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Movies & TV

15th Mar 2023

Ranking the Scream movies from worst to best, including Scream VI

Stephen Porzio

Scream VI

[Ghostface voice] “What’s your favourite Scream movie?”

Scream VI has finally arrived in Irish cinemas in what is great news for fans of the long-running and self-aware slasher series.

As usual for the franchise, the new entry boasts a stellar cast, including Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jenna Ortega, Mason Gooding and Melissa Barrera – all of whom JOE got to interview for the upcoming sequel, along with its directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. You can watch all those interviews on our YouTube channel right here.

The release of the movie has led JOE to ponder though how we would rank the movies in the franchise in terms of quality. As such, we’ve done just that, which you can read below:

6. Scream 4

Notable for being the last of the franchise to be directed by Wes Craven before his death in 2015, Scream 4 basically sees him and returning screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who wrote Scream and Scream 2, playing the hits of the franchise. A referential and stabby opening scene: check. Characters breaking down horror movie conventions to try to stop a Ghostface killer: check. A supporting cast of actors who were rising stars at the time the movie was made: check. A string of tense and bloody set-pieces: check.

In including these, Scream 4 hits upon all the elements fans of the franchise enjoy. Yet, aside from Hayden Penettiere’s breakout character Kirby Reed, a horror movie fan with a dry wit, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that this entry – while solid – is the most derivative of the series to the original Scream.

Best scene: The hospital-set climax

Most valuable supporting player: Hayden Panettiere

5. Scream (2022)

“Oh my God, he’s making a ‘requel’… or a ‘legasequel’. Fans are torn on the terminology,” the cinephile character played by franchise newbie Jasmin Savoy Brown says of the killer donning the Ghostface mask in this confusingly titled fifth Scream entry. She is basically describing the movie itself, which takes the Blade Runner 2049/Star Wars: The Force Awakens approach of introducing brand new and younger lead characters (including a new final girl played by Melissa Barrera) who eventually link up over the course of the story with the former leads of the franchise.

The approach was a smart move in that it injected fresh blood into the series while also retaining the characters and elements fans enjoyed from the proceeding movies. New franchise directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) stage Ghostface’s killer antics with aplomb. David Arquette gives his best performance in any of Scream films (and maybe ever) as an older, beaten down-by-life version of the lovable former co-lead character Dewey Riley. There are some very fun ties to the original 1996 film. The eventual explanation for why the murders are being committed is the franchise at its satirical best.

Aside from some niggling complaints, such as wishing some of the new lead cast members like Wednesday’s Jenna Ortega had more to do, Scream 2022 is a very solid requel.

Best Scene: The part in the finale when the viewer realises the events are occurring in the same house as the original Scream’s climax

Most Valuable Supporting Player: Now supporting player David Arquette

4. Scream VI

Taking Ghostface’s murderous antics to New York City, for much of its runtime Scream VI is among the best entries in the Scream series. It benefits from a beautifully staged and inventive opening scene, a number of truly taut set pieces (one involving a ladder is a franchise high-point) and the winning return of fan favourite Kirby Reed (Hayden Panettiere), who has now become an FBI special agent. On top of this, the younger main characters of Scream (2022) – the “core four” if you will – played by Jasmin Savoy Brown, Jenna Ortega, Melissa Barrera and Mason Gooding are thankfully given way more screentime here and prove to be worthy successors to the original’s heroes Dewey Riley (David Arquette) and the missing-in-action Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell).

That said, the last act – featuring the most predictable and silly Ghostface reveal of the entire series – does put a strain on some of the goodwill the movie had earned up to that point. While Scream VI features some highs for the slasher franchise, it also comes with some lows – and as such winds up ranking somewhere in the middle.

Best scene: The opening scene / The ladder scene

Most valuable supporting player: Liana Liberato

3. Scream 3

Given how the Scream movies play with movie conventions and feature characters who talk non-stop about cinema, it made sense that the franchise would eventually go to Hollywood for one of its murder sprees. Taking its meta-commentary to new levels, Scream 3 sees franchise lead character Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell) drawn to Tinseltown after a new Ghostface begins killing the cast Stab 3, a film inspired by her life.

