Worst to First: Every ‘Friday the 13th’ Movie Ranked
You have to admire Jason Voorhees’ persistence.
Here’s a guy who’s been drowned, stabbed, impaled, chopped nearly in half, burned, frozen, boiled in acid, and blown to bits. There was even that time he was sent to hell. But he never let that stop him. We could all learn a thing or two about persistence and following through on our dreams from Jason Voorhees. Think of how many people would have let that first or second death define who they were. Not Jason. He is truly an inspiration to us all.
Okay, yes, he’s murdered a few people. (Fine, a few dozen.) But put yourself in his shoes. The guy just wants some peace and quiet. Obnoxious teenagers intrude on his property, causing a ruckus, using illicit narcotics, having underage sex. They probably don’t throw away any of their trash, attracting bears and other dangerous wildlife. Plus, teens inadvertently caused his death when he was still a young boy (he got better, or something), and then years later one cut his mother’s head off. (She was just trying to get revenge for the death of her son who wasn’t actually dead!) That’d push anyone past their breaking point.
And so Jason returns, again and again, in one Friday the 13th movie after another. What started as a pretty shameless Halloween ripoff has become one of the longest running horror franchises in movie history. A lot of his movies are crummy, but some of them are actually pretty decent; a couple are amongst the best examples of their subgenre ever made. Just in time for Halloween (and the news that Paramount has bumped back the next Friday the 13th installment to 2017), let’s rank all 12 of Jason Voorhees’ misunderstood cries for help, from worst to first. Starting with:
12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Director: Adam Marcus
Writers: Jay Huguely, Adam Marcus & Dean Lorey
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Kane Hodder
Jason Voorhees Is A: Parasitic worm that possesses people and turns them into homicidal maniacs.
Best Bit: The movie actually gets off to a fun start, with an opening sequence that teases a very typical Friday the 13th scenario — a lonely, vulnerable woman in a cabin by Camp Crystal Lake — and then upends the audience’s expectations. Jason’s “victim” is actually bait used to lure the killer into a trap. Then the U.S. Military blows Jason to smithereens while a mysterious man watches the whole scene from the shadows. This is all before the opening credits!
Why It’s #12: Because the rest of the movie after that killer opening is absolute garbage. Destroying Jason is an attention-grabbing introduction, but it leads the rest of the movie down a derivative path ripped off from The Hidden, where instead of the typical Jason Voorhees shenanigans, you have a bunch of different people acting out typical Jason Voorhees shenanigans. Jason’s heart is mostly passed mouth-to-mouth via icky gory kissing, which could be an STD metaphor (and a complication of Jason’s typical obsession with horny teenagers) but the movie doesn’t do anything with that idea. It does, at least, feature character actor Richard Gant hamming it up like a lunatic as he eats Jason’s heart.
The Friday the 13th mythology isn’t exactly lucid on a good day, but The Final Friday adds a ton of new backstory and rules involving mystical daggers and previously unmentioned Jason relatives. (Oh so that’s why no one could kill Jason before! You needed a mystical dagger that the screenwriters hadn’t thought up yet!) Also, not to be a stickler, but shouldn’t a movie called Jason Goes to Hell involve Jason, y’know, actually going to hell? Mostly he just goes to a house and a diner and a jail and a coroner’s office. The only way the title makes sense is as a four-word review of the film.
11. Friday the 13th: Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Director: Rob Hedden
Writer: Rob Hedden
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Kane Hodder
Jason Voorhees Is An: Angry, water-logged tourist.
Best Bit: Wandering the mean streets of Manhattan, Jason accidentally knocks over a boombox belonging to a gang of hoodlums. They’re understandably pissed off, but they have second thoughts about kicking his ass after he gives them a peek under his hockey mask.
Why It’s #11: Like Jason Goes to Hell, Jason Takes Manhattan’s title is dubious at best. Jason doesn’t hit the Big Apple until more than an hour in, then when he gets there, he’s mostly in Vancouver doubling for New York City. Budgetary restrictions severely limited director Rob Hedden, who initially envisioned a much more ambitious, and New York-centric story that would have seen Jason box in Madison Square Garden and climb the Statue of Liberty. But with his resources hacked to the bone by Paramount (who abandoned the franchise after this entry), Hadden had to settle for a movie that was mostly Jason Voorhees killing teenagers on a boat; a more accurate title would be Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes a Cruise Ship to Manhattan. (Also, how do you take a cruise ship from a lake to New York City?)
