Every Halloween movie ranked worst to best

2018 marks the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter and Debra Hill's Halloween, and Blumhouse is celebrating with a new movie. Horror fans have plenty of reason to be excited. Carpenter himself is on board as executive producer, and original stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle are reprising their roles as Laurie Strode and "The Shape" (a.k.a. Michael Myers) respectively. It doesn't hurt that Blumhouse can seemingly do no wrong, after a rise to prominence that culminated with Get Out.

But there are many questions about this reboot lingering like a slasher in the shadows. For instance, is "reboot" even the right term? Co-writer Danny McBride (who, despite his usual stock in trade, has clarified that the new Halloween is not a comedy) has stated that he and director/co-writer David Gordon Green are "ignoring all the films past the first one."

There have been ten Halloween films since 1978 — a series of sequels, remakes, and detours. Is the state of the franchise so dire that all but one of its entries should be ignored? To answer that question, we're strolling methodically through Halloween history like Michael stalking a teenager, starting with the outings we're most ready to forget. 

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

In terms of entertainment value, the greatest sin a movie can commit — perhaps especially a horror movie — is to be boring. Other Halloween sequels have failed more spectacularly than this one, but they deserve extra points for ambition. The Return of Michael Myers coasts on its own concept because it does exactly what the title promises, responding to audience demand after the Myers-less Season of the Witch (more on that controversy later).

Return picks up ten years after the original film, and finds Michael (George P. Wilbur) waking up from a decade-long coma when he overhears that he has a niece. From that stunningly unbelievable beginning, it doesn't get much more thrilling. Laurie Strode has died in a car accident (the first of two insultingly unceremonious deaths Jamie Lee Curtis is subjected to in the series), leaving a young daughter, Jamie (Danielle Harris). Michael meanders mechanically into town to find her, with his old nemesis Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) in tow.

With the original Halloween's mystery long since gone, The Return of Michael Myers turns into a tepid retread of Carpenter's film. Michael begins mowing down the teenage friends of little Jamie's foster sister like a superpowered robot, flat cinematography giving the uninspired action no shadows to hide in. Compounding the frustration with Halloween 4's mediocrity is the fact that John Carpenter had an intriguing pitch for a Myers return that he co-wrote with Dennis Etchison, as Etchison would later recall in an interview with Blumhouse. Series producer Moustapha Akkad's rejection of the concept as "too cerebral" would push Carpenter and Debra Hill to sell their controlling interest in the series, remaining totally uninvolved until Carpenter signed on to produce the 2018 film.

Halloween (2007)

If Halloween 4 disappoints by being too safe, this one could be said to go too far in the opposite direction. It was a bold choice by Dimension Films to hire a filmmaker with as unique a vision as Rob Zombie to set a new direction for the series. Unfortunately, the result is an overcomplicated and unpleasant mess of an experience stuck halfway between reboot and prequel.

You know how Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas is two-thirds unnecessary backstory and one-third remake of something that was already perfect? Rob Zombie's Halloween is Ron Howard's Grinch, but all the Whos are oversexed rednecks. (Well, more so.) The film dwells on the abusive childhood that warped young Michael Myers' (Daeg Faerch) mind before leaping forward in time to recreate John Carpenter's chaotic 31st of October.

Mr. Zombie is an auteur with no small amount of style, and he assembles a solid cast (Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, and Brad Dourif are all quite good as Dr. Loomis, Laurie Strode, and Sheriff Brackett, respectively). Unfortunately, the relentless dreariness and unstable structure make it nearly impossible to connect with any of the characters. There are enjoyable Halloween movies, and there are enjoyable Rob Zombie movies, but this one is likely to be forgotten faster than you can slam in the back of your Dragula. 

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

This movie got off on the wrong foot as soon as it dropped its far more metal working title of Halloween 666. That was only the beginning of production troubles that left The Curse of Michael Myers so compromised that fans would go on to circulate an early workprint version, labeled a "Producer's Cut," as a bootleg for nearly 20 years before it was officially released. In fact, writer Daniel Farrands revealed in a Fangoria interview that the "Curse" of the title started as a joke about the nightmarish process of making the film.

This 1995 entry finds Jamie (now played by J. C. Brandy) escaping from a cult six years after she and her unkillable Uncle Michael (George P. Wilbur returning) were abducted by a mysterious Man in Black at the end of Halloween 5. She gives birth just before Michael murders her with a corn thresher, but her baby lives and winds up in the care of Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd, mere months after making his film debut in Clueless). Tommy has been obsessed with Myers ever since surviving the events of the original film, and he teams up with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence again, in his final performance) to protect the newborn.

