From Elm Street With Love: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Franchise Ranking

The ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ series of films is one of my favorite horror franchises of all time. I love the characters, the stories, the lore, and the effects. While I definitely believe that some films are better than the others, I also think that every film in this series is at least watchable. I honestly don’t hate any of these films, not even my bottom three.

Not too long ago, my good friend and colleague Ray put out his ranking list (see link below), and I intended to do so as well, but I wanted to give some distance between when his list was published to when mine was going to be. But, enough time has passed, so here is my own personal, subjective ranking from least favorite to favorite:

09) ‘Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare’

The decisions behind the sixth film have always baffled me. At the time of its production, the studio fully intended on this to be the last in the series, and yet instead of delivering a satisfying conclusion to the character and the story threads from the previous films, they commit to a stand-alone story that acts more as a parody than a sequel. It’s a cartoonish take that feels more like an episode of ‘Freddy’s Nightmares’ rather than a sequel to Wes Craven’s legendary film. There are things that I do like about it though, particularly the character of Carlos, and his death sequence. Also, the line “well the map says we’re fucked” always makes me chuckle. Overall, while I will watch this movie when marathoning the series, it’s not one I’m ever eager to revisit.

08) ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (2010)

I honestly don’t hate the remake like a lot of people do. I think it’s watchable and has some good visual sequences – especially with the micro naps angle – and Jackie Earle Haley does very well with the material that he’s given. His performance is solid, even if his character make-up isn’t. This is near the bottom of the list because I personally think that the biggest problem with this movie is that the protagonists feel like soulless characters, in particular Rooney Mara’s Nancy Holbrook – which I fault the script and direction more so than the actress. Personally, I feel like since she wasn’t Nancy Thompson, they should have made a bold move and, dare I say, subvert audience expectations by killing her off early and made Katie Cassidy’s Kris Fowles – this films version of Tina – the lead of the story, since she was the more likeable character in the film.  But that’s just my own personal opinion. I like the score from Steve Jablonsky, the dark tone of the film, and a few ideas introduced to the story, but overall, the soulless lead characters, bad CGI, and odd make-up and character design for Freddy puts this near the bottom.

07) ‘Freddy vs Jason’

I’ve always maintained that ‘Freddy vs Jason’ is better on the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ side than the ‘Friday the 13th’ side. Sure, it’s not a movie that has aged well, but I must admit that I have a bit of nostalgic love for it because the release of the film was a big deal for me back in 2003, not only as an employee of a movie theater at the time, but also for personal reasons as well. On the Freddy side, I thought Robert England gave his finest performance as the character since the fourth film, and the make-up looked fantastic as well. The story and characters were lacking, and that’s a combined issue with the script and direction. I think Ronny Yu is a fine visual director, but his lack of understanding of the two franchises that he was entering shows on the screen. As far as the script goes, it lazily treads on other material – ranging from a Great Value version of Jay from Kevin Smith’s View Askew films, right down to lead protagonist Lori essentially having a similar backstory to Sidney Prescott from the Scream films. However, I think my biggest issue now is the concept alone, which is something I had zero problems with back in the mid 1990’s to early 2000’s, but the idea of Freddy, a supernatural villain who struggled to take out a handful of teenagers in his own series, can take on the likes of Jason Voorhees and put up a fight longer than 15 seconds is a bit preposterous. But still, at the end of the day, it can be a fun trip down memory lane.

06) ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child’

The fifth film is a mixed bag for me. There are aspects of it that I cannot stand, and there’s aspects of it that I really like. On the positive side, I absolutely love Lisa Wilcox as Alice Johnson, and she especially shines in the scenes where she tries to take charge and fill her new friends in on the danger that they face. On top of that, one of my favorite things about this movie is the growth of Alice’s relationship with her father. The progression of this relationship from what we’ve seen in the fourth film to how it is here is fantastic and feels very natural, and I love it. Lastly, although I don’t care so much for the fact that Dan Jordan dies so early in the film, his death scene is the highlight. The issues I have revolve around Freddy’s make-up, which appears cheap, as well as the supporting characters whom I don’t give two shits about, and the nightmare/death scenes which lack anything memorable. I give this movie a lot of slack for being a continuation of Alice’s story, and that there are interesting ideas at play – including the idea of Freddy targeting Alice through her unborn child – but the overall execution of the story leaves me unsatisfied.

05) ‘Wes Craven’s New Nightmare’

Wes Craven’s pre-‘Scream’ meta sequel is certainly one of my favorites in the entire franchise, and once upon a time, was my favorite “sequel” (if you can call it that), for a very long time. Sticking with the idea that the events of ‘Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare’ was, indeed, the end of the road for the Freddy character, the idea behind this story, in which a demonic fanboy is so pissed that the series ended that he takes on the Freddy persona to target the people behind the original is a really creative and fun way to bring the legendary Wes Craven back into the game. I love the fact that because of this, we get to see Robert England go back to a very dark portrayal that allows him to play it a little differently than before since he’s technically not playing the same character. I think Heather Langenkamp gives her strongest performance in the series, and I root for her all the way. My favorite scene in the movie is when she’s talking to John Saxon outside of her house, and he suddenly becomes Lt. Don Thompson, leading her to finally accept the role of Nancy one last time as Freddy rises from the sheets within. Great stuff. My biggest mixed area is with the score from J. Peter Robinson, which is at times fantastic, and at other times out of place.  Personally, I think this is a great and creative film, and is one of the best in the series.

04) ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’

There’s something about the early films in the series that totally captivates me, and the second film is one that I’ve always enjoyed watching. Unlike most horror sequels – particularly slashers – ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge’ attempts to forge its own path rather than repeat what came before, and that is something I truly respect. This is a fairly unique chapter in the franchise with its story being centered around Freddy’s efforts to mentally breakdown and take control of the body of a teenage boy in an attempt to continue his reign of terror in the real world with a flesh and blood human vessel. Mark Patton’s Jesse Walsh is an interesting lead protagonist, and while everyone seems to love commenting on that awkward dance sequence, almost nobody mentions the incredibly heart-breaking performance from Patton in the scene where Grady is killed. In fact, I’d argue that Patton’s performance is stellar throughout the entire film, and especially in the second half. This film also has some really great effects sequences, and the one that stands out the most is the scene where Freddy emerges from Jesse’s body in Grady’s room; mixed with the effects is the way the scene is shot and executed, and with Christopher Young’s awesome score on top of that. Speaking of which, Christopher Young’s score for this movie is outstanding and I listen to it often. I do wish that it had a few of Charles Bernstein’s original themes integrated into it, but regardless it’s a great score. The only thing I don’t really care for with this movie is the way that the story ultimately concludes with Freddy being defeated by the power of love. Overall, though, I love this sequel.

03) ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’

Story and thematically, the third film is THE definitive sequel to the original; featuring a thoughtful script that moves the story forward rather than repeating what came before, as well as introducing a variety of likeable characters, and a setting that continues to make this franchise unique within the genre – all resulting in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ as being a sequel that stands toe-to-toe with the original. In a way, the third film serves as a reversal of the original, which was focused on an individual character, and instead centers around an ensemble of equally important characters – all linked by their status of being “the last of the Elm Street children” – and it’s this film that gave longevity to the franchise because of its expansion on the lore. I love the role that Nancy Thompson plays into the story, and I also love the group of supporting characters, and think that they all have chemistry with each other. I also dig the idea that the real-world explanation for what Freddy does as a mental health issue that these teenagers are experiencing, and how it ties into their individual stories. For example, Jennifer burning herself with cigarettes appears on the surface to be out of a desire for self-harm, but beneath that is her method for escaping the clutches of the demon that haunts her dreams. These are characters who are desperate to stay alive at all cost, but ultimately, it’s their unity that gives them the most strength to fight back against Freddy. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ is brilliant from a story and character perspective and is worthy of all of the praise that it gets. As far as negatives, I personally think that at times it leans a little too heavy into the fantasy aspect, and I think composer Angelo Badalamenti’s score is uninspiring and boring. Furthermore, I’m not really a big fan of Freddy being defeated with holy water. That said, the third film is not only great as a sequel, but as a horror film in general.

02) ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ is a special movie to me. I’m not quite sure if I can properly articulate my love for this movie and the joy that it brings me, but I’ll try. As mentioned above when I discussed the second film, there’s something about the first four films in this series that grabbed me right from the very first time that I watched them, and the one that I latched onto the most (aside from the original) was the fourth film. Now look, I will always absolutely agree with those who say from a story perspective, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ is the best sequel to the original. That I have no doubt of. However, with the fourth film director Renny Harlin brings energy with the way the film is shot, edited, and paced, making it a totally fun ride from beginning to end. Additionally, the score from composer Craig Safan is a huge improvement over Angelo Badalamenti’s score from the third film, and the effects are top notch here, particularly with Sheila, Debbie, and Freddy’s death sequences – the cockroach sequence is my favorite of the entire franchise, and Freddy’s death is also an amazing display of effects work. And finally, what I’m about to say may be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway: Lisa Wilcox’s Alice Johnson is my personal favorite “final girl” in all of horror. I love the character and I love Lisa’s performance; she’s so natural as she transitions from the meek and shy Alice at the start and into the badass who confronts Freddy in the finale, and Lisa is absolutely convincing in the way she portrays the different sides of the character. Of course, there are things that I don’t love about this movie, such as quickly disposing all of the surviving Dream Warriors so early (I personally felt that Kincaid should have survived throughout), and Rick’s death may be among the lamest in the franchise, but those are minor nitpicks in the grand scheme of things because ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master’ is my go-to sequel that I can watch over and over without it ever getting old, and I often do.

01) ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ (1984)

Let’s face it, Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a masterpiece of the horror genre. In an era of uninspired slashers, along comes Craven with an original, imaginative and cerebral horror film about a sadistic serial killer who targets teenagers while they’re sleeping. The concept alone sets it apart from its peers and makes it a true gem of the 1980’s. Adding onto this crazy, brilliant concept is the characters: Robert England’s Freddy Krueger who bursts with personality and is one of the most memorable and iconic antagonists of the genre, and then there’s Heather Langenkamp’s Nancy Thompson, an intelligent, resourceful, and strong minded “final girl” who learns from her experiences and takes a proactive stand against her nightmarish pursuer. Indeed, this film benefits from having a memorable antagonist and likeable protagonist, and when they clash its gold. Additionally, there are a lot of great moments in the movie, including: Tina’s death sequence, Nancy seeing Tina in the body bag, Glen’s death, and Nancy setting up the booby traps. Also, Charles Bernstein’s score fantastically compliments everything that happens on screen. ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ is one of my favorite movies of all time, and is easily the best in the series.

You can read Ray’s rankings here:

And check out my breakdown of the original ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors script here:

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About Seth T. Miller 90 Articles
I am first and foremost a proud father of two daughters who may or may not be possessed by demonic entities/deadites -- time will tell on that one, but I am pretty confident that one of them translated the Necronomicon. I enjoy short walks to my movie collection, reading in goddamn piece and quiet, and watching the same movies and tv series over and over instead of discovering new stuff.