I am in love with found footage movies! What came to prominence with The Blair Witch Project has also been explored in a superhero movie (Chronicle) and a giant monster flick (Cloverfield). But the genre seems the most comfortable with horror, and the Paranormal Activity movies are probably its premier franchise.
That’s because found footage is pretty much ingrained in its very DNA. What began as a simple haunted house story soon developed into movies with covens and alternate dimensions. Sure, some movies in the franchise are better than others, but that’s what this list is for. Don’t forget to press play.
6. Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
Continuing from the events in Paranormal Activity 2, Paranormal Activity 4 features a new character in Alex, who moves into a new house with her family. Her neighbor gets sick and has to go to the hospital, and her son, Robbie, is left with Alex’s family. And that’s when stuff gets spooky. We again hear about Toby the ghost from Paranormal Activity 3 (because this series likes to jump around a lot), and even Katie, who took baby Hunter in the second movie, makes a return as an adult. A coven is suspected, and, yeah… it’s kind of all over the place.
Which is just one of its problems. Its other major problems are that it’s really predictable and not scary in the slightest. The whole idea of virgin sacrifices and witches was tired even before 2012, so none of those elements really add up in the sequel. If anything, they subtract from it. Add to the fact that the found footage angle was feeling more like a gimmick than ever with this one, and you probably have the worst movie in the franchise.
5. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)
The latest Paranormal Activity movie (but likely not the last) is probably objectively worse than Paranormal Activity 4, but at least it tries something different, so it has that going for it. The story this time around is about a family that moves into a new house and they find a special camera than can actually see ghosts. They have a daughter named Liela whose blood is needed to fulfill a prophecy, and it just goes off the rails from there. And to make matters worse, it has direct connections to the best movie in the franchise, tarnishing that one, too. I give this one a hard pass.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension technically tried a lot of new things (It was in 3D, for one) , but the story stayed with the same old, same old, with Toby coming back again, and blah, blah, blah. Gone was the simplistic but terrifying unknown, and it was replaced with an unnecessary backstory that felt stale by Part 4. So by Part 6, it was just annoying. It’s possibly the worst movie in the franchise, but I go back and forth between 4 and 6 all the time. They’re both pretty terrible.
4. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)
Those who stuck around long enough after Part 4 were greeted with something that was a little unique for the series. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones has an almost entirely Latino cast and an interesting setting in Oxnard, California. It’s about an 18-year-old who starts messing around with witchcraft after the death of his neighbor downstairs, and how he becomes a “marked one,” which gives him powers from the dark side. His family tries to save him.
Now, granted, this is probably the least scary out of the entire series, but that’s fine. Not since the second movie did I find myself laughing as much as I did with this one, as the characters are, at the very least, interesting. It also does a better job of mixing in the past mythos than The Ghost Dimension or the clumsy Part 4 did. If I wasn’t a fan of the series, I probably wouldn’t like this one since it’s pretty ho hum as a horror movie. But as a fan of the series, it’s one of the more passable movies in the franchise.
3. Paranormal Activity (2007)
The one that started it all, the first movie is particularly special because it’s so bare bones. It’s about a boyfriend and girlfriend who move into a new home together and are haunted by a ghost. They set up a camera, and then weird occurrences start happening. And that’s it. It’s just a ghost story with modern-day technology. How genius is that?
Well, so genius that it spawned a bunch of sequels, some great, and some terrible. But the first Paranormal Activity still feels special, even today since it has genuine scares and a phenomenal climax. If you can just try to forget some of the later movies, then you can truly enjoy and get freaked out by this fairly simplistic story.
2. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
The second movie in the series, Paranormal Activity 2 is strange since it’s a sequel and a prequel. This time around, we get to meet Katie from the first movie’s sister, Kristi and her husband and child. There are ghostly dealings in the house, and we find out that Katie and Kristi may have been haunted back when they were children. Spooky stuff goes bump in the night again, but this time, it’s much more effective and scarier.
The pacing in this one moves much faster than in the original, and it’s to the film’s benefit. Unlike the original where the waiting kind of seemed like it was just trying to stretch out the runtime, this time around, the waiting is punctuated by actual scares. No waiting until the very end for the big kaboom this time. And the added mythos is actually interesting and feels much more personal than it does in the sequels after Paranormal Activity 3. Now this is how a Part 2 should be done!
1. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)
While some weren’t completely enamored by Part 3 in the franchise, for me, it’s my absolute favorite. It’s chronologically the first in the series, since it concerns Kristi and Katie from Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 as children in the ’80s, and it has the best scares in the entire franchise. We learn that Katie and Kristi have been haunted ever since they were children by a ghost named Toby, and that the ghost has been following them ever since. Great stuff!
I just love the overall tone of this one. All of the films after 3 explored too much of Katie’s history, but this one gives just enough to make it all work. Yes, there are more jump scares in this one than the previous 2, and yes, it kind of plays up the ‘80s vibe a bit too much. But it’s also the most fun movie in the franchise, and the one that explores the mythology the best in the series. I love this movie!
Overall, the first 3 Paranormal Activity movies are great, and the next 3 are… not so great. But as a whole, I still love the franchise dearly and I’m looking forward to Paranormal Activity 7, whenever that comes out. But what are your favorite movies in the franchise? Let me know in the comments section below.
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Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.