The Scream Franchise Ranked!

The Scream franchise is one of horror’s best. Here’s a ranking of all the films so far in anticipation of Scream 6 (2023).

Now’s the perfect time to review the entire Scream franchise in anticipation of the release of Scream 6 (2023) on March 10. There isn’t a bad one in the bunch, but some lead the pack. Here’s a ranking of all the films so far and what there is to love about each and every one of them!

5. Scream 4 (2011)

Oh, the 2010s, a time of burgeoning internet fame and the weirdest cinema quality you’ve ever seen. My personal least favorite of the franchise is Scream 4, the series’ ironic critique on franchises that go on for too long.

This one is probably the slowest of the franchise, taking place 15 years after the first movie. Jill, played by Emma Roberts, is the mastermind in this plot, along with her (quickly betrayed) boyfriend, Charlie. She’s jealous of Sidney’s fame and success after surviving the original Woodsboro murders.

Even if I didn’t like this movie as much as the others, nothing compares to how much Jill commits to the bit. We can only watch as she cuts herself, rips out her own hair, stabs herself in the shoulder, smashes a picture frame with her face, and dives into a glass table to make it look like she was attacked (a key part of her plan). The scene seems to go on forever as she mutilates herself (and almost gets away with it, too). She certainly outsmarted Billy and Stu in that regard!

4. Scream 2 (1997)

Naturally, Scream 2 comments on the horror sequel. Sidney and Randy have escaped Woodsboro and attend Windsor College in Ohio together, but it seems Ghostface is still around every corner. Randy’s speech ragging on the first film’s events earns this movie its flowers alone (although I don’t forgive it for killing him off).

This film really follows the franchise’s “everyone’s a suspect mantra,” with even Sidney believing her boyfriend is once again Ghostface before Mickey, the film buff turned “psycho killer” played by Timothy Olyphant, shoots him in the head. The other killer is Billy Loomis’ mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. Her motive is “pure old-fashioned revenge” for her son, the “rat-looking, homo-repressed mama’s boy” (as Randy graciously puts it). I wonder if she’s friends with Mrs. Voorhees.

Even though the killers themselves aren’t exceptional, Scream 2 is a great follow-up to the original with its kooky cast of characters, clumsy killers, and incompetent cops, not to mention Jerry O’Connell’s cringy Top Gun homage in the cafeteria.

3. Scream 3 (2000)

Scream 3 is truly camp. This installment is as meta as it gets; its victims are actors playing the characters in Stab, the in-universe horror film series based on the first movie’s events. It pokes fun at horror trilogies, complete with a posthumous lesson on the rules of sequels by the late Randy Meeks, reprised by Jamie Kennedy.

This one is so bad it’s good, from the impossible voice changer that lets Ghostface impersonate absolutely anyone to the fax machine message turned gas leak explosion that killed Dewey’s Stab actor in dramatic fashion.

I’m not the biggest fan of the killer reveal and subsequent partial retcon of Billy’s motivation from the first film, but overall, Scream 3 is a fun watch.

2. Scream (2022)

Also known as Scream 5, this film plays on requels popularized by legacy sequels like Halloween (2018). So many modern day movies mischaracterize Gen Z and social media, but I think Scream 5 does a great job balancing realistic, timely portrayals of today’s horror fans in the age of toxic fandom and internet radicalization.

In true requel fashion, each of the main characters is related to legacy characters and the final battle takes place in Stu Macher’s house from the original (although it wasn’t filmed on the physical location). The kills and fight scenes are gruesome, but unlike most slashers, I actually feel sad as our cast gets picked off.

Scream 5 is full of homage to the original and the horror genre as a whole, like Randy’s niece Mindy (played by Jasmin Savoy-Brown) watching Stab and accidentally embodying her uncle’s exact position from Scream and Wes (played by Dylan Minnette) showering like he’s Marion Crane in Psycho (1960). This film even subverts itself; Tara, the protagonist introduced in the cold open played by Jenna Ortega, actually survives, making her the first ever in the franchise to do so.

