Ranking All of Mike Flanagan’s Films

I first heard about Mike Flanagan back in 2014, when Oculus was released. I didn’t know who he was before that, but when I left the theater, I knew I had to keep an eye out for more of his work and began excitedly awaiting anything with his name attached to it. All these years later, my feelings about him haven’t changed.

Mike Flanagan is still one of my absolute favorite directors working in the horror genre today, and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down. In fact, over the past few years, he’s been pumping out more quality content than ever. He’s shifted his focus to TV, so instead of giving us 90 or 120 minutes of great storytelling at a time, he’s now giving us 10 hours at a time.

It’s pretty remarkable, and because he’s made that jump, it’s a good time to take a step back and appreciate his filmography as a whole. It doesn’t look like we’re going to have to add any new titles to this list for at least a few years, so let’s take a look at all seven of Mike Flanagan’s feature films and see how I rank them from worst (or, more accurately, least good) to best.

7) Gerald’s Game

Jessie screams while tied to the bed

Right off the bat, we’re going to start with a controversial pick. A lot of people really like Gerald’s Game, and I totally get why. It features an excellent lead performance from Carla Gugino, it’s filled with tension and suspense, and it manages to successfully adapt a Stephen King novel that many people thought was unfilmable. This movie has a lot going for it, so why is it my least favorite Mike Flanagan film?

It’s actually quite simple. Gerald’s Game is just not my preferred kind of horror. For starters, my tastes tend to lean more towards the supernatural and the fantastical, and this movie is completely naturalistic. Secondly, and more importantly, unlike most horror films, this one isn’t really trying to scare us in the traditional sense. Sure, it puts its main character in a terrifying situation that’s full of anxiety and despair, but seeing that situation on screen doesn’t elicit the same kind of fear as seeing a knife-wielding serial killer or a demon risen from the depths of hell. It’s just a different kind of horror, so while I can enjoy it when I watch it, it’s not what I normally choose to watch.

To be fair, if I were trying to do a more objective ranking, I would put this movie higher. It really is a well-made film. But I’m not trying to be objective here. This is just my own personal ranking, and for me, Gerald’s Game is the least enjoyable Mike Flanagan movie.

6) Hush

The killer standing behind the main character

Much like Gerald’s Game, Hush is another Mike Flanagan movie that most people would rank higher than I do. Once again, I totally understand why. It’s a tight, suspenseful home invasion film that features a deaf-mute protagonist. It’s an interesting little twist for a subgenre that’s often a bit too conducive to mediocre rip-offs. On top of that, Kate Siegel gives an excellent lead performance, so you completely buy into her character from the very beginning. She’s super easy to root for, which makes the horrors she experiences all the more terrifying.

So again, if Hush is so good, why is it this low on my list? Well, as solid as it may be, it’s still a pretty standard home invasion movie, so it doesn’t rise above the subgenre in any significant way. While the film’s deaf-mute protagonist gives it a bit of a unique slant that helps keep it from just being a pastiche of other movies, it still has both its feet firmly planted in the home invasion world.

Because of that, your enjoyment of Hush is going to depend on how much you like these films. While I am a fan of home invasion horror, it’s not my favorite subgenre; I tend to prefer movies about magic, monsters, and the supernatural. So, even though Hush is quite good, for me it’s simply not top-tier Mike Flanagan.

5) Before I Wake

A dream butterfly coming to life on a man's hand

With Before I Wake, we finally get to the supernatural side of Mike Flanagan’s filmography. This movie is about a young orphan named Cody whose dreams manifest themselves in the real world. When he’s taken in as a foster child by the Hobsons, a couple who recently lost their son, their lives soon become a living nightmare (quite literally!).

Though this dark fantasy-horror story holds an obvious appeal for me, the supernatural elements are actually not my favorite thing about the movie. For me, the best thing about it is its treatment of grief and loss. Not only are the Hobsons grieving their son, but the nightmare that haunts Cody is intimately connected to his mother, who died when he was just a toddler.

These two experiences of tragic loss are the heart and soul of this film, and that story really resonates with me. I lost my father to cancer back in 2015, so I can identify with these characters in a special way. The horrors they undergo are like a personification of some of the horrors I’ve gone through, which gives me a deep connection with Before I Wake.

Admittedly, that’s a very personal reason for liking this movie. Unless you’ve had similar experiences, you won’t feel the same way about it that I do; but, for me, that connection makes this a very special story. It’s more than enough to elevate the film above the previous two on this list and put it among my top five favorite Mike Flanagan movies.

4) Ouija: Origin of Evil

Two girls sitting with one looking concerned

When I first heard about Ouija: Origin of Evil, I figured it was going to be terrible. It’s a prequel to the 2014 stinker Ouija, and we all know how prequels and sequels to bad movies usually turn out. But then I found out that Mike Flanagan was directing it, and I immediately changed my mind. I had already seen Oculus by then, so I knew that anything this guy did would be great. And when I finally saw the film, I was not disappointed.

Ouija: Origin of Evil is a fairly standard possession/haunted house movie, so the plot doesn’t reinvent the subgenre wheel. It’s a variation of the same story we’ve seen countless times before, but don’t let that fool you. This is way more than just another throwaway studio horror film. Mike Flanagan imbues it with a whole bunch of effective scares and some really sympathetic main characters, so it’s way better than it has any right to be.

Most notably, this film features one of the best creepy kid performances I’ve ever seen. It stars Lulu Wilson as a little girl who becomes possessed by the ghosts that haunt her family’s home, and she’s incredible. It’s almost like she transforms into the incarnation of evil itself. If I didn’t know any better, I might’ve thought she was really possessed.

