The Best and Worst of The Friday The 13th Franchise

What Jason Films Are Worth Your Time

The Best and Worst of The Friday The 13th Franchise

Happy Friday The 13th everyone! You know, that semi-holiday that we all kind of acknowledge. A day dedicated to bad luck that hits the calendar entirely by chance once or twice a year. Why do we care? Aside from the overly superstitious, who the hell knows?! However, there is one reason to celebrate this weird holiday: it shares a name with arguably the most iconic slasher movie series of the 1980s (aka the decade when masked cinematic serial killers ruled the screens).

It’s never entirely been clear why the film franchise has this title. Well, at least not narratively.  After Halloween was a massive hit, producer, writer, director and charlatan Sean Cunningham (Last House On The Left) knew that there was money to be made in ripping it off with a slasher movie named after that other creepy holiday. He made a poster before writing a script, quickly gathered the money, and then neither he nor anyone else involved in the franchise bothered to justify the title.

Hey, that’s just the ramshackle charm of Friday The 13th. There isn’t a single title in these twelve movie series that could be described as a masterpiece. They are all trash (some better or more knowing than others, but all trash nonetheless). That’s why we love them and why they endure.

Sure, other slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, or Scream have more brains or historical importance. Yet, that’s not why people loved slasher movies in the VHS era. They wanted trashy fun. Gore, boobs, and laughs (the latter quality rarely intended by the filmmakers) and that’s exactly what they got out of the Friday The 13th flicks, for better or worse.

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

So, now that this special unlucky day has popped up on our calendars once more, we here at CGM have decided to do a ranking of the entire franchise. For the sake of simplicity, we’re sticking to the movies. So don’t expect video games, comics, or the barely-related TV series to pop up. However, all the sequels, remakes, n’ spin-offs appear from worst to best. Before you get pissy about your favourite flick ranking too low, just remember that terms like “best” and “worst” are relative here.

Even the lowest-ranking flick on this list has its cornball beer-watching/heckling charms and the highest-ranking one doesn’t exactly qualify as art. The convoluted tale of Jason Voorhees is one written in gore and cheese. We love ‘em all in their own crappy ways. So before a new Jason game and the 13th film in the series (god-willing let it be Black Friday The 13th, a tale of Jason cutting loose on a mall full of overzealous holiday shoppers) hit shelves in the coming year, let’s take a look back at the wonderfully cornball legacy of a boy, his mother, a machete, and a hockey mask.

12) Jason X (2001)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

Yep, the one where Jason goes to space. He wasn’t the only slasher to get there. The Leprechaun and Pinhead also made their own journeys into space. But Jason’s trip was a weird one. It was the first Friday The 13th movie made in almost a decade and a disappointment to fans since they had been awaiting a Freddy Vs. Jason flick that was still to come. The film only grossed $16.9 million at the box office, one of the lowest in the series.

The film was conceived by Todd Farmer, who plays “Dallas” in the film. Farmer considered various new settings for Jason before settling on and pitching the space slasher concept modelled on Alien. Development began in the late 1990s while Freddy vs. Jason was stalled. With that film not moving forward, the producers decided to make another Friday the 13th, to keep audience interest alive.

Sure, there are some good moments: two great kills, one great joke, and an inexplicable David Cronenberg cameo. Yet, for the most part, it’s a misfire, especially when Mr. Voorhees turns into a metallic space Jason that no one asked for. It is undeniably the weakest slasher flick in the franchise, yet at the same time is every bit as laughable and ironically entertaining as you’d hope a Jason Goes To Space movie might be. So it could be worse.

11) Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

After years away from his most famous creation, producer Sean Cunningham finally regained control over Jason Voorhees, but not the title Friday The 13th in the early 90s. His big idea? Kill off Jason. So that’s what he did. In the first scene of Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (admittedly, it’s a hell of an opening), Jason is blown to pieces by the FBI.

