Ranked: The Nightmare on Elm Street Series

One, two, Freddy's coming for you (again) ...

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Freddy vs. Jason (2003) $104M
Top-Grossing Elm Street Films
(Adjusted for Inflation) *
The Dream Master (1988) $91M
Dream Warriors (1987) $87M
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) $63M
Freddy's Revenge (1985) $62M

* U.S. grosses only; based on 2010 ticket prices. Source: Box Office Mojo

Introduced in Wes Craven’s 1984 horror classic A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has been scaring moviegoers ever since. The horrifically burned boogeyman who haunts the children of those who burned him alive was an unexpected hit that turned indie studio New Line Cinema into the house that Freddy built.

Wes Craven’s clever conceit of a sharp-tongued monster (with even sharper knives for fingers) who tortures his victims through their dreams set the Nightmare series apart from the less creative exploits of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees of the Halloween and Friday the 13th series, respectively. Freddy started out terrifying, but, as the series went on, he became more and more cartoonish, going for gory laughs more than scares. Nevertheless, the series certainly has its share of surprises.

As with many successful pop-culture staples of the ’80s, the series is now being rebooted to appeal to a whole new generation. Music video director Samuel Bayer (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) makes his feature debut with the decidedly darker and louder A Nightmare on Elm Street, with Watchmen’s Jackie Earle Haley replacing the iconic Englund as Freddy. Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes imprint, the film isn’t receiving the best advance buzz, and if past remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (remake: 38) and Friday the 13th (remake: 34) are any indication, fans might want to stick with the original series.

Below, we examine all of the films in the series, ranked in order of quality.

