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The Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise: The Definitive Ranking

I’m not exactly a student of the three major slasher franchises of the 80s and 90s (Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street), but I’ve seen enough of all three to pretty solidly conclude that the Nightmare films are, on average, my favorite. Nothing in any of the three approaches the solid craftsmanship and storytelling of the first Halloween, but if told I had to pick a random entry from any of the three, I’d go with Nightmare because I know that, at least, there will be some imagination to what happens in the climax.

Not to say that they’re all good, or anything. It’s mostly a passable franchise that became both obsessed with its own lore and rules while discarding half of it at the same time. New Line Cinema really didn’t know what to do with the franchise that built the place or the character of Freddy Krueger that became so popular. At least they threw some decent money at the films so that there could be some interesting sights here and there.

The genesis was Wes Craven’s imaginative but undisciplined first entry, and he was really the only one who seemed to have any desire to take the franchise in new directions. His early drafts for the third one helped to lay the groundwork for one of the most interesting of the sequels, and his seventh entry really did try to do something new and say something interesting. So, while I’m not the biggest fan of Craven’s entire body of work, the realm of dreams was really where he was best the most consistently.

Anyway, here’s the entire franchise ranked, and don’t forget to check out all of the other definitive rankings to bask in the sheer definitiveness of it all.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

“Oppressive in tone, confused in storytelling, and obsessed with the worst kind of lore, the sole feature film made by noted commercial director Samuel Bayer is an embarrassment that has no idea what made the original series appealing at any point while offering nothing more than bad rehashes of old ideas inelegantly thrown together with no concept of how stories work.”

8. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

“However, they could always be relied on for some level of technical fun in their visions of the hellish dreamscape that Freddy inhabited. Freddy’s Dead doesn’t even have that, and when mixed with the fact that Freddy simply ceases to be anything close to scary, it creates a deadweight that the film can never shrug off, not that it exactly tries.”

7. Freddy vs. Jason

“I didn’t hate it, but I’m convinced that there was a more effective and enjoyable way to put the two horror icons into the same slasher film.”

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

“So, I don’t think the whole package actually comes together. None of the individual elements are thought out well enough to work on their own, but at least the visuals around Krueger, as infrequent as they are, are pretty good.”

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

“It’s really the dream sequences that force and allow directors to be creative at a level that other slashers really don’t and can’t. Cut those out and most of the franchise becomes really boring. Thankfully, they’re part and parcel of the whole thing and keep showing up to break up the narrative missteps.”

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

“So, out of all four so far, this is the Nightmare on Elm Street film that most fully rests on the strength of its visuals with nothing else to pull it together. None of the ideas work or extend the narrative capabilities further, and the start and stop nature of the story as the third film’s characters get dumped at the thirty minute mark don’t do it any favors either. However, those visuals are really quite good.”

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

“There’s real effort here to use the ideas from the previous films and build on them, pushing out from the world and giving it a one versus many approach while expanding on the visuals at the same time.”

2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

“However, the beginning and final half hours are really good, enough to raise the whole film to a messy, but satisfying and ambitious, entry in the franchise.”

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

“I really do like this film. I think it’s a good slasher with real imagination that takes horror seriously instead of just an excuse for gore, but I also feel like it could have really used another rewrite.

There’s real horror here, but it could have been just a bit more.”

19 thoughts on “The Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise: The Definitive Ranking”

  1. Aside from the one we discussed, a good ranking. I can tell you right now, though, I’m not saving up to buy the boxed set. It’s a franchise that just doesn’t appeal to me, and I’m a horror movie fan.

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    1. Thank you.

      The old New Line set isn’t all that expensive, and I’ve considered it now and again. It’s usually about $30. I did get a digital copy of New Nightmare for a dollar a few years ago when it was on sale. There are also persistent rumors that some boutique label like Scream will do a big 4K set of the whole thing, but that’s never been more than rumors. If that were to happen, I’d probably do what I did with the Halloween movies and just buy the ones I really liked (I bought the first one).

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      1. You could probably answer this far better than I–is there a movie franchise that doesn’t disintegrate into mediocrity as the series progresses? I can think of a couple of sci-fi lines which have strong 2nd entries, and occasional late-entry rallies, but overall it seems like most are steps down the staircase rather than up.

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  2. Interesting ranking.

    For me it’s 1, 3, 2, New Nightmare…..and then I stop caring. I think the 4th might be very low on my list as it undoes the good stuff (and the survivors) of the 3rd film.

    The pluses and minuses of the series aren’t evenly weighted and I think I think the series gets into a weird space where they want you to root for the killer and not the kids. Freddy cheats too, which irritates me as I like consistency.

    It’ll be interesting to see how your Wes Craven ranking ends up, comparing it to this list.

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    1. I’m very conscious of the fact that I’m generally kinder on some of the later entries than I probably should be. Still, some entertainment is better than none. It’s not a great series (what is?), but put on a random film from it and I can get something out of it.

      Except that remake. Ugh.

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  3. Eh, I guess I could grant the ranking on Star Trek and James Bond, though both franchises had some severe dips in quality, I guess the basic premise managed to poke out enough to qualify a win or two, even in the worst of them.

    You wanna know which franchise had the most consistency? I’ll tell you, but you won’t like it.

    “Friday the 13th.” All the films are terrible, everyone knows they’re terrible, and thus people pick over nits regarding “quality.” “Number 4 had the best story!” “Number 6 had the best use of humor!” All true, but it’s like judging which gum you can scrape off the sidewalk is going to be the most tasty. Answer: NO.

    What the series lacked was any sense of expectation. No one watched a new F13 entry thinking “At last, they’ll expand the realm and really give us a show!” No, they wanted to watch Jason carve up some folks.

    That’s why people can watch James Bond, Star Trek, Star Wars, Elm Street, etc, and think “It’s going to get good now!” Because that’s still a possibility, because that’s right there in the premise.

    “Friday the 13th” is pure because no one expects that. And they never got it!

    PS: Please don’t do a “Friday the 13th” ranking. It would be a waste of your talents.

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