They’re a Hollywood staple. Call them franchises or, the more en vogue term, ‘shared universes’. If you don’t have one, you want one. Already have one – develop more of them. Aside from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros has their DC Extended Universe and the MonsterVerse. But the horror genre has always had franchises – yes, the Universal Monsters was a horror franchise. Technically, Universal Studios had the first ‘shared universe’ when The Wolf Man met Frankenstein. Years later, Hammer Films had their Frankenstein and Dracula series. In addition to the venerable classics like Halloween and Friday the 13th, smaller horror franchises have found audiences in the direct-to-video markets. Children of the Corn, Leprechaun, Hellraiser, and Puppet Master have quietly churned out sequels for decades.
For this edition of The Chopping Block, I’m list my personal picks for the 10 best horror franchises. I’m not counting television series spin-offs. Moreover, there needs to be at least three entries in the series, with most of those movies getting some theatrical release. Be warned – this is a subjective list. There are horror series anchored by classic movies – The Omen, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – not on the list. Why? I’m looking at consistency and overall quality of all movies in a franchise.
Honorable Mention: The Scream Franchise (1996-2011)
Not including Wes Craven’s Scream franchise in the Top 10 is probably controversial. And yes, Scream deserves to be cited as a horror classic right along with some of the movies below. As far as sequels go, Scream 2 is among the best. It’s as subversive and razor smart as the first movie. But Scream 3 is a bit of a mess. Regardless of some of the recent critical re-appraisals of Scream 4, it’s still a sequel that missed the mark in my mind.
10 – The Purge Horror Franchise (2013-2018)
Number of Movies: 4
Best Entry: The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
Worst Entry: The Purge (2013)
If you pointed out that The Purge fails its killer premise with an often generic ‘home invasion‘ execution, you wouldn’t be wrong. Oh, but that premise. And its ending and series creator James DeMonaco’s social commentary save The Purge. Then DeMonaco blew his world open with his bigger, more action-oriented sequel, The Purge: Anarchy. Follow-up The Purge: Election Year isn’t quite as good, but last year’s The First Purge was the rare prequel that exceeded expectations. Aside from its timely premise and remarkable consistency in quality, The Purge series has given us some of horror’s most colourful villains in recent memory.
9 – Psycho (1960-1998)
Number of Movies: 5
Best Entry: Psycho (1960)
Worst Entry: Psycho (1998)
How do you remake one of the greatest horror movies ever made? In most cases, the correct answer is you don’t try. Arguably, you’re best to ditch the idea altogether if that movie was directed by the ‘Master of Suspense’ Alfred Hitchcock. Yet Hollywood produced three sequels and a belated remake anyways. And you know what? Some of those sequels weren’t half-bad. Perhaps spurred on by the slasher franchises popping up in the early 1980’s, Universal Pictures released Psycho II in 1983. Not suprisingly, none of the sequels approach Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Nevertheless, Psycho II no only exceeds expectations, it’s actually a worthy follow-up. Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) penned the screenplay and it shows.
“A boy’s best friend is his mother”.
Perkins himself directed Psycho III and, though it occasionally devolves into standard slasher formula, it’s still very watchable and honours the original. For the obligatory prequel, Stephen King regular Mick Garris directed Psycho IV: The Beginning. On the one hand, franchise fatigue settles in and the movie feels much less cinematic. Still Psycho IV doesn’t represent a huge dip in quality from the other sequels. In contrast, Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-for-shot remake is an utter waste. Overall, the Psycho franchise shows some remarkable consistency.
8 – The Child’s Play Franchise (1988-2019)
Number of Movies: 7 Movies, 1 Remake
Best Entry: (1988)
Worst Entry: Seed of Chucky (2004)
Yes, a horror franchise about a killer doll sits at Number 8 on this list. Don Mancini and Tom Holland’s Child’s Play was a subversive slasher entry when the subgenre was waning. It also gave us Brad Dourif as Chucky, another horror icon. While Seed of Chucky is a bad movie, and Child’s Play III feels generic, the Child’s Play series is remarkably consistent.
