Ranking American Horror Story Seasons in Order

Updated on June 19, 2020
Noel Penaflor7 profile image

I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 14 years.

You've got Red on you
You've got Red on you

Before season 9 of the wildly popular FX series American Horror Story (titled 1984, because everything has to be set during the 80s now) premieres, here’s a ranking of the previous 8 Ahs seasons, from best to worst.

Contains spoilers, if you hadn’t figured that out.

1. Coven

Who's Playing Who

Fun Fact
Jessica Lange
Fiona Goode
Not good at being the Supreme
Sarah Paulson
Cordelia Foxx
Really bad at choosing a husband
Kathy Bates
Madame Delphine LaLaurie
So racist
Angela Bassett
Marie Laveau
I'd let her do my hair
Lily Rabe
Misty Day
How long can an audiotape of Stevie Nicks last in the swamp?

Quick Overview

Witches be trippin' at Hogwar-- um, Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies.

Really high heels.
Really high heels.

The strongest season from episodes 1 through 13, with not a weak nor extraneous episode in the bunch. It builds on what you’ve come to expect from the first 2 seasons, but with a bloody dose of gallows humor and not-so-subtle commentary on aging and female dynamics. From Jessica Lange’s bitchy Fiona to Emma Roberts’ super-bitchy Madison, Coven contains the Ahs’ most memorable group of characters. Coven even finds a way to incorporate Stevie Nicks, which can’t be all bad.

  • Best Character: Kathy Bates’ Madame LaLaurie manages to make an unrepentant racist/murderer somewhat sympathetic near the end of her arc, even while you still hate her.
  • Best Episode: #12 “Go To Hell”- The penultimate episode closes out all of the non-Coven characters in spectacular fashion, some of who you miss more than the actual coven members.

2. Hotel

Who's Playing Who

Fun Fact
Lady Gaga
The Countess
Tell me something girl, are you happy in this modern hotel
Evan Peters
James March
The pencil thin mustache shows how evil he is
Denis O'Hare
Liz Taylor
She looks exactly like Liz Taylor
Sarah Paulson
Grace McKenna
She loves drugs and crimped hair
Wes Bentley
John Lowe
He's a bad cop. As in bad at his job.

Quick Overview

Guests check in, but they don't check out. Because they get killed. I guess that means the cleaning deposit is put to good use.

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!
Caught in a bad Hotel
Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh! Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!
Caught in a bad Hotel. Rah rah ah-ah-ah!
Ro mah ro-mah-mah
Gaga oh-la-la!
Want your bad Hotel

So much going on here.
So much going on here.

Contains some of the best scary sequences in all of Ahs (the infected kid attack, March madness) and one of its most empathetic (Matt Bomer and Kathy Bates’ rather fraught mother-son relationship). 3 years before A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga proves she can act as The Countess, a person you’d think Gaga could play in her sleep but is given more diverse character moments that you’d think Gaga capable of. A star is born indeed.

The season falters during the Alphabet Killer scenes (you guess the killer about 10 minutes in), but it’s easily forgivable.

  • Best Character: A toss-up between Evan Peters’ mustachioed psycho James March and the Hotel Cortez itself. You know the cliché, “The Location is a character”? This applies in spades in regard to Hotel. The Cortez remains a place you’d want to visit once, and hope you get out alive.
  • Best Episode: #4 “Devils Night” All your favorite serial killers converge for dinner at the Cortez. Bloody. Brilliant.

3. Asylum

Who's Playing Who

Crazy Fun Fact
Jessica Lange
Sister Jude Martin
What some clam chowdah with that?
Sarah Paulson
Lana Winters
Lana does not like the banana
Evan Peters
Kit Walker
Kit does not like the aliens
Lily Rabe
Sister Mary Eunice McKee
Are you into nun porn?
Joseph Fiennes
Monsignor Timothy Howard
The priest that wants power, not little boys

Quick Overview

Intrepid reporter Lana Winters goes undercover at the notorious Briarcliff Asylum. Everybody thinks this is a good idea and that nothing will go wrong.

