It all began with a killer title: Friday the 13th.
Producer Sean S.Cunningham was riding high off of the success that producing Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972) brought him. And then John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) gave Cunningham the highly-profitable idea to jump on the spooky date bandwagon.
Before Victor Miller was even finished with the screenplay (working title: A Long Night at Camp Blood), Cunningham commissioned an ad in International Variety magazine that showcased his soon-to-be prolific title in big block letters with the claim of “THE MOST TERRIFYING FILM EVER MADE!”
And here we are, 12 movies later, anxiously awaiting the arrival to what will undoubtedly be another half-assed, hacky, wonderful installment in this blood-soaked franchise—the 13th installment to be precise.
For reference, here is a chronological rundown of every Friday the 13th:
- Friday the 13th (1980)
- Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
- Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
- Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
- Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
- Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
- Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
- Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
- Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
- Jason X (2002)
- Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
- Friday the 13th (2009)
While most Friday the 13th fans would recommend you watch the franchise in order in its entirety to fully appreciate its ridiculousness, here is my personal ranking of the Voorhees saga to help celebrate this most unholy of days.
12. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Young Tommy Jarvis is all grown up, but the memory of supernatural serial killer Jason Voorhees has thrown him into a living nightmare. After years of being locked away in numerous mental institutions, Tommy re-enters society hoping to find a new beginning…but he soon finds that the memory of Jason is alive and thriving outside his padded cell.
In a list that includes some absolute stinkers, perhaps earning the title of “Worst Friday the 13th” should actually be considered a kind of honor. The decision is easy to make, considering this is the only film without Jason.
Sure, there are a handful of memorable kills and characters—like Joey’s axe to the head and Demon’s tragic enchilada-fueled demise—but when it comes down to it, if we’re not watching Jason hack apart a bunch of horny teenagers, then what are we doing here?
11. Friday the 13th (2009)
As a child, Jason Voorhees witnesses his mother’s head being chopped off by a camp counselor defending herself from his mother’s manic murder spree. Now that he’s a lumbering demon of a man, Jason aims to exact his revenge on anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path.
The latest entry in the series is also one of the most forgettable. Coming off of his 2003 remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, director Marcus Nispel decided to test his luck with another horror classic.
Unfortunately, the finished product proved too recent to be dated in a fun way and too dated for its “contemporary” take to enlist any genuine fear from a modern audience. This Crystal Lake tale seems tailor-made for the audiences of 2009 and nobody else.
That being said, Derek Mears (Twin Peaks, Swamp Thing) uses his made-for-horror body skillfully in his portrayal of our favorite killer, and fans of Jared Padalecki (Gilmore Girls, Supernatural) will probably get some joy out of watching this dud. After all, even a bad Friday the 13th is worth watching.
10. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Tina Shepard first learned of her telekinetic abilities when she accidentally killed her father on Crystal Lake. The memory still terrorizes her, but after awakening Jason from his watery tomb, Tina must find a way to realize her full power to take him down before it’s too late.
Jason vs. Carrie is what this movie wishes it was. However, the new blood goes flat pretty quickly in this surprisingly dull slasher. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood was an attempt to elevate the franchise, and in the early stages, it was pitched as a potential crossover between Jason and Freddy Kreuger. However, Paramount and New Line Cinema were unable to come to an agreement, resulting in this clear downgrade of a premise that was unable (or possibly uninterested) to obtain the rights to Brian De Palma’s legendary telekinetic character.
9. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
After an onslaught of bullets rip Jason Voorhees apart, it appears the world is finally free from his terrible grip. However, his still-beating heart possesses its own demonic power, and Hell hath no fury like a Voorhees scorned.
We know we’re in for a different and especially ’90s version of Friday the 13th when we open the film on an over-the-top, cheesy action shootout that shows Jason being lit up like a Christmas tree.
Overall, the film is part Cronenberg’s Shivers, part John Carpenter’s The Thing, and a splash of Freddy Kreuger. The result is a blended mess that lacks the hammy tropes we come to expect from the franchise. That being said, here’s a link to Andrew Grevas’ piece that drastically differs from my own negative review of Jason Goes to Hell.
8. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Even though Tommy Jarvis hacked his tormentor to pieces as a child, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that the hulking juggernaut was waiting in a graveyard ready to strike again. A night of digging in the cemetery was meant to reassure his more logical side, but in a similar fashion to Frankenstein’s monster, a bolt of lightning brings back to life the unearthed abomination. The name is Voorhees…Jason Voorhees.
The James Bond homage in which Jason parodies Bond’s classic title sequence by shuffling across the sights of a gun and then throwing his machete at the camera is the highlight of the film. Which means it only gets worse from there.
This film is notable for making Jason a truly undead entity, even though he seemed pretty zombie-like in the previous three films. It also is the conclusion of the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. Unless of course Corey Feldman can be convinced to reprise the role in the 13th installment.
… one can dream.
