Ranked: The Nightmare on Elm Street Series

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

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 /td> 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 don't know the point of horror movies. Why would you want to be scared? If you are a guy and like being scared, then why not ask out every hot chick you possibly can? Having said that, I've seen some of the freddy movies in their entirety and parts of all of them just because of curiousity. I've seen them all at different stages in my life so it's hard to say which is best. I would probably go with either the first or last (new nightmare--freddy vs. jason doesn't count).

    From stuff I've read, it seems like people are in agreement that the 3rd is the scariest. But that doesn't mean it's the best. Again, if it scared the **** out of you so much, why would you wanna see it again? Whereas, New Nightmare was more subtle, clever, and original, so I would be more likely to see that again.

    And if people like horrible kills, why is 5 so looked down upon? I remember being pretty grossed out by that chick getting her face stuffed with food. Maybe is it because it's cruel but not scary? And I remember being freaked out by the kid's death who had the hearing aid in part 6. Also the chick being turned into a **** that just as bad as the chick who got her tendens ripped out? I'm just asking because I don't follow the logic for what makes 3 so much different or scarier than 4, 5 or 6. Again, I didn't see all these movies in their entirety so I'm just asking cause I'm curious.

  • e13  

    Depp was killed in the first film.

    New Nightmare is by far my favorite. It brought back the fright of the unknown, which I far prefer over gore-fests. I'm suprised FvJ was ranked so low, though. That was good fun, and far more entertaining than the snooze-fest of, say, Freddy's Dead.

    How I loathe Freddy's Dead.

  • kronos  

    i seriously have my doubts about the new nightmare on elm street.no offense to the new guy but YOURE NOT ROBERT ENGLUND.he has some pretty big shoes to fill and i dont think he will cut it.new line needs to keep robert englund as freddy no ands,ifs,or buts about it.if they were going to remake this ROB ZOMBIE should have been the director with robert englund as freddy.now theres a match made in "hell"

  • shawn  

    It would have to be Dream Warriors, because along with Johnny Depp being sucked into that bed, it gave me the most lasting, disturbing image of the whole series (and I watched it when I was 8 years old): When the girl had her tendons ripped out and Freddy acted as puppet master, walking her to her death? That was some freaky deaky stuff right there.....

  • Craig Quinlan  

    nightmare on elm street 3 dream warriors was the best because it was the most brutal. wes cavern's new nightmare was crap and a waste of my time.

  • Nick Hyman  

    There's a great documentary coming out about the classic Elm Street's. Check out http://www.elmstreetlegacy.com. It's eight hours of material. Never Sleep Again!

  • Jerry Curlan  

    The first film scared that pants off of me as an 8th grader - as designed. So it will always be my fave. I'a HUGE fan of Jackie E-H, however, so I'll be at one of the first showings of the re-imagination this Friday. I'm hoping he brings some of his Watchmen wickedness to the part.

  • Chris  

    A Nightmare On Elm Street 2 was by far the worst. I'd say the order should be:

    A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 3
    Wes Craven's New Nightmare
    Freddy vs Jason
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 4
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 5
    Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
    A Nightmare On Elm Street 2

  • Chad S.  

    Maybe, just maybe, "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" was the inspiration for Harold Ramis' "Groundhog Day". Isn't this the film where the kids are stuck in a loop?

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