Every Scream Movie, Ranked

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Every Scream Movie, Ranked

How different might the modern horror landscape look, if Wes Craven hadn’t brought us Scream in 1996?

It’s difficult to overstate the kind of lull that the genre was experiencing at that specific moment in time, as captured in our own Century of Terror project. The 1980s had yielded a golden era of classic slasher and zombie films, but those particular subgenres were running on fumes by the end of the decade. And as the slasher boom weakly petered out, the entire horror genre really went with it, sinking into a creative malaise that lasted for years. Rest assured, there are some classic horror films from the first half of the 1990s, but they all tend to stand out as singular offerings rather than inspiring a new renaissance of the genre.

Scream, on the other hand, changed everything. It was instrumental in reshaping audience expectation of not only what a horror film might look like, but which kinds of actors might appear in one. Although the thought of young Hollywood A-listers appearing in horror might seem commonplace today, in 1996 it was a radically new concept—as was the thought of arming those characters with genre savvy when it comes to the kind of story they were in. Scream released a genie from its bottle, treating the genre with both wit and reverence, while inspiring a whole new wave of imitation. It’s hard to imagine modern films in the mold of Sick, X or the Fear Street trilogy existing without it. Who knows how different the horror landscape might look by now? Would slashers ever have evolved, or would the genre be consigned to the dustbin of film history?

And so, with its sixth installment hitting theaters, ready to leave Woodsboro once again for the big city thrills of New York, let’s look back on the pioneering moments of the Scream franchise, and determine which entries have held up best.

Here is every Scream movie, ranked:

6. Scream 3 (2000)Director: Wes Craven

Scream 3 now floats in the middle of the series chronology, and yet it also stands apart, increasingly defined by its own little island of obsolescence. There was little coincidence to the fact that 2022’s Scream reboot seemed to not have any idea of how to approach Scream 3’s legacy in the way it honored other entries of the series—in fact, one might argue that the newer Scream’s snub feels as if it has rendered this 2000 entry as bordering on non-canonical altogether.

That’s a shame, because the elevator pitch of Scream 3—that Sidney Prescott meets her secret half brother, the architect of all her misfortunes in the first two films of the series—is a pretty compelling one, as is the thought of setting the story in Hollywood, to better aid the meta-commentary about film sequels, franchises and authorship. However, Scream 3 was ultimately dragged down by factors behind the camera, from the availability of its stars—Neve Campbell in particular is absent to a frustrating degree—to a change of screenwriters. Suffice to say, Ehren Kruger’s script can’t come close to matching the witticisms of series co-creator Kevin Williamson, and its toothless rebuke of Hollywood’s sexual politics feels all the more hollow now given the film’s connection to the Weinstein Company. All in all, Scream 3 just feels like a disorganized mess, reshot and rewritten on the fly, and it was received so poorly that it took 11 years before the next sequel rolled into theaters. —Jim Vorel


5. Scream 4 (2011)Director: Wes Craven


At the time of its release, Scream 4 received a pretty warm reception from fans of the series, who largely acknowledged that the film was at the very least superior to the disappointment of Scream 3. And indeed, Scream 4 hasn’t aged too poorly in the 12 years since, though its attempts to modernize series convention and lionize its longtime stars were ultimately better achieved by 2022’s Scream. One aspect that now makes the film feel slightly dated is the fixation on the idea of horror “remakes,” given that the remake era quickly passed us by in favor of what we’re now describing as the “legacy sequel.” Scream 4, then, captures a specific moment in the fickle history of movie marketing, as much as it says anything about the horror genre specifically.

The crop of characters this time through aren’t exactly the most engaging bunch of fresh blood, though Hayden Panettiere’s stand-out movie geek Kirby Reed was a clear exception, popular to such a degree that Scream 5 and Scream 6 decided to effectively retcon her apparent death in order to bring her back into the fold. This entry’s scheming killers, on the other hand, are driven less by the original sin and ripple effects of Sidney’s mother, like so many other Scream installments, and instead reflect a modern desire for digital fame or infamy. It’s not a bad thought, but it doesn’t seem nearly as fresh in the wake of the 2022 Scream’s ultra-relevant critique of delusionally entitled internet fandom. —Jim Vorel


4. Scream VI (2023)Directors: Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

It's Ghostface Takes Manhattan in First Teaser for Scream VI

For as long as the projector is rolling, Scream VI is a pretty visceral good time in a movie theater, featuring some of the most gnarly knife-action of the series, even if it’s beginning to seem as if some of these characters are literally immune to death by stabbing. It’s when the credits roll that things start to fall apart, however, as a somewhat uninspired third act killer reveal snowballs into a series of logical quandaries and plot holes that only become more baffling the more the viewer attempts to force them to make sense. It’s a testament to the likable nature and innate chemistry of the newly established “Core Four” survivors that they’re still pretty compelling despite a screenplay that often makes them seem less than competent.

