Take a Trip Back to Elm Street and Never Sleep Again
Slasher films have come in all shapes and sizes—from Halloween (1978) which popularized the subgenre, to Friday the 13th (1980) which introduced Jason Vorhees, to Scream (1996) which had a more satirical outlook on those kinds of movies. One franchise that stood out from the rest was, of course, A Nightmare on Elm Street. The series follows a variety of teenagers being hunted down in their dreams, and if they die in the dream world, they perish for real. The films became a hit among fans in large part due to the character Freddy Krueger, who was portrayed by Robert Englund in every movie except for the remake. With all that out of the way, here is a ranking of every Nightmare on Elm Street film.
9. Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
The last solo film in the original continuity, this movie follows a psychiatrist named Dr. Maggie Burrows (Lisa Zane) who, along with a mysterious John Doe (Shon Greenblatt), travel to Springwood, Ohio to learn more about Freddy so they can stop him once and for all. Many have described this as the official point when the Elm Street franchise “Jumped the Shark.” While some of the previous films weren’t perfect by any means, none were as nonsensical as this one. All of the scary moments of the earlier movies are gone and instead replaced with cartoon sound effects as well as Freddy using a power glove.
Then, there is the fact that this movie dives deeper into Freddy’s past. Although there are some interesting aspects such as learning he had a family, others prefer dream demons giving Freddy the power to take away the mysterious aspects of the character. They also try to show his tormented childhood to understand why the character is what he is. The problem is that it humanizes him, and part of what worked about Freddy was how apathetic he was. Freddy is supposed to be a sadistic killer, not a tragic figure.
The best part of this film is Robert Englund. While not scary in the least bit, Englund looks like the only actor that’s having fun, which is entertaining in this regard. In the end, Freddy’s Dead is an underwhelming “end” to a unique series.
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
A remake of the series, this movie follows a group of teenagers in Springwood being killed one by one in their dreams. A big problem with this remake is that it takes the plot of the first Elm Street film, even recreating iconic moments from that movie, but it fails to understand what made those work in the first place. Practical effects are replaced with unimpressive CGI; the characters feel like watered-down versions of the ones they’re supposed to be, and the kills are mostly lackluster.
Then there is Freddy himself, who is played by Jackie Earl Haley. While a decent choice in succeeding Robert Englund, and Haley does the best with what he’s given, he is an inferior Freddy. The filmmakers tried to make him more serious once again, but they take away most of the sadistic humor that Freddy always had. He comes across as a generic slasher villain. When Freddy does crack a joke, it tends to fall flat.
The one interesting idea in this movie is the introduction of micro-naps, which is when a person starts to drift in between being awake and dreaming after going too long without sleeping, which can lead to them falling into a coma. Sadly, aside from a cool sequence in a drug store, it’s mostly used for cheap jumpscares. Ultimately, the Nightmare on Elm Street remake is a mix of interesting ideas and wasted potential.
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
Set roughly a year after Dream Master, this film follows Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox) once again. This time, she is now pregnant and Freddy is using her unborn baby’s dreams to get to his victims. If Freddy’s Dead is where the series “Jumped the Shark,” then Dream Child is the buildup to that event. The plot is all over the place with Alice having to uncover more about Freddy’s mother, Amanda (Beatrice Boepple), but also having conversations with her unborn son, Jacob (Whit Herford), in her dreams. There’s also Freddy’s jokes which overstay their welcome. Most of the supporting characters get two personality traits to help set up their deaths later.
That being said, most of the actors do a decent job with the material. Englund is great as always, but Lisa Wilcox does fine as Alice. She honestly gives a better performance here than in Dream Master with her character now a seasoned pro against Freddy. The kills are done well with them being so gruesome that the MPAA forced the filmmakers to cut them down so they can keep an R-rating. Supposedly, the director of Freddy’s Dead, Rachel Talay, felt this film lacked humor, which resulted in her making the sixth movie more comedic. Somehow, she missed Krueger on a skateboard and “Super Freddy.” Overall, Dream Child feels like a step in the wrong direction for the franchise, although it still has some bright spots.
6. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
A crossover event with the Friday the 13th series, this movie has Freddy using Jason Vorhees (Ken Kirzinger) to bring fear back into the Elm Street kids so that he can return to their dreams once more. The fact that this film even exists is quite an accomplishment considering how long it took to get made. Just seeing Freddy and Jason in the same room with each other is amazing, and their fight scenes are quite entertaining. The film does a decent job of giving both characters a home-field advantage for each fight.
A big issue though is, despite this movie being called Freddy vs. Jason, it mostly follows the standard stock group of characters with little personality as seen throughout both franchises. Characters like Mark (Brendan Fletcher) and Deputy Stubbs (Lochlyn Munro) are interesting, but most of the others are just written to be cannon fodder. The director, Ronny Yu, apparently spent more time with the action scenes than he did with the actor’s performances. Some line deliveries feel very awkward as if the cast didn’t know what they were supposed to do. Still, Englund continues to crush it in his final film portrayal as Freddy and Kirzinger is a solid Jason. All in all, Freddy vs. Jason, while not a scary movie, is ultimately an over-the-top spectacle.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Set five years after the first movie, this movie follows Jessie Walsh (Mark Patton) who, after moving into Nancy Thompson’s (Heather Langenkamp) house, is haunted by Freddy before being possessed so that Freddy can inhabit the real world. One of the best parts about this film is how it didn’t just try to copy the plot of the first film like a lot of sequels do. That being said, while the idea of a killer possessing a character to kill others is an interesting concept, it doesn’t make too much sense for an Elm Street film. Freddy only has powers in the dream world, so why have him in the real world where he can’t do all of that? Or, at least that’s how it should be, but there are scenes where Freddy does affect the real world by causing fire to appear out of nowhere, with no explanation ever given.