Most of the movie is pitched at that level of intelligence; some of the stuff that’s actually in New York is fun (as is the disconnect between the late ’80s idea of Times Square as an abject hellhole and the reality of the place in 2015), but everything up to that point is a slog, with even dumber teenage characters than normal. That’s particularly disappointing coming on the heels of The New Blood and its psychokinetic final girl. At the end of the movie, Jason is defeated by a flood of toxic waste that turns him back into a little boy, because that’s exactly how toxic waste works.
10. Freddy vs. Jason
Director: Ronny Yu
Writers: Damian Shannon & Mark Swift
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Ken Kirzinger
Jason Voorhees Is A: Pawn of a child molester and murderer who haunts teenagers’ dreams.
Best Bit: One of Elm Street’s new residents falls asleep next to his dad, then gets attacked by Freddy Kruger. He wakes to find his father in a strange stupor, staring straight ahead, mouth open. He grabs his arm and shakes him, and the guy’s head pops clean off. It’s hilarious, gross, and unsettling all at once, and the idea of waking from a dream into an even more nightmarish reality is kind of haunting.
Why It’s #10: Because while it’s probably a “better” movie than a couple of titles ahead of it on this list, it’s not a better Friday the 13th movie. Freddy Vs. Jason is much more a Nightmare on Elm Street movie with an extensive cameo from Jason Voorhees, who’s revived by Freddy Kruger in a misguided attempt to restore his power. The story, about parents drugging their kids and trying to make them forget Freddy, is a variation on the premise of the first Nightmare, and Freddy himself drives every bit of the action; he narrates the opening and motivates the final girl Lori (Monica Keena, one of the best actresses in the franchise’s history). Jason’s basically an extremely powerful pawn.
He does get a couple of inventive murders, and at least one really awesome scene — where a potential victim sets Jason on fire and he just plows ahead, unfazed, as he slashes kids to ribbons while completely engulfed in flames. But Jason does kind of wind up looking like a second-class citizen in his own film — a film that also includes Kelly Rowland calling Jason the f-word and an inexplicable stoner character who’s obviously modeled after (but not played by) Jason Mewes. Jason Voorhees should never, under any circumstances, snootch any bootchies.
9. Friday the 13th Part 3
Director: Steve Miner
Writers: Martin Kitrosser and Carol Watson
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Richard Brooker
Jason Voorhees Is A: Surprisingly resilient but slightly confused revenge-obsessed serial killer.
Best Bit: Jason kills one of the latest crop of Crystal Lake teens by hiding under a hammock and impaling her with a knife. (Before you ask: No, it’s not clear where a 250-pound man in bloody coveralls hides under a see-thru net.) It’s a blatant rehash of Kevin Bacon’s famous death in the very first Friday the 13th, but one the movie acknowledges as a loving homage by having the poor victim read an issue of Fangoria, and specifically an article on Tom Savini, “the new master of magical makeup” and the very same man who designed Bacon’s death-by-arrow-through-the-neck in the original Friday. It’s a nice tip of the hat (and a not-so-nice kill).
Why It’s #9: Part III is notable as the film where Jason first gets his trademark hockey mask; otherwise this is a significant step down from the previous movies. The big hook for this entry was supposed to be its 3-D photography, but most of the dimensional gags fall into two categories:
- Unscary things shoved into the camera lens
- Scary things shoved into the camera lens (with very visible wires)
Add in genuinely ugly cinematography (like literally ugly; a couple times there’s crap on the lens no one bothered to clean off) and a heinous disco theme song more transgressive than anything Jason actually does onscreen, and you wind up with the first truly awful Friday the 13th film.
This Jason doesn’t make a ton of sense either. He got revenge for his mother’s murder in Part 2. So why’s he still killing people? In the last movie he had a wild head of long, frizzy hair. In Part III, which is set one day later, he’s totally bald. He took time out from his psychotic kill spree to cut his hair? What a weird guy.
His powers are increasing rapidly too. At the end of Part 2, Jason was chopped almost literally right down the middle. Part III is set one day later, and he seems totally fine. Better than fine, actually; suddenly he’s super-strong (he crushes one guy’s skull with his bare hands), and boasts the accuracy of a Navy SEAL sniper and the stealth skills of a ninja. Where’d this guy learn how to do this stuff? Why’s he so hard to kill? Later movies would iron out some of these bizarre wrinkles. At this point, it’s all ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
8. Jason X
Director: James Isaac
Writer: Todd Farmer
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Kane Hodder
Jason Voorhees Is A: Time-traveling killer with miraculous regenerative powers that could revolutionize the world of medicine.
Best Bit: The scientist who wants to use Jason Voorhees as a guinea pig for his experiments is played by none other than David Cronenberg. The director of Scanners ain’t too proud to get vivisected by a man in a hockey mask!
