The 13 Best Horror Franchises To Binge This Halloween
“Do you like scary movies?”
Whether you’re a fan of slashers like Jason Voorhees or demons like Pazuzu, there’s a horror villain out there for everyone, and with Halloween approaching, October’s “spooky season” has come upon us once more. Between demons, ghosts, serial killers, and living dolls, we’ve compiled a list of the very best in Halloween horror just in time for the spooky festivities this fall!
Quickly, before your time runs out, check out our list of the 13 best horror franchises to binge before this Halloween!
1. Friday the 13th (1980-2009)
After the success of Halloween, the slasher sub-genre found even more successes in the 1980s with Friday the 13th. The film followed a group of camp counselors who are stalked and murdered by an unknown force at Camp Crystal Lake, where a terrible murder and child drowning occurred years before. The series main antagonist, Jason Voorhees (best known for his trademark hockey mask), quickly made his stamp on the genre.
While Friday the 13th is the poster-child franchise for bad horror sequels (we’re looking at you Jason Goes to Hell…), the first few film’s impact on the horror genre should not be understated. Between his mask, machete, and the supernatural elements about him, Jason’s one of the scariest monsters out there, which makes him the best of the best.
Where to start: The first four Friday the 13th films are a must-see for any true horror fan. These direct sequels tell a complete story (and must be watched in order), while the following sequels try everything from comedy to science-fiction, none of which quite stick. Oh, and the 2009 remake (starring Supernatural’s Jared Padalecki) isn’t too bad!
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984-2010)
You can’t talk about Jason without mentioning the terrifying Freddy Kreuger and horror icon Wes Craven. A Nightmare on Elm Street feature usually follows a group of teenagers in Springwood, Ohio who are stalked and killed in their own dreams (and thus in reality) by the infamous Freddy (made famous by Robert Englund), a malevolent spirit with a burnt face, striped sweater, and bladed-leather gloves. Talk about a nightmare…
Part of what makes Freddy a terrifying antagonist is his insane manipulations of reality, or in this case the dream world, combined with his frightening humor. Series star Englund really shines as the ghost-killer and even reprised his role from the films on the beloved two season-long Freddy’s Nightmares anthology series.
Where to start: As is often the case, the original 1984 film is the best starting point. Six chronological sequels follow before ultimately culminating with Freddy vs. Jason, a bloody crossover with Friday the 13th. A remake, set with a darker tone, was released in 2010 (starring Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy), which actually isn’t that terrible. It’s also not that good.
3. Halloween (1978-Present)
Here it is! Starting with John Carpenter’s infamous 1978 independent slasher, the Halloween franchise holds a special place in horror hearts, making serial killer Michael Meyers both scarier and stronger with each film. This horror icon spends the majority of his screen time returning to Haddonfield, Illinois on October 31st to kill Laurie Strode, most famously portrayed by the original “Scream Queen” herself: Jamie Lee Curtis.
While the franchise continuity is a big mess, with multiple sequels that often ignore each other (and sometimes Michael Meyers altogether) and two insane Rob Zombie-directed reboots, the original Halloween is a true horror classic that not only stands the test of time but begat many of the horror tropes and cliches we’ve come to love.
Where to start: The original 1978 Halloween is easily the best. From there, you may take your pick of sequels to continue with, though this author would suggest the 2018 Halloween, which picks up forty years later and begins a modern trilogy that continues with this fall’s Halloween Kills and will conclude with next year’s Halloween Ends.
4. Saw (2004-Present)
Before Insidious and The Conjuring, James Wan made his stamp on the horror genre with the original Saw. The films all generally revolve around the Jigsaw Killer, aka John Kramer (Tobin Bell), as he sends his victims through various “games” in order to determine their will to live and force them to confess to their crimes. If that sounds insane, wait until you watch the first film.
Often referred to as “torture porn,” the Saw films are terrifying pictures of what can happen when a man is pushed to the edge of sanity. Between Kramer’s tragic story, the scary Jigsaw stand-in Billy the Puppet, and the more recent copycat killers of the last two films, there is always something new and terrifying in the next Saw installment.
Where to start: The series is set largely in chronological order from the original Saw through to Saw 3D (a solid ending), with the more recent Jigsaw and Spiral features essentially serving as epilogues. Apparently, there are also Saw and Spiral sequels and spin-offs in development, proving that nothing ever really ends.
