Nowadays, it feels like few films are truly standalone motion pictures. More often than not, it feels like they’re merely chapters in larger franchises that sometimes transcend the big screen and begin to encompass television, books and other forms of media, as well.
In honor of the Halloween season, we here at Epicstream decided to compile a list of what we think are the 20 best horror movie franchises. Check out our picks and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Films: The Purge, The Purge: Anarchy, The Purge: Election Year, The First Purge
Films about dystopian futures are a dime a dozen. However, a film franchise predicated on the concept that, once a year, all crime (including murder) is legal was something that, in 2013, was completely fresh and captivating to moviegoers. While critical reception has generally been mixed, there’s no denying the Purge franchise’s popularity, as evidenced by the recently launched television series on USA Network.Advertisement
Films: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, Alien vs. Predator, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
Launched in 1979, the Alien franchise is unique in the sense that it’s beloved by both science fiction and horror fans alike. Presently, the franchise is six films deep, along with two Alien vs. Predator spinoffs, but it’s the prequel films, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, that have brought the franchise back into the zeitgeist. Well, at least among general audiences, as most purists still consider 1986’s Aliens the gold standard.
Films: Paranormal Activity, Paranormal Activity 2, Paranormal Activity 3, Paranormal Activity 4, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
While 1999’s The Blair Witch Project set the precedent for found-footage horror films, Paranormal Activity breathed new life into the subgenre 8 years later (and thankfully made use of mostly stationary cameras, meaning less motion sickness). Based on the premise of a demonic haunting, the films themselves have been met with mixed reviews. Nevertheless, the franchise as a whole proved to be a massive financial success. Plus, like any good found-footage horror franchise, Paranormal Activity continues to terrify viewers to this day due to its innate sense of authenticity.
Films: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, Survival of the Dead
The late George A. Romero is, by all accounts, the Godfather of the zombie movie subgenre. In 1968, he kicked things off with Night of the Living Dead, and since then, each of his Dead films has expertly blended profound social commentary with pure zombie horror. However, just because Romero has passed away doesn’t mean the franchise died with him; currently, there are two prequel films in the works, including Rise of the Living Dead, which is written and directed by Romero’s son Cameron.
Films: Child’s Play, Child’s Play 2, Child’s Play 3, Bride of Chucky, Seed of Chucky, Curse of Chucky, Cult of Chucky
Who would have thought a horror movie franchise featuring a murderous Good Guy doll would stand the test of time? Well, maybe “stand the test of time” is subjective, as some moviegoers have found the stark contrast in tone among the various films to be a bit confusing. However, the latest installment, Cult of Chucky, brought the property back to its full-fledged horror roots, and the planned reboot, while a decidedly different take on the Chucky character, looks to remain true to the original’s tone.
Films: Poltergeist, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Poltergeist III, Poltergeist (2015)
Co-written and produced by Steven Spielberg, 1982’s Poltergeist attempted to cash in on the success of The Amityville Horror, which many credit for kicking off the “evil house” horror subgenre. However, the Poltergeist franchise chose to embrace the supernatural far more so than the former, and the films are all the better for doing so. What’s perhaps most fascinating, though, is the “Poltergeist curse,” which is said to be responsible for the deaths of two cast members. While undeniably tragic, this bit of lore certainly piqued the interest of moviegoers when it was explored by E! in 2002.
Films: Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2, Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious: The Last Key
Speaking of supernatural films, the Insidious franchise takes this tried and true concept to a sinister new level. The films received middle-of-the-road reviews, but their combined box office haul of $539 million far outweighs their $26.5 million combined budget, so Insidious clearly has its fan base. In fact, it was the box office success of The Last Key that led to the studio greenlighting Insidious: Chapter 5, which is reportedly in development.
Films: The Omen, Damien: Omen II, Omen III: The Final Conflict, Omen IV: Armageddon 2000, Omen V: The Abomination
What’s scarier than the devil himself? How about discovering that your adopted son is actually Satan’s spawn? The Omen franchise follows the life of Damien, the young would-be Antichrist who turns the life of the Thorn family upside down. Like many franchises, none of the subsequent chapters managed to live up to the original in the eyes of fans and critics, but the films are still undeniably terrifying.
Films: Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, Saw VI, Saw 3D, Jigsaw
Acclaimed horror director James Wan first cut his teeth in mainstream film with 2004’s Saw, which redefined psychological horror and, to a lesser extent, the often frowned upon “torture porn” subgenre. For seven years, Saw added new chapters to the franchise each Halloween season, and in 2017, an eighth installment hit theaters. Due to that film’s box office success, it’s believed the Saw franchise may continue to live on.
Films: The Exorcist, Exorcist II: The Heretic, The Exorcist III, Exorcist: The Beginning, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
Demonic possession films probably wouldn’t exist today if not for The Exorcist. Inspired by William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel, the original film served a launching pad for an entire subgenre that continues to horrify audiences today, and it even racked up a whopping 10 Academy Award nominations (and two wins) in 1973. Unfortunately, as most horror fans will tell you, the sequels don’t quite stack up to the original.
