Let's face it, nobody can come up with the definitive ranking of the Friday the 13th films from best to worst. Every horror fan's relationship to the Friday the 13th movies is unique, profound and deeply rooted in personal memories and preferences.
At the same time, it's impossible to avoid thinking about how one would rank the series on this great holiday. So, for the sake of argument and discussion, here's our list.
Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990)
It seems only fair that Friday the 13th: The Series would come last, since it has nothing to do with the films (other than that Frank Mancuso Jr. produced it, and series star John D. Lemay has a role in Jason Goes to Hell). Look, we needed to write this list, and Friday the 13th: The Series gets us to 13! However, as a separate entity, F13: The Series is actually great. A modern man and woman of the '80s (Lemay and his co-star, Robey) find that they've inherited an antique store from their long-lost Uncle Lewis. They sell all of the antiques to make some cash, only to learn that the store's whole inventory was cursed by the devil. In each episode, the cousins must retrieve a new cursed object, before (or, usually, after) it destroys those who possess it. It was sort of like Warehouse 13 minus the comedy and before communism fell. Friday the 13th: The Series always has wonderful, gothic atmosphere, and some episodes (like "The Scarecrow," linked below), are legendarily scary. The show had enough cache that famous directors like David Cronenberg and Atom Egoyan stopped by to direct episodes. Also, Robey changed her screen name from Louise Robey and released a pop album, making her one of the great one-named icons of the 1980s (in the league of Prince and Madonna, clearly). Her amazing and sometimes ridiculous hair-dos and ensembles shine in every episode.
Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (aka Part 9, 1993)
Jason Goes to Hell indicated to many that the life had pretty much drained out of the original Friday the 13th series. Jason actually explodes at the hands of a SWAT team in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the film; after that, he becomes an evil black worm that possesses various people who kill for him. It seems that he wants to find his long-lost sister (played by Erin Gray from Silver Spoons!), through whom he can be reborn. Meanwhile, a bounty hunter obsessively tries to find and kill his spirit, although the audience never learns why. Jason Goes to Hell is just too damned complicated. In its efforts to innovate, it strays too far from the series' mythology and ultimately feels like a betrayal. Jason was scary and fascinating because his super-human strength was rooted in his all too human background. He's much less frightening, and engaging, in the form of a shape-shifting worm that inhabits random people. In spite of its flaws, the film is worth checking out for its stylish cinematography and high gore content (which New Line cut from its theatrical release, then restored on VHS and DVD). Still, most people remember this one for its ending, as seen below:
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
If the filmmakers had titled this film Friday the 13th VIII: Jason Takes Canada, with a Brief Detour To Manhattan at the End, it might have gotten more praise. However, it's a big letdown that most of Friday VIII takes place on a yacht to Manhattan. Also, at the beginning of the film the boat has hundreds of people on it, but only seven die. When the ship reaches Manhattan the boat is empty except for one girl. What happened to everybody?! Was it all a dream?! All of this said, Jason on a Canadian yacht is still a pretty good idea, and as a result there is fun to be had here (alas, some boredom as well). When Jason does take late '80s Manhattan in the last 15 minutes, it's great (watch the clip below!).
Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
You've gotta give New Line Cinema credit for finally giving fans what they'd craved for decades. However, Robert Englund's typically great performance aside, Freddy vs. Jason is kind of a suckfest. Oddly, Jason and Freddy both lack the grandiosity that they had in earlier films (the filmmakers should have looked to The Final Chapter, Jason Lives and A Nightmare On Elm Street 1, 3 and 4 for some pointers). The Friday the 13th series' claustrophobic atmosphere and the Nightmare on Elm Street series' gorgeous, genuinely artistic set pieces were replaced with terrible CGI. The film had no scares or thrills. Its cast and characters were wholly unmemorable, aside from Kelly Rowland's cringe-inducing hurling of homophobic epithets at Freddy, which insulted both series' many gay fans. After so many years of anticipation, disappointment was, perhaps, inevitable. The disappointment hit painfully hard.
Friday the 13th (aka the remake, 2009)
The first hour of this film was almost as good as most of the latter Friday sequels. It had some good cheap thrills and some fun kills. It restored Jason as a serious threat and offered a welcome return to the old-school F13 format. Things go awry in the film's final half hour, in which Jason traps some lady in a sewer (Jason does not take hostages! He doesn’t have time for such nonsense!). Also, this entry's 'final guy' couldn't live up to any of the strong female protagonists of previous Friday the 13th films, and actually came across as slightly offensive. One of the series' main points is that women can be heroes, too (a notion sadly missing from most mainstream movies of the last few decades). Also, Mrs. Voorhees blasphemously looked like a young goth girl rather than an all-powerful killing machine matriarch, and she should have had more screen time. Still, as a remake it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (aka Part 5, 1985)
A New Beginning is a great Friday the 13th movie for people who go to slasher sequels because they like character development, and for people who always wanted to see a Friday the 13th movie that didn't include Jason or gore. This movie doesn't have many big fans. And yet, it has a weird charm. The filmmakers get some points for trying something different while still maintaining much of the series' spirit (unlike, say, Jason Goes to Hell). The dynamics among the characters in the halfway house where Tommy Jarvis ends up are intriguing, and Violet's robot dance is a tour de force. The real stars of this movie, however, are Dudley from Diff'rent Strokes (who cares what his character was named, he's Dudley), his pseudo-punk brother, and the brother's stoner girlfriend. Observe this scene of cinema mastery featuring a death in an outhouse and a stunning musical number in the vein of The Real World's "C'mon Be My Baby Tonight."
