The best Halloween movies are actually quite easy to pin down. Taking four decades of horror nostalgia out of the equation, the fact is that most of the Halloween franchise films are pretty bad. The textbook case of a horror series over-extended and under-respected until it drifts so far away from its visionary starting point, that the best Halloween movies are clear because they're comparatively so few. Honestly, the tricky part of the task is working out the right order for the bad ones! That’s what I’ve tried to do here as I ranked every movie from the Halloween franchise, from the 1978 original to the newly box office record-breaking Halloween (opens in new tab).
Despite the majority of the Halloween movies leaving much to be desired, there's some interesting stuff going on in the sequels. Covering such a large chunk of time, each one is a pretty good (if also pretty awful) snapshot of the tone, aesthetic, and trends of horror for its time. In fact, when rewatched back-to-back over the course of a week or two - as I have done for this article - they make for a rather fascinating journey through 40 years of horror. Just know that if a Halloween film is called anything other than just “Halloween”, the chances are that it is bad. And with that in mind, here’s the best Halloween movies rewatched, reviewed, and ranked.
11. Halloween Resurrection (2002)
Gloss over this entry. Seriously, there is nothing for you here. If you’ve seen Halloween Resurrection (opens in new tab), you know how dire it is. If you haven’t, you should move on and forget you ever saw reference to it. It’s best that we all erase this one from memory as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Sticking around? Oh goddamn it, okay. You know how, when studio executives really, absolutely, positively do not have a single idea left in regard to what to do with a franchise, they’ll sometimes staple it to the latest, middle-aged-man idea of what The Kids Are Into in an attempt to catch the latest trend by way of gimmick sequel? This is the apocalypse version of that.
Michael Myers’ old neighbourhood in Haddonfield is run-down and abandoned. But this year it’s going to be the site of a live-streamed internet horror reality-TV show. Because the internet, right? Kids be online and stuff, and Big Brother is something that was once overheard being mentioned in the Miramax elevator, apparently. Yes, it’s as bad as you think. Yes, there are pranks gone wrong, and someone dressing up as Michael being taken down by the real Michael (before hilarious mistaken identity mishaps). This one even kills off Laurie, at the same time as revealing that the Michael she killed at the end of previous Halloween: H20 (opens in new tab) wasn’t even Michael at all. It’s a total ‘Fuck you very much for watching’.
10. Halloween: H20 (1998)
“Introducing Josh Hartnett. With LL Cool J. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jimmy”. If ever there were a three-sentence opening credits barrage to tell you exactly what you’re getting with Halloween: H20, it’s that. The year is 1998. We are so far into ironic, postmodern, post-Scream (opens in new tab) territory that it’s at times physically painful. And Halloween: H20, despite the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, is really bloody awful. Jimmy dies within the first five minutes, by the way. H20 came right after Third Rock from the Sun, and gave us Gordon-Levitt’s first film role.
A crushingly self-aware product of its time, H20 is an obnoxiously japey parody of Halloween. It purports to be a grand, 20-year celebration of the series, but never seems to have a dash of love for its lineage. The entire first act is one long, drawn out nudge-wink of fake scares and knowing half-jokes. Because the pacing is a mess, there isn’t really a second act, and when we skip straight to the third it feels like it’s all over in five minutes.
The kills are designed for grimace-giggle gore and knowingly chucklesome ‘tension’ rather than any sense of shock. Michael has zero weight or presence either on-screen or off. His mask looks stupid, the movie is devoid of atmosphere, and the Halloween theme is arranged for an orchestra rather than synths. Worst of all, those opening credits give us a whole load of classic Loomis dialogue in voice-over, but it’s performed by someone who isn’t even Donald Pleasence. Into the sun with it. Burn it down to atoms.
9. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Up until Halloween 6, every film in the series opened with an evolved variant of the first movie’s atmospheric, slow-burn, pumpkin-themed intro. As the years had gone on, and the films had got worse and worse, those intros had become increasingly garish, but at least the tradition remained. The start of Halloween 6 though? A comically tortured assault of cold blue strobe lighting, distorted screams, and equally distorted images of distorted wailing faces. Welcome, friends, to nineteen-ninety-fucking-five. There is no pumpkin.
