The Best and Worst of The Friday The 13th Franchise
Happy Friday The 13th everyone! You know, that semi-holiday that we all kind of acknowledge. A day dedicated to bad luck that hits the calendar entirely by chance once or twice a year. Why do we care? Aside from the overly superstitious, who the hell knows?! However, there is one reason to celebrate this weird holiday: it shares a name with arguably the most iconic slasher movie series of the 1980s (aka the decade when masked cinematic serial killers ruled the screens). It’s never entirely been clear why the film franchise has this title. Well, at least not narratively. After Halloween was a massive hit, producer, writer, director and charlatan Sean Cunningham (Last House On The Left) knew that there was money to be made in ripping it off with a slasher movie named after that other creepy holiday. He made a poster before writing a script, quickly gathered the money, and then neither he nor anyone else involved in the franchise bothered to justify the title.
Hey, that’s just the ramshackle charm of Friday The 13th. There isn’t a single title in this twelve movie series that could be described as a masterpiece. They are all trash (some better or more knowing than others, but all trash nonetheless). That’s why we love them and why they endure. Sure other slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, or Scream have more brains or historical importance. Yet, that’s not why people loved slasher movies in the VHS era. They wanted trashy fun. Gore, boobs, and laughs (the latter quality rarely intended by the filmmakers) and that’s exactly what they got out of the Friday The 13th flicks, for better or worse.
So, now that this special unlucky day has popped up on our calendars once more, we here at CGM have decided to do a ranking of the entire franchise. For the sake of simplicity, we’re sticking to the movies. So don’t expect video games, comics, or the barely-related TV series to pop up. However, all the sequels, remakes, n’ spin-offs appear from worst to best. Before you get pissy about your favourite flick ranking too low, just remember that terms like “best” and “worst” are relative here. Even the lowest ranking flick on this list has its cornball beer-watching/heckling charms and the highest-ranking one doesn’t exactly qualify as art. The convoluted tale of Jason Voorhees is one written in gore and cheese. We love ‘em all in their own crappy ways. So before a new Jason game and the 13th film in the series (god-willing let it be Black Friday The 13th, a tale of Jason cutting loose on a mall full of overzealous holiday shoppers) hit shelves in the coming year, let’s take a look back at the wonderfully cornball legacy of a boy, his mother, a machete, and a hockey mask.
12) Jason X (2001)
Yep, the one where Jason goes to space. He wasn’t the only slasher to get there. The Leprechaun and Pinhead also made their own journeys into space. But Jason’s trip was a weird one. It was the first Friday The 13th movie made in almost a decade decade and a disappointment to fans from the jump since they had actually been awaiting a Freddy Vs. Jason flick that was still to come. The dumb dumb idea was rushed into production and never quite clicks. Sure, there are some good moments: two great kills, one great joke, and an inexplicable David Cronenberg cameo. Yet, for the most part it’s a misfire, especially when Mr. Voorhees turns into a metallic space Jason that no one asked for. It is undeniably the weakest slasher flick in the franchise, yet at the same time is every bit as laughable and ironically entertaining as you’d hope a Jason Goes To Space movie might be. So it could be worse.
11) Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
After years away from his most famous creation, producer Sean Cunningham finally regained control over Jason, but not the title Friday The 13th in the early 90s. His big idea? Kill off Jason. So that’s what he did. In the first scene (admittedly, it’s a hell of an opening). After that, Jason Goes To Hell turns into an oddball demonic body horror slasher as the spirit of lil’ Jason posses various folks via a worm-like parasite that emerges from his undead heart. Yep, it doesn’t make a lick of sense and barely even feels like a Friday The 13th movie. But, it does have that fantastic Jason death scene and some of the most disgusting gore in the series (provided that you get your eyeballs on the unrated version that’s yet to make it to Blu-ray). So, it could be worse. Plus there’s that MCU-esque end credits tease where Freddy Krueger’s glove grabs Jason’s mask to set up a crossover battle that took ten years to hit screens.
10) Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Take a look at that trailer. Isn’t it absolutely friggin’ fantastic? Doesn’t it make you excited from a movie with Jason marching around New York chopping up the locals? Well, unfortunately this ain’t that movie. Budgetary limitations meant that it’s mostly Jason Takes Out A Bunch Of Teens On A Boat With A Little Trip To Manhattan At The End. That’s false advertising that broke my heart as a kid and I’ve never quite been able to get over my disappointment. Still, the final act in New York is pretty damn great, featuring one of the best deaths in the series (why the decapitation uppercut, of course!). It’s also filled with some delightful accidental humour and Kane Hodder in his prime marching around as Jason. So, it could be worse. At least it’s better than the previous two gimmicky sequels on this list.
9) Friday The 13th (2009)
That’s right, the Platinum Dunes remake. The typical opinion is that this remake was garbage and deservingly bombed, but that’s not entirely the case. Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake director Marcus Nispel and his writers clearly loved this franchise more than those responsible for many of the sequels and had a whole bunch o’ fun bringing Jason back. The opening that remakes the first two movies before the title card is a blast of gorey fun and the teens-to-the-slaughter plot that follows is at least executed with a few tongues in cheeks. Sure, the humanization of Jason was deeply unnecessary and the gore n’ nudity should have been a bit more gratuitous in the Saw era, but this flick holds up far better than it should. It’s still a good thing that the remake didn’t spawn a series of increasingly unnecessary sequels, but at least it’s far better than it had any right to be.
8) Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)
More often than not Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning is considered the absolute worst film in the franchise. It undid the grand Jason-killing finale of the inaccurately named The Final Chapter and Jason technically wasn’t even it. The complaints are correct and A New Beginning is a horrible movie. However, it’s also absolute insane in a “so-bad-its-good” kinda way. If you’re looking for a Friday The 13th flick to giggle at excessively over beers, this is the one. It has the highest body count and is hilariously inept in every conceivable way. Writer/Director Danny Steinmann had only made softcore porn before getting the job after absolutely every other conceivable option turned down the project and he never worked again despite A New Beginning being a hit. There’s a reason. This is an absolute mess of a movie, but a glorious mess. You won’t believe your eyes or ears and you’ll never stop laughing. And really, isn’t that a huge part of the appeal of this ridiculous franchise?
7) Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Unfortunately The New Blood was completely demolished by the MPAA who wanted to make a point about this franchise being too violent. That’s a shame because it’s got some great kills even though they are cut up to shreds. However, the flick also features the finest Jason, Kane Hodder, in the best rotting corpse Jason costume. So that’s pretty great. Plus it’s essentially Carrie Vs. Jason, forcing the hulking killer to fight a troubled teen with psychic powers. The production values are high(ish), the effects are strong, the pacing is relentless, and it’s just as stupid and silly as you’d hope the seventh movie in this absurd series would be. God-willing there will one day be a director’s cut of this flick with all the gore in tact. If that happens, it could rank even higher on this list. Until then, this is still the best Kane Hodder Jason flick and that still qualifies as one worth shoving into your eyeholes.
6) Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)
After a decade of endlessly waiting, fans finally got a chance to see Freddy Krueger and Jason fight in the summer of 2003. The resulting film was a crowd-pleaser and remains the biggest money-maker in either franchise, yet somehow remains curiously underrated. People seem to speak of Freddy Vs. Jason as a disappointment now and I just don’t get it. Sure, every character other than the iconic slashers are pretty dull and perfunctory, but honestly what else could possibly have happened? The good news is that Hong Kong director Ronny Yu knew exactly how to handle Jason and Freddy, especially in the final 20 minute battle royal that is the stuff that horror movie nerd dreams are made of. This flick is pure dumb fun and probably the best movie that ever could have been made with the title Freddy Vs. Jason. It was never going to be high art people, but at least it was entertaining.