In addition, series creator, Mancini, has taken several risk in shifting the franchise in new directions. Bride of Chucky, for example, added a dose of self-aware humour to the franchise. And Curse of Chucky came out of nowhere, breathing new life into the series. It’s a sequel that was better than it had any right to be. Regardless of some of the backlash to the remake, this year’s Child’s Play did a lot of things right. So count Child’s Play as one of the more interesting horror franchises on the list.
7 – The Alien Horror Franchise (1978-2017)
Number of Movies: 4 Movies, 2 Prequels
Best Entry: Aliens (1986)
Worst Entry: Prometheus (2012)
To include the crossover movies with The Predator series or not? Despite including some character connections to the original Alien movies, we’ll ignore the Alien vs Predator movies. Besides Ridley Scott’s prequels technically wiped these movies from canon anyways. Minus the prequels, the Alien franchise still spans five decades and includes the most impressive roster of directors you’ll find on this list. After 40 years, Ridley Scott’s Alien – a ‘haunted house in space’ movie – remains as ground-breaking as the day it was released. Then, in a rare move for horror franchises, James Cameron took the idea in a completely different direction while respecting Scott’s original movie. The result was a rare sequel that felt like a genuine extension of the story.
Though it disappointed, Prometheus is visually stunning and loading with interesting themes.
Even flawed Alien movies are watchable. David Fincher disavowed Alien 3, but the sequel deserves credits for moving the series in a new direction. If it had been the end of the Xenomorph story, it gave Ellen Ripley a satisfying character arc. While Alien Resurrection is tonally inconsistent with some odd story choices, the sequel still introduced some of the series’ best characters. To some extent, Scott’s prequels have underwhelmed. But it’s a bit unfair to label Prometheus as the ‘worst’ of the franchise. Though it disappointed, Prometheus is visually stunning and loading with interesting themes. Bottom-line – the Alien franchise is one of the few series where each movie is its own unique-feeling entry.
6 – Friday the 13th (1980-2009)
Number of Movies: 10 Movies, 1 Cross-Over, 1 Remake
Best Entry: Friday the 13th (1980)
Worst Entry: Jason Goes to Hell (1993)
You’d be hard-pressed not to include the Friday the 13th franchise on this list. Arguably, Friday the 13th is one of the most recognizable horror franchises. It’s the series that have us horror icon, Jason Voorhees. It spawned countless imitators. Following the surprising success of Friday the 13th, the first few sequels showed a workmanlike commitment to the formula. Then Paramount miscalculated and gambled on a ‘Jason-free’ sequel, A New Beginning. Fortunately, the studio course-corrected and delivered one of the best in the franchise – Jason Lives. From that point onward, Jason was an unstoppable killing machine.
Following the surprising success of Friday the 13th, the first few sequels showed a workmanlike commitment to the formula.
Subsequent sequels rapidly declined in quality as the well ran dry of ideas. Though an anticipated cross-over with Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger was somewhat satisfying, the 2009 remake stalled the long-running franchise. Now Jason Voorhees has finally met a fate he can’t seem to escape – legal woes. As much as I love this series, the Friday the 13th movies are a little more generic than some of the franchises higher on the list.
5 – Halloween (1978-present)
Number of Movies: 9 Movies, 1 Remake/Sequel, 2 Upcoming Sequels
Best Entry: Halloween (1978)
Worst Entry: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
John Carpenter’s Halloween is a horror masterpiece. Its ‘babysitter-in-peril’ narrative spawned a sub-genre and countless imitators. Moreover, it’s the movie that gave us an iconic horror villain – ‘The Shape’. As for its sequels, the legacy is more complicated. On the one hand, there’s some genuinely good sequels – Halloween II (1981), Halloween: 20 Years Later, and the ret-conning Halloween 2018. In addition, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is an eclectic, risk-taking entry that has finally received some of the due it deserves.
As for its sequels, the legacy is more complicated.