This is a film of cartoonishly grimy asylums, endless smash-zoom edits, random palette changes for no good reason except to worship at the altar of the Edge Lord, and a soundtrack of relentless screams that occur even when no-one is screaming. Seriously, they just edit them in at random in an attempt to be cool. As for the plot? Having established over the previous two films (AKA, Halloween 4 and 5, AKA, The first two parts of what I now refer to as The Trilogy of Bullshit), that Michael is hunting down the last remains of his family, Halloween 6 finally decides to explain why. And oh boy, will you wish it hadn’t. Let’s just say that it involves an ancient druidic space-magic curse triggered by the alignment of the stars on Halloween, and that Michael is now basically murder-Jesus. If any one Halloween sequel is the reason that this year’s reset wiped out all plot following the first film, it is this brimming clown-car of ribald horse shit.
8. Halloween 2 (1981)
You’d expect Halloween 2 to be the decent one. After all, John Carpenter was still involved as producer, writer, and co-composer. No, it’s never been any secret that Carpenter is no fan of sequels, and was pretty well forced into this one, but coming so shortly after the first film, surely Halloween 2 had to be pretty good, right? No. Everything about Halloween 2 reeks of obligation. The story feels rushed and disjointed, rammed with weird filler and going precisely nowhere. The early incident with the fake Michael is a downright bizarre way to draw out the running time, and is never remotely dealt with. Loomis’ sub-plot rambles around nowhere in particular and fizzles out to nothing, just in time for him to make an unsurprising repeat of the same rescue he pulled off at the end of the first film.
Laurie spends most of Halloween 2 unconscious in a hospital apparently staffed by six people, leaving us only with characters we neither know nor care about by way of knife-fodder, and the whole thing, criminally, is just really rather dull. There are a few nice, clever presentations of Michael in signature ‘silent, unexpected, hidden in plain sight’ mode, but beyond that? Halloween 2 is almost entirely surplus to requirements. So much so that its one big addition to the canon - the needless revelation of Laurie and Michael’s siblingdom - was one of the very first things nuked by the reveal trailer for this year’s re-sequel.
7. Halloween 2 (2009)
To tell you the truth, I’m never quite sure where I rank this Halloween 2. It’s a weird, weird film, and there’s no question that it’s perhaps far too much for some to handle. In fact who am I kidding? It’s relentlessly brutal. It’s even possible to argue that this thing isn’t even a Halloween film at all, but a freewheeling slasher film meditation of Rob Zombie’s own whim. But it is a bloody interesting film, and for all its uncontrolled excesses, something about it sticks in the head like a shard of broken glass in the brain.
Exploring what so few horror films have ever braved to do, and asking ‘But what happens to the Final Girl the day after?’, Halloween 2 2009 presents a slow, painful character study of a Laurie Strode in a self-destructive spiral of PTSD, as she struggles to hold together what life she has left while Michael journeys ever-closer back to Haddonfield. Mixing elements of Halloweens 4 and 5 (with its exploration of a deranged connection between monster and prey), and actually foreshadowing - nine years early - a lot of the themes and ideas that Halloween 2018 has rightly been praised for, this second Halloween 2 is all kinds of good and bad. It’s a dirty, nasty unbridaled carnival of trauma, with absolute intent to be. It contains sequences that could be deemed progressively surreal or deathly pretentious, depending on your mood. But it’s a Halloween film that’s trying to do something unique and meaningful. Succeed or fail, that at least makes it stand out.
6. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
We are so, so deep-'80s at this point. Any hint of Halloween atmosphere has long-since dissipated. The Halloween theme, when it is used, is a mere meme now. A radio jingle for stabbing. This is the film you'd get if Stranger Things was a satire of the decade's cinema rather than a tribute. The badboy boyfriends' hair is extravagant, the sunglasses are constant, the plot is an unrestrained mess, and many a heavy perforation results in near-glowing, bright red blood splashed over many a gratuitously heaving boob. Which is just stupid. That kind of deep, venous haemoglobin would be far darker and thicker.
