In 1984, one of the greatest killers to ever stalk a dream crept into our subconscious... And he hasn't left sense. The snarky jokes, burned face, perverse attitude, and those gleaming claws helped create a character that has gone on to become one of the most iconic and influential cinematic villains ever made. With nine films under his red and green sweater, Freddy Krueger will always be one of the most terrifying personalities ever put on screen. So, to celebrate another year of spooky season, here is my ranking of the A Nightmare On Elm Street franchise; counting down from worst to best. Warning, there are spoilers for each of these films.
07. A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)
The 2000's-2010's were filled with horror remakes and A Nightmare On Elm Street was not immune. Franchise fans were very nervous about who would be replacing Robert Englund in the titular role. Watchmen actor Jackie Earle Haley stepped into the shoes and honestly, if he had been given a better script, he would have been amazing. The problem is with the storyline, which changed partway through filming. At one point Freddy was supposed to be innocent of the crimes he was killed for. You can even see some of these scenes in the final film; Jackie turns up the pathos as a man genuinely innocent. But then word from the executives said to change him back to being guilty. The result is a film that feels like a hodge-podge of editing. Director Samuel Bayer was hired for his slick cinematography, and he honestly delivers; the film looks stellar. But sadly, his skills end there; as he leaves good actors like Jackie Earle and Rooney Mara grasping to find any emotional connection. There are some cool concepts at play (like the micro naps) that show that if done right, a modern Nightmare could be terrifying. But sadly, this is not that film.
06. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
Oh, Freddy's Dead... You had such an interesting concept, and executed it about as poorly as you could. Directed by long time Nightmare producer Rachel Talalay, this is one of the franchise's weakest films. The good new is Rachel has gone on to be very successful (with her directing credits including episodes of Doctor Who, Doom Patrol, and the 1995 film Tank Girl). But the bad news is her Twin Peaks inspired atmosphere does not mesh with the juvenile script. At this point, Freddy is bored with the kids on Elm street (killing the kids in increasingly cartoonish ways) and has set his sites on the wide, wide world beyond. And he needs the help of a daughter we never knew he had in order to do it. We also get a reveal of where Freddy got his nightmare-invading powers in the first place (a dream demon concept that is better left unseen). And the 3D gag in Act 3 screams of franchise desperation. There is a lot wrong here. Still, it's worth a fun drunken/stoned late night watch to poke fun at.
05. A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Freddy was no longer scary, any yet the audience still wanted more. But after four films, where could the franchise possibly go? That's when the producers chose up-and-coming pulp director Stephen Hopkins to bring us an M.C. Esher-inspired trip into the womb! The Dream Child gets a bad wrap. This film is weird to say the least, but that's what I like about it. Hopkins embraces the macabre and perverse, bringing us a Freddy that delights in finding our heroes' faults and exploiting them. This film includes a very interesting subtext regarding pregnancy, abortion, and the fear of motherhood; which may have made audiences uncomfortable. But I love it! Dream Child also happens to feature one of the only parents in the franchise to have a positive character arc. The success of this film led to Hopkins directing Predator 2 and 1998's Lost in Space (a childhood favorite of mine). But to really appreciate this film, you need to track down a copy of the UNCUT version that is only available on VHS. It features multiple special effects gags that were cut for being "too graphic". This includes a longer motorcycle sequence, and a lovely bit were Freddy force feeds Greta pieces of herself! It's gnarly! Fingers crossed that we eventually get a remastered blu-ray or 4K release in the future (much like Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers' fabled Producer's Cut).
04. A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (TIE)
I honestly think this sequel gets a bad wrap. It was not well received at the time of its release, but has become a bit of a cult classic in the years that followed. Some of the directing isn't great, and the acting ranges from good to God-awful. But Freddy is dead serious in this film, and his goal of possessing our main character to cross over into the real world leads to some chilling moments (the scene where Freddy splits Jesse open and crawls out of him is one of the stand-out special effects sequences in the entire franchise). This film was ahead of its time when it came to Freddy's goals and aspirations; as later sequels would go on to focus more on the concept and tension of Freddy trying to break into the real world. And there is even a very dark and interesting homo-erotic subtext (which isn't exactly subtle by today's standards, but is still welcome). It even features Freddy's largest kill count thanks to a pool massacre sequence. Overall, Freddy's Revenge is an underrated sequel that deserves more love than it gets.
