How the Saw franchise has stood the test of time and broken the torture porn curse

Saw X
(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The horror genre is home to many franchises, from the dreamfstalking tales of A Nightmare On Elm Street to the infamous slasher saga Scream. What they have in common are consistent themes, lovable (or hateable) characters, and a sense of community that die-hard fans can proudly inhabit.

However, it is rare to see a franchise in the ‘torture porn’ sub-genre run for so long yet remain coherent. As successful as the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre was, the movies which followed went against the original plot, created different versions of key characters, and blatantly retold Leatherface’s origin. The same goes for Wrong Turn and Hostel. But one franchise, born in the midst of the early noughties no less, has survived through generations and will this year see the release of its tenth movie - that is, of course, Saw. 

You may be thinking, what makes Saw so special and how has it managed to span over ten movies? The answer isn't black or white, or even red, but we can take a guess why this franchise has lasted over almost 20 years, earned a committed fanbase, and stood the test of time. 

A fool-proof recipe

Saw X

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Saw movies primarily revolve around the fictional, self-proclaimed ethical-serial-killer John Kramer (Jigsaw). Rather than killing his victims outright like other horror villains, Kramer traps them in life-threatening mechanical torture devices he calls ‘games’ to test their will to survive. It is Jigsaw’s belief that if they survive, their brush with death will lead to them being rehabilitated.

Many other films that sit in horror’s most debased sub-genre ‘torture-porn’ rely on the shock factor - to kill or torture as many people in the most shocking ways possible to leave audiences stunned and forever disturbed. But with the Saw films there is another added layer, the victims actually have a chance to survive and are faced with a game rather than completely inescapable death.

The whole premise of Saw plays upon a very humane fear, punishment, and retribution. Jigsaw’s victims all have one thing in common: they have done something wrong at some point in their lives, something that has hurt another, something that they have not yet paid for. They then must try and escape the traps, which usually involves hurting themselves in the process, a task that goes against our very nature. With the success of the first Saw movie, producers had found a winning combination and stuck to it. And why not? Don't fix something that isn't broken.

Original cast


(Image credit: Lionsgate)

A mistake many horror franchises make is changing the cast too often. Audiences want to follow a character and their journey between movies, even if they have a murderous god complex like Kramer. With key characters such as Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell) and one of his assistants Amanda (played by Shawnee Smith) continually returning, it’s a sure way to keep audiences coming back for more.

Especially when Jigsaw is a baddie that audiences love to hate, therefore continually capturing our attention. Kramer is quite a unique horror villain - he isn't slicing people in two with a chainsaw or picking off a group of teenagers one by one for the fun of it. With his own morphed sense of morality, John actually believes that what he does is justified - and audiences can see where he is coming from. In a kind of Batman-esque crime-fighting way, Kramer truly thinks that the people he is punishing deserve some kind of retribution.

Other than his skewed sense of right and wrong, Kramer is truly at the heart of every film, and with each screening we see deeper into his life (and death) pre, present, and post Jigsaw. Saw keeps audiences gripped onto the timeline by constantly moving back and forth through flashbacks and time-jumping scenes. Each of the subsequent Saw sequels has built upon the timeline of the first film, going back in time and filling in gaps where each director sees fit. With each flashback revealed, we start to see more of why Kramer took on the role of Jigsaw and that there may be a shred of sense to his killings.

Loyal fans and stellar marketing


(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Just take a look at any Saw hashtag or mention on social media and you will see how hardcore the franchise’s fans really are. From tattoos of traps to elaborate Halloween costumes, audiences everywhere love to show their enjoyment of the Saw movies. In the lead-up to Saw X many fans are putting on their own ‘Saw-a-thon’ movie marathons which anyone around the world can take part in, and it is no surprise. Jigsaw does not have any prejudices when it comes to his victims, meaning no matter your race, age, financial, or social status, anyone could end up in a trap if they make bad choices. 

Saw on Twitter

(Image credit: @saw on Twitter)

The recent marketing campaigns led by the Saw team in promotion for the tenth movie proves how well they know their fans. From Billy The Puppet parodying Nicole Kidman in a hilarious spoof of the AMC commercial, to official Saw X social media pages playing ‘Saw Trap Pictionary’ with fans, it is safe to say that Saw knows their fanbase and what to do to keep them engaged. You can even download a Jigsaw mobile game on your phone or call a Saw hotline to talk to John Kramer himself. One thing's for certain, we cannot wait to see where Saw X takes the franchise and what else Jigsaw has in store for his unsuspecting victims.

If you haven't seen any movies in the Saw franchise but would still like to get involved and watch the upcoming film then we have good news. Saw X will take place between Saw and Saw II so you only have to watch the first movie in the franchise to be up to date.

Saw X releases in theatres September 29. For more, check out our list of the most exciting upcoming horror movies heading our way in 2023 and beyond.

Editorial Associate, GamesRadar+

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering TV and film for SFX and Total Film online. I have a Bachelors Degree in Media Production and Journalism and a Masters in Fashion Journalism from UAL. In the past I have written for local UK and US newspaper outlets such as the Portland Tribune and York Mix and worked in communications, before focusing on film and entertainment writing. I am a HUGE horror fan and in 2022 I created my very own single issue feminist horror magazine.