Other than the sheer number of them, the most remarkable thing about the Friday the 13th series is that not a single one is really a spectacular film on its own. But after 36 years, 12 movies, more than 200 deaths and adventures that span from space to hell, the series has carved out a special and enduring place in the legacy of horror cinema and slasher films in particular.
Besides, sequel after sequel, Jason’s enduring beef with oversexed teenagers kinda grows on you. The man is epic with a machete, and even in death he still finds a way to keep it going. Here, on Friday the 13th, is our ranked guide to all 12 movies so far—some surprisingly decent, others so legendarily awful it’s hard to believe they exist (here’s to you, Jason Takes Manhattan!).
And we can’t help but wonder—when will we finally get the long-gestating 13th film in the series to bring it up to the total it’s been gunning for all along?
Obligatory Plot: Yet again Jason is willed back to life by an errant zap of electricity, and he hasn’t changed. Per the series tradition of totally misleading titles, two-thirds of the action takes place on a boat before they reach NYC, mostly due to budgetary constraints.
Death Count: 21
Money Shot: Once he eventually does make it to Manhattan, a group of thugs threatens Jason, but in a classic move, he turns around, takes off his mask and glowers at them until they run away screaming.
Verdict: Jason on a Boat is somehow worse than Jason in Space. Sweet trailer, though.
Obligatory Plot: Years after Tommy (Corey Feldman in the fourth movie) goes apeshit and hacks Jason to death, Tommy’s fellow residents in a state halfway house start to get owned in familiar ways.
Death Count: 19
Money Shot: There isn’t one, really, unless you count the topless girl who gets her eyes hacked out with garden shears. In an amusing sign of the times, the movie also upgrades to coke as the drug of choice.
Verdict: The series pulls a Halloween III: Season of the Witch, ditching the real Jason to morph into this half-baked whodunit, a curious if pointless addition to the overall canon.
Obligatory Plot: After a military operation “kills” Jason, he passes his spirit (in the form of black mucus) from body to body while he searches for his only known relatives, who are the key to his survival.
Death Count: 27
Money Shot: For once, the titular promise is kept, and Jason is violently dragged to hell. As a bonus, Freddy makes a surprise appearance at the very last moment to help out.
Verdict: Although well-made compared to most of the sequels, the movie’s arbitrary rewrite of the series’ mythology is both callous and tiresome.
Obligatory Plot: Essentially an amalgam of the first four original Friday the 13th features, the series’ 2009 reboot is part origin story and part retreading of ground that had been thoroughly, thoroughly covered. Suffice to say, horny teens go to Crystal Lake and then die.
Death Count: 15
Money Shot: In the most self-referential moment in the series’ history, Jason finds the original hockey mask from Friday the 13th Part III and dons it with great reverence, a slave to series convention.
Verdict: This film may have been made for fans of the series, but it has very little reason to exist. Because it’s a remake and not another step in the actual series, we simply retread some extremely familiar ground over again. It might be a pleasant diversion to watch some modern teens get wrecked by Jason, but the film has nothing new to say or contribute. – Jim Vorel
Obligatory Plot: Another vaguely governmental outfit gets its hands on Jason, and after he nearly escapes, he’s frozen and sent into space. In the year 2455 (!), the sound of female orgasm brings him back to life (!!!).
Death Count: 28
Money Shot: To buy time, an android tries to occupy Jason with a simulation of Camp Crystal Lake circa 1980, complete with two floozies who beg Jason for booze, pot and “premarital sex.”
Verdict: Although the movie is an undeniable novelty and has some fun, campy bits, the sci-fi spin is as lame as it sounds.
Obligatory Plot: A woman who apparently once had a run-in with Jason while he was chilling in the woods travels up to a farm with a group of friends. Jason shows up to take care of business.
Death Count: 12
Money Shot: Note the movie is also known as Friday the 13th Part 3-D, which explains all the yo-yos and baseball bats that keep flying at the screen. In one priceless instance, a pair of doomed hippies pass a joint as if it’s handed directly to the audience, perhaps as a suggestion to anyone who has to sit through the rest of the movie.
