The blockbuster film franchise Friday the 13th began life as a cheap rip-off of John Carpenter’s Halloween (a fact producer/creator Sean S. Cunningham openly acknowledges). That’s not too surprising. After all, success begets imitation (and Halloween had plenty of imitators).
What is a bit shocking though is just how popular the hockey mask-sporting serial killer has become. Since the release of the 1980 original, Friday the 13th has spawned 10 sequels plus a reboot. According to Box Office Mojo, the series as a whole has scared up north of $821 million at the box office (adjusted for inflation). Add to that the millions more in subsequent home video, merchandising, and video game sales.
All this success has branded Jason Voorhees a pop culture icon and his bloody odyssey a cornerstone of the slasher genre. In lieu of his lucky day, I retrace the footprints of the notoriously unhappy camper and recount his barbarous trail of carnage and dismemberment.
These are all the Friday the 13th films ranked worst to best:
12.) Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Jason Goes to Hell finds itself burred at the very bottom of my list because it ignores everything that came before and plays more like a demon possession flick than a Friday the 13th film. Here Jason gains the ability to transfer his soul between victims after the corner responsible for his remains devours the killer’s still-beating heart. It’s a disgusting gimmick and clearly only exists to set up the inevitable Freddy vs. Jason matchup. One of these things is most certainly not like the others.
Director: Adam Marcus Year: 1993 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $34.2 million Behind the mask: Kane Hodder
11.) Friday the 13th- Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Props to the filmmakers for exploring new territory here (literally) and for trying to keep the franchise fresh on its eighth outing. Unfortunately, that’s where the compliments stop for Friday the 13th- Part VIII. This seventh sequel reeks of a cash grab. Laughably lame kills and the weakest story of the entire series quickly sink any intrigue this follow-up might have bore on the printed page. The movie’s called Jason Takes Manhattan, so why does two-thirds of it take place on a ship in the middle of the ocean? And why does Jason suddenly decide to up and leave his beloved camp? So many unanswered questions!
Director: Robin Hedden Year: 1989 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $34.2 million Behind the mask: Kane Hodder
10.) Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
This is the Season of the Witch of the Friday the 13th films. For those not in the know, the third Halloween movie did not feature the series’ famed shape Michael Myers. Similarly, the masked maniac terrorizing the halfway house in A New Beginning isn’t Jason, at least not the genuine article. It’s admirable of Director Danny Steinmann to want to return the IP back to its POV/mystery roots, but we’ve been there and done that. Ultimately, if you’re a diehard Jason fan then this twist may leave you feeling a bit– ahem– empty on the inside.
Director: Danny Steinmann Year: 1985 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $54.9 million Behind the mask: Dick Wieand, Tom Morga (Dream sequences)
9.) Friday the 13th- Part III
The third Friday the 13th film has a lot going for it. Director Steve Miner is back on board following the superior ‘Part 2.’ The setting is aptly wooded and off the beaten trail. The counselors are a rowdy, horny assortment of personalities. Henry Manfredini introduces his funky take on the theme. Oh, and Jason finally gets his iconic mask. Unfortunately, the film itself is sort of a bore. None of the kills stand out, supposedly “funny” exchanges go on for far too long and do nothing but provide fluff, and the acting is as stiff as a rock Jason would use to bash in their skull.
Director: Steve Miner Year: 1982 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $104.5 million Behind the mask: Richard Brooker
8.) Friday the 13th (2009)
This Friday the 13th reboot is arguably the best constructed film in the series, technically speaking. The makeup is upsettingly realistic and the detailed set design and cinematography recreate the familiar eeriness of Camp Crystal Lake. Outside of that, however, this film does nothing to distinguish itself from the other gritty, soulless 80’s remakes of the 2000s. If anything it adopts from them the unfortunate trend of grounding its villain, which ultimately takes away from them that which made them so scary in the first place.
Director: Marcus Nispel Year: 2009 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $77.4 million Behind the mask: Derek Mears
7.) Jason X
Much like the entire series, Jason X is ridiculous. On the page, the idea of sending Jason Voorhees into outer space reads like a desperate attempt to keep the character relevant (because it is). Thankfully, on screen it’s a bit more fun than that. Director James Isaac cleverly intertwines tropes established by previous ‘Friday’ films with tropes from the sci-fi genre in general. The result is an often uneven but fully enjoyable Frankenstein’s monster of a slasher movie.
