All The Scream Movies, Ranked: The Scream franchise has long been revered as one of the most consistent and innovative of the horror genre. Wes Craven’s Scream, which debuted in 1996 with a fresh take on a tired genre, carved its way into the hearts of horror aficionados as the meta whodunnit-slasher to end all meta whodunnits-slashers.
Deconstructing the genre with a playful attack on its many clichés, Kevin Williamson penned an unrivaled meditation on horror cinema that succeeds at being equal parts satire and love letter, all while establishing itself as a legitimately tense and unforgettable addition to the canon itself. And, immediately cementing itself as an instant classic, the film, of course, spawned a handful of sequels.
It’s only right that the movie critiques the genre’s redundancy and inevitably met the same destiny as its targets. But wait, there’s a twist! The sequels are actually pretty solid.
Taking the opportunity to poke fun at the idea of sequels and trilogies, then eventually remakes, reboots, and all kinds of other aspects of horror, Scream quickly asserted itself as much more than a one-off hit, instead transcending into a sort of perpetual genre guru, returning every so often to comment on the current state of scary movies.
Giving us murder mysteries, the Ghostface persona, the ultimate final girl, and one hell of a theme song with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand,” this franchise has endured for decades, leaving behind six installments and counting.
Join us as we rank them.
6. Scream (2022)
Though many were skeptical about the series continuing without its late director Wes Craven, there’s no denying that the possibility of a fifth Scream held incredible potential. After all, the horror genre has seen plenty of change since 2011’s Scream 4, and with new material to dissect, who wouldn’t be excited about an updated installment?
As it turns out, not all of this potential was fully realized. Radio Silence helms a mix of fresh faces and returning characters, and the results are mainly just fine. Jenna Ortega, the up-and-coming horror icon that she is, is a fantastic addition to the Scream lore, and David Arquette’s Dewey is given some serious development, but unfortunately, series veterans Neve Campbell and Courteney Cox are sidelined and restricted to glorified cameos.
The film’s biggest problem, though, is that it fails to fully capitalize on a golden opportunity to satirize the genre in a time of undeniable reformation. To its credit, Scream (2022) handling of the timely topic of “requels” is successful, and the killer reveals a sharp enough jab at toxic fandom.
However, it completely misses the chance to comment on the arthouse horror craze (beyond some “elevated horror” namedrops) and thus fails to capture the current genre zeitgeist in its entirety.
The simple title of Scream, ala Halloween (2018), would be a clever gag had the film not suffered the exact same fate of legacy sequel mediocrity. Derivative and slightly underwhelming, for sure, but a perfectly passable slasher all the same.
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5. Scream 3 (2000)
Though easily the weakest film of the original trilogy, Scream 3 is still a fun time that relishes being the most bombastic and unapologetically cheesy of the bunch. Ditching Woodsboro and relocating the action to Hollywood as a killing spree plagues the set of “Stab 3,” (the in-universe slasher franchise depicting the original’s events), the third outing of the series certainly goes bigger but does perhaps bite off more than it can chew.
Sidney and crew facing off against Ghostface during the production of a sleazy horror sequel is an irresistible premise that, surprisingly, winds up being kind of a mixed bag. Wes Craven’s direction is on-point as always, and our main cast of characters is as charming as ever, but Kevin Williamson’s absence from the script is definitely felt.
There are plenty of interesting ideas here, specifically within the utilization of the film’s setting, such as chase sequences through movie sets and fights with prop weapons. However, there are also numerous times when the film gets lost in its own silliness, and without Willamson’s sly wit and legitimate sense of danger to reign it in, Scream 3 occasionally borders on self-parody.
One could argue that the movie’s messy plot, odd retconning, and overall goofiness (seriously, Jay and Silent Bob make a cameo) are meant to be a statement on the flimsiness of threequels, although … that’s probably a stretch. Either way, if Courteney Cox’s awful haircut is what’s generally considered the low point of your franchise, then you’re doing just fine.
4. Scream VI (2023)
From this point forward, these movies basically kick ass. If the illness of Scream (2022) was its blandness and inability to leave a mark, then Scream VI has the antidote. Finding its footing and commencing with a killer opening, this sixth installment means business, and it wastes absolutely no time sending a message.
