Since the release of its first film in 1996, the Scream franchise has become one of the most beloved and iconic horror movie franchises in movie history. It doesn’t matter if you’re a horror fan or not — you’ve heard of these movies and you know what Ghostface looks like. The horror genre is notorious for its abundance of awful and sloppily-made films clearly only made for a quick buck, and for a horror film as smart and well-made as Scream to come out when it did was incredibly refreshing and memorable.
However, just because the Scream franchise makes fun of dumb horror films and their tropes doesn’t mean its films can’t fall victim to the same problems. With five films now under its belt, the Scream franchise hasn’t been as consistently great as one might hope, having had its ups and downs throughout its run. It’s not quite unanimous among fans what these ups and downs are — some fans claim the first film is the only one worth watching, others claim the only bad film in the series in the third one, some even claim certain Scream sequels are better than the original.
No Scream ranking list will ever be the definitive ranking for all the Scream films, and with a 6th film recently greenlit and production starting soon, no current Scream ranking list could ever be complete, anyway.
With that in mind, let’s rank the Scream movies from worst to best.
Scream Movies Ranked
5. Scream 3 (2000)
While there’s plenty of debate on which Scream sequel is the best, there is almost unanimous agreement from both fans and critics on which Scream sequel is the worst and that dishonor goes to Scream 3. Scream 3 was the first Scream film not to be written by Kevin Williamson and it shows — Scream 3 just doesn’t feel like a Scream film.
For the most part, it doesn’t even feel like a horror film. The Scream films have always been funny without having to sacrifice their scary edge, but Scream 3 just feels straight up like a full-on comedy, made even worse by the fact that none of the jokes are very funny.
Really, the only actual thing to laugh at (other than Gale’s awful haircut) is the voice changer Ghostface uses in this film. Where the other Scream films had Ghostface using a voice changer that could change any voice into a specific unknown voice (believable enough, if requiring a small amount of suspension of disbelief), the voice changer in Scream 3 is somehow able to perfectly mimic the voices of the characters of the film. Even if this were possible, and that’s a big if, the killer would have to spend months and months perfecting each voice of the voice changer, whereas the killers of the other Scream films can easily buy a voice changer from the store.
The film also chooses to satirize final conclusions of film trilogies, which is a really odd thing to choose to satirize. Firstly, two more sequels would eventually be made, so the characters believing they’re in the conclusion of a trilogy doesn’t even work anymore. Secondly, even if Scream 3 remained the final Scream sequel, many of the tropes the film satirizes when it comes to trilogy endings aren’t present in most horror films — it just feels like the wrong thing for Scream 3 to choose to satirize. The horror genre isn’t known for ridiculous conclusions to its trilogies, it’s known for its plethora of film franchises that never seem to end. Why not satirize Hollywood’s constant need to add sequels to a horror franchise that desperately needs to end already?
With uncreative kills, the same plot points from previous films repeated, and a lurking feeling of the film simply being made as a cash grab, Scream 3 became the very thing the franchise originally mocked.
4. Scream 4 (2011)
Is unmemorable better than awful? If so, Scream 4 is certainly an improvement over the third, but there’s almost nothing here that’s worth writing home about. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t seem to agree, seemingly believing it has something big and important to say with Ghostface’s motive when it doesn’t.
While the Ghostface killers of the other movies had far-fetched motives, they at least were outrageous enough that you were still along for the ride if just for the fun. This one takes itself too seriously and feels too half-baked and underwritten for the social commentary to really land.
Whatever message the film was trying to send fails miserably at packing a punch due to the staleness of the entire film’s execution.
Scream 4 also doubles down on the franchise’s meta nature and self-awareness, but without a good movie to back it up, it just comes across as annoying and even defensive. From the intro alone, the film already tries too hard to be meta, and the more the film goes on, the more its self-awareness becomes self-criticism. This sequel’s constantly making remarks towards uninspired and underthought horror sequels, ultimately becoming one as if to prove its own point. Scream 4 is never able to justify its existence, feeling more like a rushed cash-in to the big reboot trend of the 2010s, especially due to the screenplay feeling mostly like a rough first draft.
But really, Scream 4’s biggest problem is that it’s boring, which is something a Scream movie should never be. It’s the kind of film you instantly forget 80% of right after watching it. It’s not very scary, it’s not very funny, and it’s not very effective in its attempts at social commentary. It’s just plain, mediocre, and boring. While that may put it above the over-the-top roll-your-eyes-worthy ridiculousness of Scream 3, it certainly doesn’t get it into the top 3 when discussing the best Scream movies. But hey, at least Gale has a great haircut in this one.
3. Scream 2 (1997)
Scream 2 was always going to be an unneeded sequel, specifically because the first Scream had already tied everything up in a bloody red bow. Thankfully, the first sequel turned out to be a really good one that might have even made the 2nd spot on this list if not for its lame third act.. The boring killer reveals, the overlong monologues, and the deus-ex-machina conclusion make for an underwhelming ending to an otherwise strong movie.
