Halloween started the slasher boom, and it continues to keep it alive. For the past 44 years, there’s been no shortage of movies involving Michael Myers going on rampages in the sleepy suburbs of Haddonfield, Illinois. The horror genre has evolved across the decades since John Carpenter debuted his classic 1978 film, spawning many sub-genres and finally starting to be looked at as a legitimate medium of cinematic storytelling, and yet, The Shape has always persisted in one way or another. Now that Halloween Ends has brought this franchise to a definitive conclusion (for now), it’s time to look at all 13 horror movies, including alternative cuts for 2 of them, and rank all 15 distinct Halloween experiences.
Going into the Halloween franchise, with many of these being first-time watches, was illuminating. Every time I thought the films were losing me, another one comes in and completely flips the script. John Carpenter’s Halloween is legendary, of course, but here is a sandbox where filmmakers beyond the original are constantly trying new things, much to the dismay of grumpy studio executives. Unlike the more straightforward slasher franchises that spawned from hits like Friday the 13th, the Halloween films veer off in so many different directions that there are technically four alternate timelines. Surprisingly, most of the sequels are pretty great too! Without further ado, let’s take a stab at ranking the Halloween franchise.
Every Halloween Film Ranked Worst to Best
15. Halloween II (1981)
The worst thing a movie can be is boring. 1981’s Halloween II, directed by Rick Rosenthal, from a script by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, reeks of such desperation to simply get a sequel out the door that it forgets to make entertaining the audience a priority. After a promising opening that maintains the momentum of the 1978 predecessor’s pulse-pounding ending – including, amongst other things, someone else dressed like Michael Myers getting accidentally ran into by the police by mistake – Halloween II deflates.
On paper, the concept here works for a sequel. The tale of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) recovering in the hospital while Michael Myers blazes a trail of bloodshed has been canonized as an iconic slasher storyline, and this entry ranks quite high in plenty of other rankings. However, Halloween II forgets to include the bare essentials: fully-formed characters and arcs – hell, for most of this thing scenes don’t even really feel complete! Only half-hearted ideas, where the requisite beats of a movie are treated like just that; marks to hit. Even the movie’s big reveal of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers being siblings is tossed off like it’s nothing. If the original Halloween is the blueprint for slashers, 1981’s Halloween II is the blueprint for bad slasher sequels.
14. Halloween: Resurrection
Surprisingly, this one isn’t at the bottom. That’s because, unlike the previous film, there’s actually some fun to be had here, in a guilty pleasure kind of way. The concept – a reality show where contestants record themselves in the infamous Myers house – is a novel way to get more juice out of a dying franchise. Look at me dead in the eyes and tell me Busta Rhymes doing karate moves on The Shape isn’t at least a little entertaining. There’s a throwaway, breezy quality to Halloween: Resurrection that keeps it watchable.
Sadly, that same quality is its downfall. This is a soulless follow-up to the loving series revitalization of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. Dispatching Laurie Strode early and pivoting to an endless rotation of forgettable, yet grating all the same, younger characters is the first nail in the coffin. Kills that aren’t even the slightest bit memorable do the rest of the movie in. As a Halloween sequel, it’s a new low. As an early 2000s slasher, it’s indicative of the quality of the horror genre at the time. Maybe it’s fitting that the sequel to a film made with passionate verve should also be directed by Rick Rosenthal, just like the original Halloween.
13. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
What we’re dealing with here is a huge leap up in quality from the previous film. Still, Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5 isn’t exactly a franchise high. After the surprisingly good fourth installment, The Revenge of Michael Myers is a bit of a step-down. Danielle Harris is, expectedly, still great as Jamie Lloyd, and the idea of a telepathic link between her and her uncle Michael is an interesting extension of the lore, among other ambitious attempts to expand the Myers mythology. Sometimes, though, that same ambition can cause this film to buckle.
