Ranked: Wes Craven's Best and Worst Movies

  • Publish Date: October 21, 2010
  • Comments: ↓ 5 user comments

Our Horror Week coverage kicks off with a look at one of the genre's most prolific film directors. In subsequent articles over the next seven days, we'll also take a look at some of the best and worst horror films of the past decade, as well as the top horror videogames.

Master of horror

Average Metascore 52
Films Directed by Wes Craven
Average User Score 6.9
Average Gross * $59.9m
Highest-Grossing Film *
Scream (1996)
Movie Quality Breakdown
# Great 0
# Good bar 4
# Mediocre bar 2
# Bad bar 3
# Awful 0
# Non-scored bar 10

* All box office figures are U.S. only, adjusted for inflation.

When Last House on the Left appeared in theaters with the tagline "To avoid fainting, keep repeating – it's only a movie," it lived up to the hype by delivering a shocking, brutal story of a horrible crime and an even more disturbing revenge. Last House was a hit and still has a strong cult following, but, more significantly, the film marked the directorial debut of Wes Craven and established him as a filmmaker who wasn't afraid to present true evil and horror on the screen.

Following up Last House with The Hills Have Eyes, the story of cannibals terrorizing a family on a road trip, Craven continued to stake his claim as one of the premiere horror writer/directors. While subsequent movies like Deadly Blessing and Swamp Thing were hit or miss, Craven knocked it out of the park in 1984 with A Nightmare on Elm Street. The idea of a killer that could invade a person's dreams hit a nerve with audiences and created a franchise that is still alive and well today.

After the success of Nightmare, Craven's career has taken a somewhat uneven journey, with the director periodically trying new ideas while also returning to the horror well. With The People Under the Stairs, Craven experimented with political satire and parody, while with 1989's Shocker, he was clearly trying to set up another Freddy Krueger-esque franchise character. Craven's biggest departure came with Music of the Heart, his only straight drama, non-horror film.  Meryl Streep was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, but the film was met with mixed reviews.

Fortunately, Craven returned to horror in 1996 and struck gold again with Scream. A movie that seems to know it's a movie, Scream was smart and fun and launched another successful franchise that, unlike the Elm Street series, Craven has stayed with; he directed all three films and is currently working on the fourth. Before that arrives next year, Craven fans will have to make do with his latest film: My Soul to Take, currently playing in theaters.

Below, we take a closer look at Craven's best and worst films. (Note that we have slotted in some of Craven's older movies that do not have Metascores where we felt it was appropriate. Also note that all box office figures are adjusted for inflation for purposes of comparison.)

The 5 Best Films Directed by Wes Craven

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) Add to Netflix Queue

"A highly imaginative horror film that provides the requisite shocks to keep fans of the genre happy."

-- Variety

Gross: $58 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 2
Good bar 4
Mixed 0
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 78 Users: 7.9

Arriving in the wake of Friday the 13th and Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street delivered a movie monster as deadly as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees but with much more personality. Craven had already established himself as a horror filmmaker with vision, but with Elm Street he achieved mainstream success and created a horror icon in Freddy Krueger. Over the last 26 years, Freddy has been in multiple sequels, a TV show and, inevitably, a remake.

2. Red Eye (2005) Add to Netflix Queue

"Craven's films aren't showy, but that should never be held against them. In their streamlined construction and rock-solid simplicity lay their brilliance."

--Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun

Gross: $72 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 4
Good bar 27
Mixed bar 4
Bad bar 1
Awful 0
Critics: 71 Users: 6.1

Rachel McAdams is a hotel manager with a fear of flying who goes on the ride of her life when she's caught in the middle of a terrorist plot while stuck on a plane in Red Eye. Putting away gore and supernatural monsters, Craven demonstrates once again that he can construct a taught, suspense-filled thriller, while getting excellent performances from McAdams and Cillian Murphy. Red Eye was a solid hit for Craven both with audiences and critics, helping to wash away the bad memory of Cursed.

3. Scream (1996) Add to Netflix Queue

"May not be the most scary or the grossest horror film you've ever seen, but it has one distinct feature: it actually talks up to the audience. By the conclusion, you won't be shaking in your seat, but you may enjoy the status of someone who has earned a Master's in Slashology."

--Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail

Gross: $179 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 6
Good bar 10
Mixed bar 7
Bad bar 2
Awful 0
Critics: 65 Users: 8.0

The best way to subvert a cliché is to put it in the spotlight, and Scream throws in a pile of horror movie conventions and expertly exploits, celebrates and pokes fun at all of them. Working from a clever script by Kevin Williamson, Craven keeps the pace quick and fun in a horror movie filled with characters both obsessed and inspired by horror movies. From the tension-filled opening to the surprise ending, Scream reinvigorated the horror genre and launched Williamson's career.

4. Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994) Add to Netflix Queue

"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

Gross: $34 million
Critics: n/a Users: n/a

Five sequels later, Craven returned to writing and directing Freddy Krueger, this time bringing him to an entirely different level. Craven plays himself and brings back original Nightmare star Heather Langenkamp, who now has to deal with a Freddy that's moving out of the imaginary world and into the real world. Combining the meta twist of real evil finding an outlet in Freddy, along with commentary on the nature of horror films, Wes Craven's New Nightmare was a unique way to breathe life into the franchise and set the stage for the themes Craven would explore again in the Scream films.

