We Ranked All Six 'Scream' Movies Worst to Best
Do you like scary movies?
There are a handful of iconic horror movies that fundamentally altered and redirected the genre, and the Scream movies are part of that.
Frankenstein scared the pants off of everyone in Hollywood's golden age and left a permanent mark on pop culture. Night of the Living Dead exploited a newly defunct censorship code with graphic violence, and the creation of the zombie. Halloween made slashers fashionable to the point of eventual burnout; it's arguably the most ripped-off movie ever made.
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Another film that absolutely belongs in this conversation? Scary-movie maestro Wes Craven's Scream (from a sharp, career-making Kevin Williamson script), a maniacally effective, self-aware satire where the characters in a horror movie had actually seen horror movies. It seamlessly blended a whodunit mystery with stone-faced, blood-soaked scares. For the genre, there was no turning back.
Co-directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and co-writers James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, took us back to Woodsboro last year. Last year, franchise legacy stars Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette returned for the fifth installment. Simply titled Scream, the requel was a substantial box-office success. Now, Scream 2022 survivors Melissa Barrera and Jenna Ortega return in the Manhattan-set Scream VI (now exclusively in theaters). The "sequel to a requel" is guaranteed to slay the box office.
We're ranking the whole series worst to best (including Scream VI), taking into account how scary, entertaining and funny each film is, and how well they hold up. The first five Scream movies are available to rent and purchase across major streaming platforms.
In ascending order, here are all six Scream movies ranked, but don't worry—there are no spoilers for the newest film here!
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Scream Movies Ranked
6. Scream 3 (2000)
In the first Scream without Williamson as writer, the genre-bending franchise leaned too far into self-parody and generally lost its way. Plot conveniences abound, like the voice-changing tech that’s more sci-fi than slasher and that exists solely because the plot needs it to, lamentably undermining Roger Jackson's masterfully nefarious "Ghostface" performance—which was critical in making the first film so frightening. Scream 3 is farfetched in the broad strokes, too: Its "revelations" feel so tacked on that the movie nearly falls apart. It doesn't fully, though. Much of the credit goes to Craven's crisp direction, and the pleasures of keeping up with the series' returning trio of unlikely heroes: survivor Sidney, reporter Gale and cop Dewey are as endearing as anyone in modern horror.
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While Scream 3 may be ranked the lowest on this list, it's important to remember that the Scream series has shown considerable quality control throughout its run. There's no comparing convoluted, entertaining Scream 3 to other horror series' low points like Freddie's Dead: The Final Nightmare or the abysmal Halloween Kills.
The best part: Parker Posey is hilarious as "Jennifer Jolie," a ruthlessly selfish starlet playing a watered-down Gale Weathers in the Stab films. Many actors in the supporting cast of Scream 3 seem unsure if they're in a horror movie or a spoof of one (and that's probably the script's fault). Posey reads the room, and when she's onscreen, Scream 3 is more confident.
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5. Scream (2022)
All Scream sequels except for (the still admittedly likable, forgivable) Scream 3 are pretty close in ranking: they're all superior slashers, and there is no such thing as an actively bad Scream movie. Radio Silence's comic thriller accomplishes the considerable feat of delivering a worthy sequel for long-term fans and renewing the series for a new generation. It's easy to wish this Scream was scarier; Craven's terrorizing touch is missed. Still, it's entertaining, funny and exciting, which made it a box-office success.
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Scream 2022 is worthy of a series that's been really good for over a quarter-century, and it does a lot of things well. Beloved legacy characters return, balanced with an engaging young cast. Perhaps more than anything else, what's always set the Scream series apart from other slashers is the writing. Scream (2022) has a clever, quotable screenplay that evokes Williamson's wit but can't quite match his Scream scripts for invention.
The best part: After a second act that could have been tighter, the fiery, blood-soaked and vengeance-fueled finale is flat-out awesome. It may be the best third act since the original's "longest night in horror history."
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4. Scream VI (2023)
The 2022 film was a fresh, appealing throwback. Scream VI is more confident, more character-driven—and indeed, much scarier. And though there's no getting around how much Neve Campbell is missed, the franchise still has plenty of what's always been its secret weapon: heart.
