The Halloween franchise is arguably the most influential and well-known horror movie genre in history, certainly to Western audiences. Laurie Strode and Michael Myers are two iconic characters and their archetypal battle of good vs. evil has resonated for decades. It still holds up today, and the lore is so deep that even 40 years later, new, interesting pieces are still being added to or revealed about the overarching franchise mythology.
Still, four and a half decades is a long time to keep a franchise going. As with any long-running franchise, there are some incredible highs and some extreme lows in the franchise’s storied history. All movies are very much not created equal in the Halloween series. With the highly-anticipated Halloween Kills about to hit theaters, we thought we’d revisit the franchise by ranking all the Halloween movies. Have a read and let us know how you’d rank them.
11. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
In any decades-long franchise, there’s guaranteed to be at least one movie that’s an absolute dud. Almost as strong a certainty is the fact that at least one movie will be a rushed and cynical cash grab in a poorly conceived attempt to resurrect a limping franchise. Halloween: Resurrection manages to be both. The franchise gained some much-needed momentum in 1998 with the soft reboot Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and then…pretty much immediately squandered it with the very next movie, Halloween: Resurrection.
In an enormously disrespectful move, franchise icon Laurie Strode was killed off in ignominious and bombastic fashion – stabbed and then thrown off a psychiatric hospital roof. It was a slap in the face to the legendary Jamie Lee Curtis. Beyond that, Resurrection‘s explanation for how Michael Myers miraculously escaped being beheaded in the previous movie was, uh, flimsy, to put it mildly; the entire movie struggles not to collapse under the weight of its own nonsensical logic. All you need to know can be summarized in one sentence: “Busta Rhymes does kung fu.” Yes. Yes, he does.
10. Halloween: The Revenge Of Michael Myers (1989)
It was tempting to place Halloween: The Revenge of Michael Myers higher on this list, simply because when you set aside all the – well, literally everything else – Halloween 5 actually has a really fun, throwback slasher vibe. However, that’s about where the positives end, as it’s impossible to get past the rest of this inexplicable movie. The ending of Halloween 4 did something few horror movies do: It was legitimately shocking, with the evil soul of Michael Myers transferring into the body of a little girl, his niece Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), setting her up to be the malevolent villain of the next movie. But Halloween 5 lost its nerve and walked it all back, clearly unwilling to make the bold choice of showing a little girl as a ruthless killer. Instead of being truly evil, Jamie was instead downgraded to merely being a troubled little girl who was suddenly mute. Why was she mute? We may never know. Beyond all the narrative absurdities (are we really meant to believe Michael Myers somehow slept in a farmer’s cabin for a year without anyone noticing?), it also made the head-scratching decision to randomly introduce the “Man in Black” who sprung Michael from jail at the end of the movie and set up the idiotic druidic Cult of Thorn that is famously hated by fans.
9. Halloween II (2009)
It’s not so much that Rob Zombie’s attempted…reboot? sequel? honestly, we can’t even keep track anymore of the Halloween franchise was flat-out awful. They weren’t great, but they weren’t awful. But Halloween II, unfortunately, leans all the way into what clearly interested Rob Zombie most, which happens to be the thing that works least well where the Halloween franchise is concerned, and that’s dissecting what drives Michael Myers. Halloween‘s relentless killer has always been at his most terrifying when he remains inscrutable.
It’s definitely a hard balance to strike for a reboot or remake between not being slavishly devoted to what’s come before and so different as to be unrecognizable. The best manage to be their own thing while still staying true to the spirit and foundational pieces of a franchise. But whew, Rob Zombie looked at fans with his sequel and said, “Look at me! I’m the captain now,” before driving the mythology of the Halloween franchise right into a cliff. It has some interesting ideas that might have worked had they been in any other horror franchise than the one most steeped in mythology and history, such as the idea of madness shared between sister and brother. Unfortunately, some truly terrible performances and zero allegiance to what makes the beloved franchise tick find Rob Zombie’s sequel quicky going off the deep end.
8. Halloween (2007)
Rob Zombie’s first attempted stab (heh) at walking in John Carpenter’s footsteps is next on the list, simply because it has all the same flaws as Halloween II, just to a slightly lesser degree. You have to give Rob Zombie credit for trying to make something wholly unique, but in the case of the Halloween franchise, too unique isn’t necessarily welcome. The urge to give every iconic character a backstory and to ground their actions and character in believable explanations has been a prevailing trend in entertainment in the past 10-15 years. But making the choice to explain Michael Myers by inventing a story of an abusive childhood and then putting far too much emphasis on it really strips the chilling malevolence from the character and renders him just another basic serial killer.
There are some highlights – Brad Dourif and Malcolm McDowell joining the cast was a high point, as well as Danielle Harris reprising her role. Tyler Bates’ score also elevates the iconic music. Ultimately, it was Zombie’s own huge ambitions to put his own distinctive stamp on the franchise that was its undoing, and any bit of promise is completely undone by its unabashedly “gross” nature and the characters being so reprehensible. In the end, Rob Zombie was a little too Rob Zombie.
7. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Is The Curse of Michael Myers a good movie? No. Is it worth it for a fantastically bizarre performance from a young Paul Rudd very early in his career? Actually…yeah, it is. Or at least, it almost is. It’s extremely hard to know where to place this film or how to judge it accurately considering the behind-the-scenes issues that plagued it. The production of Halloween 6 holds something of a special place in Halloween lore for being so infamously troubled. Extensive reshoots that rewrote half the story and removed a whole third-act sequence with Dr. Loomis and tortured editing result in a movie that is a hot mess, a jumble of ideas that never come together, bizarre interjections, and long stretches that make zero narrative sense no matter the mental gymnastics one does. And attributing Michael Myers’ evil to a random cult of druids that look like they belong in a D&D campaign was so brain-breakingly confusing that every subsequent Halloween movie just pretended it never happened.
Still…there are a few elements that almost, almost redeem it. One of those is Paul Rudd’s brilliantly creepy and weird performance as a grown-up Tommy Doyle, the little boy Laurie Strode babysat in the first Halloween and who later grew up to be obsessed with Michael Myers. And it’s worth it to see Donald Pleasence’s final performance as Dr. Loomis; he died just seven months before its release. That places this strange and inexplicable movie in the middle of the pack.
And before you bring it up, no, the “Producer’s Cut” released in 2014 doesn’t fix these issues. It just substitutes them with other equally nonsensical parts.
6. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Here’s where it starts getting really tricky because it’s no longer a clear-cut matter of poorly executed movies, but largely a matter of personal taste depending on what one might be looking for from the Halloween franchise. This one could arguably be a few spots higher, especially if one views it solely in the context of how it’s been reappraised and recontextualized today. It’s a strange little aberration in the Halloween pantheon in that it was initially conceived by John Carpenter as a movie that would launch a spinoff franchise of anthology movies. Thus, Michael Myers is nowhere to be found, which did not go over well with fans at the time, and, in what seemed to be even more of a slap in the face, it didn’t even take place in the same universe, as evidenced by the fact that the original Halloween plays on a TV in the background in one scene.
The plot of an evil corporation hoping to use witchcraft and science to massacre people on Halloween night is a strange one, but fascinating as a standalone work of sci-fi body horror. Its cold, misanthropic tone and truly disturbing imagery may turn some people off – it even crosses the taboo line of kids being killed – but it’s also exactly why others might love it. It’s definitely not a fun slasher, but it’s a wholly unique and strange film that offers some compelling imagery and messaging and would arguably have landed far better with audiences at the time if it had been any other horror movie than one that included “Halloween” in the title.
5. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
Credit where it’s due: Halloween H20 managed to breathe new life into a franchise that had lost its luster by putting a fresh spin on it. After the absurd excesses of Halloween 6, H20 was an attempt to bring the franchise back down to Earth and it did so by making two smart decisions right off the bat: One, it brought back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, and two, it ignored literally everything that had to do with the previous four movies, especially the Cult of Thorn. Essentially, it serves as a direct sequel to Halloween II and in many ways, it really works. It borrowed a page from Scream‘s meta-awareness of itself – in fact, Scream scribe Kevin Williamson was hired to punch up H20‘s script – but that approach already felt a little dated by the time it came out in 1998.
But Halloween H20 is a really satisfying watch, one that packs a lot of nice tension and balances it with a believable and thoughtful take on who Laurie Strode might be 20 years later. Even better, it’s Laurie Strode as a strong and capable protagonist instead of a terrified damsel-in-distress. There are a few genuinely great moments, such as Laurie coming face-to-face with her evil brother after two decades. And, despite Resurrection‘s cringeworthy retcon of the ending of H20, seeing Laurie chop of Michael’s head in a righteous fury is downright cathartic and one of the all-time “stand up and cheer” moments in the entire Halloween franchise.
4. Halloween II (1981)
1981’s Halloween II was a movie that was never supposed to be, one that John Carpenter and Debra Hill found themselves scrambling to create after the original Halloween, which was supposed to be a one-off film, ended up being a monster hit. That’s usually a recipe for disaster, but the duo came up with an ingenious twist that established the basis of Halloween lore from that point on and provided the franchise with the propulsive engine that would prove strong enough to drive it forward for the next few decades. That twist, of course, was the reveal that Laurie Strode was Michael Myers’ sister.
Setting the majority of the movie in a hospital is at times inspired and at others lethargic. It provides some dynamic and tense cinematography in certain scenes while others are rendered inert by the too sterile setting. Even with Rich Rosenthal directing instead of Carpenter, it manages to up the gore and inventiveness of kills from the original Halloween, which was welcome. It also provides some of the more memorable moments in the entire franchise, such as the showdown between the indefatigable Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers. It’s not quite up to the level of the original, but as far as horror movie sequels go, Halloween II is up there with the best.
