Friday the 13th Series Ranked

All 12 movies, from worst to best

In honor of this Friday the 13th, I’ve decided to post write-ups on all twelve entries in the series (so far), ranked from the weakest to the strongest.  Here we go:

 

part 812.) Friday the 13th part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Written and directed by Rob Hedden

 

Let’s start with the most obvious point: Jason Takes Manhattan is a ridiculous concept for a movie. The only way that it would have had a chance of working would have been to play the movie mostly for laughs (as had been done quite effectively in Part VI), and even then it would have taken some exceptionally clever writing to make the idea supportable. Rob Hedden, however, attempted to make the slasher’s trip to the Big Apple as a serious chiller, and that approach was doomed from the start.

Hedden was then hampered by the studio’s insistence that, in order to keep costs down, Jason only arrive in New York for the movie’s final act, meaning that mostly what we get isn’t “Jason Takes Manhattan,” it’s “Jason Takes a Boat to Manhattan.” In fact, “Jason at Sea” in and of itself might have been a better concept, with some real scare potential, but here it all feels like build-up to the eventual, brief events in New York.

There is not a single effective suspense sequence in the entire movie. Sometimes, even when the suspense doesn’t work, a Friday the 13th movie can at least please at a base level with its kills, but those too are just uninteresting. Hedden attempted to build in more characterization than is associated with the series, but these attempts are clichéd, contrived, and tacked-on. Contributing to this problem are some of the least interesting actors ever to grace the franchise. There is also an attempt to address Jason’s backstory and build sympathy for him, but these sequences are blunt and awkward, and never connect effectively to the story proper or seem in any way connected to the current incarnation of Jason.

And then there’s the ending. I won’t put any spoilers here, but it is the single most absurd method ever conceived for disposing of Jason (or pretty much any monster or villain in the history of fiction), and actually manages to bring the already abysmal movie to a new depth.

 

jasongoestohell-immashootyou11.) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Directed by Adam Marcus

Written by Adam Marcus, Jay Huguely and Dean Lorey

 

As the first movie in the series to be re-branded under the “Jason,” rather than “Friday the 13th,” moniker (and the only way in which this is “The Final Friday” is that it is the last time, that the word “Friday” appeared in the title of one of the original-continuity movies), one would expect an awful lot of screen time here for the titular slasher. Sadly, this picture, an attempt to tell a very different kind of story within the F13 cannon, eliminates 3rd time Jason performer Kane Hodder (who had taken the role in part VII and carried it on in part VIII) from the proceedings very early on, and only brings him back for the conclusion, with the interim occupied by a sequence of corpses possessed by Jason’s malevolent spirit, or the malevolent spirit that made Jason a semi-immortal killer in the first place, or something. I’m not clear on exactly how it supposedly works, though I’m even less clear on how the character of bounty hunter Creighton Duke (Steven Williams) obtained all of the knowledge that he walks around spewing about the matter.

Adam Marcus directs the proceedings with some sense of suspense, there’s some decent gore on display (watch the unrated cut), and there are a handful of pretty solid performances, but none of that ends up being enough to make up for a really boring storyline.

 

freddy-vs-jason-jason-on-fire10.) Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Directed by Ronny Yu

Written by Damian Shannon and Mark Swift

 

Cross-series monster match-ups are a difficult thing to get right. Universal managed it with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), and Toho nailed it with both King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and its follow-up Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964), but other than those two I can’t think of a time that pulling two monsters from separate movies together into a single diegesis for a showdown really worked. Freddy vs. Jason is not the worst attempt at such a match-up, but it’s still mostly a failure.

Much of the problem stems from how fundamentally different the tone and style of these two series really are. Freddy vs. Jason plays out primarily as a Nightmare on Elm Street storyline with Jason as a kind of featured guest-star, but Elm Street sequels have always been problematic (the first film was so satisfying as a self-contained entity), and the presence of Jason certainly doesn’t help to make things any less awkward. Had they attempted to make it more of a Jason movie featuring Freddy, the meeting of the monsters might have been a slightly less jarring affair, but it still wouldn’t have been a very good idea.

