The horror genre has been in a renaissance for a number of years, thanks to acclaimed original movies, and long-awaited franchise sequels. The new Scream is in the latter category, and marks the first time an installment was brought to life since the death of the late Wes Craven. The slasher property has forever changed the genre, and like most fans, I’ve got some opinions about which is the best Scream movie. Let’s break down all of the Scream movies, ranked.
4. Scream 3 (2000)
Scream 3 was originally set up to be the “final” installment of the property, but no horror franchise is ever truly dead. The third installment came out in 2000, and takes place largely on the set of in-universe movie Stab 3. This allows for Wes Craven to do some great nods to the original movie, and have some commentary about the film industry as a whole. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s the best Scream movie out there.
Wes Craven’s threequel has a tone unique to the rest of the franchise, leaning on comedy and camp, and even going full Scooby Doo at points. The violence is way more dialed down when compared to its predecessors. Sidney also has over the top visions of her dead mother, which felt a bit out of place. The Ghostface reveal does some less than ideal retconning, which never sat right with me. It’s for these reasons that it’s always been my least favorite of the bunch; it just feels like Scream 3 is in a slightly different franchise. That being said, every single line Parker Posey utters as Jennifer Jolie is hilarious, and the threequel did gift us with Courteney Cox’s infamous bangs.
3. Scream 2 (1997)
The pressure was on for Wes Craven to deliver with Scream 2, given what a phenomenon the original 1996 movie was. Luckily he and writer Kevin Williamson did just that, and created what many consider as one of the best Scream movies. We jump ahead in time to follow Sidney and Randy (Jamie Kennedy) at college, where a copycat killer soon begins killing on campus.
Scream 2 helped to greatly expand the narrative of the franchise, cementing the trio of OG heroes who would lead all five movies. The cast is stellar, with newcomers like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Laurie Metcalf standing out with their performances. The kills are gruesome, the identity of Ghostface is genuinely surprising, and we’re treated to another iconic opening sequence courtesy of Jada Pinkett Smith. This also showed footage from the Stab movie featuring Heather Graham, which would be seen a number of times throughout the franchise.
2. Scream 4 (2011)
I might be a bit biased on this one, because Scream 4 was the first movie that I was able to see in theaters. That being said, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson reunited for this sequel and came back with a vengeance. This sequel brings us back to Woodsboro as Sidney is doing a book tour while Gale and Dewey are happily married. It also features Sidney’s cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friends.
Scream 4 brings a ton of new and exciting concepts to the franchise, and features iconic performances. The triple opening sequence is a standout that shows Craven and Williamson came to bring something new to the table. All three of the original cast members bring it, but there are some real stand out performances from Hayden Panettiere, Emma Roberts, and Alison Brie. It’s also the birth of Marley Shelton’s Judy Hicks, who has a role in the 2022 Scream.
The kills in Scream 4 are a return to form for the franchise, with the camp of Scream 3 left in the early 2000s. That isn’t to say there isn’t still comedy; Anthony Anderson, Courteney Cox, and Alison Brie all chew the scenery and consistently get belly laughs from me. Act 3 of the movie is also super effective, with tension building to a boiling point by the time Ghostface’s identities are revealed.
1. Scream (1996)
Sidney Prescott says in Sream 4 “Don’t fuck with the original.” And Neve Campbell’s signature character is right, as Wes Craven’s OG 1996 flick is by far the best Scream movie. What he was able to do with Scream was revolutionary, and single-handedly saved the horror genre at the time. And despite the movie coming out over 20 years ago, its aged like fine wine in regards to both the dialogue and the actual scares.
It’s a story that even the most casual fans are familiar with: The Ghostface killer starts killing teenagers in the town of Woodsboro, starting with Drew Barrymore’s Casey Becker. That opening sequence is probably the most iconic horror scene from the last few decades, and absolutely shocked audiences at the time. This is due to both the grisly violence and the fact that the character played by Barrymore, who was a massive star, died so early.
Scream introduced a new tone to the horror genre; one that pivots between comedy and gnarly kill scenes. It’s a method that countless projects would try to emulate over the next few years, to varying levels of success. Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s way of breaking down the genre made it an instant classic for fans of the genre, many of whom identify with Randy. The original cast is all stellar, in particular standouts like Matthew Lillard and Rose McGowan. It’s just too bad that their respective tenures in the franchise were cut so short.
What’s your favorite scary movie? Well, that answer is clear from this list: the first and best Scream movie. Of course, this list will soon be updated to reflect the newest addition to the franchise, which is just days away from hitting theaters. The 2022 Scream is helmed by Ready or Not filmmakers Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, whose love for the franchise inspired legacy actors like Neve Campbell to return to Woodsboro. We’ll just have to wait and see if the movie performs well, and if more sequels come as a result. In the meantime, check out the 2022 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience.
Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his famous actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.
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