04. Wes Craven's New Nightmare (TIE)
After years of staying away from the Nightmares, Wes Craven finally returned to the franchise he built in 1994. Only two years before the release of Scream, this film sees Wes testing out his meta chops, bringing us a story set in the 'real world' where "Freddy Krueger" is based on a demonic entity of fear that now accepts that visage. The concepts at play here are fascinating, and Wes brings the franchise back to its genuinely creepy and tense roots. Freddy isn't spitting out one-liners, he's splitting you in two! However, the film isn't quite as good as it could have been. Studio meddling, and a tight budget kept Act 3 from being the gonzo trip to hell Wes wanted it to be. And the pale color palette of the 90's feels very bland when compared to the psychedelic and brightly colored sequels from the 80's. Still though, it's one of the most serious and well-written films in the franchise.
03. A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
I recently rewatched the fourth Nightmare film, and I was very impressed by how well it holds up after all these years. Director Renny Harlin was living on the streets when he was given the opportunity to direct this, and once it became the most financially successful film of the franchise (until Freddy vs. Jason was released 15 years later), he went on to direct films like Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, and Deep Blue Sea. Freddy's fourth outing is a roller coaster ride of shocks and laughs. It gives us some enjoyable new characters and inventive kills (the water bed kill and the roach motel kill in particular are stand outs). And while the franchise isn't exactly scary anymore, it's an uproarious good time. Freddy had become a pop culture icon at this point and A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master skillfully places Freddy at the center of the 80's MTV culture. "How's this for a wet dream?!"
02. Freddy vs. Jason
I spoke at length about Freddy vs. Jason in my Ultimate Friday the 13th Ranking article where I gushed about how much I love this film. It's one of my favorite films ever. But while it may be the best of the Friday the 13th films, it's still not quite the best of the Nightmare On Elm Street films. But it is 150% FUN! As the last hurrah for Robert Englund's Freddy Krueger, this film soars. The jokes are ferocious, the kills are gnarly, and the story is pretty good for what it needs to accomplish. We even get Freddy invading Jason's dreams and a hilarious 'Freddy-pillar' in the vein of Alice in Wonderland. Director Ronny Yu fills the film with joyous energy and dark humor. There's a reason it is Freddy's highest grossing film to date; Freddy vs. Jason is a blast from start to finish (even if Jason gets more kills than Freddy).
01. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (TIE)
While A Nightmare On Elm Street may have introduced us to Freddy Krueger and set the stage for the franchise, it was director Chuck Russell's A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors that gave us the snarky Freddy we all know and love. Kruger had a sick sense of humor in the first film, but this is where it got turned up to 11. This film is filled with classic Freddy one-liners like "Welcome to prime-time, bitch!" The directing is infectiously energetic, with Chuck fully embracing the macabre and surreal world of dreams. This also features what is probably my favorite kill of any horror movie ever: the vein-stringed marionette! So while it may not be quite as classic as the first, it's just as important to the franchise. And it also happens to be my personal favorite of the series.
01. A Nightmare On Elm Street (TIE)
Once this film hit, every household knew to fear the name "Fred Krueger". We Craven's genius concept of a killer that stalks you in your dreams changed horror forever. You can run away from Jason Voorhees, Chucky, or Michael Myers. But how do you escape someone in your own dreams? Everyone needs to sleep, which is part of what makes Freddy so frightening. Wes Craven is at the peak of his craft in this film. The dream sequences continue to give me goosebumps due to Wes' spooky and surreal atmosphere. The practical effects are still chilling to this day (with the 'bed blender' remaining a crowd-pleasing shocker). It also introduced us to baby Johnny Depp and Heather Langenkamp. But of course, it was Robert Englund who captivated us with his disturbing and perverted performance as Freddy that stuck with us. A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of the greatest of the horror genre. Hands down.