When John Carpenter and Debra Hill created Halloween in 1978, they could never have anticipated that their low-budget independent horror movie would become one of the most long-lived film franchises in Hollywood. As a matter of fact, if had been up to them, Michael Myers would never have been seen again after tumbling out of the second-story window of his childhood home and vanishing into the night.
However, executive producer Moustapha Akkad, who put up the film’s modest $300,000 budget, wasn’t about to leave money on the table, and he and his son Malek have kept the series alive via sequels, remakes, and reboots for over 40 years, with and without Carpenter and Hill’s blessing. Halloween has become, like its villainous Shape, virtually unkillable and difficult to define. Its timeline is messy and its quality varies wildly between entries, but it nevertheless remains the gold standard in slasher franchises.
Editor’s note: There are plot spoilers for each Halloween movie below.
13. Halloween II (2009)
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In some ways, we have a lot more respect for Rob Zombie’s Halloween II than we do for some of the films higher up on this list. Where many of the Halloween sequels are simply products ground out as quickly and cheaply as possible, Halloween II is, at least, a work of creative vision. The polarizing director of The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, and the 2006 Halloween remake was given broad creative freedom to take the story of serial killer Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) and his estranged sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) in whatever direction he chose.
And boy, does he make some choices. Zombie’s Halloween II is as bleak and miserable as horror films get, packed with loathsome characters (including a total assassination of Malcolm MacDowell’s more humanized Dr. Samuel Loomis from the previous film) and the franchise’s most exploitative sexualized violence. Even the compelling and emotional performance of Brad Dourif as Sheriff Brackett can’t shake us out of the infuriating experience of watching this film.
Sincere moments like the grief-stricken Brackett’s on-screen implosion are totally undercut by baffling, self-indulgent nonsense. (The less said about the ghost of Deborah Myers, the better, and did we really need to watch that entire psychobilly revue?) It’s a punishing experience, and while we acknowledge that this was the filmmaker’s intent, that doesn’t mean we hate it any less.
12. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
John Carpenter has always argued that the more the audience learns about Michael Myers, the less interesting he is. There’s a reason the character is credited as “The Shape” in the original film, rather than by his given name. In Carpenter’s reckoning, Michael Myers isn’t a man, he’s the embodiment of evil. He doesn’t need to have a motive or much of a backstory beyond inexplicably murdering his older sister at the age of six. Some of the sequels challenge this concept of the character, providing just enough texture to deepen the mystery around him without making him too specific.
And then there’s The Curse of Michael Myers, the sixth film in the franchise and the conclusion of the “Thorn Trilogy,” which rationalizes the Shape’s history in the goofiest, most nonsensical way possible. Here, we learn that Michael Myers has been a pawn of the Cult of Thorn, who magically turned him into a mindless, indestructible killer when he was just a boy. Now, the cult is looking to pass Michael’s curse onto a new child, the young son of college student Kara Strode (Marianne Hagen), which they can only accomplish via the ritualistic sacrifice of Michael’s last remaining family, his infant grand-nephew who is also his son, probably.
Don’t concern yourself with whether or not any of that makes sense — somehow, being barely comprehensible is the least of this movie’s problems. Behind the scenes, The Curse of Michael Myers was an absolute mess, resulting in two radically different cuts of the film being produced. The original version, which has since been released as “The Unrated Producer’s Cut,” has the more coherent story of the two for what that’s worth, but has the least extravagant violence of any of the Halloween sequels.
The theatrical version, which was the result of heavy reshoots ordered by studio Miramax, adds some gnarly kills but also a new, even dumber ending. Both cuts feature an uncharacteristically awful performance from America’s sweetheart, Paul Rudd, as Tommy Doyle, a legacy character set up as one of the franchise’s new leads. There would, however, be no further sequels in this continuity, as the Halloween timeline would receive a hard reboot with H20, three years later.
11. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
What is it about horror movies from the turn of the millennium that made them feel dated the moment they were released? Halloween: Resurrection is a time capsule of the cultural frenzy around that crazy new thing called the Internet. In this film, the crew of an online reality show drops a group of frisky college students into the abandoned Myers House, each wearing a camera and microphone. Unbeknownst to anyone involved in the show, Michael has been shacked up there since the previous film and starts picking off the contestants one by one during a live webcast. It’s not the worst premise for a standalone slasher movie, but its shabby execution would have damned it to total obscurity if not for its position in the Halloween franchise. Now, instead of being forgotten, it gets to be infamous.
Even if the hour that followed had been excellent, it would have been difficult for fans of the franchise to forgive Resurrection’s first 15 minutes, during which beloved heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is killed by Michael Myers on the roof of the mental facility where she’s been committed.
