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SYFY WIRE Friday the 13th

All the 'Friday the 13th' movies, ranked

Let's look back at the Voorhees family's reign of terror, from worst to best.

By Matthew Jackson
A still from Friday the 13th VI: Jason Lives (1986)

For more than four decades now, the Voorhees family has conducted one of the longest reigns of terror in horror movie history, slaying camp counselors, unwitting teenagers, and space voyagers alike across a franchise that spans a dozen films and a whole lot of hockey mask designs.

Since its debut in 1980, Friday the 13th has gone through many different incarnations, changing settings, approaches, and even killers in the pursuit of trying new things, and Jason and his mother still manage to capture our imaginations. It's been over a decade since we've gotten a new Friday slasher fest, but longtime fans still love an excuse to revisit the series. With Jason X's 20th anniversary on April 19 (that's today!), we sharpened our editorial machetes to rank every gruesome entry in the iconic series. 

12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Jason Goes To Hell Poster

When Jason Goes to Hell, the ninth film in the series, was released, there had been a four-year gap between it and the previous installment. That was the longest wait period between Friday sequels at the time, thanks in part to the franchise changing studios from Paramount to Freddy's home, New Line Cinema. A new studio (and the lack of rights to the "Friday the 13th" name) meant a new direction, and Jason Goes to Hell is commendable for its ambitious attempts to blaze new ground. It begins with the classic Jason getting blown to pieces in an ambush, then charts a gruesome course for his soul as he tries to find a new host body, making mass murderers out of several unlucky temporary hosts in the process. It's a wild ride, but it's also unfortunately a very clunky and disjointed one. Purists were left sorely disappointed at the absence of the killer's signature mask, as well. (But Jason Goes to Hell does open with one of the most violent and graphic kills in the franchise.)  

11. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Friday the 13th Part VIII poster

The last of Paramount Pictures' original run of Friday films has a great title, and one of the best trailers in franchise history. In practice, though, Jason barely takes Manhattan at all. His arrival in the Big Apple ultimately amounts to a sewer chase and one meh scene in Times Square, which makes the actual premise of the film underwhelming. That said, there are a couple of really fun kills in Jason Takes Manhattan, including one where Jason just punches a dude's head clean off.

10. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Friday the 13th Part VII poster

The New Blood marks the debut of Kane Hodder as Jason in this ambitious installment, one that  introduces a final girl with telekinetic powers who uses them to battle Jason in the film's stunt-laden finale. That exciting climax, and its willingness to amp up the tension by having Jason face an opponent with her own supernatural gifts, is worth watching just for the scope of their fight, which is often uncommon a sight in a low-fi slasher sequel.  Sadly, The New Blood is otherwise hamstrung by formulaic supporting characters and an MPAA that forced so many cuts that all the best gore effects are gone. 

9. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

Friday the 13th Part V poster

So, let's get the big issue out of the way first. Spoilers ahead for a 35-year-old movie: This is the Friday the 13th movie with the Jason imposter. Yes, after the so-called "final chapter" that the fourth installment was billed to be, producers decided to try something different by bringing back Jason in the form of a copycat, rather than the genuine article.

In some ways this approach works as a callback of sorts to the original film's whodunit-inspired slasher fun. The idea of setting the film in a halfway house, to continue the story of Tommy Jarvis from Part IV, is also interesting, and there are even some solid, creative kills along the way. Sadly, when the Jason imposter is finally revealed, that revelation lands with a resounding thud, as audiences were thoroughly underwhelmed. It's a gamble that still doesn't pay off, all these years later.

8. Jason X (2002)

Jason X Poster

In the nearly decade-long lull between Jason Goes to Hell and the Freddy vs. Jason crossover that film teased, fans were treated to this shockingly low-budget affair. The tenth film in the series famously takes Jason not to just into space, but to the future, as a group of unwitting explorers accidentally thaw him out and unleash him on their ship. It's corny (and cheap) as hell, but even 20 years later, something about the campy energy just works. From the new, "hi-tech" mask design to the flash freezing kill scene, to the idea of Jason fighting a sexy android, it's a film that is unashamed to have as much fun as possible with its premise, and it's still worth watching.

7. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy vs. Jason poster

It took ten years to get this film released after the end of Jason Goes to Hell teased a slasher clash for the ages, but when Freddy vs. Jason finally arrived, it milked the moment for all it was worth.