All Nightmare on Elm Street Movies, From Best to Worst
Title Year Netflix Director
1 A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] 1984 Wes Craven
"What makes Freddy truly terrifying, and an inspired invention on Craven's part, is that he exists not in the real world but in the shadowy realm of dreams."
-- Simon Braund, Empire Magazine
The Elm Street saga begins as we’re introduced to high-school student Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends Tina, Rod, and Glen (Johnny Depp in a memorable early role). Their comfy suburban life is thrown into chaos when they begin to be attacked in their dreams. Nancy soon uncovers a mystery about child-killer Fred Krueger and what the Elm Street parents did to rid themselves of him. Robert Englund’s brilliantly demented portrayal of Freddy and Craven’s moody and terrifyingly supernatural twist on the slasher film was unexpectedly successful with audiences and critics alike, launching a franchise in the process.
Budget: $1.8M Gross: $25.5M
2 A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 1987 Chuck Russell
"Arguably the most imaginative of the horror franchise, with a fair number of truly resonant scenes."
-- Kim Newman, Empire Magazine
The series came back with the idea of having the Elm Street teens possess special powers in their dreams to combat Krueger. Combine that concept with a bigger budget, better special-effects, and the writing collaboration of pre-The Shawshank Redemption Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell, and you’ve got a film that rivals the original in terms of originality and thrills. Nancy, now a dream expert, returns to help a group of mentally disturbed teens, led by Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette), who are being terrorized by Freddy. Appearances by Laurence Fishburne, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and the theme song by Dokken place the imaginative Dream Warriors high on the list of best ’80s horror films.
Budget: $5.0M Gross: $44.8M
3 Wes Craven's New Nightmare 1994 Wes Craven
"I haven't been exactly a fan of the Nightmare series, but I found this movie, with its unsettling questions about the effect of horror on those who create it, strangely intriguing."
-- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Wes Craven returned to the franchise he created after a brief stint on Dream Warriors, in which his meta-idea of the actors of an Elm Street film getting attacked by Freddy Krueger in real life was rejected. That idea resurfaced in New Nightmare, a return to form for the series that featured Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund, Wes Craven, and New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye playing themselves in a genre deconstruction that predated Craven’s similarly meta Scream. Freddy received a more organic, Nosferatu-inspired makeover and got his scary mojo back by relying on being creepy instead of growling forced one-liners. Although the critics were more in line with the concept, audience’s tastes had shifted, and Freddy (in any form) seemed to be out of fashion.
Budget: $8.0M Gross: $18.1M
4 A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 1988 Renny Harlin
"Robert Englund, receiving star billing for the first time, is delightful in his frequent incarnations as Freddy, delivering his gag lines with relish and making the grisly proceedings funny. "
-- Variety
Freddy meets MTV. Dokken’s theme song for Dream Warriors was only the beginning of the series’ shift into all things pop culture. Finnish hot shot commercial and feature director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) was brought in to make the slickest and most commercial Elm Street yet. Kristen Parker (now played by Tuesday Knight, who also contributed songs to a soundtrack which included the likes of Dramarama) returned with Joey (Rodney Eastman) and Kincaid (Ken Sagoes) to do battle with Freddy. New characters Alice (Lisa Wilcox) and Dan (Danny Hassel) join in on impressive set pieces, one of which has a bug-phobic character transforming into a cockroach. (Gross.) The film was the most expensive Nightmare to make at the time, but ended up being one of the most successful financially, as Freddy-mania was hitting its peak. However, with Elm Street at the top, critics were beginning to sharpen their own knives.
Budget: $13.0M Gross: $49.4M
5 Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare 1991 Rachel Talalay
"Mr. Englund, playing the Halloween favorite whom audiences love to hate, now delivers lines ... with the broadness of a latter-day Jimmy Durante. But he sustains Freddy's peculiar charm even when appearing without ghastly makeup in scenes of Freddy's early years."
--Janet Maslin, The New York Times
New Line, clearly noticing that the dark fifth installment made less than half of what the previous sequel had made, went in a new direction for the next film. In addition to billing the sixth sequel as the last Nightmare movie, the studio decided to go all out by filming the last sequence of the film in 3-D! That doesn’t seem so radical in the overpopulated 3-D multiplexes of today, but it was kind of a big deal at the time. Unfortunately, the overly comedic bent of the film that featured cameos by (then) couple Roseanne and Tom Arnold and a parody of The Wizard of Oz clashed with the darker Freddy origin flashbacks, which featured Alice Cooper as Freddy’s abusive father. The film made more than The Dream Child, but critics and audiences were left underwhelmed.
Budget: $5.0M Gross: $34.9M
6 A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge 1985 Jack Sholder
"Beneath its verbose, title, Jack Sholder's follow-up to Wes Craven's 1984 hit is a well-made though familiar reworking of demonic horror material. Episodic treatment is punched up by an imaginative series of special effects. "
-- Variety
Striking while the iron was hot, New Line Cinema jumped at the chance to bring back Freddy, placing his name in the title to make sure audiences knew what they were in for. While Craven did not return, Alone in the Dark director Jack Sholder was brought in to hurriedly capitalize on the success of the original. The sequel takes place five years after the original story, and a new family has moved into the former Thompson residence. Instead of a female protagonist, whiny teenage boy Jesse (Mark Patton) is now front and center to deal with Krueger. Without Craven’s deft directorial flourishes, the film is drab and more overtly slasher, and Krueger is also saddled with more darkly comedic one-liners that have become an unfortunate trademark of the ongoing series.
Budget: $3.0M Gross: $30.0M
7 A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child 1989 Stephen Hopkins
"The series here takes a depressing nosedive into zero-degree filmmaking."
-- Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
After the massive success of The Dream Master, the series took a major stumble with the misguided fifth installment. A year after the events of part 4, Alice and Dan attempt to move on with their lives. With Freddy unable to get to newly pregnant Alice, he goes after her unborn child. Noted bad sequel director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2) brought a dreary and even more masochistic quality to the series that rubbed audiences and critics the wrong way. A twisty-turny M.C. Escher-esque finale is among the film’s only saving graces.
Budget: $6.0M Gross: $22.2M
8 A Nightmare on Elm Street [2010] 2010 Samuel Bayer
There's definitely a lot of interest in this reimagining of the classic, but it's still not clear if that interest will be rewarded. There's some good news here: It's a bit more original than a mere shot-for-shot remake of the 1984 original, and there's no tacked-on 3-D in an attempt to generate a few extra bucks. Yet it's hard to escape the feeling that this Michael Bay-produced new Nightmare (not to be confused with New Nightmare) is going to be as critically panned as other recent horror remakes, especially since the early word out of advanced preview screenings has been largely negative. (The trailer might be good, but audiences don't seem to be liking the actual film quite as much, although there are good comments about Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy.) Don't expect any reviews prior to the release; this is the kind of film that critics don't get to see in advance. Will it be a trainwreck, or will it launch an intriguing new chapter in the Elm Street series?
Budget: $27.0M Gross: ???
9 Freddy vs. Jason 2003 Ronny Yu
"A kind of cinematic analogue of the Iran-Iraq war: It's overlong, it's hard to tell which one's the bad guy, and it's filled with lots of senseless carnage on both sides."
-- Paul Farhi, Washington Post
Almost 10 years after Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, New Line Cinema harkened back to the old Universal horror team-ups like 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man by deciding to have Freddy Krueger battle Jason Voorhees. The A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th mashup was greatly anticipated by fans of both ’80s horror icons, and they responded with over $80 million in ticket sales — a series best for both franchises. Critics and fans were divided, feeling that the film was either a throwaway guilty pleasure or an overtly easy cash grab for the studio. (The only previous Elm Street-related film in Metacritic's database, Freddy vs. Jason received a 37 from critics and a 7.6 from users.)
Budget: $25.0M Gross: $82.6M

All box office figures are from Box Office Mojo.