The fact that the rest of the film has nothing to do with her or her death whatsoever is probably a blessing in hindsight, but you can imagine how shocking and disappointing it must have been for viewers at the time, who were instead treated to a generic teen slasher movie in which Busta Rhymes defeats the Shape using kung fu. Halloween: Resurrection has a few such “so bad it’s good” moments, but for the most part, it’s impossible to pay attention to.
10. Halloween Kills (2021)
If Halloween was a TV show (and soon, it might be), then Halloween Kills might make a decent episode of it. Picking up immediately where director David Gordon Green’s previous Halloween film left off, Kills takes a look at the effect that Michael Myers’ killing sprees in 1978 and 2018 have on the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Its citizens, led by a grown-up Tommy Doyle (now played by Anthony Michael Hall), descend into a mob of fear and rage, lashing out wildly and apparently making Michael more powerful.
Again, this by itself might work as a chapter in a larger whole, but as all of this is going on, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) are still in the movie, still ostensibly the lead characters, but doing not much of anything. Halloween Kills doesn’t feel like the second part in a trilogy so much as the second act of a movie, a middle with no beginning or ending. Kills feels all the more perfunctory given that its sequel, Halloween Ends, doesn’t really follow up on it in any meaningful way.
What Kills does have going for it is, well, kills. This sequel features the highest body count in the franchise, with Michael Myers murdering 25 people, most of them on screen. David Gordon Green and his team successfully set up and pay off a number of suspenseful scenarios with bloody endings, and if that’s what you’ve come to see, you won’t be disappointed.
But where Kills stumbles most is in its attempt to make a statement about the contagious nature of fear and hatred. It’s not that the sentiment rings false, it’s simply belabored to an eye-rolling extent. Since the film has no real character story or much of a plot, this theme is all the audience is given to think about, and there’s not enough substance here to make it work. Halloween Ends, on the other hand? Well, we’ll get to it.
9. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
What can you say about a film this insignificant? The middle chapter of the Thorn Trilogy is about as middling as it gets. There’s about as much here to like as there is to dislike, and nothing worth loving or hating. Halloween 5 throws away the premise set up by the ending of Halloween 4 — that sweet little Jamie Lloyd had suddenly turned into a cold-blooded killer — but still gives child actor Danielle Harris some interesting things to do as a mental patient struck speechless by the trauma of her breakdown.
Her likable foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) is quickly cast aside, but her sudden death in the first act is a surprisingly effective twist, even if her narrative replacement Tina (Wendy Foxworth) feels like a bit of a cartoon. Those two cops who have god-awful theme music? They’re kinda fun!
Two elements lift Halloween 5 into the lower middle of our countdown, the first of which is Donald Pleasance and his performance as the increasingly unhinged Dr. Sam Loomis. The only character from the original Halloween still remaining, Dr. Loomis has been through a lot, and this is the movie in which you really see the trauma take its toll. For much of the runtime, it seems unclear whether or not Loomis can be trusted at all, or if he’s actually willing to sacrifice an innocent young girl in order to trap and kill the Shape.
The other is, admittedly, a holdover from Halloween 4, its surprisingly effective attempt to apply a sort of rationale to Michael’s killing sprees. Could it be that Michael doesn’t hate his family and is actually desperate to connect with them, but has no means to express himself other than through violence? It’s one of the few attempts to humanize Michael that’s actually interesting. Would we have had him remove his mask and shed a single tear before attacking Jamie in the attic? No, that was stupid. But the idea is kind of cool.
8. Halloween II (1981)
To begin with, Halloween II should not exist. None of these sequels should, not even the good ones. Carpenter and Hill did not intend the Shape’s mysterious disappearance at the end of the first Halloween to be a cliffhanger; It’s a spooky ambiguous ending designed to place the audience with a final chill, like a campfire ghost story. Nevertheless, the film’s financiers wanted to capitalize on the success of the first film and the wave of slasher films that followed (namely the Friday the 13th series).
Carpenter reluctantly cranked out the script to Halloween II in a drunken haze, grasping for ways to continue a story that was already finished. Set immediately after the end of the first film, Halloween II follows the Shape’s ongoing rampage through Haddonfield and reveals that Laurie Strode is actually Michael Myers’ sister. Carpenter, who ceded directorial duties to Rick Rosenthal, would later denounce the film as “an abomination.”
So, why does it rank higher than Halloween Kills, a film that borrows so much from Halloween II structurally? Put simply, Halloween II is schlock, and it’s content to be schlock. It engages in senseless, imaginative brutality without pretense. It does not demand to be taken seriously and has nothing to say, and therefore essentially cannot fail. Does Michael Myers roll through town and kill a bunch of people in improbable ways? He sure does. Next!
7. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Unfortunately, the attempt to relaunch Halloween as an anthology series with Season of the Witch left audiences confused and financial backers unsatisfied, so on the 10th anniversary of the original, Halloween went back to basics with a sequel to Halloween II that flaunts The Return of Michael Myers, but not of Jamie Lee Curtis, John Carpenter, or Debra Hill.
