When director John Carpenter first unleashed a masked psychopath named Michael Myers on an unsuspecting American populace in 1978, he never could have expected that the series would debut its 11th film 40 years later. Say what you will of the relative quality of the sequels in the Halloween arcana (here’s our ranking of all 11 of them), but the definitive American slasher has had some serious staying power. Knives, bullets and firestorms have had little effect in reducing Michael’s marketability.
Now, with David Gordon Green’s confoundingly titled Halloween hitting theaters as yet another sequel that obliterates previous continuity, it’s become more confusing than ever to know exactly how the movies in the Halloween series all fit together. Allow us, then, to enlighten you. BEHOLD! The Paste guide to Halloween Franchise Continuity.
Check out our helpful flowchart, and then the deeper explanations of each branching thread of continuity below, presented in (roughly) chronological order.
Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
For better or worse, this is essentially our “original” timeline, and it includes all of the first six films in the series, with the exception of Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The events of Halloween (1978) lead directly into the original Halloween II (1981), which takes place on the same evening, despite being released three years later. It also makes the key distinction of revealing that Laurie Strode is Michael Myers’ lost sister. At the end of Halloween II, both Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis are presumed dead, killed in a massive inferno at the hospital where Laurie Strode is taken after the events of Halloween.
After the failure of Halloween III, the decision was made to bring back both Myers and Loomis, and the official story became that they were merely “badly burned” in the fire at the end of Halloween II. This leads to Halloween 4, which takes place 10 years after the events of the first two films. The character of Laurie Strode has been killed off, with her 7-year-old daughter Jamie Lloyd stepping in as protagonist. She continues as the series protagonist through Halloween 5, but then has her importance reduced in the especially confusing Halloween 6, where this original timeline finally runs out of steam. Of note: The Curse of Michael Myers is also the final appearance of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
An island unto itself, Season of the Witch stands out as the odd, black sheep of the Halloween franchise for the fact that its story is totally unrelated to Michael Myers. That doesn’t mean this bizarre, pagan tale of corporate evil, androids and killer television broadcasting is a “bad film,” but it does happen to be completely separate in terms of plot (and tone as well). You can watch this entry without any knowledge of the entire rest of the Halloween series as a result.
Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Here’s where things start to get a bit confusing, because multiple Halloween series continuities happen to share specific films in common. Because Halloween H20 was predicated on the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the original Halloween was obviously going to be part of its canon. But H20 also chooses to preserve the events of Halloween II as well (Laurie is Michael’s sister), which means it also remains part of the canon.
In H20, Michael returns out of seeming hibernation to stalk Laurie Strode and her 17-year-old son, 20 years after the events of Halloween. At the end of the film, Michael is seemingly dispatched with finality by Strode, but this was immediately retconned in the opening of the next film, Halloween: Resurrection … which also makes the regrettable choice of killing off Laurie Strode in its opening moments, before continuing into another story with entirely new characters. Almost universally derided as the worst entry in the entire series, Resurrection represented a much-needed end to this timeline.
Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009)
Otherwise known as “The Rob Zombie Halloweens.” This time around, rock ’n’ roll auteur Rob Zombie was handed the keys to the franchise to reboot it from the ground up, and … yep, he pretty much took it in his own direction, didn’t he? Zombie’s main focus seemed to be on the “humanity” of Michael Myers, which involved delving deeply into the boy’s troubled childhood and the events leading up to his original murders, which first put him in an institution. The sequel, meanwhile, cribs the name of the first franchise sequel in 1981, while being about as different as different can be. These films stand alone, outside of any other franchise continuity, even as they reuse original characters such as Laurie Strode or Dr. Loomis. Fun fact: This time around, Laurie’s friend Annie Brackett is played by an adult Danielle Harris, who played Jamie Lloyd in Halloween 4 and Halloween 5. After the disappointing reception of Halloween II in particular, the Rob Zombie continuity was put to rest.
Halloween (1978), Halloween (2018)
The newest Halloween continuity is also the most perfect ouroboros of a naming disaster—how, oh how, did we allow a direct sequel to Halloween to also be titled Halloween? Couldn’t they have just stuck with Halloween Returns, or whatever the working title was? Why do these producers want so intently to complicate my life?
Regardless, this timeline is fractured into its own strand of continuity by the erasure of everything after the original Halloween—even Halloween II, which also starred Jamie Lee Curtis. This means that Curtis has the odd distinction of starring in films that belong to three different timelines: The “original” timeline that ended in Halloween 6; the H20 timeline that ended at Resurrection; and the new Halloween timeline that includes (and ends with?) David Gordon Green’s film. This also means (as the trailers have made quite clear) that Laurie Strode is not Michael Myers’ sister in this particular timeline.
Will the Halloween franchise continue on from here in some format? Well, if Green’s film is a box office smash, you can bet your ass that it will. Perhaps we’ll need to add a sixth branching timeline, once the next film chooses to diverge from the continuity yet again? We’ll let you know, next Halloween.
In the meantime, check out the complete chart above.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film writing.