There’s no slasher franchise that’s as smart as Scream. You could argue that the entire Scream franchise is derivative of the original Halloween (1978), but the first Scream (1996) knows this, and the latest sequel, Scream (2022), draws similarities, while itself imitating Halloween (2018), an umpteenth sequel that lacks a number on the end in an attempt to pose as a soft reboot.
In 1996, fresh from the end of an era of horror franchises such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Child’s Play (all of which would be resurrected in the years that followed, and again in more recent years), the slasher subgenre was ripe for some much-needed analysis and mockery. And there was only one man fit for the job: Wes Craven.
Enter Scream, a horror movie that decodes the make-up of the common slasher, taking all the tropes, traditions, and cliches, and turning them into a set of rules that one must abide by in order to survive a “real-life” horror movie. Coupled with a psychotic serial killer who’s making creepy phone calls and referencing their favorite scary movies, and you have a masterpiece.
But Scream wasn’t Wes Craven’s first rodeo in meta slasher — that honor goes to Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), the A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel that takes place “outside” its predecessors. It has since become a cult classic, and is generally considered one of the better sequels in the Elm Street series. But at the time, the world just wasn’t ready for meta horror.
The first Scream movie was an instant classic, and remains one of Wes Craven’s best films, while Scream 2 (1997) is considered one of the best slasher sequels. But beyond that, did the Scream franchise end up becoming the kind it initially set out to poke fun at? Let’s find out, because here are all the Scream movies ranked from worst to best!
Warning: There are some spoilers ahead for the Scream movies.
5. Scream 4
Whatever you think of Scream 4 (2011), there’s no denying that it’s the most unwelcome movie in the Scream franchise. After Scream 3 (2000), the intended trilogy-topper, neatly wrapped things up, it didn’t cross anyone’s mind that the series would ever be revisited. And while there are of course worse slasher sequels out there, there’s just something off about Wes Craven’s Scream 4.
For starters, it has the worst cinematography of all the Scream movies (a weird glow gives the film a cheap look), and secondly, it’s all a bit contrived. The film tries to find its angle with the then-modern reboots, but the script just isn’t smart enough to offer any worthwhile commentary. The only real plus is Emma Roberts as Jill Roberts, one of the two Ghostface killers — she’s bonkers!
Scream 4 also stars Rory Culkin (Charlie Walker), Hayden Panettiere (Kirby Reed), and Anna Paquin (Rachel Barnes). In an attempt to poke fun at itself, the film has a number of “fake” opening sequences, which are actually set in the “Stab” universe.
4. Scream (2022)
The latest Scream movie isn’t about remakes — it’s legacy sequels that go under the microscope this time around, with the likes of Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) called upon as examples. In other words, anything that’s a soft reboot of their original predecessor and sees the return of “legacy” characters.
Speaking of which — Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) are back for a fifth time, as they try to help some fresh faces who have become the target of a new Ghostface killer. To say that Scream (2022) is problem-free is a lie, but its meta commentary around legacy characters and toxic movie fandoms is great fun.
Scream (2022) also stars Jenna Ortega (Tara Carpenter), Jack Quaid (Richie Kirsch), and Dylan Minette (Wes Hicks). It’s the only Scream movie not to have been directed by Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015.
3. Scream 3
Despite Scream 3 (2001) being among the smartest in the Scream franchise, it’s a movie many fans take issue with, which is largely due to its Hollywood setting. That’s not to say that, just two films in, fans considered Woodsboro as synonymous with Scream movies as, say, Haddonfield is with Halloween, but the Tinsel Town setting does render Scream 3 somewhat spoofy.
With movie sets and studios at every turn, Scream 3 takes meta commentary to a whole new level, at times even breaking the fourth wall for nothing more than a cheap gag (Carrie Fisher appears as a Carrie Fisher lookalike…). With all that said, this threequel does, for the most part, have the same tone and feel of the first two, and its unpacking of movie trilogies is interesting stuff.
Scream 3 also stars Patrick Dempsey (Mark Kincade) and Lance Henriksen (John Milton). Unlike the first, second, and fourth Scream movies, which were penned by Kevin Williamson, Scream 3 was written by Ehren Kruger (no relation to Freddy).
2. Scream 2
There was a bit of a battle with ranking this entry and the 1996 film, because Scream 2 is a solid sequel that understands the fine line between semi-serious slasher and the more self-referential nature that its predecessor walks. Ultimately, though, despite all its strengths (there are many), we simply decided that Scream 2 just isn’t as tightly woven or as neatly packaged as the first.
And that’s really the only negative thing we have to say about this movie — Scream 2 is a blast, and in its study of sequels, sets its own challenge to be a superior slasher (it’s definitely gorier than the first movie!). Scream 2 also has the best duo of Ghostface killers, and despite the fact that we’re now five films deep, we can’t help but feel like it could have ended here.
Scream 2 also stars Sarah Michelle Gellar (Cici Cooper), Timothy Olyphant (Mickey Altieri), and Liev Schreiber (Cotton Weary). This is the first Scream movie to introduce “Stab”, a horror movie series based on the “Woodsboro Murders”.
Before “Stab”, the horror movie within a horror movie, became the crutch for the rest of the Scream franchise in terms of meta commentary, there was the simplicity of a killer terrorizing teens in their absurdly remote houses. Scream gets off to a brutal start, with Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker), even then a hugely famous movie star, being killed in the first ten minutes.
From that moment on, there’s really no telling who’s safe — or even who the killer is, for that matter. Scream ingeniously combines age-old slasher tropes with meta commentary, but never once becomes the butt of its own joke. And while it’s dripping with the ’90s, it has aged surprisingly well, and its references show no signs of going out of style.
Scream also stars Matthew Lillard (Stu Macher) and Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis). Lillard appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Scream 2, while Ulrich reprises his role as Billy Loomis in Scream (2022). Wes Craven also appears in the original Scream as “Freddy”, a janitor who is dressed just like the horror icon Freddy Krueger.
Recently, it was confirmed that a sixth Scream movie is underway, with a release date of March 31, 2023. The sequel will see the return of Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox, who will be reprising their roles as Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers.
How would you rank all the Scream movies? And what’s your favorite scary movie? Let us know in the comments below!