However, if you manage to forgive its third act dip in quality, Scream 2 shines with its stellar writing and suspenseful directing. While not as solid a whole as the first film was, Scream 2 still manages to pack a punch in both horror and comedy. Much like the first Scream, this sequel is very funny but never lets that get in the way of being a great horror, something Scream 3 especially had trouble doing. There are plenty of moments here that’ll have you at the edge of your seat filled with anxiety but also excitement. Every fan remembers how breathless they were the first time they watched Sidney and Hallie try to escape the police car with Ghostface, or what about Gale trying to hide from Ghostface in the sound booth room?
All in all, Scream 2 is a top-notch sequel let down by its overstuffed ending, but remains mostly solid throughout its first and second acts, especially when it comes to making fun of itself. There are plenty of heart-stopping moments here along with great performances from its cast, all topped quite nicely with some great meta moments and self-referential humor, although it does overdo it a bit in that department too.
Most horror film sequels suck, as the characters of Scream 2 will tell you. Luckily for them, the sequel they’re in is a pretty good one.
2. Scream (2022)
Reboots, sequels, remakes, reimaginings, and “requels” as this Scream film calls them (not quite a reboot, not quite a sequel) are a dime a dozen these days. Hollywood studios are constantly finding nostalgic properties to remake or add sequels to in order to cash in on a recognizable brand and, unsurprisingly, a lot of them suck. Scream (2022) thankfully doesn’t. While not as good as the original, this requel still manages to be a fun and thrilling time while even managing to nostalgically tug at the heartstrings for viewers who grew up watching the franchise.
Both the old and new cast bring their A game in this movie, with performances from David Arquette and Jenna Ortega in particular being standouts. However, Neve Campbell is the true heart of this movie, even with her only having a considerably short amount of screentime. No surprise there — Sidney Prescott has always been the heart of the Scream franchise, a final girl so bad-ass she’s in a league of her own when it comes to final girls. While unlikely, if this is the last we ever see of Sidney, Campbell gave a worthy final performance.
Scream (2022) also manages to stay mostly solid throughout all of its three acts, which instantly puts it a spot above Scream 2. Regardless of whether or not you predict who the killer is, this new Scream, while not perfect, still hits close enough with its humor and its horror. The climax, especially, is one of the most satisfying moments of the Scream franchise, both for fans new and old. While this film certainly doesn’t shy away from its roots, the nostalgic elements feel welcome and genuine rather than a flaccid attempt to get people interested in the film.
It was hard to imagine any reboot, sequel, or requel being able to breathe new life into the Scream franchise, especially considering the original film was so of-its-time and the first attempt to revitalize the franchise produced lackluster results, but Scream (2022) manages to do it. This was a film made by Scream fans for Scream fans and the end result is a wildly animated and enjoyable ride.
1. Scream (1996)
To list any other Scream film would be to break one of the most important rules of the Scream franchise: Don’t mess with the original. Indeed, the original Scream is a fantastic horror film – a must-watch if you want to be considered a true horror fan. Everything about this film is top-notch, from the characters to the writing to the scares, and one watch is enough to make you understand why the franchise has become so iconic since its release.
Scream was released back in 1996, part of a decade following a decade filled with horror film franchises that just got worse the more they went along like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, Halloween, and even Wes Craven’s own A Nightmare on Elm Street. For a film back then to make fun of the tropes while still being a solid horror film was uniquely refreshing, and even until now, many of the film’s satirical jabs still land. While slasher films aren’t exactly the most popular horror subgenre of the current times, franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween still remain iconic and relevant, and Scream still gleefully and successfully satirizes them while still feeling like its own great thing.
Scream is also the film that best uses self-awareness to its advantage. The sequels are almost too meta — many of the characters say things that wouldn’t make sense in a real-world context.
Scream, however, manages to find the perfect balance between being meta and being realistic with its dialogue. Randy’s rules for surviving a horror movie, for instance, come up not because Randy literally thinks he’s in a horror movie but because he and his friends are watching a horror movie. Sidney and Billy talk about their lives being one big movie but it’s meant metaphorically in the sense that they don’t get to pick what genre their movie is. It’s this cleverness that makes Scream by far the best usage of self-awareness in a Scream film.
But above all else, Scream is just a damn good horror comedy which is a type of film that very rarely succeeds in balancing its two genres. There are a lot of funny scenes here, but the comedy never overshadows the horror — Scream is very much, first and foremost, a horror film and a really good one at that. Wes Craven is a master of building tension, so much so that many of the film’s scenes will have you holding your breath, eagerly anticipating what’s going to happen next. Who can forget the first time they watched Sidney in the car with Ghostface outside? Not to mention how likable the characters are in this film — Gale, Dewie, Randy, and especially Sidney are characters you find yourself attached to and rooting for, so much so that the sequels are almost worth watching just to be together with them again.
With a fantastic screenplay grouped together with masterful directing and top-notch performances from every member of its main cast, Scream is a hilarious, nail-biting, tension-filled two hours that’s earned its place as one of the most beloved horror films of all time.
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