Every ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Movie, Ranked

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Where horror icons are concerned, Freddy Krueger/Robert Englund belong at the top list. The impact that the A Nightmare on Elm Street films have had on the horror genre isn’t to be argued. And without the genius of Wes Craven, we wouldn’t even have the films. Imagine if Wes Craven had never loved horror and never went down the path he did. There would be no Freddy (Robert Englund), Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), the Dream Warriors crew, etc. Even the current season of Stranger Things wouldn’t be what it is—as it drew some of its inspiration from the films. 

In fact, it’s safe to say that the films that Wes had no involvement in weren’t the best in the franchise. And it’s very obvious which movies belong at the very top of the list. Of course everyone’s ranking may vary, but the general consensus among horror fans is relatively consistent. Keep reading if you want to hang around boiler rooms and creepy houses. 

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street
(New Line Cinema)

Even if it may not be at the top of your list, it’s at the top of mine. The original genuinely tricked the audience and is the one that started it all. The plot follows Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) who finds herself hunted in her dreams by deceased child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). With her friends and herself in danger, Thompson must figure out the reason Freddy is after them. And what her parents have to do with the death of Freddy. This original is a classic still to this day and Nancy is such an iconic final girl. Not to mention Freddy still being a favorite (despite his problematic elements) villain for many folks who grew up on the films. Fans could go on and on about it.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

jennifer in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
(New Line Cinema)

This entry is widely known as one of the best in the franchise and there are even folks who consider it their favorite (even above the original). The plot follows a group of psych patients, including Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) and Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson), who work together to take on Freddy. The return of Nancy is welcomed with open arms, even if her story ends in a way that the vast majority of us don’t like. And most of the kids in the film are easy to root for. Especially when taking into consideration the overwhelming amount of unlikable characters in the previous entry. It also marks the screen debut of Patricia Arquette (who plays Kristen). There’s much that can be said about this film in terms of subtext and how the teens are perceived as outcasts. Other than the origins of Freddy (which is the one downside to the film), this film is solid and worth re-watching over and over.

3. New Nightmare (1994)

julie and freddy in New Nightmare
(New Line Cinema)

Meta slashers have such an endearing quality to them. It’s a lot of fun to watch a horror movie that knows what it is and what it’s trying to say. Combine that with horror legends Wes Craven, Robert Englund, and Heather Langenkamp playing themselves and you’ve got a fantastic slasher. Freddy is back to being more sinister in this and it works! In this offering, Freddy (Robert Englund) is a fictional character who invades regular life and haunts the cast and crew of the franchise. It deviates from the continuity of the previous films. Heather Langenkamp is essentially forced to become Nancy to help defeat Freddy. And Wes Craven even makes an appearance in this film—which brings everything full circle in the end. It’s a beloved entry in the franchise and really does belong in the top three.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

alice and freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
(New Line Cinema)

The death of Nancy in Dream Warriors and the deaths of the remaining Elm Street kids really ups the stakes of this film. And it introduces a new central character in Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox). The film’s focus is on Alice and her progression as a person because she’s so timid at first. Then, once she experiences more loss, is given Kristen’s dream powers, and gains the abilities/personalities of her loved ones after their deaths—she becomes a better character. Not on the level of Nancy or Kristen, but still a character that people enjoy watching. Of course, Freddy gets more goofy throughout the next 2 films, which marks the essential decline of the franchise. Depending on who you ask. 

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

jesse and freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
(New Line Cinema)

It’s a cult classic and hailed as a very homoerotic film (which, in some capacity, it is), but it’s not the best in the franchise. In fact, it’s not particularly positive where its queer themes are concerned (which is another conversation in itself). And everything that happened with Mark Patton (who plays Jesse) after this film was horrible. But in terms of the movie itself, it’s got a very unique (albeit confusing) premise. The film follows Jesse (Mark Patton) who moves into Nancy’s old house with his family. Which leads to him being terrorized by Freddy, in a much different way though. Essentially, Freddy is using Jesse’s body as a vessel and wants to break free into the waking world. Whether or not it’s a movie that can be re-watched over and over is up to the viewer. Mark Patton’s performance and some of the other characters help make it worth it. Though Freddy is somewhat of an afterthought. 

6. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

freddy in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
(New Line Cinema)

In no way shape or form is this a solid entry in the franchise. There’s much about it that’s faulty, some of the acting isn’t great, and Freddy is barely frightening in this. There’s even a scene where Freddy is riding a broomstick. All that goofiness can either be a corny type of funny or ruins the vibes of a movie. The focus in this entry is on Freddy’s backstory, who Maggie (Lisa Zane) really is, and the end of Freddy’s reign of terror. There are some strangely cool sequences like the video game death for instance. But otherwise, the film falls very flat compared to other entries. And the dream demons reveal is…well it is what it is. 

7. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)

freddy in Freddy vs Jason
(New Line Cinema)

As much as this isn’t that great of a crossover or slasher, it manages to be watchable if you just want something mindless to watch. What seems like a dream crossover with Freddy and Jason joining to take out some local  teens, is actually somewhat disastrous. There’s a lack of melding of the franchises. It feels like a Friday the 13th film that wants to be A Nightmare on Elm Street, and vice versa. And there’s really bad dialogue throughout the film that makes it so cringe (may be due to the time period or just poor writing). Lucky for Freddy Vs. Jason though, it’s not going to land at the bottom of the list. That’s been reserved for a different film.

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child 

jacob and freddy in A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
(New Line CInema)

Despite the tone being darker (which is something that can be appreciated about this entry) and the cool blue filter—this movie is really cheesy. The whole plot is both convoluted and…somewhat dull? Basically, Alice is pregnant in this movie and has to keep Freddy from using her unborn baby as a conduit to attack her friends. The acting is cringey and it’s a whole mess. Finding good things about this film is like pulling teeth. That’s of course very harsh, but the hate this movie gets isn’t unwarranted. 

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street remake
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

Out of all the remakes that came out in the 2000s-2010s, this is one of the WORST. There’s so much this film is lacking. Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) isn’t entirely the problem in this film—but trying to live up to Robert Englund is a treacherous feat. The plot is similar to the original but it goes in a totally different direction in terms of Freddy’s backstory. In the other movies, they shied away from making Freddy a child molester (at least not explicitly). In this one, however, that becomes a big plot point, which definitely makes it less fun. Overall, the acting is severely lacking, Nancy (Rooney Mara) isn’t interesting like the original Nancy, the writing is poor, and it’s almost pointless to go on about how this movie fails. Some fans don’t hate it as much as others. But let’s just say it continues to go down in history as one of the worst in the franchise. 

(featured image: New Line Cinema)


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Author
Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.