Unlike his nemesis Freddy Krueger, Jason has never had much of a consistent portrayal on film. Sure, for awhile there it seemed things had changed but now we’re back right where we started, with seemingly another actor taking on the mantle with each movie that comes up. Still, Jason Voorhees is a character who can be played a couple different ways, which is part of the monster’s legacy. Every one of these people ended up adding something to the template that makes Jason Voorhees who he is.
ARI LEHMEN – FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)
Ari played Jason Voorhees in the original Friday the 13th, in flashbacks and in the infamous shock ending that makes the first movie so memorable. His Jason was made up at the last minute to be a mongoloid, something Tom Savini decided on the spot that was never in the original script. As a result, every single entry of the franchise has followed this look.
The part was originally going to be played by director Sean Cunningham’s son, Noel, who would go on to produce some of the latest films in the franchise. However, the boy’s mother completely vetoed the idea of him being submerged in lake water for hours on end.
STEVE DASH – FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2
For years it was believed that Warrington Gillette was the only actor to have played Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part 2, the first film in which Jason is the killer. Years and years after its release it was revealed that not only was Gillette not the only actor to play the part, but he only played Jason in virtually one scene out of the entire movie.
Steve Dash was the stuntman/actor who played Jason in nearly every scene of the movie except the unmasked jump scare at the end. He played an intense, potato-sack wearing Jason and introduced some key elements of the character, like the classic head tilt.
RICHARD BROOKER – FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3D
Sadly, and unexpectedly if I’m to be honest, Richard Brooker is no longer with us. He is what I would call the first of the iconic Jason actors. He is, after all, the first actor to play Jason in the now-classic hockey mask. His Jason is creepy. Most of the movie is spent stalking, but when it comes time to get down to work he is surprisingly intense. Like a living statue, still enough you think it might not be real until it suddenly leaps out and scares the hell out of you.
Brooker’s Jason Voorhees laid a lot of ground work for the films to follow and the model he presented would really only be topped by one person.
TED WHITE – FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER
Ted White hated doing this movie, although he has happily warmed up to it in the years since making the film. Still, that anger and frustration led to one of the most intense Jason performances out of any of the Friday the 13th movies. White was older than any of the actors to play Jason even back when he made the film in 1984, but you couldn’t tell that from his acting here. This is a quick, stealthy, smart killer. You never know when and where he might pop up.
White also brought some emotion to the character, especially at the ending when Jason confronts Tommy Jarvis, who is posing as a version of his younger self. This was pretty much the first time Jason had ever been played with any depth.
TOM MORGA – FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING
While Dick Wieand played Roy in the paramedic sequences, Tom Morga was the man who actually donned the mask and coveralls as the Imposter Jason. Roy was played a little more human, which makes sense. People who think Morga never played Jason, however, are actually wrong.
Jason Voorhees appears as an apparition throughout the movie and Morga plays the character in all of those sequences as well. It’s interesting too, to see someone get to play Jason as a ghost—something that the masked killer has always bordered on being.
CJ GRAHAM – FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES
CJ Graham was awarded the opportunity to play a different kind of Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. While it was always speculated in the earlier films, this Jason was 100% supernatural. A maggoty corpse resurrected by a bolt of lightning, this Jason was the living dead.
This is a more subtle Jason Voorhees, but that doesn’t mean Graham isn’t bringing everything to the role. He’s actually one of the best actors to play the character. This is a force of nature, an entirely different kind of Jason and CJ Graham proved to be the right man for the job to pull it off.
KANE HODDER – FRIDAY THE 13TH 7, 8, 9, X
There is not enough that can be said about everything that Kane Hodder brought to the character and everything that he did for the series. While other actors to play Jason might have taken their work seriously, Hodder was truly, truly passionate about it. He was a fan of all the previous films and leapt at the opportunity to play the character…literally the role of his dreams. Luckily his enthusiasm paid off.
Kane Hodder had a very distinctive style as Jason. Even under all the makeup and the mask you could always tell when it was him playing the character. The head movement, the brisk stride, the intensity and the idle breathing, all things thought up by Hodder on the fly that became signature aspects of his version of Jason. The only actor to play Jason more than once, Kane actually played him four times: from The New Blood all the way up to Jason X. Being one of the biggest supporters of Freddy vs. Jason for over ten years, he naturally thought he’d be the choice for that film as well. But alas, that was not the case.
KEN KIRZINGER – FREDDY VS. JASON
For the first time since 1986, Jason would not be played by Kane Hodder. The producers decided they wanted someone tall and lanky, but still a powerhouse, enough to be a clear physical threat over Freddy. They also wanted someone with “sensitive eyes.” As Kirzinger had both those traits, he got the part. To add insult to injury, Kirzinger had actually played Jason during certain stunt sequences in Part 8, doubling for Kane Hodder.
His Jason is slower, lumbering, more of a Frankenstein Monster sort of creature, which works for what Freddy vs. Jason was going for. He still brings his own when it comes down to the fight sequences and the design of the character for that particular film is actually pretty incredible.
Related: A Good, Fair Fight: Why Freddy vs. Jason is Exactly the Pulpy, Imperfect Movie It Needed to Be
DEREK MEARS – FRIDAY THE 13TH (2009)
Jason had been played a certain way by a lot of actors when the reboot went into production. But the producers and the writers wanted to go in both a new and old direction. They wanted to return to the fierceness of the earlier movies—Brooker and White in particular—while showcasing a survivalist intelligence that had never been seen in Jason before. Once again, the role would go to an avid fan of the franchise. Stuntman and actor Derek Mears took the role with incredible enthusiasm and made it his own.
Derek Mears’ Jason is quick, intense, shockingly brutal and ghoulishly, unexpectedly smart. At the same time, Mears—being such a huge fan—used a lot of traits from other Jason actors when it felt appropriate as a nod to the fans. In his new portrayal, he would still include the head tilt, or the Kane Hodder breathing. This devotion to the character really makes me hope he gets offered a second go-round in the hockey mask. He did wonderfully the first time.
*Updated March 5, 2020