The sixth film in the long-running and astoundingly influential “Scream” franchise is not only upon us — it’s also tempting fate. The “Scream” series has, through quite a few ups and only a couple of downs, been one of the most consistently impressive horror movie series in history. Each sequel in this send-up of scary movies manages the death-defying tightrope walk of serious drama and self-satire, while simultaneously delivering some of the most memorable slasher-movie kills of their respective eras. Each sequel has had something meaningful to say about the horror genre, and not always something flattering, and yet it persists in challenging and thrilling fans with each new installment.
Below, we rank all the “Scream” movies from worst to best.
6. “Scream VI” (2023)
The survivors of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s “Scream” are now living in New York, where an all-new Ghostface has a plan to kill them and their new friends, leaving easter eggs everywhere he goes. Whenever “Scream VI” flips the script on the series’ familiar tropes it’s sublime, and whenever its characters just get to talk to each other it’s wonderful. But it ultimately falls too far back into familiar territory, and it doesn’t demonstrate any deeper meaning to its existence beyond perpetuating the franchise. It may be the worst “Scream” movie yet but it’s still pretty good.
5. “Scream 4” (2011)
“Scream 4” is about what happens when people try to reboot a horror movie for fun and profit, without really understanding what it means or how it works. Fortunately, Wes Craven has a deliciously cynical perspective on franchise reboots, and “Scream 4” has some wicked points to make on the subject. The kills are a little less inspired, the original opening (available on the home video release) is better than the theatrical version, and — with the exception of Hayden Panetierre’s fan-favorite Kirby — the new cast members make little impression, but it’s still a worthy, scary and insidious horror sequel.
4. “Scream 2” (1997)
The first follow-up to the original “Scream” came out one year later, has a much bigger kill count, and is all about how horror sequels are usually quick cash-ins that do little more than retread the original. Kevin Williamson’s rich screenplay takes that as a raison d’être and then flips the script, adding rich character development for the survivors of the original film, coupled with a mounting existential dread that, as the survivors of a horrifying crime-horror movie, there may be no escaping a dismal fate.
3. “Scream 3” (2000)
Too often written off as “the funny one,” the conclusion to the original “Scream” trilogy was wildly ahead of its time, taking the original film’s assertion that “movies don’t create psychos” and arguing, instead, that amoral and misogynistic Hollywood studio systems have a very real and very horrifying impact, with unpredictable ripple effects on everything they touch. (That this self-destructively satirical sequel was made under Harvey Weinstein’s tainted banner can be seen as no coincidence.) A subpar opening scare and a distracting Kevin Smith cameo only slightly dull the edge of this pointed and foreboding third installment, with a standout supporting turn by Parker Posey as a vainglorious actress playing Gale Weathers.
2. “Scream” (2022)
Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s “Scream,” the first film in the series not directed by Wes Craven, is as worthy a follow-up as one could hope for. Mercilessly sending up the idea of “requels” — the recent trend of franchise installments which push a series forward while callously cashing in on the past — the new “Scream” adds a dramatic new chapter to the surviving characters while introducing a memorable ensemble of new victims and suspects to the roster of franchise favorites. The kills are shocking, but never for shallow entertainment value, and the clever dialogue and shrewd plotting keep us guessing. It’s the complete package.
1. “Scream” (1996)
The original “Scream” may never be topped, not because it’s perfect (although it practically is), but because its novelty defines it. Williamson’s nimble screenplay, Craven’s assured direction, the pitch perfect casting, the film’s avant-garde meta commentary on a subgenre long since written off as brainless, and even the film’s timing — arriving unexpectedly in an era where the horror genre had lost its identity — were distinct and unique ingredients that not only produced a ripping, character-driven, ingeniously plotted and scary horror film, they also ushered in a brand new era of shockers, self-aware and otherwise. Even the best follow-ups to “Scream” are trying to recapture this film’s lightning in a bottle. That they all come pretty close is a testament to just how great this series is.