So vast is the canon of Friday the 13th that ranking them was surprisingly straight forward. Have you ever heard people lambast how the first movie in a series is the best one and all the others pale in comparison? Well, that is the case with ranking every Friday the 13th movie.
In fact, the following list goes goes in order until the 5th film. Yes, the 5th film. That is pretty darn impressive when you think about it. Movie-goers have followed Jason Vorhees and this franchise all the way down the rabbit hole, knowing that they are getting diminishing returns with every passing film. Don't even get me started on the abysmal Friday the 13th reboot in 2009 that had the chutzpah to, among other things, show Jason living in an underground bunker with a bed and what looked like a hot plate and books! (Okay, I am embellishing but you see my point.)
Oddly enough, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Jason X aren't as outrageous as they sound. Now, they're not It Follows but they're unique and interesting in their own way. Lets be honest, do we really watch a Friday the 13th movie because we want to see a good movie? Heck no! We want blood, gore, hot guys and girls, and if a good movie emerges out of that all the better.
As I ranked these films I had to wonder what the future of this franchise is going to be? Would they eventually get to a 13th film and then take a bow? Might they try and restart the series as they attempted unsuccessfully back in 2017? Unlike the upcoming Halloween reboot which acts like the other films after the first one didn't happen (lord knows where the Rob Zombie films fall in that canon), it is unclear just where the starting off point for a new Friday the 13th redux would be. What is clear is that Friday the 13th, just like Jason Vorhees and Camp Crystal Lake, will never die no matter what new hands touch this franchise.
The first film in the series is easily the best. This tale of camp counselors being offed by a crazy person in the woods touched off a genre that is truly ubiquitous. The counselors of Camp Crystal Lake are being stalked because a young boy named Jason Vorhees drowned there many years before. Ultimately, we come to find out who is doing the killing (Jason's Mom, Pamela, played by Betsy Palmer), and that makes Friday the 13th even more poignant. Aside from the fact that this movie is truly creepy, there are deaths depicted in this film that would often be imitated, but has anybody ever been killed by an arrow through the back of the neck before or since the way that Kevin Bacon was in the infamous bedroom scene? While not the most original of horror films, for this series, the first Friday the 13th movie is about as original as it gets. Filled with suspense, solid acting, and honest to goodness scares, this origin film is the real jewel in the crown.
The second film in a litany of sequels usually isn't that great. However, Friday the 13th Part 2 bucks that trend with its European flair and ability to the raise the stakes. This sequel picks up where the first film left off. Jason's mom is dead and Camp Crystal lake is no more. A new camp has opened up nearby and this is where Jason Vorhees will come to make his mark. From hammers in the head to stabbing a couple while they engage in conjugal relations, this supernatural (okay, I guess this plot device really doesn't happen until Friday the 13 Part VI: Jason Lives) serial killer will stop at nothing to "Kill, Kill, Kill." This sequel is really well done because it doesn't just continue everything that Friday the 13th started. It starts with the final scenes of the first film and really allows us to get caught up in the mood and vibe of this next installment. Still, it is slower paced and it takes it's time building Jason up as the true embodiment of evil incarnate.
Realizing they had to very things the creators of Friday the 13th Part III decided to really bring viewers into the terror. How? They made this film in 3D. Jason is back from the hits he took in Friday the 13th Part 2. He holes up in a cabin that is in close proximity to Camp Crystal lake. Of course, Jason is a killer so this means that he can't sit idle for long. A whole new crop of young guys and girls show up (doesn't anybody feel the need to warn anyone else about a killer consistently being on the loose in the woods?) and Jason is off to the races. Aside from the 3D effects in this film, which in 1982 were pretty darn outstanding, this installment would also introduce the cultural icon known as Jason's hockey mask. So popular is this piece of pop culture that it still sells in stores today. In fact, all one needs to do is see this hockey mask and immediately, across generations, the name Jason is uttered. For the hockey mask alone, Friday the 13th Part III deserves to be high up on this list.
