Every ‘American Horror Story’ Season, Ranked
The impact that American Horror Story has had on horror television is impressive. We’ve seen more series following the anthology format or committing to an anthology style, allowing us to absorb a story without a lot of filler content. Even when an AHS season misses, it’s still enjoyable to watch for the performances, queerness, and horror alone—not to mention the amazing actors in each season, such as Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and Emma Roberts.
Season 11 wrapped up in November 2022 and it’s much different than previous seasons. It’s still American Horror Story, though, so it’s going on this list. Sorry not sorry, my fellow AHS freaks. Here’s every American Horror Story season, ranked.
Season 7: Cult
Plot: “This season focuses on marginalization, which is set between 2016 and 2017 in the aftermath of 2016 U.S. Election in the fictitious city of Brookfield Heights, Michigan, and shows how a young man gives birth to a cult of women and men who try to terrorize this small city, killing and petrifying several citizens in a brutal way to take control over them.”– FX
Season 7 is pretty scary when you take into account the hell that was the Trump presidency, at least for some folks (no need to get into who because it’s obvious). That’s why AHS: Cult is uncomfortable and hard to watch. To be honest, it occasionally steers into parody territory a little too much. Plus, some of the character decisions make no sense. But if you want a character to despise, Kai (Evan Peters) will properly disgust you. All in all, it’s a season that’s not as put together as it wants to be.
Season 10: Double Feature
Plot: “The season is divided into two parts: Red Tide, which takes place “by the sea”, and Death Valley, which takes place “by the sand” “– FX
I genuinely hate to have this so low on the list, but the blame can go to Part 2: Death Valley. If this season had just been Red Tide, it would’ve been phenomenal (even with the poor Part 1 finale). I mean, we got delightful AHS newcomers like Macaulay Culkin and Ryan Kiera Armstrong, not to mention there’s a certain essence infused into the first part of the season. Unfortunately, Part 2 is sloppily written and just doesn’t work. It would’ve been cool if they stuck with a singular time period and had properly focused on it. Instead, we got the exact opposite of stable storytelling. What a shame all around, and if Red Tide were its own season, it would be ranked much higher.
Season 8: Apocalypse
Plot: “After the nuclear apocalypse, the world’s chosen elite survive in secure outposts created by the mysterious Cooperative. On the American West Coast, Ms. Wilhemina Venable (Sarah Paulson) and Ms. Miriam Mead (Kathy Bates) run Outpost Three with an iron fist. The unexpected arrival of Michael Langdon (Cody Fern) , a Cooperative representative determined to save society with a secret paradise, throws their order into chaos. However, underneath the surface of humanity’s salvation lies a battlefield for the final conflict between good and evil.”– FX
Despite the exciting nature of the crossover with Murder House, Coven, and Hotel, the season is really uneven in its writing. There’s too much going on and the time-travel element sort of ruins things. There are good performances from AHS veterans and newcomers alike (especially Cody Fern), but they aren’t enough to distract from where the season goes wrong. There are the unnecessary losers that help bring forth the apocalypse, the unbalanced focus on certain timelines, certain annoying characters (e.g., Dinah Stevens), and all the other tidbits that don’t work. But on a positive note, it’s so deliciously dark, moody (at least during the post-apocalypse), and scary.
Season 5: Hotel
Plot: “The plot centers around the mysterious Hotel Cortez in Los Angeles, California that catches the eye of an intrepid homicide detective (Bentley). “– FX
Content warning: Sexual assault
Horror set primarily in one location is usually a lot of fun, which is part of the allure of Hotel because there’s obviously a lot of inspiration being drawn from elsewhere. Add Lady Gaga as the Countess, and you have a lot of glamour, too. This season is extremely dark in its events and tone (to which Evan Peters’ James Patrick March contributes heavily)—not that any season of AHS is light and fluttery, but in the first episode alone there’s a scene in which a gay man is raped. Aside from that horrible scene, the writing for this season involved a lot of twists. It served up a lot of entertainment and shock, even if it’s not your cup of tea. Also, who doesn’t love seeing queer characters and actors getting their shine? And the chemistry between the actors? Chef’s kiss.
Season 9: 1984
Plot: “In the summer of 1984, five friends escape Los Angeles to work as counselors at Camp Redwood. As they adjust to their new jobs, they quickly learn that the only thing scarier than campfire tales is the past coming to haunt you.”– FX
There’s no question that this season has way too many twists (even by AHS standards), but it’s a fucking blast if you take out the Richard Ramirez (Zach Villa) bits. When you ignore the poor writing, it does what it sets out to do: It pays homage to the slasher genre. Maybe that’s something people have been missing when discussing this season. It’s meant to be schlocky and wild because most classic slashers are. We also got amazing final girls in Brooke (Emma Roberts) and Rita (Angelica Ross) and a bitchin’ soundtrack.
