Wes Craven is the master of horror for a reason. Well, he’s ONE of the masters of horror, but still. His Nightmare On Elm Street series is among the biggest and best in the horror genre. He might not have worked on all of them, but the most quality entries, he’s had his hands in. From the one that started it all to the remake in 2010, it’s been eleven years since we’ve seen an entry to this franchise. A lot of that has to do with the fact that finding someone to replace or take over for Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger is almost impossible. They did an admirable job with casting in the remake, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
As for the entire series, we have nine films with Freddy in them. For the sake of the list, I’m not counting Freddy vs. Jason here. It might have Freddy in it, but it’s not really an Elm Street film. We have eight movies to get through, what’s your favorite?
8. A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)
Now this one did a whole lot wrong. Like almost every horror movie in the mid 2000s, they overused CGI. Freddy’s face is CG. The bending wall is CG. It takes a lot of what makes the original special, and throws a paint of darkness all over it. However, Jackie Earle Haley was a fantastic choice for Krueger. They made Freddy scary and menacing instead of him cracking jokes. Surprisingly this was the highest grossing entry in the franchise. Due to the critical and fan backlash, it wasn’t brought back for sequels.
It’s a shame, because while this film had big issues, it was faithful to the original and especially the tone of the original. All these horror icons work better when they’re scary again. They could have had something on par with the Friday the 13th remake, if they went more for practical effects and made the characters more relatable and likeable.
For now, we wait patiently for someone to do Freddy and A Nightmare on Elm Street right.
7. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
This might be a surprise, but this movie is not a great entry in the series. Don’t you worry, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is coming soon. But Freddy’s Dead was supposed to be the swan song for the series. Instead we got a 3D mess of a movie filled with cameos and little substance. Some of the highlights include Alice Cooper as Freddy’s abusive father. It brings in Lisa Zane as Freddy’s daughter and throws away a lot of the previous mythology of the other entries. Once Freddy ran out of Elm Street children to massacre, it really doesn’t feel the same. The Freddy makeup is also the worst of the original films here.
This one has Freddy at his wildest and most comedic, which for some people might be a nice change of pace, but the juggernaut came to a screeching halt with this film. There’s a much longer version of this film somewhere out there, over 47 minutes had to be cut to get it to the theatrical version.
The 3D didn’t do the film any favors, but this one holds a campy spot in my heart, even if it’s not the best entry in the franchise.
6. A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
How do you follow up A Nightmare On Elm Street? Obviously the movie sets up for a sequel with its ending, but what if Freddy was infiltrating other people’s dreams too? This one was hot shot into production less than a year after the first film. Those crunches on time didn’t give the filmmakers much to work with. Also, we might have the first film, but the mythos and lore of Freddy hadn’t really been established yet. So what you get is a film trying to find it’s footing.
Screenwriter David Chaskin included homoerotic subtext that, today is incredibly easy to pick up on, was not at the time. These days A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is a gay cult classic that’s more enjoyable than not. Star Mark Patton wasn’t out as being gay at the time of release, but in later years has come out in support of the film.
This one breaks a lot of the established rules that Wes Craven invented: Freddy melds together with Jesse, Freddy comes to the real world and kills people, it’s a big mess, but it’s an enjoyable and fun mess to watch at least. Surprisingly, they almost replaced Robert Englund as Freddy in this film, but then realized how important he was and brought him back.
5. A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
The MPAA absolutely gutted this movie. The scenes involving Dan, Greta, and Mark’s deaths are all cut down heavily because the MPAA felt like punishing the filmmakers after previous effects and gore had made it through. This film is by no means perfect, but it continues the gothic and mystical look that the middle section of the series had. From Nightmare 3-5 we got plenty of lovely and beautiful visuals alongside the deaths and set pieces we all expect from this series.
Like a lot of the films in this series, some of the quality had to be sacrificed due to the schedule that New Line Cinema stuck to. They and the MPAA gutted a lot of the film but what remains is a highly enjoyable experience for horror fans out there. It continues the Alice storyline that started in the fourth entry, but doesn’t feel as satisfying as that film did. The storyline for this film was originally pitched as the story for either Nightmare 2 or 3.
This is easily the most gothic looking of all the films and it shows in the beautiful imagery. I’d kill to have a 4K version of this film in particular.
4. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
These next two just come down to personal preference. New Nightmare was the return of a lot of the original players from the first film. Wes Craven, Heather Langenkamp, and John Saxon all return and even play themselves. This is a meta movie to end all meta movies. It turns out that Freddy Krueger is real, and the Nightmare movies have been keeping him at bay. With the series dormant, his power is back.
They made a conscious effort to return the series to its roots with this entry. Freddy has a new look, he doesn’t crack as many jokes, For me, this one just barely loses out to Nightmare 4. They’re both fantastic entries in the series but this one gets knocked down just a little bit. The callbacks to the original are nice though and the entire premise is so insane that only Wes Craven could make it work.
Freddy’s new design brings him back full circle to a truly terrifying place. He looks more like Dracula or another mythical character which fits his profile in this movie.
3. A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
The first three Nightmare On Elm Street movies were smash-hits at the box office. They saved New Line Cinema from financial ruin. This fourth entry in the series didn’t have Wes Craven behind it. I’d argue that there was more riding on this entry than any other after those first three. It brought director Renny Harlin a career in Hollywood that continues to this day. Yes, we might not have the Dream Warriors from the first film back for very long, but the characters including Alice (Lisa Wilcox) stand up to the best of the series.
Alice gives Freddy an adversary that rivals Nancy. It doesn’t follow the horror-only roots of the original film and instead focuses on some action elements and the dream sequences. Harlin gave the film a distinct style that continued through to part 5 with a gothic style.
This one is the best of the non-Craven sequels to continue the evolving legacy and mythology of Freddy and Elm Street.
2. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Last year for Fright-A-Thon I wrote about what film was better, A Nightmare On Elm Street or Dream Warriors? Both really come down to what kind of horror you want. If you want more action-oriented fantasy horror, this is your movie. Wes Craven came back to the series and helped write the script. Patricia Arquette was a revelation as Kristen. The rest of the cast provides the best supporting crew to Nancy and Kristen in the series.
Each kid gets their own backstory and gels incredibly well with the rest of the cast. This is the perfect balance between absolutely terrifying Freddy and the wise-cracking version we get later in the series.
Here it is, the best of the series. It’s incredibly close between these two movies but I prefer the more straight-up horror of this movie. This was where we got Freddy and it was the movie that started it all. It’s deceptively simple in the plot and how the premise goes. There’s no convoluted explanation about why Freddy is in people’s dreams or his upbringing. He’s just evil.
Sure, there are some absolutely horrendous performances here, but it sort of adds to the charm. This movie isn’t perfect, but it’s the best of the series and a fantastically imaginative horror film.
For more on horror, check out THS Fright-A-Thon, the month-plus Halloween marathon or stay tuned to That Hashtag Show.