The Friday the 13th movies have been a part of pop culture for as long as many of us have been alive. And yet, how many can really distinguish the movies themselves from each other? More than any other franchise, the Jason flicks all seem to blur together into a bloody stew of decapitated heads and cavorting teens. Still, there are some gems among the carnage. To celebrate IFC’s Friday the 13th marathon kicking off ’80s Weekend, we thought we’d take a look back at the franchise as a whole, and rank which ones warrant a repeat viewing, and which should get the sharp end of a machete.
12. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
First, let’s address the 3D elephant in the room. The powers that be behind Friday the 13th Part III knew they needed something big to lure audiences back to Crystal Lake, and so, as was seemingly required of threequels back in the ’80s, the filmmakers slapped some cheap looking 3D effects up on the screen and hoped for the best.
The thing is, while the 3D is hokey, it’s probably the best thing about this tired third outing. Director Steve Miner had brought a fresh take to the previous film in the franchise, the aptly named Friday the 13th Part II, but he seems to have hit a wall here, simply rehashing the same style and story from his last outing. The best moments, in fact, are the bananas 3D kills, like Jason squeezing a victim’s head until his eyeball pops out.
But most of the effects are cheap to the point of laughable. We’re talking visible strings, people. If there’s one word to describe this third entry in the franchise, it’s bland, and that isn’t going to fly in a series defined by over-the-top gore. If it weren’t for the fact that Jason’s iconic hockey mask made its debut here, this would be a completely forgettable outing from start to finish.
11. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Friday flicks have the bad habit of billing themselves as the “final” chapter, only to return a year later with a cheaper budget, and a goofier premise. Still, this “Final Friday” stands out as the weakest of the lot, mainly because Jason barely appears in it. Instead, his spirit hops from body to body, like Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap, but with some serious bloodlust.
The rules never make sense, even by the loose standards of this franchise, so we’re left with a confusing journey full of magical daggers and family prophecies. Throw in a cheap Halloween nod (or yet another rip-off), when we learn that the final would-be victim also happens to be Jason’s long lost sister, and you’ve got a franchise running of fumes. When the best moment of the movie happens in the final seconds, as Freddy Krueger’s claw bursts from the ground and drag’s Jason’s mask to Hell (setting up a Freddy Vs. Jason crossover that took a decade to actually happen), you know you have a movie that’s just treading bloody water.
10. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
When you bill a movie as Jason in the Big Apple, only to spend the majority of the runtime cruising down a presumably much cheaper to shoot on river, the audience is going feel like it was taken for a ride, literally and figuratively. Still, while Jason Takes Manhattan is often thought of as the worst Friday movie, it has some goofy thrills that at least make it good for a laugh.
A rooftop fight scene, where a boxer tries to take the fight to our campground killer, is hilarious, thanks to a head spinning climax. And the laughably poor New York sets, that seem to compromise one city block and a few Canadian actors, make for a fun “Midnight Movie” vibe. This is an awful movie, from start to finish, but at least it isn’t boring.
9. Friday the 13th (2009)
The early ’00s saw a rash of horror remakes from the good people at Platinum Dunes. Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and, of course, Friday the 13th. None worked particularly well, but at least Nightmare and Halloween tried to establish their own voice. Friday was just a bland rehash, with a slightly higher production value than the bare bones effort of the ’80s and ’90s. There are some fun kills to be sure. Veronica Mars and Party Down star Ryan Hansen gets a particularly absurd death that almost warrants one more entry in the franchise. Almost.
8. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Yet another Friday the 13th movie that forgets to, you know, have Jason in it, the big twist here is that the grieving father of a murdered boy is the one doing the killing. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that was the plot of the first Friday the 13th. Not only does this movie skimp on the supernatural slaughter from that Voorhees fella, it also manages to rip off its own franchise in the process.
Yes, there are some fun kills, and loads of wacky sex comedy (hey, it was the mid-’80s), but the feeble attempt to set up a new killer — first with that deadly daddy, and then with Tommy Jarvis, an adult version of the Corey Feldman character introduced in the previous entry — falls flat twice.
7. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
New Blood is notable for one very special (and very ridiculous) reason. Instead of the typical bevy of nubile teens that are usually served up for Jason’s machete, this movie introduces a telekinetic girl with a serious chip on her shoulder. The plot is confusing, the super-powered storyline self-serious, and the final showdown not as epic as it should have been. But still…telekinesis!
