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Ranking American Horror Story Seasons in Order

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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRole(s)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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRole(s)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 to unpack..

So much to unpack..

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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRoleCrazy 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.

Pretty stair-y. I meant scary.

Pretty stair-y. I meant scary.

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

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRoleFun 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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRole(s)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

ranking-american-horror-story-seasons-in-order

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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRoleTotally 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...

ranking-american-horror-story-seasons-in-order

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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRoleFun Fact

Sarah Paulson

Ally Mayfair-Richards

Good restaurateur, unobservant wife. Looks good in robes.

Allison Pill

Ivy Mayfair-Richards

Really?

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.

ranking-american-horror-story-seasons-in-order

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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRoleFun 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!!!

ranking-american-horror-story-seasons-in-order

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.

Who's Playing Who

Actor/essRoleFreaky 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.

ranking-american-horror-story-seasons-in-order

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.

Buy AHS Seasons 1-4 Here!

© 2019 Noel Penaflor

Comments

Me on August 01, 2020:

Asylum is the best

Noel Penaflor (author) from California on May 13, 2019:

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

Jennifer Jorgenson on May 13, 2019:

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