What do you think?

Cast your vote in our poll, and discuss the entire series -- including all of your favorite and least favorite installments -- in the comments section below.

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Comments (19)

  • Dan  

    I must be one of the few people who enjoyed dream child. For me:
    1). A Nightmare on Elm Street (No need to explain)
    2). Dream Warriors (Loved the setting, the tone. The return of Nancy. Freddy was still really freaky. One of the few films where I was hoping the kids would make it out alive and wasn't cheering Freddy on) 3). New Nightmare (Very interesting. Not quite a NOES movie but amazing nonetheless)
    4). Dream Child (The ending with Amanda Kruger eternally battling to keep freddy locked away with her was a MUCH better way to 'end' the series. Elements of the movie didn't work but i felt the ending was a better fit then Freddy's Dead. I felt the darker tones and the fantastical elements involving the asylum worked.) 5). Dream Masters (It may have made them money but it just isn't one of my favorites, some great deaths but that ending and the kung-fu just was WAAAY to cheesy.)
    6)Freddy vs. Jason (Mmmm. At least they tried. Seemed the most out of the series of a money grad. Some creepy elements but just seemed like a whole lot of build up to nowhere) 7). N.O.E.S. 2 . Freddy's dead. ICK.
    9). Remake. Ick. ICK.

  • Richard  

    I would rather rank the movie franchise in this order:
    1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
    2. Wes Craven's New Nightmare
    3. Freddy vs. Jason
    4. Dream Warriors
    5. Dream Master
    6. Freddy's Dead
    7. Dream Child

  • Rich  

    1. The original
    2. Dream Warriors
    3. Freddy vs. Jason
    4. Dream Master
    5. Dream Child
    6. New Nightmare
    7. Freddy's Dead
    8. Part 2 ( GAY!)

  • Skippymck0103  

    I think , aside from the original, Elm Street 2 was an inventive and quite frightening installment. The bit where Freddy rips out of Jesses body was really frightening to me, and although it didn't particuarly work as a direct sequel to the original film, Freddy was still an aggressive demonic prescence and this film highlighted what he could do. For me the top 5 elm street movies are:
    Nightmare on Elm Street
    Elm Street 3
    Elm Street 2
    Freddy Vs Jason
    New Nightmare

  • lorenzo keys  

    noes (north south est west) was a series full of symbolism, and sensational images ...x watch this movies needs keys..without keys..remain a normal horror movie....anyway the last nightmare is pathetic...cause freddy is a pedophile in reality???..the end seems ironic...and somehow nancy didn't remember her past....the only proves are the **** off this **** got to be innocent in reality...in the next nightmare got to be this true to go out the movie or **** off all...watchin' forever the first 6 noes...the better were 1. 2,3,4,5 2.6 3.1 (4.8 5.7 6.9)
    ...the soundtrackz and score of the first 6 were superb after i save only the ost of fvj

  • Alec  

    The original 1984 Nightmare was by far the best one. Dream warriors is good but only seems great to some people because the second one sucked so bad, 2,4,5, and 6 were all terrible until craven brought it back with New Nightmare.

  • atavanhalen  

    Freddy vs. Jason received a 37 from critics and a 7.6 from users.

    this is where you failed.

    1. Nightmare
    2. Dream Warriors (part 3)
    3. New Nightmare
    4. Freddy vs. Jason

    REST.

  • Kacy  

    Check out this awesome video interview with the cast on Nightmare on Elm Street: http://bit.ly/bVWlE9

  • Agent-A20  

    I've seen them all. A Nightmare on Elm St. (1984) is the best of the bunch. It is the only one that counts as true horror. The concept was new, touching our common territory of dreams. Freddy was chilling and grotesque, seemingly omnipresent and determined in pursuit. Second, Wes Craven's New Nightmare. It is a unique and immersive film, featuring a well written script and a more vicious Kruger. Third, Dream Warriors. The mental hospital setting works. We're cheering for the kids but loving the ingenious ways Freddy disposes of them, " let's get high". It's good because it had to be. The second film was terrible.

  • Anono  

    Freddy vs Jason was fun as an "action" film and a sort of homage to both series. Trying to say it's a "serious" sequal or part of the series is a stretch.

    Anyways, no Robert England=the death of the franchise..

    Just some random guy doing a very nasally impersonation of him.. Why....?

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