5) Friday The 13th Part 3 (1982)
When it comes to things like writing, acting, and pacing, Friday The 13th is one of the weakest entries in this franchise. Thankfully, those aren’t exactly the qualities that folks come to a Jason flick for. Director Steve Miner delivered a collection of hilariously elaborate and gory death scenes in cinemascope here that are bloody fantastic. Even better, then were all shot in gloriously gimmicky 3D with eyeballs, pointy objects, and yo-yos flying towards the camera in hilarious ways. In 3D, it’s a treat. In 2D, it’s like an SCTV sketch brought to life. Plus this is the movie that introduced the iconic hockey mask. That’s important. And this was the film that finally moved E.T. off the number 1 slot in the box office after both The Thing and Blade Runner failed in that task in the summer of 82. Yep, people sure are stupid.
4) Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)
In many ways, Friday The 13th Part 2 is actually better than the original. Baghead Jason is pretty frightening. Steve Miner did a far better job mounting suspense and kill scenes that Sean Cunningham. The atmosphere is strong. The acting actually isn’t horrible. And best of all, the last 20 minutes are genuinely thrilling in a dumb-dumb horror movie way. It’s just not as iconic and lacks Kevin Bacon. So the sequel ranks slightly lower than the original. But honestly, this is one of the best movies in the whole series, which is probably why Paramount decided to keep cranking out sequels for the rest of the 80s. This is the movie that proved the franchise had legs, for better or worse.
3) Friday The 13th (1980)
Normally these franchise-ranking articles always have the original movie at the top of the heap. Generally speaking, it’s a pop culture masterpiece that spawns a never ending series of sequels. Not Friday The 13th. Sure, the original movie is incredibly important as it cemented all the slasher movie tropes, was the first indie slasher to get picked up by a Hollywood studio, established one of the best horror score themes of all time, showcased some ground-breaking gore effects by Tom Savini, and featured a final jump scare that was one of the finest in genre history. However, beyond that, it’s a remarkably average slasher flick that worked primarily because of all the tricks Sean Cunningham stole from Halloween and Meatballs. Friday The 13th is still pretty damn fun, it just shouldn’t be the first movie in the series that you reach for. Betsy Palmer is great but she’s no Jason, ya know?
2) Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Now we’re talking. When people picture a Friday The 13th movie in their heads, they picture The Final Chapter. Executed with an impressive budget by trash master Joseph Zito (the man behind the Chuck Norris masterpiece Invasion U.S.A.), this Jason sequel is a goddamn blast. All of the franchise tropes were in place, Zito just cranked them to 11 and established Jason as the massive unstoppable force that made him a horror icon. Toss in the welcome return of Tom Savini crafting the gore, Corey Feldman as the kid who killed Jason (well, for a while) ,and Crispin Glover awkwardly dancing his way into pop culture infamy and you’ve got a beloved cult movie that still plays like gangbusters over 30 years later. This flick is pure guilty pleasure fun that will inspire all sorts of ironic giggles in between big ol’ scare scenes that actually work. Buckle up and enjoy.
1) Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Finally we come to easily the best Friday The 13th movie ever made. Writer/director Tom McLoughlin wasn’t particularly a fan of the franchise when he accepted the gig to make Jason Lives. He didn’t really like slasher flicks, he was more of a monster movie guy. So McLoughlin slyly transformed Jason into the walking zombie corpse that we all know and love. Even better, McLoughlin recognized that cornball appeal of the series that had audiences giggling through the five previous dumbo movies and decided to play into those campy laughs. Jason Lives is a straight-up horror/comedy that mocks slasher movie conventions a decade before Scream made that trendy. Toss in some genuinely effective suspense sequences and you’ve got the platonic ideal of a Friday The 13th movie. This flick is a relentlessly entertaining slice of 80s horror cheese that is completely self-aware about all the dumb tricks that it pulls on audiences. McLoughlin’s movie likely would have been a critical success were it not for the fact that it was the sixth movie in a series that most critics wrote off long before it was released. Even now, the flick doesn’t get the respect it deserves because those who would appreciate it the most likely gave up on the franchise a few sequels earlier. The movie deserves rediscovery and appreciation though. If you only ever watch one Friday The 13th movie, make it Jason Lives. By the time it’s over, you might even think that this is a secretly clever franchise. You’d be wrong, but at least that’s true of one Friday The 13th movie, even if it took six tries to get there.