Films: Psycho, Psycho II, Psycho III, Bates Motel, Psycho IV: The Beginning, Psycho (1998)
Loosely based on the novels by Robert Bloch, Psycho is a franchise that follows the mentally unstable Norman Bates, whose personality disorder results in him murdering the occupants of the Bates Motel. The legendary Alfred Hitchcock directed the first installment, which immediately injected the franchise with a dose of prestige, and since then, Psycho has spanned across all sorts of media, including the highly popular Bates Motel series on A&E. Perhaps the biggest testament to the franchise’s staying power, though, is the fact that the shower scene from the first film is arguably one of the most memorable and recognizable cut scenes in movie history.
Films: The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, Army of Darkness, Evil Dead (2013)
The horror movie franchise that put pop culture icon Bruce Campbell on the map, Evil Dead has perhaps the biggest cult following of any entry on this list. In 2014, after the release of the reboot, the franchise was resurrected for television with Ash vs Evil Dead on Starz, and it’s also been favorably received in comic book form by both Dark Horse Comics and Dynamite Entertainment.
Films: Final Destination, Final Destination 2, Final Destination 3, The Final Destination, Final Destination 5
While most horror franchises focus on a slasher or some sort of supernatural force killing its victims, the Final Destination franchise takes a different approach. Instead, the killer is Death itself, which manages to take the lives of its victims in some of the most creative ways ever depicted on-screen. Each film begins with a group surviving a major catastrophe due to the premonition of an individual, and while the concept runs the risk of becoming repetitive, it’s the unique manner of execution (pun intended) that keeps each chapter feeling fresh.
Films: Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth, Hellraiser: Bloodline
Featuring four theatrical releases and six straight-to-DVD films, Hellraiser focuses on a puzzle box that opens up the realm of the deadly Cenobites. Clive Barker helped kick off the franchise, but it slowly began to lose mainstream popularity moving forward, as evidenced by its eventual relegation to home video release only. Nevertheless, no discussion of horror movie franchises would be complete without mentioning Hellraiser.
Films: Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4
Despite the diminishing returns of the third and fourth chapters, Scream remains one of the most popular horror movie franchises of all time, largely because of the fact that it’s so entirely self-aware. The first two films, in particular, have been praised for how they expertly blend social commentary, self-reference and bloodshed. Plus, Scream also helped inspire the popular Scary Movie franchise, which grossed $895 million worldwide.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Films: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Texas Chainsaw 3D, Leatherface
Few horror movie icons are as terrifying as the man who wields a roaring chainsaw and wears a mask made from the skin of his victims: Leatherface. Launching in 1974, Texas Chainsaw Massacre helped kick off the trend of horror franchises featuring hulking slashers, with Friday the 13th and Halloween quickly following suit. However, while it might not be as popular among horror fans as the latter two, Texas Chainsaw Massacre still has massive staying power.
The Conjuring Universe
Films: The Conjuring, Annabelle, The Conjuring 2, Annabelle: Creation, The Nun
With five films in the can and at least three more in the works, The Conjuring Universe is quickly becoming one of the greatest and most expansive modern horror movie franchises. This is in no small part because of the aforementioned James Wan, who directed the first two Conjuring films and has been involved in the production of the entire franchise. Perhaps most notable, though, is that some fans have compared The Conjuring Universe to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of successful shared film continuity, which is high praise for the horror genre.
Films: Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween: Resurrection, Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009), Halloween (2018)
Perhaps no other franchise on this list has more inconsistencies than Halloween. And yet, few are quite as beloved, either. While the first two films play out as one continuous story, the next six feel largely out of place. Then, you have the Rob Zombie reboot, which fans don’t really like to talk about (and for good reason), and finally, the brand new reboot, which is actually being received favorably. Let’s just hope this isn’t a mere flash in the pan, but rather a return to form for one of the most enduring horror movie franchises.
Friday the 13th
Films: Friday the 13th, Friday the 13th Part 2, Friday the 13th Part 3, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason, Friday the 13th (2009)
Jason Voorhees is undoubtedly the most iconic and recognizable horror franchise character, and with 12 theatrical films under his belt, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The less said about the 2009 reboot and Freddy vs. Jason, the better, but as for the other films, they’re quintessential slasher flicks that, despite often times favoring high body counts over plot, helped define an entire generation of horror fans.
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Films: A Nightmare on Elm Street, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Freddy vs. Jason, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Director Wes Craven and actor Robert Englund were a match made in Heaven (or perhaps Hell), and A Nightmare on Elm Street is the definitive proof. The only reason this franchise places higher than Friday the 13th is because of the attention to story details and character development, but those two often overlooked elements of horror films go a long way. Few horror franchises have managed to keep moviegoers up at night like A Nightmare on Elm Street continues to do to this very day.