Friday the 13th is more often than not written off as the cheaper, campier, and just worst of the slasher franchises. Yet, Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked menace and possible hero at points, stands as one of the most iconic and well-known figures in contemporary cinema. Having spawned eleven sequels over the past 38 years, some taking the masked man to Manhattan, Hell, and even space, there is something lasting about the hockey mask antagonist. I watched all twelve of the Friday the 13th films in the span of about 17 days, and I will tell you, by Jason Goes to Hell, there was almost a spiritual awakening; I myself went to Hell, and came back again, with Jason.
I am not here to defend the franchise as being superior over others, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend watching twelve of ANYTHING within a 15-17 day period. What I did discover, however, was something provocative yet primal. Complex yet simple. Trying to uncover a deeper meaning to the Friday the 13th franchise may seem like a long shot, and pointless, but I am going to do just that, along with rank all twelve from worst to first. So, without further ado, The Friday the 13th franchise ranked…
Oh, and so, so, many spoilers. You have been warned…
12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
It should go to show how bad of a time I had watching this if I ranked this lower than Jason X which I watched in the exact same night. The surprisingly fun and creative deaths that occur in this film are not even close to being able to hold up 90 minutes of head churning confusion. Where are these worms from? What is all this orange soul shooting stuff about (we all know Trump doesn’t have a soul)? Treating arguably the best female to fight against Jason with utter disrespect and a low payout kill feels so wrong. There were some heavy levels of suspension of disbelief on the viewing standpoint that was still not enough to save face for this film. I wanted the revival to be something, but this was a whole lot of nothing.
11. Friday the 13th (2009)
Only really earning the next to last spot on the list because it just plain looks better. The 2009 reboot did little rebooting and mainly just fumbled around with a decent horror film conceit: a killer enraged by and driven by the sight of their mothers’ death. Who knows, maybe the failure of this film has left a path open for Lebron James to take the helm and make the first good Jason film in over 20 years. The kills fall flat, and the scares feel, well, a decade old, in the worst way possible. The greatest takeaway I gained from this film is that the minorities always stay together. Always.
10. Jason X
I felt almost like a moron for thinking this was simply a silly Sy-Fy network episode in the Friday the 13th franchise. It is a simply done Sy-Fy channel Jason entry, but when it came to a particular moment we will break down here, it almost felt like the filmmakers were all in on the joke too. I, at least, hope that by a tenth entry into the franchise which sends it’s main big baddie to outer space the filmmakers know what they are making.
In one of the most memorable kills in the entire franchise, Jason is in a VR world where some angsty sex-crazed, pot smoking, drinking teens try to lure Jason away from the real targets. The teens, over-the-top, lure Jason with their sex, drugs, and booze, but the way it is executed almost feels like a jab at what previous films were trying to realize. Did this film work? No, not really, but it does offer what the last two films on this list can’t: sweet kills, and Jason as we know him.
9. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Where the franchise really ran into the camp wall. Beyond the issues of ‘never’ getting to Manhattan and other absurdities, this wasn’t the hot mess I was totally expecting. There are some incredible kills that actually shock, including, but not limited to…
- The GUITAR KILL
- Headless BOXER
- Eerie slow kill of the smart girl.
8. Freddy vs. Jason
Glad we finally got to a point like this in cinema. Really, this is a throwback to the Universal horror mashups. I found this to flounder mostly on the floor with so many questions nobody seemed to care to answer. Freddy added a layer of camp and humor that hadn’t been in the franchise up to this point. There was plenty that left me scratching my head and wondering was there anything here besides a grab for money? No, I don’t think so.
