The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an odd franchise. Its infamous villain, Leatherface, never quite achieved the same level of fame as Michael Meyers or Jason Voorhees, and the series never saw a consistent stream of sequels like other horror franchises have. But despite all this, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remains an iconic horror classic that fans of the genre continue to love.
To date, there have been nine Chainsaw films, and they’re all absolutely wild in their own unique ways. Some are terrifyingly gruesome, others are unexplainably strange, and a few are so bad they’re downright unwatchable. While the original movie claimed that “what happened is true,” the reality is that the story was loosely (very, very loosely) inspired by Wisconsin grave robber and murderer Ed Gein. But throughout the film series, Leatherface and his family have developed their own backstories and lore, completely unrelated to the source material that inspired the original film.
From the truly horrifying to the horrifyingly bad, here are all nine Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, ranked. Grab your meat hook and be sure to wear your fanciest mask made of human skin, because here we go …
9. Leatherface (2017)
Table of Contents
You know a movie is going to be bloody awful when you can’t even properly state its year of release. Originally put into production shortly after Texas Chainsaw 3D premiered in 2013, Leatherface was originally expected to premiere in 2016. However, the movie was eventually shelved until 2017. And at the start of 2017, a straight-to-DVD movie titled Leatherface was released … but it actually had nothing to do with Leatherface and instead was a rerelease of the B-movie Playing with Dolls: Bloodlust. The actual Leatherface (which is a prequel and focuses on Leatherface as a child) finally came around in October 2017.
Sadly, its festival screenings led to awful reviews, and as one of the few people who has actually watched the movie, I can personally tell you it’s horrible. The acting is stale and dead, the story is hollow, and the pacing is nonexistent. Most people don’t even know this movie exists, and there’s a reason why: it’s truly unwatchable. After a very limited theatrical release, the movie grossed $1.4 million globally before fading into the obscurity it deserves.
8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2022)
Set 50 years after the original film, 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre put a 70-year-old Leatherface up against a group of whiny Gen-Z losers. The whole film is just as awful as it sounds. It’s also set in an abandoned ghost town that developers want to turn into a trendy gentrified spot, which really has nothing to do with Leatherface, nor does it fit the tone of the franchise. Honestly, that sums up the entire movie: It just doesn’t make sense. A geriatric Leatherface, annoying victims who don’t deserve to survive, and a timeline that seriously doesn’t add up all make this a gruelingly boring movie to watch.
In general, the franchise has a massive issue with time jumps and timelines. There’s the original timeline, the remake timeline, and then that other timeline, so you really never know which movie is trying to be what to which film. I feel like the next Texas Chainsaw movie is going to go full-blown Jason X and blast Leatherface into space. Which, considering the last three films, might not be a bad idea.
7. Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990)
In 1990, Texas Chainsaw returned for its third film, Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. The movie was a lukewarm affair that followed a group that gets stranded in the middle of Texas, and guess who comes for them. Much of the movie’s problems stem from the fact that it was originally given an X rating (the movie is actually an important piece of film history, being one of the last movies to receive the X rating before it was changed to NC-17 later in 1990). In order to get dropped down to an R rating, the movie needed to make numerous cuts.
Those cuts took out much of the gore and macabre tone the franchise is known for, making all the kill scenes seem sorta made-for-Disney Channel. But its poor film quality and cheap, late-1980s cinematography help give the movie that snuff film vibe that made the 1974 original so damn creepy.
6. Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)
The beginning of the end for the franchise came in 2013 when Texas Chainsaw 3D was released. Set as a sequel to the 1974 original, the movie follows a girl, Heather, who discovers she was adopted and is inheriting the house of her deceased grandmother. Also, Leatherface is her cousin and lives in the house … and she’s now tasked with caring for him. But first, he tries to kill her a dozen times. Just a little family drama, no big deal. For some reason, after almost being murdered by her cousin, Heather decides that she’s down to take on the family legacy and inherit the house and care for Leatherface.
Texas Chainsaw 3D also holds the record for the absolute worst line ever delivered in the entire franchise. At the end of the movie, Heather is almost killed by angry and corrupt police officers. But before she can be attacked, she tosses a chainsaw to Leatherface and literally says, “Do your thing, Cuz!” I could not stop laughing when she said that. I was in a packed theater on opening night, laughing my ass off. It was unbelievably cringey. Leatherface’s next victim should be whoever wrote that line.
