Everyone has a favorite horror movie franchise. Some side with Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw, or Insidious. But the horror franchise for me has always been Halloween, even with a handful of godawful turkeys—and don’t get me started on the two Rob Zombie installments, which you will not see discussed below. Yes, Michael’s mask awkwardly changes from film to film, and yes, the countless timelines are confusing enough to make you go crazy. But the iconic characters of Sam Loomis, Laurie Strode, and Michael Myers, along with the always powerful seasonal tone, will always make this franchise hard to beat.
10. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Outside of the abysmal, mean-spirited, overly violent Rob Zombie films, the franchise has three other movies that add little to the Michael Myers lore and only find themselves on this list because the franchise to date has twelve films and so a top ten has to pull from what we’ve got. The big plus of Halloween 5 is the presence of Donald Pleasance, who always brings a special quality to the films lacking from some of the later entries, but outside of him, this forgettable entry is an unholy mess of one-dimensional characters, aimless directions, and the worst Myers mask of all. The ending of Halloween 4 is a chilling classic scene in the franchise that gets a severely underwhelming payoff in this fifth installment.
9. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Here’s another entry that can be completely wiped from existence, and everybody would be better off. The film opens with the death of Laurie Strode—a decent sequence with some worthwhile atmosphere that’s sadly lessened by a ridiculous explanation of how Myers survived the last movie, and the absurd manner in which Strode is disposed of—and then the film gets worse from there. If Busta Rhymes cracking foul jokes in front of Michael is your jam, then by all means, have at it. The opening is a disappointment, and the rest of Halloween: Resurrection is a pointless mess that gives us a set-up for yet another sequel, thankfully one that was never to be.
8. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Here’s an installment in the Halloween franchise with two vastly different versions—and they’re both bad. I prefer the infamous Producer’s Cut because we get a lot more Donald Pleasance, including a disturbing final scene with the actor you can’t see in the Producer’s Cut. Either version you watch is a complete mess, but some of the over-the-top kill scenes are fun, and the cast, which also includes a young Paul Rudd, is better than average for a 1990s horror sequel. It’s on the lesser end of the franchise, but trust me, you can do far worse than Curse. (And if you’ve never seen the Producer’s Cut, it’s absolutely worth a look.)
7. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
When they finished their work writing and producing Halloween II, Debra Hill, and John Carpenter decided to take the Halloween franchise into a new direction, and thus we have the movie without Michael Myers that is interesting, certainly, if not altogether successful. The film has its share of creepy and memorable moments, like a child’s face melting from inside a pumpkin mask as he watches an ad play on the TV. Tommy Lee Wallace’s directorial debut has some effective atmosphere, a solid cast led by the great Tom Atkins, and a fantastic final scene, but it’s also overlong and too slow at times.
6. Halloween (2018)
We never thought Jamie Lee Curtis would ever return for another Halloween movie after her character’s clumsy death in Halloween: Resurrection, but along came this mini-miracle of bringing her back as Laurie Strode in an entry that did away with every other installment past the original and continued the franchise with an entertaining if highly imperfect forty-years-later sequel. Curtis is dynamite in this film, especially in the second half, but other touches in the film haven’t aged well in the past three years, particularly all the material with the true-crime podcasters in the early scenes as well as the storyline about Michael’s crazed psychiatrist. The nods to the original film are fun, though, and the performances are excellent, with James Jude Courtney by far the best actor to play Michael Myers since Nick Castle in the original. Ultimately the great attention paid to artistry and atmosphere can’t be denied.
5. Halloween Kills (2021)
The latest installment in the Halloween franchise has two unavoidable problems—it doesn’t really have a beginning or an ending, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance amounts to little more than a cameo (seriously, she’s in this one only slightly more than Resurrection!)—but it also does a lot really well, and in many ways this is the most gloriously ambitious of all the sequels, not only bringing back a lot of legacy characters like Tommy Doyle, Lindsay Wallace, and Leigh Brackett but also diving deeper into the lore of the Haddonfield murders of 1978, with amazing cinematography that closely resembles that of the original film. There’s almost no humor in this one, with the focus on one brutal moment of violence after another while Laurie rests up in the hospital, many of Haddonfield’s inhabitants coming together like a large mob to take down Michael once and for all. I enjoyed the hell out of the new film, but it also in some ways feels like filler to get us to the upcoming final installment Halloween Ends, and the final surprise kill before we cut to the end credits is a bit of a letdown, too. If you’re a Halloween fan, however, you’ll likely have a blast with this one, especially with all its Easter eggs, callback moments, hardcore violence, and superb atmosphere throughout.
4. Halloween: H20 (1998)
Call me crazy if you must, but despite plenty of great scenes and a high level of craft on display in the new David Gordon Green sequels, I still (slightly) prefer the sometimes narratively shaky but ultra-entertaining anniversary sequel Halloween: H20, which gives a more realistic portrayal of Laurie Strode’s PTSD and offers an incredible battle-to-the-death that beats anything in the other sequels. Yes, you have to erase the existence of Halloween: Resurrection to truly enjoy that final applause-worthy moment, but so much still works great in H20, like the opening kill sequence, the lovely moment between Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh, and the final showdown that is still such a blast. And you know what? Honestly, when it comes to the sequels, I prefer Laurie being Michael’s sister because it raises the stakes and heightens the emotion, especially when her life is on the line.
3. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
The best of the sequels sans Jamie Lee Curtis is the 1988 installment that brought Michael Myers back to movie screens after a seven-year absence and gave us Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie (a terrific Danielle Harris) as the masked villain’s new target, along with Donald Pleasence’s return as Sam Loomis still on the hunt for Michael. The opening titles are Halloween perfection, and almost everything that comes afterward is a total delight, with big scares, awesome chases, and one of the most chilling endings in the franchise’s history. Sure, the mask doesn’t look great, and some of the supporting characters are pretty one-note, but Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers remains one of the finest of the franchise’s many sequels, a nostalgic classic that will never get old.
2. Halloween II (1981)
Although it’s a significant step down from the original, with one too many overly violent death scenes and Jamie Lee Curtis given little to do as Laurie Strode recovers in the hospital (hey, it’s like Halloween Kills!), the first sequel remains the best of the sequels because of the gorgeous continuity between films, most of the same cast and crew returning, Dean Cundey’s cinematography matching the original with the soft, eerie tones, with an emphasis on silence and dread. Debra Hill and John Carpenter could have gone a hundred different terrible ways with their screenplay, but their decision to continue the night was a great one (hey, another similarity to Halloween Kills!), and the dark hospital gives the film a spooky, unsettling quality. Curtis and Donald Pleasence reuniting at the end always fills me with joy, as does the explosive final scene that feels so beautifully definitive.
1. Halloween (1978)
There’s nothing like John Carpenter’s original. It’s my favorite horror movie, has always been my favorite horror movie, will always be my favorite horror movie. Halloween is iconic from one end to the other in every way, from its masterful opening shot to the terrifying use of voyeurism in the daytime, to Jamie Lee Curtis’ natural performance that brings to life one of the best final girls ever, to Donald Pleasence masterfully playing a doctor who will stop at nothing to capture his most dangerous patient. The violent moments are still so striking in their simplicity and lack of blood, and Laurie Strode’s long fateful walk to the house across the street remains a masterclass in suspense more than forty years later. Pump out another ten sequels if you must, wring every last dollar out of my hands, but nothing any talented filmmaker can do today or decades from now will ever match the magic Carpenter created in this little indie film in 1978 that has brought more delight to my life than almost any other movie ever made.