The story? You had to ask. Jettisoning any hint of supernatural-or-not ambiguity, Halloween 5 establishes a psychic link between Michael and newfound niece Jamie, and sends him after her again. Along the way, the film struggles to reconcile its decision to cast a nine-year-old child - rendered mute with trauma - as Final Girl, and so jumps protagonist duties to several different characters along the way, before settling (for a bit) on Tina, a nonsensical being apparently governed by an emotional random-number generator, whose dialogue frequently seems improvised to the end of genuine parody. Donald Pleasence’s evolution of Loomis into a deranged obsessive is a nice, refreshing touch, and probably the only genuinely resonant element of the film. The rest of it though, is kind of a mess.
5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
The first non-Laurie Halloween film to pick back up with the Michael story, in light of the films that came after it, Halloween 4 almost feels authentic. It isn’t, mind. That’s just the upset of the later sequels’ incandescent badness making me nostalgic for the days when the Halloween sequels were just ‘fairly poor’. Make no mistake, Halloween 4 is pretty bad. It’s just not as bad as things got later. At least it feels like trying, even if it is very much the start of the landslide to Craptown.
Spinning into a new narrative arc, Halloween 4 shifts the focus to the (now dead in a car crash) Laurie’s young daughter, Jamie. Haunted by visions of ‘The Nightmare Man’, Michael’s niece swiftly becomes his next target, because hunting down family members is apparently now Just What He Does. Donald Pleasence returns as Loomis, as he will right through to the end of Halloween 6, delivering - as he does every time - a much-needed continuity link alongside a performance that these films do not remotely deserve. There's a refreshing switch-up in traditional slasher dynamics, in that after two Myers attacks the authorities and local community completely believe the threat and rally around to help. Though the inevitable downside is the loss of Halloween's key sense of disconnected, suburban isolation and claustrophobia. A less-terrible Halloween sequel then, but clearly the point that Michael’s power began to fade through careless handling.
4. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)
Often considered the black sheep of the Halloween sequels - as a result of being a Myers-free story set outside of the original universe's narrative - the fact is that Halloween 3 is one of the best Halloween movies for exactly that reason. Realising that there was no goddamn way that the Halloween series was going to stop after two films, John Carpenter tried to steer it in a more worthwhile direction, attempting to reshape it into not an ongoing storyline (and boy, did history vindicate him on that notion), but rather an anthology series which would showcase the talents of new horror writers and directors over a variety of different stories.
Thus, in Halloween 3, we get the tale of a sinister Halloween mask manufacturer, sinister, murderous, besuited men-in-black, and a mystery that might just lead to a conspiracy, that might just lead to something very big indeed. Massively refreshing after the drawn-out, lifeless do-over of Halloween 2, with a delightfully horrid approach to stepped up gore, and a whole new, Carpenter-collaborated score (and a moody banger at that), Halloween 3 might steer wide of what many were expecting, but it's exactly what we needed. Shame then, that audiences rejected it, and forced us back along The Bad Path. People are idiots. Never listen to them.
3. Halloween (2007)
Yeah, I know. ‘Boo, hiss, not the remake’, right? Well answer me this: Have you ever watched every Halloween film back to back in a week? Do you really have that kind of context? Probably not. So listen up, daddy’s talking, and he’s sacrificed a lot for you kids over the last seven days. Easy as it is to knee-jerk against the very idea of a Halloween remake (and I did exactly that upon the Rob Zombie film’s announcement), the fact is that with hindsight, it’s a hell of a good one. Deliberately more gratuitous? Yes, of course it is. Focused on Michael rather than Laurie or Loomis? That’s a decision it makes too. But whatever changes it makes, Halloween (opens in new tab) 2007 is a well-made film with real, focused intent, and it’s also a film that really understands what makes Halloween special. And that’s a lot more that can be said about the majority of the films on this list.
