Friday the 13th Movies Ranked from Worst to Best

Arguably the best and most telling sequence of the Friday the 13th series surprisingly does not include Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder), the infamous masked mass-murderer of horny teenagers and dope-smoking camp counselors in the greater Crystal Lake area. Not so surprisingly, it occurs in The Final Chapter, which is the most well-directed and inventive volume in the franchise, in stiff competition with the deliriously entertaining sixth part, Jason Lives!. Not that long into The Final Chapter, adolescent Tommy Jarvis, initially played by Corey Feldman, sneaks a peak at a couple of the aforementioned randy teens undressing in a neighboring house and begins to giddily bounce, gesticulate, and roll around on his bed, unable to communicate the wild feelings that are beginning to bubble up in him, what with puberty just an awkward gym-class boner away.

The series, started by Sean S. Cunningham, began as competent and sober, only to become more and more intoxicated with camp and lascivious pleasures and, finally, collapsing into a pile of cheap, cheesy narrative gimmicks or grim gore. I decided to look at what has been most successful in the Friday the 13th films and what has rightly made them the subject of numerous parodies and cinephilic derision.

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Editor’s Note: This article was last updated on May 12.

12. Jason X

At it’s best, Jason X suggests a bit of exuberant fan-fiction – Jason Goes to Space. The film’s central conceit, involving Jason being frozen for decades and then “accidentally” thawed out in the future while being transported to Earth 2, is preposterous to say the least. And yet, director Jim Isaac, known more for his special effects work in Gremlins and David Cronenberg‘s eXistenZ, doesn’t have nearly as much fun with the material as one might expect, turning in an expectedly formulaic yet lazily designed science-fiction dud. The deaths aren’t particularly interesting, and the social interactions don’t have the punch of youthful energy that the franchise’s best installments are driven by. Sure, it gets points for the Cronenberg cameo in the beginning, but the rest of this nonsense, including the sexually charged robot, is a tremendous bore.

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11. Friday the 13th (2009)

This 2009 reboot looks better, from top to bottom, than almost every other film on this list, with the possible exceptions of Part III and The Final Chapter. Unfortunately, the script for this reboot is fucking idiotic, and mind you I’m taking into consideration how silly the other scripts are. The script doesn’t play with the mythology at all, or take the chance to reinvent anything from the first round of sequels, but rather focuses on exposition and finding reason behind the defiantly illogical premise and the ludicrous creation that is Jason Voorhees. Rather than toying with the franchise’s middling tone, or finding creative new impasses in the story, or, hell, even getting more inventive with the deaths, this reboot simply takes the filmic DNA of the middle sequels and makes them more grim. In effect, the film becomes a case study in how many exercises in modern horror have grown sadistic and faux-realistic rather than imaginative and genuinely fun.

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10. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

In The Final Chapter, we’re introduced to the young Tommy Jarvis, who becomes the hero of the series for three installments, the second of which being this bizarre, outlandishly harebrained reconfiguration, which sets Jason’s fatal shenanigans in a home for troubled teenagers on Crystal Lake. The tone here is actually pretty spot-on, straddling horror movie and sex comedy with just the right balance, and director Danny Steinmann has a way of highlighting the unique facial expressions of the victims and giving the environs an admirably loopy style. That being said, the film enacts a twist ending that makes The Village‘s final moments feel like peak Alfred Hitchcock, a narrative decision so profoundly dumb that it taints even the more juvenile passages of this film, such as the sequence where a couple sings to one another while the man takes a long shit in a port-a-potty. After The Final Chapter, the most tonally acute and entertaining volume of the series, A New Beginning signaled the beginning of Friday the 13th being denoted by gimmicks.

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9. Friday the 13th – Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

This is the one that stings. The premise is impossibly promising, letting the world’s foremost expert on machete-wielding and general brutality loose on The City That Never Sleeps. The possibilities are frankly endless, and rather than choose one, the makers of Jason Takes Manhattan spend most of the runtime on the voyage-by-sea to Manhattan, with Jason taking on the role of a rabidly homicidal Ishmael. The performances are especially bad here, but even the encouraging plot of Jason on the High Seas doesn’t come to much. The deaths are largely boring on the boat, but once we get to Manhattan, the film lights up with irreverence, most notably in his elongated fight with the boxing champ on the roofs of New York City. Sequences as aggressively bizarre as these only end up teasing what could have been if the film had shown even a modicum in interest in fulfilling the promise of the film’s title.

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8. Friday the 13th – Part VII: The New Blood

The New Blood came out in the time of Scanners, which may explain why anybody (anybody!) felt the need to match Jason up against a young telepath. In this case, the telepath also happens to be a curious and damaged blonde, who accidentally brings Jason back from the dead when she begins to remember how she killed her father with her powers on the very same stretch of Crystal Lake property. Yes, it’s convoluted, and the fact that the telepath storyline is given a bogus sense of self-seriousness bogs The New Blood down hugely. The deaths are not particularly memorable, and the characters, even for Friday the 13th, are written with little in the way of focus or even marginal resonance.

