Not only is the classic horror franchise still alive and (very) well, but its latest entry—starring Melissa Barrera, Courteney Cox, Jenna Ortega, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Hayden Panettiere, and more—has continued the decades-spanning story to largely glowing reviews and a series-best box office opening.
Let the record show that I am indeed a proud Scream scholar. But unlike fans of the franchise whose honorary Woodsboro citizenship extends back to Ghostface’s 1996 debut, mine (admittedly) didn’t begin in earnest until much later. Let’s just say that by the time I watched the original batch of Wes Craven-directed sequels, I was already a bonafide adult with acutely existential angst.
A series of full-franchise re-binges followed, as did a still-insatiable desire to learn as much as possible about how a script written in three days (and originally titled Scary Movie) started a bidding war that would ultimately lead to a surprise revival of the slasher genre.
Kevin Williamson’s script did more than merely resuscitate, however, as its tight writing and self-aware characters challenged audiences to reconsider their expectations without sacrificing genuine scares, well-earned laughs, and—as the franchise progressed—an increasingly tragic emotional core.
It’s been speculated that there was a shared sense among many on the set of the original Scream that something special was happening, an awareness of greatness-in-progress even. I believe that. But it’s hard to think how anyone involved could have imagined the franchise would still be operating in top form nearly 30 years later.
Scream achieved this for a multitude of reasons—Craven’s masterful eye, remarkably spot-on casting decisions, and decidedly shrewd marketing all irrefutable facets in their own right—but there would have been no invitation to Woodsboro without Williamson’s taut and playful original script.
Amid continued discussions of the release of the swiftly delivered Scream VI, which marks the first film in the franchise to not feature Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, I’ve taken up the arguably arbitrary but no less hyper-alluring duty of ranking the previous five films. Although it’s very firmly this writer’s opinion that every single one of the Screams fall squarely within the notably dropoff-free range of very good to indisputably great, I’ve expectedly ranked the six Scream films using the unfortunately ubiquitous “worst to best” approach below.