Sat in the dark with a bowl of popcorn, you sit still as your worst nightmares come to life in the latest sequel in your favorite cinematic universe. The best horror franchises are defined by their recurring characters and themes. You hear the name Freddy Krueger and A Nightmare on Elm Street comes to mind. These familiar villains are why fans return to the best horror movie franchises. Below, I brave the horror world to bring you the top horror movie series.
Best horror movie series:
- Friday the 13th
- A Nightmare on Elm Street
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
- Paranormal Activity
- The Conjuring
- The Exorcist
- Child’s Play
- Final Destination
Best horror movie series
A simple mention of Michael Myers, Halloween’s psychotic killer, is enough to make my skin crawl. Lacking emotion and motivation, Myers represents the ever-present fear of the unknown lurking in the shadows
A glimmer of hope shines through with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the final girl. Her determination and bravery in the face of unfathomable fear are why fans can’t get enough of her. It’s almost admiration because I would have been mutilated by the masked psychopath in Halloween I, let alone made it through six sequels!
The Halloween franchise is important because it set the standards for suspenseful filmmaking and invented the slasher genre. In the years since its original release in 1978, countless imitators have cemented the masked killer archetype into popular culture.
Collectively, the Halloween movies have grossed over $900 million worldwide. The original film captured a cult following, but each sequel attracts even more fans to the universe. This doesn’t mean each entry is made equal. I can tell you now that a couple of them lack originality and fail to hit the gore factor.
2. Friday the 13th
Continuing with the slasher horror genre takes us to Friday the 13th, which has amassed a combined total of $908 million at the worldwide box office. The first film was so successful that it only cost $555,000 to make but grossed over $59 million.
Jason Voorhees is the undead, hockey-masked, machete-wielding antagonist of the franchise. After drowning at Camp Crystal Lake aged 11, Voorhees comes back to satisfy his mommy’s thirst for revenge.
Kill them, Jason, Kill them for Mommy
I have a lot of love for Friday the 13th because Voorhees is unique. He has one of the highest kill counts among his slasher peers, but his unmerciful killings can be argued to come from a more justified place than any other villain. After all, it was the counselors’ fault Voorhees drowned – “He should’ve been watched”.
Alongside Halloween, Friday the 13th helped inspire the masked slasher cycle of horror films that dominated the 80s and early 90s. The films also discuss social issues and cultural anxieties. They demonstrate the changing society in which they were produced.
Friday the 13th has seeped into popular culture, with appearances across comics, video games, television, and more merchandise to count. Jason Voorhees was also pitted against Freddy Krueger in the popular crossover Freddy vs. Jason (2003).
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven started something beautiful when he released the first A Nightmare on Elm Street movie in 1984. This takes us into the demented world of razor-glove-wearing Freddy Kreuger. Freddy is the iconic disfigured killer who haunts dreams and uses his victims’ deepest fears as a weapon. Acting as a beacon of hope amidst the terror is Nancy Thomas, who becomes a recurring character in the ongoing resilience against Freddy’s terror.
The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise took the slasher movie and brought it to life in the minds of the victims. Each kill is personalized and it stands as a testament to the twisted imagination of Freddy. I believe this franchise shines brighter than some of its peers because it plays on themes everyone can relate to. Nightmares and fears have the power to wreak havoc in a person’s life, and Craven manipulated this concept with finesse.
The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise was a huge success that made more than $500 million in box office revenue. However, interest in the series had dropped by the time film five hit the screens. The initial story came to a conclusion with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991. Three years later, Craven returned with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. This includes some well-placed meta-commentary as it follows the original cast and crew.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series introduces us to the unhinged and cannibalistic Bubba Sawyer, most commonly known as Leatherface. The chainsaw-revving killer wears a flayed face for a mask, making him even more unsettling. Alongside Leatherface is the equally deranged Sawyer family. They contribute to the overall sense of dread and menace throughout the franchise.
At the box office, the original movie earned more than $30 million worldwide, which is outstanding when you consider the budget of $330,000. Even the 2003 remake performed well at the box office, with a gross earning of over $79 million worldwide.
Outside of the film series, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre game was released by Sumo Digital and Gun Interactive in August 2023. I enjoyed the game, which lets you play as a victim on the brink of death or as a member of the Sawyer family.
This franchise ticks all of my boxes. It has an iconic antagonist, plenty of gory kills, and the right amount of psychological torture. This is why it’s so beloved within the horror franchise; even the roar of the chainsaw has become a token of the horror franchise.
