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Ranking the "Friday the 13th" Movies

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Matt Bird writes all sorts of nonsense, but he dedicates a large chunk of his time to writing game walkthroughs.

Copyright 1986 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1986 by Paramount Pictures.

While not known for holding to the highest cinematic standards, the Friday the 13th movie franchise is nevertheless popular among horror-slasher fans for getting the job done. Usually haunted by the grim Jason Voorhees, each instalment tends to follow a standard formula: Hormonal teens make out in the woods, Jason doesn't like that, Jason goes on a killing spree, and someone manages to survive long enough to stop him. He comes back in the next movie. Rinse, repeat, enjoy. If you're looking for fun, often-goofy slasher action, Friday the 13th has your number.

Because the franchise hews so closely to this formula in virtually every instalment, it can be difficult to place one film over another. We will nevertheless do so in a bold attempt to determine which Friday the 13th movie did Jason the most justice - and we will start with the worst among them.

Copyright 1993 by New Line Cinema.

Copyright 1993 by New Line Cinema.

12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday

The worst among Jason's showings manages to lightly fib twice in its title. Not only would Jason barely spend any time in Hell in this movie, this most certainly would not be The Final Friday. Shackled with a too-heavy plot that links back to Jason's lineage, Jason Goes to Hell commits the same sins as Jason Takes Manhattan, promising a more innovative storyline than it delivers. The main difference here is that Jason is a disembodied wretch seeking someone to possess, a fun premise on paper that is somehow utterly formulaic and less interesting than every other movie in the franchise. The dull cast and boring kills probably had something to do with it. If there's one film you can safely skip in the Friday the 13th franchise, it's this one.

Copyright 1985 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1985 by Paramount Pictures.

11. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning

An attempt to revitalize Jason's floundering box office returns, A New Beginning is one of the most forgettable films on the list. Bringing back Tommy, the closest the series has to a central protagonist, A New Beginning drops the action into a halfway house for troubled teenagers. Unsurprisingly the halfway house is out in the woods, wasting the potential of Jason running loose in a legitimate insane asylum, and things play out as you might expect. The teens are hormonal, Jason dislikes that, Jason goes to town. The cast will be wiped from your memory moments after you finish the movie, and that, sadly, includes Tommy himself, who at times feels like a quiet, broody side note. A New Beginning even has the gall to reach its lackluster climax in a barn again, a feat achieved only two movies prior. Surely there were other places to film?

Copyright 1989 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1989 by Paramount Pictures.

10. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

For a movie named Jason Takes Manhattan, you'd think more of this movie would, you know, take place in Manhattan. Sadly most of the action is on a boat headed to Manhattan, and it proves to be even less exciting a setting than the woods that appear in the majority of the instalments. The cast is not terribly memorable, one grumpy uncle aside, and Jason's kills don't stand out all that much while everyone is sailing the high seas. The movie's high points are concentrated in the final act of the movie, on the streets of New York, where Jason walks through Times Square, scares a pack of punks by showing them his face, and engages in a rooftop boxing match. The boxing match alone is worth slogging through the rest of the movie.

(Or, y'know, maybe just head to YouTube and watch the boxing match there.)

Copyright 2009 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 2009 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

9. Friday the 13th (2009)

Returning the series to its roots in a reboot that wipes out most of the other movies on this list, Friday the 13th looks a lot better than it is. Ignoring the chance to do something fresh and exciting, this rehash borrows elements from other films - notably Parts II and III - and streamlines them into a single experience that throws Jason back onto the grounds of Camp Crystal Lake. This Jason is a quicker, leaner beast than the original, and his kills bring back some of the tension of the original movie, but at the expense of the joyous, goofy spirit that permeated the rest of the series. It's not a bad film, but this version of Friday the 13th isn't that interesting, either.

(This also marks the last time we would see a barn in the series. Take note.)

Copyright 2003 by New Line Cinema.

Copyright 2003 by New Line Cinema.

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8. Freddy vs. Jason

Ah, the inevitable crossover. Pitting two horror icons against one another in a race to murder the most people, Freddy vs. Jason is as bloody as you might expect and manages to give both of its infamous an equal share of the screen time. That does not make it good, however, and while there is plenty of fun to be had watching Jason face off against his franchise rival, a bit too much of the movie focuses on the usual gaggle of vacuous teens who keep getting killed for dumb reasons. Jason also feels neutered in this movie - why is he suddenly so weak to water when he swam to Manhattan? - and though he still gets in plenty of decent kills, the conclusion is about dissatisfying as you'd expect. No one definitively wins or loses in this film, because studio executives hate to ostracize their customers. No surprise there. Watching Robert Englund do his thing as Freddy is always fun, though, so Freddy vs. Jason is worth at least one watch.

Copyright 2001 by New Line Cinema.

Copyright 2001 by New Line Cinema.

7. Jason X

This movie shouldn't be quite as fun as it is. Shunting Jason 400 years into the future and onto a starship, Jason X strays as far from the original setting as you can go. Nevertheless it manages to retain not only the basic pattern of killing sex-crazed fools in inventive ways, but the tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that had defined the franchise. There are some genuinely funny bits in Jason X, and unlike some of the past instalments, they're intentional this time around. The cast is also slightly less inept than normal, with the nice effect of making Jason seem all the more deadly when he manages to kill most of them anyway. The major element holding Jason X back is its made-for-TV sci-fi vibe, feeling a bit like an Alien ripoff with a tenth of the budget and none of the suspense. When your movie has lines like "Guys, it's okay! He just wanted his machete back! Phew!", you know it isn't taking its horror too seriously.