On hand to maintain the continuity of the series are Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis and Danielle Harris as Jamie Lloyd, the young daughter of Laurie Strode, who has died offscreen in a car accident. After a decade in lock-up, Michael learns of the existence of his niece, returns to Haddonfield, and kills everyone who stands between them. It essentially revisits the premise of the first film, but instead of the focus being entirely on teenage babysitter Rachel (Ellie Cornell), she shares the spotlight with her young foster sister, Jamie.
Halloween 4 is most memorable for its shocking twist ending, in which Jamie, after the apparent death of her homicidal uncle, dons a clown costume like the one young Michael wore the night he killed his sister and then stabs her own foster mother. We’re not given an explanation for this turn, and yet, it feels inevitable from the moment Jamie finds the costume in the store earlier in the film.
Danielle Harris is a very effective child actor, and it’s her performance more than anything that makes the twist land. The idea of the series picking up here, almost as if we were following the original Myers murders, is an intriguing one, and it’s a shame that the Akkads felt the need to bring back the original Shape back yet again.
6. Halloween (2006)
Riding a wave of hit horror remakes, Halloween got a fresh start in 2006 with cult director Rob Zombie at the helm. Zombie’s Halloween is essentially two films smashed together: a prequel about young Michael Myers turning to murder, and a condensed retelling of the original film. Of the two, the prequel is much better, even if it reveals far more about Michael than John Carpenter ever intended.
Zombie’s version of Michael — played by Daeg Faerch as a 10-year-old and Tyler Mane as an adult — is definitely a human being, albeit a very troubled one whose sociopathic tendencies are exacerbated by a hostile environment. Mocked by his quasi-stepfather and bullied by his classmates, the only light in Michael’s life is his mother (Sheryl Moon Zombie), and his obsession with her is the key to understanding much of his violence. Michael’s counterpart in the film is psychologist Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), a man torn between his desire to help his troubled patient and his guilt over profiting off his madness.
Unfortunately, the dynamic between Michael and Loomis makes Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) sort of an afterthought. While she wasn’t a terribly well-defined character in the original, serving as an audience cipher more than anything, this version of Laurie suffers from the movie simply not being about her in any way.
Her relationships with her friends and her parents are warm and it’s reasonably scary to see her imperiled, she’s mostly an extension of Michael, the long-lost sister with whom he wants to reunite. Even in the climax of the film, in which she plays an active hand, it’s still Michael and Loomis’ story more than hers. It doesn’t kill the movie, but it does make her portions of it the least interesting.
5. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After the original Halloween continuity crashed and burned with The Curse of Michael Myers, the series received its first partial relaunch with H20, a sequel to the first two Halloweens but not the Thorn Trilogy. Laurie Strode (alive and well and once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis) is now an administrator at a swanky California prep school, where her son John (Oppenheimer‘s Josh Hartnett) is a student. Laurie has struggled to build a new life for herself after her adolescent trauma, but her fragile peace is shattered when her brother Michael returns to hunt her and her son.
H20 owes a lot to Scream, the deconstructionist slasher flick that revitalized the genre in 1996. In fact, Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson performed an uncredited pass on the script to H20, and his fingerprints are all over it. H20 is clever, contemporary, and as fun as it is scary, featuring some of the franchise’s most fun characters.
H20 has a realistic but relatable grown-up Laurie, a new generation of doomed rambunctious teens, and LL Cool J as a security guard who dreams of being a novelist. The new setting immediately freshens things up and avoids direct comparisons to the rest of the franchise, and the whole thing ends with a satisfying, definitive conclusion to the series. Of course, the story doesn’t actually end here — they still brought back Michael for Resurrection — but we can all pretend that didn’t happen.
4. Halloween (2018)
Another decade, another Halloween, this time with David Gordon Green at the helm and Jamie Lee Curtis back on board as Laurie Strode. Green’s Halloween is a sequel to the first film and only the first film, disregarding the twist of Halloween II and reestablishing the Shape as an unknowable embodiment of evil.
40 years after the babysitter murders, Laurie has never recovered, cloistering herself in a secluded fortress and training herself for the day the Shape comes after her again. Her paranoia has poisoned her relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), but she’s proven right when Michael escapes custody and starts carving a path through Haddonfield. The relationship between the women provides a solid emotional core for a gruesome and scary horror flick, featuring some brutal kills as well as a few “hell yeah” action beats.
It could be argued that the 2018 Halloween doesn’t really make sense as a sequel only to the first film. This version of Laurie, who encountered the Shape only once and has no other association with him, is more obsessed and terrified of Michael Myers than the Laurie from H20, who has been his specific target more than once.
