‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ movies, ranked

‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ movies, ranked

From sheer horror to self-parody, here’s EW’s worst-to-best list of the Nightmare mega-franchise.

By Michael Lee Simpson October 15, 2022 at 09: 00 AM EDT

He has a burned, hideously scarred face, skin covered in cysts and boils. A crooked nose and yellow eyes are a sign of a disfigured nose. A fiendish grin exposes rotten teeth. He’s bone-thin, leans sideways, and wears a torn red-and-green-striped sweater and brown fedora. His trademark right-hand glove is made from leather, bolts and sheet metal with knives as fingers. Cackling, he lurks in the darkness, cutting into the flesh of his victims while they sleep.

Freddy Krueger — the notorious child-murdering monster of the “Dream Demon” species, portrayed (mostly) by Robert Englund — has been torturing the residents of Elm Street since 1984. Born from the mind of horror master Wes Craven, A Nightmare on Elm Street spawned a total of nine films, a television spin-off, multiple novels, and several comic books — grossing almost $500 million worldwide. Here are the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies ranked.

9. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

What was at first a long-awaited remake turned out to be like plastic forks scratching a metal surface. The story continues as usual, with teenage neighbors being chased by a mangled man in their dreams. The soundtrack is still in D Minor with echoes and dissonant sounds as well as suspended chords and a haunting sense that doom. Jump roping girls sing the same lyrics: “One two Freddy’s coming for me / Three four better lock your doors.” But the stark differences between 2010’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and the original set them worlds apart.

Though music video maestro-turned-film director Samuel Bayer (Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Blind Melon’s “No Rain”) crafts a slick, stylized film, it still suffers from a lack of substance and a hollow screenplay. Jackie Earle Haley replaces Englund as Freddy, while Rooney Mara plays Nancy Holbrook alongside new forgettable characters. But despite its flaws, the remake was still the highest-grossing Nightmare installment — and an unforgivingly underwhelming final note for the franchise.

8. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

As far as franchise sequels go, Freddy’s Dead sits at the bottom of the barrel, squirming in muddy, worm-infested waters as the last-intended Nightmare chapter. In Rachel Talalay‘s directorial debut, the series grows into the self-parody it has been unintentionally edging towards since the mid-80s. The needlessly confusing narrative follows Lisa Zane as Freddy’s long-lost daughter — and therapist — as she counsels victims at an orphanage between fist-fights with her father. Her mission is to kill Krueger once and for all, with the action sandwiched between out-of-place cameos by original Nightmare star Johnny Depp, Tom Arnold, and Roseanne Barr. The series, thankfully, doesn’t end in what was supposed to be a major cinematic event as New Line Cinema’s first 3-D movie, though Freddy’s Dead will forever be remembered as one of the worst blunders on the Nightmare timeline.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

If the series began as an F-16 Fighting Falcon blasting into space, The Dream Child shrunk it into a bottle rocket fizzling out in the grass. . Alice (Lisa Wilcox), now pregnant, and Dan (Danny Hassel), who are survivors from the fourth movie, believe they are safe at last. Freddy, a maniac who plagues Alice’s dreams and causes him to reincarnate into the real world, sets fireballs ablaze.

Gore is used to shock value. This includes a scene in which Freddy forces Erika Anderson, a dieting model, to eat her organs in front of a hysterical audience. Also, a dream sequence in which Freddy’s mother gives him birth at the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. Baby Freddy is frantic and shrieks so loud that the windows crack. Needless to say, Nightmare 5 is a dreary, tongue-in-cheek freakshow, and only partially because of its rushed production after The Dream Master‘s unexpected success.

6. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)

While Freddy Krueger was rising to genre fame, a machete-swinging, hockey mask-wearing psychopath had a similar ascent in his own franchise. Jason Voorhees — the legendary killer from Camp Crystal Lake — is the pillar of each Friday the 13th movie since the second installment, from Friday the 13th Part II and III to a long-running streak of films throughout the ’80s and ’90s, joining Freddy, Michael, and Leatherface in horror villain superstardom. And by 2003, after years of ups and downs, New Line Cinema and Crystal Lake Entertainment saw an opportunity to reclaim their audience.

The plot: Freddy’s been burning in Hell since The Final Nightmare, unable to occupy anyone’s dreams. The only way to regain power, is for the town believe that he has returned. Jason recruits Jason to go on a murderous rampage, hoping that people will believe it’s him. Their rivalry starts when Jason refuses to stop killing Freddy’s intended targets. Directed by Ronny Yu (Bride of Chucky), this crossover film with a shared universe plays along like 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Englund is back again while Ken Kirzinger plays Jason (he was also the stuntman who doubled as the masked maniac in Jason Takes Manhattan). The film’s final battle of evil against evil is a mindless, but entertaining movie.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

By this time, children have been running around on Halloween wearing striped sweaters and clawed gloves for three years. The villain, who was once a terrifying, teenage-murdering monster, has become a cartoon character, throwing on shades and waving in summertime. The story follows three surviving patients from Dream Warriors — Kristen (played by Tuesday Knight, whose cult classic song “Nightmare” appears on the soundtrack), Ronald (Ken Sagoes), and Joey (Ronald Eastman) — a year after their release from Westin Hills. Teens Alice and Dan are soon killed or disappearing from the stage, as they are trapped in another series gruesome events.