Ronny Yu is a skilled action director, and the fight scenes have some impressive moments, but neither of these are action series; they’re horror series, and the horror aspects of the story largely feel like they’re going through the motions with no spirit to them.

With few exceptions, the cast is the typical bland stuff of early-2000s Hollywood teen cinema, totally uninteresting to look at or listen to. I don’t even care enough about them to take any sadistic pleasure in their dispatch.

A meager handful of effective moments, mostly based on some stylish cinematography, make Freddy vs. Jason entertaining enough to sit through without passing out or erupting in a fit of rage, but it’s still pretty darned bad.

 

A New Beginning9.) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

Directed by Danny Steinmann

Written by Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen and Danny Steinmann

 

There is perhaps a certain sick fascination to be experienced in watching the series’ fifth entry, A New Beginning, as this film really is exactly what critics have from the beginning accused the entire saga of being: murder porn. Danny Steinmann manages to take a bland, generic script and turn it into an exercise in blunt, tasteless trash, without even the charm of inventive exploitation.

The scares aren’t scary, the sex scenes are as sleazy and artless as the kill scenes, and the performances (with the exception of an all-too-brief appearance from Return of the Living Dead [also 1985] alumnus Miguel Nuñez, Jr.) are unremarkable at best.

 

FRIDAY20098.) Friday the 13th (2009)

Directed by Marcus Nispel

Written by Damien Shannon, Mark Swift and Mark Wheaton

 

In many ways, they almost got it right with this one.  Eschewing the gimmicky approach of the previous 5 entries and returning to the classic formula, but throwing a few twists in (like killing off the obvious “final girl” candidate) was a good call.  Doing it as a rebootquel allowed the writers to acknowledge and show some respect for the classic first two movies, while freeing them from the unnecessary burden of long-running continuity; it also meant that they could recycle successful story and character elements from some of the early sequels.

Unfortunately, the writers took the mandate for a return to formula a little too much to heart; with the exception of the under-explored vengeance-seeker Clay (Jared Padalecki), the characters are among the most clichéd slasher archetypes in the entire series (and even Clay fits into the same mold as The Final Chapter‘s Rob [Erich Anderson] and Jason Lives‘ version of Tommy Jarvis [Thom Matthews]).

Meanwhile, Marcus Nispel’s direction is technically proficient, but too routine to be of much interest.

In the end, the whole affair just feels pointless and by-the-numbers.  What could have been a fun popcorn slasher flick ended up as a pointless genre rehash.

 

part 77.) Friday the 13th part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Directed by John Carl Buechler

Written by Manuel Fidello and Daryl Haney

Right at the intersection of the good and the bad Friday the 13th movies sits Part VII, a unique concept which has been coupled with largely generic execution. This movie was born of the first inklings of a Freddy vs. Jason project; when that idea couldn’t get off the ground (it eventually happened only because the rights to the F13 franchise were purchased by Elm Street producers New Line), the next concept proposed was “Jason vs. Carrie,” and so the idea of Crystal Lake’s hometown hockey-monster taking on a telekinetic teen was born.

John Carl Buechler was a special effects man turned director; his handling of the drama is rarely inspired, his suspense scenes are effective in a by-the-numbers way, but the effects scenes are some of the best handled in the series. Unfortunately, Paramount hacked up this movie as ferociously as Jason hacks up his victims in it, so the deleted gore reel has gained more notoriety in fan circles than the movie itself.

This was Kane Hodder’s debut in the role of Jason, and it is clear why he won such fan approval in the role so quickly. His enthusiasm for playing Jason is almost palpable, and there is a gleeful bash-and-smash intensity to the character unlike anything seen previously in the series. This is made an even more special outing for the character thanks to a truly awesome make-up job on display for the large portion of the conclusion during which Jason is without his mask.