After that, Jason Goes To Hell turns into an oddball demonic body horror slasher as the spirit of Jason possesses various folks via a worm-like parasite that emerges from his undead heart. This parasite can transfer Jason’s soul from one body to the next by inserting itself into the victim’s mouth.

Yep, it doesn’t make a lick of sense and barely even feels like a Friday The 13th movie. But it does have that fantastic Jason death scene and some of the most disgusting gore in the series (provided that you get your eyeballs on the unrated version that’s yet to make it to Blu-ray). So, it could be worse.

Plus, there’s that MCU-esque end credits tease where Freddy Krueger’s glove grabs Jason’s mask to set up a crossover battle that took ten years to hit screens. While Jason is only present in spirit for most of the film, it does continue the franchise by finding new ways for him to resurrect. Jason Goes To Hell brings some creative ideas to the franchise, even if the execution is flawed. It may not feel much like a Friday the 13th film, but does provide fans with some memorable moments.

10) Friday The 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Take a look at that trailer for Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. The trailer makes the film seem absolutely fantastic, doesn’t it? It gets you excited for a movie featuring Jason rampaging through the streets of New York, violently murdering the locals. Unfortunately, the actual film does not deliver on the promise of its thrilling trailer. Due to budget limitations, the majority of the movie takes place on a boat with Jason slaying a group of teenagers, and only the final act actually takes place in New York City.

As a kid, I was incredibly disappointed that the movie did not match the trailer’s depiction of Jason let loose in Manhattan. The trailer got my hopes up for an epic Jason vs New York movie, so having most of the film set on a cramped boat felt like false advertising. Even as an adult, I still have not gotten over my disappointment with how misleading the trailer was.

That being said, the final act of the movie, set in New York, is pretty great. It features one of the best kills in the entire Friday the 13th franchise – Jason uppercutting someone’s head off. The New York scenes also have some hilarious unintentional comedy moments. While the movie as a whole suffers from failing to deliver on its trailer’s promise, it could certainly be worse.

Kane Hodder is in top form as Jason, and the New York finale makes for a fun slasher spectacle. Friday the 13th Part VIII is still better than the previous two lacklustre sequels on this list, even if it could not completely satisfy my childhood dreams of seeing Jason let loose in the Big Apple.

9) Friday The 13th (2009)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

The typical opinion is that Marcus Nispel’s 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was garbage and deservedly bombed at the box office. However, that’s not entirely the case. Nispel and his writers clearly loved the Texas Chainsaw franchise much more than those responsible for many of the sequels. They had a lot of fun bringing Jason back in this remake.

The opening scene that remakes the first two movies before the title card is a blast of gory fun. The basic teens-getting-slaughtered plot that follows is executed with some tongue-in-cheek humour. Sure, the attempt to humanize Jason was deeply unnecessary, and the gore and nudity should have been more gratuitous given the Saw era it was released in. However, this remake holds up much better than it should.

Platinum Dunes’s remake is far better than it had any right to be, given the typically low quality of slasher remakes. It’s a good thing this remake didn’t spawn a series of increasingly unnecessary sequels. At least it’s far superior to most other Platinum Dunes remakes. Nispel and the writers clearly had reverence for the source material. They brought back Jason with a lot of love. The opening remake of the first two films shows their fandom.

While the humanization of Jason was a mistake, and it could have gone further with the gore, it’s still a fun, tongue-in-cheek revival of the franchise. It may not have done well at the box office, but this remake is far better than its reputation suggests. For a Platinum Dunes slasher remake, it shows a lot of spirit and is a bloody good time overall.

8) Friday The 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning is often regarded as the worst entry in the popular horror film franchise. This installment undid the seemingly conclusive ending of the previous film, The Final Chapter, despite its misleading title. Additionally, the infamous villain Jason Voorhees is not actually featured in A New Beginning, further angering fans.

These complaints about the film are certainly valid – A New Beginning is a poorly executed movie on many levels. However, the film’s sheer ineptitude also makes it entertaining in a comedic way. For viewers looking for a Friday the 13th movie to laugh at over some beers, A New Beginning is a great choice.

With Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning boasting the highest body count of kills in the series, the movie embraces excessive violence and gore. The film was directed by Danny Steinmann, who had only previously worked on softcore pornography.

After being rejected by more experienced horror directors, Steinmann was given the job by the studio despite his lack of qualifications. He never directed another film after Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, indicating the studio realized their mistake in hiring him. Every aspect of the film, from the story to the acting to the dialogue, comes across as an absolute mess.

However, this incompetence is part of what makes the movie so hilarious to watch. The sheer absurdity of the film evokes nonstop laughter. Embracing the ridiculous and silly nature of the franchise, A New Beginning provides a wildly entertaining experience for viewers seeking a so-bad-it’s-good Friday the 13th movie.

7) Friday The 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

Unfortunately, The New Blood was completely demolished by the MPAA, who wanted to make a point about this franchise being too violent. That’s a shame because it’s got some great kills, even though they are cut up to shreds. However, the flick also features the finest Jason, Kane Hodder, in the best-rotting corpse Jason costume. So that’s pretty great. Plus, it’s essentially Carrie Vs. Jason forcing the hulking killer to fight a troubled teen with psychic powers.

The production values are high(ish), the effects are strong, the pacing is relentless, and it’s just as stupid and silly as you’d hope the seventh movie in this absurd series would be. God willing, there will one day be a director’s cut of this flick with all the gore intact. If that happens, it could rank even higher on this list. Until then, this is still the best Kane Hodder Jason flick, and that still qualifies as one worth shoving into your eyeholes.

6) Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

After a decade of endlessly waiting, fans finally got a chance to see Freddy Krueger and Jason fight in the summer of 2003. The resulting film was a crowd-pleaser and remains the biggest money-maker in either franchise, yet somehow remains curiously underrated. People seem to speak of Freddy Vs. Jason as a disappointment now, and I just don’t get it. Sure, every character other than the iconic slashers is pretty dull and perfunctory, but honestly, what else could possibly have happened?

The good news is that Hong Kong director Ronny Yu knew exactly how to handle Jason and Freddy, especially in the final 20-minute battle royale. That is the stuff that horror movie nerd dreams are made of. This flick is pure dumb fun and probably the best movie that ever could have been made with the title Freddy Vs. Jason. It was never going to be high-art people, but at least it was entertaining.

5) Friday The 13th Part 3 (1982)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

When it comes to things like writing, acting, and pacing, Friday The 13th is one of the weakest entries in this franchise. Thankfully, those aren’t exactly the qualities that folks come to a Jason flick for. Director Steve Miner delivered a collection of hilariously elaborate and gory death scenes in cinemascope here that are bloody fantastic. Even better, they were all shot in gloriously gimmicky 3D with eyeballs, pointy objects, and yo-yos flying towards the camera in hilarious ways.

In 3D, it’s a treat. In 2D, it’s like an SCTV sketch brought to life. Plus, this is the movie that introduced the iconic hockey mask. That’s important. And this was the film that finally moved E.T. off the number 1 slot in the box office after both The Thing and Blade Runner failed in that task in the summer of 82. Yep, people sure are stupid.

4) Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

In many ways, Friday The 13th Part 2 is actually better than the original. Baghead Jason is pretty frightening. Steve Miner did a far better job mounting suspense and kill scenes that Sean Cunningham. The atmosphere is strong. The acting actually isn’t horrible. And best of all, the last 20 minutes are genuinely thrilling in a dumb-dumb horror movie way.

It’s just not as iconic and lacks Kevin Bacon. So the sequel ranks slightly lower than the original. But honestly, this is one of the best movies in the whole series, which is probably why Paramount decided to keep cranking out sequels for the rest of the 80s. This is the movie that proved the franchise had legs, for better or worse.