These days, crossovers are considered par for the course. But F vs. J  was a true trailblazer, even though its aesthetic and soundtrack are very much of the early 2000s. But that doesn't stop both killers from having fun along the way. There's an argument to be made here that it's also much more of a Nightmare on Elm Street film than a Friday the 13th film, since Robert Englund's Freddy drives so much of the plot. But fans are treated to a few solid Jason moments, like when he rampages through a corn field while on fire. The movie falls short of being a great installment in either franchise, but it is a mostly fun enough outing for both villains. 

6. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Friday the 13th Part III poster

The first film in the series to feature Jason's legendary hockey mask, Friday the 13th, Part III also did its best to shake up the original format of the first two films. Part III still tethers its story to the shores of Crystal Lake, but the film ditches the summer camp in favor of a looser collection of victims, most of whom are just here trying to have a good time. That decision, and many of the then-novel 3D-inspired kills that come with it, is to be applauded. But Part III suffers from a certain predictability, not least because it can't compete with the films on either side of it in the series' chronology. But it'll always have its place in history for its use of 3D scares to jolt the '80s box office.

5. Friday the 13th (2009)

Friday the 13th 2009 poster

Most remakes, especially horror remakes, get a bad rap by default. But the best ones are able to echo the films that they're based on while also trying something new with familiar IP. Director Marcus Nispel's 2009 take on Friday the 13th manages to do exactly that, telling yet another story about a group of ill-fated campers that plays like a greatest hits compilation from the whole franchise. It's part remake, part legacy sequel. Along the way, Friday the 13th manages to pay tribute to all of Jason's various incarnations with some impressive visuals and some very fun kills that feed into a surprisingly effective storyline surrounding our heroes and Jason's would-be victims.

4. Friday the 13th (1980)

Friday the 13th 1980 poster

The story goes that producer Sean Cunningham saw John Carpenter's Halloween, decided he could chase that money, and took an ad out with the film's title even before it entered production. One script by Victor Miller and a willing young cast and crew later, and slasher movie history arrived with Friday the 13th. In retrospect, the film's plot doesn't hold up as well as the more sophisticated sequels, but all the ambition and energy that came with trying to push the Halloween envelope a little further is definitely still there. The gore effects from Tom Savini, Harry Manfredini's score, and Betsy Palmer's delightfully unhinged final act performance all hold up. 

3. Friday the 13th Part II (1981)

Friday the 13th Part II poster

Does Jason's arrival in the immediate aftermath of his mother's murder, which itself came decades after the crime she died trying to avenge, really make sense? Who cares, because Jason Voorhees' reign as one of horror's greatest villains begins here. And 41 years after the first sequel hit theaters, Part II is still an auspicious start. 

Part II's plot plays in some respects like a copy of the original film (no surprise, since it came out less than a year later), and Jason is not yet the character fans would grow to love, but there's a gritty intensity to this sequel that still absolutely works. Plus, Part II has the distinction of featuring the series' single best Final Girl, Amy Steel's Ginny.

2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Friday the 13th The Final Chapter poster

Though fans now know The Final Chapter is far from the final film in the series, the sequel does come with a sense of gravity hanging over it, which is reflected in both its budget and its ambitious storytelling. It serves up a vengeance subplot, with a troubled kid (played by Corey Feldman) who has a strange kinship with Jason, and some of the best kills in the series' history, including perhaps the best final moments for Jason himself. Plus, Crispin Glover's immortal dancing. It's a great finale to the first phase of the franchise, and a solid slasher all on its own. 

1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

Friday the 13th Part VI poster

What do you do when your Jason copycat killer scheme doesn't pay off with fans? You create Zombie Jason, of course!

From its Frankenstein-like opening sequence that segues into a nod to James Bond in the opening credits, Jason Lives is an absolute joy for its entire run time. Director Tom McLoughlin leaned hard into the inherent slapstick aspects of the franchise, and threw in several visual gags and witty narrative choices to make what is the funniest Friday the 13th film. And yet, Jason himself is never the butt of the joke, and still feels as formidable and magnetic as ever. The result is a sequel that plays like a popcorn movie with a solid horror edge; it sets the template for quite a few great slashers that followed. It took six films, but this is the one that finally perfected the Friday formula.