Why It’s #8: Hey, remember when Jason went to hell? Neither did the people who made this movie! Jason X opens with Voorhees back and better than ever; looking a lot healthier and more noticeably human than he had in the last three or four films. (He even has hair!) There’s a cool kernel of an idea in the government wanting to exploit Jason’s incredible healing abilities, but this is a Friday the 13th movie so that’s dispensed with within minutes of it being introduced and never mentioned again.
Once Jason heads to the future thanks to a cryogenic experiment gone awry, the whole thing is a pretty obvious ripoff of Alien (away team from spaceship returns with seemingly dormant critter that wakes and runs amok). But the first Friday the 13th is a pretty obvious ripoff of other slasher movies, so it’s not as if the series ever had any artistic purity to begin with. And unoriginal as the premise might be, Jason X certainly isn’t unimaginative. Once our unstoppable hockey goalie makes his way to the year 2455, the film showcases a creatively gruesome sense of humor, like when Jason does one dope in while he’s still frozen solid (his lifeless carcass topples out of its cryogenic coffin and his machete conveniently slices the guy’s arm off). The screenplay by Todd Farmer is probably the best of any Friday the 13th in a decade, and strikes a nice balance of horror and comedy, including the classic laugh line “Guys, it’s okay! He just wanted his machete back!” There’s also a cute exchange where two characters talk about “The Microsoft Conflict,” some terrible war that leads to future humans “beating each other with [their] own severed limbs.”
It’s just too bad so much of the movie looks like something out of an FMV game for Windows 95. The CGI of the Grendel spaceship flying and crashing is just abysmal, and the interiors aren’t much better; it looks like Kane Hodder accidentally wandered into the set of a bad Syfy Channel original. And that’s all before Jason turns into “Uber Jason” after the Grendel’s medical bay inexplicably decides to revive Voorhees with extensive cybernetic upgrades. That hideous monstrosity might be the most embarrassing thing in any Friday the 13th movie, and given the places this series went before it was put out of its misery, that’s really saying something.
7. Friday the 13th
Director: Marcus Nispel
Writers: Mark Wheaton, Damian Shannon, and Mark Swif
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Derek Mears
Jason Voorhees Is A: Lonely man who really misses his mom.
Best Bit: The Friday the 13th reboot doesn’t have the most inventive kills in the franchise’s history, but it’s got a casual cruelty that suits its insidious antagonist. Little details like the way Jason has to stick his foot on this poor teen’s head for extra leverage as he tries to yank out his machete make this movie more memorable than it otherwise would be.
Why It’s #7: The Friday the 13th series has never led the way; it’s always chased whatever trend was rippling through the horror genre. And so when studios started making big money by remaking old slashers like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Halloween, Friday the 13th followed suit once again. For the most part, 2009’s Friday is a solid if unspectacular film that returns the franchise back to its basics. There’s no mystical daggers, no family curses, no magic powers, no outrageous humor about the lunacy of so many horny, pot-smoking teenagers falling prey to a dude in a hockey mask. Jason’s just a nutjob with mommy issues. Even if it never rises above the level of formulaic horror flick, it’s twisted and grisly enough to place it above all the series’ gimmicky later installments.
6. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Director: John Carl Buechler
Writers: Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Kane Hodder
Jason Voorhees Is An: Ill-tempered decaying corpse.
Best Bit: My favorite moment in the entire film is when the final girl, a telekinetic named Tina (Lar Park Lincoln), uses a decapitated head to headbutt Jason Voorhees. But since I can’t find a video of that on YouTube, please enjoy this runner-up, where Jason kills a camper by slamming her sleeping bag into a tree. (That’s gotta hurt.)
Why It’s #6: Because it kind of botches a great idea. The climactic confrontation between Jason and Tina is pretty fantastic, particularly when she uses her mental powers to spray him with gas and light him on fire, and also the creeptastic moment where Jason loses his hockey mask and you see his face in all its unspeakable glory. That’s what you want from a movie about Jason fighting a telekinetic; crazy, balls-out action. What you don’t want is the telekinetic spending most of the movie sitting around while her mom and her douchey therapist bicker about the best way to treat her “illness” — which is exactly how The New Blood spends most of its first hour. It’s maybe the least entertaining version of this premise that you could possibly make.
The New Blood is the first movie where stuntman Kane Hodder played Jason, and though his interpretation is beloved by most Friday the 13th fans, he’s not my favorite. His movements are a bit less rigid and supernatural and, at least in my opinion, a bit less scary. Though I’m bucking consensus here as well, I’m also not crazy about this design for Jason. He’s supposed to look like a corpse that’s been rotting away at the bottom of a lake for ten years, but mostly the “bones” on his hand and his back just look like rubbery Halloween accessories. Plus, he’s damp for the entire movie, which means he makes all kinds of squishing noises when he walks. How does he sneak up on people with squeaky shoes?!?
