We’ve discussed the horror genre quite a lot lately here at Strangely Awesome Games, and it’s a shock that we haven’t touched on The Exorcist franchise in some time. If you’re wondering how the movies stack up in terms of quality, read on.
The Exorcist II: The Heretic
1977 Directed by John Boorman
The sequel curse is here in full form. Following the success of the first film is already a difficult enough feat, not mentioning the difficulty of actually developing a quality film regardless. Exorcist II: The Heretic does neither of these things; being a disappointing sequel and also just a poor film. Bad special effects and acting are already enough to make it a tough watch throughout the entire runtime, add in a bad plot and distracting powers not present in the first film and it’s no wonder this is the worst ranked movie in the series.
Upon release The Heretic barely turned a profit for Warner Brothers and was critically panned; In a review for the Chicago Tribune, critic Gene Siskel stated it was, “…the worst major motion picture I’ve seen in almost eight years on the job”.
The Exorcist The Beginning/Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist
2004-2005 Directed by Renny Harlin/Paul Schrader
The Exorcist: The Beginning is a result of studio director disagreement. Director Paul Schrader had already finished the project, but the folks at Warner Brothers believed it would not be a commercial hit. The compromise? Take Schrader off the project, do some reshoots, and have Renny Harlin take over the project. The result? Bad. The story itself seems unnecessary (not all origins need to be explained) and the effects, though more contemporary, have aged poorly. Excessive gore and a meandering story don’t help to elevate this movie.
A year later, Warner Brothers allowed Schrader to release his original version of the movie titled Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist. Though much better, it still suffers from a lack of focus, and a lack of a “wow” factor.
The Exorcist: The Beginning was a critical and commercial failure, grossing just $78 million against a budget of $50 million and earning a 10% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with William Peter Blatty (author of the original novel) saying of The Beginning, “Harlin’s prequel deteriorated into what was surely the most humiliating professional experience of my life, particularly the finale”.
Dominion was put in theaters on a limited release, so nobody expected much money to be made, and it scored a better (though still bad) 30% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Exorcist: Believer
2023 Directed by David Gordon Green
The Exorcist: Believer is the first in a new trilogy of Exorcist movies, though the reception to the film has made some people nervous about that future. Believer harkens back to the story of the original often, and included Christine MacNeil in its story as well. However, providing fan service, while appreciated, doesn’t account for the entire movie. It’s not that Believer isn’t ever scary, it is at times, and is crafted more skillfully than the previous entries on this list; the main problem is it’s clear sequel bait ending that the movie wraps up on. These always frustrate me, and the poor reception and underwhelming box office return has potentially changed the trajectory of the planned trilogy.
The Exorcist: Believer scored a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, but made a decent profit, though not as high as expected, with earnings of $135 million against a budget of $30 million.
The Exorcist III
1990 Directed by William Peter Blatty
The Exorcist III is definitely the most unique of the series, blending horror with a police procedural of sorts, as we follow Officer William Kinderman as he investigates a series of murders that appear identical to those of the Gemini serial killer. The problem is that Gemini couldn’t have committed these killings as he’s been believed dead for over a decade. Blending great scares with this police mystery, this is the most unique of the entries to the series so far, and was a welcome addition after the mess that was The Heretic, and also ignored the events of that movie.
The Exorcist III was a financial success, making $44 million against a budget of $11 million, earning a Rotten Tomatoes score of 59% with critical sentiment that it was a solid sequel with scares rivaling the original.
1973 Directed by William Friedkin
I think most readers expected the original to be in first place, and it is definitely deserved. The Exorcist is widely considered to be one of the greatest horror movies of all time, and the reasons abound. Watching the innocent Regan MacNeil deteriorate both physically and mentally while the demon Pzuzu’s possession progresses is both disturbing and sad. Add in the fact that the priest performing the exorcism, Father Damian Karras, is having a crisis of faith, and we have a great horror story.
The Exorcist, as I said, is considered one of the greatest horror films of all time, with critical sentiment that it had set a new bar for the genre, as well as praise towards the acting performances, editing, and special effects. The Exorcist has a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and grossed a staggering $441 million on a $12 million budget.
A Legacy of Good and Bad
As you can see, some of the entries in the series are, frankly, just not very good movies. However, the ones that are great really stand out in the genre, and there is no denying the quality of the original, nor the impact it had on the genre. For more on the Exorcist franchise, check out our guide on How to Watch The Exorcist Movies in Order.
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