Here’s a completely arbitrary list. It’s mine. But I’ve taken the time to explain my rationale for where each movie in the Friday the 13th series falls. I’d never argue that these movies are “good” but I do enjoy them all, even the ones at the bottom of my list. Maybe it’s because the one thing you can’t say about them is that they’re boring. They move. They’re exploitation cinema that are simultaneously of that moment and also hopelessly tied to an earlier era. Jason has next to no motivation as a killer, but then, neither does a shark or a bear. He’s a force of nature. Alright, let’s do this list. Also, each entry has the original theatrical trailers. Enjoy!
12. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
One of these films had to be at the bottom and Jason Goes to Hell gets that dubious honor because it tries to rewrite everything. In this one, Jason is back (even though he was a baby last time we saw him) but immediately gets blown up. And then we learn that Jason can possess people but he needs to find a blood relative to live permanently. But when you think about that, none of it makes sense. When Jason gets killed, he just possesses whoever is near his body. Those bodies wear out but he hops to a new one. And when he’s in his “permanent” host body, he obviously can still die because he does at both the beginning and the end. Now, if you separate the terrible possession angle and the annoying main guy who is some sort of sad sap pining away for a girl from his high school days, there is fun to be had. Kane Hodder plays Jason for the 3rd time, there are some creative kills, and the bounty hunter Creighton Duke is bugnuts insane but entertaining.
11. Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
Also known as the one that isn’t really Jason. This movie was the sequel to The Final Chapter (they’ve never tried to retroactively change that title on the DVD and I love it) and follows survivor Tommy Jarvis. But instead of little Corey Feldman, he’s a grown teenager now. He barely talks. It takes place at some type of halfway house full of teens with issues but the killer ends up being just some EMT named Roy whose son died. What if all the sequels after this starred Roy the killer? Then Jason would have only been in 3 movies and we would all think of the terrifying… Roy.
10. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Dumb story but it’s so dumb it has parts I love. The reason it’s low on the list is that it barely follows through on its titular promise. Jason arrives in Manhattan in the last act of the movie and immediately chases some teens into the sewer. So there’s only a handful of shots in Manhattan. Most of the movie takes place on a cruise ship that goes from Crystal Lake to… the New York Harbor? There aren’t many cruise ships traveling from small lakes into the Atlantic Ocean that I can think of. Another weird thing? A sewer maintenance worker warns the teens at the end that it’s about to be flooded with TOXIC WASTE. They act like this is a normal thing New York does and it isn’t played as a gag. Jason gets hit by the toxic waste and turns into a baby. A baby! I still have no idea what they were thinking but I bet the phrase “OK, let’s just do that” gets said a lot on the set of a Friday the 13th movie.
9. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
They tried something slightly different in this one by giving Jason an enemy that could match him: a girl with telekinetic powers. That overt supernatural feature was a new twist. Jason came back to life in the previous film but that was the ONLY supernatural element in this series up to that point. But it was cool having a type of Jason vs. Carrie fight. Other than that, it’s business as usual in the woods around Crystal Lake. Some decent kills. Jason looks arguably his best ever in this one, reflecting all the damage he’d accumulated in previous movies. Stuntman Kane Hodder played him here for the first of four movies and he imbues Jason with a hulking demeanor and a vicious streak.
8. Friday the 13th Part 2
This film deserves a certain amount of respect for trying to do something a bit different from the first film. It’s the first time Jason is the killer. It doesn’t necessarily make much sense that he’s a grown man here when he supposedly drowned but that’s just how it is. He became this franchise and here’s where he’s the bad guy for the first time. The final act is pretty intense but overall it’s a lot slower paced than what you might expect today. Still, that slow pace, the woodsy setting and the no-name actors do give it a creepy vibe. And I like the bag on Jason’s head. It’s disturbing.
7. Friday the 13th Part III
Jason gets his mask in this one so that’s cool. It also was filmed in 3D and the movie is constantly, CONSTANTLY, sticking things right into the camera. It’s hilarious. Rakes, yo-yos, eyeballs, popcorn. They definitely made the most of their gimmick. They’ve also kind of perfected the stalker in the woods formula at this point. That said, the teens are pretty dang forgettable.
6. Jason X
Some people hate this one. But I think it’s a blast. The movie starts in the near future where the government has captured Jason and plans to experiment on him to find out why he can regenerate. Things go wrong and he and a scientist get frozen only to be unthawed in the distant future by an archaeology class visiting Earth. It’s the gimmick many horror films go to when they’re out of ideas: put the villain in space. But I think it works. He stalks the teens and marines through a massive ship and gets some very unique kills. It has a bit of a sense of humor while keeping Jason an absolute beast.
5. Friday the 13th (2009)
Essentially this movie is a reboot of parts 1 through 3. It speeds up Jason getting his mask. It’s pretty well paced and has more of a budget than most of the films in the series. It’s the camp setting that’s been done a lot before but what elevates it is that they hired pretty good actors this time. Some are actually likable and one or two are detestable. But it’s intentional. Good kills, great Jason (seriously, keep Derek Mears if they ever make another one of these) and a good story.
4. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
One of the best Jason movies. He’s back from the dead for the first time and is absolutely unstoppable. It also has Tommy Jarvis for the third time (and the third actor but whatever). Having an actual protagonist that we can root for makes a big difference. Also, this movie has a sense of humor for the first time. It’s really well paced. Still kinda cheap but really well done.
3. Friday the 13th
Gotta give props to the first film. If it weren’t any good, there wouldn’t be this many sequels. It isn’t original but it did popularize a lot of horror tropes. POV shots from the killer, the “final girl” and sex = death. That’s all played up here to great effect. It has Kevin Bacon as one of the teen counselors. And it ends with a really strong twist. It’s exploitation horror stuff but it’s made for next to no money and everyone tries really hard. It’s a pretty well done little horror movie.
2. Freddy vs. Jason
This movie may co-star Freddy Krueger but Jason sure gets the majority of the kills. In fact, he basically gets all but one of them. He just rampages through town killing teens left and right. His battles with Freddy are really fun. The movie moves fast and has a lot of action and some decent humor. Mostly good actors with one or two (Kelly Rowland) that stink. It’s just a blast. You don’t need to have seen either of the horror franchises before to understand this movie but if you do, it’s fun to finally see them face off (more than once!).
1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
They perfected the formula the fourth time around. Plus, the main kid is played by Corey Feldman who was a really good kid actor. Crispin Glover from Back to the Future plays one of the teens and he’s fantastic. One of the best Jasons ever, played by stuntman Ted White. He’s really huge and menacing. Great kills, likable cast, good story, good budget. This time they got every element right.