That ending sequence is where the concept, the direction, and Hodder’s portrayal of Jason all come together to provide the most entertaining aspects of the movie. However, the trip to get there isn’t so strong. With the exceptions of Hodder and the ever-charming Terry Kiser (whose odd charisma was strong enough that he could steal scenes from skilled comic actors while playing a corpse in the Weekend at Bernie’s movies), the performances are passable but unmemorable. Lar Park-Lincoln is good in the role of Tina, she of the terrific telekinetic talents, but not good enough to carry as much of the movie as the script calls for, and the rest of the young people lined up for the slaughter are pretty forgettable.

There’s plenty to like in The New Blood, but not enough to make it one of the stand-outs of the series.

 

jason-x106.) Jason X (2001)

Directed by James Isaac

Written by Todd Farmer

 

I’d like to start with a pedantic nitpick: the “X” in the title of this movie was intended to represent the Roman numeral for the number 10, so the title is properly spoken aloud as “Jason Ten,” not “Jason Ex.” Okay? We good on this one, folks?

Jason in space, at the surface, seems like an even worse idea than Jason in Manhattan. However, it turns out that the concept is so far out that, with the right tongue-in-cheek approach, it actually works out better than Jason Take Manhattan ever could have aspired to be. Jason X makes no pretense of being a straight horror movie; this is a monster-driven action comedy and effects movie, and it is quite successful as such.

This was Kane Hodder’s last outing in the role of Jason, and he’s in good form here, obviously thrilled to be back in the hockey mask after nearly a decade off (or a few centuries of tenuous series continuity).

There’s a pretty solid cast at work here, too. At first glance, they appear to be typical modern young Hollywood dross, but they’re all appropriately cast in roles mostly written to be a bit more distinctive than typical teen victims in F13 outings.

As did Part VII, Jason X has an effects man in the director’s seat, but James Isaac supplements the impressive murder set-pieces he executes so well with a fast paced, fun approach to the rest of the material that keess the whole thing entertaining and memorable.

And, oh, some of those effects scenes. Thus far, I’ve avoided lavishing praise on particular kills in any of the movies, but I can’t resist the urge when it comes to Jason X. The real highlight is the freezing and shattering of a face, which is convincingly handled, pretty gross, and performed with the combination of efficiency and style that marks Hodder’s best moments as Jason. There’s also some nice dismemberment, an impaling on a giant drill, and a pretty good – how to describe it? – straining into the void.

Jason X is a popcorn flick. That phrase is often used these days as an excuse for a lack of effort by a film’s makers, but in this case it’s a more legitimate categorization.

 

jasonlives55.) Friday the 13th part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Written and directed by Tom McLoughlin

 

I’m a big fan of horror comedy; I think it’s probably the most natural of all genre cross-breeds, and when it works, it works very, very well. By the time of the sixth entry in the Friday the 13th series, and particularly after the big hunk of sleaze that was A New Beginning, it was time for a new approach, and Tom McLoughlin’s re-working was just the required breath of fresh air.

McLoughlin wisely draws his comedy from his cast of victims, and allows Jason to remain an intimidating presence. The directness of Jason’s behavior here makes him a machete-wielding straight man, with the comedy coming from clueless reactions and a great sense of timing (particularly in the editing). The effectiveness of it all frequently depends upon the performance of Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead), who takes over the role of Tommy Jarvis (originated in The Final Chapter by Corey Feldman and carried on to little effect by John Shepherd in A New Beginning). Mathews’ frantic, impassioned delivery and energetic physicality work for the comedy, but also convey the real danger that he feels Jason represents.

This is the first movie in which Jason is not just inexplicably resistant to attacks, but legitimately supernatural, brought back as a rotting corpse thanks to a poorly timed (or perfectly timed, for fans eager to see Jason take up the machete once again) lighting strike. To complement this more old-fashioned concept of a movie monster, McLoughlin radically departs from the mise-en-scene of prior entries, giving the whole affair a fog-shrouded, over-stated aspect inspired by Hammer’s gothic horrors of of the 1960s. This unusual combination of 1980s slasher tropes with more classical environs is distinctive and effective, and quite right for a self-aware slasher comedy (which deconstructed the genre a decade before Scream came along).