7. Friday the 13th Part VII: New Blood
This was such a… how should I put this… odd film. There were, again, many many many jaw-dropping moments. The ending left me speechless for quite some time. I think there were bits and embers of something that may have been a story, but it felt like it played around with itself too much. Some of the most head-scratching and puzzling moments in the entire franchise. It wanted to be Carrie but couldn’t; it wanted to follow up whatever greatness VI seemed to have caught in a bottle but managed to ride the line too much to become an overall mess and wreck character and story wise. I did find this to be compelling in that reactionary way horror films sometimes can be. The horror films at the time were struggling for inventiveness and originality, so if you looked at the Friday the 13th films as being smarter than the audience, this was an audacious and smart commentary on that unoriginality, but you be the judge of that…
6. Friday the 13th Part III 3-D
Containing some of the most enjoyable and memorable deaths in the franchise, the third installment, and naturally, the 3-D installment, has some of the better moments in the franchise. The film that gave us the hockey mask in the first place, this is memorable for a number of reasons. Outside the gimmick feel this film takes, there is actually something fun to see here on the screen. The second film along with this are two of the more visually interesting films that weren’t just relying on the kills and schlock of the slasher. Before the ‘final’ installment that was grand in its own ways, the film feels largely unsure of itself and where it wants to go. The film still holds strong with more of the fascinating contrasts of peril vs safety from the second film. Look at this film as an increase in the visual, but a fall off in the story and characters.
Having said that, this film has hands down the most badass and kickass final girls in the entire franchise. She is the smartest and most reactionary. She hangs Jason, puts an ax in his head, and does nearly everything right. I officially submit my vote for this film’s final girl as the best of them all in the Friday the 13th Final Girl Pageant.
5. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
Hands down the greatest opening in the entire franchise. I may be ranking this way higher than it should be for that, but I will likely never forget the rebirth of Jason. And this is my list so I will put a one scene strong film wherever I like. The throwing into the coffin, the turn to the camera, the James Bond in the eye thing, or whatever that was. All of it. Cinematic gold. No questions asked. Some of the best things to happen in this franchise happen in the first ten minutes of this movie. Many of the kills are actually getting inventive and have to be considered in the context of the character and plot. This was just a fun movie to see, and I think the enjoyment of cinema and what the medium can do is present and alive in this film.
4. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
The next non-Jason film, this is often overlooked as one of the worst in the franchise, but this stood out with some of the most interesting ideas being explored. Were they all explored well? No, not always, but mental illness and reacting and dealing with trauma, this is all reminiscent of the first two films and the thematic realm they rested in. One that was more grounded and raw with emotion. This also had some of the more shocking moments in the franchise. When the candy bar kid was axed to death I was left floored. And many of the twists did genuinely leave me surprised. Additionally, the return of Tommy, without him dying in the first ten minutes, was oddly nice. The first time we get a significant character recycle.
3. Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter
The first FINAL film in the franchise. The studio and production of these films are just as interesting, if not more so than the movies. This certainly was a franchise that, like Jason, would not die. Other films would try to end the series.
The Final Chapter was heralded as the end of Jason, and it sure went out with a bang. Layered characters portrayed in ways previous films hadn’t, this movie has some of the most memorable and complex characters in the entire franchise. Jason is noticeably treated in a different light in this film than in previous installments. In this he is seen, or rather, used as a blank killing force that has no character or life, and I feel this was all done intentionally. Jason is not the focus of this film, the victims, Tommy, all these people are where the focus lies in The Final Chapter.
2. Friday the 13th Part 2
The first Jason film (some arguments are made this is, in fact, Jason’s father, but we won’t entertain that here), and we get something quite different. Dealing more with the trauma of events and building further into the world and lore of the Friday the 13th films, we get a more interesting character of Jason. Rather than the grieving mother, it is the son Jason who is extracting revenge for the death of his mother he witnessed. We get a story that opened up characters in an interesting way and as such made for some complexities in bits and pieces.
Also, the cinematography in this film is actually kinda great. The opening sequence is gripping and a rush, while other moments create a sense of peril contrasting the safety that the first few films juggle with to varying degrees of success.
1. Friday the 13th
The one that started it all. Like most of the ‘first’ in these franchises, this one feels the most grounded and compelling. Origin stories, eh? Claimed by Victor Miller as the only one he has watched because of what is done with the character of Jason, Friday the 13th tackles some really interesting ideas and wrestles with these concepts for the first few films in varying degrees of success. The conceit of the grieving mother and a reverse Psycho in ways is startlingly fresh and interesting enough to make this stand head and shoulders above the rest.