‘Saw’ Franchise Ranking and Reviews

The ‘Saw’ franchise is a difficult one to rank for me, because I honestly enjoy all nine films in the series. I find that even the films at the bottom of my ranking list are watchable and with some redeeming qualities to them, despite being my least favorites. I’ve seen eight of the nine films in the theaters on opening weekend – I don’t recall why I missed 2017’s ‘Jigsaw’ when it was released, or why it took years for me to finally get around to seeing it; it did have a good trailer, and I do get easily excited when a new entry is released, but oddly I was late to the party on that film.

With ‘Saw X’ just around the corner, the fanboy in me couldn’t resist going through another marathon of all of the films so far, and to my surprise I’ve found that my opinions have changed on a couple of the sequels, and so begins this new re-ranking with my in-depth thoughts on each to explain why I place these films at their current spots.

As a disclaimer, this list and the opinions given are reflective of my own, and my own only. It is not presented as fact, and I perfectly understand that not every Saw fan is going to agree with my order or my thoughts. I can only hope to explain my personal opinions to the best of my abilities.

Happy reading.

Before getting to my ranking, I want to play a game. Below is an extended playlist of Charlie Clouser’s iconic theme for you to listen to as you read through this ranking and review list. You can either listen while you read to get in the spirit of the topic, or be a dick about it and read without listening. The choice is yours.  

From Least Favorite to Favorite:

09) ‘Saw VII: The Final Chapter’ (2010)

Saw VII’ – sometimes known as ‘Saw 3D’, and other times known as ‘Saw: The Final Chapter’ – is the most disappointing film in the series. At the time of its release, this was positioned as being the very last, and yet it ends feeling like any other film in the franchise. The previous few movies set up a continuing storyline about the walls closing in around John Kramer’s last surviving disciple, Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), and for the majority of this movie they were really building towards his end – but when we reach the climax of the movie, Hoffman is left alive, chained up in the bathroom and his fate to be determined. I have no problem with filmmakers choosing to leave things up to the audience’s imaginations, but this build up to Hoffman getting his comeuppance has been quite earned and we should have been given a definitive ending to his arc by seeing his end.

Another thing I didn’t like was how they handled the return of Dr. Lawrence Gordon. Now, it absolutely makes sense for the filmmakers to bring resolution to a character whose fate has been left a question since he crawled out of the bathroom at the end of the first film, and it was great to see Cary Elwes finally return to his role – BUT the thing I call shenanigans on is the fact that he willingly worked with John Kramer behind the scenes since his escape. The difference between Gordon and those like Amanda Young and Mark Hoffman is that fact that Kramer had orchestrated for Gordon’s wife and young child to be kidnapped and held at gunpoint, traumatizing everyone in Gordon’s family, something no family man would be fine with. Personally, I would have preferred if he was the character that called bullshit to the “Jigsaw helped me” mentality. You could still leave in the idea of Gordon being the one to capture Hoffman, but instead as an anti-Jigsaw figure. Personally, I think that it would have been a really satisfying conclusion to the series to have Gordon bring an end to Kramer’s legacy, getting his revenge and the last laugh.

All of that said, there are things that I do like about the seventh film: most of the traps and gore effects are really good, pink blood be damned, and I love the subplot involving Sean Patrick Flanery’s character Bobby Dagen using the Jigsaw phenomenon to gain fame. Overall, while it is a watchable film, this is unquestionably my least favorite.

08) ‘Jigsaw’ (2017)

After a big gap without a new ‘Saw’ movie, the series finally returned in 2017 with a refreshing approach; instead of doing what the series has done before with an episodic sequel that closely follows the events of the previous film, we instead get a story that tries to stay in continuity while also keeping itself at a distance and as its own individual story. Directed by the Spierig Brothers (‘Daybreakers’, ‘Predestination’), the eighth film is arguably the best put together film in the series, but the reason why it places near the bottom on this list – despite the fact that I do actually enjoy this film – is because I just can’t get behind the plot point revolving around Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) being a secret apprentice who helped John Kramer at a time before Hoffman joined up. It’s a convoluted idea that muddles the timeline of events and everything we’ve come to know, and it makes you wonder where the fuck this character has been during John’s last days. Don’t get me wrong here, it is great to see Tobin Bell return to his iconic role, and if they went with my preferred route of having Logan be a former survivor turned copycat for revenge, there would be even less screen time for him in this movie, but this twist just doesn’t jive.

