Friday the 13th is the go-to when people think of the typical slasher franchise. It’s got the traditional, silent, masked villain. It’s got the standard slasher formula. But what people tend not to think about is how often the series has inverted that formula, sometimes in fresh and successful ways. Jason has been to more exotic and interesting locales than most of his contemporaries.
In terms of actually being able to sit down and watch a marathon of the entire series, Friday the 13th is one of the strongest simply because there are so many outlandish and weird installments. At the same time, there’s a great balance because you still get that standard formula that you’re hopefully looking for if you’ve chosen to watch this series.
It’s a diverse franchise, and that includes the quality. There are some high highs and low lows, but each is interesting enough that every entry in the series is still worth it. Each stands on its own so that even the bad ones are worth a watch. Below are the five best and five worst entries in the Friday the 13th franchise!
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
To me, The Final Chapter is the epitome of what a Friday the 13th film should be. It’s the formula perfected. It’s the most atmospheric entry in the series, but it’s also one of the funniest. It has great kills, but also characters that you can care about. The cast of teens in this movie could easily have been the stars of their own ‘80s comedy. You’re legitimately interested in these characters, which makes it so much more impactful when they start to get killed off. Watching it for the first time as a kid, it was amazing for me to see someone my age as the one to ultimately put Jason down. All this, plus you have Ted White’s fierce performance as Jason. All the right elements come together to make this one the best of the series.
Jason Lives is one of my favorite horror comedies of the 1980’s, which was a terrific decade for horror comedies in general, so that’s saying something. It’s a smart, witty script and feels like a way more expensive feature than it actually is. But what really sells me on it is the fact that while the movie is so funny and quick to point out the tropes of the series, Jason himself is treated with total respect. In fact, this is as scary as Jason’s ever been. There are some truly sinister shots, all spectacularly laid out by director Tom McLoughlin. A lot of fans cite this as the beginning of a downturn for the series with its introduction of a more supernatural Jason, but it’s a direction that makes sense and works perfectly for this particular film. Plus, those same same the same thing about A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.
Friday the 13th Part 2
Friday the 13th Part 2 is basically the original movie done better. For everything Cunningham’s film did for the genre, it had some structural problems, especially in regards to its killer. Part 2 doesn’t make much sense for the continuity of the franchise as a whole, but just as a follow-up to the original, it’s excellent. It’s scarier. The kills are better. It has a great opening sequence that injects a little bit of dark humor into the proceedings. Plus, you have the introduction of Jason as the central villain, and what an introduction it is. The burlap sack didn’t stick around for very long, but it was definitely a great look for this entry.
Friday the 13th
This is probably the only franchise where you’d find the original movie being ranked fourth. And it’s not that Friday the 13th is anywhere near a bad slasher. I hated it as a kid because Jason wasn’t the killer and I somehow felt cheated. But since then I’ve been more open-minded in my viewings and I can see why it was such a huge success. It spawned a massive franchise and kicked off the slasher boom of the early ‘80s. It’s full of suspense. Harry Manfredini’s score and Tom Savini’s unbelievable gore effects are the stars of the show until Betsy Palmer shows up as Mrs. Voorhees. She gives us a complicated, scary, sympathetic villain all in the span of about ten minutes.
Friday the 13th Part III
There’s so much to love about Part III, but it doesn’t rank closer to the top for me simply because The Final Chapter is a slightly better version of the same basic story. I hold Part III very close in my rankings to the underrated Part V—which I think wins in terms of great, zany characters—but Part III edges it out because it marks the introduction of the hockey mask. Also, you have Richard Brooker coming in and cementing Jason as an icon in this one. And, you have great side-characters like the oafish Shelley and the stoners Chuck and Chili, who would all become slasher tropes of their own. The 3D effects don’t translate well to 2D, but it still contains some of the best kills in the series.
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
Fifth from the bottom is not actually a terrible place to be in a series this entertaining. I think Jason Goes to Hell happens to be a really underrated entry, but I understand the complaint that it is so different from the series norm that it’s hard to place it within the franchise. There’s not a lot of classic Jason, which can be off-putting for many, but I think the opening is totally unexpected and makes way for a triumphant return for Jason at the end. At the end of the day, it’s good, but not as good at delivering the classic expectations of a Friday the 13th film as the previous entries on this list.
Freddy vs. Jason
In terms of finally delivering on the long-promised matchup of the title, Freddy vs. Jason is fantastic. It manages to set up a world in which both characters can exist without drawing too much attention to it, eventually leading to a spectacular showdown between the two iconic monsters. The problem is that there’s a lot of movie surrounding those fight scenes, most of which is not so great. While Shannon and Swift’s original draft is actually quite good, heavy rewrites cut it down and—frankly—dumbed it down under the expectation that the audience would not be smart enough to get it. So the film winds up explaining itself about every ten minutes, under the belief you’d forgotten the entire plot between those intervals.
Friday the 13th (2009)
I enjoyed the reboot. In fact, seeing it opening night in college in a packed theater on Friday the 13th was absolutely the perfect way to do it and is absolutely a memory I will cherish. But it’s still not as memorable a film as most of the features that preceded it. Derek Mears makes for one of the best Jasons we’ve ever had, for sure, but he’s also the most interesting character in the movie. There could have been a better way to handle that, like really taking the time to establish who these characters were, or at least giving us a little more information about them. Instead, we’re treated to the slaughtering of two entirely separate casts, which makes for plenty of carnage but is really jarring.
Jason X doesn’t hit absolute bottom because it’s intimately aware that it’s Jason X. The self-awareness was added late in the game, but ultimately helped make it an easier pill to swallow once the movie just wound up so different from what was initially envisioned. Bad or good, this is a ridiculously entertaining entry with some absolutely great kills and bizarre sequences that just make it all the more fun. The fact that a feature like this has a cameo by David Cronenberg, one of the best directors of all time, only adds to the fun. These elements are, ultimately, what keep it from being at the bottom of the list.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
I’d say that Jason isn’t the problem in this. I would say that he’s actually pretty great. But that’s true for all of the Friday sequels. Jason’s always just fine. It’s the movie around him that’s the problem and, in this case, what a problem it is. Jason Takes Manhattan is a mess from top to bottom. It’s got a few nice self-referential moments of humor, but it’s not consistent with them. The tone wavers between serious horror, comedy and drama at the drop of a hat. It’s the only entry that doesn’t deliver on the promise of its title. 75% of it takes place on a cruise ship. But even then, if the characters were nearly as fun as they’d been in entries like 2, 4 or 5, I wouldn’t mind half as much. Instead, they’re mostly just kind of there. Which makes it even more off-putting when most of the kills are so weirdly mean spirited compared to other Friday flicks.