What makes a successful horror franchise? Is it the murderous antagonist? Inventive settings? Distinct brand of practical effects? Exploration of an unearthly world? Or the motive to treat every film in an effort so that it doesn’t try to overcome the previous, but itself? Well I believe such criteria can be evaluated only to an extent, and the success of many horror films has really been a hit-or-miss process. There were many great films in the 70’s and 80’s which couldn’t spawn sequels because of the initial reaction by critics and audiences. But in most cases we’ve seen that when a film turns into a franchise, it deviates towards a more commercial aspect of filmmaking, thereby losing its core artistic quality. They may adhere to the established fanbase, but do not challenge themselves like their original managed to.
Nevertheless, I’ll be looking at 20 horror franchises, since I cannot literally include all, and will be exploring their influence and creativity in running a franchise. Being a retro era horror fanatic, I may show some extra love for early horror franchises, but it hasn’t influenced my decision to neglect the recent horror franchises, which I believe are lackluster and have a great difficulty understanding the concept of horror itself. So without further ado, here is the list of all major horror movies franchises, ranked from worst to best:
20. Tremors Franchise
Best Film : Tremors (1990)
Starting off the list with the Tremors franchise, and though the series opted to move drastically towards slapstick horror, it never ceases to be entertaining. The original starring Kevin Bacon is one of my favorite blends of action and horror, and involves amazing practical effects, that’s heightened by the nature of the creatures and their movement. The acting is surprisingly top notch compared to horror standards, and one may claim Tremors is more thrilling than frightening.
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19. Saw Franchise
Best Film : Saw (2004)
Though many would recite James Wan’s impact on the modern horror era, I believe there’s nothing Wan indulges or portrays that hasn’t been covered earlier and hence only Saw franchise make the list. Primarily because how good the original works as a cannibalising and well conceived thriller. The standout feature of the series, Tobin Bell is surprisingly great and lent Saw one of the most shocking endings in horror history. The series fell victim to mismanagement, but the original Jigsaw’s story arc with solid motives for torture in the earlier films are relatively refreshing.
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18. The Omen Franchise
Best Film : The Omen (1976)
The Exorcist started a trend of new age horror movies that never hesitated to include young characters in unbelievably repelling situations. But you could at least sympathize with the possessed girl, whereas The Omen’s depiction of the Devil’s son was surprisingly devoid of any emotion and takes my #1 spot for the characters that should’ve been killed. The Omen, unlike other horror series is very well rounded and doesn’t drag itself to the point where you’d find a Damien Thorn action figure at your local supermarket.
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17. Predator Franchise
Best Film : Predator (1987)
McTiernan’s Predator was a genre defining movie from the 80’s and stood out in an era infested with slasher and splatter films. Predator doesn’t hold back in merciless killing, but it’s not the violence it glorifies, the perpetrator instead. The alien created waves across the world, and that face revealing scene spawned a whole franchise. Though a few of the films are loved by fans for reasons contrary to the filmmakers’ intentions, the first two films are rock solid with their claustrophobic approach, owing to Stan Winston’s ruthless work.
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16. Phantasm Franchise
Best Film : Phantasm (1979)
Phantasm is another fantastic and relatively unknown series of films that have induced surrealism with metaphysical inter-dimensional horror. It also features horror’s most overlooked icon, The Tall Man who later on influenced the legend of Slender Man. Phantasm series have brilliant low budget aesthetics culminated with a supernatural approach that was different from slashers and more along the lines of The Omen. The sequels also meticulously built the world with those dwarf zombies, the Tall Man’s plane and the sentinel spheres, supported by Angus Scrimm’s unique performance.
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15. Poltergeist Franchise
Best Film : Poltergeist (1982)
Steven Spielberg never conceived Poltergeist as a series when he wrote it and neither did Tobe Hooper when he directed the original. Their absence in the rest of the films is therefore understood and so is the heavily declining quality of the matter. The original was the first film to feature a group of parasychologists and intelligently changed the convention of supernatural house invasions from human possessions to “house” possession. Treating the house as an antagonist presented a wide range of opportunities to induce horror. Though it could’ve turned slapstick, the use of ethereal imagery and familial bonds truly propels the series.