Additionally, the “first test” subplot really has no place in the established timeline. I suppose I could be mistaken, but it seems like the previous seven films already covered the ground of Jigsaw’s early days, and with Cecil (Billy Otis) – the man responsible for the death of John and Jill’s unborn child, Gideon – as being the first test subject. That said, I do like some of the traps and elements of the story. I think it’s well shot, well edited, and I like how it stands alone instead of being dependent on the rest.

I dig the movie, I just don’t like how Logan was forced into the mythology, and feel like the twist with his character could have been handled differently.

07) ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ (2021)

Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ continues the copy-cat era of the franchise. ‘Jigsaw’ writers Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger return with a script based on a pitch from franchise fan Chris Rock, and also returning is ‘Saw II’ – ‘Saw IV’ director Darren Lynn Bousman, and from the discourse that I’ve seen online, this is a pretty divisive sequel, with some loving it and others despising it. Where do I fall? Well, I’m on the side that enjoys it. In fact, after leaving the theater I rushed home and typed up a fairly positive review for it. The big question that I had upon my most recent marathon was: will it hold up with each viewing? The answer happened to be: yes.

There are certainly issues to be had with this film. The lack of Tobin Bell and the significance of his character, John Kramer, makes this one feel a bit jarring – although considering my complaints about the previous film, it’s a hypocritical opinion on my end; I should feel grateful that they didn’t try to force another convoluted secret backstory into the mythology, but at the same time its stand-alone nature makes it feel disconnected from the rest – which, I suppose is the point of the story: John Kramer’s legacy inspires others to follow his ideologies. It’s not a bad way to carry on the series, but it does prove that Tobin Bell is one of the most significant pieces of the series. I wish that at the very least they would have brought him back to be the voice on the tapes; in ‘Jigsaw’ we got to see a moment where Logan used some voice program to mimic Kramer’s, and that should have been done again here too. The new voice just didn’t feel right. The only other issue I have with the movie is that the reveal is very predictable. Sitting in the theater, I instantly picked up on the one moment that was a dead giveaway to the identity of the new Jigsaw, and because of that the reveal at the end felt lackluster.

I know that Chris Rock’s performance is a topic of debate with this movie, and sure, there are a lot of times where it’s Chris Rock being Chris Rock, but I actually liked him in the more serious moments, particularly with his conflict with his peers at the precinct. The thing that works the most for me with this movie is the way it’s structured around a mystery that unravels throughout instead of being focused on the traps. While the reveal is predictable, the motivation behind this plot was handled fairly well.

For me ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ is engaging and entertaining. It’s not one of my favorites in the series, but I am on the side of the fandom that enjoys it for what it is.

06) ‘Saw IV’ (2007)

For the longest time ‘Saw IV’ stood as one of my favorite sequels in the series, but upon my recent marathon through the entire franchise it dropped a spot for a couple of reasons: the first being that another sequel jumped up a few spots, and the other being that I can’t quite get behind the logic of why Officer Rigg (Lyriq Bent) is being tested. It feels like they’re stretching to justify why he’s the primary subject, and his lesson doesn’t seem to come from anything that feels that serious. Yeah, there’s a lot of potential there, but perhaps it would have been more effective if we were shown more examples of how Riggs’ impulsive, protocol-defying behavior had a negative impact on his colleagues and the legal system. I like the idea that his heart was in the right place the entire time, but I can’t help but feel like his test and the motivations behind them could have been better executed.

Make no mistake though, I highly enjoy this sequel. The thing that I enjoy the most about this is the fact that it runs parallel to the third film, and acts as the second half of one large story that serves as the passing of the torch. It makes complete sense, since early on in ‘Saw III’ the police side of the story came to an abrupt halt following the death of Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer) – which I didn’t like – and so I admire this film for following that storyline at the same time. I think it’s an effective twist that helps usher in the Hoffman era of the series in a way that feels organic.

Overall, while this film fell down a spot on my personal ranking, I think it’s a solid sequel that works as the crossroads between the John Kramer trilogy (Saw IIII) and the Mark Hoffman trilogy (Saw VVII) and it really ties the two major story-arcs together.