Jigsaw unleashes his unique brand of teaching in the Saw franchise, often described as ‘torture porn’. This psychological masterpiece strings together each film brilliantly to keep us guessing and wanting more. There are 73 brutal traps, spread across 10 movies (including Spiral), all designed to bring about personal growth for the victim.
The main antagonist of the franchise is John Kramer, a terminally ill engineer who believes people need to appreciate their lives. However, Jigsaw stretches far beyond Kramer, with trap survivor Amanda Young, Detective Mark Hoffmann, and survivor of the first movie Dr. Lawrence Gordon all making Kramer’s work possible.
Saw is one of the most popular psychological horror franchises that continues to torment far beyond the “end” was announced. The latest installment, Saw X (2023), took us back to before Kramer’s death. Drawn into a scam promising a miracle cure for his cancer, Jigsaw takes Young along to tell the criminals:
It’s time to play a game!
This film has had a profound influence all over the cinematic world. For example, Saw’s complex narrative style can be found everywhere from Marvel to Star Wars. In Saw III and Saw IV, the events take place simultaneously, which adds to the psychological storytelling.
6. Paranormal Activity
The Paranormal Activity franchise, from Paramount Pictures, follows a series of interconnected stories documenting the encounters of ordinary people with paranormal entities. The entire franchise uses a found-footage style, like the Blair Witch Project, which presents the events through the lens of handheld cameras and surveillance footage. This is how the first film only had a $15,000 budget but earned over $193 million at the box office.
The first three movies focus on a single family and their paranormal encounters, but then the franchise introduced new characters and storylines through spinoffs like Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin. Despite expanding the lore, many of the cases come back to the demon Asmodeus. There aren’t iconic antagonists and protagonists like other franchises on this list, but Katie (Katie Featherstone) stars in almost every entry.
Paranormal Activity has amassed an enormous fanbase over the years. Unlike other horror universes, the fans love to engage in online discussions and fan theories. You can even find plenty of fan fiction featuring crossovers like Paranormal Activity and the TV series Supernatural. I give Paranormal Activity high praise because it proves that low-budget horror can still succeed.
7. The Conjuring
I’m drawn to The Conjuring franchise because it’s based on the real-life case work of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The films take a realistic approach to their portrayal of the supernatural and suspenseful scares, which is why the franchise has gained so much popularity.
There are 9 movies set within The Conjuring universe including three The Conjuring movies, The Nun and The Nun 2, three Anabelle movies, and The Curse of La Llorona. These movies have earned a staggering $2 billion in box office revenue. Two future entries have also been announced: The Conjuring 4 and The Crooked Man. On top of this, Warner Bros announced The Conjuring TV series for the Max streaming platform.
The overall tone of The Conjuring franchise is suspenseful and atmospheric. Unlike other titles on this list, The Conjuring relies on slow-burn storytelling and building tension to keep people hooked. Fans praise the series for its ability to tell compelling stories while bringing the nightmare fuel.
Each film within The Conjuring universe has been well-received. The Conjuring (2013) has an 86% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes. The lowest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes is 55% for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021).
Insidious is a chilling supernatural horror that explores the Further, a parallel dimension inhabited by tortured dead soils. The Lambert family is the central topic of most entries into the franchise, as they encounter demons, evil spirits, and astral planes.
The focus on psychological torment, scare tactics, and the depiction of the Further is what makes Insidious the standard for modern horror movies. However, Insidious: The Red Door (2023) failed to meet its own high standards.
James Wan creates a film series that caters to a wider audience is what makes the Insidious films so influential. Instead of feeling juvenile, it caters to old and young adults. In my opinion as a cinema movie critic, Insidious is the film that sparked a resurgence of the haunted house subgenre – a welcome break from the slasher horror movies.
The Alien sci-fi horror movie series started in 1979 with the release of Alien. Over the last four decades, the Alien franchise has expanded across multiple sequels and prequels. The movies follow Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and her encounters with the Xenomorphs.
Directors of the franchise include David Fincher, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott, and they’ve all put their own unique stamp on the timeline. The series has generated more than $2 billion in revenue. Its continued success shows its ability to speak to a new generation of fans.
Alongside the core Alien movies, the Xenomorphs went up against the formidable Predator in Alien Vs. Predator 1 and 2. As of yet, there is no clear winner, so I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of the inevitable sequel.
References to Alien in popular culture also show how important this film series is. For example, “In Springfield No One Can Hear You Scream” is a reference to Alien’s tagline “In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream”. Elsewhere, the Xenomorph was released as DLC for Dead by Daylight.