Unfortunately, this movie has some of the weakest kills in the series, thanks to a last minute decision to cut down the gore to secure a R-rating. In a series based on gratuitous violence, skipping over the bloody bits is like trying to slice and dice a couple having sex with one arm tied behind your back.
6. Jason X (2001)
After the confusing misfire that was Jason Goes to Hell, it was only natural that a franchise largely centered around the murderous shenanigans of a particular summer camp would jump hundreds of years in the future, and into outer space. Wait, what?
Trying desperately for a fresh spin on a tired formula, the filmmakers behind Jason X made a truly awful movie, which is incredibly entertaining in spite of itself. Essentially a riff on Alien by a group of filmmakers who have never seen Alien, the story centers around a rugged crew trapped on a spaceship with none other than Jason Voorhees.
There are some truly head scratching choices here, like an android whose nipple falls off and a futuristic update on Jason’s iconic hockey mask that makes him look like he’s auditioning for a Shaquille O’Neal movie. Still, this entry ends up being incredibly watchable thanks to its idiotic premise, and some laugh-out-loud nonsense, like a holodeck scene that sees our favorite camp killer beating the living hell out of two holographic topless campers. Gotta get the T&A in somehow.
5. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
A surprisingly effective entry in the aging franchise, Jason Lives seems to know what it is, and how to just have fun with it. The jokes fly, and are often funny. The movie finds Jason punching through a man’s heart, hiding in a Winnebago bathroom, and bringing a machete to a paint ball fight in a scene that devolves into straight up slapstick.
True blue horror fans might shun this Friday entry for its comedy chops, but this is one of the few movies in the series to have a purposeful tone, and achieve it. If only the filmmakers hadn’t, for some inexplicable reason, ditched the nudity that is a cornerstone of the series, this movie might be much higher up on the list. Let’s be honest, a Friday the 13th movie without gratuitous boobage is not a Friday the 13th movie we can fully endorse.
4. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
After the fan freak-out inducing final image of Jason Goes To Hell, it took another 10 years of development hell before we finally got to see Freddy and Jason face off on the big screen. And while this movie tends to veer more towards the Nightmare side of things, Jason gets his licks in too.
While, yet again, you can’t call this a good movie per se, it is one of the most entertaining flicks Jason’s ever appeared in. Freddy gets to deliver the one liners, dream logic shakes up the tired Friday formula, and Jason gets to be Jason without having to carry an entire movie on his weary shoulders.
3. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Corey Feldman as a creepy kid! Crispin Glover in the weirdest dance number this side of Can’t Buy Me Love! This movie couldn’t be more ’80s if Debbie Gibson did the soundtrack.
Probably the best directed entry of the original movies, this is a solid Friday the 13th movie from start to finish. It has decent performances, fun kills and an actual story arc for young Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman), who’s slowly driven mad by his run-ins with the hockey mask wearing killer.
Sure, even this well made sequel can’t escape the schlocky charms of the franchise. There are flashbacks galore here, including an unprecedented flashback within a flashback, that seem more a result of lazy writing than an actual coherent vision. But all in all, this is a solid horror flick, even if it would lead to two inferior entries in the “Tommy Jarvis” trilogy that plagued the middle of the franchise.
2. Friday the 13th (1980)
The first, and nearly the best, the original Friday the 13th somehow manages to be a classic without a single hockey mask in its runtime. While the movie centers on the usual slaughter of randy teens down at Crystal Lake, the twist here is that it’s Jason’s mother, a vengeful matriarch getting even for her son’s death, who’s doing all the killing. With some iconic deaths, none more so than a young, naked Kevin Bacon taking an arrow through the throat, this movie set the sturdy foundation that the franchise was built upon.
1. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
The Friday the 13th movies were guilty pleasures for many of us growing up. They were the movies we weren’t allowed to watch. The ones that gave us nightmares long after we’d forgotten which one was which. Still, when you look at the franchise as a whole, there aren’t a lot of high points. Compared to the sarcastic lunacy of the Nightmare movies, or the stripped down terror of the Halloween franchise, the Friday the 13th movies feel like a mishmash of boobs and blood in search of a compelling story.
The second film in the franchise, which established Jason as a monstrous murderer behind a mask, is probably the most coherent film in the series. It has leads with actual points of view, and a spooky final act in which one of them is forced to play house with Jason, pretending to be his long dead mother. Sure, the filmmakers here knocked off the Halloween franchise pretty blatantly in an attempt to find a formula they could repeat after killing the main bad gal of the first film, but it somehow works, making for an entertaining bit of blood soaked fluff.