Familial psychic connection, the pagan symbol of the Thorn, mysterious men in black – Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers is filled with ideas without a plot structure that truly dedicates the time to them. This was at a point in franchise history when every single aspect of each film was meticulously micro-managed by assorted producers, leading to this fifth entry adopting a simplistic slasher formula. I have no clue how Othenin-Girard managed to sneak past an odd attempt to humanize Michael Myers that doesn’t quite work but, like an ending where the mysterious man uses a machine gun to spring Myers loose, it’s at least an interesting attempt to do something different in what is at best an okay slasher. Bonus points for the most unhinged Donald Pleasence/Sam Loomis performance.
12. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
After the unanimous critical and box office rejection of Halloween III: Season of the Witch carving its own path, series producer Moustapha Akkad heard the message loud and clear: there’s no Halloween without Michael Myers. Debatable as it may be, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers marked a grand return for The Shape, reconfiguring John Carpenter’s staple atmospheric chiller into something resembling more of the endless glut of slashers that followed in its wake. For a film that adheres closely to the formula, it’s pretty damn good.
Stuntman Hall of Famer George P. Wilbur brings a confident, measured physicality to Michael Myers that shines through in his memorable kill scenes, the best of which being him stabbing a victim with a shotgun. The real star here, though, is Jamie Lloyd’s debut, as played by Danielle Harris. As the troubled niece of Michael, Lloyd is an utterly captivating new protagonist of sorts for the series, and the ending of the film where she takes up Michael’s mantle, so to speak, is an all-timer. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers moves at a decent pace, picks up plot threads from the first two films, and establishes a nice Fall atmosphere. The main issue is that it’s simply only good at what does. This continuation moves the franchise forward an inch or two while providing what the audience came for.
11. Halloween II (2009, Theatrical Cut)
Rob Zombie is one of horror’s most notoriously polarizing filmmakers. After being unhappy with his working relationship with the Weinsteins on the 2007 film, Malek Akkad (Moustapha’s son) convinced him to come back for another go with the promise of complete creative control. Then, in the edit, they cut his film to ribbons, completely changing the intent of the project. Regardless of its butchered nature, Halloween II in its theatrical form is still made up of pieces directed by Rob Zombie, so it’s at the very least interesting.
Tyler Mane makes for one hell of a Michael Myers. He’s a brutal, hulking wanderer who dispatches his enemies with great prejudice. As a highlight reel for Michael Myers, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II works. Its profane hillbilly horror vibe is hit-or-miss, however, as it seems a lot of what is left in the film is side characters spewing curses or gratuitous nudity. This edit makes for a highly entertaining movie with the requisite sleaze that makes for what’s essentially modern-day exploitation. At a certain point, the viewing experience begins to feel a little hollow, especially when it comes to the complete gutting of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) in this version. Regardless of its missing emotional core, the theatrical cut of Halloween II manages to be much better than a hastily cobbled-together edit should be.
10. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Producer’s Cut)
Another day, another Halloween sequel with a troubled production history. After the successful fourth entry and the underperforming fifth release, the sixth film languished in development hell until it finally went before cameras under the direction of Joe Chappelle with a screenplay by Daniel Farrands. The initial cut of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (dubbed The Producer’s Cut) was hated by test audiences, not even officially seeing the light of day until the 2010s. Although it’s not surprising that the studio didn’t proceed with releasing this version of the film as the main theatrical release, it’s admirable in its boldness and much of it works quite well.
The Producer’s Cut of The Curse of Michael Myers pays ghoulish tribute to the Pagan nature of Halloween. The titular “curse” of Thorn provides an explanation for Michael’s murdering of his family members, and the Cult of Thorn is a haunting presence that’s also a nice endgame antagonist for the franchise. The finale, with its eerie candlelit ceremony, almost feels more reminiscent of Eyes Wide Shut than anything in a Halloween movie. Our investment in uncommonly well-written characters for this series makes it really hit the mark it’s going for. The one major flaw of this version is a near-total sidelining of Michael Myers in the third act. The film is so excited to get to its big ideas that it fails to bring its famed main villain to a satisfying end. In spite of that, the big swings in the Producer’s Cut are much appreciated.