Ahs’ sophomore season had the best first 6 episodes of television back when it aired in 2012. Because everyone is afraid of asylums (if you’re not, you might belong in one). It had Nazis, Jessica Lange with a Boston accent, even aliens. Asylum would have been ranked much higher had it stuck the landing. The alien subplot was not handled well at all near the end, and neither was the denouement of the actual asylum. You almost forget Adam Levine and Jenna Dewan are in this and you’ll never hear The Name Game the same way.

  • Best Character(s): Lana Winters is Sarah Paulson’s her best work throughout all 8 seasons. I genuinely felt bad for all the things Lana had to go though in Asylum, even if a good portion of them felt more than a little implausible. Shout out to James Cromwell’s (Babe) kinky Nazi doctor. That’ll do, Nazi. That’ll do.
  • Best Episode: #5 “I Am Anne Frank Part 2”- The one where Bloody Face is revealed.

The Name Game

4. Murder House

Who's Playing Who

Fun Fact
Dylan McDermott
Dr. Ben Harmon
He should choose his sexual partners better
Connie Britton
Vivien Harmon
She's really into latex, and should choose her sexual partners better
Jessica Lange
Constance Langdon
She should not be having children
Taissa Farmiga
Violet Harmon
Terrible taste in boys
Kate Mara
Hayden McClaine
This bitch is crazy

Quick Overview

Because housing in California is so cheap, the Harmons head out west like the Beverly Hillbillies. This house is not clean.

Maybe if you didn't call it Murder House people wouldn't be murdered as much. Maybe call it Fun House but some people were murdered in it.
Maybe if you didn't call it Murder House people wouldn't be murdered as much. Maybe call it Fun House but some people were murdered in it.

You never forget your first time. From the twins in the basement, to Rubber Man, to the least happy gay couple ever, to Constance and her increasingly deranged progeny, Ahs’ inaugural season filled a hole (serial horror that pushed the boundaries of cable before streaming services eliminated them) and we haven’t looked back since. I remember back in 2011 when the school shooting episode caused all kinds of controversy and then we had an actual school shooting every week and fictional horror became a respite.

  • Best character: Ben Harmon. The worst husband ever. I remember someone pointed out that if Ben had only kept it in his pants, then every season of Ahs wouldn’t have happened. Thanks?
  • Best Episode: #11 “Birth”- The one where the twins are born. The season finale after this feels almost anticlimactic.

5. Apocalypse

Who's Playing Who

Fun Fact
Sarah Paulson
Wilhemina Venable/ Cordelia Goode/ Billie Dean Howard
Don't stare at her cane
Evan Peters
Mr. Gallant/ Tate Langdon/ James March/ Jeff Pfister
He is also 17 other characters this season
Cody Fern
Michael Langdon
It's nice they have conditioner even in the apocalypse
Emma Roberts
Madison Montgomery
Retail is hell
Kathy Bates
Miriam Mead
Domo oregato Ms. Roboto

Quick Overview

It's the end of the world is we know it

The most fan service-y season, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. If you think about it, the first 2 episodes are actually the scariest. Apocalypse turns into camp once the witches show up, but what high camp it is. I can’t remember smiling so much during an Ahs season. A plot device taken from the 1999 movie Galaxy Quest is easily forgiven, as well as the meandering final 3 episodes because, well, the Coven (see the #1 season).

  • Best Character: Mallory, almost by default, since she’s the only new character that really makes any impact.
  • Best Episode: #6 “Return to Murder House”- Sarah Paulson’s directorial debut! The return of Jessica Lange! Violet and Tate! The Harmons! Madison has a heart! One of the most complete Ahs episodes ever and arguably one of its best.

6. 1984

Who's Playing Who

Totally Awesome Fact
Emma Roberts
Brook Thompson
World's least likely serial killer.
Angelica Ross
Nurse Rita
World's least likely nurse.
Billie Lourd
Montana Duke
Bottle rocket blonde.
Leslie Grossman
Margaret Booth
Neither gross nor a man.
Cody Fern
Xavier Plympton
You hate it when your early gay porn work is found on tape.

Quick Overview

Set during the 80s. Sigh...

Not sure if it was on purpose that the season set in the 1980s (because everything needs to be set in the 80s now) suffers from the very thing the 80s as an era are accused of: too much of everything. Too many killers in one area. Too many cheap references to 80s slashers. 1984 started out fun but became less fun as the season wore on. It stayed consistent in tone, even when the story meandered. Also, that theme was pretty catchy.

