Ranking the ‘Elm Street’ Series


By Eric Ashley (@flapjackashley)
Anyone who knows me is aware that my favorite long running horror movie franchise is A Nightmare on Elm Street. While Black Christmas started off the slasher genre as we know it, and Halloween and Friday the 13th became bankable franchises before Freddy, there has always been something about this series that makes me put it above the others. Logistically speaking, the idea of someone stalking you relentlessly in your dreams is terrifying because – much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers – everyone has to sleep, and everyone will eventually become prey. Freddy Krueger isn’t like a Jason Voorhees or a Michael Myers where you can try and hide from him or outsmart him to defeat him… the idea of Freddy is always waiting for you when you close your eyes.
Ranking the franchise from best to worst is tough because, to me, there are clearly quality titles mixed in with a few mediocre ones and a couple really bad entries. All of these movies are available in a fantastic Blu-ray boxed set – with the exception of Freddy vs. Jason and the remake, which are sold individually. But I’m game in ranking them if you are! I just hope Freddy approves.

#1: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I doubt anyone could rate a Nightmare movie higher than the original. While the effects are dated, the sheer terror and mystery of who Freddy was and his M.O. was second to none. He was a different kind of monster, and Nightmare was a different kind of slasher. Director Wes Craven used real life events as an inspiration and mixed in a touch of fantasy to make this movie stand out from all the others. The heroine character of Nancy Thompson (played by Heather Langenkamp) was unique in the sense that she turned the tables on her tormentor and hunted him down for the finale rather than hiding away and being forced to fight just to survive — she took the fight to him. The ending is always a bit of a letdown, but I blame that more on the producers rather than the script or director, and it certainly doesn’t weaken my love for this movie – one of the best horror slasher films ever made.


#2: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

The seventh entry in the franchise comes ten years after the original and is both a favorite of mine and actor Robert Englund, who actually rates this one higher than the original. Slower paced than the more recent sequels, this one was geared towards a more adult Nightmare fan. Gone was the clownish Freddy and a more threatening presence was in it’s place with a bigger, badder look and a different end game. Original stars Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon also returned, playing themselves in this quasi-reality, self awareness take on horror that predated Scream. The fact that this movie dismisses the rest of the franchise as just being Hollywood movies rubbed some people the wrong way, but I think it plays as a perfect bookend to the series.


#3: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

This sequel is usually held in the highest regard and many fans feel this is the best of the sequels. Original survivor Nancy Thompson returns to help a new generation of Elm Street Kids band together and fight off Freddy on his own turf – in the dream world. The new cast of fresh faces, which included a young Patricia Arquette and Laurence Fishbourne, all played out very well, and the movie got back to the original storyline that was abandoned in Freddy’s Revenge. The problem I had with Dream Warriors was that script rewrites really pushed Freddy into a wise cracking hero status. The ending which involved the dumbing down of Nancy Thompson’s character is also a big sticking point with me. But as far as sequels go, this movie is one of the better ones and feels like a real continuation from the original film.


#4: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

This is what had become known as the MTV Freddy. Director Renny Harlin, who went on to direct Die Hard 2 right after this, incorporated a very glossy, flashy style to the film with a hip soundtrack and Breakfast Club-like supporting characters. Freddy was clearly the star by this point, and I think the movie loses something when you make the villain the hero and stop rooting for people to survive. There were casting woes as Patricia Arquette didn’t return (for reasons still unknown) from Dream Warriors and the character of Kristen was recast and never quite felt right, thus ruining the impact of that character’s last stand. What this movie does have going for it is confidence and even if it’s approach is questionable, it goes for the gusto. The battle between Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Freddy at the end is also quite good, if a little short.


#5: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

Original director Wes Craven didn’t return, and neither did any actors from the first movie. New Line, in a rush to create a franchise out of Freddy, abandoned all of the storylines and went in a controversial new direction with a plot centering around possession and Freddy acting out in the real world. Freddy’s Revenge is the odd one out because the subsequent Dream Warriors picked up the original storyline once again, but the movie still made an attempt to keep Freddy in the dark and as an intimidating, demented character for the most part.