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14. Coffin Joe Franchise
Best Film : The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968)
Coffin Joe franchise is definitely the most overlooked set of movies on this list, and I would suggest these to every aspiring horror filmmaker out there. What Jose Mojica Marins has managed to achieve with a single character, miniscule budget and a weirdly elastic imagination is extraordinary. Though Marins’s brand of surrealism may not be as thematically rich as Jodorowsky’s, but the Brazilian filmmaker has proven that B grade horror doesn’t always have to stick to a formula. And the best form of horror is one that emerges from the rotting crevices of the creator’s twisted subconscious.
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13. Scream Franchise
Best Film : Scream (1996)
The only filmmaker to have completely influenced the creation and running of two franchises on this list, Wes Craven satirized his own vision and decades of legacy with this dark comedy. The combination of “whodunit” structure with a Hollywood setting not only pokes fun at the industry but also intelligently runs gags concerning the slasher genre itself. The series might not focus on Craven’s finest strengths, but it does abide by his intention of non-mainstream productivity with ideas most filmmakers are too reluctant to handle. It also benefits from Craven’s thorough understanding of the horror genre.
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12. Psycho Franchise
Best Film : Psycho (1960)
Hitchcock’s Psycho along with Peeping Tom are considered to be the most influential films that led to the birth of the modern slasher. In 1960, unfortunately Hitchcock had quite a lot of restrictions because of Hollywood’s inability to understand the impact of cinema. After 23 years, the movie was given a sequel and what began was the exposure of Norman Bates’s true condition and the extent, without any limitations. All the Psycho films are characterised by Anthony Perkin’s unhinged and unfaltering demeanor and the introspection of his condition without indulging themselves in slasher tropes, and following Hitch’s self restrained vision.
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11. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise
Best Film : The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is considered by many as the greatest horror film of all time, including me. The reason why the original is so revered is because of its meticulous utilization of budget and the undebatable statement that the aesthetic value of art is not sparse. One can enrich cinema’s beauty with the right intention and context, and that’s what Tobe Hooper did with a rural Texan setting. The sequel used an approach most horror films would later go on to, which was satirizing the trends set by the original. The consequent films were pretty confused in their method, because of Tobe Hooper’s unconventional manner to tackle the original and the sequel.
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10. Child’s Play Franchise
Best Film : Child’s Play 2 (1990)
Child’s Play is what the dreadful Annabelle should be, a horror film that dishes out terror instead of measly scares, and doesn’t need two movies to present background story for a single character. Child’s Play does break no new grounds, but it is inventive with its killer, the most powerful character in a slasher. Chucky voiced by Brad Dourif was probably every child’s nightmare in the 90’s and had the same impact on dolls as Stephen King’s It had on clowns. Though the later sequels devolve int very shabby slapstick, it’s still fun to watch Chucky knock around some heads with his brash attitude.
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9. Return of the Living Dead Franchise
Best Film : Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Return of the Living Dead is one movie that comes to my mind when anyone talks about cult films. It has everything cult horror films are appreciated for; a killer score, great practical effects, love for horror classics, cheesy nudity and unpredictable ending. This series is an alternate continuation to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and has always experimented with different horror sub-genres while sticking to a zombie apocalypse as the setting. They have a comical approach compared to Romero’s more subtle and satirical one, and encompass a lot of pop culture elements of the time period.
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8. The Exorcist Franchise
Best Film : The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is considered to be the most iconic horror film of all time, and despite people claiming it to be outdated, you can certainly see the unprecedented vision and the impact it has amassed. It was obviously a formidable task to stand as tall as the original, but I believe the three-quel did a great job of conveying an equal magnitude of atmosphere and terror. The sequel might be very disappointing, but all the three movies hit the right notes at scaring you out of your wits with the presence of an unseen and untouchable force.
