Hollywood was in need of mockery. The time had come for Scream to resurface and Scream 4 made a mockery of the legacy sequel so perfectly that the only reason it missed the number one spot on this list was a missed opportunity.
Scream 4 hit all the same notes as the original but did so in a way that treated the first three movies with reverence while building on what they had done more than ten years prior. The movie modernized its teenage characters while quietly poking fun at their of-the-time interests, it told a story that was, for the first time ever, just as surprising as the first, and it introduced Hayden Panetierre’s Kirby Reed, who was impossible to hate and Emma Roberts’ Jill Roberts who was equally impossible to love.
The only point at which Scream 4 completely failed its audience was in the ending. The theatrical release of the movie saw Jill (the main character who was also the killer) being discovered and then attacked and killed by Sidney, Gale, and Dewey. This was a mistake. Prior to the scene in which Sidney, Gale, and Dewey confront and kill Jill, Sidney is left presumed dead while Jill thinks she has gotten away with her master plan. The movie should have ended there. Subvert expectations once again by leaving the audience with the impression that not only was the main character the killer but for the first time, the killer got away.
This ending would not only have fit thematically but would also have created the massive opportunity for Emma Roberts to return in the fifth installment to be terrorized by a new Ghostface who knows her secret. A new Ghostface who would eventually be revealed as Sidney. The original victim finally donning the mask in an epic role reversal to take on the only Ghostface who managed to escape would have been a properly poetic end to the franchise and far preferable to the Scream 5 that we actually got.
As the movie’s own narrative suggests, the first one is always the best. Scream established a new big name in the horror genre that immediately was able to hang with the biggest contenders around like Halloween and Friday The Thirteenth. The original did meta before meta was cool and used that concept to lull its audience into a false sense of confidence making for one of the first truly shocking reveals since Pamela Voorhees. The original Scream movie utilized its own self-awareness to establish a new formula based on the subversion of expectations that arguably directly led to the elevated horror genre that is so popular today.
On a more granular level, Scream on its own is an absolute blast on every single rewatch. The movie keeps things simple by presenting a modern whodunit and constantly keeping the audience guessing to such an extent that anyone that claims they accurately predicted the ending without having been spoiled is simply lying. In addition to the whodunit elements of the movie being stellar, Scream opens with one of the best scenes ever put to film. By casting Drew Barrymore for such a minor role, Craven was able to successfully set the tone for the entire series as something we already know and love while breaking from that formula at practically every opportunity. Scream is an icon of the 90s and absolutely merits study in college film classes for decades to come.