9. Halloween Kills
For such a resounding critical and commercial success, David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween revamp certainly spawned two highly controversial sequels. The first of these, Halloween Kills, could easily be mistaken for a Michael Myers kill compilation at first glance (albeit it fits the title nicely). Under the surface, there are plenty of big ideas – mob mentality gone awry, the ascension of Michael Myers throughout his killing, et cetera. The problem is that Halloween Kills doesn’t know how to connect them coherently. So then why is it ranked so high on this list, you may ask?
Well, because the actual vignettes that Halloween Kills is mostly made up of are great! Haddonfield continues to be populated with idiosyncratic characters, like playful couple Big John and Little John, who you come to love right before they’re cruelly disposed of. This is a mean movie and the kills, in their abundance, are the very best in the franchise. Laurie Strode is, sadly, sidelined, although this does make room for the most ruthless, and scariest, Michael we’ve seen yet.
If you’re looking for the ultimate “watch a slasher mow down as many people as the runtime will allow” flick, this is the one to pop on. Halloween Kills will likely always be viewed as one of the more slight sequels and some moments are downright bizarre. A crowd bullying a mental patient into killing himself after mistaking him for Michael, then not sitting with what they’ve done comes to mind, “Evil dies tonight!” Nonetheless, the blood overfloweth. And really, would any trilogy be complete without the oddly bleak middle film?
8. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Theatrical Cut)
Whereas the Producer’s Cut of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is notable for its Pagan-inspired cult plotline that wraps the Thorn trilogy up in a conclusive fashion, the Theatrical Cut is just plain old fun. One of the few times where studio interference resulted in a better, or at least more entertaining final product, the theatrical cut of The Curse of Michael Myers is all killer, no filler. Removing a good chunk of the cult plotline, saturating the color palette in post, and throwing in a new action-heavy third act should make this a total mess, but it has the opposite effect, turning the sixth entry into a campy romp.
The Strode family and its many descendants have turned into a soap opera of thinly veiled cartoonish archetypes, and I love it. Michael Myers has arisen to near Godlike status, slaughtering his enemies in increasingly creative ways powered by his boundless fury. By far, this is my favorite version of The Shape; a wrecking ball with a lean, mean physicality. The cult is a much vaguer group this time around, trying to study the curse afflicting Michael to try and harness evil for their own strange ends.
Throw in a Nu Metal-inspired score, a sub-90 minute runtime, and Paul Rudd’s performance as Tommy Doyle that comes across as unintentionally hilarious due to how cut down it is, and you have yourself an explosive finale to the original Michael Myers saga! With the way Moustapha Akkad and the Weinsteins were taking the franchise, they were never gonna recapture that same 1978 magic. Therefore, why not go as over-the-top entertaining as possible? Debatably, the most fun slasher of the 90s, and I would’ve loved to have seen this series continue to go in this direction for morbid curiosity’s sake.
7. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
Audiences widely rejected Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Given its attempts to explain the powers of Michael and its extremely over-the-top tone, Moustapha Akkad and the production team knew it was time for a course correction and fast. Therefore, they decided to bring in the big gun: Jamie Lee Curtis returning as Laurie Strode. Mercifully for audiences turned off by the ever-confusing series mythology, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later ignores everything other than the first two movies. The results speak for themselves.
Less a Halloween movie and more a bite off the then-recent (and extremely popular) Scream, with the script even getting an uncredited punch-up from that film’s writer Kevin Williamson, the clumsily titled H20 aims to have Laurie Strode defeat the bogeyman once and for all. Packed with a supporting cast of fresh-faced talent like Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams, H20 is nothing if not clever. Beyond a ton of very mean-spirited, fun kills, it gives fans a belated showdown between Laurie and Michael. It’s simple in that way.