#6: Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

After over a decade of rumors and possible scripts, the battle between Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees (from Friday the 13th) was finally a reality. How would filmmakers fare in bringing the two different mythologies together? The answer is not very well, but that’s beside the point. Everyone just wanted to see them go at it, and this film wastes too much time with super annoying characters, a Jay (without Silent Bob) ripoff, and a bunch of babble. Sure there were little winks at beloved franchise entries, like the reuse of the Westin Hills hospital (in name-only with no familiar or similar sets) from Dream Warriors, but that’s all this movie has going for it. The kills are more Friday the 13th than A Nightmare on Elm Street. The final battle between the two is quite good – and extremely gory for an R-rated horror film, but is also ruined by meddling main characters that no one cared about in the first place. For a fun, popcorn movie, it manages only to be fun for less than a quarter of its run time.


#7: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

The next two choices usually end up in a toss-up since I feel both are pretty awful. Clearly billed and intended to be the final Nightmare, instead of making a balls to the wall scarefest, the filmmakers opted to go the John Waters route and practically make this into a comedy – and it even fails at being funny at every turn. The intriguing original concept of having an all adult cast was scrapped and a trio of annoyingly whiny teenage goofballs were thrown in, and all sense of a good movie were thrown out. Pop culture references here are extremely dated (the percentage of younger viewers today who would know what Nintendo’s Power Glove is has got to be pretty low), the special effects cheap, and it retells the backstory of Freddy Krueger that we already knew and shoehorns in a bunch of dumb “Dream Demons” in an inane attempt to explain how Freddy became Freddy. For a franchise that started off with a bang, it was certainly going out with a whimper.


#8: A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

Freddy overload took its toll on this one as New Line was neck deep in overexposure. The TV series Freddy’s Nightmares was running while The Dream Child debuted to low box office numbers – of which a convoluted plot didn’t help matters. Freddy, too weakened by his defeat at the hands of Alice (the returning Lisa Wilcox) in The Dream Master, decides to invade the dreams of her unborn child in hopes of possessing him and being reborn into the world. A pretty interesting and mature subject theme was chopped off at the knees by horrible pacing, awful death sequences (two of which were chopped up by the MPAA to secure an R-rating) and an ending so anti-climatic that you can’t believe the movie is over. Like Freddy’s Dead that came after this one, The Dream Child recycled a lot of the same story ground with the Amanda Krueger character that Dream Warriors already covered. Couple that with the fact that the unrated, unedited version of The Dream Child has oddly yet to be released in North America on any form of media since the VHS (the DVD and Blu-ray editions are both the R-rated version) and you have a confusing, disappointing movie that is a literal chore to sit through.


#9: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

As a general rule, I don’t like remakes. They tend to strip away important elements such as story and character and merely focusing on enhancing and upgrading the special effects while downgrading everything else that made the original special. That description fits this remake to the letter. After a rather promising pre-title sequence, Platinum Dunes (the company also responsible for the reboots of Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) saw fit to make the returning character of Nancy into a near-emo girl who doesn’t seem the least bit bothered by Freddy until well into the movie. The unnecessary side story of whether Freddy Krueger was actually innocent of his crimes in which the parents torched him for was a time wasting travesty. Overall, the cast wasn’t bad – including Jackie Earle Haley, but going under the shadow of Robert Englund is too much to ask anyone. It’s the material that sucked, and suck it did. This remake was one loud mistake that was received so poorly that its immediate plans for a sequel have thankfully yet to materialize over seven years later.

And there you have it! My rating of the Freddy movies from best to worst. As always with a list like this, your mileage may vary. Regardless of where you would rank the films, Freddy Krueger is one of the most iconic characters not just in horror movie history, but movie history, period.

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