If I must issue a complaint about Jason Lives, it’s that the tone is weighted a little more towards the comedy that would be ideal, and as such the final act lacks some tension and doesn’t play as well as the rest of the movie. However, even the least engaging act of the movie still works quite well, with some good kills, some good laughs (many of them drawn from some rather dark comedy), and one of the few really satisfying conclusions the series has to offer.

 

friday-the-13th-the-final-chapter4.) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Directed by Joseph Zito

Written by Barney Cohen and Bruce Hidemi Sakow

 

“The Final Chapter”? If only they’d known… You will note that every movie discussed so far on this list was produced following The Final Chapter. It is, however, the final chapter of the trilogy of F13 movies (starting with Part 2) that take place in rapid succession with one another (if Part 2 in fact took place primarily on a Friday the 13th, which admittedly is never clearly stated, then the bulk of this movie takes place on either Monday the 16th or Tuesday the 17th, depending on how one interprets certain apparent continuity errors in the connections between the ending of one movie and the beginning of the next).

Joseph Zito has said that one of his objectives in this movie was to provide more interesting and fleshed-out teen characters to send to the slaughter than had been found in previous entries. While that goal was not achieved with the entire cast, two of the most memorable performances in the whole series come out of this movie.

Corey Feldman gives one of those two performances. He plays young Tommy Jarvis, a child with a remarkable gift for make-up effects, as well as a fixation on matters morbid that makes him instantly relatable for any young horror fan watching the movie. It is rare in these movies to feel a particular emotional connection to any of the leads, but Feldman had a charisma in his younger days that was difficult to resist. And, through Tommy’s reactions, we’re even lead to care about the fates of the people close to him in the movie.

The other stand-out performance here comes from Crispin Glover, one of the strangest teen victims ever to stand in line for the hack and slash treatment at Jason’s giant hands. Glover was permitted to improvise much of his performance, a risky venture on a low-budget suspense movie with a tight shooting schedule, and the gambit pays off very well; when we’re not with the Jarvis family, it is Glover’s strange antics that make the otherwise generic teen party scenes entertaining.

Further aiding matters is the handling of Jason himself. There’s a directness to Ted White’s portrayal that would define much of Jason’s behavior for the remainder of the series. This is the last movie in which Jason was technically still alive (prior to the 2009 rebootquel), but also the first time in which he is played less as a man and more as a monstrous automaton.

Despite the transformation of Jason for much of the run-time into a remarkable killing machine, the conclusion, like all the best of Friday the 13th finales, ties into the killer’s origin, and it restores to him for a moment an element of humanity.

This is the last F13 movie that would unequivocally succeed in entertaining the audience while playing everything very straight (except for aspects of Glover’s surreal performance, which, out-there though it is, is still motivated and relatable), and as such is at least a fitting final chapter to the initial wave of Friday the 13th movies.

 

fridaythe13thpart3-23.) Friday the 13th part III (1982)

Directed by Steve Miner

Written by Martin Kitrosser, Petru Popescu and Carol Watson

 

I’m not usually one to talk back to a movie, and particularly not repeatedly or at great length. However, Friday the 13th part III is perhaps the ultimate example of the audience-participation, “You idiot, why the Hell are you going in there?!” filmmaking. There are very few respects in which it can be called a “good” movie, except that it is so tremendously enjoyable that none of its shortcomings matter in the slightest, and in a way the purely generic nature of the whole affair is one of the keys to its appeal. More than any other F13 movie, Part III gives the audience exactly what they came to see, no more and no less.

This was part of the early-80s 3D craze, and a lot of the style of the movie was dictated by the need to include literal in-your-face elements to take advantage of the technique. When Jason lunges for a victim, he lunges at the audience, and when he stabs someone, his blade (or pitchfork, or whatever) is thrust right into our faces. Even watched in 2D, the “Oh my God, it’s coming right at me!” effect remains, and simultaneously adds to both the excitement and the ample kitsch appeal.

We are given our most cartoonish collection of teenage stereotypes ever to visit Crystal Lake, but that’s not really a complaint. While they obviously don’t have the appeal of Part 2‘s ensemble, the instantly identifiable youth archetypes here are far more entertaining than the bland, interchangeable victims who would occupy most of the later entries. The nice girl who is instantly identifiable as Part III‘s intended “final girl,” the older guy who tries to charm himself into her pants again and again, the horny couple, the goofy guy, the stoners, and the gang members are pure genre archetypes, and they fulfill those roles perfectly.