The plot that unfolds reveals the secrets of the Cult of Thorn, a Druidic order bent on cultivating power through familial sacrifices. Their leader is the Man in Black, who is revealed to be Dr. Terence Wynn (Mitchell Ryan), a character who appeared in one scene of the original Halloween that you almost certainly won't remember. The tangled drama leaves little room for either scares or fun, meaning the most compelling reason to watch is to marvel at how little Paul Rudd has aged in 23 years.

Halloween: Resurrection

Some slasher series, like Friday the 13th, find strength in getting increasingly ridiculous with each sequel, promising that, if things won't be scary anymore, they'll at least be fun. Halloween, on the other hand, has had a track record of taking interesting sequel concepts and wasting them on overly serious execution. There may be no better example of this problem than 2002's Halloween: Resurrection.

This eighth entry in the franchise begins as a satire of the then-booming reality TV phenomenon, with a webcast show called Dangertainment locking contestants into the old Myers house for a night of scares. The hosts (Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes) have prepared a number of spooky traps for the players, but the danger(tainment) gets real when Michael (Brad Loree) comes home. The first murder victim, sadly, is the cleverness of this setup, as the movie devolves into a fairly unmemorable romp through dark rooms.

Watching Busta Rhymes yell at a computer is fun (no sarcasm, that is the best part of the movie), but even he can't save Resurrection from becoming a dreary slog. It doesn't help that the film has to open with a convoluted retcon to undo the ending of Halloween H2O, which was originally intended as a series finale. As part of this, Jamie Lee Curtis appears in a sad cameo as Laurie Strode, murdered in a mental hospital before the main titles even roll. 

Halloween II (2009)

Mr. Zombie returns to write and direct Michael Myers' most recent murder adventure, and it's a marked improvement over his first attempt. No longer bound by the obligation to remake John Carpenter's original, Zombie's sequel cuts loose for a unique story examining the effects of the previous film's traumas on its characters. Loomis is trying to sell his new book, Laurie is plagued by intrusive murderous impulses, and Michael is driven home by visions of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie).

Zombie chose to shoot Halloween II on 16mm film, lending it an authentically gritty grindhouse feel that sets it apart from most glossy modern horror movies. This decision plays to the movie's strengths, namely its strikingly surreal, hallucinatory images. While more psychologically interesting than many other entries in the series, its big ideas are still sadly buried under uninspired violence and an unrelentingly grim tone. The next direction for the franchise remained unclear until 2015, when Dimension Films' failure to launch the next Halloween resulted in their loss of the rights after 20 years. 

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

What the fifth Halloween may lack in originality, it makes up for with the fun so often lacking in its siblings. Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris again) has been left mute and disturbed by the horror she faced one year earlier. She's experiencing hallucinations that suggest some kind of telepathic link with her uncle Michael (Don Shanks), who vanished down a mine shaft at the end of Halloween 4. The real joy of Revenge is in Donald Pleasence's fourth turn as Dr. Loomis, who goes more over-the-top than ever in his desperation to convince authorities that Myers is alive and coming back once more.

The appeal of Revenge's teen cast is unmatched by any other Halloween film besides the original, decked out in late '80s fashions and talking about how love makes your heart "feel like it's made of neon." Jamie's climactic flight up a laundry chute to escape her uncle's knife has more genuine tension than every other sequel's murders combined. And it gives us one of the most bonkers moments in the series, in which Loomis traps Michael in a net and beats him with a two by four while screaming "Die, die!" 

Halloween II (1981)

"Michael Myers was an absence of character," John Carpenter said in a 2014 Deadline interview, "and yet all the sequels are trying to explain that. That's silliness." Carpenter turned down the opportunity to direct Halloween II, but agreed to write it (along with Debra Hill) in the interest of maintaining some share in the phenomenon he had helped create. The result is a film that continues the story of Halloween as directly as possible while being desperate to feel different.

Carpenter, Hill, and director Rick Rosenthal knew that the mystique of Michael could never be recaptured in the same way as the 1978 original. To that end, Halloween II ratchets up the gore factor, in the style of then-new slashers like Friday the 13th. Picking up in the final scene of its predecessor, the sequel is set entirely on the very same night, letting Myers (Dick Warlock) loose in a hospital in search of Laurie (Curtis) with Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) in pursuit. Among the memorable murders in this more body count-oriented outing are a hammer to the head, a hot tub drowning, and a syringe in the eye. 

