The Friday the 13th franchise has captivated audiences since 1980. From movies to comics to videogames, fans have been there, and whether Jason Vorhees was donning a sack or a hockey mask he has always made us afraid whenever he’s on screen. Trekking from Camp Crystal Lake to space, the franchise has made quite a name for itself. With 12 entries to the series, let’s take a look back and rank all the Friday the 13th movies from worst to best.
2001 Directed by Jim Isaac
I’ll start off by just saying this is a bad movie. The New Line Cinema entries to the franchise, outside of Freddy vs Jason, are not good. You do not need to watch it at all. Seriously, it has no connection to the rest of the franchise. In this entry to the series Jason Vorhees is captured by the US Government and held in a secret research facility on Camp Crystal Lake. Eventually Jason is cryogenically frozen and re-emerges for a killing spree 455 years later. Vorhees later becomes a cyborg, Uber Jason, after being rebuilt by nanites, with the film ending in an epic showdown in space.
Does this sound overly complicated? It is. There are too many characters, and too many things happening during the movie. The fact that this entry makes the rest of the franchise seem completely grounded speaks to the poor choice of turning to weird and noticeably low budget (or at least poorly budgeted) sci-fi. Audiences and critics weren’t fans either, with the film receiving a well-earned 19% Rotten Tomatoes score as well as bombing at the box office. Film critic Roger Ebert summed up Jason X perfectly; “This sucks on so many levels”.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
1983 Directed by Adam Marcus
Buckle up, Jason Goes to Hell is another New Line Cinema entry so get ready for some more really really weird stuff. In Jason Goes to Hell Voorhees is resurrected again (lots of that in the franchise) after the events of Jason Takes Manhattan and is subsequently blown to bits by the US government at Camp Crystal Lake. A coroner then eats Jason’s heart and becomes possessed by him, and goes on to possess many of his other victims. His goal is to possess one of his blood-line to be resurrected, but he can also be killed by one of his blood-line with a magical dagger. Oh, and his heart also turns into a baby demon which eventually succeeds in its goal in returning Jason to life. Eventually he is beaten, releasing the souls of those he possessed and is subsequently dragged to Hell by demons, including the likes of a certain Freddy Krueger. Yes, the Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, a franchise taking a weird turn in this era as well.
Take a breath now. My synopsis may seem like a bit of an exaggeration, but it wasn’t. The break-neck pace of Jason Goes to Hell may have been an intentional choice to distract you from what the Hell (pun) is going on in this movie. Because honestly what is happening? I feel like this maybe could have been a good addition if they dialed it back even a little, but it was just too strange and convoluted for me to take seriously, which is a big issue for the New Line entries. Even for a slasher film, Jason Goes to Hell , at times, feels needlessly gratuitous and gory. The only good thing to come of it is the setup Freddy vs Jason, which is a fun ride and earned it’s better placing on this list.
Friday the 13th-Part VIIV: Jason Takes Manhattan
1989 Directed by Rob Hedden
None of the other entries on this list are nearly as bad as Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, thankfully. But this one sucks partially because the premise is so good. Jason Vorhees stalking the streets of NYC? Sign me up. If only the finished product was as good as the idea. In shocking fashion (literally) Jason Vorhees is revived after his death in The New Blood. Most of this entry takes place on cruise ships, with only the last act occurring in New York City. Which kind of pains me honestly, especially considering director Robb Hedden’s original plans on using iconic New York City landmarks in the film. Hedden later expressed disappointment that his more creative ideas were not used. However, seeing Jason use a harpoon gun again after the memorable kill he had in Part III was admittedly pretty cool. Also, if you’re worried about seeing dogs die in movies, I can say rest assured that Toby makes it through to the end.
The poor critical and financial reception of Jason Takes Manhattan prompted Paramount Pictures to sell the franchise to New Line Cinema. Not really a knock on this movie exactly, but this led to the releases of Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X, which, as I said earlier, are just awful, awful movies. Jason Takes Manhattan has a measly 11% on Rotten Tomatoes, one of the worst score in the series.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
1985 Directed by Danny Steinmann
The worst thing Friday the 13th: A New Beginning has going for it is a weird and disappointing twist. And I mean it, having Jason Voorhees not actually be Jason was deflating, and having the ending be clear sequel bait was a tad annoying. Continuing the story of Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) from The Final Chapter and follows his struggles with PTSD following his encounters with Jason Voorhees. Following the murder of one of Tommy’s halfway housemates, Jason seemingly returns and sets out on a rampage. When Tommy once again kills Jason, its revealed the killer was actually the crazed father of Tommy’s murdered housemate.
