Ranked: James Wan Films from Worst to Best

Daniel Rester ranks all of the films from director James Wan, from horror films 'Saw' and 'The Conjuring' to action films 'Aquaman' and 'Furious 7.'

Australian film director James Wan took the horror community by storm when he made Saw (2004), an independent film which spawned the most popular horror franchise of the 2000s. Since then, Wan has contributed a number of other horror films while also branching out into the action genre on occasion. Let’s take a look at Wan’s films and how I personally rank them from worst to best in terms of quality. Note that this list will not contain Wan’s first film, Stygian (2000), as it is impossible to track down.   

10. Insidious: Chapter 2  (2013)

The only Wan film I wouldn’t give a passing recommendation for is Insidious: Chapter 2. It’s sillier and more familiar than the first film, with Patrick Wilson’s version of evil coming across as hammy. There’s solid camerawork and a few chills to be had, but for the most part it feels like Wan is on cruise control with this one. Grade: C+

9. Dead Silence  (2007) 

Dead Silence is the neglected stepchild in Wan’s filmography. His sophomore film is often ignored in discussions about his career, which is a shame because the flick is a pretty entertaining little gem that deals with ventriloquist horror. Ryan Kwanten is bland in the lead role, but thankfully Donnie Wahlberg adds some life as an eccentric detective. Dead Silence isn’t great horror, but it’s spooky enough and it also rushes by at only 89 minutes in length. Grade: B-

8. Aquaman  (2018) 

Wan’s blockbuster contribution to the DCEU, Aquaman, is a goofy and colorful time at the movies. The hunky Jason Momoa leads a stellar cast as his character explores both the land and ocean in search of his destiny. Wan handles the action scenes well here, though he struggles at times to not make the serious and romantic scenes come across as dopey and cringy. Grade: B-

7. Malignant  (2021) 

After years of serious supernatural horror and action blockbuster projects, Wan changed things up a bit with Malignant. It’s a campy horror flick with a wild twist. The film is certainly uneven and features a boring lead turn by Annabelle Wallis, but Wan has fun with the material throughout. The third act is especially entertaining. Grade: B

6. Death Sentence  (2007) 

Death Sentence is a violent B-movie revenge flick loosely based on the sequel novel to Death Wish. Kevin Bacon gives a solid performance as a suit-and-tie man who takes on crazy gang members after they attack his son. Wan’s first film away from horror showed that he was plenty capable of handling other genre material; he gives Death Sentence lots of grit and suspense. The extended parking garage chase sequence is especially thrilling in this simple but effective action drama. Grade: B

5. Insidious  (2010) 

Insidious helped give Wan’s career a boost after his previous couple of projects came and went without much attention critically and financially. Working from a Leigh Whannell script, Wan crafts some electrifying scares as he explores “The Further” while his cast is strong all around. Lin Shaye is especially memorable as Elise Rainier. Insidious spawned a series of films but the first one remains the best. Grade: B+

4. Furious 7  (2015)  

Furious 7 was Wan’s first leap into big action blockbuster filmmaking. As if that wasn’t a hard enough thing to handle, he also had to deal with how to keep the film workable after the passing of star Paul Walker. Wan and his team managed to pull it off well enough as the film works more than it doesn’t in bombastic and thrilling ways. The tribute to Walker at the end is tasteful and emotional too, while the film also features one of the series’ best action sequences with the mountaintop chase. Grade: B+

3. The Conjuring  (2013) 

After dominating the 2000s with the Saw series, Wan did the same thing with The Conjuring series in the 2010s. The Insidious films were popular too, but The Conjuring came in like a force and became the go-to horror series of the decade. The first entry is still one of the most effective in the series too, with Wan’s slick stylistics and a great pair of leads in Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga boosting the material. The Conjuring is a creepy and handsomely made throwback to eerie haunting films made between the 1960s and 1980s. Grade: A-  

2. The Conjuring 2  (2016) 

I prefer The Conjuring 2 to The Conjuring by just a hair. Both are expertly crafted, but I find the sequel has a little more heart to the lead characters and the cinematography is also superior. There are a number of tracking shots by Director of Photography Don Burgess that are just gorgeous, perfectly complimenting Wan’s staging. The scares are also plenty, with the presence of the demonic nun figure particularly memorable. Grade: A-

1. Saw  (2004) 

Though Wan has had a terrific career, Saw remains his crown jewel all these years later in my opinion. Some of the other entries in his filmography have better acting and camerawork, but Saw packs a shocking punch through its storytelling that keeps the audience guessing from beginning to — wild twist — ending. None of its sequels could reach its level because the other directors couldn’t match Wan’s balance of horror and mystery; the later Saw films focused more on the deadly traps instead of the atmosphere. Saw is still my favorite of Wan’s horror classics. 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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