I’m missing a great chase scene in this film, a highlight of all the previous installments, but the surprise kills, and killer reveals make up for it. Just when we thought his plot armor was strong enough, given how many times he’s been stabbed, this film sees the tragic demise of Deputy Dewey at the hands of Tara’s best friend Amber, played by Mikey Madison. Amber’s reveal comes with a second shocking kill when she shoots another character in the face, in her own words welcoming us to the third act.

The other killer is, in fact, the love interest, Richie, played by Jack Quaid, as Dewey warned near the start of the film. The two killers are radicalized Stab fans who just want the series to be as good as it used to be. Seeing Sam, played by Melissa Barrera, murder the hell out of her boyfriend Ritchie, just like Sidney did to Billy in the original, was incredibly satisfying. The most satisfying, though, is watching Courteney Cox punch Amber in the face and accidentally set her on fire after she dissed Dewey.

Scream 5 is the first sequel to be made without Wes Craven, but I think this film’s constant creativity and heartfelt dedication to the filmmaker’s legacy would make him proud.

I also appreciate the shoutout to the horror community on the internet in the form of a cameo by popular horror creators James A. Janisse and Chelsea Rebecca of Dead Meat playing satirized, asshole versions of themselves. Fandom doesn’t have to be toxic!

1. Scream (1996)

Unlike Sidney, you probably saw this one coming. As many of the killers in this franchise would agree, nothing beats the original.
What is there to love about it? Everything!

Scream redefined the horror genre as we know it. It killed its advertised main character in the cold open, Casey Becker, played by Drew Barrymore, in a shockingly grotesque way, starting the trend of killing a big name actor at the start of every movie in the franchise. In fact, every member of the cast gives it their all.

Neve Campbell forged one of the most iconic final girls of all time with her portrayal of the intelligent, badass Sidney Prescott. Jamie Kennedy captures the quintessential horror film nerd in Randy Meeks and is the comedic cornerstone of the film. The film-ignorant, sassy Tatum, played by Rose McGowan, is a perfect best friend for Sidney, playing the “big-breasted girl” stereotype in slashers. Her ditsy but caring older brother Dewey, played by David Arquette, deserves his spot as a legacy character immortalized in horror history. The bold, strong-willed journalist Gale Weathers, played by Courteney Cox, goes down as one of the best female protagonists ever to grace our screens, horror or otherwise. And don’t get me started on the killers. Skeet Ulrich as Billy Loomis and Matthew Lillard as Stu Macher are unmatched, playing these unhinged partners in crime with incessant cruelty and uncomfortably hilarious craze. Plus, they’re definitely in love (don’t @ me).

This film is everything good about the horror genre. Great kills, wickedly funny and clever dialogue (some of the funniest lines happen off screen in between scenes!), and a talented cast portraying perfectly characterized archetypes written by Kevin Williamson and directed by the late horror legend Wes Craven make Scream one of a kind.

Scream is an essential part of horror, and every sequel has its charm. Even after Craven’s passing in 2015, I’m still excited to see where the franchise goes next.

You can stream all the Scream movies on Paramount+. Scream 6 premieres only in theaters on Friday, March 10!

About the Author

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Christopher Ikonomou

Christopher Ikonomou is a 4th year at the University of California, Los Angeles pursuing Communication and Disability Studies. He has a particular interest in the entertainment industry and representation of marginalized people in film and TV. On campus, he is the Editor-in-Chief at OutWrite Newsmagazine, the oldest queer college publication in the United States, and an activist with the Disabled Student Union. He’s a horror superfan and has been featured by Buzzfeed, UCLA College, Bored Panda, and Teen Vogue for his vocal involvement in the fight for better representation of the disabled community on screen and in the genre, particularly those with Marfan syndrome like himself.