5. Insidious (2010-Present)
After James Wan’s work on Saw and before The Conjuring, he and Leigh Whannall created the Insidious franchise. This terrifying series follows Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) as they seek to save their son from spectral forces from another dimension with the help of demonologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her paranormal investigators (played by Whannall and Angus Sampson).
Honestly, Insidious is one of the scariest franchises on this list, especially the first two. With a tight continuity (each film was written by co-creator Whannall, who also directed Chapter 3) and consistent scares, it’s no wonder a fifth film is in development (to be directed by series star Patrick Wilson). The thrills are endless!
Where to start: There are two ways to watch the Insidious series: in release order or chronological. Release order is easy, but if you wanted to watch chronologically you’d have to watch Chapter 3 first, then The Last Key, followed by Insidious, concluding with Chapter 2. Either is fine, though watching it chronologically does forfeit some mystery.
6. Evil Dead (1981-Present)
This groovy series all stemmed from Sam Raimi’s original 1981 classic The Evil Dead. Since then it has evolved to sequels and tv series and is regarded as a horror staple and pop culture phenomenon. Sometimes straight horror, but often a horror-action-comedy combination, the series follows Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) as he discovers the Necronomicon and fights (sometimes through time) against hordes of evil Deadites.
Besides Ash’s obvious charm, The Evil Dead and its sequels (especially fan-favorite Army of Darkness) don’t fail to disappoint. From fascinating worldbuilding that ever-expands the Deadverse to the slapstick humor that has come to define the series, Evil Dead is both pretty scary and a lot of fun.
Where to start: These ones are easy, just watch them in order! The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness are Raimi’s original trilogy, followed by the soft-continuation of Evil Dead, which leads to the television series Ash vs Evil Dead. After that, a fifth film, Evil Dead Rises, will be released in 2022, just in time for next Halloween!
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7. Paranormal Activity (2007-Present)
Say what you will about found footage movies, but Paranormal Activity is among the best. Hidden cameras and jump scares in the dark have made this franchise one of the scariest and most profitable among all the horror films you could watch this Halloween. This series is insane, following demons, ghosts, different dimensions, time travel, and witches that won’t stop until you’re dead, or maybe they’ll settle for being possessed.
The first Paranormal Activity was an instant classic that took the found footage concept to new heights, making it clear that just because you’re asleep doesn’t mean you’re safe. The first two are unanimously the best, starting the mythology and introducing us to the humans and demons who would continue to haunt audiences for years to come.
Where to start: Like Insidious, you can either watch in release order or chronological order. If you choose the latter, you’ll have to watch PA 3 first, then PA 2, followed by the original, then PA 4, The Marked Ones, and finally The Ghost Dimension. Or you could just watch the reboot, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, on Paramount+ this Halloween.
8. Child’s Play/Chucky (1988-Present)
Creepy dolls are a must for the Halloween season, and there isn’t a creepier one than Chucky himself! The main antagonist of the original Child’s Play film, Chucky (made popular by Brad Dourif) has haunted us since the late 80s after transferring his consciousness (through a voodoo ritual) into the beloved “Good Guy” doll we know and fear. These black comedy slashers always keep you on your toes.
Some crazy stuff happens throughout Chucky’s short life as a doll, and as time goes on he becomes more malevolent, constantly desiring a new human body which he can kill through again. Just a warning though, Chuck’s horrific antics may make you want to burn all your child’s plushies while they sleep. You never know what might wink at you.
Where to start: Ignoring the 2019 Child’s Play reboot (it’s not good), watch the films in chronological order from the original 1988 Child’s Play through to 2017s Cult of Chucky. A new USA/SyFy series, entitled Chucky, is coming this October, which is set to (thankfully) ignore the 2019 reboot and follow the original series’ story in the present day.
9. Final Destination (2000-2011)
Originally written as an X-Files spec script, Jeffery Reddick retooled his concept into the Final Destination, which quickly gained the attention of X-Files writing team Glen Morgan and James Wong, who co-wrote the film (with Wong directing). The original Final Destination follows a group of teenagers who escape death after one of them has a premonition, only for Death to come for them one at a time.