5. Scream 2 (1997) Add to Netflix Queue

"It's one of the better sequels to come out in years, and although it doesn't pack the emotional wallop of the first film, it's still head and shoulders (and punctured eyeballs) above most of what's out there."

--Marc Savlov, Austin Chronicle

Gross: $174 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great bar 2
Good bar 11
Mixed bar 9
Bad 0
Awful 0
Critics: 63 Users: 7.7

Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson reunited to give sequels the same treatment they gave horror movies in the first Scream, and ended up making a sequel that's almost on par with the original. Neve Campbell reprises her role as Sidney Prescott, who can't seem to get away from the ghost-faced killer. Craven and Williamson made the smart decision of having Scream 2 feel more like a continuation of the first story rather than an add-on. After another sequel in 2000, the Scream franchise seemed over, but you can't keep a good killer down: Scream 4 is due out next year (the trailer is below).

The 5 Worst Films Directed by Wes Craven

1. My Soul to Take (2010) Add to Netflix Queue

"This dumb, derivative teen slasher movie would be uninspiring coming from any writer-director, let alone one with several genre classics under his belt."

--Dennis Harvey, Variety

Gross: $13 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great 0
Good 0
Mixed bar 5
Bad bar 6
Awful bar 2
Critics: 25 Users: 4.9

After a five-year hiatus, Craven returned to writing and directing earlier this month with My Soul to Take, the story of a group of teens trying to stay alive as the Riverton Ripper terrorizes them. What could have been an interesting story of the nature of a person's soul turns out to be little more than a predictable teen slasher movie with a dash of the supernatural. Trying to cash in on the current 3D craze, Soul has underperformed at the box office and turned off critics.

2. Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) Add to Netflix Queue

"Craven manages to wedge in some of his signature bits, but can't keep the comic elements in balance with the horror, and as a result there's no tension or dramatic pull."

--Hal Hinson, Washington Post

Gross: $36 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great 0
Good 0
Mixed bar 9
Bad bar 7
Awful bar 1
Critics: 27 Users: n/a

A suave vampire (Eddie Murphy) arrives in New York searching for the Dhampir (Angela Bassett) who will help him stay alive in Vampire in Brooklyn. Eddie Murphy and his brother Charlie came up with the story, and for some reason Craven decided to direct it anyway. Billed as a horror comedy, Vampire is mostly just another ego piece for Murphy, with Craven merely going through the motions.

3. Cursed (2005) Add to Netflix Queue

"A third-rate effort, with a weak script, cheap-looking effects and no genuine frights."

--Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Gross: $24 million
Critic Review Distribution:
Great 0
Good bar 1
Mixed bar 8
Bad bar 12
Awful 0
Critics: 31 Users: 4.7

Craven re-teamed with Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson in an attempt to reinvent the werewolf genre, but instead gave us Cursed, an uninspired mess that feels like a Scream knockoff with monsters instead of ghost-faced killers. After being delayed for a year due to script issues and production trouble, a watered-down PG-13 cut arrived in theaters and vanished quickly. It might have been better to leave this one on the shelf.

4. The Hills Have Eyes Part II (1985) Add to Netflix Queue

Gross: n/a
Critics: n/a Users: n/a

Featuring motorcross, cannibalism and multiple flashbacks to the first movie (including one from a dog), The Hills Have Eyes Part II was surprisingly not a big hit at the box office. Released in the mid '80s during the heyday of slasher movies, Hills II has none of the black comedic wit or horror of the first film. Craven has admitted he made the movie because he needed money, and it's clear his heart was not in it.

5. Deadly Friend (1986) Add to Netflix Queue

"Craven doesn't explore the implications of his story with anything like the thematic richness or the over-the-top morbidity of, say, Stuart Gordon's otherwise similar 'Re-Animator.' Instead, he's content with the rigid cliches of a revenge plot."

--Paul Attanasio, Washington Post

Gross: $19 million
Critics: n/a Users: n/a

When the cute girl next door is beaten into a coma by her father, the boy who loves her does the only thing he can: implant his robot's brain into her body to bring her back to life. Of course, once she's returned, she has to start killing people. While Deadly Friend does have a great and amusing decapitation by basketball sequence, the rest of the movie is so silly and uneven it's unclear if Craven was trying to make a horror film or a comedy.

What do you think?

What are your favorite and least favorite Wes Craven films? Do you have high hopes for Scream 4 next year? Let us know in the discussion section below.

We're sorry, but comments are closed for this article.

Comments (5)

  • JGM  

    Taut. Spellcheck won't always help you, you actually have to know how to write.

  • A.C.  

    Red Eye I found to be pretty good for a modern day suspense film, I think it was really Cillian Murphy who carried that film. I can't believe Craven did Music from the Heart, that's a fun fact. He really needs to stop with these remakes and get back to original ideas. Nightmare on Elm Street is top 5 for all time horror films in my book.

  • Carlos Augusto  

    Were's The Last House on the Left (1972) that's problably the best Craven movie.

  • Gary Soneji  

    Red Eye was boring, unsuspenseful, and forgettable. How did it get such high marks?

  • Mitch Tough  

    Scream, while fun, also had a brutal side to it that worked for me. That intro sequence is so memorable.... frightening.

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