7. Jason X (2002)
The US government has captured the horror of Crystal Lake to study his seemingly unearthly ability to regenerate and even resurrect. Unsuccessful attempts to exterminate the experiment lead to Jason being cryogenically frozen for 445 years, and when he awakes from his slumber he finds he has a lot of killing to make up for…
On paper, the vacuum of space and the sharp blade of Jason Voorhees should be a match made in heaven…or, should we say, Hell. However, the film’s premise is never fully realized, outside of a frozen head-smashing scene that sits near the top of the list of best kills in the franchise. Even an appearance from David Cronenberg isn’t enough to save this stinker. By the time Jason 2.0 hits the screen, you’ll be looking for the nearest escape pod.
On the other hand, it’s still a Friday the 13th movie, so check it out!
6. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
Lovable prankster Shelly and his gang of pals travel to Crystal Lake to have a good time. Shelly lightens the mood by scaring his friends with his trusty hockey mask. All is well until an undead man-child named Jason slits our protagonist’s throat and takes away his most-prized possession…
Friday the 13th Part III may not be the best entry in the franchise, but at least it added an extra dimension to its characters…literally. Also known as Friday the 13th Part 3-D, the third installment in the series hurled yo-yos, baseball bats, and even joints at the audience.
Of course, we’re joking around about the goofball Shelly being the protagonist. Actually, what sets this film apart is the final girl. Chris Higgins (played by Dana Kimmell) shares a story that implies Jason sexually assaulted her in the woods when she was younger, highlighting a disturbing sexual drive from Jason that is absent in basically all of the other films.
It’s probably not worth tracking down a copy that allows you to watch what is surely nauseating 3-D because the odd scenes that are clearly meant to be protruding add to the charm of this classic slasher.
5. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
When two terror titans meet, the end is surely nigh.
This film gets a huge boost by the addition of everybody’s favorite wisecracking killer, Freddy Kreuger, and finally delivers on the promise of a crossover between the two horror legends first made at the end of Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday.
The strength of this film is that it delivers on its promise (a surprisingly difficult thing to do apparently, in a franchise that has two beginnings and two finales). At this point in Freddy and Jason’s respective careers, we’ve been told their backstories plenty of times, and Freddy vs. Jason masterfully uses that pre-learned knowledge to cut to the good stuff, which cleans up Jason’s usually muddled and confusing backstory.
Somehow, the film manages to live up to the hype while maintaining the integrity of its titular characters, much like this year’s Godzilla vs. Kong. Though, impressively, Jason and Freddy manage to wrack up a higher kill count than the kaiju duo.
4. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Jason does his thing on a boat, and then, eventually, finds himself in Manhattan for a couple of minutes.
And this is the part where I close my eyes, put my fingers in my ears, and repeatedly scream, “This is my list and I can do what I want to.” This Friday the 13th could have also been called “Jason Takes a Boat” because a large majority of the movie takes place on a boat that magically sails from Crystal Lake to Manhattan.
Cards on the table: I remember watching this movie with a group of friends on my birthday. The birthday celebrations had fried our attention spans, the majority of the audience was unfamiliar with the previous films, and conversation flowed freely throughout. And yet, it was one of my favorite movie-watching experiences to date.
The moral of the lesson is this: every Friday the 13th is exactly as stupid or brilliant as you want it to be.
3. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Jason Voorhees once again defies the laws of God by refusing to die. Instead, he travels back to Crystal Lake to rid it of its pesky guests.
This one has it all: a really young Corey Feldman, an especially brutish Jason, creative kills, and an absurd dance from Crispin Glover! It sticks with the campground setting that we all know and love, while upping the ante on the absurd violence. Honestly, if you took the title’s suggestion seriously and ended your Friday the 13th run-through after watching parts one through four, I wouldn’t blame you, though you’d be missing out on some truly heinous and hilarious shit that takes place in the following Fridays.
2. Friday the 13th (1980)
Twenty-one years after the mysterious death of two camp counselors, Camp Crystal Lake is ready to welcome back teenagers looking for a good time. However, one by one, the counselors are picked off by an unknown killer. Whatever dormant madness took hold those many years ago, it’s clear that it has awoken from its slumber.
In truth, the original film feels a little out of touch with what the franchise would become. It reads a lot more like a classic murder mystery or an Italian giallo film than a mindless slasher. But the character of Pamela Voorhees is a crucial part of the story, so it feels somehow dirty not to include it at the top, even though entertainment-wise it probably deserves to be somewhere in the middle of this list.
1. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Alice Hardy is struggling to recover from the horror that took place at Camp Crystal Lake. She’s moved to the city in hopes of finding a fresh start, but the human head she discovers in her fridge floods her with the realization that there is no escape from the curse of Voorhees.
Part 2, on the other hand, is the quintessential Friday the 13th. Even without his iconic hockey mask (instead, he dons a spooky bag over his head), the final sequence in this film, in my opinion, outshines any other sequence in the franchise.
Is it a cop-out to list two early films in the top spot? Absolutely. But Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2 go together like a teenager and a machete to the face. The fact that Jason is missing his iconic hockey mask feels strange, but if you’re looking to sit down with a group of friends (whether in person or virtually) to hear the tale of Jason Voorhees, the pairing of these two movies will give you the laughs, violence, gratuitous nudity, and drinking game material that you most likely seek from this franchise.
The total running time of a back-to-back screening of the first two films in the franchise would run you about two-and-a-half hours. So do yourself a favor and celebrate the date in style. Who knows, maybe the chilling call of Jason will convince you to run through the rest of the franchise!