The Friday the 13th franchise exceeds far beyond the 12 films listed below, ranging from a television series to comic books and video games. It was created in the tradition of Halloween to make profits off the cult classic’s popularity. True to its vision, the Friday the 13th films have achieved commercial success and have grossed $468 million worldwide.
When speaking about the project, Co-creator Victor Miller once said: “Friday the 13th was an absolute mistake of nature. An error in my fate. It was one of those things that you have to be very careful what you pray for. I had set out to be a famous writer, and I forgot to specify comedy, and unfortunately, the fates took over. I had done a whole bunch of screenplays for Sean Cunningham because he lived nearby.”
Adding, “We made two, those being family films, Here Come the Tigers – under the name Arch McCoy – and Manny’s Orphans and that you’ll see on cable under my own name. And then around ‘79, Sean called me and said, ‘Halloween is making a lot of money, let’s rip it off,’ and I went and saw Halloween, and I’m not a fan of horror really, but I figured out what the structure of it was. I think Carpenter and Hill did a wonderful job of putting together the basic tenets of a modern horror film.”
On its 41st anniversary, we revisit the Friday the 13th franchise in order to evaluate its undeniable influence on popular culture as well as the horror genre.
All ‘Friday the 13th’ films ranked from worst to best:
12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (Adam Marcus – 1993)
The ninth instalment in the franchise, Jason Goes to Hell, takes a supernatural twist as it features Jason Voorhees as he continues to possess people with his spirit even after his death. The film was rejected by both critics and fans, making it the second-worst performing film in the series from a commercial perspective.
“I did a big rewrite of JGTH mostly over a weekend,” writer Dean Lorey said. ‘The plot was already set in stone (body-jumping), but I fleshed out a lot of stuff and added the character of Creighton Duke. As for acting in it, I was a nervous wreck and couldn’t remember my dialogue but, since I was also the writer, I just made new stuff up on the day.”
11. Friday the 13th (Marcus Nispel – 2009)
Marcus Nispel’s reboot of the franchise is the latest addition to the legacy of Friday the 13th. It was intended to be an origin story, but Nispel chose to re-imagine the first four films in the series instead. Although the film repeats the clichés of the franchise, it was a commercial hit and became one of the most profitable Friday the 13th films.
Nispel explained, “I think it’s an interesting task to revive the franchises. I enjoy it because watching these types of movies is a ritual. People know what’s going to happen – the different stages. They wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s got a receptive and interested group of fans. You give them what they want but not what they expect. But you can put twists on it.”
10. Jason X (James Isaac – 2001)
Jim Isaac’s sci-fi thriller imagines a timeline where Jason is cryogenically preserved for 445 years. He rises from his slumber in the year 2455, resuming his violent tendencies. Jason X is popular with younger generations of viewers who admire the film’s ability not to take itself seriously, but it still lacks the execution of many of the better Friday the 13th films.
“The fact that Jason X took place in space and in the future meant that everything had to be built,” the filmmaker revealed. “That’s where most of the money went. That and the FX. The make-up effects look really great in Jason X and that’s because of the talent of Stephen Dupuis and Kelly Lepkowski. I worked with both Stephen and Kelly for years at CWI – we also just finished working on eXistenZ together so, of course, I begged them to help me out on Jason X. That’s why it looks so good. They are both brilliant.”
9. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (Danny Steinmann – 1985)
The fifth film in the franchise, A New Beginning, is appreciated by fans for its explicit approach to gore, violence and nudity. It tells the story of Tommy Jarvis, whose mind is haunted by the presence of Jason even though he had terminated the serial killer’s life as a child.
Actor Shavar Ross said, “I thought the film was actually a comedy at first. The stuff they were trying to do (working out the kill scenes) was hilarious to me. I still think the film is a comedy, lol! Working with Danny was cool. I’m having more fun with him now, though, hanging with him at some of these F13th functions.”
8. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (Rob Hedden – 1989)
The final Friday the 13th film to be distributed by Paramount, Jason Takes Manhattan follows the mass murderer as he finds his way onto a cruise ship bound for Manhattan and wreaks havoc. The film received critical backlash and was one of the lowest-grossing films in the franchise.