Mixed in with the good, there’s some derivative slasher sequels like Halloween IV and V, The Return of Michael Myers and The Revenge of Michael Myers, respectively. And then there’s Rob Zombie’s brutal take on the legend with his remake and its sequel. Both Zombies movies are flawed, but interesting additions. Don’t forget the bottom-barrel feedings sequels, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and Halloween: Resurrection. If Blumhouse can stick the land with upcoming sequels, Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, the horror franchise could ascend to where it truly belongs.
4 – The Conjuring Universe (2013-Present)
Number of Movies: 7 and counting
Best Entry: The Conjuring (2013)
Worst Entry: Annabelle (2014)
As the decade comes to an end, The Conjuring should be on a lot of ‘Best of Lists’. Undoubtedly, James Wan’s demonic chiller is among the best of the 2010’s. In fact, The Conjuring is one of the best horror movies in recent memory. Though it doesn’t quite reach the same heights, The Conjuring 2 was an excellent follow-up that further encouraged audiences to invest in the Warrens. Unfortunately, The Conjuring Universe loses points for the uneven quality of its other movies. The Curse of La Lorona is dull and uninspiring; first spin-off movie, Annabelle, is just bad. And while not as bad as its ‘Tomatometer‘ suggests, The Nun didn’t meet expectations. Defying expectations, prequel Annabelle: Creation flashed what made The Conjuring movies so good in the first place. Lastly, falling somewhere in the middle of the pack, Annabelle Comes Home was a satisfying ‘greatest hits’ compilation of a sequel.
3 – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)
Number of Movies: 7 Movies, 1 Remake, 1 Crossover
Best Entry: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Worst Entry: Freddy’s Dead (1991)
Wes Craven’s horror franchises plays out very similarly to the Friday the 13th and Halloween series. First, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a bona fide classic – it ranks among the best horror movies of all time. Mixed in with the sequels are two excellent movies – A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. Arguably, the latter sequel was ahead of its time. Throw in the first sequel, Freddy’s Revenge, that’s an underrated divergence from the franchise. Of course, franchise strain pops up with some generic sequels (The Dream Master, The Dream Child). Contrary to any attempts at revisionist history, Freddy’s Dead is the dregs of the series. A goofy cross-over with Friday the 13th and an uninspired remake round things out. But there’s no disputing the impact Craven’s wicked sandman, Freddy Krueger, and his horror franchise has had on the genre.
2 – The Evil Dead Horror Franchise (1981-2013)
Number of Movies: 3 Movies and 1 Remake/Reboot
Best Entry: The Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
Worst Entry: N/A
Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s probably watched The Evil Dead or The Evil Dead II at a sleepover. Sam Raimi’s low-budget gorefests were rites of passage. Though The Evil Dead played it more straight, Raimi would introduce the horror franchise’s trademark over-the-top humour in his ‘sort of’ sequel, ‘sort of’ remake, The Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn. Follow-up Army of Darkness fully embraced the series’ absurdist approach. All three movies have held up remarkably well. They’re classics of the genre with no dips in quality. Even 2013 remake, Evil Dead, is a nasty, lean piece of horror movie-making. In terms of quality and consistency, it doesn’t get much better than The Evil Dead franchise. And it’s the horror franchise that gave us Bruce Campbell.
1 – Romero’s Living Dead Horror Franchise (1968-2009)
Number of Movies: 6
Best Entry: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Worst Entry: Survival of the Dead (2009)
Like the Psycho franchise, George A Romero’s ‘Living Dead‘ series is anchored by a genre-changing classic. When Night of the Living Dead was released, it created the zombie movie as we know it today. Arguably, Dawn of the Dead may actually be the better movie. That makes two genre-defining classics in one horror franchise. Remarkably, Romero continued to breathe new life into his series decade after decade. Both Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead are entertaining entries filled with interesting ideas. Even Romero’s found-footage sequel, Diary of the Dead, offers some prescient social commentary. Yes, Survival of the Dead is a dud. And there are too many remakes to consider. Besides only Zack Snyder’s remake is worth watching.