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In 1996, a movie about teenagers being stalked by a serial killer with a mask and a knife seemed like a fairly predictable setup for what might have been a decent time at the movies.
What we got instead was an instant horror classic, a film that remains one of the best of its kind and one that gave birth to a genre-changing horror franchise. With the original Scream recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, as the fifth film in the series slashes its way into theaters, it's a natural time to revisit the franchise as a whole, and see what went right, what could have gone better, and how the last 25 years worth of Scream movies have been building up to the latest installment. Here's our ranking of the Scream movies, including the 2022 release, from worst to best.
5. Scream 3 (2000)
Despite its considerable shortcomings, there is a lot to like about Scream 3. Its dedication to presenting itself as the "epic" finale of a film trilogy means there's lots of space made for big horror-action set pieces, including a scene in which a whole house explodes, and the very meta idea of setting a Scream film on the set of the latest Stab movie works very well. Throw in actors like Emily Mortimer and Parker Posey, cast as the "movie" versions of the original Scream heroes, and you've got meta horror within meta horror. But overall, the movie falls short, thanks to screenwriter Ehren Kruger's script feeling like a cover band trying to sound like the original group. There's a familiarity there, but it doesn't quite have the same edge, and the effort to go bigger and bolder with the setpieces and the meta-horror action only serves to underline that. It's the least Scream-like of the Scream films, but it still has some great character moments.
4. Scream 4 (2011)
The franchise's return to Woodsboro also felt like a return to form for a series that was supposed to have died with its third installment a decade earlier. With Scream 4, original writer Kevin Williamson decided to go back to the series' hometown for a horror film that was as much about the original Scream's influence as it was about putting a whole new group of teens in Ghostface's path. That meant the film had to balance a new cast — including Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, and Rory Culkin — with the returning original stars, and throw them all into the potential Scream meat grinder at once.
Thanks to Williamson's clever script and the late Wes Craven's always-great direction (Scream 4 would be his final film), this sequel mostly delivers on its ambitious intentions. Its narrative relies heavily on deep franchise introspection, and such navel gazing paired with its thematic focus on the then-rise of social media and reboots largely pay off. What also pays off is Scream 4's inspired decision to make the generational aspect of its story a key part of the Ghostface reveal, with that particular twisty revelation still holding up more than a decade later. It can't beat the original, but Scream 4 remains an underrated gem.
3. Scream (2022)
Scream, the fifth movie in the franchise and the first without Wes Craven in the director's chair, is a worthy entry. It combines legacy characters with newcomers, as well as tried concepts that springboard into new and compelling narrative threads for the venerable franchise. It also, thankfully, features the same elaborate Ghostface death scenes that made the franchise a fan favorite in the first place. Just as Scream 4 was interested in the idea of final girls, what they mean, and what their ripple effects could do to a community, Scream 2022 is interested in the legacy of a franchise that just won't die, what it does to the people who see it and, more importantly, live through it. The result is arguably the most self-aware and self-referential sequel in the entire series. And while that could come across as a little preachy to the wrong viewer, if you follow the spirit of Scream's thematic and emotional arcs, you'll find something worth celebrating. A quarter century later, this franchise still delivers.
2. Scream 2 (1997)
There are certain things about Scream 2 that feel very predictable, but in many ways that's precisely the point.
Of course the surviving Woodsboro kids would head off to college, where a new Ghostface killer would find a way to put their seemingly safe lives in peril once again. Of course the body count would be higher, and the death scenes would be more elaborate. We expect this, given the rules of horror sequels, and as if to underline how much we expect it, the film has Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) flat out explain it to us midway through. The genius of this film, one of the great horror sequels of all time, is in how Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven set up all those expectations and predictable elements, and then pick them apart. It's a sequel that wields the self-awareness of the original film in wonderful, surprising new ways, and that makes it an extremely worthy follow-up.
1. Scream (1996)
Was there ever any doubt that the original would still be the best?
Slicing through the horror landscape with wit and precision in 1996, Scream remains one of the most important modern horror films of the last 30 years. It's impossible to overstate just how influential it was to slasher films and teen horror; it's so expertly constructed that even today, after countless rewatches, its expert tension still keeps you at the edge of your seat (or wishing you watched the movie with the lights on). From the iconic and stunning opening murder sequence, to the horror movie marathon scenes and, finally, that killer reveal, Scream makes being a horror masterpiece look effortless. Things have never been the same since the movie was released in December 1996, and Scream remains just as influential and invigorating a movie experience as ever.