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7. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

For what would be the last of the original Friday the 13th films, paving the path for Freddy vs. Jason and the aforementioned 2009 reboot, the creators of the series burdened its monster with a borderline impressive amount of batshit backstory, none of which matches up with the mild lunacy of the rest of the series. The influence of Cronenberg flourishes here as well, as this volume deals largely with body horror and demonic worm-like creatures like the ones audiences could find in Cronenberg’s Shivers, not to mention a number of 80s horror films that used slimy worm-bug parasites as their monster of choices. Jason Goes to Hell has a high concentration of memorable deaths, and the film openly buys into the nonsensical tone, but the gimmicky story once again gets in the way of the basic chemistry, making for an interesting experiment in genre but a totally unsatisfying watch.

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6. Freddy vs. Jason

There may be no line as repugnant and cringe-worthy in the entire range of Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street entries than “How sweet, dark meat.” Such inarguable doozies must be suffered in this hugely anticipated match-up between a brutish, mentally challenged mass murderer and the charred, homicidal pedophile who can slaughter you in your own dreamscape, but beyond the dialogue, this is about as good as could have been hoped for. Those expecting John Carpenter or Wes Craven to take on such an auspicious cinematic event were dreaming, but Chinese action guru Ronny Yu made shadowy, stylish work of the ultimate horror-legend showdown. The script loses its essential trashiness, but what’s left is serviceable, if not always defendable.

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5. Friday the 13th – Part II

Or, A Portrait of The Immortal Blood-Thirsty Psychotic in His Youth. Here’s where we first meet Jason, sporting overalls and cloth sack with an eyehole, taking over the lakeside killer mantle from his mother. The film begins with Voorhees beheading the woman who decapitates his mother, and there’s a scrappy, no-budget energy to this primordial tale of Crystal Lake’s most ornery resident. The deaths are mostly mild, though this film has a narrative tightness that’s similar to the inaugural film and the far more eclectic Part III (in 3D!), the latter of which was directed by Steve Miner, who serves as helmer here as well. Miner would go onto direct insane horror concoctions like House and Warlock, as well horrendous attempts at comedy (Soul Man) and drama (Forever Young), but here he gives the proceedings an energetic pace and attentive, competent camerawork, making for an admirably tight bit of trash.

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4. Friday the 13th

One of the founding works of the slasher sub-genre and, surprisingly, a still pretty rousing watch. The imagery is never much more than competent, but that almost works in its favor under these particular circumstances. Like the NYC slasher classic Maniac, the graininess of the film stock, the cheapness of the production design, serves for ideal environs for this inaugural murder spree, with Mother Voorhees slicing up a pack of counselors fixing up the ol’ Camp Crystal Lake. There’s also a potent sense of dread, which hits early on when a young woman is murdered in broad daylight after accepting a ride from a stranger. And Betsy Palmer‘s climactic appearance makes for just the right amount of gonzo, overtly theatrical madness to cap this grubby wonder.

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3. Friday the 13th – Part III

The third chapter of the Jason Voorhees saga was where the direction got a bit more audacious, thanks in no small part to the film being released in 3D, which had seen a resurgence at the time. Even without the glasses, however, Part III benefits from the “Hey! Look at me, ma!”-brand of shooting, adding a more galvanic visual pace and rhythm to the sequel where the first two films leaned heavily on their sober B-movie style. The story here is boilerplate, with some amusing detours, such as the three toughs that bully the teens at the gas station and then make a trip to their cabins to harass them some more. Beyond this, Part III also deserves special placement for being the volume where Jason finds his hockey mask, taken off a particularly annoying, curly-haired teen who gets his kicks scaring his fellow counselors and friends. He should’ve known that Jason is not much for competition.

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2. Friday the 13th – Part VI: Jason Lives

Jason Lives! is the last notable Friday the 13th movie, and arguably the most purely entertaining entry in the whole series. Here, Jason didn’t just stand in as the wrecking force brought on by the tinny, rotten Catholic righteousness of the Reagan era, which had been the basic machinery of the franchise up until the fifth iteration. There’s a wider scope of machete targets here, and the palette of jokes, deaths, and overall interactions is much, much wider than in any other chapter of the franchise. This remains one of the first horror-comedies to gain popularity, and its screwball sensibilities (see: the death of the chauvinistic paint-ball commando) bind its wild, dark humor with a grotesque set of killings, including a woman getting her face crushed in the side of a winnebago, pin-art style. There’s a fuller sense of the world of Crystal Lake and although slasher aficionados might naysay the sillier bent of this entry, this boldness in tone makes Jason Lives! genuinely memorable and giddily enjoyable where so many of the Friday the 13th films are only recalled for single murders or one-liners.

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1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

The Final Chapter is the quintessential Friday the 13th film, tinged with comical moments similar to those that elevate Jason Lives! into such a delirious experience and yet more of a slasher in its basic narrative DNA. This is where we first meet Tommy Jarvis, Jason’s primary nemesis, if there is one, and the final face-off between Corey Feldman‘s Jarvis and Jason is actually pretty unsettling, tapping into some disturbing, if not entirely convincing psychology. This wasn’t the kind of performance Feldman was good at, but the film deserves points for swinging for the fences in this manner. For the rest of the film, the former kid-star is more than serviceable, and this film is as acutely attentive to the story’s inherent psycho-sexual undercurrents than any other film on the list. The murders range from simple eviscerations to extravagant butchery, and the fact that the cast includes long-working character actors Crispin Glover and Erich Anderson gives the film a certain flair, something like B-grade star-power. It’s the most balanced of the Friday the 13th series, landing somewhere between Animal House and Joseph Zito‘s slasher classic The Prowler, which shares a director with The Final Chapter but never quite reaches for this film’s level of bonafide strangeness.

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