Scream Franchise Ranked from Worst to Best

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” as one might quote whenever this iconic franchise is brought up in passing. For true horror fans, it’s impossible not to give the only correct response about this franchise. Since its inception in 1996 and has continued recently with the fifth installment currently in theaters, the Scream series has got to be one of the more entertaining and consistent horror franchises aside from one entry. Not only because of the star power of its core three actors (Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox), but also because of the mysterious Ghostface could be anybody set around the classic whodunit vibe throughout, director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson have taken something unique to put the beating heart back in the slasher genre.

Since we now have a new film out, it seems fitting to give my personal ranking of the series thus far. I actually planned to review the sequels leading up to the new one, but my schedule got messed up during the past couple of months. So, consider them, minus the first and fifth, as mini-reviews. Thankfully, I rewatched all four films this month in preparation. Sure, this ranking will be the most unoriginal, but I know what’s enjoyable. And this ranking is just the movies and not the television series since I only watched the first season (which was decent). So, with that said, let’s see where each film lands from worst to best.

5) ‘Scream 3’

Scream 3 (2000) - IMDb

Directed By: Wes Craven

Release Date: February 4, 2000

Domestic Box Office/ Worldwide: $89.1 Million/ $161.8 Million

RT Score: 41%

Seeing how Scream 3 was initially intended to be the conclusion to the original trilogy, many have considered this the black sheep of the series. However, it’s been getting more liked by fans saying it has grown of them. But every time I re-watch this, it becomes more underwhelming in how it turned out. I, in good conscience, think it’s the only sequel I don’t like for many reasons. When viewed alongside the two that came before it, it feels weirdly off, not just from the absence of Kevin Williamson’s writing, but leans too much on the meta nature of the series in bringing the story to Hollywood. It started to feel close to a parody based on how it couldn’t find a balance of being scary or comedically during its Scooby Doo-like third act when they shot this without a finished script. A voice changer and an exploding house, really? The only moment that stood out was the dream sequence with Sidney’s mother, while the rest of the runtime was less engaging. And when this has the always lovely Parker Posey feeling like she’s in a completely different movie in a bad way, that’s a problem. But it’s always great Dewey, Sidney, and Gale again. Neve Campbell is always great as Sidney despite her role feeling small and not much the lead. I give Scream 3 credit for having one person as Ghostface thus far, but the overall reveal comes across as convoluted, making this the worst villain reveal yet. So I standby, saying this is the bottom of the barrel.

4) ‘Scream 4’

Directed By: Wes Craven

Release Date: April 15, 2011

Domestic Box Office/ Worldwide: $38.1 Million/ $97.1 Million

RT Score: 61%

I feel that having Craven and Williamson come back to have us return to Woodsboro for the first time for the 15th anniversary with the fourth installment is underappreciated then and now. My biggest compliment to give Scream 4 is that it’s an improvement just from the opening that had us overthinking. Just when Sidney thinks she’s safe after her last encounter with Ghostface, deaths left and right occur during her book tour. How this underperformed at the box office in a sea of “meh” horror movies at that time astounds me. In an assessment of making fun of reboots while delivering how people want to gain attention on the Internet, it was executed well enough to make it fast-paced and surprising goes a bit more comical than the others. The original cast worked well with the new faces, especially Emma Roberts as Jill and Hayden Panettiere’s scene-stealing performance as Kirby. Again, it could’ve been a bit scarier in terms of a few kills and a few new characters didn’t stand out, like Jill’s ex, Trevor, because it made them boring and a total red herring throughout. Even when I saw this in theaters, I wouldn’t say Scream 4 is outstanding, but I’ve always come to appreciate the sequel, even with its flaws. Nobody knew this would sadly be Craven’s last movie before his death, but I’m glad it was part of the franchise. 