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7. Friday the 13th Franchise
Best Film : Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Hitchcock’s Psycho influenced a lot of horror films, but none of them had the gusto to use that to catapult themselves into the top tiers of horror. Except Friday the 13th. Jason Voorhees is now a household name, thanks to consistently publishing franchise that has gone from solidifying the “cabin in the woods” setting to satirizing itself to leaving a whole city to Jason’s mercy, and even having an unforgettable crossover.
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6. Evil Dead Franchise
Best Film : Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Evil Dead franchise is my favorite set of movies from the horror genre, and primarily because of its unreluctant approach to satirizing itself at any moment. From starting out with the madness inducing Evil Dead to the greatest landmark in the history of horror-coms to the Lovecraftian action-comedy, Raimi’s Evil Dead series is a unflinching creation that adheres to nothing but the director’s vision and deconstruction of the term “horror”. I could talk for hours about Raimi’s influence on modern filmmaking through ED, but Bruce Campbell is equally responsible for the series’s success. The horror veteran’s character Ash Williams has to be the most loved protagonist from horror, and the actor’s understanding of the intention of every scene is perplexing.
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5. Hellraiser Franchise
Best Film : Hellraiser (1987)
Clive Barker’s Hellraiser granted a new definition to body horror. One needs to differentiate between splatter and body horror to understand the intensity, and the foremost intention. Though movies like The Thing culminated in a boom of practical horror, their primary concern wasn’t the consolidation of the mind and soul into one unit and its planned destruction. What stands out for me is Hellraiser’s visual definition of hell, it’s not something that exists beneath us, it’s a realm that surrounds us, and is omnipresent like God. Barker’s true prowess is his ability to gave shape to intangible prospects, like the torture of the soul and the penancement for the pursuit of pleasures.
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4. Alien Franchise
Best Film : Alien (1979)
Ridley Scott was a great director at one time. Alien and Blade Runner are a testament to his lost abilities. While the former may not match the latter in impact and vision, it surely paved way to a new brand of science fiction horror. A world which was delighted by the adorable E.T was also threatened by the scope of the Alien series. Though I enjoy the works of Savini and De Rossi, it’s a concept that had sadly been overused and recycled. Alien brought a different world of special effects onto the big screen, mechanical creatures that had no palpable human characteristics. What I love about the series is how different each is from the other, owing to the vision of four different but immensely talented directors.
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3. The Dead Franchise
Best Film : Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero kickstarted the zombie genre after it was restricted to racist B/W Universal grade films. Romero slammed this tradition with probably the boldest move of that era, casting a black actor in a lead role, and downplaying the white rednecks with subtle satire. The franchise is not only essential to horror, but also to the development of independent films in America. What sets Romero’s films apart from other zombie films is that it’s not horror just for the sake of it. All his films are constructed on a sublimely built socio-political scenario, and he adopts depravity to effectively convey his satirical opinion.
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2. Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise
Best Film : Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street came at a time when the slasher genre had become cinematically redundant because of the incessant B grade flicks that turned horrific nightmares into night”fares”. The inception of Freddy Kreuger as a killer who blurred the planes separating reality and dreams, amplified the impact of terror across dimensions. The fact that death was something that materialistically existed in dreams, a part of our lives where we can truly be free was horrifying for many. This series is unique as to how the finest film in the series was a later one, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare that explored meta fiction, something Kauffman is credited for, years after the former’s release.
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1. Halloween Franchise
Best Film : Halloween (1978)
Halloween has quite definitely been the most definitive horror franchise, owing to John Carpenter’s revolutionary vision that gave us an enigmatic demon in Michael Myers. By expanding the scope of films like Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, what Carpenter depicted was there was an equal chance of the worst form of evil lurking in your house. And this was no intangible identity, but a human with no humanity. The Halloween series handles the mystical elements and the realistic setting of impact effortlessly, and though the later films did falter, the earlier ones had already established a mantle so high that this franchise is now the solemn representative of the sub-genre.
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