5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)
Set as the prequel to the 2003 remake, The Beginning features a talented cast including Jordana Brewster, Matt Bomer, and Taylor Handley. The film gives an origin story to Leatherface and the Hewitt family, showing how poverty and feeling rejected by society turned them into the emotionless killing machines they are. The Beginning certainly isn’t a great film, but it’s watchable and horror fans will be entertained enough to enjoy watching it at least once.
The major downside of the film is that it’s a prequel. Since Leatherface and the Hewitt family are all part of the 2003 film, it’s pretty obvious from the start that nobody in The Beginning will survive and there will be no real consequences for the killers. That seriously hindered the movie’s ability to make a meaningful or memorable story.
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986)
Polarizing and relatively unsuccessful upon its initial release, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was a wild ride. Gone were the subtleties and the creepy, eerie aura of the first film. Instead, that was all replaced by a weird, not-perfectly-put-together mash-up of horror, comedy, and action that sorta made Part 2 feel like a Grindhouse classic. Still, the movie had some smart aspects to it. Its poster parodied The Breakfast Club, showing audiences from the start that this was not like the original, and the finale scene has the Final Girl wielding the chainsaw and waving it around — directly in contrast to the way the original movie ended.
Honestly, Part 2 is a cult film. Though forgotten by most, it has devout followers who claim it’s the best in the franchise, and any movie that can attain such a following deserves respect. However, for the standard horror fan or fan of the franchise, it’s unlikely that Part 2 will be your favorite. Still, with some smart moments and a storyline that’s just weird and wonderful, it makes for a fun watch.
3. Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995)
Another Texas Chainsaw movie with a troubled release schedule, The Next Generation originally premiered at SXSW in 1995, but didn’t see a (very limited) theatrical release until 1997 — when the movie only grossed a total of $186,000. Despite its poor performance, The Next Generation is actually a fantastic movie … just don’t expect a scary Texas Chainsaw film. Instead, the movie, which gave then-newcomers Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey their first major starring roles, was a self-aware critique of the way horror had spiraled into absolute garbage by the mid-1990s, when Scream hadn’t yet revolutionized the genre.
The film was pure old-school camp, turning the expectations of horror on its head and making it into something hilarious – but only if you were smart enough to see what it was doing. In the film, Leatherface became a full-on cross-dresser, donning a wig, lipstick, and make-up (a sly parody of the Ed Gein inspiration), and the finale goes totally off the deep end.
In the climax, not only are Leatherface and his brother chasing the Final Girl, but the duo is simultaneously being chased by an airplane, and the whole thing isn’t set to creepy or dramatic music, but instead to ’90s alt-rock. After all that, a limousine pulls up and a secret society subplot is revealed. It’s wacky, smart, and wrong, all at the same time, and is a truly one-of-a-kind movie, for better or worse.
2. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
During the 2000s, Michael Bay became obsessed with rebooting classic horror franchises. He served as producer for the reboots of The Amityville Horror, Friday the 13thand A Nightmare on Elm Street. But the first remake he tackled was 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, starring Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, and the late R. Lee Ermey.
The movie became wildly successful, grossing over $80 million domestically and $107 million worldwide, all on a budget of just $9.5 million. The film was so impressive because it recaptured the vibe of the original while doing everything completely different. The movie still centers around a group on a road trip in the 1970s who find themselves fighting off Leatherface and his family, but whereas the original had virtually no budget and created its terror through its poor film quality, lack of a soundtrack, and amateur vibes, the remake was visually beautiful. (The cinematographer, Daniel Pearl, was the same director of photography on the original). Each scene looks flawless and the filmmakers used cinematography to help create the horror — like the iconic scene when Leatherface opens the sliding metal door or when Biel runs through the woods as the moonlight shines through. It’s the rare reboot that honors its original source material while also standing on its own as a fairly effective horror film.
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
The original 1974 film is considered by many to be the original slasher movie. Though Psycho came first, many point out that the movie’s structure doesn’t flow like a typical slasher film. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was truly the movie that ushered in iconic genre tropes like the masked killer, the Final Girl, and a core group of characters who get picked off one by one.
Parts of the movie feel awkward and politically incorrect nowadays, like how horribly they all treat Sally’s handicapped brother, Franklin, but as a whole, the film holds up surprisingly well. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie is that there’s actually a surprisingly minimal amount of blood and gore. A majority of the carnage is all done without audiences being able to see — proving that our imaginations can create more horrendous images than most films. In fact, director Tobe Hooper naively thought he might even get the film a PG rating if he kept the blood to a minimum. Obviously, that didn’t happen. It was given an R rating by the MPAA, but that didn’t stop the movie from becoming a major hit, and a classic horror film that endures to this day.