Despite The Shape having the worst look he’s ever had in the series, Laurie overcoming her avoidance of her monster brother Michael and her own alcoholism to defeat the bogeyman plays superbly. You can only imagine the theater crowd reactions to the borderline slapstick of Laurie and Michael fighting to the death. What it lacks in that classic Carpenter vibe it makes up for in the gleeful shock of seeing Laurie cut off Michael’s head to put this blood feud to rest once and for all. Until this made enough money to guarantee an awful follow-up, of course.
6. Halloween (2018)
Halloween (2018) is the third movie of the franchise with that title. It’s the third reboot (of sorts) and the second to focus on a returning Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) dealing with residual trauma from that fateful Halloween night in 1978. Unlike Halloween H20, this film only follows the first film, discarding any and all lore from other entries. This simple choice invigorates Halloween (2018) with purpose. Under the resounding confidence of director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride, this sequel somehow manages to feel like a true continuation of what John Carpenter established. Only, there’s a twist to it.
Curtis is magnetic, giving her all into a version of Laurie Strode more broken than what we saw in H20. Laurie Strode lives in the shadow of the bogeyman, letting her PTSD from Michael Myers turn her into a survivalist preparing for his return, pushing away her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) in the process. Halloween (2018) is about what happens when fear of evil causes it to manifest itself. For example, it’s two podcasters whose exploitative true crime project about Michael Myers causes him to break free.
The propagation of myth runs throughout this revamp, sustains itself throughout this latest trilogy, and it manifests in a Myers whose debut performance from actor James Jude Courtney sells his undiscriminating brutality like no other. It’s easy to view Halloween (2018) as part of a trend of legacy sequels that essentially “remake” the original, but it brings enough freshness to the table to beat that allegation.
5. Halloween (2007)
Attempting to remake John Carpenter’s 1978 classic is a fool’s errand. That film is a sacred text; not to be touched or defaced. Rob Zombie knows this, so instead of choosing to play it safe, his 2007 film of the same name acts as more of a radical reimagining of the timeless work, starting with the question “What made Michael Myers this way?” Committing the cardinal sin of demystifying the series boogeyman, Zombie mines it for everything he can, making a film that may not be as formally brilliant as the original, but far more terrifying.
Daeg Farch expertly plays a child Michael Myers, whose impoverished abusive upbringing slowly turns him into a psychopathic killer, locked away from the world until his adulthood when he is played by Tyler Mane. Rob Zombie creates an unforgiving, gratuitously cruel world (in a good way), where mercy is sparse and even those trying to help, such as Malcolm McDowell’s wildly reinvented Dr. Loomis, find themselves succumbing to an indifference to the world’s horrors. The collision of a troubled mind turned evil by an environment that threw him to the wolves with the naivete of suburbia makes for a viciously effective film that succeeds in presenting an entirely new vision of what Halloween, or slasher movies as a whole, can be.
4. Halloween Ends
Yes, you read that right. Already an extremely controversial film, Halloween Ends stands head and shoulders above the other two films in the David Gordon Green trilogy to take the narrative to its next logical step. It’s been four years since the events of Halloween Kills. Michael Myers has disappeared, and in his wake, Haddonfield has been searching for their next bogeyman. They find it in Corey Cunningham, once a promising young student until an unfortunate accident caused him to become a town pariah. Michael Myers, who hides in the sewers, gets his hooks into Corey, earning himself a protege that will cause Laurie Strode to come face-to-face with evil once and for all.
As a franchise ender (supposedly), Halloween Ends is astonishingly brave. It depicts a town that has succumbed to paranoia. Laurie Strode is the soul of Haddonfield, Michael Myers is the evil on the fringes that threatens to slowly eat away at its core, and Corey and Allyson (Andi Matichak), Laurie’s granddaughter, are caught in the middle. Taking a similar, but executed very differently, question – “how does one become the bogeyman?” that Rob Zombie’s Halloween posed and riding it through a slow burn that culminates in, to date, some of the most unique kills in the series.