The continuation of Tommy Jarvis’ story is fine, but the big fake out in the story, as I said earlier, is just disappointing and distracting, as it comes out of nowhere as we didn’t know the character at all. It’s also the weakest of the three movies that follow Jarvis, though thankfully the other two feature the real Jason Voorhees and are better entries. The tone of A New Beginning marked a change for the franchise, going from the somewhat more grounded prior installments to being more wacky and over the top, but it doesn’t resonate as well as Jason Lives and The Final Chapter.
Friday the 13th (2009)
2009 Directed by Marcus Nispel
A contrast to the other entries on our list so far, 2009’s Friday the 13th falters because it leans too far into realism. As a reboot, this entry has a common problem that many horror reboots fall into (like 2013’s Evil Dead); it feels too dark, too grim, and too serious. I will admit that this Jason Voorhees is terrifying, as he runs at his victims and frantically attacks them, as opposed to the classic slow, calculated approach the older versions take. Watching Voorhees violently overwhelm his victims in what seems like a real desperation to kill is frankly horrifying. However, I don’t feel like this is what we need in this franchise. The strength of the older movies is that Voorhees is a force of nature, that he is unstoppable no matter how far you run, and that he’s not concerned with rushing or with failure.
Friday the 13th simply lacks imagination, and seems like a fairly generic slasher of the 2000’s. The characters lack anything interesting, and the backstory for Jason comes off as rushed exposition. Audiences might crave newer additions to the franchises they love, but Friday the 13th is a little too by the books, too dark, and too generic. If you’re looking for a run of the mill slasher, this movie won’t disappoint, just don’t go in expecting to be wowed.
Friday the 13th: Part VII – The New Blood
1988 Directed by John Carl Beuchler
Okay, back to the craziness. In this entry Jason Voorhees goes up against a young girl named Tina who is gifted with telekinetic abilities akin to Carrie. I know, bizarre. You wouldn’t be wrong thinking this is one of the strange New Line Cinema entries, but it is indeed a Paramount production. I will admit the bulk of this entry is reminiscent of the originals (Jason killing hormonal teens in cabins), but Tina’s abilities, and the distracting (but enjoyably disgusting) rotting Jason pull you out of the experience.
Often in these kinds of films, poor performances are ignored because of the inherent entertainment offered by the genre. Aside from the classic cabin kills, this movie lacks the entertainment, due to a distractingly bizarre plot, so they can’t be forgiven here. This isn’t a terrible entry to the series, it just tries to up the ante of the franchise and stumbles over its own feet in an attempt to do something new, mainly because it just doesn’t fit.
Freddy vs Jason
2003 Directed by Ronny Yu
I can confidently say that the remaining entries on this list are fun! I recommend you watch them. In Freddy vs Jason, Freddy Krueger attempts to use Jason Voorhees as a pawn to allow him to regain his strength, his goal being to once again invade the dreams of the living. Freddy finds this difficult as Jason keeps killing his targets, so he decides to dispense of Jason. Jason in turn deduces that Freddy is using him and wishes to kill Freddy as a result.
The human characters in this entry aren’t interesting (nor are they meant to be) but they get their job done; acting as the vehicles for the final showdown between Freddy and Jason at Crystal Lake. And the payoff is great. Watching two horror icons face off is amazing, and the ambiguous victor ending will satisfy both sides of the aisle. You may be surprised that this is a New Line Cinema production and they actually got it right this time. It’s an entertaining and fun ride, just don’t expect to be taking anything too seriously.
Friday the 13th: Part III
1982 Directed by Steve Miner
Part III is disappointing in the aspect that it doesn’t offer the same quality as the first two movies. Beginning right after the events of Part II, Jason immediately resumes his killing spree. Eventually Jason takes his iconic hockey mask (off a victim of course) and the Jason we all know was put to screen. It also seems like the original intention of the series was for it to end here, as Jason’s death at the end (an ax to the head ouch) was marked with a sense of finality. Outside of that and a pretty cool speargun kill, expect some pretty straightforward slaughter.
There are some negatives about Part III. It has a breakneck pace, like many in the franchise, but sometimes I think it would have benefitted from slowing down. Adding to that, I also think that the film may have been rushed, as it was released in 3D, an attraction that was resurging in the 1980’s, and oftentimes not with great results; as such certain parts of the film feel gimmicky. There’s a fair chance that I feel a bit bitter that Part III wasn’t able to capture me the same way the first two were, but it’s still in the upper section of our list.