3) Friday The 13th (1980)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

Normally, these franchise-ranking articles always have the original movie at the top of the heap. Generally speaking, it’s a pop culture masterpiece that spawns a never-ending series of sequels. Not Friday The 13th. Sure, the original movie is incredibly important as it cemented all the slasher movie tropes, was the first indie slasher to get picked up by a Hollywood studio, established one of the best horror score themes of all time, showcased some ground-breaking gore effects by Tom Savini, and featured a final jump scare that was one of the finest in genre history.

However, beyond that, it’s a remarkably average slasher flick that worked primarily because of all the tricks Sean Cunningham stole from Halloween and Meatballs. Friday The 13th is still pretty damn fun, it just shouldn’t be the first movie in the series that you reach for. Betsy Palmer is great, but she’s no Jason, ya know?

2) Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is considered by many fans to be the quintessential Friday the 13th movie. When people think of a Friday film, this is the one that often comes to mind. Executed with an impressive $2.2 million budget by director Joseph Zito, known for trashy action flicks like Invasion U.S.A., this 1984 sequel cranks the franchise tropes up to 11 and cements Jason Voorhees as a massive, unstoppable force and horror icon.

The film brings back all the elements audiences loved from the previous installments but executes them with more polish and higher production values. Zito keeps the pace fast and the action intense, while upping the gore factor considerably thanks to the return of special effects wizard Tom Savini. Savini helped create Jason in the original film and came back to Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, eager to kill off his creation in over-the-top fashion.

The movie also features a welcome ensemble cast, including Corey Feldman as young Tommy Jarvis, the kid who manages to stop Jason (temporarily, at least), and Crispin Glover dancing his way to pop culture infamy as the gangly, awkward Jimmy. Add in copious nudity, creative kills, and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, and you’ve got a beloved cult slasher flick that still delivers the goods for horror fans over 30 years later.

While lacking much in the way of plot or complex characters, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter succeeds as pure guilty pleasure entertainment. It blends laughs and scares seamlessly, providing a fun rollercoaster ride for viewers looking for a healthy dose of silly ’80s horror hijinks. The film moves briskly through its 91-minute running time, bombarding the audience with one over-the-top set piece after another.

Though marketed as the concluding chapter, the movie’s success inevitably spawned numerous sequels of diminishing returns. Yet Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter remains a high point for the franchise – the platonic ideal of a Friday the 13th film that strikes the perfect balance between camp and carnage. For many horror aficionados, a screening of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is an annual tradition, invoking fond memories of experiencing Jason Voorhees in all his gory glory in the golden age of slashers.

1) Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

The Best And Worst Of The Friday The 13Th Franchise

Finally, we come to easily the best Friday The 13th movie ever made. Writer/director Tom McLoughlin wasn’t particularly a fan of the franchise when he accepted the gig to make Jason Lives. He didn’t really like slasher flicks. He was more of a monster movie guy. So McLoughlin slyly transformed Jason into the walking zombie corpse that we all know and love.

Even better, McLoughlin recognized that cornball appeal of the series that had audiences giggling through the five previous dumbo movies and decided to play into those campy laughs. Jason Lives is a straight-up horror/comedy that mocks slasher movie conventions a decade before Scream made that trendy. Toss in some genuinely effective suspense sequences, and you’ve got the platonic ideal of a Friday The 13th movie.

This flick is a relentlessly entertaining slice of 80s horror cheese that is completely self-aware about all the dumb tricks that it pulls on audiences. McLoughlin’s movie likely would have been a critical success were it not for the fact that it was the sixth movie in a series that most critics wrote off long before it was released. Even now, the flick doesn’t get the respect it deserves, because those who would appreciate it the most likely gave up on the franchise a few sequels earlier.

The movie deserves rediscovery and appreciation, though. If you only ever watch one movie from the Friday The 13th series, make it Jason Lives. By the time it’s over, you might even think that this is a secretly clever franchise. You’d be wrong, but at least that’s true of one Friday The 13th movie, even if it took six tries to get there.

Phil Brown
Phil Brown

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