There is also the fact that this movie has a homoerotic subtext as a major theme, which is an intriguing idea to include in this series. Still,, this film is quite enjoyable with memorable dream sequences and a much more serious Freddy similar to the remake but better. Walsh is also a good lead. Freddy’s Revenge ends up being a nice bridge between the first and third movies.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
Taking place shortly after the events of Dream Warriors, this film follows Alice as she is being used by Freddy to bring him his victims after Kristen (Tuesday Knight) dies and gives Alice the power to pull people into her dreams. Dream Master, while not bad, is a bit of a mess. This movie was made during the 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike, and it is quite evident as some ideas are introduced such as Alice’s daydreaming, and then dropped quickly. There is also the fact that the movie kills off all of the teen survivors of the previous installment in the first act. The idea of Freddy succeeding at murdering the kids of the parents who burnt him isn’t a terrible idea, especially since many horror films don’t have happy endings. The problem is that it almost feels like it undermines what those characters went through. Not all of them had to die, or at least that quickly. Most of them don’t even interact with the rest of the cast.
With all that out of the way, this film still has some impressive death scenes and outstanding gore effects. The actors each deliver decent performances. Alice is a likable protagonist with great fight scenes with Freddy. In the end, The Dream Master is an okay follow-up, but it was clear the gas was slowing down by this point in the franchise.
3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
Set outside of the original continuity, this movie follows a fictionalized Heather Langenkamp as she is being haunted by a demonic entity using Freddy’s appearance based on Wes Craven’s script that somehow is affecting the “real world.” This marks the second time Craven has returned to the franchise with him also co-writing an early draft of Dream Warriors. The idea was his original premise for the third film, but it was rejected at the time. It’s a good thing it was used, though, because this movie is fantastic. The film brings the series back to its horror roots by doing an effective job of showing people’s lives who work in the industry, and how they are affected by working on horror films. It’s also an excellent metatextual look into the genre, which Craven would nearly perfect in Scream two years later.
Another positive aspect of this movie is that, although the demon posing as Freddy isn’t in most of the film, his presence can still be felt, leaving an eerie feeling that works tremendously. Heather Langenkamp gives her best performance of the series, now being a protective mother of a fictional version of her son, portrayed by Miko Hughes. New Nightmare also has great callbacks to the first Elm Street that don’t feel forced, and there are even some scenes that take something from the first film but do something different. This movie acts as a better remake than the actual remake. All in all, New Nightmare brings the horror back into Elm Street.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
Taking place a year after Freddy’s Revenge, this film follows the last group of kids on Elm Street in a psychiatric hospital with Nancy Thompson trying to help them. As mentioned before, Wes Craven co-wrote an early draft and while most of it wasn’t used in the final product, the main setting being at a psychiatric hospital and bringing Nancy back were kept. This film is Freddy at his prime with some of his best kills and jokes. The idea of a group of teens teaming up against Freddy rather than a lone survivor is a refreshing change of pace. Also, Nancy being a mentor figure to the characters is done well and she ends up getting a nice sendoff.
However, for all this movie’s strengths, there are a few drawbacks. John Saxon is mostly wasted as Donald Thompson, especially since he is one of the few returning actors aside from Englund and Langenkamp. A lot of adults, minus Nancy, make dumb decisions when it comes to helping the teens. While initially, it makes sense for them not to believe Freddy is killing people in their dreams, most of the kids are killed within days of each other in ways that clearly look like they were murdered; some of the parents of them still act like the kids just need sleep and their problems will go away. With all that out of the way, Dream Warriors is the best sequel in the franchise.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
While there have been some good films to come after, none can ever beat the one that started it all. This movie follows Nancy Thompson who, along with her friends, is being targeted by Freddy in their dreams as revenge for him being burnt alive by their parents. This movie does so much right. The kills are iconic, the score is creepy in the best way, and the direction is brilliant. The film takes the concept of someone killing people in their dreams to its full potential. Nancy is an impeccable main character with the movie showing just how far she is willing to go to avoid Freddy and how she tries to outsmart him. Some have criticized the characters for being a little bland, and while there certainly is a case for that, they still leave a memorable impact.
Like with Dream Warriors, this film, unfortunately, does have adult characters making idiotic choices to help the kids. There is also the ending, which doesn’t make sense. Although Craven wanted a happy ending with the whole movie revealing to be a dream, producer Bob Shaye wanted a twist-ending showing Freddy capturing Nancy. It makes even less sense when Nancy appears in the third film with implications she hasn’t encountered Freddy in years. That being said, A Nightmare on Elm Street is an excellent slasher and there is a reason why New Line Cinema, the movie’s distributor and production company, is nicknamed, “The House that Freddy Built”.
All films in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise can be watched on Max.
Official Nightmare on Elm Street Trailer