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The Scream Franchise: The Definitive Ranking

The Scream franchise thinks it’s far smarter than it actually is. The first film in the entry seemed to understand that it actually wasn’t that clever, its meta elements being introduced late and almost as a joke, but the franchise became completely enthralled to its own conventions. There will never be any room for any genuine creativity within its borders as long as it continues.

The Scream movies are, as a character puts it of the in-universe version called Stab, slasher whodunits and nothing else. The only question is which character will have the fewest red herrings before the ending of the film reveals how much of the previous ninety minutes have been a waste of time. The first film didn’t feel like that, but every other one does to one degree or another.

Miramax had a hit on its hands with the first film, though, and they pushed for more of the same. Wes Craven, who had been thinking of leaving horror filmmaking behind completely before he took the job of the first entry, delivered competent filmed versions of whatever quality script Kevin Williamson handed to him. The scripts after the first one were simply never very good. The most recent entry, the first without Craven who had died a few years before, or a script by Williamson, continued the tradition in the same manner, offering up pseudo-intelligent breakdowns of horror conventions while sticking extremely closely to the conventions of its own series.

I’ve said it before, but the right direction to take the series after the first film was never another slasher whodunit. It was to move the second film into another kind of horror. Hell, a David Cronenberg-type body horror movie would have been unexpected, and imagine Randy trying to figure out what the rules were then.

Le sigh…Despite all of that, within the very small confines that the series creates for itself, it can be moderately entertaining. Occasionally.

Here’s the series ranked, and don’t forget to check all of the other rankings to revel in the definitiveness of them all.

5. Scream 2

“I really disliked this film. The meta stuff does worse than nothing, it actually points out the failings of the film. The emotional center of the first film, Sidney, has been watered down to nothing because the film isn’t about her but about tricking the audience. “

4. Scream 4

“This was Wes Craven’s last film, and it’s sadly an appropriate one. He brought nothing to the film except a base technical skill that was probably as much a source from his technical team than him. It’s really just Williamson’s script, warts and all, brought to the screen.”

3. Scream 3

“Still, it’s decent. It’s not good, but it didn’t aggravate me like the second one. It also leaves the meta elements on the table as little more than window dressing (Jamie Alexander coming back as Randy in a video taped message about the rules of trilogies is so unbelievable as to reach the point of parody). I’ve never been that enamored of the meta elements of this series, but this felt like the film, in the beginning, that could most take advantage of it. It doesn’t, though. Meh. It’s decent.”

2. Scream (2022)

“Still, the opening half-hour is probably the best the series ever got (including the original film), and the bulk of the film is typical Scream whodunit done reasonably well. It breaks no ground and follows the formula pretty closely, but it mostly entertains as it goes. It’s alright.”

1. Scream

“As it is, the film is a solid outing from a clever script handled professionally by someone who’d been making movies for more than twenty years. It’s entertaining, and it even works on multiple viewings. It doesn’t have the promise of Craven’s earlier quality work, but it entertains well.”

9 thoughts on “The Scream Franchise: The Definitive Ranking”

  1. To be honest, I don’t know if I care enough to even rank the Scream movies. But I’ll say the first one was the best one. The twist of there being TWO killers and them both being stupid, murderous thrill killers actually was clever. And the opening scene with Drew Barrymore was good, not because it killed the famous girl, but because it’s well staged and tragic. It’s actual horror.

    The rest…eh. I slightly care about the character development. And I like Dewey, who usually had his head on straight.

    The Cabin in the Woods deconstructed horror tropes better (even if I find the ending enraging and monstrous). I share your desire for them to try to figure out ‘the rules’ as they are thrown into other horror stories. Like you said, a Cronenberg body horror, or just a ghost story, or a Lovecraftian eldritch horror. But it would make even less sense to have continuing characters in that scenario.

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    1. My thing about twists in that they need to be guessable. Attentive audiences SHOULD be able to figure it out early, and the first Scream is the only one that allows that.

      The need for a recurring cast really undermined the whole franchise. What made it worse was never letting any of the recurring cast become the bad guys, so it was just “the next episode” in an episodic series.

      Changing genres would have been the kind of daring that could have also included killing off characters. Killing Sidney in the opening scene of 2 would have been like killing Drew Barrymore in the first, but better. I think one of the Friday the 13th movies did something similar. Sidney getting eaten by a Shoggoth…that’s how you start 2.

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      1. The only reason I remember this is because my author friend of a friend (Grady Hendrix) highlighted her in his talk about his book The Final Girl Support Group. If I remember correctly, he got the actress to read the audiobook version of his novel.

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