With a lowly 41% score on Rotten Tomatoes, Scream 3 is generally considered the worst of the franchise. That said, it has undergone a revaluation in recent years – rising in a lot of fans’ estimations. Much of this is down to its extremely critical view of Hollywood, which comes from delving into the backstory of Sidney’s deceased mother Maureen (Lynn McRee) and her experiences as a young aspiring actress with an abusive producer (Lance Henriksen), the latter bearing parallels to Harvey Weinstein – who actually produced the first four Scream movies.

Sidney’s probe into her mother’s past gives Scream 3 an emotional heft the other franchise entries lack. All the while, the film milks its ingenious self-referential premise for all its worth. In particular, indie darling Parkey Posey is hysterical as the kooky actress playing reporter Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) in Stab 3. And while it may have been a big deal at the time of its release that Scream 3 toned down its gore in response to the increased scrutiny regarding violence in media in the immediate aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, on a rewatch you barely notice the change.

Best scene: The two-way mirror scene

Most valuable supporting player: Parker Posey

2. Scream

It may be sacrilegious not to put the original Scream at the top of this list. After all, it’s one of the most iconic horrors of all time and helped take the genre in a new direction. Arriving following the slasher boom of the late ’70s and ’80s with the Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises, Scream truly felt like a breath of fresh air upon release in 1996 for the groundbreaking move of having its lead characters actually be aware of real-life films and talk openly about the types of cinema tropes that director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson were attempting to subvert – a storytelling approach which has basically become commonplace in movies today.

Yet, that’s just one reason why 1996’s Scream remains so beloved. You also have that legendary and spectacularly staged opening scene in which the character audiences presume to be the main focus of the movie and played by the film’s most famous actress (Drew Barrymore) is brutally killed, a sequence which casts a looming shadow over the rest of the movie – adding to the feeling that any of our heroes or favourite characters could be murdered at any moment. The opening is just one of a handful of great twists in Williamson’s screenplay that also does great work at making us instantly love what would become the franchise’s three core characters – Neve Campbell’s Sidney, Courtney Cox’s Gale Weathers and David Arquette’s Dewey Riley. The supporting cast full of rising ’90s stars like Jamie Kennedy, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan and Skeet Ulrich is stellar too.

That said, while 1996’s Scream is still an undisputed classic, we here at JOE would argue (we’ve done so in the past right here) that another movie in the franchise actually improved upon the original in several ways.

Best scene: The opening scene

Most valuable supporting player: Matthew Lillard

1. Scream 2

Scream 2 was released less than a year after the original and came after a complicated production. The sequel was greenlit and sped into development to capitalise on the runaway success of the 1996 movie. Yet, on account of the rush to get the movie to the screen, as well as important plot information leaking onto the internet (something which is cleverly integrated into the storyline of Scream 3), its screenplay was rewritten extensively during filming. However, while a troubled production can often be a warning in regard to the quality of a finished film, Craven and Williamson defied the odds with Scream 2, not only delivering a worthy follow-up to Scream but in our view, a better movie.

It’s clear from the sequel’s bravura opening that Craven and Williamson were aiming to top their previous work. The scene sees Maureen (Jada Pinkett Smith) attend a screening of the movie-within-a-movie Stab with her boyfriend (Omar Epps), at which she is killed. This is as Maureen’s fellow cinema patrons – unaware of her death – cheer on the killer in the movie they are watching. Essentially a short film in itself, the sequence sets the stage for a scarier and funnier sequel with more memorable set pieces. Another ingenious and nerve-shredding scene later in the movie sees Sidney and her friend Hallie (Elise Neal) trapped with an unconscious Ghostface killer in a crashed cop car where they must literally climb over the murderer – who could wake at any moment – to escape.

Perhaps the sequel’s larger budget ($24 million, compared to the original’s reported $14-15 million) is why its set pieces are better. But Scream 2 improves on the 1996 movie in other ways too. Setting the movie in college and having multiple of its characters taking a cinema class allows Craven and Williamson to take their commentary on movie conventions (particularly horrors and sequels) to new levels, while also integrating the cineliterate references more seamlessly into the script. The screenplay’s jokes are better written too (one wisecrack referencing misunderstood masterpiece Showgirls particularly stands out) and are delivered by a more accomplished cast, including David Warner, Jerry O’Connell, Laurie Metcalf, Liev Schreiber, Portia de Rossi, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Timothy Olyphant.

All in all, Scream 2 helped disprove the theory put forward by fan favourite character Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) in the movie that all sequels are inferior to their original.

Best scene: A tie between the cinema-set opening scene and the later car sequence

Most valuable supporting player: Timothy Olyphant

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