05) ‘Saw V’ (2008)

Saw V’ has the most surprising placement on this ranking list, jumping up from my previous placement near the bottom of the list, and landing mid-list at #5. Allow me to explain: back in 2008 when the film was first released, I left the theater thinking that it was a major disappointment. It felt small scale in comparison to the previous films, and while I did enjoy the cat and mouse storyline surrounding Mark Hoffman and Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson), the trap side of the story involving the “Fatal Five” just felt like an after-thought, making this feel less like a Saw film, and on top of that, the end of the film didn’t carry the impact with its reveals as Charlie Clouser’s great theme played like the previous films did. Sure, the bit with Hoffman getting the final word on Strahm and being lowered in the glass coffin while the walls literally close in on Strahm is fun, but I was left thinking: “That’s it?”

However, upon my most recent rewatch of the film I found myself really enjoying the movie more than I ever have before. Yeah, I still have some of the same complaints as before, particularly when it comes to the five characters being tested – there are times in the movie where there are large chunks without them, and when they do go back to them, I just don’t care. They have very little to do with the overall story, and they are mainly forgettable with decent-at-best traps. That said, what I found myself really enjoying this time around is the story about Hoffman. Not only does this reveal the origins of his partnership with John Kramer, but it also simultaneously lays the ground work for Hoffman’s inevitable end. The walls may be physically closing in around Strahm, but they are really metaphorically closing in around Hoffman.

Ultimately, this film works as a character piece that builds upon its new villain, and when watched so closely with the rest, especially ‘Saw VI’ and ‘Saw VII’, it’s that much for enjoyable. The trap side of the film was weak, but the Hoffman versus Strahm stuff is solid enough.

04) ‘Saw VI’ (2009)

Saw VI’ is easily the best of the Hoffman era in the franchise. I first walked into this movie with a bit of skepticism because of how I felt about the fifth movie at the time, and I was worried that the series was going in a downward spiral. However, after it ended, I left the theater very pleased with the fact that it was a significant improvement over the last one. Not only did I enjoy the way it carried on with the primary story revolving around Hoffman being on the verge of getting caught, but I was also equally invested with the secondary story that made up the trap side, which centered on an Insurance Executive named William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) whose tests reflect the policies at his company. This subplot itself is much more thoughtful than you would expect from a ‘Saw’ movie, and yet it works perfectly well within this world – and in a way it also enhances John Kramer’s story, making it feel like this matters.

On the other side of the story, I really loved the stuff with Hoffman and his conflicts with the FBI agents and Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell). As I mentioned with ‘Saw V’, the walls are closing in around him and it makes for some pretty intense moments. My favorite part of this is with the way it comes to a close: Jill knocking out Hoffman and putting him in the reverse bear-trap, but he frees himself from the restraints and escapes the trap in the nick of time. That moment where he collapses to his knees, screaming with the massive wound to the face is fantastic. I know that Hoffman is a divisive character among the fan base, with a lot of people hating his character, and others liking him – but I actually dig him and his story arc, particularly in this movie. Yes, I am a Hoffman fan.

Overall ‘Saw VI’ is a great sequel that does a solid job balancing its two competing storylines, and has one of the best endings in the series.

03) ‘Saw III’ (2006)

If this franchise had just been a trilogy instead of a franchise and came to an end with ‘Saw III’ as the final film, I would be completely satisfied. It feels natural with the way that it handles John Kramer and Amanda Young and with the way the story ends with their deaths. Sure, as a fan of this franchise I’m glad that they did continue on, but this is by rights the proper conclusion.

I very much like the two storylines that are happening concurrently here, and especially with the way that the first major twist ties both of them together. On one side, we get to see the lead antagonists, John and Amanda, from a much different perspective than before. We really get to see the relationship between the two, and how John’s illness has an emotional effect on Amanda, and that because he was outed as Jigsaw during the previous movie, he can’t get the medical attention that he needs. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) is one of the more likeable protagonists in the series; she’s not a bad person like Eric Matthews, she’s a woman who lost her way due to a personal tragedy in her life, and I like the idea that this experience she’s going through as a hostage to John and Amanda gets her to fully realize how lost she’s become. I also enjoy the conflict between her and Amanda, and I think it makes this side of the story engaging instead of boring.

But what I really love about this movie is the storyline involving Jeff Denlon (Angus Macfadyen), who I view as the single most sympathetic protagonist in the series. At the time this film was released, I was not yet a father, but I found his storyline to be unique; up to this point – and even after – the people being tested had been those who doomed themselves, but here is a guy rightfully in a bad place mentally, and his test being about forgiveness towards those responsible for the death of his son and the injustice that followed is an interesting approach. I just like the character and the meaning behind his test. On top of this, ‘Saw III’ has some of the best, most deprived traps in the series, and the multiple twists are awesome. They did a great job with misdirection early on with Lynn’s character, and when it was revealed later on that she was Jeff’s estranged wife, it coincided perfectly with the story. Additionally, the reveals that Amanda has also been the subject of one last test to see if she’s worthy of carrying on John’s legacy, and that her failure leads to Jeff’s failure, which in turn leads to everyone’s deaths and the uncertain fate of Jeff and Lynn’s daughter makes this ending hit the hardest.