Speaking of the ten years Jason spends at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake, this movie makes clear one of the stranger elements of the Friday the 13th movies: Almost all of them are set in the near future. The New Blood, for example, was released in 1988, but because of the big jumps in time between the fourth and fifth Friday the 13th, and then between the prologue and the rest of this movie, it’s actually set in September 2001. Pay no attention to the feathered hair and pleated pants, this is the new Millennium!
5. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
Director: Danny Steinmann
Writers: Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, and Danny Steinmann
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Tom Morga
Jason Voorhees Is A: Cover identity for another serial killer.
Best Bit: There’s a whole scare sequence built around a man on a toilet. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Art.
Why It’s #5: A New Beginning is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s an interesting idea to follow the hero of the previous installment (Tommy Jarvis, played by John Shepherd) rather than the villain, and to cast a copycat imitating Jason Voorhees for his own personal gain. (It’s also a nice touch that this copycat can’t quite find the exact Jason Voorhees hockey mask with the red triangle above the eyes, so he settles for a similar looking one with light blue slashes on the cheeks.)
But even with a slightly different baddie and a new setting (a mental hospital), this is still pretty much a by-the-numbers Friday the 13th, with the standard amounts of violence and nudity and not much else. (Although in battle with “Jason,” the final girl fights him chainsaw versus machete, which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.) The gore isn’t nearly as explicit or varied as The Final Chapter, and director Danny Steinmann actually cuts around some of the most grotesque moments. I’m all for subtlety, but c’mon; this is a Friday the 13th movie. It should be as subtle as a knife to the face.
4. Friday the 13th
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Writer: Victor Miller
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Ari Lehman
Jason Voorhees Is A: Hallucinatory plot device.
Best Bit: The dreamy conclusion, which first introduced the world to Jason Voorhees, and set the precedent that many Friday the 13ths would follow, with a false happy ending followed by a final (usually imagined, often nonsensical) scare.
Why It’s #4: Friday the 13th is the rare horror franchise that didn’t peak with its first installment. In hindsight, the original Friday is actually pretty underwhelming. The whole film plays the identity of the killer as a mystery, which is both structurally limiting (because it eliminates the possibility of chase scenes) and dramatically unsatisfying (because they don’t even introduce the real murderer until the very end of the movie, meaning the whole thing is an unsolvable puzzle). Maybe because Friday the 13th didn’t start off with much of an identity of its own, it took it a while to find its footing. Over time, the franchise would become less indebted to other properties and build its own rules and tropes. At this point, it’s basically just a middling rehash of other, better movies — the parts that aren’t stolen from Halloween, like the mad slasher and the persistent use of POV shots, are all stolen from Psycho, like the score of staccato strings.
What this movie has going for it are some truly disturbing images, like the macabre scene where poor Kevin Bacon gets murdered, which linger on in the collective unconscious of horny teenagers everywhere, and the trippy, surreal finale, where survivor Alice (Adrienne King) asks the police what happened to the boy that pulled her into Crystal Lake, and they have no answer, setting the stage for all the films that followed.
3. Friday the 13th Part 2
Director: Steve Miner
Writer: Ron Kurz
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Warrington Gillette
Jason Voorhees Is A: Deranged butcher obsessed with avenging his mother’s death.
Best Bit: There are a couple very solid contenders for this spot, but I absolutely love the trailer for this movie, so let’s share that.
Why It’s #3: This movie is underrated. It’s not quite a full-on Friday the 13th movie in the classic mold, and Jason isn’t “Jason” yet — he wears a bag over his head and a not-so-terrifying pair of overalls — but it’s got more potent scares than the original film. The first Friday was all misdirection; in Part 2, all the cards are on the table, which means they can really play with the franchise’s mythology for the first time, as in this great campfire scene that preps the audience for Jason’s big debut:
Once they settled into a predictable routine, every Friday the 13th built to a big showdown between Jason and the final girl. A lot of these fights were underwhelming; Jason would kill a dozen other teenagers without breaking a sweat but then he’d struggle like crazy to get the last survivor, like a nervous closer who chokes while trying to get the final out in the bottom of the ninth.
The excuses why these women could outfight the living embodiment of death were often very flimsy, but the end of Part 2 is really satisfying and logical. Ginny Field (Amy Steel) stumbles into Jason Voorhees’ sanctuary in the woods, where she finds his shrine to his dead mother, complete with her shriveled decapitated head. Backed into a corner and faced with no other choice, she puts on Jason’s mom’s cable-knit sweater and then acts like Mrs. Voorhees; it confuses Jason long enough for her to gain the upper-hand.
