With The Invisible Man becoming the first true horror hit of 2020 (with an opening weekend gross of $29 million against a $7 million budget), it seems that writer/director Leigh Whannell is finally going full mainstream.
Both the commercial and critical acclaim of the aforementioned film have demonstrated that. But for true horror fans, Leigh Whannell has been a household name for over 15 years. Co-creating the Saw and Insidious franchises with his frequent collaborator James Wan, as well as getting into directing himself in the last 5 years, Whannell’s career is a truly inspiring one.
So to honor the success of his latest endeavor, we thought it would be fun to look at all of the films that he has written/co-written/directed and rank them from worst to best, or should we say good to great? Because the truth is none of these are bad by any means. At worst, some are merely okay. So let’s get started!
(Spoiler Warning for the Saw and Insidious franchises)
Whannell merely helped out with screenwriting for his friend Angus Sampson’s project. It’s a bizarre comedy involving drug smuggling and an unusual performance by Hugo Weaving. Definitely worth checking out!
11. Insidious: The Last Key
The Insidious series was definitely one that started to get diminishing returns as the sequels went on. The third film had done a decent job of weaving in a prequel storyline, but here it just really felt like a stretch.
The series knew that it killed off Elise far too quickly and was struggling to give her more story arcs to participate in. It just seems desperate and shortsighted to have her suddenly reconnect with her family, then jump right into the first film, knowing her fate at the end.
10. Insidious: Chapter 3
The third chapter in this iconic series is very much a mixed bag. Plot-wise, it’s a lot more interesting than its successor, but it was Leigh Whannell’s first time directing and it was clear that, at the time, he was still finding his voice and style. Some of the line readings feel like they were from the first or second take (which they may have been).
It was also probably a huge challenge to direct, while also playing a supporting role, which is something not usually recommended for first time directors. That said, it has some legitimate scares, and Whannell demonstrates his less is more approach to being creepy.
As the two were departing from their hands-on role in the Saw franchise, they made this incredibly creepy ventriloquist film, merely to flex their creative muscles and just have fun with a one off story that didn’t demand any sequels.
While it does have its cheesy aspects (we’re looking at you Donnie Wahlberg), the dummy itself is quite scary, and the twist, while a bit absurd, works for the world this film creates.
Whannell co-wrote this zombie-comedy set at an elementary school and starring a who’s who of popular TV actors. Between films like Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, and Warm Bodies, there’s certainly no shortage of comedies based around a zombie apocalypse.
However, there’s something darkly hilarious to teachers fighting off hordes of infected students who have contracted the “cooties” virus from contaminated chicken. It’s brutal, bloody, and may make you feel guilty for laughing at it, but that’s very much the point!
7. Insidious: Chapter 2
One of Whannell’s greatest strengths when it comes to sequels is expanding upon the original film and filling in the gaps with new information that (mostly) adds up to the overall narrative.
We see him do this quite well in Insidious: Chapter 2, as the film delves into Josh’s past and explores why everything in the first film happened the way it did.
Given that it begins immediately where the first film left off, in many ways it feels more like the second half of that film than a sequel. And Whannell’s screenwriting contributes a great deal to this smooth transition.
6. Saw III
The last Saw film to have direct involvement of Leigh Whannell (or James Wan), and it definitely shows, Saw III very well could have served as the ending to a trilogy (and some say it should have).
This third entry gives us some spectacular traps, as well as a deeply emotional arc between Jigsaw and Amanda, as she prepares for his inevitable death.
Once again, after Whannell’s script killed off major characters (Jigsaw and Amanda), the series struggled onward, trying to find ways to keep those actors involved, much like Insidious.
And after reading a scripted entitled “The Desperate” sent to them by Darren Lynn Bousman, they decided to take his idea and have Leigh Whannell rewrite it into Saw II.
The house full of people trying to escape came from Bousman’s original script, while Whannell added Jigsaw in his most famous of appearances.
The whole first film kept the iconic villain hidden in the shadows, and Whannell decided to subvert expectations by having him get caught in the first 10 minutes.
And from there, he explored a truly fascinating character via his conversation scenes with Detective Matthews. There’s very few horror villains out there who would be interesting to just sit and have a conversation with, but Jigsaw is definitely one of them.
4. The Invisible Man
Following the commercial and critical failure that was 2017’s The Mummy, Universal scrapped its plans for its “Dark Universe”, but there was still no reason we couldn’t get a brilliant standalone Invisible Man film, and that’s exactly what Leigh Whannell gave us.
His goal was to make the titular character scary again, and he did so by focusing on his victim, and thus making him the villain. In doing so, Whannell kept up the suspense for the entire duration, and demonstrated a proficiency with directing action scenes that he learned on Upgrade. Check out our full review of this awesome movie!
The first time he did this was with Saw (which we’ll get to), but the second time involved him and his friend James Wan revamping the haunted house subgenre, and the result was Insidious. Known for avoiding tropes, Whannell claims he even kept a list of “haunted house clichés” above his desk while writing the script for this film.
Which explains why as soon as creepy things start to happen, the family moves from their house, as the audience would be yelling at them to do.
Insidious manages to take a premise that we had seen done in films like Poltergeist, but give a fresh spin by means of astral projection, as well as inspire the horror genre to endorse a boom of demonic/paranormal films like Sinister, The Conjuring, Deliver Us From Evil, The Possession, etc.
However, long before he helped jumpstart a wave of paranormal horror, Leigh Whannell made his Hollywood debut, as well as his mark on the film industry by inadvertently inventing the “torture porn” subgenre that was so pervasive in the 2000’s.
Without the Saw series, we wouldn’t have seen the likes of Hostel, Devil’s Rejects, Hills Have Eyes (2006), or many others. Interestingly though, that first Saw film really plays out more like a Hitchcockian thriller, and that’s where its brilliance lies.
Whannell wrote a tense and compelling thriller that forces the audience to imagine themselves in these brutal situations, all while delivering on one of the greatest twist endings in film history!
It was an awesome sci-fi action/thriller that we didn’t even know we wanted! Between it’s gleefully brutal violence, electronic synth soundtrack, and use of creative camerawork, Leigh Whannell proved with his second outing as director that he was destined for more than just screenwriting.
Upgrade was a fun callback to 80’s action, while also being a better Venom movie that Sony could ever give us. What really gains this film the coveted number one spot is that it’s the perfect culmination of Whannell’s greatest skills: his sense of humor, creative kills, and overwhelming tension.