Who would have thought that a modestly budgeted home invasion thriller would spawn such a successful franchises? In retrospect, The Purge, which hit theaters in 2013, was exactly the kind of movie upon which Blumhouse Productions has built their success – big concept, small budget. Even if The Purge wasn’t a great movie per se, the sound of that siren followed by the announcement, ‘All crime, including murder, will be legal for 12 hours’ hooked audiences. To date, Blumhouse has produced four sequels and a television series. All five movies have been box office gold for the studio. Some of the success owes to all those colorful villains. But the constant presence of series creator James DeMonaco has played a role in the series’ consistency. Now rumors are spreading of a sixth Purge movie. Regardless, it’s time to take stock of the franchise and separate the weakest entry from the best.
5= The Forever Purge (2021)
Some franchise fans will take issue with placing The Forever Purge at the bottom of the list. Arguably, The Purge could just as easily be at the bottom. Both movies suffer from the same problem – interesting premises largely unexplored. Certainly, series creator and writer James DeMonaco has a timely political premise. Months after the world watched far-right extremists storm the US Capital Building, the idea of a splinter Purge Purification Force extending ‘the purge’ to ‘cleanse’ the country of ‘non-Americans’ should strike a nerve. Instead of chilling commentary it feels like being hammered over the head. Though director Everardo Gout stages some excellent, violent action sequences – in broad daylight this time – and we have the requisite masks and likeable characters, The Forever Purge feels more like a generic dystopian action thriller than a Purge movie. And it’s undoing of The Purge: Election Year’s ending feels cheap.
4 – The Purge (2013)
Make no mistake about it, The Purge was the least remarkable entry in the series. Until The Forever Purge. However, this isn’t to say The Purge is a bad movie. On the contrary, writer and director James DeMonaco’s first kick at the can is far from bad. You’ll find lots of good ideas here. Aside from its intriguing premise, The Purge boasts a good leading cast (Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey) along with some potentially explosive subtext. In addition to the more obvious ideas around human nature and violence, DeMonaco skims deeper issues including racial injustice, class division, and privatization of security. Unfortunately, DeMonaco doesn’t fully develop these themes. Some of this is a function of budget and scope. Specifically, DeMonaco was working with a small $3 million budget. As a result, The Purge is a lukewarm home invasion movie anchored by a big concept.
3 – The Purge: Election Year (2016)
After The Purge: Anarchy opened up the franchise’s world and fully exploited its premise, DeMonaco continued with the ‘go big’ approach. Though it’s still an improvement over The Purge, The Purge: Election Year represents a step down from Anarchy. Like the first sequel, Anarchy continues the series’ shift away from horror elements firmly into action territory. And DeMonaco handles the action with the right amount of grit and intensity. Frank Grillo is back – a definite plus. Moreover, Election Year packs some timely satire with its female senator running for President against the far right-wing New Founding Fathers of America. But this time around, there’s a little too much predictability. Grillo’s character also feels less interesting – he’s missing that anti-hero quality from Anarchy. By no means should anyone consider this a perfunctory sequel. Nevertheless, DeMonaco’s bigger scope misses some of the personal stakes of Anarchy.
2 – The First Purge (2018)
When most franchises hit their fourth film, diminishing returns hits hard. Prequels also rarely bode well. However, The First Purge successfully used the prequel route to bring in fresh talent and a new direction. By the fourth movie, DeMonaco’s handle on the bigger action scenes is quite adept. And for this installment, DeMonaco throws even more big ideas at the screen, taking aim at the Trump administration. DeMonaco’s use of faulty, unethical social science findings to target minorities eerily parallels the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. There’s government-funded Russian ‘merc’s’, NRA funding of the NFFA, and references to media fear-mongering. Scenes of Neo-Nazi militias attacking a community church are cutting references to the US government’s complicity in the rise of neo-Nazi activity in America. Not all these ideas stick and the focus is clearly still on action. Still The First Purge is better than it had any right to be.
1 – The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
Hands down, The Purge: Anarchy is the best movie in the series. With a slightly bigger budget, DeMonaco takes the ‘purge’ from a suburban household straight into the streets. This time audiences got to see the full chaos of a ‘purge night’ as we watched five very different people try to survive a night in Los Angeles. In addition to abandoning its ‘home invasion’ setup, The Purge: Anarchy takes a step away from horror into action. DeMonaco treats us to some of the more visually-striking series’ villains, including Young Ghoul Face and Big Daddy. If The Purge teased bigger themes, Anarchy dives into these ideas. In particular, DeMonaco’s idea of the NFAA using professional ‘purgers’ to clean out marginalized neighbourhoods is pretty provocative stuff for this kind of movie. Throw in the underrated Frank Grillo – and some welcome mystery surrounding his character – and you have a lean, relentless sequel.