Season 4: Freak Show
Plot: “This season is mainly set in 1952 Jupiter, Florida, telling the story of one of the last remaining freak shows in the United States and their struggle for survival.”– FX
Believe it or not, freak shows did exist at one point in time, so the premise of this season isn’t far-fetched. Of course Twisty (John Carroll Lynch) is an outrageous character, and that’s just classic AHS. Twisty plays a brief role as a serial kiler, until Dandy (Finn Wittrock) takes his place. Season 4 isn’t appreciated as much, even though it’s one of the most ambitious: Ryan Murphy cast people with attributes that might’ve once been exploited by real-life freak shows, including the late Rose Siggins, who had her legs amputated at a young age, and Mat Fraser, an actor living with a congenital disorder known as phocomelia. The characters are never reduced to being grotesque or pathetic; instead, they understand that they’re different and aren’t trying to be “normal.” The overall plot is consistent from start to finish, with iconic musical performance scenes from Jessica Lange and others. The season ultimately does work, even with its little blips!
Season 11: NYC
Plot: “The eleventh season, NYC, takes place in 1980’s New York City, and focuses on a string of killings involving gay men, as well as the emergence of a new virus.”– FX
The seriousness of this season made the horror all the more intense. NYC doesn’t play games with its audience. It has a message it wants to share, and it will make you hear it. If you’ve ever seen William Friedkin’s Cruising, then you’ll recognize how much this season was inspired by the infamous 1980 film. The performances throughout the season are top tier, especially from AHS newbies Russell Tovey and Joe Mantello. Overall, I can’t call this season a blast because it’s a gritty, accurate depiction of the AIDS crisis and how the gay community was treated. There’s a lot of tension and you’re not going to be smiling very much.
Season 6: Roanoke
Plot: “After a disturbing incident, a young couple (Lily Rabe and André Holland) move into a seemingly perfect home built in the 18th century in the woods of North Carolina. However, the building turns out to be in close proximity to the site of the legendary Lost Colony’s disappearance, and as horrific supernatural events occur at the house, the couple start to sense something dark underneath the facade.”– FX
Roanoke is so underrated, it’s ridiculous! Not only does it do something immensely different from the previous seasons, but there’s almost no humor, which leaves us stuck in the scary moments that never seem to stop—not even during the second half when shit hits the fan, with actors and the folks they’re portraying dying left and right. In all honesty, it’s one of the scariest seasons of the show, with some of the most d i s t u r b i n g death scenes (and scenes in general)—between ghost-witch sex and cannibalistic hillbillies. Turn the lights off and watch this season in a very quiet room, then try not to be scared. You’ll fail.
Season 1: Murder House
Plot: “It centers on the Harmon family: Dr. Ben Harmon, Vivien, and their daughter Violet, who move from Boston to Los Angeles after Vivien has a miscarriage and Ben has an affair. They move into a restored mansion, unaware that the ghosts of its former residents and their victims haunt the house.”– FX
We would have nothing without Murder House and its massive success on FX. I wouldn’t call this season basic because there’s certainly a lot of disturbing events, from the nature of Vivien (Connie Britton)’s pregnancy to the appearance of some of the ghosts and Violet (Taissa Farmiga)’s ultimate fate. But ghosts being trapped in a house isn’t too intense, which makes it easy to absorb during a first watch if you’re easily scared. The writing focuses a lot on the mysterious nature of the house and what may be coming in terms of Vivien’s pregnancy. And that helps a lot when some episodes feel a bit meh. All in all, this season focuses on a white family and how horrible their patriarch, Ben Harmon, is. Take away the stereotypical drama and this season is really good.
Season 2: Asylum
Plot: “The season begins in 1964 at the fictional mental institution Briarcliff Manor, following the stories of the staff and inmates who occupy it and intercuts with events in the past and present. Returning cast members from the previous season of the series include: Zachary Quinto, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Jessica Lange, Dylan McDermott, and Frances Conroy, along with new cast members Joseph Fiennes, Lizzie Brocheré, and James Cromwell.– FX
Content warning: Mentions of sexual assault and conversion therapy
This is still one of the darkest seasons of the show; it offers almost no reprieve from the sinister occurrences in the eponymous asylum. Poor Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) goes through unimaginable things like shock therapy, conversion therapy, rape that results in pregnancy (which she fails to abort), and being held against her will. The Black characters are either nonexistent or only depicted as suffering. And the overall religious aspects and characters make it very hard to watch (at least for me). However, thanks to the performances and the plot’s twists and turns, this is still one of the best seasons.
Season 3: Coven
Go ahead, throw your rotten fruit at me. At the end of the day, Coven is fucking iconic and features some of the most memorable moments across the entire series. Even though there should’ve been more Black characters in Miss Robichaux’s Academy (I mean, c’mon, it’s New Orleans!), it’s a phenomenal season. All the performances hit the spot, and watching racists and rapists get what they deserve is always a fun time (not sorry). Almost anything involving powerful witches is great, and watching Fiona (Jessica Lange) and Marie (Angela Bassett) be bad bitches all season is very satisfying. All the performances—Lange, Bassett, Paulson, Kathy Bates, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, and Gabourey Sidibe—are stellar. They all lend something to the season, which focuses on inclusive feminism and racial trauma.
(featured image: FX)
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