Copyright 1988 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1988 by Paramount Pictures.

6. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

This movie probably shouldn't rank as highly as it does for one simple reason: The main character has psychic powers. Yes, she is a telekinetic, and the very mention of such a goofy idea should sink The New Blood to the bottom of the list - yet this film is surprisingly fun at points, and the telekinesis is to blame. By this point in the franchise, the formula of Jason killing teens in the woods had become well-worn and stale, so you shouldn't expect much from the rest of the cast. They show up, they act like stereotypes, they die. Unsurprising. The climactic battle between Jason and Tina is a lot of fun, though, and Jason finally meets his match as the toughest final girl to date uses her mind to launch everything but the kitchen sink right in Jason's face. This is also one of the few movies to give Jason's face a significant amount of screen time, ripping off his mask during the end to reveal a monstrous visage that is both disgusting and corny. It's just unfortunate that you need to slog through a great deal of dreck to reach their showdown, putting this movie further down the list than it could have been. Alas.

Copyright 1982 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1982 by Paramount Pictures.

5. Friday the 13th Part III

The introduction of the hockey masked Jason we know and love today, Part III is about as standard a Friday the 13th experience as you can expect, yet it also serves as a sort of quality bridge between the first two movies and the rest of the franchise. Jason is still a terrifying monster as he stalks a gaggle of clueless teens around a home on the shores of Crystal Lake, and there are plenty of solid kills to enjoy. That said, Part III is also the beginning of the franchise's goofier tendencies, making its teenaged targets a little more outlandish than the previous movies and throwing in a biker gang for good measure. The attempts to film Part III in 3D ups the goof factor a fair bit, with elements of the scenes randomly flying out at the viewer. Watching an obviously-fake eyeball zip towards the screen is far funnier than it is terrifying.

(This is also the first time Jason wanders into a barn, and given how things go for him he really should have considered avoiding the things in the future. Ah well.)

Copyright 1980 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1980 by Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

4. Friday the 13th

The place where it all began, Friday the 13th is both a standard-setter for the franchise and sort of an odd-man-out. It's set at Camp Crystal Lake; features vapid teens running around, having sex, and dying in the woods; and, of course, makes abundant use of the 'ki ki ki, ma ma ma' sound effect that is now synonymous with the series. Yet this is also the only movie not to cast Jason (or someone who looks an awful lot like Jason) as the killer, resulting in a final act which is, while still fairly unhinged, just not as fun as some of the other movies on the list. Friday the 13th is perhaps the closest to a pure horror movie in the franchise, with slower scenes that build tension much more effectively than, say, Jason decapitating an android on a spaceship. Not the best of the bunch, but far from the worst, and a must-watch if you want to understand Jason's original motivations for murdering people.

Copyright 1981 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1981 by Paramount Pictures.

3. Friday the 13th Part 2

Filmgoers were introduced to Jason in the original Friday the 13th, but we didn't really know what was to come until the sequel came along. Featuring a distraught, much-more-human Jason with a bag over his head, Part II hews very closely to the original in terms of the action. Camp counselors are parked on the edge of Crystal Lake, and, per usual, Jason doesn't care for their sexy antics. The kills are stronger in this film than the original but tamer than almost every movie that follows, yet Jason is creepy enough that the end result is pretty satisfying. Part II also features a fairly strong climax, playing on Jason's history and delusional state in such a way that his defeat at the hands of the teens feels earned. Jason is best known as a nigh-indestructible, unstoppable killing force, but it's fun to see at least one of the movies delve into his psyche.

Copyright 1984 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1984 by Paramount Pictures.

2. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Considering Jason would go on to appear in seven more movies, calling this one The Final Chapter is pretty deceptive. At the time, though, this film was meant to kick Jason Voorhees to the curb - it just happened to do so well in theatres that Jason's return was inevitable. The Final Chapter spans two households in the woods rather than one, and the cottage filled with sexpot teens is pretty dull. (Spoilers, they all die.) It's the home of series-protagonist Tommy that really makes The Final Chapter shine, finally introducing a pair of main characters who are worth rooting for. Tommy and sister Trish get put through the wringer by Jason, running from one home to the other and dodging near-fatal attacks in a suitably suspenseful fashion. It feels like Trish in particular might bite the bullet at any moment, charging the film with a level of tension that most of the instalments lack. The Final Chapter also features perhaps the best climax in the series, psychologically putting Jason on hold in a strange - but pretty convincing - fashion. It's no surprise that Tommy is so messed up in the head the next time you see him, given what goes on here.

Copyright 1986 by Paramount Pictures.

Copyright 1986 by Paramount Pictures.

1. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Jason Voorhees doesn't get much better than this. The final entry in the Tommy trilogy, Jason Lives gives its viewers what they may have expected of Jason from the start: An unstoppable, zombie-like killer with a blood-stained machete and murder always on his mind. Yet this is also a Jason that has a strict agenda, and here we finally see that he has lines he won't cross - namely, killing kids. Good on you, Jason. The usual crew of dispensable teens aside this movie belongs to Tommy, and he and Jason battle furiously from one end of it to the other, concluding back at the very lake where everything began. It's a satisfying end for Tommy, who, despite a poor showing in A New Beginning, is easily the best protagonist in any of the Friday the 13th films. This film also marks the full-on descent into camp fun for the franchise, paying meta homage to horror tropes in a way that the Scream films would continue a decade later. Watch The Final Chapter and Jason Lives as a duology and you'll get just about the most satisfying Friday the 13th experience you could hope for.

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