3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
That said, it’s not Halloween II that holds the higher spot, but Halloween 4. It’s not often that slasher movies are truly bold with their storytelling, but Halloween 4 was that and more. As a movie on its own, it’s not quite as good as Halloween II or Season of the Witch, but as a Halloween movie, it offers a really intriguing twist on the well-trod mythology of horror’s most dysfunctional family. Michael Myers was brought back, much to fans’ relief, but it had hints of what was to come for the next few movies in the form of cheap sequels that didn’t understand what made the Halloween sequel work. And it’s true that Halloween 5‘s retcon may have dimmed some of the shine that Halloween 4 deserves.
Despite that, the movie introduces new heroines to root for in the form of Danielle Harris’ Jamie, a young girl who ends up being Michael Myers’ niece, and Rachel (Ellie Cornell), Jamie’s adoptive sister. It regrounds the franchise in its pure slasher roots, getting back to its foundational building blocks. And the decision to have a little bit of Michael’s evil in his niece is inspired; the imagery of little Jamie in a clown costume and mask holding a bloody knife is almost as iconic as Michael Myers himself. Creepy little girls might exist in horror, but they’re always in the form of ghosts or ones who can see them. Pulling off a shocking ending that indicates that little girl will become an evil serial killer and the antagonist of the next movie is a move more than worthy of applause. It’s that genuinely daring commitment to a devastating ending that puts The Return of Michael Myers in third place on this list.
2. Halloween (2018)
It’s not the most terrifying or horror-steeped of the Halloween movies, not by a long shot, but David Gordon Green’s attempt to revitalize the Halloween franchise is arguably the most like John Carpenter’s 1978 original in all the best ways. Green’s Halloween is more stripped-down and simple than other Halloween sequels, but it wisely ignores literally everything that came before and serves as a direct sequel to Halloween. It’s definitely the most cerebral of the Halloween movies; it has a lot to say about how trauma and its effects are not self-contained things but terrible curses passed down through generations. Laurie Strode is damaged and bitter, as anyone might expect after all she’s endured, and the family dynamic between her, her daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak) centers the movie firmly in a family drama amidst the scares.
There are strains of the Sarah-John Connor relationship from Terminator 2 in Green’s movie. Laurie’s constant state of paranoia may not have been the best way to raise her daughter, but it sure comes in handy when Michael Myers comes for the Strode women and finds them more than ready. There are a number of truly brutal kills in Halloween, and fans who watch the Halloween movies solely for the kills may be disappointed there aren’t more of them in Green’s movie. But the franchise had to evolve to survive, and Green, unlike Zombie, figured out that it was Laurie, not Michael, who deserved a richer story. In doing so, Green and the complicated, prickly women of his movie may have saved the franchise.
1. Halloween (1978)
Of course, no other movie could be #1 on this list other than the original that spawned an entire horror subgenre and countless imitators. Despite over 40 years having passed since it was released, John Carpenter’s Halloween holds up. Its tension is just as electric, its horror just as impactful. The visuals and costumes may be dated, but the simplicity of the predator-prey story ensures that the terror will never dim or grow stale. From the second the first piano notes of the iconic theme song drop, one is immediately on edge no matter how many times they’ve watched it. It’s the simplicity of everything from the theme song to the story that allows Carpenter’s original Halloween to tap into something primal. Michael Myers is unexplained, inexplicable, a relentless force that will not stop, that will not rest, that will never cease in his quest to kill. Unlike most other horror movie killers, there’s no bargaining with him and no conversation that might reveal a weakness. He is as close to fundamental, natural evil as one gets. And as Laurie Strode, a young Jamie Lee Curtis became not just the first and most iconic Final Girl but reframed the idea that the shy, nerdy girl is secretly the coolest one.
On paper, it’s the least daring of Carpenter’s early works: there aren’t any grand action sequences, there’s no complex FX – its monster is dressed in cheap coveralls and a cheaper William Shatner mask painted white – and the cast is minuscule. But it was that streamlined state that allowed Carpenter’s vision to come through so clearly and completely define the slasher genre. Techniques that Carpenter employed, such as seeing through the killer’s eyes and their POV. Other elements that are now so ubiquitous that they’re seen as tropes also started or were perfected in Carpenter’s original, such as absentee parents, the promiscuous or “bad” teens getting killed off first, the Final Girl, and the juxtaposition of boring suburbs and terrifying serial killings. Halloween was the most memorable movie to ever kick off a horror franchise and it’s a distinction it still holds today. It’s ageless, and that’s why it couldn’t have been any movie other than the original that was #1 on this list.
Halloween Kills is in theaters on Friday, October 15.