The 12 Best Wes Craven Movies, Ranked

Wes Craven. The name is enough to instill terror and excitement into genre movie lover’s hearts; in this case the genre being slasher and anything closely resembling it. He brought a certain amount of dignity to the B horror/movie genre and made it into the big league with ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and the ‘Scream’ movie series. Both the films have inspired numerous spin-offs, parodies, sequels, prequels and TV series. Wes Craven is an original in the true sense of the term and his movies are still a hit on the satellite, DVDs and classic movie theaters. To be very honest all his films are worth watching if you don’t have to write about them to earn your bread and butter but the list below highlights the top movies of Wes Craven selected from his impressive filmography. You can watch some of these best Wes Craven movies on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.

12. Scream 3 (2000)

Over the years the ‘Scream’ franchise has become a sort of identity for Wes Craven. That is to say that even those who are not familiar with his other works have at least seen or heard about the ‘Scream’ movies. To be fair what’s there not to like in these films. Damsels-in-distress targeted by a deranged killer is not something filmmakers prior to Wes Craven have not shown on-screen but he adds a stylish and you-could-have-never-guessed twist to each of his films that you cannot help but appreciate his innovativeness that is evident in each frame. Neve Campbell reprises Sidney Prescott with her characteristic vulnerability and never-die-in-the-hands-of-a-killer attitude. The film revolves in and around a film set and utilizes all the traditional tropes of a slasher film to deliver an enjoyable but not-so-original thriller.


11. Music of the Heart (1999)

The unusual combination of Wes Craven and Meryl Streep definitely must have posed more than a few questions at the time of its release. Even today it takes the new fans of the director aback. ‘Music of the Heart’ is far from perfect; its tendency to do good, be good and desperately trying to project goodness gets tiring after a while. It goes without saying that the only saving grace in the film is Meryl Streep, whose calculated performance balances the overdone and holier than thou tone of the film. The Oscar nomination was well deserved indeed. The film isn’t exactly a failure on the part of the director as it evoked mixed reactions from diehard fans of the director. They were torn between praising Streep for her performance and whether or not to encourage the director to venture more out of his comfort zone. The fact that Wes Craven never again dared to make a full length feature where the protagonist is an ordinary human being with ordinary problems speak for the outcome of the film itself.


10. Red Eye (2005)

Wes Craven always managed to extract top notch performances from even B list actors in his films but thankfully he had casted the obscurely talented Rachel McAdams to do all the screaming and looking pretty bit for his up in the air thriller ‘Red Eye’. As her nemesis Craven cast Cillian Murphy as Jackson Rippner as a terrorist on a mission. It may or may not be a mere coincidence that Murphy’s character Jackson Rippner sounds like wordplay on ‘Jack the Ripper’ but his character is evil, manipulating and sadistically domineering. Technically it’s a semi-slasher movie with politics and terrorism looming large on the plot but one gets a glimpse of the typical Wes Craven touch in every little detail of the narrative.


9. Scream 2 (1997)

It pales in its comparison to the groundbreaking ‘Scream’ (1996) but it has its moments of originality as the screenplay shines when it adopts a self deprecating tone. ‘Scream 2’ is a roller coaster ride of satire, spoof, comedy and nail biting thrills all rolled into one heck of an entertaining film. Fresh from the success and adulation of ‘Scream’ Neve Campbell is in her elements in the sequel and in the company of exciting co-actors like David Arqeutte, Courtney Cox and Liev Schreiber she thrives and excels in the role of the proverbial damsel-in-distress. Needless to say it was a roaring box office success which paved the way for two more sequels.


8. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Wes Craven drew inspiration from the real world for his surreal movies and ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ was based on a reality that happened in Haiti as chronicled by ethno botanist Wade Davis in his shocking book of the same name. It had all the makings of a cult blockbuster with elements of voodoo, black magic and zombie drugs set in an exotic land far away from modern civilization. However the film didn’t quite shook the box office and mostly escaped people’s attention but the director’s obsessed fans made sure that the film finally got the attention it deserved by putting out the positive word-of-mouth in a tireless manner. Today the film enjoys considerable respect among the ardent fans of Wes Craven.