Halloween Ends is legitimately frightening in its themes of what evil can do to people and if it will always persist. Of course, this all comes down to one last confrontation between Laurie and Michael, ending this saga on an unquestionably bold and fully realized conclusion that refuses to take the easy route. Even John Carpenter himself has been effusively positive about this film’s virtue. Give it another few years and Halloween Ends might move up in more rankings.
3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
John Carpenter and Debra Hill had no intentions of continuing the story of Michael Myers past the original film, so when they were finally rid of the lumbering killer after the second movie, they and Moustapha Akkad thought to take the title in a different direction. Why not make the Halloween movies an annual anthology series with each new addition focused on a different aspect of the holiday? Right out the gate, this approach was rejected by critics and audiences alike. Nevertheless, the Tommy Lee Wallace written/directed and Carpenter/Hill produced Season of the Witch might just be the essential movie about the holiday.
A cold fall energy, supplemented by a spine-tingling score from Carpenter and Alan Horwath, sets the stage for a vast conspiracy involving witchcraft, androids, and a corporation that makes children’s masks. While it can get really silly, Halloween III: Season of the Witch remains genuinely terrifying all the way through. For the only time in the series other than The Curse of Michael Myers, this threequel pays great admiration to the origins of the Holiday with heavy Pagan undertones.
Tom Atkins’ Daniel Challis is an affable protagonist to guide us through a surreal, deeply unsettling ‘80s horror that includes shockingly grotesque imagery. Try to get the image of a mask suffocating a child with bugs crawling out of it to leave your mind. Impossible. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a tight picture that wastes no opportunity to create the coveted spooky vibe. Maybe it’s time to revisit the concept of making this franchise an anthology if it results in out-of-the-box movies like this.
2. Halloween II (2009, Director’s Cut)
Everyone involved with cutting down Rob Zombie’s Halloween II to its gratuitous, mean-spirited theatrical form should be ashamed of themselves. From among the ashes of that version comes the “Unrated Director’s Cut”. Yes, it still has the same grungy aesthetic, hits the same plot beats more or less, and is relentlessly violent and profane. Beneath all that, however, lies a story of hearts so broken they may never be repaired. All of that is due to an achingly empathetic touch from Rob Zombie and a fearless lead performance by Scout Taylor-Compton.
Laurie Strode suffers from severe PTSD two years after the events of the first film. Her personality has changed entirely, making her cruel to the people closest to her, including Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and Annie (Danielle Harris). It’s an unflinching portrait of a survivor that refuses to sugarcoat that experience. Moreover, Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Sam Loomis is reinvented here as an exploitative monster of his own, who uses the Haddonfield massacre for his own profit.
The Unrated Director’s Cut of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is a near-perfect portrayal of how tragedy bends the human spirit, and that’s not even getting to Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), whose rampage to reunite with his sister is made complicated by shades of deep sadness within him. He’s a child in the body of a brute; someone who snapped and the rehabilitation system completely gave up on. When he and Laurie do reunite, the result just adds more tragedy to the pile, leading to a definitive end to Rob Zombie’s Halloween saga that is the closest this franchise has ever come to expressionist high art.
1. Halloween (1978)
Halloween is the blueprint for every slasher movie to come. All you have to say is that statement to demonstrate the enduring legacy of this 1978 masterwork. Much much more can be said too. From the flawlessness of the filmmaking by John Carpenter, who wore many hats on this production to Debra Hill and Carpenter’s simple, iconic screenplay to the Scream Queen herself Jamie Lee Curtis, entire books can (and have!) be written on just what makes this tiny flick so special. Really, though, it all comes down to its timelessness.
A man in white mask tears through his childhood home suburbia as a babysitter struggles to survive the night. It’s a scary story to be told around a campfire, a modern-day mythology immortalized on film. There are certainly Halloween films I enjoy more than this one, but long after we’re all gone this will be the film that is remembered. As an independent production, as a horror staple, as the moment when so many talented people made something that would jump-start their careers to become something bigger than they ever imagined. Whether they know it or not, Halloween means something to everyone. To this day, there’s still no better movie to put on when the titular holiday rolls around.