Just one year removed from the Scream legacy sequel, and Scream VI has already hit the cineplexes. Aside from maybe Evil Dead Rise, the latest sequel is arguably this year’s most anticipated horror offering. Most franchises are running on fumes after their fourth entry. But writers James Vanderbilt and Gary Busick – taking over the writing duties from Kevin Williamson – found a new purpose for the series. And Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (V/H/S, Ready or Not) proved to be worthy successors behind the camera to the late Wes Craven. There’s a remarkable consistency that’s defined the Scream franchise from its mid-90s inception. And following the initial critical buzz around the latest sequel, it’s more than likely that the franchise will march on. With six movies under its belt, now feels like a good time to rank the franchise from worst to best.
6 – Scream 3 (2000)
No surprises here. Despite the consistency in creative talent across the franchise, Scream 3 marked a noticeable drop in quality. To date, it’s the lowest rated Scream movie and the second worst box office performer. Maybe new screenwriter Ehren Kruger should have focused on the typically underperforming quality of trilogy cappers. Instead, Scream 3 tackles the rules of the trilogy – something that really doesn’t exist in the horror genre. Though it’s not a bad movie, Craven emphasizes humor and a convoluted ‘whodunnit’ story that needlessly retcons much of what we know about the series. All of the cast – old and new characters alike – are a blast to watch here. And there’s several fun scenes … it’s just the worst of the Scream series.
5 – Scream 4 (2011)
Arguably, Scream 4 would have worked better if it was Scream 3. That is, Scream 3 really didn’t have much of a reason to exist. Comparatively, Scream 4 had a whole decade of horror trends with which to work. Though it didn’t quite do as well as expected, this sequel holds up quite well to multiple viewings. Williamson’s script and story set-up are clever, Craven puts the ‘R-rating’ back into the franchise, and the sequel’s commentary is only more relevant today. This is a much better sequel than maybe critics gave it credit at the time of its initial release. While it’s always nice to see Campbell, Cox, and Arquette back together, the young cast are instantly welcome additions to the franchise. Who doesn’t still hope that Hayden Panettiere’s ‘Kirby’ somehow survived? Emma Roberts plays what might be the franchise’s best villain since Billy and Stu.
4 – Scream VI (2023)
It says something about the series that the sixth entry still manages to be so good. And Scream VI is a damn good horror movie. Behind the camera, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett return alongside the ‘Core Four’ survivors. This is a significantly more brutal franchise entry as compared to what has previously defined the Scream series. Some of the meta-narrative feels a bit strained. In spite of this limitation, however, Scream VI boasts some of the best character work in the franchise. In addition, Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett craft some of the franchise’s best suspenseful moments. At six movies deep into a series, there’s no reason that this sequel should be so good. But Scream VI defies the odds and promises that there’s more to come in the immediate future.
3 – Scream (2022)
Twenty-five years after the original Woodsboro massacre, Ghostface is back targeting people with connections to Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. Another late entry to a franchise on life support and – surprise, surprise – a sequel was immediately greenlit. It’s not small feat that this sequel was just so damn good. Aside from an over-stuffed plot, Scream 3 really had no reason to exist. But Scream 4 found new targets in the horror remake craze and Millennial obsession with fame. Now Scream 2022 re-invigorates Ghostface with some biting criticism of toxic fandom and legacy sequels. Oh, and Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett bring the expected dark humor alongside some decent scares and vicious kills. And as nice as it was to see legacy characters return, the new faces ensured the franchise is in good hands.
2 – Scream 2 (1997)
In hindsight, Scream 2 shouldn’t have worked. Rushed into development following Scream’s massive success, Craven and Williamson were tasked with following up one of the biggest game changers in horror. Somehow everything came together in a horror sequel that dishes plenty of meta reflection on why sequels don’t work while simultaneously avoiding those pitfalls. Both the movie’s killer opening and climax rival what Craven accomplished a year earlier. In addition, this sequel packs itself with cast of talent young-and-upcoming actors. Throw in a shocking death and a decent ‘whodunnit’ that follows on the original without just re-hashing and Scream 2 may just be one of the better horror sequels.
1 – Scream (1996)
Head over to Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll see that Scream 2 actually holds a higher TomatoMeter score. But Wes Craven’s original is the top of the Scream franchise. Period. Simply put, Scream was a game-changer for the genre at a time when horror was lukewarm with audiences. Drew Barrymore’s small part remains one of the best opening scenes in horror. Not since Janet Leigh took a shower at the Bates Motel has a horror movie swerved audiences. Williamson’s scripts is genuinely clever and funny. Everyone in the cast completely nails it. And Craven’s balancing of horror, humor, and mystery is expert. This is the movie that re-invigorated horror while also giving us an iconic villain in Ghost Face and Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, one of the genre’s best protagonists.