7. Scream 4 (2011)

Wes Craven, Sidney Prescott and Ghostface get together for a final rendezvous in this nostalgia ridden thriller flick that works more as a tribute than as a standalone feature. Sidney has moved on in her life but her past catches up with her to make her life miserable for one final time. Of course she survives the nightmare all over again and marks a happy ending to the much loved franchise. As a final goodbye the film could have been better but the fans were satisfied as it also marked the final directorial venture of Wes Craven and what better way to draw the curtains on a spectacular film making career than by signing off in style with the final installment of film series that became a worldwide phenomenon.

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6. The Last House on the Left (1972)

It is basically a B movie that is given a clever treatment from its avant-garde director. The strength of the film lies in its no-holds-barred treatment of violence – mostly sexual and exploitative in its tone – and the quick justice that the story delivers. It is an uncomfortable watch even today given its graphic violence and it makes sense as the film was initially took shape as an adult flick with adult film actors in it. Beneath its obvious and morally ambiguous titillating elements the film packs a punch and sends out a strong message against sexual exploitation. It might sound a bit awkward for anyone to list ‘The Last House on the Left’ as one of their favourite films but it is significant nonetheless.


5. The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Comedy has always maintained a subtle presence in Wes Craven’s films tacitly hidden behind all the gore, blood and well choreographed chase sequences but in ‘The People Under the Stairs’ it hogs the limelight along with gothic elements. In this one he ventures out of the slasher genre and creates a world of domestic horror that is anything but relatable. Wes once again took inspiration from the realistically bizarre world of human beings and came up with the idea of an evil sibling duo with sadistic and psycho-sexual tendencies who loves to kidnap and torture children in their hidden basement. It is an underappreciated gem of a film but thanks to the internet its fame is growing on a daily basis.


4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

To enjoy this film to its full extent one needs to be familiar or to have seen ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984) at least once. For any Wes Craven fan that hardly seems to be a problem but anyone who decides to watch ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’ as an introduction to the twisted world of Craven’s movies then it might be a bit of a challenge. However it doesn’t mean that the film will be less entertaining. The follow up movie to ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is both surreal and realistic. The film’s protagonist Nancy Thompson literally comes face to face with her nightmare when Freddy Krueger steps out of her dreams and lands up on her doorsteps. It’s like one’s worst nightmare finally becoming a reality.


3. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)

Wes Craven always tries to make a social commentary on civilization through his films but it gets lost in the paralyzing effect of fear and scare. ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ is both cannibalistically nasty and thought-provoking. It’s not just a black and white story of attack and possible survival but it also forces you to get into the minds of the antagonists as to why they became savages in the first place. The screenplay is engaging and the direction precise as the cat and mouse chase between the ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ never gets boring and some scenes are particularly remarkable for their rawness and sheer brutality.


2. Scream (1996)

It won’t be wrong to say that ‘Scream’ put director Wes Craven into the A list. He added glamour and a Hitchcockian spice into the gory world of serial killers and dumb blondes. The real intention of the film was to mock the clichéd ridden formula of masked serial killers and dim witted – mostly female – victims and while it successfully does that it also works as a whodunit thriller in itself. The role of Sidney Prescott played by the spirited Neve Campbell became so popular with the audience that it became the inspiration for the character Cindy Campbell in the ‘Scary Movies’ series. It still holds the record for being the highest grossing slasher film in the American box office history.


1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is as original as it gets even though the basic idea was inspired from newspaper articles on the Asian Death Syndrome. The magic of the film lies in its sheer unpredictability and edge of the seat moments. It twists your brain as the characters constantly shift between reality and the dream world and the rush of blood felt by the actors and the audience is synonymous and parallel. And who can forget Freddy Krueger. This is a must watch for film enthusiasts in general and it tops the list of every list made on Wes Craven movies. Words don’t do justice to the ingenuity of this masterpiece, so grab a DVD copy, sit back and enjoy the film, even if you have already seen it dozens of time.

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