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Every Friday the 13th movie ranked from worst to best

The spookiest time of year is quickly approaching, and if you're looking for a gory, nerve-jangling movie marathon, you could do a lot worse than the Friday the 13th film series. Known for its creatively brutal set pieces, Friday may not be the father of the slasher genre, but it's definitely the crazy uncle—and the unstoppable, machete-wielding Jason Voorhees' signature hockey mask is among the most recognizable icons in American pop culture. 

For newcomers and casual fans, this list may save you a little time planning your viewing binge; hardcore fans should find plenty to debate as we run down every Friday the 13th movie, ranked from worst to best. 

Friday the 13th (2009)

After sprinting past the events of the original film, the 2009 reboot moves on to an adult Jason with an intelligent, cunning characterization that seemed like a pointless change, if not an outright betrayal of the original series.

Jason's seemingly supernatural abilities are neatly explained away, callbacks to the previous films fall ridiculously flat, and Jason captures a girl and holds her prisoner—as if he'd ever stoop to kidnapping. The film did so-so box office but earned dismal reviews, and a lengthy tug of war over rights issues helped sink another attempt at a reboot. If only the same course of action had been taken here. Even the worst entry from the original series is preferable—this film simply shouldn't exist.

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

One in a long line of films that were meant to end the series, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Fridayundoes the mythology built by the previous entries. Much like the Halloween series eventually retconned Michael Myers as the engine of some ancient Druid curse, Jason Goes to Hell reinvents Jason as a vengeful spirit that can only be killed by members of his own bloodline using a special magic dagger. 

To add insult to injury, this film contains one of only four appearances by the great Kane Hodder, the only man to play Jason multiple times—and the best to ever do it. We get to see his performance for all of several minutes due to the film's idiotic premise: after being physically blown to bits by the FBI in the beginning, Jason spends most of the movie as a spirit, possessing random people by forcibly installing his black, pulsing heart into their chest cavities. Said heart then becomes a demon-slug baby, allowing Jason to be reborn by means as stupid as they are unprintable. It's all just wrong; the whole movie misses the mark from start to finish. Its only notable moment comes at the very end, as an appearance by a familiar knife-gloved hand sets up a much better movie that wouldn't show up for another decade.

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

A film that mightily fails to live up to its title, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan benefits only from the presence of Kane Hodder in his second turn as the man behind the mask—and a handful of creative kills. A ridiculous amount of the movie's considerable run time takes place among the visually drab (and cheap) confines of a cruise ship, and fans intrigued by the title's promise (and the film's controversial marketing campaign) felt more than a little cheated. Jason's romp through the Big Apple takes up perhaps 20 minutes at the movie's end, and features some locations that are obviously not New York.

Of course, director Rob Hedden had intended something very different. As he explained in a making-of book, Jason was supposed to murder his way through all sorts of iconic New York locations before jumping off the freaking Statue of Liberty, but the measly $5 million budget wouldn't allow for any of that. Instead of that awesome-sounding movie, we got one of the most visually flat, tedious entries in the entire series—as well as the lowest-grossing and the most critically panned (which is saying something).

Jason X (2001)

Every long-running horror franchise eventually embarrasses itself by sending its villain into space, so it's only fitting that the final proper installment of the original Friday the 13th series would do just that. After being captured by the government (seemingly ignoring the events of Jason Goes to Hell, thankfully) Jason is placed into cryogenic stasis for hundreds of years. Revived by some students, he wreaks his special brand of havoc on a spaceship, receives an insane cyborg upgrade, and is once again seemingly dispatched for good. 

Despite its supremely silly premise, Jason X is remarkably solid, with a ferocious performance by Hodder in his final outing and at least a couple of the series' most truly bizarre and inventive kills. (Liquid nitrogen, anyone?) A late-film sequence featuring cyborg Jason in a Holodeck-like recreation of Camp Crystal Lake is also a nice touch, and features a remixed version of what Hodder called his favorite kill of all time—one of the most notorious of all Jason's many acts of violence, which just happens to be featured in the next entry.

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)

Despite being little-remembered, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is noteworthy for marking Hodder's debut as Jason, and also for the scene in which he grabs a startled young camper while she's still in her sleeping bag and slams her face-first into a tree. It's equal parts brutal and hilarious, and the "sleeping bag kill" remains Jason's defining kill for Hodder and legions of fans. 