Verdict: This chapter gives Jason his hockey mask, but it also gives the series its dubious sense of humor. Great, goofy characters, but perhaps too zany to be one of the greats.
Obligatory Plot: An unstable psychic girl unwittingly frees Jason from his chains deep in the lake, and after he wanders through the woods and wastes some photogenic campers, he comes for her.
Death Count: 17
Money Shot: We’ve seen Jason unmasked before—he usually shows his face at least once in the course of the splatter routine—but years underwater have given him a cracked-out new look, lovingly rendered by the series’ estimable makeup team.
Verdict: The psychic melodrama is outrageous, but this serious-minded entry keeps its head together for the most part, and the final battle is awesome.
Obligatory Plot: A group of teenagers travel to a vacation house next door to a family that lives in the middle of nowhere. After he wakes up in a hospital ward and takes out a couple horny medical workers, Jason has nothing better to do than pay a visit.
Death Count: 14
Money Shot: A year before The Goonies, a pint-sized Corey Feldman has a sublimely bizarre moment when he shaves his head on the fly and hacks the hell out of Jason after he goes for his sister. He nearly becomes the new face of the series.
Verdict: The first of two flicks in the series that tried (and failed) to shut down the franchise, this one is pretty doofy (especially Crispin Glover), but it works.
Obligatory Plot: Camp Crystal Lake is closed for good, but happily there’s another camp next door that re-opens soon after the events of the first movie. Jason makes his move.
Death Count: 9
Money Shot: After resident drunk Ralph helpfully supplies a reminder of what’s to come (“You’re all doomed!”), Jason tires of him and tears his throat clean open against a tree.
Verdict: The movie kickstarts the Jason myth with admirable foresight, and it’s pretty solid, even if it ultimately falls into a virtual replica of the original.
Obligatory Plot: Chagrined that no one remembers him, Freddy enlists Jason to bring fear back to Elm Street, but an extreme catfight breaks out when Jason doesn’t show due reverence to his new puppet master.
Death Count: 26
Money Shot: In a decisive moment of the epic clash, Jason rips off Freddy’s gloved arm and impales him with it. Nice.
Verdict: Hong Kong auteur Ronny Yu directs an overstuffed but stylish genre mish-mash that combines the Friday franchise with Freddy lore to gaudy, spirited effect. Plus, the right man wins.
Obligatory Plot: Years after two summer camp counselors are offed while they’re getting it on, a new group with similar extracurricular activities arrives at Camp Crystal Lake. Hack, slice.
Death Count: 10 (the trailer lies)
Money Shot: A pre-Footloose Kevin Bacon (one of the series’ many casting gems) gets lucky and then immediately gets an arrowhead through the back of the throat. Bummer.
Verdict: A competent and formative slasher flick, though it barely resembles the series it spawned. Jason makes only a brief, but extremely memorable appearance. The ending reveal is among the most memorable in horror history.
Obligatory Plot: After he accidentally reanimates Jason, Tommy (from parts four and five) struggles to warn a nearby summer camp—this time with actual kids.
Death Count: 18
Money Shot: Within his first two minutes back alive, Jason punches a dude’s heart out. Awesome. (An honorable mention has to go to the final moments of the poor town sheriff, who Jason literally folds in half.)
Verdict: Admittedly, this one isn’t particularly scary, but Jason Lives is in clear, reverent conversation with the entire franchise, a self-reflexive edge that predates Scream by a decade (“Some folks have a strange idea of entertainment,” one character laments). In a way, this movie feels more essentially Friday the 13th than the original ever did. If you ask someone to picture a Friday the 13th movie, the images they’d conjure in their head would look a lot like Jason Lives.
For the record, Death Count includes every dead person, killed or otherwise, including the killers but excluding dream sequences. Plus, Jason actually dies twice himself.