October is a great time of year to get caught up on the greatest horror movie films out there, but if we’re being honest, anytime is a great time to binge some great horror movies. There have been some iconic horror series over the past 50 years, but only a few can stand out as the best horror movie franchises ever.

When we sat down to rank the best horror franchises of all time, a few rules had to come into play. First, to be eligible, a franchise has to have had three or more movies, so standalone horror films or things like Stephen King’s It Parts 1 and 2 won’t qualify. Second, there has to be a common theme or thread tying the films together, whether that’s recurring protagonists, or an iconic villain the series revolves around. Finally, the films have to be legitimate horror films, not movies from another genre that have some scares in them.

Which films qualify as the best horror franchises ever? Let’s take a look at the cream of the crop here:

A Nightmare On Elm Street

Spanning six films, plus the long-awaited Freddy vs Jason and a reboot in 2010, the Nightmare on Elm Street series has seen Freddy Krueger terrorizing the dreams of teenagers in Springwood, Ohio since 1984. A heavyweight in the slasher genre, A Nightmare on Elm Street has the unique approach of having the villain appear in the dreams of his victims, meaning they’re only truly safe when they’re awake.

Robert Englund is terrific as Freddy Krueger, and relishes the role, delivering one-liners with glee while stalking teens in their sleep and plotting revenge for his own demise years earlier. The A Nightmare on Elm Street series is known for creative and gory death scenes, with each film trying to up the ante on previous outings. Viewers will find more humor in this series than in the other large franchises that dominated the 1980s, Halloween and Friday the 13th.

Best in the franchise: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The Conjuring

Featuring the real-life paranormal experts couple of Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring released in 2013 and has seen massive success, earning two sequels and several spinoffs, including the Annabelle series. In total, The Conjuring now has a universe spanning eight movies, although Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga only appear in five of them, with one of those appearances being best described as an extremely brief cameo.

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The strength of The Conjuring is in its characters, specifically Ed and Lorraine Warren. The duo have their faith tested regularly, have to open their minds to solve problems, and face down the darkest elements of humanity to do so. Strong supporting casts bolster the three primary movies as well, and the Anabelle series adds a very effective aside to the main storyline.

Best in the franchise: The Conjuring (2013)

Paranormal Activity

Like some of the 80’s campy slashers, Paranormal Activity suffers from diminishing returns with each entry, but makes this list on the strength of a phenomenal first film and admirable second outing. Paranormal Activity distinguishes itself on this list by using the “found footage” shooting technique, featuring handheld cameras to give the footage a feeling of greater realism. The technique was made popular by movies like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, and has become a favorite of directors in the horror genre, as it lends believability even when the budgets are noticeably low.

Paranormal Activity’s later entries suffered from quick production turnarounds that were trying to churn out sequels as fast as possible, on a seemingly yearly basis. Early in the series, however, Paranormal Activity does a tremendous job of building tension and anticipation, and the final few minutes of the first film are simply terrifying in both a psychological and jump scare sort of way.

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Best in the franchise: Paranormal Activity (2007)

Friday the 13th

The strangest thing about the Friday the 13th series is that it bucks the trend in the sense that the later films are better than the first few entries in the franchise. Okay, maybe not the later ones, but the middle sequels are a perfect mix of gory, campy goodness with a bunch of hormone-controlled teenagers trying to survive a supernatural killer stalking Camp Crystal Lake. Once we see Jason Voorhees travel to Manhattan and outer space in later installments, all bets are off, and if you like them, you’re stronger than I am.

Friday the 13th starts as a film about a mother’s revenge, and evolves into a series about the son, who just refuses to die regardless of how he’s finished off at the end of each film. Not even sequels titled The Final Friday or The Final Chapter have the power to finish Jason off, as there were quickly more movies on the way, and a failed reboot of the franchise in 2009. It’s also fun to see actors we know from their later work in Friday the 13th films, like Kevin Bacon, Corey Feldman, and Crispin Glover.

Best in the franchise: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Halloween

No list like this is complete without John Carpenter’s Halloween on it, as the iconic 1978 film inspired a franchise now totaling 13 movies, with the newest being 2022’s Halloween Ends, Jamie Lee Curtis’ final Halloween film. The series has lost its way at times, as there are now five different timelines that include different films in them, but when Halloween is good, it is about the best there is in horror.

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Starting with a score that sets the standard for horror films, and characters whose legacy still carries the franchise over 40 years later, Halloween is unique in that it has both protagonists and a villain that are likeable and are worth investment. Michael Myers is iconic, and the journey the Laurie Strode character has been on from 1978 to 2022 is one of the very best in the horror genre. It’s not just Strode, either – several other characters from the original 1978 movie have appeared again in the new trilogy that started in 2018.

Best in the franchise: Halloween (1978)

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