Jason X (2001)
Ok, so Jason X, sometimes referred to as 'Jason in Space,' is sort of a joke. But it's a great joke. The film's makers knew that audiences loved to hate Jason and cheer him on, and they capitalized on it. As a result, seeing this movie in a rowdy theater offered the kind of fun and interactivity that was sorely lacking from most horror movie-going experiences in the early 2000s. The scene in which the film's protagonists put Jason in a virtual reality machine that emulates Camp Crystal Lake circa 1980 is sheer genius. That said, Jason X left many people missing the series' classic setting, Jason's old look and, most significantly, real scares.
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Audiences were dying to see their beloved Jason again after his absence from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. As a result, Jason gets the hyper-dramatic, James Bond-esque entrance of a lifetime (or, deathtime?) in Jason Lives, and he generally seems like a superhero. Jason's revamped persona makes this entry super fun, but not very scary. Jason Lives has some of the best pacing in the series, and the scene in which a girl gets swiped out of a cabin window leaving only her fuzzy slippers behind is kind of great. However, after the movie's gorgeous, extremely stylish opening sequence, it's disappointing that the rest of the film's visual style is so by the numbers (at the same time, that by the numbers visual style is one of the things that makes the series so oddly charming, so it can be forgiven).
Friday the 13th: Part III (1982)
Most people know Part III because it was shown in theaters in 3-D and Jason finally gets his mask. However, this entry is also one of the most stylish in the series, thanks to its unusually clever, widescreen cinematography. Final girl Chris' face-off with Jason wins the award for most suspenseful and exciting in the series, and her trauma history involving Jason gives it a sense of extra gravitas. The film's random gang members are awesome, although they begin the series' unfortunate tradition that people of color must always get killed. The movie would have been better if Chris and Fox (the no-nonsense female gang leader) had united to kick Jason's ass. The movie's 3-D effects range from lovably stupid to pretty great, and the death-by-eyeball-bulge is a franchise highlight. Finally, sweet dreams are made of the Friday the 13th disco theme that plays over this film's opening credits.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Placing this entry so high on the list will undoubtedly cause controversy, since many fans feel that the series jumped the shark when producers decided to go with the high concept of 'Jason vs. Carrie.' But why isn't the idea of Jason going against a tough, telekinetic teenager extremely awesome? Tina Shepard (played by the great Lar Park Lincoln) is one of the most well-developed characters in the entire series. She blames herself for her father's death, her sleazy psychiatrist preys on her powers by trying to make her believe that she is insane, and her well-meaning mother has extremely terrible hair. It is impossible not to be deeply moved by her plight, and it's really impressive when a Friday the 13th movie manages to be deeply moving. The great, hulking Kane Hodder makes his debut as Jason in this entry, and totally rocks it (as does the awesomely nasty face makeup that lurks beneath his mask!). Tina's telekinetic, furniture-flying faceoff with him at the end is a total blast, highlighted by a severed head in a planter being hurled at Jason and an inordinate number of balloons (which, as we've learned, would terrify Oprah). Also, while fans were justifiably annoyed that the censors cut out most of this entry's graphic violence, the death-by-beating-a-girl-in-a-sleeping-bag-against-a-tree is still iconic.
Friday the 13th: Part II (1981)
Even more than the original, the first Friday sequel really cemented the basic structure for all of the F13 sequels made at Paramount in the 1980s. It benefits from the rickety New Jersey atmosphere present in Part 1 (this was the last Friday the 13th film actually shot on the East Coast, before production moved to Los Angeles). Amy Steel is one of the seminal final girls. You have to appreciate the fact that she's so determined to survive that she'll put on Pamela Voorhees' nasty, bloody, moldy sweater in order to make Jason think that she's his mom.The deaths of Crazy Ralph and Alice are devastating, and F13 II is notable for being the only film in the series to show us one of its final girls in her awesome early '80s apartment, complete with macrame! This kind of subtle character development does not go unnoticed. Finally, Jason reveals himself to be an equal opportunity offender by murdering a guy in a wheelchair.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (aka Part 4, 1984)
Arguably the most iconic Friday the 13th movie. Adult Jason is at his scariest and most intimidating here. Thanks to the return of the great Tom Savini, the film has a ton of awesome, gory murders. For the record, it also features a record amount of nudity. You'll find some of the most fun and likable victims in this entry, as well as the most brilliant dance sequence ever captured on celluloid.
Finally, as Tommy Jarvis, Corey Feldman injects a healthy dose of tragedy into the proceedings. As the film shows Tommy become traumatized by watching his mother and sister get killed and fighting for his own life, it encourages us to understand the pain that turned Jason into a soulless killer. Also, Tommy manages to shave his head insanely cleanly in record time. Mr. Clean could get some tips from him.
Here's all the kills from the movie (WARNING: Graphic deaths!)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Most of the Friday the 13th movies are pretty lovable. However, the original stands head and shoulders above the rest. Even after all these years, it is legitimately really scary. Its documentary-like cinematography, good acting and chilling Harry Manfredini score make you feel like you are living through a seriously crappy night with all of Crystal Lake’s counselors (one of which is played by Kevin Bacon!). Camp Crystal Lake is an ominous setting (one of the creepiest in all of '80s slasher movies), and the movie places the viewer in the middle of a really scary atmosphere (shadows are used to tremendous effect in this film). Finally, crazy, relentless Mrs. Voorhees is scarier than Jason ever managed to be (thanks largely to a brilliant performance by Betsy Palmer), and Jason was never more terrifying than when he jumped out of the lake to get Alice in the film's legendary shock ending.