Ranking A Nightmare on Elm Street Series

Freddy Kruger, the nightmare man himself, was never intended to become a cultural icon or the star of a franchise, but he indeed became both. Spanning the course of nine films, seven of which were in the original series, then a crossover showdown with Jason Voorhees and a remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy had wracked up a lot of kills and a lot of screen time.

Now let’s get to why you clicked on this link, my ranking of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films, from worst to best!

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010's version of Freddy Kruger

“The only good thing about this film is that Clancy Brown got a payday.” That was my review of the film, walking out of the theater opening night. Some films shouldn’t be remade and some characters shouldn’t be portrayed by anyone else. This film will always be compared to a legacy it simply can’t match.

8. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Freddys Dead poster with Freddy's knifed glove reaching out

This film tried, and I’ll go as far as to say had good intentions, but the final product was nowhere close to a proper send-off for the man who haunted our dreams for five films before this one. The attempts to further elaborate on Freddy’s backstory and give him a daughter to ultimately kill him off felt forced and unnecessary. Oftentimes, this film felt like a parody of A Nightmare on Elm Street and resulted in a film that simply has to be towards the bottom when ranking A Nightmare on Elm Street films.

7. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees face off

Freddy vs. Jason is a film I can honestly say I enjoy, but if we’re ranking A Nightmare on Elm Street films, then I have to be objective and put it towards the bottom of the list. I think the best word I can use to describe this film is “fun.” It’s enjoyable. It’s like two of your favorite bands each playing five of their best songs at the same show. Sure, it was great to hear those songs, and it was great that both bands were there, but you’ve seen them play better when it was just them. Freddy vs. Jason was a film that was really hard to pull off. You couldn’t have either icon really be at the height of their game because the film needed to be about their feud. So, you ramp up the fun, have some memorable moments, and call it a day, which is exactly what this film did.

6. The Dream Child (1989)

Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Child

This film was really ambitious and visually astounding. Following a very comedic entry in the series, A Dream Child opted for a very dark approach, visually and story-wise. The biggest issue this film suffers from is that the mythology feels convoluted by this point, and the idea of Freddy using an unborn child to go after victims feels like a “jump the shark” moment. The genuine terror of the first three films and the charm of the fourth aren’t on display here. Still, it’s hard to get too down on this film. Alice is a tremendous character, and Stephen Hopkins brought a lot to the look and feel of the film from the director’s chair. The pros and cons balance each other out here in what results in a middle of the pack entry when ranking A Nightmare on Elm Street films.

5. Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

Freddy Krueger stands menacingly in a foggy back yard before a pool.

This film has grown on me over the years. Does it have some problems? Sure, but it’s a better sequel than it was originally given credit for. The first sequel set the tone for the struggle that would transpire between creator Wes Craven and New Line, where Craven would insist that Freddy not be brought more into the “real world,” but scripts without his involvement would do just that. While scenes such as Freddy around the pool in Freddy’s Revenge are now iconic, they drastically change the original vision for the character. The film’s homosexual overtones have become its legacy in many ways, which has added to the public’s increased acceptance of this film over the years. The main character, Jesse, is now seen as going on an even more powerful journey, which certainly adds to the depth of the story and film.

4. The Dream Master (1988)

Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and Alice (Lisa Wilcox) share a pizza.

A controversial take perhaps, but I stand by my claim that The Dream Master is the best film in the series not directed or co-written by Wes Craven. The film functions as a direct sequel to the film before it, Dream Warriors, and it uses this fact to reboot the series well. Freddy is no longer just after the children of the people who torched him. He’s just out to kill. This transition was handled seamlessly by continuing on with the survivors from the previous film and then migrating to others in their lives. The film establishes Alice, who follows Kristen, who followed Nancy, as the heroines who would face Freddy in multiple films. Often called the “MTV Nightmare,” The Dream Master did tap more into pop culture and embraced the fact that Freddy Kruger was becoming a cultural icon. The film was smart, original, progressed the story, had memorable sequences, well-developed characters, and didn’t insult the audience at all. For the fourth film in a franchise, you can’t ask for any more.

3. Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare (1994)

Freddy Krueger as he appears in New Nightmare with no hat and blades for nails.

Things are getting more difficult now friends, when ranking A Nightmare on Elm Street films. You could make an argument for this being the best film in the series, and it would be hard to argue against it. The precursor for Scream, A New Nightmare ushered in the meta-commentary and ushered out the one-liners and cheesy fun the series had become over the years. Wes Craven has long said that this was his original vision for Dream Warriors before having that idea shot down, but by the time this film came out, ten years after the original, the time was right. This film challenges our notions about horror, film, and reality and gave the series a truly proper send-off, unlike the previous attempt at ending Freddy.

2. Dream Warriors (1987)

The iconic Dream Warriors poster

Co-written by Wes Craven himself, this is the perfect sequel to A Nightmare on Elm Street. It is visually stunning, has great characters, memorable kills, and terrific use of original characters Nancy and Don Thompson. This film moved the story forward by introducing some of Freddy’s backstory and killed off our original hero Nancy, all while setting up a tremendous group of characters to advance the story forward. When you think of nostalgic ’80s horror, you can’t help but think of this film and the memorable title tune, written and performed by Dokken. Everything that we love about that decade and this franchise is encapsulated in this film, complete with top-of-the-line performances from Patricia Arquette and Lawrence Fishburn. This is exactly what you want from a sequel.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Freddy Krueger (Robert Englung) in the iconic "tina dream sequence" in A Nigtmare on Elm Street.

I didn’t want to be that guy, who ranks the original film as being best and inevitably starts a conversation about sequels being inferior, always. I don’t feel that way at all. I love sequels and, truth be told, really struggled with my Top 3 of this list. Ranking A Nightmare on Elm Street films wasn’t easy. But alas, here we are, at the top spot, and I am making my case for the original film being the best film in the series.

The story was unlike anything else out there. The performances were heads and shoulders above most genre films. A Nightmare on Elm Street had a style of its own, all while playing with the tropes and style of the slasher genre. It took the best and left the rest, aiming for genuine terror over jump scares, hoping to get the viewer on a primal level. Which it did. This film is scary. This film was unlike anything that came before it or after it. It has become a part of American pop culture, but had there only been this one film and no sequels, it would be grouped more with art-house horror than slashers. Between Wes Craven’s vision, performances from Heather Langenkamp, Johnny Depp, John Saxon, and more, and Robert Englund’s body language and animal-like style of movement that was genuinely horrific, this film was art and should always be remembered that way.

So that’s my list. Let’s hear yours in the comments!


Looking for more Elm Street content? Check these out!

Elm Street Nightmares: Reflections on Classic Sequences

Freddy’s Dead: Going Out with a Cartoon Bang

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Written by Andrew Grevas

25YL Media Founder

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