All the ‘Scream’ Movies Ranked, From Worst to Best

With 'Scream VI' currently slicing its way through the box office, we take a look back at the larger 'Scream' franchise, starting with Ghostface's 1996 debut.

A still from the fifth Scream film

Image via Paramount Pictures/Spyglass Media Group

A still from the fifth Scream film

Scream will never die.

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. 


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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.


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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.

7. ‘Scream 3’ (2000)

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Just to be clear, at the time of this writing, there is no such thing as a bad Scream movie. Such a film simply does not exist. 

But with a proverbial knife to one’s head, Scream 3 is the entry that’s always going to end up placing last. There are several contributing factors here, Williamson’s limited involvement and the post-Columbine landscape among them. But there are also numerous high marks too, like a reliably scene-stealing appearance from Parker Posey as an actress playing Gale Weathers in a Stab movie and Deputy Dewey’s inarguably sweet proposal to the actual Gale toward the end of the film.

The more you learn about Scream 3, the more you understand its place in the since-expanded Woodsboro history. The strongest film in the franchise? No. Still worthy of bearing the Scream name? Undoubtedly. Though a few franchise enthusiasts might disagree with me.

6. ‘Scream’ (2022)

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This shouldn’t have worked. In lesser hands, it likely wouldn’t have.

As the first Scream not directed by Craven, it’s easy to imagine scenarios in which this could have been the one that dragged the franchise into legacy-tainting territory. But similar to how audiences were shown mere minutes into the original Scream that they were about to watch something unlike anything else of its time, the 2022 Scream opens in a comparably confident and impossible-to-turn-away-from fashion.

Joining returning stars David Arquette, Cox, and Campbell is a new cast of Woodsboro students led by Jenna Ortega and Melissa Barrera as sisters Tara and Sam Carpenter. Taking over directorial duties, meanwhile, is the filmmaking duo of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett. Like its predecessor, the fifth Scream both subverts and topples expectations at almost every possible turn. It also earns its existence by honoring Craven’s influence with a film more than worthy of carrying the Scream name into a new decade and presenting it to a new generation.

5. ‘Scream VI’ (2023)

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Fear not, fellow Screamheads. We’re in capable hands. 

Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett build on the strengths of Scream (2022) by putting “the Core Four” in New York City and raising the stakes, all while deftly exploring how each character is dealing (or not dealing) with the trauma that bonds them all for life. Tara (Jenna Ortega) is understandably hellbent on forward motion—college, she explains, provides an opportunity to not let her Woodsboro years define her.

During a party scene early into the film, we get a glimpse at this forward motion in action when Tara lies about where she’s from. But the inevitable Woodsboro recognition catches up to her minutes later; like Ghostface, the past is always nipping at our heels no matter how fast we’re convinced we can run.

Tara’s efforts at moving on place her at odds with Sam (Melissa Barrera), thus laying the groundwork for the latest Scream film to both defy expectations and create new ones. I can’t wait to see where this franchise goes next. At six films and nearly three decades deep, it’s safe to say a seventh film is on the horizon, though no official announcement has been made at the time of this writing.

4. ‘Scream 4’ (2011)

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Given that it’s the only film not immediately preceded or followed by another, Scream 4 is an outlier in the franchise. It’s also quite possibly the most impressive fourth entry in any film series, horror or otherwise.

Arriving over a decade after the largely Williamson-less Scream 3, the fourth film is arguably the one that had the most to prove (at least until its 2022 follow-up), both to fans and box office naysayers amid changing tastes in mainstream horror. It proved all of that and more, all while introducing several new characters, including one—Hayden Panettiere’s Kirby Reed—who would be brought back 12 years later for Scream VI.

For fans, Scream 4 also holds a special place in film history as the last movie to be helmed by original Scream director Wes Craven, who died in 2015 at the age of 76.

3. 'Scream 2’ (1997)

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Now’s a good time to point out that Williamson conceived Scream, then called Scary Movie, as a trilogy

Still, there’s plenty of playful dialogue here that points to the film’s own oscillation between being a full-blown sequel and the second film in a trilogy; there are differences, Randy (Jamie Kennedy) notes when someone brings up The Empire Strikes Back.

Even aside from the more meta-focused elements, Scream 2 excels in every conceivable way. The film’s Stab-introducing opening moments, for example, make up one of the most beloved scenes in the series thanks to unforgettable performances from Jada Pinkett-Smith and Omar Epps.

Though her time in the franchise is brief, Sarah Michelle Gellar—whose 1997 also boasted the release of I Know What You Did Last Summer, another Williamson-penned slasher hit—also turns in a memorable performance as a college student whose over-the-balcony death is punctuated by an Everclear needle drop.

2. ‘Scream’ (1996)

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It’s immediately apparent when watching the original Scream that this is a film that knows what it wants and knows how to get there. This is most evident, perhaps, in the decision to kill off Drew Barrymore’s character so early into the eventual horror megaclassic’s expertly paced 111 minutes.

As the original, this is forever the gold standard against which all future Screams are measured. Nearly three decades removed from its initial theatrical run, Scream—featuring the debut of later-to-return franchise players like Campbell, Courteney Cox, David Arquette, Jamie Kennedy, and Skeet Ulrich—now has a hold on multiple generations of fans and filmmakers alike.

The original film’s continued influence can be seen in later acclaimed horror hits like Happy Death Day, Freaky, and The Final Girls.

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