There is one legitimately likable character in the movie, and that is Vera (Catherine Parks), the girl who, to her disappointment, is paired up with insecure jokester Shelly (Larry Zerner). Vera has a bit of an edge to her, Parks brings a lot of personality to the role, and it is the combination of her interactions with Shelly and the fact that she doesn’t make it to the final real that give the movie what real emotional impact it possesses.

Steve Miner, returning from directing Part 2, understood better than any other F13 director exactly how to construct a tense stalk-and-kill sequence in which, even though the outcome is already known to the audience, we remain on the edge of our seats to see exactly how and when it will come. He was also the best the series had at putting together a pulse-pounding final chase.  Chris (Dana Kimmell) fights a seemingly endless battle against a Jason who has become even more inexplicably indestructible than he was just one movie ago.

While it’s not up to the cinematic quality of its predecessors, Part III‘s sense of a screaming good time was one of the keys to the enduring popularity of the F13 franchise, and for all that it is an artifact of the early 1980s, it remains just as much fun 25 years and a host of imitations later.

 

fridaythe13th12.) Friday the 13th (1980)

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham

Written by Victor Miller

 

Slasher movies are frequently criticized as being based on a simplistic and conservative morality, with the ultimate lesson being that sex and substance abuse will be punished by death, and with particular cruelty aimed at women, whom Western society has historically seemed to delight in tormenting for their (perceived or presumed) moral transgressions. And there are many slasher movies to which those complaints most assuredly apply. However, Friday the 13th, the movie against which those complaints are most often leveled, is actually largely innocent of such charges; analyzing it in those terms mostly highlights the ways in which it differs from the bulk of its genre. Friday the 13th‘s death toll is spread pretty equally among males and females, and the brutality of the kills is no greater for the women than for the men (many lesser slasher movies rather grotesquely fetishize the sequences in which women are killed), and the “final girl,” Alice (Adrienne King), is just as willing and able to drink, smoke pot, swear, and (implicitly) have sex as any of her doomed compatriots.

So, if Friday the 13th isn’t a moral lesson, what is it?

For most people, it is in our teenage years that we discover our sexuality, rebel against parents and reject established authority, first encounter drugs and alcohol, and – most importantly to this movie – develop an understanding, and consequent fear, of mortality. Friday the 13th is about all of those aspects of adolescence, and explores them with an honesty and directness absent in many more highly praised, “respectable” films about the American youth experience. Ultimately, it uses most of those teenage issues as its context, and within that context dwells on one: awareness of mortality. By being honest about sex, drugs, and rebellion, it becomes relatable both for teens and for anyone who remembers what it was like to be a teen, and therefore its portrayal of the murders of teenagers feels more real and disturbing than do the kills in subsequent entries.

There is an awkward, artless quality to Cunningham’s direction, which sounds like it should be a downside, but it actually works to the film’s advantage. There is a haphazardness that results in a vérité feeling to it all, as if the events are being captured by accident, and it manages not to telegraph many of its scares by not being precisely structured around them.

Friday the 13th is a thematically explicit and baldly exploitive work of popular cinema, and as such is anathema to most critics and enchanting to viewers who go into it ready to confront their fears and walk away smiling from the release of a good scare.

 

Part-21.) Friday the 13th part 2 (1981)

Directed by Steve Miner

Written by Ron Kurz

 

In stark contrast to the unobtrusive direction and realistic sensibility of Friday the 13th stands the stylized, self-indulgently artificial approach taken by Steve Miner for his superlative first entry in the series, Friday the 13th part 2 (roman numerals would not enter the picture until Part III). Dynamic camera set-ups, unnatural and eerie lighting, and precise suspense editing are all at work here to create one of the most perfectly crafted of all slasher movies.