Boasting the most brutal Ghostface of the series and making fantastic use of their New York setting to offer up some truly intense sequences, Radio Silence cranks the dial to eleven and goes for broke with Scream VI. Though it isn’t without its missteps, the film is a massive improvement upon its predecessor. The Halloween aspect certainly could have been played up a bit more, but there is an undeniably tense atmosphere within the movie that elevates everything it envelops.
The young protagonists are given infinitely more heart and depth, with Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown being the clear standouts. The return of Hayden Panettiere as fan-favorite Kirby also feels damn near perfect. The meta-commentary feels much more focused this time around, setting its sights on the hackneyed nature of modern movie franchises, and it makes for one of the funniest entries to date.
All of this is slightly overshadowed by a predictable third act and an admittedly disappointing reveal, but luckily, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The future of this franchise looks to be in good hands, with an impressive return to form that both embraces the history of the series and paves a new path for itself in the process.
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3. Scream 2 (1997)
Capitalizing on the unexpected success of the first film, Craven, Willamson, and the surviving cast of Scream return to deliver an ambitious and, ultimately, quite satisfying follow-up. Following Sidney as she moves on to college in hopes of leaving the events of the previous movie behind her, until Ghostface arrives and starts hacking up more victims, Scream 2 proves for the first time that the franchise’s masked menace can’t be put down for good.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this movie … that’s just one of them. Jamie Kennedy is put to even greater use as Randy, serving as the mouthpiece for the film’s comments on the inferiority of sequels and the inherent obligation to up the ante, and he absolutely chews the scenery in the role.
And upping the ante is precisely what Scream 2 does, to equally triumphant and detrimental effect. From an action standpoint, the film does a tremendous job of raising the stakes and operating on a significantly wider scope, with the college campus making for the perfect playground for Craven’s wonderful set pieces.
Through the additional action, Neve Campbell is able to fully come into her own as Sidney, cementing herself as a badass horror icon for the ages in just her second outing. Narrative-wise, though, the sequel tries on boots that are a little too big to fill, and the overall busyness of the story begins to unravel by the end.
2. Scream 4 (2011)
Returning to Woodsboro after a decade-long series hiatus, Wes Craven, Neve Campbell, and Kevin Williamson reunite for one final crack at the franchise they helped build together. Everything about Scream 4 is an impeccable display of why this series continues to endure and holds the potential to endure for a whole lot longer.
Rather than immediately following Scream 3 with a fourth installment, Craven and the company waited until they saw a shift in the genre worthy of examination and struck when they settled on the right opportunity.
Using its meta lens to explore the then-current phenomenon of remakes, with some additional conversation on found footage and torture porn, the fourth and final entry into the Craven era of Scream films feels just as timely and urgent as the original.
It really has everything. The simple story takes a number of exciting twists and turns, the new cast of characters is by far and away the best of the series, and the reveal of the killer is undoubtedly the strongest since 1996. If there is one major drawback of the movie, it’s that it looks really strange visually.
There’s a weird glossy look over the whole film that is unavoidably distracting. Still, it’ll take a lot to dethrone Scream 4 as the definitive Scream of the 21st century, but in a franchise this consistently good and occasionally brilliant, that day may come sooner than we think.
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1. Scream (1996)
In a series filled from top to bottom with solid entries, one masterpiece stands alone as the pinnacle of self-aware horror, and that is, of course, the original. Coming at a time when the genre was struggling and in dire need of revitalization, Scream came to save the day with its innovative, trademark brand of horror comedy.
Pulling apart silly genre conventions and poking fun in a way that was both honest and endearing, Kevin Williamson cooked up an incomparable satire of horror that remains the official blueprint for all self-referential genre fare. They say laughter is the best medicine, and the genre taking a step back and being able to tease itself proved to be exactly the shot in the arm that it so desperately needed.
Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courteney Cox were all clearly on their A-game from the very beginning, and who could forget Skeet Ulrich’s demented presence alongside the drooly, hammed-up antics of Matthew Lillard? From its anxiety-inducing opening sequence (arguably the greatest in horror history) to its jaw-dropping final moments, Scream solidifies itself as a giant of the genre, whose particular flavor has yet to be rivaled since.
We would be remiss not to mention Roger L. Jackson’s haunting Ghostface voice, as well, which lends itself beautifully to many of the film’s most memorable lines. A certified classic that truly gets better with time, Wes Craven’s Scream is the kind of decade-defining revelation that keeps the horror genre going alive and well.