Every Friday the 13th Movie Ranked
by Jason F. Koenigsberg
It’s October! The month of Halloween and the best excuse to sit back, watch the leaves change during the day and watch horror movies at night. One iconic horror franchise that has remained dormant for almost a decade is Friday the 13th. It’s killer Jason Voorhees emerged from the 80’s along with Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers as icons of the slasher genre. Friday the 13th is often derided as being lesser than the franchises of Freddy and Michael Myers since A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was directed by horror meister Wes Craven, and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is largely considered one of the best horror movies ever made. Sean S. Cunningham openly admitted to his film Friday the 13th (1980) is a Halloween clone, so the fact that it felt derivative was on purpose. Fortunately for us it did contain some effective thrills and fortunately for the filmmakers and Paramount and New Line it became one of the biggest and longest lasting horror franchises in history.
Never receiving the critical acclaim or respect other horror movies have obtained, Friday the 13th kept coming back for more just like its giant mute serial killer Jason Voorhees. Unlike most of the other horror series’ made in the 1980’s, Friday the 13th was perfectly content making the same movie over and over again. They never really tried to be different which made this series happy comfort food to horror fans. Some Halloween movies after the original were good, some were not. Most Nightmare on Elm Street sequels sucked, but some were alright. At least those movies were trying for something different each time. Friday the 13th was not interested in that. They were just giving the audience what they paid for. So to rank them it became which movie versions delivered the goods the best stylistically.
We have not seen Jason hacking horny camp counselors in nearly a decade, since the 2009 Friday the 13th remake to be precise. This October has a Friday the 13th on the calendar so it would have been the perfect time to rejuvenate this beloved horror franchise. Such a missed opportunity but in the meantime we have 12 movies to enjoy watching the simple but very successful slasher formula that has provided laughs, scares and a unique sense of enjoyment for over 37 years. Below is my opinion of all 12 Friday the 13th movies from worst to best.
12. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Not usually considered the worst especially with the movie that comes right after it in the series, however I would rank this the worst because it is by far the least memorable. With a title that contains the word ‘blood’ in it, there is surprisingly very little blood in The New Blood. Allegedly the MPAA forced the filmmakers to make so many cuts to earn its R-rating that a lot of the best moments were either eliminated entirely or so heavily trimmed they lost their edge. The whole plot of its survivor girl being a poor man’s Carrie does not work either. I would love to see an unrated version of this, but since one does not exist, this is the worst Friday of the series.
11. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
This movie is usually regarded as the worst of the series and with good reason, it is so awesomely bad it has to be seen to even be believed. First of all, the title is a blatant lie. It should be called Jason Takes a Cruise Ship and ends up in Vancouver for the last 20 minutes. There are a couple shots of him in Times Square but allegedly because of budgetary restrictions they had to keep Jason on that boat for so long. Plus, what’s with the Roman numerals at this point? Are they really trying to make this ridiculous horror series seem classy? What also bothers me the most about the title is the premise. Jason and these teenagers are taking a boat from Camp Crystal Lake to Manhattan. Now I know the series is meant to take place in New Jersey, but it is called Crystal LAKE! A lake is a body of water surrounded by land! This concept defies basic geography. I did not think you had to be a cartographer to realize that. All of this could have been forgiven except the movie is absolute crap. The kills are bad, the acting is worse than usual for these films and there is zero suspense at any moment. The only saving grace for this entry is that is does have replay value simply because it is so bad, its kind of good as a guilty pleasure as many of the best in this series are.
10. Jason X (2002)
The first Jason movie of the 21st century fittingly takes Jason Voorhees into space. They did it with Critters, Leprechaun and Hellraiser, why not send this ludicrous franchise into the distant future as well. What makes Jason X stand out from some of the other entries is that this one was trying to be silly. This formula works sometimes, and other times it fails to capture that guilty pleasure feel. The best bad movies are the ones that are trying not to be bad and actually think they are making something noble. When a movie knows its going to be garbage, bargain bin DVD’s from the get-go, it loses the quality that makes it so much fun and campy. Some of the kills are good, some are terrible and the acting is really bad, but unlike Manhattan, here it is bad on purpose. So pick your poison. I prefer train wrecks as bad movies rather than tongue in cheek attempts at making a camp classic. But at least Jason X is competently directed, shot and edited with some very cheap space sets, and the change of pace while very silly was kind of nice than the usual forest setting, but a lot less menacing. Even Jason made up all futuristic and sci-fi looked just embarrassing and funny more than threatening.
9. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
A quick cash grab sequel on the phenomenon that the first film created a year earlier. They were not really trying too hard to be anything but more of the same. The only difference was that instead of the killer being Jason’s mother, we actually know that it is Jason himself for the first time really adding up a body count of teenagers with too much free time on their hands. He is still not the iconic hockey mask wearing killer we know. Jason is condemned to wear a lousy potato sack over his head with one eye hole. Plus Part 2 is really plodding at times, we know where it is going and it is boring taking us there. There are a few scary kills and a number of moments that make no sense. The teapot at the beginning has always confused me no matter how many times I see it. It has a few scary moments, but remains one of the weaker entries of the series.
8. Friday the 13th Part 3 (1982)
The producers jumped on the 3D fad and it pretty much failed, especially on home video when you watch it on 2D and can tell where they were trying desperately to have images pop out at the audience. Even those moments that were gimmicky were too schlocky to be good. A missed opportunity with the technology and a missed opportunity with the plot, which was basically a retread of the first two films. This was a moment where the filmmakers could have delved into something different, but they were only interested in killing horny teenagers in the woods and some oblivious adults get killed along the way too. But this is where Jason gets his iconic mask and we get some really good clear shots of him in daylight without his mask running towards the final girl. Some of the kills work, some of the scares are effective, Part 3 is good, even though it could have been much better.
7. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
The most anticipated film of the entire series that took over a decade to get made with various false starts, script changes, and directors leaving production. When the ultimate slasher showdown of the two biggest 80’s horror icons was released in the summer of 2003, most people felt apathetic about the final product. I for one enjoyed it immensely. This was the self-aware campy style that Jason X failed to deliver. There are a lot of things wrong with Freddy vs.Jason, the night rave in the cornfield, the pathetic Jason Mewes wannabe, Jason’s plot contrivance fear of water that comes out of nowhere. But the fights and the kills are good, almost too good. This is the biggest budgeted and most polished Jason film. It also marks the first time that an auteur, or somewhat big name director, Ronny Yu, helmed a Jason picture. The Nightmare on Elm Street movies were known for having notable directors, Friday the 13th always went cheap and in house with their directors, only Steve Miner who directed Parts 2 and 3 would go on to have some semblance of a respectable career directing movies and television. People hate this movie, or love to hate it, but I have always had Freddy vs. Jason‘s back. It delivered what I wanted, did not exceed expectations but certainly gave what the best films of this franchise have.
6. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
This is probably the film most maligned in series other than Manhattan. The main reason is because this is the only Friday the 13th with no Jason. Even the first one had at least one shot of him in the movies most memorable scene. Here the killer is someone completely different and unrelated to anything else in the series or even the story of this film. It is the badly written middle child of the Tommy Jarvis trilogy of Friday the 13th films. Although part 5 is sandwiched between two vastly superior films both involving Tommy Jarvis, A New Beginning does have its charms that make it worthwhile. The women are gorgeous, especially Debbie Sue Voorhees (that’s her real name) and a lot of the kills are gruesome and fun. Some of the redneck humor works even though the acting is downright terrible. It’s script is just laughably ridiculous, but so are most of these. Part 5 delivers the blood, sex, and thrills very well, and that’s really all there is in most of these films. The lone difference being that there is no Jason, although the ending hints that Tommy Jarvis will take over as the new Jason-type killer at Crystal Lake, but that never happened.
5. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Like Freddy vs. Jason, this is another one of the most divisive films in the entire series. Also much like Freddy vs. Jason, this ninth Friday entry has the best production value up to this point of the series. Many people point to when New Line bought the rights to Jason as major decline in the Friday the 13th series. But I’ll take any of the New Line Jason movies over the last two Paramount movies New Blood and Manhattan. This was the first one they made and it has a very different feel from the previous eight. One of the biggest criticisms is that there is hardly any Jason. He dies in the opening scene which is a cool shoot out but defies all logic because the SWAT team is in a circle and if anyone missed they’d have shot one of their own. It is an interesting premise of Jason’s soul getting passed to different people and Steve Williams is really good as Creighton Duke, the man obsessed with finding and killing Jason once and for all. Plus, the polished look of Jason Goes to Hell means that the kills and gore look flashier and better than ever before. The unrated version is especially good in this department, making the R-rated unwatchable after you notice where it was censored. Of course this is the one that has the famous ending featuring Freddy’s arm dragging Jason’s hockey mask into the ground, hinting at a Freddy and Jason match up that would not happen until ten years later.
4. Friday the 13th (2009)
The remake that was meant to be a reboot to the franchise for millennials that just never took off. I for one do not understand why. Much like Freddy vs. Jason, this movie delivers exactly what one should want and expect from a Friday the 13th movie. This is also a great looking remake, directed by Marcus Nispel who helmed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake from 2003 and directed plenty of music videos prior to this. I suppose it should lose points for not being scary and knowing what is going to happen right before it does, but that could be said for almost all of these movies. The girls are great, there is an actual brother/sister story at the heart of the film and the kills look as polished as ever. A shame this movie did not find a wider audience and the studio had no faith in it, this is one of the best Friday movies.
3. Friday the 13th (1980)
The one that started it all, well at least started this franchise. It is not as well made or influential as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) or Halloween (1978) yet somehow this by the numbers slasher film has had every bit as large of an impact on pop culture as any other horror series. This is a seriously flawed film despite the legacy it created. I do not think there has been another film where the character that is the killer is not revealed until the final act. Betsy Palmer is terrific as Mrs. Voorhees, the mother hell bent on revenge for the counselors that were, ahem, distracted instead of watching her son Jason when he drowned. The big final scare at the end with Jason coming out of the water and Harry Manfredini’s score are outstanding moments and make up for a lot of the flaws early on. No doubt about it, the original Friday the 13th is an effective little slasher movie. It is not creative or particularly well directed other than the scares, but that’s what people want the most from a horror movie.
2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Rarely is a fourth installment in a franchise better than the three that came before it, but Friday the 13th is not like most movie franchises and the fourth film, The Final Chapter, is better than its predecessors and is arguably the best of the entire series. This movie is so good, unlike Part 8, I do not even mind that the title is a blatant lie. It is probably no coincidence that this is the film that contained the most nudity and gore up to this point. The Final Chapter delivers both suspenseful thrills and works great as a guilty pleasure. It gives the audience everything they want and expect from a Friday the 13th movie and works perfectly. So many moments to savor in this installment, the twins, the girl on the raft, the kills are just the right amount of gruesome, and let’s not forget Crispin Glover’s dance moves. It’s funny, it’s scary and it introduces us to Corey Feldman as Tommy Jarvis who would go on to be vital to the franchises next three films. Critics hated it, as they did most Friday the 13th‘s especially Roger Ebert who called it reprehensible trash. However that is what makes these movies what they are. This works great and would have been the best if not for…
1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
The best Friday the 13th is also the most clever and fun and manages to pack in a lot of scares. It gives Tommy Jarvis’ character a full arc as the hero. Jason is not secluded to the shadows in this film he is front and center right from the pre-credits sequence where he is rudely awakened from his grave. It has a fantastic James Bond gun barrel homage in Jason’s eyeball. Instead of firing a pistol he walks in from the side of the screen and slashes the camera with his signature machete. This movie has everything and works even better than the horror and humor from any previous entry. Plus, the Alice Cooper songs on the soundtrack and the way they use them in the movie are perfect. As much as I enjoy watching all the other films, none capture the essence of the series as well as Jason Lives. Never before in the history of cinema has a sixth installment been the best one.
Check out this video tribute to Jason, the supernatural killer that just will never die. The song is by Alice Cooper from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.