Slasher films had been left for dead when Scream came along in December 1996 to single-handedly revive and rewrite the genre. Driven by its twisty, small-town murder-mystery plot, and a mile-wide sarcastic streak aimed at skewering horror movie tropes, the film killed at the box office. Copycat after copycat would follow, and so would a slew of sequels, including the latest, unhelpfully titled Scream.
Other popular horror movie series, from Halloween to Friday the 13th, might have generated bigger grosses, but they also have spawned at least one, if not several, shitty sequels. While not every film in the Scream franchise is great, each has its merits, and none of them are as horrible as Jason X. Some in the series have aged better than others, and at least one surpasses the original as the best Scream of them all.
5. “Scream 4” (2011)
Shuffling along on one gimmick after the other, from the triple fake-out opening sequence to the eye-rolling final reveal, Scream 4 takes after its killer, desperate for attention. If motivation matters in a slasher movie, then a sense of purpose is sorely lacking here both for Ghostface and in the film’s uninspired fame-for-fame’s-sake commentary. On the plus side, director Wes Craven keeps the action moving at a brisk, engaging pace, and makes effective use of returning cast members Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette, who generally outshine the fresh young kills — and not for the last time.
4. “Scream” (2022)
Again, the franchise’s legacy stars Campbell, Cox, and Arquette ride to the rescue to lend dramatic heft and lived-in history to an otherwise lukewarm cast of brand-new characters. Craven, who passed away in 2015, can no longer put the stars through their paces, so the series’ signature dark humor and well-staged suspense take a hit. However, co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett sharpen the horror edge with some intense Ghostface mayhem that puts even the fan-favorite core trio in serious jeopardy, stoking fear and a few surprises.
3. “Scream 3” (2000)
Leaning heavily on snark and smarm, this Hollywood-set sequel goes above and beyond to impress with self-awareness. The original trio of Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and Deputy Dewey Riley are all drawn to the studio backlot set of Stab 3, third in the series of movies within the Scream movies that portray the multiple sprees of Ghostface murders. This one’s more a satirical whodunnit than a true fright flick, yet its sexual exploitation subplot sneaks in as the series’ most disturbing and lacerating take on Tinseltown. An acerbic Carrie Fisher fits right in, popping up in a pithy two-minute cameo.
2. “Scream” (1996)
A Nightmare on Elm Street creator Craven previously had pioneered the self-reflexive slasher genre with 1994 horror-comedy Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, in which erstwhile Elm Street cast and crew, including Craven himself, are haunted by the franchise’s fictional boogeyman Freddy Krueger. That film flopped at the box office, but the filmmaker soon returned to the meta well with Scream, written by then-newcomer Kevin Williamson. Their refreshing formula of chilling teen-horror, self-aware sarcasm, and well-crafted murder-mystery sliced open a vein of similar studio releases — but none could duplicate Scream’s phenomenal success or influence.
1. “Scream 2” (1997)
No movie on this list had a higher bar to clear than the immediate follow-up to pop culture sensation Scream. Yet, with its sequel, Craven and Williamson shook up their winning formula, while cementing the series’ foundation, built on Sid the survivor standing up to any psycho in her path. Not as bloody or graphic as other films in the franchise, Scream 2 hides its killer(s) in plain sight, as it toys with the notion that violent cinema foments a more violent society. The filmmakers get their point across with a brutal opening sequence featuring a character who’s slaughtered inside a movie theater packed with obliviously cheering Stab fans. Despite a few sappy detours into CW teen-drama territory, Craven marshals a strong cast, and stages some grippingly suspenseful set-pieces.
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