10. The Exorcist
The Exorcist franchise is all about demonic possession and the battle between good and evil. The film series dives into the concept of human fear and explores themes of guilt, power and faith, and the fragility of the human mind. There aren’t villains in the traditional sense. It’s simply the malevolent demons possessing Regan MacNeil and other characters. However, MacNeil is the character most associated with the franchise.
When The Exorcist was released in 1973, it broke records by becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film – a record that has since been claimed by Joker. However, $441 million in the 70s was a commendable achievement.
Demonic possessions are always the central theme, but each film has explored different themes and elements. Later films in the series step into the realms of mystery, action, and psychological horror, but it doesn’t take away from the suspense and terror.
Fans of The Exorcist come up with wild theories about the film while keeping it alive for 50 years. To celebrate this notable milestone, Warner Bros released a 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition, which features 4K UHD.
Wes Craven strikes again with the Scream franchise, one of Paramount Pictures’ highest-grossing. It features Ghostface, who trivializes his vendetta against the Woodsboro High School population. The prologue hits all the cliches, with Ghostface asking “What’s your favorite scary movie?” over the phone. The iconic line would have featured the original title Scary Movie, but it was changed to make clear it wasn’t a comedy.
The franchise’s main protagonist is Sidney Prescott. She becomes the primary target of Ghostface and appears in five movies. Each film, apart from Scream 3, features two Ghostface killers working together to torment Sidney and those around her.
Each Scream movie has earned over $100 million at the global box office. However, the first movie’s success is most notable because it earned over $173 million and sparked a renewed interest in the horror genre as a whole.
Scream has been referenced in pop culture, but most famously in the horror spoof series Scary Movie. The first four Scary Movie films follow Anna Farris as Cindy. Other movies parodied include The Exorcist, The Shining, and War of the Worlds.
12. Child’s Play
The Child’s Play franchise is most recognizable thanks to the iconic doll named Chucky, which is possessed by the soul of a serial killer. Chucky’s innocent appearance makes him so dangerous because he’s able to lure people in for the kill. After the third movie, The Bride of Chucky introduces co-antagonist Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly).
At the global box office, the Child’s Play franchise has grossed a total of $200 million. The first entry, released in 1988, is the most successful in the series, earning over $44 million. Fans praise the Child’s Play movies for their dark humor and superb performances. Some critics note that the films tend to follow the same formula. While I agree with this notion, it doesn’t hold it back from being an entertaining horror series.
The film franchise was rebooted in 2019, and it’s the first film not to include Brad Dourif as the voice of Chucky. Instead, it features Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, and Mark Hamill playing different versions of characters from the original Child’s Play film. Even though this movie started fresh, a Chucky TV series was released in 2021 and features Dourif’s Chucky.
Sexual deviant Frank (Sean Chapman) comes across a puzzle box called the Lament Configuration while on a pleasure-seeking trip. He solves the puzzle in the attic of his childhood home and unleashes the Cenobites from Hell. They brutalize his body to give him the absolute pleasure of pain. After being resurrected by his brother, he manipulates his former lover to lure horny middle-aged men home so he can use their blood to regenerate his body.
If you’ve ever seen Hellraiser, you’ll be familiar with the horror icon Pinhead – the Cenobite leader. I enjoy the violence of Hellraiser and its gruesome, atmospheric, and dark tones. Some critics feel it lacks character development and goes over the top. However, it’s had a positive impact on the body horror subgenre, which includes other titles like Teeth and Tusk.
There are 10 movies in the franchise so far. They’ve earned over $100 million at the global box office. Each film takes us deeper into the Cenobite realm to explore different aspects. The films have also become much more graphic, which represents the changing demands of the horror fan.
14. Final Destination
The Final Destination franchise is a battle with destiny. Someone in the original film film has a premonition about their imminent death. Armed with the knowledge, they alter Death’s roster by saving themselves and anyone else who will listen. The rest of the film sees the survivors being taken down in horrific accidents:
In death there are no accidents, no coincidences, no mishaps, and no mistakes
Everyone dies in The Final Destination – with the exception of Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) and Thomas Burke (Michael Landes) from Final Destination 2. Despite the clear formula in all the films, fans come back for more because they want to see how the characters will die.
The first film was released by New Line Cinema in 2000 and there are five films in total, which grossed a collective $667 million at the box office. Alongside the films, there are two comic books and nine novels. The idea for Final Fantasy comes from an unproduced script by Jeffrey Reddick, which was originally written for The X-Files.
Following the Freeing family, the Poltergeist franchise shows us how they are terrorized by a group of poltergeists led by a demonic entity called Beast. Even though the poltergeists can be mischievous and playful, they’re capable of causing serious harm. Beast is a malevolent entity seeking to capture Carol Anne, the youngest daughter of the Freeing family.