This film could have actually been a little higher on this list. Story wise Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is probably deserving of the number two spot on this list. It falls short because Friday the 13th Part 2 is such a good sequel. Yes, it's basically just the first movie except that plot established Jason as the killer. That might not make sense to some (especially original Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller), but that alone would be enough to cement that film's status as the second best in this series. Friday the 13th Part III is important because that would establish the hockey mask that would be Jason's calling card forever. Tell me you can go to a sporting good's store, see a hockey mask, and not think about him? Impossible. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter continues all of the killing as Jason Vorhees makes a return to Camp Crystal Lake. Amidst this we are treated to the wonderful acting of Lawrence Monoson, Crispin Glover, and Camilla and Carey More. The set up of each murder is brutally done. The creators of this series were given a mandate that it was time to kill Jason once and for all. So they cleverly did this through the character of Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), as he literally embodies Jason in order to achieve this historic end. All told, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is so well done, so intricately put together, it could literally be a stand alone film without any of the others to rest it's mythos upon.
This is the point in the series where the films start to feel a little stale. Some of you might laugh at that statement. Others might think it took a little longer for Friday the 13th to feel long in the the tooth. Whatever the case to be 4 films deep and to only then show signs of aging, that seems to me to be a pretty impressive feat, right? This is also the point where this list deviates from the order of the films. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI sees Tommy Jarvis accidentally resurrect Jason when his body his struck by lightning. Aside from this little moment of inspired reanimation, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI is fairly by the numbers. Jason returns and again wreaks havoc on people in the woods. He has little trouble with annihilating everybody in his way, however, Tommy Jarvis is a fighter and he ultimately neutralizes this foe who won't die. Yes, the ending certainly makes it clear that Jason isn't dead just merely incapacitated. Also, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI is starting to show that the Friday the 13th series is getting very self-referential. With lines like "I've seen enough horror movies to know any weirdo wearing a mask is never friendly," it is clear that this series knows something is up and doesn't care.
While Friday the 13th: A New Beginning attempted to take the series in a new direction it ultimately fell flat. Picking up where Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter left off, we find an effected Tommy Jarvis living in a halfway house for people that are emotionally disturbed. Curiously, Tommy is living in a room in the woods and what a surprise, murders start happening again. These deaths look like the work of a certain hockey-masked serial killer, and suddenly Tommy and others wonder if Jason is back. Or, is somebody trying to copycat his work? Might Tommy Jarvis be the culprit? Aside from Shavar Ross (Dudley from Diff'rent Strokes) being added in a cursory way to the proceedings, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning doesn't really have a lot going for it. This is truly a missed opportunity. What could have been a way to expand this series and really get into the psyche of the connection between Jason Vorhees and Tommy Jarvis, we instead get a film that has its heart in the right place but falls short. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI would find Tommy a bit more adjusted, and eventually the idea that Tommy had inherited Jason's mantle was all but forgotten.
Trying to switch things up a bit the powers of telekinesis free Jason Vorhees in this 7th installment and he comes back with a vengeance here. However, things aren't going to be that easy as Tina Shepard (Lar Park-Lincoln) has a few tricks up her sleeve that Jason has never dealt with before. The ability to effect Jason's body without having to touch him, certainly throws our quasi, hockey masked, hero for a loop, but ultimately we know that no matter what he will be back. I give director John Carl Buechler (Troll) a lot of credit for doing everything possible to infuse this film with new gravitas and ideas. The cast is certainly inspired but it is quite clear that things are a bit on life support. While I don't have figures for the budget, this film would only gross $20 million at the box office. Considering that the first film made $40 million in 1980 and the 2009 version made $65 million, the writing seemed to be on the wall for this franchise. However, just when we thought we'd seen Mr. Vorhees for a final time he (and the people behind this erstwhile franchise) would surprise us all...
