‘Scream 3’ at 20: An Underrated Finale to the Trilogy

Dimension Films

When Scream 3 was released on February 4th, 2000, it was, unsurprisingly, a box office success — 1996’s Scream was a sleeper hit and 1997’s Scream 2 was also very lucrative. The wait for Scream 3 had audiences flocking to see what was intended to be the franchise’s finale. Despite the huge turnout, however, fans and critics were cold on the film, leaving the trilogy to end with a sputter. Twenty years later, Scream 3 feels more topical and entertaining than it was during its original release. While some moments of the film have aged terribly, it is a solid ending to the series.

Scream 3, directed by Wes Craven, pushes the meta-horror series into its most straightforward and somewhat silly direction. The killings of the first Scream have inspired their own series of horror films, the Stab franchise. As Stab 3 is about to start filming, the filmmakers associated with the production start getting killed off. Again, someone has adopted the Ghostface costume, and calls to taunt their victims. This time, they have a voice-changer that can mimic anyone’s voice perfectly. Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) visit the set of Stab 3 in hopes to finally put an end to the carnage.

Scream 3 is the first to completely nail the character of Sidney Prescott. After the events of Scream 2, Sidney is now off the radar and working from her heavily-secured home as a crisis counselor. She is constantly armed and has learned how to protect herself in any situation. Sidney is portrayed as close to an “action hero” as she can be, while still maintaining credibility. She has no clear love interest, and she doesn’t make silly mistakes. The Sidney of Scream 3 is a smart and cunning character who never seems invincible, but also never feels less than in control.

If the first Scream is a horror film with darkly comedic elements, and Scream 2 is a horror film mixed with “whodunit” mystery, Scream 3 is more of a comedy than a horror film. The proof is in the casting of Parker Posey as Jennifer Jolie (a not terribly clever combination of Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie), the actress playing the fictionalized version of Gale Weathers in Stab 3. Posey completely knows that she is in a comedy, playing a riff on the type of character she played in Christopher Guest’s films. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine her character, Libby Mae Brown from Waiting for Guffman, moving to Hollywood and becoming Jennifer. While Posey’s playful ridiculousness would feel out of place in a straight-forward horror film, it is right at home here.

Compared to the rest of the franchise, there is a noticeable distancing from violence in this film. There is still a decent amount of on-screen deaths, but the brutality of the previous films is nowhere to be seen. Much like the emphasis on humor, the toned-down violence likely turned off viewers during its original run. The move toward more suspense over bloodshed is a logical step for the franchise. By 2000, we had three years of characters in horror getting sliced by all means and manners. Moving slightly away from violence makes Scream 3 more original. For a series that was known for cleverly mixing meta-humor with horror, this is a natural progression that seems right. Additionally, it can’t be stressed enough how much the Columbine High School Massacre impacted violence in movies. Although it was released almost a full year after the tragedy, Scream 3’s toned down violence was one of the only ways the film could be both entertaining, and not draw the attention of those who believed violent films were partially to blame.


One component of Scream 3, which has taken on new meaning, is the masked killer’s motivation. We find out that Sidney’s mother, Maureen Prescott (Lynn McRee), was a B-movie actress before she started a family. Back in the 1970s, Maureen was raped at a party run by a film producer, John Milton (Lance Henriksen). Three decades later, Milton is the producer of Stab 3. The ghost-faced killer turns out to be Roman Bridger (Scott Foley), the director of Stab 3. Maureen gave birth to Roman after the rape, put him up for adoption, and later rejected him when he tried to reconnect with her. While it is thoroughly uncomfortable to have rape playing a part in the creation of a horror villain (much like the origin story of Craven’s own Freddy Krueger), it is incredibly shocking that Scream 3 chooses to spend so much of the film addressing the sexual harassment and assault of actors by producers. The Scream franchise was released through Dimension Films, the horror label of Miramax. At the time of the film’s release, Miramax was co-owned by Harvey Weinstein, the film producer who has been accused of sexually harassing an untold amount of young actresses. In effect, Weinstein released a film whose plot revolves around a sexually manipulative movie producer who destroys a woman’s life. It is a profoundly gutsy move by Craven, and screenwriter Ehren Kruger, that can only be wholly appreciated 20 years later.

Sadly, Scream 3 doesn’t fully show respect to the actresses who were mistreated by producers. Roman’s story of Maureen’s rejection makes her sound like a villain herself. She is labeled by Roman as a “slut” for what she did in the 1970s. The film makes no attempt to present her in a more favorable light, or give any better reason for her distancing from her child. The film also, unwisely, plays for laughs that the other Stab 3 actresses had to exchange sexual favors for their roles. When Posey’s character talks repeatedly about having sex with the film’s director, the film intends to portray her as a “bimbo.” While it may have gotten a cheap laugh or two from some viewers, it feels out of place when the film later blames movie producers for the rape and abandonment of up-and-coming actresses. The fact that Maureen’s son is named Roman is almost certainly an homage to director Roman Polanski, known for raping a 13-year old in 1977. While Weinstein’s crimes may have been simply been considered rumors in 2000, it was widely known that Polanski was a rapist. Though Kruger might have considered himself clever, naming a director born of rape after Polanski, it is also completely tasteless.


Problematic plot elements aside, Scream 3 plays infinitely better 20 years later than it did upon its original release. While 2011’s Scream 4 was a thoroughly entertaining update to the series, the final act of Scream 3 wraps up the franchise incredibly well. When Nick Cave’s modified version of “Red Right Hand” plays over the credits, it perfectly ends one of the best trilogies in film history.

1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much for this shrewd analysis! I completely agree that Scream 3 was really underrated (although I’m a bit biased as it was the first scream film I saw). I also agree with your points about the film’s tone and its surprisingly clever treatment of many themes (and the sexual harassment aspect is much more topical today). Nice work.

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