‘Halloween’ Movies Ranked from Worst to Best
Note: Collider’s Halloween horror month continues this week with a look at horror’s most iconic, enduring franchises. Today, we’re kicking things off the Halloween movies ranked. Stay tuned throughout the week for more on horror’s biggest hits and get ready for a monster mash next week!
When John Carpenter set about making a little low-budget horror film called Halloween in 1977, it was impossible for him to know that he was also creating the foundation for a horror franchise that would span the next three decades. Indeed, against a budget of just $300,000, Halloween would take audiences by storm to the tune of $70 million worldwide, making it an insanely profitable venture. As Hollywood is wont to do, the desire for a sequel came calling and never let up. The myth of Michael Myers was built, broken down, twisted, ruined (a couple of times), and rebuilt again over the next 30 years. Carpenter would only remain tenuously involved in the first two sequels, but his legacy lived on as subsequent filmmakers tried to capture what made Halloween so special in the first place.
Indeed, Halloween was immeasurably influential to the slasher genre as a whole. Coming on the heels of another low-budget horror pic, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween’s success would give birth to other long-running franchises like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. They would continue on parallel tracks, each with sequels that varied wildly in quality, but Halloween remained that “Godfather” of the slasher franchise—the one that started it all.
So as we approach the titular holiday, it feels prudent to take a look back at the Halloween franchise in full, ranking each entry from worst to best. I’ll be honest, my memory was more fond of some of these films before my recent rewatch, but there’s certainly merit to be found in the pure breadth of the franchise and its willingness to reinvent itself over and over again.
10. Halloween: Resurrection
Or, “The One Where Busta Rhymes Does Kung Fu”
After the success of the reboot-ish Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, the franchise ruins itself all over again by bringing Laurie Strode’s story to a terrible, weak ending as she’s stabbed then thrown off the roof of a psychiatric hospital. Aside from the fact that the retroactive “explanation” for how Michael survived his H20 beheading is idiotic, killing off Laurie Strode in such a turgid fashion is downright disgraceful to the franchise. And that’s only in the opening 10 minutes of the movie! Halloween II director Rick Rosenthal returned to helm what turned out to be more an imitation of popular horror trends (found footage! stunt casting! college slashers!) than a genuine sequel.
9. Halloween: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Or, “The One Where Michael Loves Farm Tools”
This may be a controversial placement to some, but the complete backtracking from the ending of Halloween 4 is pretty unforgivable. Instead of taking the story to its natural next step—an evil Jamie—Michael’s niece is now simply a mute, troubled young girl plagued by visions of her uncle stalking and killing people. This is dumb. And the choice to make Jamie a mute, throwing herself into silent fits of terror, is an odd one that comes off more comedic than troubling/scary. It’s a boring film to boot, as Michael just moseys along while Jamie watches through her minds eye, then drags her adorable little hospital buddy/translator along to watch her uncle kill people.
8. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
Or, “The One Where Paul Rudd Makes Creepy Faces”
This one is somewhat legendary in Halloween lore given its troubled production and unfinished nature. Extensive reshoots removed an entire third act sequence in which Dr. Loomis received the “Curse of Thorn” from Michael Myers, and the final film is filled with nonsensical stretches as a result of extensive editing. Perhaps the producers and director Joe Chappelle should’ve known better than to try and explain away Michael’s seemingly supernatural powers, but they went all in with this cult subplot that was so bad that subsequent films pretend it never existed in the first place. Nevertheless, the film remains pretty watchable thanks to a strange debut performance from Paul Rudd and a family drama subplot involving Marianne Hagan’s character that’s actually quite compelling.
7. Halloween: The Return of Michael Myers
Or, “The One Where Michael Is Back, We Promise”
Following a complete and total fan rejection of the Michael Myers-less Halloween III, producers staged a big return for everyone’s masked psychopath for the first Halloween film without John Carpenter or co-writer/producer Debra Hill’s involvement. The result is a sign of things to come: cheapened sequels that lean far too heavily on Donald Pleasance and threaten to ruin the mystery behind the Michael Myers myth. It’s nevertheless fascinating to see how the return of Myers is dealt with, especially the solution for not having Jamie Lee Curtis onboard, and the niece aspect works to a point, but this sequel pales in comparison to what came before.
6. Halloween II
Or, “The One Where Family Matters”
No one expected Halloween to be the phenomenon that it turned out to be, so when it came time to craft a sequel, John Carpenter and Debra Hill had to create a franchise out of what was supposed to be a one-off horror film. The fix? Add a twist the reveals Laurie Strode is actually the sister of Michael Myers. That story point carries a lot of this film, as Rick Rosenthal’s direction tries so hard to mimic Carpenter’s slow burn approach that much of the film ends up feeling too laid back and quiet. Jimmy, in particular, delivers every line like he’s in his first class after lunch—it sounds like he’d rather be sleeping than dealing with a murdering psycho on the loose.
Rosenthal also ups the gore and blood significantly from the first movie, an area of the franchise that refused to remain consistent from film to film, and Curtis is regrettably sidelined for much of the movie. Regardless, this is the closest thing we have to a Carpenter-helmed sequel, and the choice to pick up directly after the events of Halloween turns out to be a smart one that gives the story a sense of propulsion.
5. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
Or, “The One Where Jamie Lee Curtis Cuts Michael’s Head Off”
After four sequels of varying success, and following the tortured production of Halloween 6, the producers finally had a good idea: bring back Jamie Lee Curtis. While it’s still frustrating that a deal couldn’t be struck for John Carpenter to return to the director’s chair, the evolution of the Laurie Strode character makes H20 a satisfying—and plausible—watch. Of course she would become a functioning alcoholic, and of course she’d still be plagued by anxiety over her brother. It’s still a little irksome that the film doesn’t take the time to explain the existence of Jamie, Laurie’s daughter, but the choice to ignore all the “Curse of Thorn” nonsense was probably wise. In essence, this is a direct sequel to Halloween II.
A little help from Scream writer Kevin Williamson is prevalent throughout, especially in relation to the teens (featuring Josh Hartnett in his first major role), and the film successfully brings the franchise into the modern horror era without forsaking the original film. Seeing Curtis back as Laurie Strode was enough to put butts in seats, but the fact that she’s played as a strong heroine rather than simply a terrified victim makes the film all the more worthwhile. And the icing on the cake: finally seeing someone chop off Michael Myers’ head.
4. Halloween (2007)
Or, “The One Where Rob Zombie Remakes a Classic”
Remaking an iconic film is never a good idea, but give credit to producer Malek Akkad for going the ambitious route by signing Rob Zombie to steer the remake of Halloween—and you know what, it’s not bad! The film’s greatest asset is Zombie, who opts to make the franchise entirely his own rather than trying to follow in John Carpenter’s footsteps. Zombie’s film decides to give much more shading to the Michael Myers character, and indeed Halloween is very much his movie. Turning Loomis into a cash-grabbing opportunist was an inspired twist, and the casting for young Laurie and her friends (including “Jamie” actress Danielle Harris all grown up) is spot on.
Sure the film gets indulgent at points and suffers from odd pacing, but it works more often than it doesn’t, and Tyler Bates’ score is the best twist on Carpenter’s classic theme yet. Moreover, this remake would give birth to a sequel that stands as one of the best Halloween movies to date.
3. Halloween III: The Season of the Witch
Or, “The One with That Really Annoying Song”
Almost universally reviled upon release, Season of the Witch has grown in appreciation over the years. Carpenter and Hill’s initial idea for a Halloween III was to kick off a franchise of anthology films, each centering around the titular holiday. It’s a brilliant idea in and of itself, but Carpenter and Hill underestimated the fan fervor for Michael Myers. When the masked menace was nowhere to be found (in fact, Halloween is a piece of diegetic media seen on a TV screen, so these films don’t even take place in the same universe), fans were very, very angry.
But looking at Season of the Witch on its own, it’s actually a satisfying piece of sci-fi horror. More Invasion of the Body Snatchers than Halloween, the science-fiction twist on the story/holiday makes for a fun series of events leading up to some of the most gross-out and disturbing special effects of the series. And who can forget that infectious Silver Shamrock earworm?
2. Halloween II (2009)
Or, “The One That’s Surprisingly Kind of Great”
Yes, the second-best Halloween movie is Rob Zombie’s sequel. This is a film that is entirely its own, completely unattached from formula or mythology set up in the series, but also grounded in the foundational fact that Michael Myers is a force of nature. Like Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, Zombie’s sequel picks up moments after his first film ended, following Laurie to the hospital. But in a delightful twist, the opening 20 minutes are revealed to be an elaborate dream sequence as the audience is shocked into reality—the movie actually takes place years after Halloween ended, with all the central characters now completely changed people.
If Halloween was Michael’s story, Halloween II is Laurie’s, and it’s very much a descent into madness. Zombie wonderfully plays up the family aspect of this franchise as Laurie is haunted by visions of her birth mother and brother. And Zombie’s choice to demystify Michael by having him remove his mask so often grounds this film in reality as a story of madness shared by two siblings. While Zombie goes over the top with the gore in some aspects of the film, all in all it’s a surprisingly satisfying conclusion to the Michael Myers saga.
But there’s no substitute for the original, of course. There’s something primal about Halloween that makes its terror untethered by era or age. It’s as scary now as it was in 1978, despite the multitude of changes that have taken place both in the world and the world of cinema since then. We’ve been shown every trick in the book, but still Carpenter’s masterpiece of horror endures as an out-and-out classic.
It’s all to do with the simplistic nature of the film. It’s a very basic premise—babysitters are terrorized by a homicidal maniac on Halloween night—but the execution is where Halloween really shines. Michael Myers doesn’t yell, he doesn’t run, he doesn’t get angry. He is a constant force of nature, always moving forward, never bothered. That’s what makes him so scary—there’s no reasoning with nature, it just is. That’s something that the sequels never really recaptured, probably because a sequel is inherently antithetical to the nature of Michael Myers. The more explaining you do, the more you break down the myth of the unknown, the less scary Michael Myers becomes.
If you missed our previous Halloween-centric coverage, check out the links below:
- 13 Great Horror Movies to Watch on Halloween That Aren’t ‘Halloween’
- Weirdest Horror Movie Kills: Unicorns, Pig Guts, and The Buddah
- Every ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Movie Ranked from Worst to Best
- ‘Friday the 13th’ Movies Ranked from Best to Worst
- ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ Movies Ranked from Worst to Best
- Spooky Flicks: 5 Films That Scared the Hell Out of Me
- Kill Me Two Times: 6 Horror Movie Sequels Worthy of Their Originals