Director: James Isaac Year: 2001 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $20 million Behind the mask: Kane Hodder
6.) Freddy vs. Jason
This film was stuck in development hell for over a decade, but as far as this writer is concerned, it was well worth the wait. Though it’s obviously designed to service a highly anticipated fight between two horror juggernauts, Freddy vs. Jason actually provides a compelling story and justification for why such a thing would happen. Up to this point, Jason had had a continuing run of movies (since 1980). On the other hand, it’d been nearly a decade since Freddy had hit the big screen in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. So in a world where people have seemingly forgotten about Krueger, it makes sense that the dream killer would want to be remembered and reviving Jason to do his dirty work is kind of a cool plot incentive as well as a reflection of real life. The story also mixes the two mythologies without one ever overshadowing the other. The characters feel real and the acting is some of the best in either series. Though the actual fight at the end leaves much to be desired, the joy of Freddy vs. Jason is the journey and not its final destination.
Director: Ronny Yu Year: 2003 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $121.8 million Behind the mask: Ken Kirzinger
5.) Friday the 13th (1980)
It might be a Halloween rip-off, but Friday the 13th possess its own unique identity and much of that is thanks to the 1980 original. The gruesome deaths, Harry Manfredini’s hair-raising score, Pamela herself and Kevin Bacon were all introduced in this film. Thanks to Betsy Palmer’s crazed performance, Pamela Voorhees is one of cinema’s most underrated villains. She’s insanely evil, but you completely understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. Though Friday the 13th went another direction with Jason as the killer after 1980, the O.G.’s influence can be felt all the way through and into the remake.
Director: Sean S. Cunningham Year: 1980 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $131.3 million Behind the mask (camera): Betsy Palm
4.) Friday the 13th- Part VII: The New Blood
Jason Voorhees is a supernatural force of nature who punches above the weight class of his promiscuous prey. However, he may finally have met his match come The New Blood in the form of a teenage girl named Tina who possesses telekinetic powers. It’s a fascinating, pulpy premise and the majority of the film plays out like an elevated game of cat vs. mouse. Beneath this film’s campy façade, however, lies a compelling character study about a young girl coming to grips with the fact that her psychic influence caused the death of her abusive father. It’s a powerful conflict and it adds a whole new layer of emotions and stakes for moviegoers, which is something most of the other ‘Friday’s’ lack.
Director: John Carl Buechler Year: 1988 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $41.4 million Behind the mask: Kane Hodder
3.) Friday the 13th- Part II
Then you should know Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees, was the original killer. Jason didn’t show up until the sequel. — Scream (1996)
That’s right. Prior to Friday the 13th- Part II, Jason only existed as a passing reference made by his mother, Pamela, to justify her slaying of the original Crystal Lake counselors. Everything comes full circle this time around as her son returns to the camp where he died, seeking revenge. Director Steve Miner knows this series and in the hands of a lesser talent, the extension of Jason’s mythos here could have come across like a bad joke. Instead, ‘Part 2’ is an unsettling and ballsy addition to the cannon. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sack (still my favorite look for Jason), which is to this day the creepiest thing a mass murderer has put over his face this side of a spray painted Captain Kirk death mask.
Director: Steve Miner Year: 1981 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $69.4 million Behind the mask (sack): Warrington Gillette
2.) Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Had The Final Chapter truly been the swan song for Friday the 13th, the series would have gone out on a high note. The film is sharper and deadlier than those that came before it, as if the filmmakers behind it had perfected the craft of a Jason movie. Legendary special effects artist Tom Savini returns and realizes some of the series’ goriest and most violent kills. The performances are also an improvement, with additions like Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman as Jason’s young nemesis, Tommy Jarvis. And thanks to a nighttime setting and the inclusion of rain (sort of a big deal in this world), The Final Chapter boasts a haunting atmosphere of dread and despair. This movie embodies everything people have come to love (and hate) about the Friday the 13th.
Director: Joseph Zito Year: 1984 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $87.2 MILLION Behind the mask: Ted White
1.) Friday the 13th- Part VI: Jason Lives
Jason Lives is a Friday the 13th film on steroids. It’s everything fans have come to know and love about the franchise turned all the way up to eleven. Director Tom McLoughlin’s installment whole-heartedly embraces the identity of its brand then unabashedly goes hog wild with it, to the point where nothing is without excess. Jason can’t even smash a guy’s face into a tree here without that guy’s face leaving behind a preposterous smiley face dent. This movie exudes that type of joy and it’s full of similarly outrageous kills and self-referential jokes. The characters are a motley crew and the dialogue pops off the screen. Even when Jason is murdering random stragglers, those scenes feel like comedic horror shorts. But it’s not all fun and games. The humor is well balanced with a deadly serious Tommy Jarvis and some truly spooky camp scares. In all, Jason Lives is so much fun that it gives off the impression that Jason enjoys his job.
Director: Tom McLoughlin Year: 1986 Box office (adjusted for inflation): $46.6 million Behind the mask: C.J. Graham
That’s my ranking of all 12 Friday the 13th films! What do you think? Do you disagree on any of these film’s slots? What does your ranking look like? Let me know in the comments below!