Ranked: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Films

Ranked: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ Films

As the “golden era” of slashers (1978-1984) was coming to an end, Wes Craven delivered a knockout for the subgenre. With A Nightmare on Elm Street, the director gave us one of his best films and introduced the now-iconic Freddy Krueger. It was immediately influential and spawned a huge horror franchise. 

The A Nightmare on Elm Street series, now at nine films, has had its ups and downs over the years. But Freddy has persisted in haunting our dreams. Let’s break down the series for Halloween Horror Month. Here’s how I rank all of them from worst to best, with my short reviews and grades for each film as well.

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

Easily the lowest point of the main series, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare takes the occasional goofiness found in parts 4 and 5 and smothers this film with it. Freddy isn’t scary at all here, instead feeling like a cartoon as he kills kids in stupid ways; one teen is even taken out in a lame video game sequence. The plot is also ridiculous, revealing that Freddy actually had a daughter this entire time and that he is controlled by “dream demons.” It’s not entirely incompetent, but the whole thing feels like the filmmakers were grasping for anything story-wise at this point in the series. They didn’t even try with Freddy’s makeup this time around either. Grade: D

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street  (2010)

The 2010 remake, A Nightmare on Elm Street, is a slick but hollow update of the original classic. Jackie Earle Haley steps into Freddy’s shoes this time around, while the main story remains pretty much the same. It does, however, uncomfortably put emphasis on Freddy being a pedophile, something only hinted at in the older films. Haley is pretty strong, but most of the other actors are bland except for Kyle Gallner (as Quentin). Rooney Mara drops the ball at making her Nancy interesting. The effects are impressive and a couple of the dream sequences are cool, but the film doesn’t have much of a reason to exist outside of being a cash grab remake. Grade: C

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

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child sees Alice (Lise Wilcox) returning as the main character, this time pregnant and dealing with Freddy invading her unborn child’s dreams. That weird premise has some promise, and Wilcox is strong again as Alice, but The Dream Child sees the series running on fumes. The film has blue tones and a Gothic feel, making it one of the darker entries in the series. It also does a good job at building up Alice and her relationships with her friends. The cinematography is also some of the best in the series. Despite these fine qualities, The Dream Child often feels like a slog in its pacing as it further explores Freddy’s backstory (interesting in part 3, overdone here). Its dream sequences aren’t very memorable either, and one in particular involving Freddy on a skateboard feels completely off tonally. Grade: C+

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

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge kicks things off in high gear with a crazy set piece involving a school bus and Freddy as the driver. It then follows teen Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton), who moves into the Thompson house from the first film, as the plot becomes more and more nonsensical as Freddy somehow takes over his body. Freddy isn’t killing people in their dreams in this one, but rather using Jesse to attack them. This and many other aspects of the film (leather bar, male towel whipping, etc.) have led people to believe Freddy’s Revenge has a homosexual subtext. It certainly makes the film a bit more interesting when viewed that way as the rest of it is decently made but not much fun. Director Jack Sholder (Alone in the Dark (1982)) does give it some atmosphere though, and the chest bursting moment is a standout. Grade: B-

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

After the fresh and exciting A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, the series took a dip downward with A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. The first half of the film focuses on Freddy taking out the remaining Dream Warriors while the second half deals more with a new girl with a special power named Alice (Lisa Wilcox). Director Renny Harlin helms the project with energy, and Wilcox is really good, but The Dream Master often feels uneven. It’s still a solid sequel with a couple of brilliant moments (the cockroach human, the repeating truck dream), but overall lightning didn’t strike twice for the Dream Warriors premise. Grade: B-

4. Freddy vs. Jason  (2003)

The ultimate horror battle promised ten years earlier in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993) finally came to fruition with Freddy vs. Jason. The result is a silly but exciting bit of guilty pleasure mayhem for fans. The workable plot involves Freddy using Jason as a killing puppet for most of the film in order to strike fear in teens on Elm Street again. The acting is surprisingly good from most of the cast, including a young Jason Ritter. It also arguably features Englund’s best performance as Freddy since Dream Warriors. It isn’t anything brilliant, but the film is wild fun throughout, with the showdown at the end particularly satisfying. Cringe moment: “How sweet, dark meat.” Grade: B

3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare  (1994)

People thought Freddy was, well, dead after Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Thankfully, Wes Craven took things over again and decided to put a meta spin on the Nightmare mythology with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. This involves an evil force taking the form of Freddy and attacking star Heather Langenkamp and her family. Robert Englund still plays Freddy, so it feels like a part of the original series despite not taking place within the Nightmare world — but rather in its creators’ world. The film moves slowly at times, and Miko Hughes (as Langenkamp’s fictional son) is pretty annoying, but Craven delivers the goods with a smart script that makes Freddy creepy again. Langenkamp is also excellent as “herself.” This film was a good warm-up for Craven’s meta-slasher approach, something he would later perfect with his film Scream in 1996. Grade: B+

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

A favorite among many Nightmare fans, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is that rare case of a slasher sequel being excellent. The script, partly by Wes Craven, course corrects from the direction the second chapter took Freddy. Instead of possessing a person, he is back to invading dreams, this time at a mental hospital. Heather Langenkamp makes a welcome return as Nancy, while a young Patricia Arquette and Laurence Fishburne pop up in the supporting cast. The kills are all intense and imaginative too, with most of them directly relating to a fear each character has (the TV kill is a standout). The subplot involving a nun and Freddy’s backstory is interesting as well. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a top-notch slasher and features Freddy in his prime. Grade: A-

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street  (1984)

The original A Nightmare on Elm Street remains the best by a long stretch, a genuine horror classic and probably Wes Craven’s finest film. It follows ultimate final girl Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her friends (including one played by a young Johnny Depp) as they are tormented in their dreams by child murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, instantly iconic as the character). Craven brought the slasher subgenre into a cerebral realm while also keeping its visceral qualities. The setup of the film is simply brilliant while the execution of the scares and kills are clever, with the bed sucking scene a particular highlight. Only the last minute or so of the film doesn’t really work. Otherwise this shows the horror genre at its finest. Grade: A+

Written by
Daniel Rester is a writer for the We Live Film portion of We Live Entertainment. He is a Southern Oregon University alumnus and has a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Communication (Film, Television, and Convergent Media) and Emerging Media and Digital Arts. He has been involved with writing and directing short films for years. Rester also won 2nd place in the Feature Screenplay Competition in the 2015 Oregon Film Awards for his screenplay "Emma Was Here," which is currently in post-production and will be Rester's feature directorial debut.

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