Ranking the “Nightmare on Elm Street” Franchise

He’s everybody’s favorite wise-cracking slasher villain, and has been for 35 years now!  The fact that Freddy Krueger can speak has always set him apart from the likes of Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, and Leatherface.  That, and the fact that, because he inhabits dreams, he can do essentially anything, bordering on the world of fantasy.

After Shudder added the first six films, it gave me a chance to revisit this beloved franchise.  So I decided to take a it a step further and rank them from least to most favorite!  This is just my own personal list (from least favorite to favorite), and I’d love to hear everyone else’s!

9. Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Let’s get this one over with quickly!  This remake seemed like a disaster both on and off camera.  Lead actress Rooney Mara even considered quitting acting altogether due to her negative experience with this.  It seemed that the goal was to make Freddy less comical and more scary, so the film took itself quite seriously.

But it didn’t have strong enough merits to be a serious horror film.  It wouldn’t be fair to blame Mara, or even Jackie Earle Haley, who honestly did a decent job portraying Freddy.  Both actors did they best they could, but weren’t given much to work with. The issue was the post-production decision to go full CGI with his face, leaving him looking absolutely ridiculous.  Hopefully, this remake served as a lesson in how not to do one.

8. Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
The fourth entry in the franchise seemed to fail for two reasons: recasting Patricia Arquette, and suffering from sequel-itus.  Following up Dream Warriors, this film really wasn’t sure what to do.  Its reason for bringing Freddy back were uninspired at best, and it just feels like not a whole lot happened here.  It never got as ridiculous or terrible as some of the other films got, but it’s by far the most forgettable.

7. Freddy vs. Jason
It was the crossover event over a decade in the making.  Ever since New Line Cinema took over the rights to the Friday the 13th, and especially after that tease at the end of Jason Goes to Hell, fans were eager to see these two titans of horror go head to head.  And when it finally happened in 2003, the film didn’t disappoint, well at least the last 15 minutes didn’t.

Which was the primary issue with Freddy vs. Jason.  We have to sit through over an hour of annoying teenage characters we don’t really care about.  But when the two finally meet and have their fight at the end, it’s pure awesomeness!

6. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
If this were a ranking based on how strange or bizarre each film is, Final Nightmare would be right at #1.  It’s quite the aesthetic departure from the previous films and feels incredibly 90’s, if that makes sense.  Freddy had always been known for his sense of humor, but this entry goes full slapstick, not just with him, but with the rest of the characters.

That said, it still has some merits, and memorable moments, in that we get more of his backstory.  Up until this point, we hadn’t learned much about Freddy before he became the dream demon, and Robert Englund proves that he can just as creepy without his iconic makeup.

5. Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Both Robert Englund and Wes Craven have spoken out against this first sequel, stating that it’s their least favorite and that it “betrays” the character, by having Freddy kill people in the real world.  Though to be fair, we saw that he can be brought into the real world in both the original and Freddy vs. Jason.  But what this film is remembered most for is the “homoerotic” subtext, and the thinly veiled allegory of a teenage boy coming to terms with being gay.

One could say that Freddy represents the “monster” that he perceives homosexuality to be.  If we look at this film outside the context of the franchise, it is a legitimately interesting study on what it means to discover one’s own orientation, and to be afraid of it (especially during a time when it was less accepted).  As a Nightmare on Elm Street film  however, it’s merely okay.

4. Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
The Dream Child would most likely win the award for “Most 80’s” of all the films in this franchise.  It relishes in the creative and unique visuals that this series is known for.  We get to see Freddy pull people into a comic book, complete with 80’s rotoscoping like in the “Take On Me” music video.

Because he inhabits dreams, Freddy has always been able to manipulate or become any object, always making him more visually interesting than any other slasher villain.  And this film perfectly shows that off!

3. Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors
A fan favorite for many, Dream Warriors saw the return of Wes Craven as screenwriter, as well as Heather Langenkamp as Nancy.  It feels like a true sequel to the original, as we see Nancy continue her character arc from the first film.  Plus it’s the first one of the series that really gets creative with the dreams.  When the psych patients realize that they can manipulate objects in dreams to, we get some really cool fight scenes with them and Freddy.

That said, we also get one of the cheesiest visuals as Freddy’s skeleton comes to life and it looks just as fake as Jason and the Argonauts from 1963.  But the rest of the movie is cool enough to forgive this.  Plus it’s one of the earlier film roles of Laurence Fishburne.  So perhaps this film is actually the backstory of Morpheus before he woke up from the Matrix…?

2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Several years before Scream, Wes Craven showed the world a brilliantly subversive and meta take on horror with New Nightmare.   It’s technically not a sequel at all, and doesn’t follow the same continuity, but it’s something fascinating nevertheless.

It’s really cool to see Wes Craven himself in a film, as well as seeing Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp play themselves as well.  But we still get Englund as a scarier version of Freddy as well!  It was a truly unique concept, that paid homage to the entire franchise, as well as the horror genre itself.

1. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
How could it be anything other than the original?  When it was first released, there was no franchise yet, there was no agenda to cross-promote with anything or revamp the series.  Rather, the sole objective of this film was to simply be good horror, and that it was.  The early 80’s saw a myriad of slashers, most of which were merely trying to rip off Halloween.

But Nightmare of Elm Street took that concept, and by introducing the idea of dreams, made something new out of it.  And in doing so, it launched one of the most successful horror franchises that remains a staple of the genre, and also saved the fledgling New Line Cinema from bankruptcy.  To date, many refer to New Line as “the house that Freddy built”.

No matter which ones we prefer over others, horror fans can agree that Freddy Krueger will always be an icon of horror!  What are your rankings?  Let us know in the comments below!

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