With the release of Scream VI right around the corner, we thought it’d be fun to look back on Wes Craven’s fantastic Scream series.
It’s a franchise that shows no signs of slowing down, so if you’re new to the franchise or looking to sharpen your knowledge on this long-running series, take a gander at the Scream movies ranked below and then let us know which Scream movie gets your adrenaline pumping.
5) Scream 4 (2011)
There was a point in Scream 4 where I was ready to proclaim the third sequel as the best of the bunch — and a killer piece of cinema that adroitly uses modern media as its ultimate weapon. Unfortunately, Wes Craven and returning writer Kevin Williamson opt for a happy ending that allows the original cast to live to see another day.
Really, the pic should have ended with Emma Roberts’ deranged killer, Jill Roberts, riding off into the sunset as a twisted version of Sidney Prescott after manipulating the news media to craft her own fabricated hero journey. Imagine the ramifications of her actions in sequels — would she be haunted by the murders she committed? Would she regret positioning herself as a target for future Ghostface villains? Would she eventually come clean with her morbid tale?
Scream 4 needed a shocking ending to justify its existence. Alas, despite some great kills and fine performances from the likes of Hayden Panettiere and Rory Culkin, the fourth entry is little more than another chapter in a franchise stuck on autopilot.
4) Scream (2022)
Surprisingly, Scream, the requel, manages to shock and awe without bringing much new to the table aside from a more somber tone. While the kills are meaner and nastier than ever, the jokes are less common; even Dewey, our resident goofball, swaps the twinkle in his eye with a wearier gaze that somehow makes the character less interesting.
More criminally, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick bring Sidney back for more Ghostface mayhem but give her absolutely nothing to do. The character feels shoehorned into the plot because somebody somewhere didn’t think audiences would turn up for more Scream unless they saw Neve Campbell on the poster. To be fair, the talented actress does what she can with what amounts to an oversized cameo, but can’t overcome the script limitations. Her showdown with this iteration of Ghostface feels even more obligatory than the last one, which sullies the character’s journey in the original trilogy.
Negativity aside, Scream 2022 still offers enough blood and guts mayhem to warrant your attention. The young cast, led by Melissa Barrera (as Billy Loomis’ daughter), Jenna Ortega, and Jack Quaid, handle the material well, and the script does at least sneak in a few new ideas that merit enthusiasm for the sequel. At this point, there’s only so much more you can do with this franchise, and credit to all involved for at least crafting a plausible reason for Ghostface to kill again.
3) Scream (1996)
Wes Craven’s original shocker still delights as a clever slice of 90s pop culture, but too often looks and feels like a made-for-TV thriller starring incredibly attractive 20-year-olds as high schoolers. The action is clunky, Craven’s direction surprisingly erratic; while the cinematography coats the horror in warm hues better suited for a romantic comedy.
In other words, you can tell no one involved had any idea how successful Scream would ultimately become. And yet, much of that success lies in Kevin Williamson’s clever screenplay (and that terrific opening scene featuring Drew Barrymore), which pokes fun at the slasher genre without deviating too far from the formula. At one point, two characters literally scream at a security monitor as though they were watching Halloween. It’s pretty great.
Still, after my latest rewatch, I found myself underwhelmed by Scream’s overall design, its one-note characters, and the overlong finale. I still respect the original for its novelty but feel like parts two and three executed the Scream concept far better.
2) Scream 3 (2000)
I’m not placing Scream 3 up here just to drum up controversy. I think this is a remarkably well-made slasher film that somehow manages to reconfigure the Scream formula into something, ah, essential. Sure, you get the usual assortment of grisly kills and shocking twists and turns, but Wes Craven and screenwriter Ehren Kruger aim a little higher with their threequel and take a stab at Hollywood’s seedy underbelly; exploring a world oozing with sleazy producers who spend far too much time preying upon young actresses itching for stardom. Somehow this all connects to Sidney, the results of which might surprise you.
Also, where the first two films were very much products of the late 90s, Scream 3 feels more timeless with less focus on tongue-in-cheek meta-commentary and more emphasis on character and story. There’s also the welcome addition of Parker Posey, who absolutely nails her Gale Weathers-worshipping character and delivers a scene-stealing performance that makes you wish she stuck around a little longer.
I’ve only seen Scream 3 a handful of times, but each viewing always leaves me satisfied. I also think Sidney’s arc should have stopped here, as the pic gives her much-needed closure. Ditto for Dewey and Gale, who enjoy their own happily ever after far away from Ghostface’s nonstop reign of terror.
Alas, the powers that be couldn’t resist and just had to dust off our rag-tag team for more sequels that undermine their personal journeys.
1) Scream 2 (1997)
Where Scream was a novel cinematic exercise that somehow turned into an entertaining movie, Scream 2 takes the established concept and absolutely knocks it out of the park. With a bigger budget at his disposal, Wes Craven delivers a bolder, bloodier, and more stylish sequel replete with shocking revelations, gruesome kills, and a dazzling array of suspense that keeps you clinging to the edge of your seat from start to finish.
This is the movie Scream wanted to be.
Everyone brings their A-game, notably Neve Campbell, who adds more pathos to Sidney, turning her from a run-of-the-mill scream queen into an actual human being. Courtney Cox and David Arquette execute the Gale/Dewey romance with aplomb, while newcomers Sarah Michelle Gellar, Timothy Olyphant, and Jerry O’Connell leave an impact in smaller supporting roles.
Yeah, the third act again goes on a little too long and the big reveal causes more eye rolls than gasps, but Scream 2 moves along with such confidence and cheeky self-awareness that it’s easy to overlook its flaws. From the terrific opening scene with Jada Pickett and Omar Epps to the wild confrontation with Ghostface during the climax, Scream 2 dazzles with its whip-smart dialogue and oh-so-clever jabs at pop culture (particularly sequels). It’s a riot.