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Though it wasn't even actually filmed in Manhattan (Ghostface is really stomping around Montreal here), the location is inspired and used ingeniously. Scream VI is unpredictable without ever fully jumping the shark. There's fan service (most of it courtesy of Hayden Panettiere's returning Kirby Reed), but it never overshadows the fun whodunit plot. Everything leads to a third act that gets pretty over-the-top, maybe even convoluted ... but damned if it isn't satisfying. Scream VI is a blast, and audiences are going to flock to it.
The best part: It's all about the Core Four. Barrera, Ortega, —and perhaps especially Mason Gooding and Jasmin Savoy Brown—are as lovable as anyone in modern horror. These are genuine genre icons in the making, the heart and lungs of a surprisingly tender slasher franchise that just won't quit.
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3. Scream 2 (1997)
The wildfire, leggy box-office success of the original film (which grossed $173 million, or well over $300 million today) inspired producers to rush a sequel out less than a year after the first. Especially when taking this into account, it's miraculous Scream 2 was a worthy successor—lighter on its feet, but red-blooded and tense, too. The returning characters have plenty to do, and the violent death of Randy (Jamie Kennedy) is one of the series' most surprising and memorable.
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Scream pictures are full of red herrings that mostly just add to the fun of trying to guess whodunit, but Scream 2 is notably less gratifying than the first because the identities of the killers aren't guessable; we get a lot of back-end plot information that's satisfying enough—it's not like we feel outright cheated—but it's nothing like the tag-team reveal of damaged, pop-culture-obsessed kids Skeet Ulrich and Matthew Lillard from the original. At a full two hours, Scream 2 is about 10 minutes too long—but still, it's easily one of the slickest slasher movies ever made.
The best part: Scenes from movie-within-a-movie Stab are used sparingly, to great effect. Playing a version of themselves playing slasher movie fodder, Luke Wilson, Tori Spelling and Heather Graham are wickedly deadpan.
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2. Scream 4 (2011)
The initial meh reaction—something close to dismissal—of 2011's Scream 4 (the final film of Wes Craven) is baffling and even a little infuriating. More than anything, Scream 4 underperformed at the box office because the slasher picture opened as two dominant rival sub-genres—found-footage and torture porn—were on their way in and out, respectively. At a glance, the ever-crucial young audience perhaps thought this looked like their parents' horror movie.
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Scream's resurgence on TV—running from 2015 to 2019—brought the young audience back in, and a lot of viewers have warmed to the pleasures of the most recent film. Undeniably flawed, but worthy—enormously entertaining and flat-out thrilling at times—Craven's swan song (crucially, Williamson wrote this one) does away with the farcical missteps of part 3 and leans into terror, with rock-candy, 21st-century meta-satire bite. It's by a margin the goriest film in the series, and Craven (who had a master's in philosophy from Johns Hopkins, and a background directing softcore porn) was better than any filmmaker in history except maybe George Romero at giving such graphic content a point, making it worth the ordeal.
The most glaring shortcoming of outstanding, under-appreciated Scream 4 is the way it looks. Dim soft-focus cinematography looks too much like a sinister 60 Minutes interview.
The best part: The beautiful, tough and naturalistic Campbell. It would have been easier to phone in and collect a paycheck by the fourth installment, but Campbell has delivered a fully formed, assured performance throughout the series. She hasn't missed a beat.
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1. Scream (1996)
Craven's original has been with us for over a quarter century; it's still a spellbinding watch that more than holds up. Scream was released before social media and Reddit, before spoilers spread like wildfire. It shocked and amused people in equal measure.
This is a knowing, funny film—hilarious even, at times—yet the comedy never undermines the formidable terror, white-knuckle tension and (quite literally) cloak-and-dagger mystery. From The Predator (a movie most everyone has forgotten by now) to even some popular superhero movies, too much snarky and self-aware comedy is an issue that plagues many genre films to this day. Scream gets that balance, and pretty much everything else, just right.
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The best part: It's really important to note that, in a wink to Psycho, it was established star Drew Barrymore's idea to play Casey Becker, the Woodsboro student taunted and killed off—horrifically—just 12 minutes into the film, as a warning to its audience: No one is safe. Be afraid. Barrymore's decision initially baffled even Craven, and especially the producers at Dimension Films. It was obviously the right choice; the merciless cold open is one of the highest highs of horror. It's still scary as all hell.
From Paramount Pictures, Scream VI is now playing nationwide.
Next, check out the 151 best horror movies of all time, ranked.