Texturally different but brimming with the same spirit as the original, Zombie’s Halloween took flack for apparently humanising Michael too much during its early, slow-burn depiction of his troubled youth. The truth is much more ambiguous, a careful dance of wrong-footing between nature, nurture, and ‘Oh fuck maybe he’s actually just a monster’, that understands that uncertainty as to his nature is exactly what makes Myers work. And oh God, does he work here. Hitting like a dump truck, yet as still as a frozen lake full of corpses, 2007’s Michael is a distilled, cranked-up version of all the eery, controlled, empty efficiency that makes Myers so terrifying. Brave enough to make changes, yet still an utterly legitimate interpretation of the source material, Zombie’s film might have its own distinct plan, but damn, it still feels like Halloween.
Read more: "If you start worrying about what other people think you are screwed" - Rob Zombie opens up about his Halloween reboot (opens in new tab)
2. Halloween (1978)
The inception point of the modern slasher movie, and one of the most important films of all time. And without question one of the greatest. This is John Carpenter, one of the most instinctive, holistic, multi-disciplinary horror directors in history, at the absolute top of his game. The number of carefully crafted levels Halloween works on is ridiculous. The tone is the thing that will stay with you the most, the longest. Gritty, dirty, grimy, and stark, Halloween's all-pervading sense of menace is nonetheless submerged in that particular thick, black, velvety-oppressive atmosphere that only Carpenter has ever delivered. And then there's the look, and the sheer cleverness.
Revelling in quiet, almost subliminal scares, Halloween uses a unique language. It’s a film defined by understated, in-plain-sight terrors (unnerving in a way that no amount of jumps or gore-shocks could be) and a unsettling use of light and dark, where the scariest place you can be is often the isolated safe-spot amid the ocean of shadow. And of course there's the soundtrack. And Jamie Lee Curtis’ central performance. And the horrible ambiguity of Michael Myers, a creature that could easily be as supernatural as simply too evil to be stopped. And a lot more. There's far too much to talk about here, and Halloween nails all of it. It might actually be perfect. It’s 40-years-old, yet it maintains all the power, charisma, and dense, tangible unease it has on day one. And it always will.
1. Halloween (2018)
I was not ready for Halloween 2018. I was not ready at all. I’d hoped, after a week spent watching the series decay, deform, and collapse further away from what made the first film so special, that this one would at least not be shit. Anything half-decent would have been enough to call it a win. But Halloween 2018 - the first real sequel to Halloween - is a ferociously potent film. Wiping the slate clean and telling a grounded, mature, no-punches-pulled follow-up story of intelligence and immense emotional maturity, it’s the kind of film that makes you wonder whether we perhaps needed 40 years and a great deal of insight into how to mess things up before Halloween could really have a meaningful part-two.
Recapping the last four decades of Laurie’s life with powerful, raw economy, Halloween 2018’s study of the fallout on herself and three generations of her family (unable as they are to relate to her, as a result of their own freedom from horror) results in an intimate and very personal character piece. One that uses a wide range of all-too believable (and sympathetic) failings, frustrations, and fractures as fuel for a discussion of horror that lingers and corrupts long after the stabbing has ended.
As for Michael, we see more of his face in this film than we ever have before, but it never for a moment removes a hint of his mystique. In fact it only emboldens it. After decades of descent into cartoon spook-man parody, we now know that whatever he truly is, Michael Myers’ shape is human, and his form is tangible. We never forget that there’s something like a man under that mask, whatever he might really be, and the film’s refusal to provide any comfortable answers upon making us accept that fact remains upsetting right through to the brilliantly judged final frame. Making both its monster, its protagonist, and the many people in between them real again for the first time in 40 years - far more real than they’ve ever been, in fact - Halloween 2018 is a resounding, blindsiding masterpiece. Michael Myers finally has his power back. But so too, more importantly, has Laurie Strode. This is the best Halloween movie ever.
Read more: Jamie Lee Curtis talks Halloween Easter eggs, the possibility of *another* sequel, and more (opens in new tab)