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Every Nightmare on Elm Street movie ranked from worst to best

When A Nightmare on Elm Street creator Wes Craven passed away in 2015, a filmmaking talent that ranked among the genre entertainment greats was lost forever. While the man was known for a variety of creepy cinematic goodness, Elm Street — and the nightmare boogeyman known as Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) — reshaped the movie landscape and pop culture as we knew it. From his low-budget indie beginnings to juggernaut status, Freddy owned the '80s. There's the barrage of sequels, the merchandise, the TV series — and that's just cracking the surface.

When it seemed that every slasher film was a cookie cutter riff on the previous one, Craven brought a heaping helping of supernatural dread and crazy dream logic to the big screen, changing horror movies forever. His creation of Krueger, and the evolution of the Elm Street mythos, has acted as inspiration for storytellers the world over. And over three decades since his inception, the name Freddy Krueger still inspires laughs, chills, and terror.

It's been nearly a decade since Freddy graced us with his presence. And with rumors swirling over a reboot sitting in development, there's no time like the present to revisit each film in the series. Here's every A Nightmare on Elm Street movie, ranked from worst to best.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Platinum Dunes' 2010 reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street brought the hype… and the disappointment. Jackie Earle Haley (The Watchmen, The Tick) seemed like the perfect choice to continue Freddy Krueger's horror legacy. With Rooney Mara (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, Nashville) added to the cast, it felt like the Samuel Bayer-directed flick would reignite the franchise for a new audience. Long story short: it didn't.  

"Haley earns his stripes but Bayer's reboot is a bland anticlimax," said Empire Online. Bland is an understatement. With a whole load of unnecessary exposition and realism, the movie brought with it a different perspective on Elm Street: the scientific mumbo jumbo, lack of dream logic, and the unpopular choice to make Freddy a child rapist sucked all the fun right out of the film. 

The final nail in the proverbial coffin came with Haley's take on the role Robert Englund made famous. While he brought a terrifying new element to Freddy, the interpretation ended up coming off stifled. As HorrorFreakNews put it, Haley "fails to evoke either the fear or the fondness we've grown accustomed to over the years." It was obviously a gamble to play a character many still connected with Englund's expressive wit. With a lack of character development, creative kills, or any sense of levity, the finished product is ultimately a pointless return to Elm Street. Simply put, it's the worst of the bunch. 

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Freddy's Dead was originally billed as the final film in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and for good reason. In 1991, it was released in 3D to help drive viewers to theaters. Unfortunately, that gimmick didn't help any. One look at Krueger's kills in the movie — he flies around on a broom like the Wicked Witch of the West and drops a bed of nails beneath a falling victim in the vein of Wile E. Coyote — and it's clear the transition from terrifying boogeyman to cartoon caricature was complete. 

While the lackluster special effects and low budget were signs of a series in its death throes, the film relied mostly on its silly kills, instead of investing in its characters or story. Speaking of story, Freddy's Dead introduced audiences to youth counselor Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane) who discovers that she's Krueger's long-lost daughter. As out of left field as that plot point felt, the movie was able to deliver a few entertaining elements, relying heavily on its riffs on '90s pop culture, to keep the audience engaged. Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold even appeared in the movie, which was … odd. 

According to JoBlo, Freddy's Dead is "amusing but on a preteen level." They're not wrong. It all comes to an eye roll-worthy climax that revealed the best way to kill Freddy was just to stab him in the gut with his own glove.  Okay, sure.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

Mommy issues are the name of the game in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child. Never one to ignore a grudge, Freddy returned to once again wreak havoc on Alice (Lisa Wilcox) — the badass final girl from the previous sequel, The Dream Master. How does he do this? By feeding the souls of Alice's dead friends to her unborn baby, which in turn gives Alice some terrible nightmares.