  • Best Character- John Carroll Lynch’s Mr. Jingles is the only one you truly remember and the only one that the writers took the time to develop. He’s the serial killer with a heart of gold and a soft spot for his son (aww). Everyone else in the cast is a one-note psychopath or a vengeful ghost.
  • Best Episode- #7 “The Lady in White”- The one where you learn about Mr. Jingles’ extreme mommy issues.

7. Cult

Who's Playing Who

Fun Fact
Sarah Paulson
Ally Mayfair-Richards
Good restaurateur, unobservant wife. Looks good in robes.
Allison Pill
Ivy Mayfair-Richards
Evan Peters
Kai Anderson
The hair dye is compelling
Cheyenne Jackson
Dr. Rudy Vincent
Possibly a conflict of interest
Billie Lourd
Winter Anderson
She's cold

Quick Overview

If the group you belong to kills people to make a "statement", you may be in a cult. At least you get creepy cool masks.

The season without any supernatural elements, which really upset a lot of lightweights. Cult had its moments of greatness (the Anderson parents bedroom, the cult assaults), but what ultimately dooms it is the cult itself. None of the characters’ motivations feel real (Ivy’s in particular) and only serve as episode-stuffers. The episodes recounting history’s other famous cults feel like so much padding.

  • Best character: Adina Porter’s Beverly Hope aka the world’s most biased newspaper reporter. She’s the most unhinged in a cast of mostly unstable characters.
  • Best episode: #1 “Election Night”- The one that triggered everybody.

8. Roanoke

Who's Playing Who

Fun Fact
Kathy Bates
Thomasin 'The Butcher' White
You know it can't be good if her nickname is "The Butcher"
Cuba Gooding Jr.
Matt Miller
It's difficult not to make a show me the money reference
Lily Rabe
Shelby Miller
Show me the Millers
Sarah Paulson
Shelby Miller
See above
Andre Holland
Matt Miller
See above the see above

Quick Overview

The centuries-long mystery of Roanoke is finally solved!!! Click here to find out more!!!

Now that is a really popped collar
Now that is a really popped collar

I don’t so much dislike this season as I don’t remember much of it so it clearly didn’t make an impression on me. I’ve had opportunities to watch it again, but have consciously chosen to watch other seasons, if that tells you anything. The reality TV concept for Roanoke was an enjoyable way to change things up from the usual format. Unfortunately, like reality TV it was just as forgettable. Nice redneck torture sequence, though.

  • Best Character: Cheyenne Jackson’s Sidney James, a D-bag producer who gets what’s coming to him.
  • Best Episode: #10 “Chapter 10”- Not so much because it nails the finale, but because it brings back Lana Winters.

9. Freak Show

Who's Playing Who

Freaky Fun Fact
Sarah Paulson
Bettie and Dot Tattler
Wondering how many fetish porn sites are dedicate to these two
Jessica Lange
Elsa Mars
Wondering how many fetish porn sites are dedicated to legless women who run freak shows - 7
Finn Wittrock
Dandy Mott
He's not so dandy
Evan Peters
Jimmy Darling
Give him a hand
John Carroll Lynch
Twisty the Clown
We all float down here

Quick Overview

A Florida freak show in 1951 is the setting for multiple murders. A clown goes on a rampage. This happens in Florida ever year.

The only season of Ahs that is truly bad. With a premise so ripe for terror, the season should have been a slam dunk. But on an episode-by-episode basis, Freakshow was maddeningly inconsistent. I only finished it because I wanted to see if it would get better. It didn’t. At least Freak Show sent off Jessica Lange memorably. Missed opportunities all around.

  • Best Character: Twisty the Clown. It’s the only character worth remembering.
  • Best Episode: Whichever episode showed that all seasons of Ahs are linked.

Feel free to leave your favorite seasons, episodes, characters etc. Be sure to vote.

What's Your Favorite AHS Season?

See results

© 2019 Noel Penaflor


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    • Noel Penaflor7 profile imageAUTHOR

      Noel Penaflor 

      13 months ago from California

      You're welcome. Thanks for reading and looking forward to your list.

    • Jennifer Jorgenson profile image

      Jennifer Jorgenson 

      13 months ago

      Great article! Now I'm going to have to think about what my order is. Thanks for sharing!


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