“Okay, we’ll make Vancouver look like New York, and we’ll do it that way. But they came back again with, ‘You can’t do the Brooklyn Bridge in Vancouver,” Hedden said. “You can’t do Madison Square Garden in Vancouver. You can’t do the Statue of Liberty in Vancouver.’ Pretty soon, it was half New York, half on the boat. Then it was the last third in New York. It just kept getting whittled down and down.”
7. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (Tom McLoughlin – 1986)
Jason Lives is the last Friday the 13th film to feature Tommy Jarvis as the protagonist of its narrative. It chronicles his doubts and fears as he struggles to overcome the threat of a resurrected Jason. Despite being panned by critics, the film became immensely popular with fans.
McLoughlin said, “Frank Mancuso Jr, the producer of the film, said ‘just don’t make fun of Jason’. I assured him that the comedy would never be at Jason’s expense. The teens and the little kids would have humour in their dialogue. And the film would have a style that told the audience this is going to be scary and fun (like the James Bond title opening with Jason and his machete). But the drama between Tommy and Jason would be the story’s main conflict.”
6. Freddy vs. Jason (Ronny Yu – 2003)
Freddy vs Jason is the iconic intersection of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, pitting Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger against each other in an epic battle. The film received a nomination for Best Horror Film at the Saturn Awards.
Ronny Yu commented: “I think of this as the first film in a series, not the 20th. We’re kind of forgetting everything that’s happened before and starting from scratch while at the same time showing flashbacks… like a refresher. Everyone knows who Freddy and Jason are, so we wanna make a film for the masses, not really the hardcore fans who might remember some details from a sequel 10 years ago. There’s no mention of Jason X, that’s for sure.”
5. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (John Carl Buechler – 1988)
John Carl Buechler’s interpretation of the genre features a girl with psychokinetic powers who mistakenly brings Jason back to life. The New Blood became one of the highest-earning films of that year and it remains a fan-favourite to this day.
“The big problem is the ratings board. I think what was going on there is that I’m a pretty well-known makeup effects guy & I’m a fairly well-known director. So when the ratings board back in the ’80s found out that a makeup effects guy is going to direct a Friday The 13th movie, they had a hard-on for me. So they absolutely castrated the film,” the director complained.
4. Friday the 13th Part III (Steve Miner – 1982)
Steve Miner’s impact on the Friday the 13th franchise is undeniable, even though he does not stand by his work on this particular series. Part III was the first time that audiences saw Jason in the iconic hockey mask, which became an integral part of his identity.
In an interview, Miner revealed how he had been planning to break away from the formulaic application of the summer camp slasher cliches that were pretty evident in the first two films. However, he decided against it and stuck to what worked: “the woods, the lake, the killer and the kills that audiences had come to expect.”
3. Friday the 13th Part II (Steve Miner – 1981)
Steve Miner’s directorial debut still remains the better of the two Friday the 13th films he made. Part II picks up where the first film ended, only five years after the events of the original. It is now remembered as the first film which put Jason in the seat of the primary antagonist.
Actress Marta Kober recalled, “I was scared! It was a 40 million dollar Paramount hit. The film is still recognised to this day. It was the start of all slasher horror films, beginning with Friday 1 and 2 and then came more Halloween films.”
2. Friday The 13th (Sean S. Cunningham – 1980)
This is the film that started it all. Sean S. Cunningham’s 1980 slasher spawned an entire franchise and successfully cashed in on the horror tropes of summer camp insanity. The film was a major commercial success and made $59.8 million worldwide.
Writer Victor Miller said, “The first and most important element for Friday was finding a place where teenagers can’t be helped by the outside world. Even though the kids in Halloween were in a local town, the adults thought it was a prank. The hardest part was selecting a place where adults couldn’t help, and finally, it’s so obvious in retrospect, but I came up with a summer camp, and we were off and running.”
1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (Joseph Zito – 1984)
Joseph Zito’s 1984 slasher film is undoubtedly the most beloved entry in the significant legacy of Friday the 13th. It takes all the elements of its predecessors and perfects them, making The Final Chapter the quintessential Friday the 13th experience. It was supposed to be the conclusion to the series, but its success kept the franchise going.
“This is one of the things that directors really have to wrestle with: the subject of death. It’s something directors really have to wrestle with making any film- you need to decide how real it is. And grieving families is not something we’d seen in slasher movies or even often in horror films. And it’s real,” Zito said.