The film's protagonist is Tina Shepard, a telekinetic young woman who inadvertently revives Jason from his watery grave at the bottom of Crystal Lake while trying to bring back her drowned father. Many fans felt that the "Jason vs. Carrie" premise was a bit of a stretch, but Hodder was roundly praised, and he even helped the film set a record for stunt work. In the film's climactic battle, Tina uses her powers to set Jason on fire, a scene that was achieved by having Hodder actually be on fire for 40 seconds as the cameras rolled. His dedication to the role showed early, and his performance helps make The New Blood a solid entry.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

It wasn't until 2003 that fans' hopes and the promise of the last few frames of Jason Goes to Hell were finally fulfilled, but it ended up being worth the wait. While it isn't actually part of the main Friday the 13th franchise, the crossover Freddy vs. Jason earns its place on our list by virtue of being awesomely over the top and a hell of a lot of fun, with a titular throwdown that's everything fans could have hoped for.

A Nightmare On Elm Street's Freddy Krueger (breaking the fourth wall liberally) is bummed that his memory is dying out, making it harder for him to invade the dreams of children. He takes the questionable measure of freeing Jason Voorhees from hell and turning him loose on his old Elm Street stomping grounds in the hopes that the fresh wave of gruesome murders will rekindle the legend of Freddy (it helps if you don't question this logic too much). But once Jason starts killing, it's pretty tough to get him to stop, so he must be maneuvered into a showdown before he kills off all of Freddy's potential victims. 

The film works far better than it has any right to after spending an eternity in development hell and causing a good-sized flap over the decision to recast Hodder with stunt man Ken Kirzinger (who, for the record, acquits himself nicely). The franchises' styles mesh well, there are a couple of genuinely creepy moments amidst the carnage, and finally, somebody wonders what that goalie was so pissed about.

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is the fifth film in the series, and the most underrated of them all. That is to say, it's a near-perfect Friday the 13th film that fans absolutely hate for one (totally understandable) reason: the ending's reveal that the Jason we've been watching impale his way through a teen rehab facility wasn't actually Jason at all, but just some random guy—a paramedic, upset over the death of his son early in the film. Jason, apparently killed at the end of the previous entry, was still dead as a doornail.

The Jason copycat's weak motivation was especially disappointing considering the interesting psychological thriller-type angle the film takes before the reveal. A now teenaged Tommy Jarvis, who as a child put a brutal end to Jason's reign of terror with the murderer's own machete, is among the residents at a home for troubled teens when the murders begin anew. The implication that Tommy may be responsible is teased throughout, and his ultimate face-off with the Jason copycat is truly nerve-jangling—but for most fans, the fakeout ending wasted all the goodwill engendered by the crazy kills, high body count, and copious amounts of nudity. A very good to near-great entry with one king-sized flaw that ultimately shouldn't keep it from being enjoyed.

Friday the 13th Part III (1982)

Friday the 13th Part III had the misfortune of being produced in 1982, smack in the middle of the early '80s 3-D revival. 3-D was employed differently then—it focused very heavily on things poking or flying out of the screen at the audience, so watching the film can be a bit of an exercise in constantly excusing obvious "3-D" moments. But if you can get past those, Part III is a tight, suspenseful, intermittently creepy shocker that features some jaw-dropping kills and sees Jason put on his iconic hockey mask for the first time. 

The film's dead simple plot sees Jason, wounded and limping away from the previous film's finale, get in some rejuvenating R&R by axe-murdering a bunch of teenage friends and their biker gang rivals. According to 3-D supervisor and hockey fan Marty Sadoff, it was his mask that was first used for a lighting test, then cast, remolded and painted into the headgear that would form the basis for Jason's look in every subsequent film. 

Producers toyed with the idea of definitively ending the franchise with this entry, scripting a conclusion in which Jason's head is lopped off by protagonist Chris (and later shooting a legendary, never-seen alternate ending in which the reverse happens). But ultimately, Jason's fate is left hanging after a nightmarish false ending that illustrates how fakeout dream sequences should be done.

Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

At a scant 87 minutes, 1981's Friday the 13th Part 2 is short, dark and nastily efficient. When the carnage starts, it comes fast and furious; the movie wastes no time unceremoniously dispatching Alice, the sole survivor of the first film, within its first three minutes. Its Jason is a mute, ferocious beast, the burlap sack that he wears over his head (with only one eyehole) lending to the feeling that he's more animal than human. And the means by which he's defeated—confusing him by invoking the memory of his dead mother—would become a reliable means of at least slowing him down in future installments.