The Final Destination films take death and destruction to the extreme. With no clear supernatural force and no slasher to outrun, it makes it all that much scarier as the main cast’s demise could come when they least expect it. Plus, Tony Todd’s William Bludworth is the true enigma of this series, keeping us on our toes.
Where to start: Final Destination should mostly be watched in order, though the chronological order differs slightly. The fourth film, The Final Destination, serves as a true end to the series, while Final Destination 5 actually takes place before the original.
10. The Exorcist (1973-Present)
Based on the original novel by William Peter Blatty (who also wrote the screenplay and two of the sequels), The Exorcist may be one of the most influential and beloved horror films of all time. The original film, which topped our scariest horror movie list from earlier this year, follows two Catholic priests (Jason Miller and Max von Sydow) as they attempt to cast a demon out of a 12-year-old girl (Linda Blair), saving her from the demon’s torments.
The Exorcist does some of the scariest demon-related stuff to be put to screen, with the demon Pazuzu looming over the whole series, haunting the MacNeil family wherever they go. A new modern trilogy following Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), and directed by current Halloween trilogy director David Gordon Green, is currently in development.
Where to start: The Exorcist is where you should start, but from there it’s completely up to you! A prequel following Father Lankester Merrin exists but was made twice by two different directors (Exorcist: The Beginning and Dominion: A Prequel to The Exorcist, the latter being the better). The two-season Exorcist TV series is a solid addition as well.
11. Hellraiser (1987-Present)
Based on the creepy novella The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker (who also wrote/directed the first film), Hellraiser is one of the oddest of the horror franchises on this list, with its lead, Pinhead (most popularly played by Doug Bradley), a Cenobite (that is, a human-turned-monster in Hell) bent on harvesting human souls to torture in their hellish experiments, after opening a portal to this realm through a puzzle box. Yeah, it’s a lot.
While Pinhead (officially called “The Hell Priest” by Barker) may not always be the main star, he is the pin that holds the franchise in place, keeping us returning for more. Though it’s been a while since we’ve had a good Hellraiser outing, a reboot film by David S. Goyer and a TV continuation by David Gordon Green are both in development.
Where to start: The original Hellraiser is definitely the best of the series and the best starting point. The first two sequels are a must-watch, while the other seven are extremely hit or miss (Revelations is awful). The last two don’t even feature Bradley as the Hell Priest! But never fear, there are still some gems in there worth mining.
12. The Conjuring Universe (2013-Present)
Based on the real-life adventures of Catholic demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (played masterfully by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), The Conjuring Universe follows some of their most famous cases, including the Trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson (featured in this summer’s The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It), while also touching on the original Amityville horror that launched the Warrens into the public eye.
While The Conjuring trilogy itself is the crown jewel of the greater universe, the James Wan-helmed franchise also launched an Annabelle trilogy and multiple spin-offs featuring some of their scariest spirits including The Nun and The Curse of La Llorona, with more on the way. The Conjuring itself may be one of the scariest films on this list.
Where to start: If you wanted to watch the franchise in chronological order, you could start with The Nun and Annabelle: Creation (the second Annabelle feature), but we’d recommend starting with the original classic: The Conjuring. The Warren’s story is what ties the whole thing together, so best to start with them before wandering off elsewhere.
13. Scream (1996-Present)
The original horror parody from Wes Craven himself, Scream quickly became a critical and commercial success. The horror-comedy mashup poked fun of some of the most popular horror franchises such as Friday the 13th, and even Craven’s own Nightmare on Elm Street (which he previously mocked in Wes Craven’s New Nightmare). The films are all headlined by Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and David Arquette.
The original, initially titled Scary Movie until the studio changed it last minute, is an instant classic about a small-town slasher, the iconic Ghostface, who sets his sights on the township of Woodsboro. Our heroine, Sydney Prescott (Campbell), survives only to be hunted down by future Ghostfaces who see her as “the one who got away.” Yes, just like Halloween, but with a few more laughs.
Where to start: If you haven’t seen the original Scream, it’s a must-see for any true horror fan! Honestly, unlike many horror sequels, the Scream follow-ups are pretty great (except Scream 3, which is mostly forgettable), with a fifth film reuniting the original cast coming in 2022! Oh, and there was an MTV series, but enter there at your own risk.
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