Note: The Following may contain Spoilers!
The ‘Tremors’ franchise is pure popcorn entertainment, nothing more. Filled with creatures known as Graboids, Shriekers, and Ass-Blasters, and centered on (mostly) likeable oddball characters, this series, primarily made up of direct-to-video sequels, knows exactly what it is: mindless fun. You bring the popcorn; they’ll bring the entertainment.
While there is a significant gap in quality following the obvious # 1 pick on this list and the films that followed it, I still find myself enjoying this series and I tend to get excited each time a new installment is announced. I have no allusions as to what these films are – you’ll never likely hear me refer to the sequels as brilliant, nor will I ever claim that it’s a great franchise – but I am still a fan regardless, and have been since childhood.
With that said, here is my personal ranking, from least favorite to favorite:
7) ‘Tremors 3: Back to Perfection’ (2001)
The third film is easily the worst of the bunch, and is the one I have the toughest time sitting through. Burt Gummer (Michael Gross) takes over as franchise lead beginning with this movie, and he’s honestly the best part about it. While it was nice to return to the original setting of Perfection, Nevada, and see some of the surviving supporting cast 11 years later, ultimately it is them, the supporting characters of this movie that really grated on my nerves – with the exception of Miguel (Tony Genaro), whom I wanted to survive above any other character aside from Burt. I won’t assign blame one way or the other, but it’s the combination of writing and acting that really destroyed this movie for me. On top of that, there’s an odd shift of tone in the franchise with this movie which leans more towards a campy aesthetic, making this film feel safe, and lacking of any real tension or stakes. It’s not entirely unwatchable, but it’s the one I’m reaching for the least.
6) ‘Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell’ (2018)
The sixth film is a movie that knows it’s introducing a setting that’s different from the others, and yet is simultaneously contradictory of the lore, and the filmmakers justify this with jargon and plot points that make the unique setting less interesting and relevant. Michael Gross once again returns as the franchise glue, Burt Gummer, and along with him is Jamie Kennedy as Burt’s son Travis Welker. While Burt may have some victorious moments, he’s mostly side-lined and reduced to a bed as he’s affected from a Graboid-induced illness due to a previous encounter. It would seem that this movie had the intention of laying down the groundwork to pass the baton from Burt to Travis as the potential future lead of the franchise, which is ultimately ignored in the seventh film. I do think this movie has moments of fun in it, but it’s too stuffed with fan service moments that repeat beats from what has come before. That said, if you made it to this point in the franchise, you’re likely forgiving and accepting of what this series has to offer. It’s fine for what it is, it’s just not one of my favorites.
5) ‘Tremors 4: The Legend Begins’ (2004)
Believe it or not, at one point this was my least favorite ‘Tremors’ movie – yes, even more so than the third film, but over time it has grown on me. Will this continue to climb up the list with future viewings? Perhaps. Time will tell on that, but for now the fourth film lands at number 5 on my list. This prequel is about the first appearance of the Graboids in the town formerly named Rejection (later changed to Perfection), and what really makes this movie a load of fun is seeing Michael Gross playing the uptight and pacifist descendant of Burt, Hiram Gummer. Michael Gross has always been an actor with range, and this must have been a breath of fresh air for him as he gets to bring something new to his franchise. Honestly, his performance as the polar opposite of Burt is even a breath of fresh air for the fans of this series. Going beyond his performance, the character Hiram Gummer has a complete arc throughout the film and I particularly liked his relationship with the Chang’s. I also really like Billy Drago as the gunslinger Black Hand Kelly, who plants the seeds of survivalism in the Gummer family. To be fair I actually really liked the supporting characters – something I did not feel with the bottom two on this ranking list. I think that initially my dislike of this movie came from a place where I felt that a prequel to ‘Tremors’ doesn’t make sense, nor does the filmmaker’s attempts to explain this by having the survivors keep the events that happened a secret. If we’re to believe that Hiram raised a family to be survivalist, then surely Burt would have heard a story about his descendant’s first encounter with large underground worm creatures, right? This is something that I still feel, but at the end of the day it’s the character stuff that makes this movie worth it.