How could you not be interested in a film with this title? Truthfully, when this movie came out in 1989 I stayed away simply because the idea behind Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan seems (on paper) truly implausible. In my mind I imagined him hustling in Times Square and performing in Broadway shows. What I ultimately got, once Jason made his way to the Big Apple, was something I never could've expected. After some high schoolers accidentally take Jason to Manhattan via boat, it would've been easy for this film to, using New York as its backdrop, make Jason into a laughingstock. Instead what transpires is that he literally just carries on business as usual. New York is thought of as such a tough and dangerous place. However, Jason doesn't care as he uses knifes, guitars, and his hands to take care of New Yorkers of all shapes and sizes. Whether he's dealing with tourists in the streets, police, or punk rockers they are all the same here. Jason has no problem disposing of city folk with as much indifference as he dispatches victims in the woods. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan isn't the worst film in the series but it certain isn't the best. Filled with everything you've come to expect from these kinds of movies, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is fun and ultimately that's all it needs to be.
Now this might seem even more implausible than Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, however, I assure you that it fits right in with the rest of the movies in this canon. Jason X truly casts its sights on the future. A colony receives some cryogenically frozen bodies from the planet Earth (which can no longer be lived on). One of the bodies is Jason Vorhees. As you can guess Jason gets unfrozen and again goes on a mass killing spree in outer space. His mask is different, his machete is different, and that's about it for this really interesting offering. I must admit, Jason X has its heart in the right place. It knows that it can't take itself too seriously so it doesn't even try. Before I saw this film in the theater, I wondered if maybe director Jim Isaac (Skinwalkers) was going to try and make a grander statement. No, I didn't think I was going to get 2001: A Space Odyssey, but I sort of held out hope that Friday the 13th could push the needle in the sci-fi genre. Okay, that 100% didn't happen but that doesn't mean that, should they do films 11, 12, and 13 in this series, we aren't going to be treated to something truly unique. Would anybody object to a found footage film that featured everybody's favorite machete wielding maniac?
Alright, of all the films in the Friday the 13th canon, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday is probably the weakest. Make no mistake about it, I love the idea of Jason Vorhees being able to become anybody that he lays his hands on. The thought of him being able to shape-shift is beyond interesting. The biggest problem with this movie is that we watch Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday to see Jason and he's not really even in it. In fact, it makes one wonder if this movie was actually never even part of the Friday the 13th canon. Perhaps it was another film, the studio execs didn't think that it would do much, so they added Jason into the films and tried to get one over on the Friday the 13th contingent. Well let me just say that, that really doesn't work here. This film has some lofty ideas. I can respect that it wanted to dabble in other realms of the supernatural. Sadly, it doesn't work, it's pedantic, and it isn't even worthy of having Jason's name in the title!
Fans waited decades to see Jason go up against the eternal dream demon Freddy Krueger in a death match. But Freddy was always the odds on favorite. Though it's seemingly impossible to kill either horror behemoth, Freddy can always be summoned from the pits of Hell by the active teenage imagination. So the scales weren't balanced. After many starts and stops, New Line finally had the Friday the 13th rights in place, and Freddy got to meet Jason, though Kane Hodder would no longer be playing the hockey-mask wearing slasher. There were some cool kills from both monsters, as they went about their business killing sex starved teenagers. And the end fight scene between the two titans was pretty great. Sadly, the movie got weighted down by a plot about those pesky teens, which fans didn't really care about, and the non-Freddy and Jason scenes almost sank the movie. It's still worth sifting through to see Jason and Freddy tango. The movie let's our hero Jason win in the end, though a beheaded Freddy gives the audience a wink, assuring that there might be a rematch sometime in the future. A sequel, which would have brought in Ash from the Evil Dead series was planned, but never happened, not on the big screen anyway (there was a comic book). This would be Robert England's final go as Freddy, and it would be the last proper Friday the 13th movie before the reboot came in and wrecked everything.
The new Friday the 13th from 2009 fails so completely that I initially didn't even include it on this list. No matter how you might try and malign Jason X, that film is The Godfather compared to this lifeless reboot. If you took the most banal plot, the most uninspired acting, the most pedestrian cinematography, and put them all together in a movie, you still would have a far better film than what took place here. This reboot is as much a Friday the 13th film as any other generic film with a killer in the woods. That it has grossed more than the other Friday the 13th film ($92 million) is a testament to marketing as much it is filmmaking prowess.