When it comes to haunted house and supernatural horror subgenres, Poltergeist has established itself as one of the finer horror classics. I’m drawn to the Poltergeist movies because behind the suspense and the scares is a heartwarming emotional core. This complements the common themes of family and loss.
The Poltergeist franchise has collected over $430 million in global box office revenue. The latest movie in the franchise was in 2015, but a series version of the franchise is currently in early development at Amazon MGM Studios.
Frequently Asked Questions
What was the most successful slasher franchise?
Discovering which slasher franchise was the most successful will depend on where you look. Some sources will take the box office figures alone. Some base claims on opinion alone, and others use ratings from databases like IMDB. However, there’s no denying that the most successful slasher franchise is Halloween.
John Carpenter’s franchise has grossed over $948 million worldwide, which puts it far ahead of other slasher franchises. However, it’s the most successful because of its impact on the horror genre. After all, a film doesn’t spawn an entire genre without doing something right.
What is the biggest horror film franchise?
The Conjuring Universe, released by New Line Cinema, has the highest box office, but that doesn’t make it the biggest horror film series. In my experience, a franchise becomes the biggest because of the buzz it creates – just like Marvel films get everyone talking. With this in mind, the biggest horror series is Scream.
What is the highest-rated horror movie franchise?
The Conjuring film collection is among the longest-running horror franchises, but it’s also the highest-rated. They receive high ratings for being original, having excellent performances, and knowing how to bring the scare factor.
What horror movie series has the most movies?
Puppet Master has 15 movies, making it the horror movie series with the most movies. If your idea of a horror night Friday involves a cast of dolls springing to life and going on a killing spree, get ready for a consistently strong cult classic.
What is the highest-grossing horror franchise of all time?
The biggest horror film franchise in box office revenue is The Conjuring Universe, which has made over $2.1 billion across eight movies. This figure isn’t even close to its maximum potential because there are two more films in the works and a TV show has been announced.
Which horror franchise has the scariest movies?
Fear is subjective, so watching horror movies is the best way to answer this question. However, the following horror films are consistently included on “scariest movie” lists:
- The Exorcist (1973)
- Alien (1979)
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
- The Conjuring (2013)
- Insidious (2011)
What are some underrated horror movie franchises?
Horror classics like Saw and Halloween receive plenty of attention, but many underrated franchises don’t get the attention they deserve. Here are some niche horror movies to check out:
- Cube (1997-2021)
- Creepshow (1982-2007)
- House (1986-1992)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984-2021)
- Leprechaun (1992-2018)
Are there any upcoming horror movie franchises to watch out for?
Slated horror releases excite me because it means returning to my favorite universes or getting drawn into a new world. The following films are coming soon to already incredible franchises:
- The Terrifier Franchise. This franchise kicked off in 2016 and focuses on Art the Clown. There’s plenty of violence and core, they have a strong cult following, and Terrifier 3 is scheduled for release in October 2024.
- The V/H/S Franchise. This anthology franchise is presented in found-footage style. Each film approaches horror in an experimental format. V/H/S/85 is scheduled to be released in 2024.
- The Strangers. This franchise started in 2008 and follows a couple terrorized by masked criminals. The next three films see director Renny Harlin take the reins, and they’re all due for release in 2024.
What are the essential films to watch in a particular horror franchise?
If you don’t have time to watch 50 years’ worth of cinema to catch up on horror stories, the following films are essential:
- Halloween. Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Halloween (2007)
- Alien. Alien (1979), Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992)
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (1981)
- The Evil Dead. The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992)
- The Conjuring. The Conjuring (2013), The Conjuring 2 (2016), The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)
How do horror movie franchises impact popular culture?
Horror film franchises have had an impact far beyond the realms of cinema. Here are some horror impacts on popular culture:
- Inspired other art forms and entertainment. Horror inspires everything from theme parks to video games. For example, there is a Halloween Horror Night at Universal Studios theme park.
- Populized horror archetypes and tropes. The haunted house, the slasher villain, and demonic possession are all tropes emerging in other media including television, video games, and literature.
- Created cultural touchstones. The sound of the chainsaw, an utterance of Freddie Krueger’s name, or the mention of Jigsaw are just some of the instantly recognizable touchstones created by horror.
- Influenced design and fashion. Clothes and style trends from Friday the 13th became popular among horror fans and wider society. The iconic Ghostface mask is a staple for Halloween costumes.
- Sparked social debate and commentary. Halloween has been slated for portraying violence against women. Friday the 13th is criticized for its lack of character development. However, both of these franchises have been praised for exploring social issues, including the dangers of conformity and teenage angst.