Friday the 13th (1980)
1980 Directed by Sean S. Cunningham
This is the very first entry to the series, and also the first one I watched as well. I remember watching it on Friday the 13th when I was 10 or 11, and the whole time expecting Jason Voorhees to pop-up donning his iconic hockey mask. That never happens. In the first movie the killer is for the most part unseen until the final act, where it’s revealed that Pamela Voorhees is carrying out the murders on the Crystal Lake camp counselors as an act of revenge for the death of her son Jason.
This may seem odd now, but as the first entry in the franchise the mythos surrounding Jason did not exist. The movie almost plays out as a whodunit, with us left guessing who the killer is until Pamela reveals herself. It’s a fun and shocking revelation as she devolves from a friendly middle aged woman to a psychotic killer in a few brief moments, and the result of the success of the movie spawned the iconic franchise. The grainy quality of the picture, while certainly not the choice for some, is quite charming for me, and fits nicely with the movie’s grisly nature. While it may not be the best in the franchise, it’s worth a revisit.
Friday the 13th: Part VI – Jason Lives!
1986 Directed by Tom McLoughlin
Jason Lives! may be one of the goofier entries, but man does it take it in stride. Speaking from a purely entertaining standpoint, this is a fun movie. Suffering from PTSD after the events of The Final Chapter and A New Beginning, Tommy Jarvis returns to Crystal Lake to burn the remains of Jason Voorhees. After impaling the corpse with a spike, Jason is struck by lightning, and Tommy inadvertently resurrects the killer as a zombie imbued with super-strength. It’s crazy, and I might seem like a hypocrite for ranking it higher than the other nonsensical entries, but man is it enjoyable watching Jason in this film. The kills are grotesque and over the top, but are done in a way that the movie seems gleefully aware of itself.
Like Freddy vs Jason, don’t approach this entry as a serious movie. Just be ready to enjoy the ride. Watching a super-powered zombie wreak havoc has never been so fun. There’s a fine line between being too much and perfectly straddling the line, and Jason Lives! is able to balance being aware of its crazy premise and also delivering genuine Jason tension.
Friday the 13th: Part II
1981 Directed by Steve Miner
Part II debuts Jason Voorhees as the killer, and boy does it do it well. Like in the first film, the killer is initially unknown, though only for a brief time. Seeking revenge for the killing of his mother in the original film, Jason goes on a killing spree at Camp Crystal Lake picking them off one by one. Not yet equipped with his iconic hockey mask, Jason instead dons a burlap sack with an eyehole as he slaughters the cabin dwellers. Like the first movie, the story here is simple and easy to follow, unlike the later entries which can be a little overwhelming narratively.
Part II really propelled the franchise from its starting point. While others in the series suffer from sequel bait endings, I actually liked the ending here. The story felt like it had more to offer, and the series gave a sense that it had a reason to continue. The only negative I have to give about the film is the unmasked Jason. As his appearance changed in following films, his noticeably shaggy red hair is a bit distracting upon rewatching.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
1984 Directed by Joseph Zito
The Final Chapter introduces Jason’s nemesis for the next three movies; Tommy Jarvis as portrayed by Corey Feldman. I’ll give Feldman credit here, for a child actor he does a pretty good job. This entry picks up a day after Part III and Jason returns to life and goes back to Crystal Lake once again to continue his rampage. Tommy, his sister Trish, and another group of teens are Jason’s targets. After making short work of most of the teens, Jason kills a young man named Paul, who was also another great addition. In Part II Jason killed Paul’s sister, and seeing someone go after Jason for the first time was a good shake-up for the franchise (even though it ended pretty badly for Paul). The movie reaches an admittedly disturbing climax where Tommy (who is only 12) ends up hacking at Jason’s corpse with a machete.
Like Jason Lives!, the strength of this entry is that it retained the somewhat grounded nature of the first three entries, but didn’t quite reach the exaggerated pulpiness of the later movies. When Jason kills his victims it can range from a straight-forward stabbing to an over the top and drawn out slaughter. A funny, frightening, and well-paced ride, The Final Chapter is the best the series has to offer, and is able to balance a suitable tone for the franchise that was sadly quickly lost.
Even with all the entries in the series so far, fans may be craving a new addition to the franchise. Series creator Sean S. Cunningham is currently working on an early draft of another reboot of the franchise with writer Jeff Locker and director Jeremy Weiss. Luckily we have an abunance of Friday the 13th media to entertain ourselves with while we wait for more news. So kick back this Halloween season and take some time to watch some of the entries in the series, play the videogame, or read some of the many comics.
For more on iconic horror movies, check out our list of The Best Horror Movie Franchises of All Time.