Saw III’ is not just the perfect conclusion to the original trilogy, it’s easily one of the best in the entire franchise. I love the story, the characters, the traps, and the multiple twists at the end.

02) ‘Saw’ (2004)

The one that started it all. I remember being in the theater opening night: The packed crowd, the reactions and squirms from the audience at the brutality; the hyper-editing; the amazing score from Charlie Clouser; and the twist ending that left everyone’s jaws on the floor. This movie was truly a game-changer at the time of its release. Ironically, this movie was released very shortly after I watched ‘Cube’ (1997) for the first time, and I couldn’t help but think of the similarities, and yet it never took away from my love of ‘Saw’ (and for the record, yes, I do very much love ‘Cube’ equally as well).

There’s something about the original film that makes it stand apart from its many sequels. Perhaps it’s the quality filmmaking from director James Wan, or the way that the story is structured around these two strangers, Gordon and Adam, stuck in a singular location together trying to figure out what’s happening; they’re trapped, but not in the traditional way that you would expect from the series, and the stakes are high with Gordon’s wife and young daughter being in harms way. On top of this, we get the legendary Danny Glover as an obsessed detective, and he’s at his most badass since ‘Predator 2’.

The only reason why this isn’t my personal favorite of the franchise is because of the acting from the two leads. While it’s almost expected that writer Leigh Whannell isn’t all that great in his role as Adam, it is a little weird that a veteran actor like Cary Elwes isn’t quite on his game as Lawrence Gordon, but I do consider this to be a minor nitpick on my end.

I very much love ‘Saw’, and think it’s a fantastic start to a modern horror franchise. It’s got a great mystery, an interesting premise, a fantastic and iconic score, and one of the finest twist endings in horror history.

01) ‘Saw II’ (2005)

Saw II’ is the definitive Saw movie for me. Now that the mystery regarding the identity of the Jigsaw killer is out of the way, Tobin Bell gets to shine as John Kramer in the sequel. The character’s personality, backstory, and beliefs are brought to the forefront and I believe that because of this movie, Jigsaw became cemented as a modern horror icon. Additionally, Donnie Wahlberg’s Eric Matthews is a more interesting lead protagonist than Gordon and Adam combined – and with a much better performance, too. In fact, I’ll even goes as far to say that this sequel has the best set of characters and story in the entire series. I do appreciate that this film doesn’t beat-for-beat repeat what came before like a lot of horror sequels do, and that the story is structured linearly for the most part. It truly feels like it’s expanding on the character and mythology of Jigsaw in a natural way, while also allowing itself to have its own identity.

As far as the two halves of the story goes, I equally enjoyed the police side as well as the trap side. On the police half, in addition to Wahlberg’s Eric Matthews as our lead protagonist, it was nice to have Dina Meyer reprise her role as Detective Allison Kerry and be our link to the first film, this time with a meatier role. With the trap side, I liked how the large ensemble of characters in the nerve gas house are tied directly to Matthews, and it was nice to have Shawnee Smith reprise her role as Amanda Young, and be another link to the first film, also with a bigger role. I liked both of the primary settings – Jigsaw’s lair for one half, the nerve gas house for the other – and the traps are pretty good too. The one scene where Xavier (Franky G) shoves Amanda in the pit of needles is one of the most effective moments in the series and still gets the same reaction out of me no matter how many times I see it.

What makes this truly great for me is the multiple twists that this movie ends on. The first revelation is that the game that we had witnessed throughout the movie had happened prior to the police storming Jigsaw’s liar. The second being that Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen) was kept in the safe – and that had Eric followed Kramer’s instructions, not only would he have gotten back his son, but also that he would have been the one to apprehend Kramer, but instead he sealed his own fate. And lastly, the reveal that former Jigsaw survivor Amanda Young had been working with Kramer the entire time, and will carry on the legacy after John passes. For me, this is easily the best ending out of all of the films. I love it.

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And remember, ‘Saw X’ will be released in theaters on September 29th! Are you as excited as I am?

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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.