The film depends on the audience accepting that, of course, the Shape harbors a grudge against the anonymous babysitter who survived his rampage 40 years ago, rather than, say, his psychologist who shot him six times, because Jamie Lee Curtis was the star of the original film and Donald Pleasance has been dead for 20 years. However, this kind of nitpicking can barely chip away at what is a really solid horror film, and one of the best in its storied franchise.
3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Audiences and critics alike were left scratching their heads after seeing Season of the Witch, the first and only film in the Halloween franchise not to feature masked killer Michael Myers. Halloween III was intended to relaunch Halloween as an anthology series, with each film offering a totally different story taking place around Halloween night.
Set in its own continuity (in which the movie Halloween exists and plays on television), Season of the Witch is a paranoid supernatural thriller in which scummy physician Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) and amateur sleuth Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) investigate a conspiracy involving a mysterious disappearance and a set of popular novelty masks. Its bizarre mashup of horror and sci-fi tropes keeps the audience guessing for the full 100 minutes as if anyone could possibly guess where this story was headed. Season of the Witch is a novelty in the series for a number of reasons, but above all, it’s simply weird, which is one of the best qualities a horror movie can possess.
Unfortunately, audiences at the time disagreed, and the Halloween anthology experiment was immediately abandoned in favor of more Michael Myers movies. This is a terrible shame, because with the benefit of hindsight, Halloween III is one of the best in the franchise, and we would love to have seen what else John Carpenter and Debra Hill would have brought us as producers and curators of this anthology.
Perhaps if Halloween II hadn’t established the precedent that Halloween and the Shape were one and the same, viewers might have been more receptive to the series as a different kind of horror movie perennial, a sort of theatrical Twilight Zone. Sadly, this was not to be, and we’d all have to wait another 40 years to get another Halloween movie this daring.
2. Halloween Ends (2022)
The conclusion of David Gordon Green’s Halloween sequel trilogy caught everyone by surprise. The film’s marketing was based around the promise of a final confrontation between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the Shape, a capstone on their 44-year rivalry. This is, indeed, how the film ends, but most of its runtime has very little to do with either character.
Instead, it follows the story of Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a teenager who is held responsible for the accidental death of a young boy. Corey has become a total outcast who rarely dares to show his face in Haddonfield, and when he does, there’s nearly always trouble. Psychologically destroyed by years of being met with hate and disgust, Corey becomes Haddenfield’s new embodiment of evil, a sort of protege to Michael Myers, who has been in hiding since the events of Halloween Kills. Corey’s romance with fellow outcast Allyson (Andy Matichak) eventually brings the danger home to Allyson’s grandmother, Laurie.
While fans may have been initially surprised (or even incensed) by how little the film has to do with the franchise’s established characters, Halloween Ends is still the most interesting sequel in the franchise, with Corey Cunningham being easily its most interesting character. Halloween Kills sought to examine the idea of evil as an infection, but Ends develops that concept through the lens of a single character. Corey becomes a convenient vessel into whom practically everyone in town can pour their rage about every senseless terrible thing that’s ever happened to them — a tragic accident, an abusive father, the babysitter murders — and in so doing transform him into the very monster they accuse him of being.
At the same time, we see the way the townspeople have chosen to ostracize Laurie or even Allyson, who are plainly victims rather than villains, simply out of the need to rationalize the violence that occurred around them. Halloween Ends recaptures what makes the Shape so terrifying and, essentially, makes it shapeless. He’s a killer who kills for no reason, who cannot be stopped, who will not go away, who could happen to anyone, but we don’t want to accept that. There has to be a reason, a true villain, and it might as well be you. You could become Corey Cunningham tomorrow, and that’s scary as hell.
1. Halloween (1978)
Surely, no one reading this expected any other film to claim the top spot on this list. John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a master class in “less is more” filmmaking, a finely tuned watch of a thriller made on a shoestring budget. It may not be the first slasher film, but it’s the one that catalyzed and codified the genre, the reason most subsequent slasher movies exist.
Hundreds of filmmakers have tried and failed to achieve what Carpenter and company accomplished with their small cast and meager budget, which was wisely spent on the best filming equipment rather than on buckets of fake blood. Key creative decisions like giving the Shape a stark white mask so that he stands out in the background even in shadows, or the way the camera’s smooth movements often direct the audience’s eye away from where the danger is about to appear, are only subconsciously noticed but make a world of difference.
Halloween is deliberately thematically vacuous, creating space for the viewer to fill in their own meaning, fears, and dread. This is the essential ingredient that none of its sequels or imitators have been able to reproduce. Halloween sequels either learn the wrong lesson from this and fail to be about anything (which is distinct from being about “nothing”), or attempt to project a specific meaning into that emptiness.
The latter can, occasionally, add something new and interesting to the series, but more often than not, the “nothing” is more effective. As much as we enjoy some of the later entries in the Halloween series, we wish that the rights holders had been willing to let less be more and leave the original Halloween an untarnished classic.