Obviously taking lessons from Mario Bava’s ingenious work in various horror sub-genres, Miner here treats us as often as possible to lengthy sequences that dwell on a single person consumed by an increasing sense of paranoia. Adrienne King returns as Alice from the previous film for a beautifully executed opening sequence that fits into that category, and that achieves another of the tricks that helps to make early slasher films so enduring, the sense of danger lurking in the most mundane of settings.

This is the movie that introduces Jason Voorhees as the series’ killer, and he has not been as effectively frightening a character in any entry since. This is largely because he is at his most believably human here. Only at the very end do we get the sense that Jason is anything more than an amoral, hateful, ignorant beast of a man, and it is the combination of his realism as a threat early on and the unexpectedness of his apparent invincibility as the film draws to a close that makes the entire affair so disturbing.

Also helping out are the likeability of several of the characters. Ginny (Amy Steel) ranks alongside the Alice as one of the series’ most popular leading ladies, and for good reason. She’s smart, funny, and mature; and her final chase sequence is the most exciting in the series. The climax of the picture, in which Ginny exploits Jason’s psychology to her advantage, is one of the best scenes in the entire F13 canon, both for how clever and insightful Ginny is revealed to be, and for how sympathetic Jason is allowed to be for a moment.

Among the rest of the cast, Ted (Stuart Charno) is the most effective and least annoying comic relief character in any slasher movie of the era, and Marc (Tom McBride) and Vickie (Lauren-Marie Taylor) are a genuinely likable couple, and one is legitimately upset to realize that they are doomed.

Most audiences tend to class the entire Friday the 13th saga together in terms of content and quality, but there is in fact a wide variety to both of these aspects. Friday the 13th part 2 is one of the most purely generic in terms of its content, but its elements are so well assembled that it achieves a height of style and an entertainment value unmatched by any other entry in its series, and almost any other entry in its genre.

 

And that’s my ranking!  Let me know how yours differs in the comments below, or check out some other news, reviews, short fiction, or whatever else strikes your fancy here at The Blood Shed!  Oh, and don’t forget to visit our Facebook page!

6 Comments on this post.

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  • Josh Millican
    13 February 2015 at 12:58 am - Reply

    Nice. I’d have ranked Jason Lives higher (my personal fav, but that has a lot to do with nostalgia for that entire era). Great read!

    • Evan A. Baker
      13 February 2015 at 1:17 am - Reply

      Thanks! Honestly, I came very close to moving Jason Lives up one or two spots, because the parts that work REALLY work, but it just falls off too much for me in the third act, and that sequence with the paintballers kinda gets on my nerves.

  • dbo
    13 February 2015 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    Solid list I’d move 5 up as and 3 and 4 are 1 and 1a for me with 1 and 2 not far behind those 1st 4 are really so great their tough for the entries after yo comr close. Here’s my list altogether.

    1: 3
    2: 4
    3: 1
    4: 2
    5: 5
    6: 6
    7: 7
    8: Freddy vs Jason
    9: Jason Goes to Hell
    10: Remake/Reboot
    11: 8
    12: Jason X

    For whatever reason I can never get the enjoyment out of Jason X that others seem too. For JGtH if we could’ve got those kills with a more coherent and traditional script it could’ve been one of the best. I do honestly like most of original series but have to put them somewhere so I know 6 is a bit low but I’m one of the few that actually like 5. 7 would be higher if not for the MPAA.

    • Evan A. Baker
      13 February 2015 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      Yeah, your ranking totally makes sense to me. 5 is a difficult one for me, because technically it’s one of the better made entries – it’s really well shot and edited, most of the acting is above-average for the series, and the decision not to use Jason as the killer actually brings back the mystery/thriller aspect of original a little bit – but it just rubs me the wrong way on a totally subjective level.

      As you say, the first 4 are all so great, relative ranking among them is really splitting hairs.

  • Matthew Myers
    13 February 2015 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    I liked the way 5 was shot as well, and I am partial to that film because I have seen it more than any other Friday the 13th. Other than moving 5 up the list is fantastic!

    • Evan A. Baker
      13 February 2015 at 7:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks! I’m really enjoying the feedback I’m getting here and on FB about everybody’s preferences!

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