Combine that story detail along with a newly-imagined sequence illustrating just how Amanda Krueger (Beatrice Boepple) became impregnated with Freddy — the nun was assaulted by 100 seriously ill mental patients, in case you forgot — and there's some semblance of a winning genre formula. The only problem: the movie's attempt at further exploring Freddy's mythology didn't match previous continuity. While it does present Freddy's mother as his biggest weakness, the movie came up a bit short in delivering any empathy towards the nightmare killer.

To its credit, Dream Child does feature some pretty gross, albeit surreal, kills. If it wasn't for these imaginative dream deaths and Robert Englund's charismatic performance, the lack of character development would've killed the whole film. It's unfortunate, really, as Alice ended her reign in Part 4 with heroic promise. Here, she's just a mere shadow of her former self. As The New York Times said in its 1989 review, The Dream Child is "a genre film that won't totally insult your intelligence or your eyes."

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

If you look at it as an allegory of a gay kid's struggle with his own sexual identity and subsequent coming out, then A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is an intriguing movie that operates on multiple levels. However, the filmmakers firmly insist it shouldn't be interpreted this way. In the documentary Never Sleep Again, director Jack Sholder admits, "I simply did not have the self-awareness to realize that any of this might be interpreted as gay."

That's unfortunate, really. If you look at the movie from a character and story perspective, Freddy's Revenge completely ditches the kids from the first movie, relocates to an entirely different location, and seemingly reboots Freddy's story. When all is said and done, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 does toy with a different method in which Freddy terrorizes his victims, by literally manifesting inside the body of Jessie (Mark Patton) — the social outcast who ends up shedding his skin to birth Krueger into the living world. That's an intriguing element, for sure. But the vague reasoning behind this story component, and the lack of a cohesive bond to the first film, ends up making A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge an average collection of jump scares. It's not awful, but ain't anything to write home about.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

The campy tone introduced in A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors was turned up in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. One may look to this film as the point where Freddy began his noticeable transition from nightmare terrorist to cartoonish boogeyman. Still, The Dream Master strikes a good balance between the goofy and horrific. "Getting further and further away from creator Wes Craven's original concept," TV Guide reports, "the series has declined into a plotless series of special-effects set pieces featuring Freddy slicing and dicing a variety of teenagers in their dreams."

While The Dream Master never achieves the epic scale of Dream Warriors, the story continues that of the third installment, following Kristen (recast here with Tuesday Knight) as she and her pals are quickly murdered off to make way for some new characters to root for. Most importantly, The Dream Master introduced the character of Alice (Lisa Wilcox) to the franchise, proving herself to be a worthy opponent against Krueger's antics. Her journey from meek to powerful final girl is worth the price of admission alone.

And let's not forget about the movie's kill sequences. The Dream Master delivers some of the franchise's most elaborate death scenes — including the Kafka-esque scene that finds Debbie (Brooke Theiss) living out her worst nightmare as she slowly transforms into a cockroach before our eyes.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

It took 16 years for 2003's Freddy vs. Jason to be born. And when it finally hit theaters, fans of both the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises went ballistic. The box office reflected that excitement, making the crossover the most financially successful of either series.

So how did Freddy and Jason finally battle it out? Simple: the Damian Shannon/Mark Swift script found Freddy using nightmares to turn Jason Voorhees into his tool for murder, reminding the Elm Street children who's boss. Unfortunately, Krueger never intended for Jason to kill the victims on his own. Needless to say, this sparks a frustration in Freddy that eventually pits the two supernatural slashers against each other.

Jason Ritter (Gravity Falls, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World), Monica Keena (Entourage, Private Practice), Kelly Rowland (Girlfriends, Empire), and Brendan Fletcher (The Killing, iZombie) also star in the movie. But let's be honest here: This is the Freddy and Jason show, and the other actors are just there to help move the story along. As Empire Online put it, "It's completely daft, and the one-liners are by now just plain cheesy, but there's a good deal of gore to keep the faithful amused, if not completely happy." 