Wilson single-handedly elevates this film to the next level. While the rest of the cast is great too, she’s hands down the main attraction here. She turns a merely good supernatural horror movie into an excellent one, making Ouija: Origin of Evil my fourth favorite Mike Flanagan film.

3) Absentia

A man being pulled into a tunnel

Absentia was Mike Flanagan’s directorial debut, and it’s super low budget. It looks like he made the movie with some pocket change and a bunch of friends, and I suspect some people might be turned off by that. However, if you can look past the obvious budgetary limitations, Absentia is actually really impressive.

The film is about a woman whose husband went missing seven years ago. Right when she’s ready to have him declared dead in absentia, he shows up again out of the blue. You don’t know where he went or how he got back to her, and that sets up an intriguing mystery about a potentially supernatural creature.

Most people have probably never seen Absentia, so I won’t say any more about the plot, but trust me, it’s truly captivating. Mike Flanagan masterfully builds up the characters and the story to make you really care about what you’re seeing on screen. As the mystery unfolds, it reels you in deeper and deeper; it’s the kind of movie you just can’t turn away from. After a little while, you won’t even care about the budgetary restrictions.

This makes for one hell of a feature debut, and it shows that Mike Flanagan really understands how to make a good horror movie. He understands that story and characters are the heart and soul of genre storytelling, that they’re way more important than money and flashy special effects could ever be. As long as those key elements are strong, a movie is pretty much guaranteed to be a winner no matter how low budget it may be, and Absentia is a prime example of that.

2) Oculus

A woman with a flashlight

As I said before, Oculus was my introduction to Mike Flanagan, and what an introduction it was. Like all of his films, this one has strong characters, an intriguing story, and some pretty effective horror. However, I’m not going to dwell on those elements. Instead, I want to focus on what makes this movie unique and why it’s so high on my list.

Oculus is about a haunted mirror that distorts people’s perception of reality. While that may sound a bit lame on paper, it’s executed to absolute perfection. In fact, it’s so good that it has the same effect on viewers that the mirror has on its victims. For my money, that’s the true strength of this film.

Sometimes, you’ll be totally convinced something is real, but then it’ll end up being fake. Other times, you’ll swear something is fake, but it’ll turn out to be real. This kind of bait and switch happens over and over again, so you quickly realize that you simply don’t know what’s real and what’s not.

On top of that, this movie also tells two stories simultaneously. It switches back and forth between the present day and the main characters’ experiences with the mirror in the past. These two stories intertwine so seamlessly that you’ll never see the transitions coming. Because of that, not only are you constantly unsure of what is and isn’t real, but you’re also unsure of what time period you’ll be in from one moment to the next. This uncertainty keeps you off-balance and intensifies your feeling of disorientation.

All of these mind games really mess with your head, drawing you into the story and making you feel like you’re right there with the main characters fighting the mirror and trying to stay sane. They make for a cinematic experience unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. When you combine that with all the other things Oculus gets right, it’s more than enough to make this my second favorite Mike Flanagan film.

1) Doctor Sleep

Ewan McGregor, as Danny Torrance, looking in a mirror; visible behind him on the wall is the word "REDRUM".

Doctor Sleep is more than just my favorite Mike Flanagan film. I also think it’s one of the greatest horror sequels ever made. I’d put it up there with Bride of Frankenstein, Aliens, and Evil Dead 2 (I don’t consider Dawn of the Dead a real sequel). For me, it’s the movie that really cements Flanagan as a modern legend.

Like Oculus, this film has all the earmarks of Mike Flanagan’s work. I’m only going to focus on its most impressive feat: bridging the gap between the literary and cinematic versions of the Shining universe. Doctor Sleep is an adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to his famous novel The Shining, so this movie needed to do two things at once. It had to successfully adapt the novel it’s based on, while also functioning as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 film version of The Shining.

Now, on paper, that may not sound too difficult; in reality, it was just about impossible. See, Kubrick’s The Shining is pretty different from the book, so crafting a sequel to both versions required a very delicate balancing act. What’s more, Stephen King is famously not a fan of Kubrick’s film, so Flanagan also had to make a sequel that pleased the movie’s most famous critic.

And somehow, he pulled it off. He was able to check all those boxes and do it with almost breathtaking cinematic virtuosity. Doctor Sleep works as a sequel to Kubrick’s movie, retroactively bringing that movie more in line with Stephen King’s novel. While admittedly I haven’t read the book Doctor Sleep, King himself is a fan of this film, so I can only assume that it works as an adaptation of his novel as well.

On top of all that, Doctor Sleep is just a fabulous movie in its own right, even aside from its connections to its cinematic and literary predecessors. It has protagonists you can really get behind, antagonists who manage to be both terrifying and sympathetic, and a charming story of redemption, love, and the courage to be who you really are. For my money, this film should’ve become an instant classic the day it came out in theaters.

Though unfortunately, it didn’t garner enough of an audience to reach that status, I’m confident that as the years go by and more people check it out, it’ll eventually take its rightful place in the pantheon of great horror movies. Until then, it’s just going to have to settle for being this fan’s personal favorite Mike Flanagan film.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

Sam Neill stands in a bookstore. The shelves are full of Sutter Cane titles

May 2022 Is Brimming With New Horror Literature

A man praying by a bed while a woman lies in it

The Righteous Trailer Promises Some Great Religious Horror