If you ask any old-school horror fan if they’ve ever watched The Exorcist, then they’ll undoubtedly tell you that they have. I mean, how could they not? It’s one of the only horror movies that has ever been in contention for Best Picture, and it’s arguably the scariest out of the six that have been nominated. But if you’d ask that same fan if they’ve ever watched The Exorcist movies, plural, well, then that’s where you might find less people raising their hands.
And for good reason, too, since—and I’m going to be completely honest as a fan of the series—none of the sequels were really all that great. Now, that’s not to say that I don’t think they should be watched, since I would definitely consider The Exorcist series as one of the greatest horror franchises of all time. That said, I can definitely understand why many fans of the first movie might not have even bothered with the sequels since none of them even came close to the original. I’m looking forward to the upcoming The Exorcist trilogy from Blumhouse since I love what they did with Halloween. But until that day comes, here is every The Exorcist movie, ranked. How many of these sequels have you seen?
Oh, and minor spoilers up ahead.
5. The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Starring Linda Blair, Richard Burton, Louise Fletcher, and James Earl Jones (in a locust suit, but I’ll get to that) and directed by John Boorman, The Exorcist II: The Heretic, is the Highlander II: The Quickening of The Exorcist series, and by that, I mean it’s the movie that most fans of the franchise say, “What second movie?” The story is about a priest, played by Richard Burton, who travels to Africa to find a boy formerly possessed by the demon, Pazuzu. He learns of Pazuzu after Regan from the first movie (played by an all-grown-up Linda Blair) is put under hypnosis with this strange, dream-reading machine, which reveals that Father Marrin from the first film once encountered Pazuzu in Africa. Locusts ensue.
Now, if that synopsis didn’t really make much sense, I’m sorry, but it’s hard to really break down The Exorcist II: The Heretic, because it’s a freaking mess! It being cited by some as one of the worst sequels ever made, I would take it one step further and say it’s one of the worst movies ever made, period. James Earl Jones is in the film, as mentioned earlier, and he’s wearing a locust suit for some reason. And if that sentence alone doesn’t make much sense to you, then I highly advise that you avoid this movie. Because James Earl Jones wearing a locust suit and spitting out a tomato (I’m serious) probably makes more sense than anything else in this gobbledygook of a film. Seriously, I love nonsensical movies, but The Exorcist II: The Heretic breaks even me, and that’s saying something.
4. Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
Okay, so Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist are essentially the same movie with different endings. This is the only case I’ve ever known this to happen, and honestly, either film could be placed at number 4 on this list, but I think Dominion is a slightly better film. Directed by Renny Harlin, Exorcist: The Beginning stars Stellan Skarsgard as the first movie’s Father Marrin. World War II has broken the priest, and he gives up his faith to become an archaeologist. But upon traveling to Africa, he finds that evil has followed him, and it possess a doctor.
Now, Exorcist: The Beginning is really boring. And I mean really boring. Despite the first The Exorcist being slow by today’s standards, it carries a tremendous sense of dread throughout. But Exorcist: The Beginning is just slow to the point of exhaustion. There’s a really scary jump scare involving a hyena, and the ending is pretty sharp. But the rest of the film just drags for seemingly no reason, making it the weaker of the prequels if you ask me.
3. Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist (2005)
Okay, so again, Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist and Exorcist: The Beginning, are essentially the same movie but with different players. Directed by Paul Schrader and also staring Stellan Skarsgard as Father Marrin, Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist was actually made before Exorcist: The Beginning, but the studio didn’t like it, so they redid the film, and that’s why we have Exorcist: The Beginning. Again, it’s about Father Marrin losing his religion and then traveling to Africa to confront evil.
But here’s the thing. It’s not as boring as Exorcist: The Beginning. I don’t know if it’s the tone or how it approaches the demon -- this time possessing a disabled boy -- but it’s just more watchable. It’s probably the film that most closely feels like the first movie, and for that, it’s slightly better. But not much better. There are no major jump scares in this one like in Exorcist: The Beginning, but honestly, they didn’t even need to make Exorcist: The Beginning in the first place. Dominion works well enough on its own. Oh, well.
2. The Exorcist III (1990)
Okay, I’m going to give you a little history lesson. Now, I already mentioned that The Exorcist II: The Heretic is the sequel to The Exorcist. But what if I were to tell you that the book’s author, William Peter Blatty, actually wrote a sort of sequel to The Exorcist called The Ninth Configuration (which was originally titled Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane!), and he also directed it? Not only that, but it takes place in a mental institution. I only bring that up since The Exorcist III also takes place in a mental institution, and it concerns a police lieutenant (played by George C. Scott) investigating murders that are similar to that of someone known as the “Gemini" Killer (played by Brad Dourif) who died many years ago.
Honestly, this trivia makes the Exorcist III a much more interesting film when seen in that context than it actually is. Brad Dourif is the best part as the spirit of the “Gemini” killer, which can possess other people, and there are some scary moments. But the overall movie is a bit lopsided. It has some creepy scenes, and one of the most alarming jump scares in cinema history, but I can’t in good faith say it’s a great sequel. It’s a good one, sure, but not a great one. Not when compared to the original, anyway.
1. The Exorcist (1973)
You know the plot. A girl (played by Linda Blair) gets possessed, a priest and an exorcist come to exorcize her. Vomiting, crotch stabbing, and head spinning ensue.
Honestly, there’s not much I have to say about the first The Exorcist. Directed by William Friedkin and starring Max Von Sydow, The Exorcist has been talked about to death, and you know why it’s so iconic. Sure, as I mentioned earlier, The Exorcist is actually kind of slow, but its scares are horrifically shocking, and the acting across the board is superb. I would hazard to say that there have been better possession movies, but no other possession movie will ever surpass The Exorcist. That’s just how legendary it is.
But what do you think of the sequels? I think it would be unfair to even bother to compare the sequels to the original, but out of the sequels, which one do you think is the best? Make your voice heard in the poll below. And for news on 2021 movies or even 2022 movies, or heck, news on the best horror movies or even upcoming horror movies, make sure to swing by here often.
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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.