3) ‘Scream 2’

Directed By: Wes Craven

Release Date: December 12, 1997

Domestic Box Office/ Worldwide: $101.3 Million

RT Score: 81%

Scream 2 was fast-tracked into production quickly after the release of the original, which had trouble with early script leaks online and having to come out a whole year later. But for what it’s worth, you can’t go wrong with an entertaining horror sequel commenting on the thesis of sequels in general and copycat killers making a real-life sequel. The opening sequences in the movie theater hooked me enough and continued to keep me guessing who’s responsible for the recent killings on campus. To quote Michael Scott from The Office, “She thinks she can go off to college and be happy… And then, the murderer comes back.” This sequel takes charge in having a higher body count and stakes. Everybody from Campbell, Arquette, and newcomers, like Timothy Olyphant as Mickey, never lessened the film down. Why it doesn’t come close to perfection to the first, which was a given, comes down to two issues I had: 1) They shouldn’t have killed off Randy, a fan-favorite of many, including me; and 2) While I had no problem with the reveal of Ghostface, the reason behind it was unrealistic. But it’s fun seeing this expand this world, introducing the movie-within-a-movie, “Stab,” and using the concept of a sequel to its advantage. And there are two moments besides the opening I love: Gail hiding in the sound room and when Sidney and her roommate Hallie try to escape an unconscious Ghostface in the car. Scream 2 is one of the more rewatchable sequels from the ’90s, and I don’t trust a single soul who doesn’t like it and puts it last on their ranking.

2) ‘Scream (2022)

Directed By: Tyler Gillett & Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

Release Date: January 14, 2022

Domestic Box Office/ Worldwide (As of 1/29/2022): $56.8 Million/ $90.4 Million

RT Score: 75%

The recent installment shows that the fifth movie in a horror franchise can be significant and not easily forgotten quickly. So here we have another movie taken place 11 years after the last, and it also serves as another legacy sequel, but it shows through my favorite sequel we’ve gotten yet. Despite not having Wes Craven involved, directors Tyler Gillett & Matt Bettinelli-Olpin (Radio Silence) and the crew knew how to tribute his work by treating Scream with respect for its longtime fans. This is, basically, The Force Awakens of the series, and its blending of the new and older characters finding themselves in a new deadly situation never seizes to be dull. Yet, I was eating it up more than the limited number of audience members when I saw it, as it touches on some huge surprises and perfectly nailing the treads of sequels/ reboots and the inconvenience of toxic fandom in the media. From its reveals, an over-the-top third act, and standout performances from the trio (David Arquette, especially), Jasmin Savoy Brown as Mindy, Jenna Ortega as Tara, and the rest, you can’t call yourself a fan if you didn’t enjoy Scream.

1) ‘Scream

Drew Barrymore in Scream (1996)

Directed By: Wes Craven

Release Date: December 20, 1996

Domestic Box Office/ Worldwide: $103.04 Million

RT Score: 79%

Was this even a surprise? Nothing will ever compare to what believed brought many to love horror movies than the 1996 original Scream. Those who were turned off by the genre 26 years ago and needed something refreshing back then wasn’t prepared for a film that brought that scary feeling back to life, thanks to Craven’s direction and Williamson’s brilliant screenplay. Just everything brimming from Scream plays it seriously and holds a light on how self-awareness it can be in how we typically see in slasher movies are front and center while giving the audience a dose of the mystery of who is Ghostface, murdering folks in Woodsboro a year after the rape and murder of Sidney’s mother. Just in this single film, there’s this instant love for all the characters where you have to question who’s the suspect, and nobody is the quintessential final girl than Neve Campbell as Sidney (Who didn’t have a massive on her then and now). Nothing locks you into a film more than the iconic opening with Drew Barrymore that goes for an unexpected turn, and the rest is a non-stop thrill ride that’s hands down the best-paced horror movie I’ve ever seen. All of the other kills were pretty creative and stood out in my mind. There’s no way this would’ve survived during the early Internet days when you know it will get spoiled by everybody. Ever since I first watched this, I’m always in the mood to watch it at least twice during Halloween. I love all the characters, it’s for die-hard film fans, and the twist during an exciting third act doesn’t get old. Only the most pretentious people wouldn’t find it absolutely investing from frame one. To this day, Scream remains one of my favorite movies of all time that gets better every time.

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