Meanwhile, Michael's motivations are explored, revealing for the first time the family connection that would go on to define the rest of the sequels. In the end, Halloween II is a movie that knows it shouldn't exist but does a valiant effort to provide a good time nonetheless. "I had to write the second movie," Carpenter admitted candidly in the Deadline interview, "and every night I sat there and wrote with a six pack of beer trying to get through this thing. And I didn't do a very good job, but that was it. I couldn't do any more."

Halloween H20

Halloween H20 is undoubtedly one of the silliest titles in horror history. The movie isn't even about water! Maybe Michael didn't want to intrude on Jason's turf…or surf. At any rate, the title refers to the 20 years that have passed since the first two Halloween movies. Laurie Strode (Curtis) has been living under an assumed name after faking her death, serving as headmistress of a private school attended by her teenage son John (Josh Harnett).

H20 is very much a Halloween for the Scream generation (Scream writer Kevin Williamson even served as producer). The late '90s vibes are strong, from Harnett to LL Cool J (as a school security guard) to the Creed jam that plays over the closing credits. John Carpenter declined again to return, but director Steve Miner delivers a tight, slick thriller that lets Laurie fight back when Michael (Chris Durand) comes for her son.

It's Jamie Lee Curtis who makes H20 worth watching. Not only is her performance as a still-haunted, middle-aged Laurie compelling, but the story was her idea. "That was how I pitched the movie: regaining the soul by facing your own fear," she recalled in a Los Angeles Times interview. "When the stalkee becomes the stalker, I guarantee you the audience will go crazy."  

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

The boldest thing attempted by any of the Halloween sequels is to not be a Halloween sequel. Still convinced that more Michael Myers would be a case of diminishing returns, Carpenter and Hill decided to transform the franchise into an anthology series, with the third film telling a new story about Halloween night. They enlisted Tommy Lee Wallace (art director of the original Halloween) to write and direct Season of the Witch.

The movie is actually about an ancient order of warlocks, but Season of the Warlock doesn't have the same ring to it. The head of a novelty company, Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy), is plotting to slaughter the masses of American children wearing his absurdly popular masks on Halloween night. The masks, powered by microchips containing pieces of Stonehenge and triggered by a TV commercial, cause bugs and snakes to explode from the heads of their wearers. With this plague, Cochran intends to get revenge for the commercialization of Halloween and usher in a new age of witchcraft.

The problem with Halloween III is that it isn't quite as bonkers as that plot summary might sound. We watch the mystery unfold from the point of view of Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), a womanizing drunk who's fairly unlikeable. The fun does kick off once we get to the mask factory, but the tone up to that point is too serious to fully buy the wild plot points that pull everything together. Still, its weirdness is refreshing amidst the formulaic slashers that make up the sea of Halloween sequels and imitators. 

Season of the Witch is full of clever and memorable moments, like the unforgettable "Silver Shamrock" jingle (seriously, good luck forgetting it) and a TV screening of the original Halloween playing an important part in the story. Unfortunately, it was subjected to disappointing box office and scathing reviews from fans and critics spurned by the new direction, and the intriguing anthology concept was abandoned.

Halloween (1978)

Any list arranging the Halloween films from worst to best is doomed to be anticlimactic, because there's only one way for it to end. The merits of every sequel and reboot can be debated, but there's no denying that the original is in a class of its own. No hot takes here: the best Halloween movie is Halloween.

When producers Moustapha Akkad and Irwin Yablans hired John Carpenter and Debra Hill to make a low-budget horror movie, they set out to do nothing more than to make the best little scarefest they could. Halloween became legendary because it's elemental. Its teen characters, led by Jamie Lee Curtis with snappy dialogue written by Hill and Carpenter, are charmingly ordinary. Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Sam Loomis as just paranoid enough that authorities don't listen to him. There are no contrived plot twists or convoluted motivations behind Michael Myers (Nick Castle). He's just a man in a mask who's waiting to kill you. 

That waiting is the key to Halloween's power. There are surprisingly few murders in the film, and the killings that do occur are almost entirely bloodless. Carpenter doles out just enough omens of the Shape's presence to instill the audience with dread. The tension hovering over the likable cast steadily builds until the spree begins, kicking off a rollercoaster to the climax. Add in the shadows of Dean Cundey's cinematography and Carpenter's creepy keyboard score, and you've got a minimalist masterpiece that redefined a genre by reminding audiences that all you need is "one good scare."