4) ‘Tremors: Shrieker Island’ (2020)
The seventh and so-far final film in this franchise largely appeals to me due to its setting, story, and villain. The tropical island setting is beautiful and is unique for the franchise, as is the story, revolving around a wealthy business man who has created his own genetically altered Graboids on a private island for his Side-Hussle, in which he takes money from other wealthy people to hunt Graboids and the like on the island. Character actor Richard Brake is a welcome addition as the films antagonist, Bill, even if he does ham it up a little in the third act, going to the typical crazy that you would expect from the actor. Michael Gross makes his seemingly final performance as Burt Gummer, and I may piss off some Tremors fans by saying this, but I actually very much liked the way that this movie ended. Burt went out gloriously, giving the middle finger to the Graboids as he sacrifices himself, and I loved it. I personally hope they don’t retcon this with future installments. Michael Gross is only getting older and this felt like a proper way to bring his character to a close. The only unfortunate thing is that a pay dispute between Universal and Jamie Kennedy lead to the character of Travis Welker being written out and replaced by an even more obnoxious character played by Jon Heder. Given the way this film ends, it would have made more sense for Travis to be present, but business is business and the show must go on. Overall, I am satisfied with this film as the final in the series.
3) ‘Tremors 5: Bloodlines’ (2015)
11 years after the release of the fourth film, the series got a much-needed shot in the arm thanks to a new creative team. Gone are series creative mainstays S.S. Wilson, Brent Maddock, and Ron Underwood, and in comes director Don Michael Paul, whose three films in this series have brought in new locations and settings, making the Graboids appear worldwide rather than just in Nevada. Michael Gross is back as doomsday prepper Burt Gummer and along with him is a new character named Travis Welker, played by Jamie Kennedy, who is an adrenaline junkie/video documentarian that is later to be revealed as Burt’s son from a fling long before the events of the film happened. From what I’ve gathered while being in some Tremors fan groups is that some people like the inclusion of this character, and some don’t. I’m one who does like Kennedy and his character in these later sequels. I like that this film takes place in Africa, which makes it stand out from the previous entries in the series. Personally, I feel that this film is the best made sequel since the second film, and that it certainly has better choreographed action sequences than at the very least the two films that proceeded it.
2) ‘Tremors 2: Aftershocks’ (1996)
The second film is truly the only sequel in the franchise that feels close to the first film in terms of quality, despite having a very direct-to-video feel. Fred Ward returns as one of the two leads from the original film, Earl Basset, and Michael Gross is back in his supporting character role as Burt Gummer. As much as I do like the Burt character and am glad that he stuck around for this series, the big draw for this particular sequel is the fact that it features one of the lead characters from the first with Earl. While it is unfortunate that Kevin Bacon didn’t also return, it is still a treat to see Fred Ward come back one last time. His new side-kick Grady Hoover (Christopher Gartin) may be no Val McKee, but I still liked him and thought he was a fun character who had some good banter with Earl. The film is set at an oil field in Mexico and has a much smaller ensemble of characters, and is more centered on Earl, Grady, and Burt hunting Graboids for cash, until they discover that the Graboids give birth to Shriekers, creatures who can walk and wreak havoc above ground. This movie is a lot of fun and it’s one that I’ll easily watch back-to-back with the original.
1) ‘Tremors’ (1990)
I’m sure that no one who clicked on this article is surprised to see this listed as the best film in the franchise. Not only is it obviously the best of this series, but it’s also all around one of the best and most fun creature feature films ever produced. Inspired by the atomic age of horror from the 50’s, ‘Tremors’ follows two fed-up handymen, Val McKee (Kevin Bacon) and Earl Basset (Fred Ward), who make a spontaneous decision to follow their new dreams and aspirations outside of Perfection, Nevada. Unfortunately for them, on the day they decide to leave they discover bizarre occurrences and mysterious deaths, and soon find themselves trapped in the town being hunted by large underground worm creatures dubbed by the locals as Graboids. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward make a very good duo and feel like they’re two people who have known each other for a long time. Along with them are a collection of equally fun supporting characters, including seismologist Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter), survivalists/doomsday preppers Burt and Heather Gummer (Michael Gross and Reba McEntire), shop owner Walter Chang (Victor Wong), and Perfection’s local Miguel (Tony Genaro), among many others. All of these characters have terrific interactions with each other and they do feel like a tight-knit community. While the film is on the lighter side with its fun tone, there’s a great balance of humor and horror here that makes the film a highly entertaining masterpiece in the genre.
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