Scream (1996), Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4, Scream (2022)

All ‘Scream’ Movies, Ranked Worst To Best

Over two decades of Ghostfaces

The Scream franchise began in 1996. Nearly three decades later, it is hailed as one of the most popular and influential horror film series of our time. What makes Scream stand out from other long-running horror franchises, like Halloween and Saw, is its meta premise. In 1996, Scream was far from the first meta film ever made, but it definitely made a name for the lesser-known genre. A “meta” film is self-aware or self-referential, which gives it a likeness to satire.

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In the case of the Scream series, many of the characters are vaguely aware of horror film tropes. The story isn’t afraid to poke fun at such clichés along the way. Some characters know the “rules” of horror films and how to stay alive in horror stories. Not only that, but peppered through the series are references to Wes Craven’s horror film career, Courteney Cox’s Friends career, and the clichés of horror film sequels and series. However, these aren’t wholly silly and satirical films. They also integrate a nice blend of actual horror elements, including slasher-like gore and a sense of dread and fear.

Of course, perfecting a blend between meta and horror is no easy feat for one to accomplish. There is always the danger of a film becoming too comedic and too self-aware, which occurred several times throughout the franchise as writers were switched. As a result, some films in the Scream franchise faltered, while others went down as horror film classics. Here is every Scream film, ranked from worst to best.

6. Scream 3

Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers in Scream 3
(Dimension Films)

Scream 3 premiered in 2000, following the critical success of Scream (1996) and Scream 2. However, it also got a new writer, Ehren Krueger. Krueger took over from Kevin Williamson, who wrote the first, second, and fourth films in the franchise. Scream 3 follows the production of Stab 3, a fictional film based on the events of the 1st and 2nd Scream movies. Production is halted when a Ghostface starts picking off Stab 3‘s actors, in a bid to get to the victims of the original Woodsboro murders.

Unfortunately, Scream 3 has been hailed as the worst film in the franchise. The film floundered because it failed to fit into either horror or meta and didn’t find a balance between both. On the one hand, it lacked the fear factor because it leaned too heavily into a rather silly movie-inside-a-movie plot and featured rather unbelievable plot twists. On the other hand, the humor fell short because the film over-highlighted its meta aspects to the point where it played out like an SNL skit of a Wes Craven Scream film. It wasn’t scary, it was too self-aware, and Cox’s bangs were too short. And so, Scream 3 went down in infamy.

5. Scream 4

Hayden Panettiere as Kirby Reed in Scream 4
(Dimension Films)

After Scream 3‘s fumble, it would be eleven years before another installment in the franchise hit theaters. Scream 4 saw the return of writer Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven. The film’s plot acknowledges the 15th anniversary of the franchise. It follows Ghostface’s attack on Woodsboro on the 15th anniversary of the original Scream murders.

With Williamson back at the helm, Scream 4 benefited from a clever meta-premise and witty dialogue. While not quite scary, it was still a good deal more satisfying than most slasher films at the time. The main reason why Scream 4 faltered a bit was that it wasn’t new. To some extent, this is to be expected by a long-running franchise with several of the same characters in each film. However, Scream 4 failed to develop its recurring characters further. Meanwhile, the new characters were flat, and the film played out far too similar to its three predecessors.

4. Scream VI

Roger L. Jackson as Ghostface in Scream VI
(Paramount Pictures)

Scream 6 is the newest installment in the franchise, after the success of Scream (2022). The film follows four survivors from the Scream (2022) massacre who move to New York City for a fresh start after the trauma. However, Ghostface follows them to NYC and begins terrorizing the city.

Scream 6 is as clever as ever in its witty dialogue, tackling of horror film tropes, and humor. Additionally, the NYC setting offers a much-needed change of scenery and adds a lot more fun to the tale. Jenna Ortega, Melissa Barrera, and Jasmin Savoy Brown, as well as Scream 4‘s Hayden Panettiere, all offered strong performances and added depth to their roles, which greatly benefitted the film. The main drawback is that the franchise has run its course. It’s is running out of ways to make truly meaningful and pronounced differences between each subsequent film. Hence, the fun may be long gone for non-devoted fans of the franchise, who will leave Scream 6 feeling as if they’ve already seen it before.

3. Scream (2022)

Jenna Ortega as Tara Carpenter in Scream 2022
(Paramount Pictures)

The Scream franchise took an over 10-year break after Scream 4 before returning on January 14, 2022, with Scream 5. This was the first film in the franchise directed without Wes Craven. It also featured new writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. Scream (2022) takes place 25 years after the events of the original film and sees a new Ghostface target a group of teens with various connections to the original Woodsboro massacre victims.

Scream (2022) accomplished an impressive feat by capturing the spirit of the original film, even without Craven at the helm. It truly got the franchise back on track after Scream 3 and Scream 4, nabbing its meta edge and offering a modernized Scream film for new audiences to enjoy. Of course, it does still feel a bit repetitive, and it lacks a real fear factor. However, 10 years is enough time to make fans long for another Scream film, and Scream 5 delivered exactly what old and new viewers were looking for.

2. Scream 2

Jada Pinkett as Maureen Evans and Omars Epps as Phil Stevens at a theater in Scream 2
(Dimension Films)

Scream 2 premiered in 1997 and marked the highly anticipated sequel to the original hit film. The film was the first to dive into the realm of copycat Ghostfaces. The first film’s survivors, Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox), and Dewey Riley (David Arquette) all return to confront a new murderer.

Scream 2 was about as good as a film sequel can get. It very nearly eclipsed the original. The film elevates its meta premise by tackling the tropes of horror film sequels, allowing the beloved characters from the original film to further develop, featuring a slightly different threat and storyline, and even amping up the slasher elements with more gore and a bit more fear. Despite its high quality, the fact it wasn’t the first film simply meant that it was a little less new, clever, and intriguing than the original.

1. Scream (1996)

Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott, Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers and David Aquette as Dewey Riley screaming in Scream (1996)
(Dimension Films)

The original Scream film premiered in 1996. It follows a then-teenage Prescott and her high school friends as they fight to survive a masked killer who goes on a killing spree in the town of Woodsboro, California.

As said above, Scream was the film that truly popularized the idea of meta-horror. It resulted in a huge boost for slasher films and changed how many perceived the horror genre. Scream was very unique for its time. It also satirized major horror classics from the preceding years, like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Scream wasn’t afraid to break the rules and even poked fun at the works of Craven himself. Plus, it was extremely clever and witty, but also still terrifying, as it was inspired by a real-life serial killer known as the Gainesville Ripper. Scream is a high-quality horror meta-film that is further elevated due to its enduring legacy and impact on the horror genre.

(featured image: Dimension Films / Paramount Pictures)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.