Made alongside anthology television series Freddy’s Nightmares, The Dream Master‘s production was a nightmare in and of itself. Racing against the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, screenwriter Brian Helgeland (who later penned L.A. Confidential and Mystic River) co-wrote the first draft in mere days with first-time writer William Kotzwinkle. William was given “story by” credit, but was later pushed aside by other writers who did not finish the script. Director Renny Harlin was left without a plan and had to rely on actors to create dialogue.

While The Dream Master is superior to The Dream Child, it’s a cesspool of bizarre mythology and outdated cliches — chases down tilted hallways, blood-curdling screams, pipes blowing steam in boiler rooms — with half-baked ideas flooding the story’s broken pipeline, though Brooke Theiss’ Debbie transforming into a skittering cockroach and getting stuck in acid bait paste was an admittedly memorable turn. Fun fact: Mezco manufactured Debbie’s character as an action figure in 2009, featuring severed arms replaced by roach legs.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

After the massive success of A Nightmare on Elm Street, a follow-up was inevitable, and the shoes to fill were as big as ever for any sequel. Freddy’s Revenge takes place in the same town, on the same street, and in the same house when the Walsh family moves in. Jesse (Mark Patton), a high schooler who is having nightmares, is the protagonist.

Craven was the obvious choice to direct, but he discovered that David Chaskin’s script contained elements that were not in line with his vision. He didn’t like Freddy being a male protagonist. It was against the “final girls” trope as it is portrayed in many slasher movies. The swap also conjured up a homoerotic subtext and has since become a gay cult favorite. Freddy is too involved in the normal world, he said. There’s a pool party scene in which the water explodes in flames and Freddy attacks teenagers taller than him in a backyard. He also thought Jesse’s chest was too broken from the inside out, which made it difficult for the audience to identify with him. Lost on which direction to take with Craven? The studio considered making Freddy a silent Michael Myers-like stalker wearing a rubber mask, rather than the quick-witted, maniacal antagonist we’ve come to love. But, ultimately, Englund was cast. The production design, direction, special effects, and performances are all excellent for the time. Jesse’s father (Clu Guilager) and his girlfriend (Kim Myers), are particularly convincing. Although still filled with cringe-worthy scenes, there’s a reason Freddy’s Revenge remains a cult classic.

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Among horror connoisseurs, Dream Warriors is one of the few truly loved films in the saga. As the first installment in the “Dream Trilogy,” director Chuck Russell (The Blob and The Mask) treats his turf like a creative playground. Craven co-wrote the script, a young Patricia Arquette plays a prominent role, and Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy from the original, this time as a psychiatrist treating patients haunted by Freddy in their dreams. There are many artistic sequences as he roars through this film with a vengeance. From syringe claws and an explosive television set death to people dragged through mirrors and a sadistic puppet show involving tugged tendons, Dream Warriors pushes us into a rabbit hole of imagination perhaps more than any other film in the franchise.

2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

At this point, the fire that killed mortal Freddy Krueger — lit in a basement by livid parents in Springwood, Ohio — has spread on the pages of every screenplay draft written for the next Nightmare movie. And then came Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. What could have been an age-old, cliched tale of Nancy picking up the pieces of her life seven years after Dream Warriors was instead constructed into something completely original — which is no small feat for a seventh series installment.

As a stand-alone meta-narrative separate from the Nightmare timeline, a demonic force from the underworld uses the Freddy Krueger character as his passage to the real world to hunt down the cast and crew of the Elm Street franchise. Krueger is reimagined here. He’s scarier, darker, and has narrow eyes and a pus-filled face. Langenkamp and Craven, New Line Cinema founder Robert Shaye and John Saxon all play the roles of Krueger. Englund plays both the character he played for so many years and also the new entity that embodies the spirit of the character.

Marianne Maddalena, the producer of New Nightmare and the Scream franchise, also plays herself in the film. Maddalena told EW that “Wes loved female heroines.” “Nancy is a feminist. She turned her back on Freddy and took matters into her own hands. Wes was an intellectual, a true auteur. He was a master of detail. “

Craven’s screenplay weaves between the “real world”, of the cast, and the foundational elements that make up the franchise. Sinister, clever, and unpredictable, New Nightmare breaks all the rules and leaves us foaming at the mouth for another Craven phenomenon — brought shortly after that with a knife and Ghostface mask.

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

On Nov. 16, 1984, A Nightmare on Elm Street shot chills down the spines of moviegoers across the world, reinventing the supernatural slasher horror genre. It simultaneously launched the careers of a strong cast: Heather Langenkamp as the young Nancy, Johnny Depp in his film debut as Glen, John Saxon as Lieutenant Don, Ronee Blakley as the alcoholic mother, Amanda Wyss as Tina, Nick Corri as the rebellious Rod Lane, and Englund as an iconic boogeyman jumping out of the shadows, stretching his elongated arms in an alleyway.

Craven (who previously made The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes) burned unforgettable images into our minds: the three girls skipping rope singing the nursery rhyme; Freddy’s finger blades rising from the bathtub water; Tina’s violent death on the bedroom ceiling; Glen sucked into a hole in the bed where blood sprays out like a fountain, and so many more. As a landmark in cinema, it was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the United States National Film Registry in 2021, while Freddy is also ranked #40 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Heroes and Villains list. It cuts through the darkness, taping into our subconscious fears and grabbing long marks that will endure forever.

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