Beyond the nuts of bolts of its plot, though, Scream VI seems to lack a clear thesis of its own, being perhaps too strongly indebted to the mold of Scream 2. Its own characters attempt to downplay this connection, but it all ends up as one big misdirection; the film’s attempt to convince you that it’s more complicated than it really ends up being. At the end of the day, this is a surprisingly straight-laced sequel to the superior 2022 reboot, which seems all the more fresh now given its deeper examination of the cancerous rot of entitled, delusional fandom. It leaves us worried that additional Scream sequels will simply be left going through the motions if they can’t find a new inspiration to justify their existence. —Jim Vorel

3. Scream 2 (1997)Director: Wes Craven


For many years, it felt as if Scream 2 was one of only a small handful of Hollywood horror sequels welcome in the “quality sequel” discussion, but its reputation arguably began to finally degrade somewhat in recent years. Looking at it now, the film feels a bit on the quaint side, and beholden too much perhaps to the format of the original from a year earlier—but then again, so were the Golden Era slasher sequels of the 1980s, which serve as the film’s primary inspiration. Nor can one look past the establishment of the film-within-a-film Stab series that writer Kevin Williamson first dreamed up here, which would ultimately become the most important plot element of 2022’s Scream reboot. None of it would have been possible without the meta humor pioneered in Scream 2.

The body count is certainly higher this time around, and the stabbings satisfyingly grisly, though debate still persists all these years later on topics such as “Should Randy have survived?” or “Is the fakeout death of Dewey cheap or manipulative?” Sidney, though, is arguably at her best in this installment, stronger and more assertive for having survived the events of Scream, but struggling to let people—such as a relentlessly positive (and thus suspicious)—boyfriend back into her life, for obvious reasons. The crew she’s surrounded herself with doesn’t have quite the same sparkling repartee as the high school friend group of Scream, but the inclusion of others such as Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) satisfyingly expand upon the series mythology. A final infusion of late ‘90s nostalgia suffices to carry Scream 2 over the finish line. —Jim Vorel


2. Scream (2022)Directors: Tyler Gillett and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin

Among many things that ended up winning me over about Radio Silence directing group members Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Scream, the main one was that—like its predecessors—it understood how we were going to feel about it before we even got to see it. It knew that I would be torn about its existence. And that, folks, just scratches the surface on why the new Scream, in all its meta-for-a-modern-time goodness, is the best installment since the Wes Craven original. The fifth installment—which takes place 25 years after the original—doesn’t hold back when it comes to analyzing the inner workings of a classic reboot down to the bones. Scream has always been a franchise for film lovers—and it’s never been afraid to be meta as hell, as meta as it needed to be to get its point across. Big questions are raised and left in the air to hang: Are we really just the monsters we create? Are we the monsters that created us, and do we have to be? What is so toxic about loving something with everything you have and wanting it to stay good? Like you’d expect from the franchise, it doesn’t necessarily offer answers to those questions, but the fact that it poses them at all feels right. It is a welcomed dimension to the films that highlights the larger themes that have come into play as the Woodsboro legacy has aged. Sure, the gags about elevated horror and getting back to the roots of slashers, the film trivia, the dedication to the craft of movies—it’s all part of the show. But it’s the fifth movie, and really, why make it if not to send a love letter to the fans? —Lex Briscuso


1. Scream (1996)Director: Wes Craven


Before Scary Movie or A Haunted House were even ill-conceived ideas, Wes Craven was crafting some of the best horror satire out there. And although part of the original Scream’s charm was its sly, fair jabs at the genre, that didn’t keep the director from dreaming up some of the most brutal knife-on-human scenes in the ’90s—a decade where many thought the slasher genre had faded away, never to be seen again. With the birth of the “Ghostface” killer, Craven took audiences on a journey through horror-flick fandom, making all-too-common tricks of the trade a staple for survival: sex equals death, don’t drink or do drugs, never say “I’ll be right back.” With a crossover cast of Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan and Drew Barrymore (okay, for like 10 minutes), Scream arrived with a smart, funny take on a tired genre. It wasn’t the first film of its kind, but it was the first one to be seen by a huge audience, which went a long way in raising the “genre IQ” of the average horror fan. —Tyler Kane


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film writing.

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