There’s no slasher franchise that’s as smart as Scream. You could argue that the entire series is derivative of the original Halloween (1978), but the first Scream (1996) knows this, and 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, hot off the heels 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.
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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” one must abide by in order to survive a “real-life” horror. 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 — 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 widely considered one of the better sequels in the Elm Street series. But at the time, the world wasn’t ready for meta horror.
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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 Scream end up becoming the kind of franchise it initially set out to poke fun at? Let’s find out, because here are all six Scream movies ranked from worst to best!
Warning: There are some spoilers ahead for the Scream movies.
6. 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 completely 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.
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5. Scream VI (2023
Scream VI (2023) is currently hacking its way through the global box office, but is the highly anticipated slasher sequel actually any good? Well, understandably, fans were nervous about the idea of a Scream movie without final girl Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), but rest assured that you have nothing to worry about on that front.
Unfortunately, while the film is being hailed as the best installment since the original 1996 film, that simply isn’t true. If you’re hoping for a relentless horror flick with an exceptionally brutal Ghostface, you won’t be disappointed. But if you think you’re also in for some smart meta slasher like those that have come before it, don’t hold your breath.
And then there’s the third act-reveal, which is easily the most underwhelming in the series.
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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.
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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).
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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 six 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”.
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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 large remote homes. Scream gets off to a brutal start, with Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker), even then a hugely famous movie star, being killed within 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) and Scream VI. Wes Craven also appears in the original Scream as “Freddy”, a janitor who is dressed just like the horror icon Freddy Krueger.
Check out the official Scream VI trailer below:
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As per Wikipedia, here’s the official synopsis for Scream VI:
The film continues with the survivors of the latest Ghostface killings, sisters Samantha and Tara Carpenter and twins Chad and Mindy Meeks, leaving Woodsboro behind and starting a new chapter of their lives in New York City only to again be plagued by a streak of murders by a new Ghostface killer.
Scream VI stars Jenna Ortega (Tara Carpenter), Melissa Barrera (Sam Carpenter), Jasmin Savoy Brown (Mindy Meeks), Mason Gooding (Chad Meeks), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers), Hayden Panettiere (Kirby Reed), Roger L Jackson (the voice of Ghostface), Dermot Mulroney (Wayne Bailey), Henry Czerny (Christopher Stone), Tony Revolori (Jason Carvey), Jack Champion (Ethan Landry), Devyn Nekoda (Anika Kayoko), Liana Liberato (Quinn Bailey), Josh Segarra (Danny Brackett), Samara Weaving (Laura Crane) and Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis).
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How would you rank all the Scream movies? And what’s your favorite scary movie? Let us know in the comments below!