Ginny knows to impersonate Jason’s mother because of the story she heard around the campfire, and the whole movie has a similar attention to detail, with methods of murder being subtly teased early in the picture and then paid off later. A lot of Friday the 13ths look and sound like they were written over the course of a long weekend (and a few of them actually were). Friday the 13th Part 2 looks like it was assembled carefully — and then dismembered.
2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Director: Joseph Zito
Writers: Barney Cohen and Bruce Hidemi Sakow
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: Ted White
Jason Voorhees Is A: Vengeful backwoods lunatic who looked dead, but wasn’t.
Best Bit: Crispin Glover, who plays one of Jason’s victims, attempts a very strange sort of mating dance.
Why It’s #2: Crispin Glover’s dancing alone makes The Final Chapter one of the greatest works in the history of cinema. Beyond that, this is the Friday the 13th that put everything together. It cemented the formula that so many Friday the 13ths followed: Jason seems dead, he rises from the grave, slaughters a bunch of people in extravagantly creative ways, and is killed again until the next sequel. And the reason so many Friday the 13ths copied it is because it works. This Jason is a terrifying boogeyman of unstoppable carnal menace.
Recognizing that the Friday the 13th movies had enormous appeal for younger teenagers, the filmmakers also added a shrewd new wrinkle to the mix by giving The Final Chapter a 12-year-old hero: Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman). Tommy is clearly modeled after the kids in the franchise’s audience; he’s a horny dork who loves horror movies and enjoys making his own elaborate prosthetic masks (a skill that becomes particularly handy at the end of the movie, when Jason is once again felled by someone in disguise). While the first three Fridays had made older girls their heroes, The Final Chapter lets this audience surrogate take center stage.
The gore effects by Tom Savini are queasily outstanding (particularly in the finale where we see what’s under Jason’s mask just before he falls on his own machete and then slides down the blade face first), and the movie is just goosebumps-raising tension from start to finish. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter isn’t high art. It’s sleaze. But it’s extremely well-executed sleaze. It’s probably about as good as this kind of straight-ahead exploitation movie can be.
1. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Writer: Tom McLoughlin
Jason Voorhees Is Played By: C.J. Graham (and Dan Bradley, in a handful of shots)
Jason Voorhees Is A: Walking corpse reanimated by lightning.
Best Bit: The cheeky opening sequence, which is an homage to James Bond, and a clear indication that the series is moving in a new comedic direction.
Why It’s #1: Finally, here is a Jason Voorhees that makes sense. He’s just an a-hole zombie. Forget the mommy issues and don’t bother rationalizing his inexplicable stamina. He can’t be killed because he’s already dead. He kills other people because he’s an a-hole. End of story.
Tommy Jarvis is back (played by a third actor, Thom Matthews). Still haunted by memories of Jason, he goes to his grave just to make sure he’s really dead this time. He is; his decaying corpse is covered in cobwebs and maggots. But then Tommy makes the questionable decision to make sure Jason’s totes dead by stabbing him through the heart with a metal fence spike in the middle of a raging thunderstorm. Suddenly a bolt of lightning strikes the spike and reanimates Jason. Whoops! Jason must kill again! God (and Paramount executives) demanded it!
Jason Lives was way ahead of its time. A full decade before Scream, it acknowledged and satirized the clichés of the slasher film genre. That James Bond spoof was just the beginning. Characters talk directly to the camera; others note how the people in horror movies always make dumb choices and wind up dead. The majority of Friday the 13th movies are so poorly made they’re often unintentionally funny. Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives script is genuinely clever.
It’s still scary as well. Even though most Fridays are set at or around an old summer camp, Jason Lives was the first to add dozens of little campers to the mix, a decision that drastically ratchets up the suspense once Jason’s rampage begins. And that rampage is totally crazy; Jason yanks out Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter’s heart, he breaks one guy completely in half, he throws one guy into a tree so hard that it leaves the imprint of a smiley face on its bark. And C.J. Graham is a great, intimidating Jason. His crisp, robotic movements give him a truly otherworldly quality. He’s like a zombie Terminator.
A lot of Friday the 13th purists prefer The Final Chapter, which is more classical in its style, to Jason Lives, which does everything with a bit of a wink. Although I recognize the effectiveness of Friday 4, I’m particularly impressed by the balance between comedy and horror in Friday 6. To this day, so few movies get that right. Jason Lives really does — and that’s why this sequel lives on in the hearts of its fans to this day.