Despite the departure of the first film's special effects wizard Tom Savini, Part 2 sported death sequences graphic and creative enough—like its predecessor—to invoke the wrath of the MPAA, who insisted that a total of 48 seconds be cut to avoid an X rating. It's still a brutal, relentlessly paced entry and a worthy sequel to one of the greatest slasher films of all time.

Friday the 13th (1980)

The film that launched a seemingly unstoppable franchise is more of a murder mystery—albeit an extremely gory one—than most of the slasher flicks it inspired. The third act reveal that it's former camp cook Mrs. Voorhees, driven insane by the drowning death of her son Jason, that's been perpetrating the heinous killings was absolutely jaw-dropping—as was her ultimate fate, thanks to the film's real star, Tom Savini.

After honing his craft on George A. Romero's Martin and Dawn of the Dead, Savini brought his blood-soaked set pieces to the production at the insistence of producer Sean S. Cunningham and writer Victor Miller, who had essentially set out to rip off Halloween with a lot more gore. In an era before CGI, it was Savini's job to figure out how to make Miller's gruesome death scenes look real, and from an axe directly to the face of a hapless teen to an arrow plunged through the throat of a young Kevin Bacon, he delivered. 

According to Cunningham, Savini obsessed endlessly over how to accomplish Mrs. Voorhees' death scene—one of the first true onscreen beheadings—and he also designed young Jason's look for his surprise appearance at the end, to this day one of the most effective jump scares of all time. Friday the 13th was a film born of pure moneymaking opportunism, but Savini's groundbreaking makeup effects work makes it a horror classic, and it doesn't hurt that the performance of veteran actress Betsy Palmer as Mrs. Voorhees is truly chilling.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)

This may be something of a controversial choice, but it shouldn't be. The second-best film in the franchise came on the heels of an entry that could have been stellar but ultimately disappointed, due to its mere teasing of what was now being delivered: the return of Jason after his apparent death at the hands of nemesis Tommy Jarvis.

The film opens with a delirious sequence in which Tommy literally digs up Jason's grave on a stormy night, angrily and symbolically tosses a hockey mask and machete into said grave, and impales the corpse with an iron stake from the cemetery's fence. Anybody who's ever seen Frankenstein can guess what happens next: there's a freak lightning strike, and when a newly reanimated Jason—an explicitly supernatural being for the first time in the series—figures he woke up just in time for the killing spree, Tommy must figure out a way to stop him again. 

The opening sets a self-referential tone that continues throughout, successfully making audiences giggle between jump scares and brutal murders a full decade before Wes Craven's Scream perfected this formula. The film is simply a blast: the body count is absurdly high, The Return of the Living Dead's Thom Mathews makes an excellent, more action-oriented Tommy Jarvis, and stuntman C.J. Graham is second only to Kane Hodder in his menacing portrayal of Jason. All this and a kick-ass Alice Cooper theme song? It's almost the best Friday the 13th ever. Almost. 

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

The fourth installment of the series was indeed intended to be the final one, and if it had been, the franchise may have had a completely different legacy. The film begins with Jason escaping the morgue and getting set to embark on another rampage—before finally meeting his match in an unlikely adversary.

Tommy Jarvis makes his first appearance as a 12-year old, and is played to perfection by a young Corey Feldman in the single best performance of the entire franchise. Tommy is a kid who's fascinated with masks and makeup—yes, Jason's arch-nemesis began as a direct homage to Tom Savini—and it's a skill that saves his sister's life in the film's nerve-wracking climax, one of the most intense and graphic final scenes in any mainstream horror film. Jason is horrifyingly unmasked before his insanely disturbing end at the hands of a child, in what would have been a fitting sendoff for one of cinema's greatest monsters. The producers, wanting to preserve the film's sense of finality, even scrapped a dream sequence ending that was shot. 

Ask any truly hardcore fan, and they'll tell you: The Final Chapter is the quintessential Friday the 13th film. Unbelievably brutal and at times unbearably tense, with some of the finest practical makeup work the series has ever produced, it's not only the best film in the franchise, but the greatest slasher film of the '80s—and possibly of all time.

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