When we finally get to the big battle, both monsters fight to an absurdly bonkers end. It feels like it shouldn't work. But Freddy vs. Jason ticks all the necessary boxes making this a fun popcorn flick.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

In 1994, Wes Craven's New Nightmare hit theaters, injecting new life into the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It was a pleasant surprise for fans. This time, Freddy was brought back in meta manner, as Krueger jumped out of the printed page into the real world. Robert Englund not only reprised his iconic role, he was also able to play himself for once. The film, which could easily be viewed as more of a spinoff than a straight sequel, brought back Heather Langenkamp to, as Craven says in the film, "play Nancy one last time."

Roger Ebert found New Nightmare, "with its unsettling questions about the effect of horror on those who create it, strangely intriguing." The movie also had a similar narrative structure to Craven's other masterpiece, Scream. The meta stylings were there, the fourth wall was knocked down repeatedly, and nods were made to the pop culture his movies inspired … and vice versa. This also marked Craven's return to the franchise, where he not only starred, but wrote and directed the film as well.

New Nightmare blends fiction and reality in the best way possible. The buzz behind Freddy's return inspired a darker, more sinister version of the iconic killer. In reality, this evil entity may not have been the real Freddy Krueger, but his appearance here — and the callbacks to the film that started it all — added some lovely layers to an installment that was fun, scary, and quite groundbreaking for its time.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors stepped up the franchise by adding a sense of magic to the mythology. That story component added a sense of morbid fun and levity — Frank Darabont's input on the script probably helped. The dynamic between Krueger and the kids who battled him presented a thoroughly entertaining conflict reminiscent of the Losers Club vs. Pennywise in Stephen King's IT.

With the help of Chuck Russell's (The Mask, Fringe) direction, and Wes Craven's return as co-writer, the attention to Freddy's mythos was on point. Dream Warriors provided an engaging cast of characters the audience immediately empathized with. Of course, it helped that we got two strong female heroes, what with Patricia Arquette's introduction as Kristen Parker and the return of Heather Langenkamp's Nancy.

Giving the power to our heroes, through the means of lucid dreaming, helped break Freddy down to size and kick the action up a few notches. Let's not forget the kills! Any proper Nightmare on Elm Street film would come with an iconic murder sequence or two. Taryn's (Jennifer Ruben) death by Freddy's finger syringes is bested by Jennifer's (Penelope Sudrow) "Welcome to prime time" TV death — which is easily one of the franchise's all-time best. Seeped in pop culture wit, Den of Geek's review hit the nail on the head, saying, "Dream Warriors deftly illustrates how the power of imagination can sometimes be used to defeat our demons, be it figurative or literal."

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The original and still the best, 1984's A Nightmare on Elm Street spawned a pop culture phenomenon. For Wes Craven and company, they were just out to tell a scary story. Here, Robert Englund's Freddy stays mostly in the shadows, leaving the audience's imagination to fill in the horrifying blanks as to who, or what, this monster is. The film also gave us Nancy (Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp), Freddy's creepy nursery rhyme, and a hint at his truly gruesome backstory.

It's safe to say Englund's portrayal of Freddy is what made this movie. Aside from his burnt face, fedora, bladed glove and Christmas-colored sweater, it was his layered play on the villain that ranked A Nightmare on Elm Street ahead of the slasher movie pack. Freddy was as playful as he was menacing, and the sheer thought that he existed in dreams, where anything was possible, proved to be terrifying territory worth exploring. The introduction of dream logic allowed Craven to test the boundaries of storytelling while also pushing them to their justifiable genre limits.

From seeing Freddy's glove rise from Nancy's bathwater to Tina's (Amanda Wyss) ceiling kill sequence, to Glen's bloody bed'splosion, A Nightmare on Elm Street delivers all the horror goodies — from the simplistic to the primal. "Turning slumberland into a twisted murderer's den is a masterstroke by Craven," wrote Empire Online, "who has brought new blood to a genre that seemed as if it might choke on its own excesses." We couldn't have said it better.