The Halloween series is my favorite movie franchise of all time. I’d scarcely aged out of the car seat when I began watching Michael Myers stab teenagers to death. I can’t explain why I was drawn to this particular movie (or eventually, set of movies). Halloween has always been a part of my life unexplainably. I can’t actually recall the first time I’d seen the classic slasher film or its original sequels. The images are just forever burned in my memory; part of my DNA.
In the grander scheme of my career, I’m sure I’ll remember this list as one of my favorites to write. I began to ponder what the best Halloween movies were about a year ago, and now, I’m setting my choices in stone.
Here is my list of every Halloween film ranked from worst to best.
11. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Truth be told, I’ve never actually seen this movie. But it didn’t have Michael Myers in it. My mom told me it was stupid for that reason, so I never watched it. And that’s about all of the time I’m giving to this one.
10. Halloween II (2009)
The second Rob Zombie remake of the original film, this is by far my least favorite Halloween film featuring Michael. Firstly, my petty feelings for the film originate from the manipulation of its original trailer. Teasers for the film before its release showed Laurie in a hospital, leading fans to believe that this sequel was following the same formula as the 1981 version. But, within the film’s first 15 minutes, we learn that the hospital sequence was merely a fever dream of Laurie’s own scarred mind.
I respect Zombie’s ambition with the plot of this sequel. Unfortunately, his venture into uniqueness causes the film to lose the essence of what makes the mythos of Michael Myers and the Halloween universe compelling. Zombie in both of his films relied too much on unnecessary brutality. If most other Halloweens are classic rock, Zombie’s Halloweens are thrash metal (yes I know, that’s his lane). It was too vicious for my taste. I also didn’t fancy the turning of Laurie in this one. Basically, the point of the film in the end was to show the similar psychotic tendencies between siblings Michael and Laurie. With Halloween being a pioneer of the “Final Girl” horror trope, it was truly a bad move to turn her evil. Also, Dr. Loomis is killed?! And Michael speaks??? Nope. This one just doesn’t do it for me.
9. Halloween (2007)
This Rob Zombie film is a step up from the sequel, but only marginally. It wins points in my book for its casting of Danielle Harris as Annie Brackett, and the fact that her character doesn’t die in this film as she does in the original 1978 version. I understood this as a show of respect for Harris’ previous role as Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie Strode, in an alternate series timeline. This iteration of Halloween seemed to respect more the essence of the original films, focusing on the small town-ness of Haddonfield, IL as well as Laurie’s innocence.
It loses points for me, as discussed above, with its sadism and treatment of the Dr. Loomis character. The first 10-20 minutes of the film depict a brutal rape scene that paid no dividends to the larger plot; it was included in the film to simply set the scene for the savagery we’d witness in the ensuing 90 or so minutes. Keep in mind that I saw this movie in theaters with my mother. Very uncomfortable.
Dr. Loomis was also baffling to watch. He had a hubris in Zombie’s Halloweens that did not exist in the original films. In Zombie’s universe, Dr. Loomis had written a tell-all book about his experiences with Michael, and had thus achieved some level of fame as a result. He doesn’t seem to have a connection to Laurie, or a particular investment in keeping her or her friends safe. This worsens in the sequel, with Loomis seeking to release another tell-all and to put the events of the first movie behind him. One of the core tenets of Dr. Loomis’ personality is his dedication to his pursuit of ending Michael Myers. It becomes his sole purpose in life. Zombie’s Loomis comes across as selfish and unrecognizable. It’s a no from me.
8. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
The sixth Halloween film, this one was certainly the edgiest of the bunch at the time. This was Donald Pleasance’s final film (he died before filming concluded), and thus the end of Dr. Loomis in the classic Halloween universe. In terms of the film’s plot, this one is definitely the strangest. The story this time follows the family of Kara Strode, cousin of Laurie Strode. Another familial tie that Michael is trying to cut (literally, haha). That’s not the weird part. The weird part is that this film alleges that Michael was serving a Druid cult, whose mark on his skin has granted him immortality.
At the beginning of the film, Michael’s niece Jamie Lloyd (notably played by someone other than Danielle Harris) was kidnapped by the cult, who seemingly impregnated her against her will. She has the baby and flees the cult before Michael finds her, kills her, and takes the baby. Tommy Doyle, the kid that Laurie Strode babysat in the original film, figures out through research that Michael belonged to the cult, and needed to sacrifice a baby that was next of kin in order to….continue his immortality I guess?
The cult is in the movie, therefore this is the most gothic film of the series. This installment of the series is messy, confusing, and most importantly demystifies Michael Myers. The mystique of Halloween is the soulless, inhuman psychopathy of its antagonist. As I discussed with Rob Zombie’s films, any attempt at making Michael seem cognitive and capable of reasoning skills is an automatic turn-off for me.
But, this film ranks higher on the list because it was the film debut of one Ant-Man in a starring role (technically he was in Clueless the same year this film was released, but still counts!). He’s the first of many actors on this list who got their career footing in the Halloween universe!
7. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The first Halloween film to enter the new millennium was a wild foray into pop culture at the time. To date, this Halloween has the most Black people in it in significant speaking roles, with Tyra Banks, Sean Patrick Thomas, and Busta Rhymes of all people playing characters!
It wasn’t the best of the series, but it certainly wasn’t the worst in my book. It stands out because of the clever way it integrated digital technology into the plot of the film. Watching it in theaters in 2002, I thought it was a cool update to the franchise, and I instantly felt more connected to the film’s universe as a child of the internet.
The plot included Busta Rhymes’ character manufacturing a live, online, horror-investigation series set in the childhood house of Michael Myers. (You’d think after seven other films that people would leave that damn Myers house alone — surely it would have been blown to bits by then!) He cast a bunch of horny college students plus one reluctant brainiac, Sarah Moyer. Sarah recently began chatting with a new friend online, a teenage boy hilariously played by Ryan Merriman of Luck of the Irish fame. His screen name is Deckard, and it seemed in the film that the two were merely friends. Obviously, Michael returns home to find a bunch of strangers in his house and hacks them all to bits (can you blame him?) until Sarah is the only one left. As all of the deaths play out on screen, Deckard and his friends watch the feeds online, believing it’s all fake. It isn’t until Sarah cries out to Deckard with her palmpilot in hand that his friends finally believe the killings they witnessed were real.
Resurrection was without a doubt the campiest of the series, with the humor being brought by the Black folks in the film. Still, it had a modern plot, and it was scary enough on balance that it earns an average score in my book.
6. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
The sheer 80s-ness of this film is too much to bear at times. That’s okay though, because it actually took place in the 80s; it wasn’t manufactured 80s that we’re used to seeing nowadays (looking at you Stranger Things). This one may be ranked higher than it perhaps should be, so my personal sentimentality is winning out here. I enjoy this installment because Jamie is the sole focus. In the previous sequel, Rachel Caruthers, Jamie’s older foster sister, was more the focus. Because Rachel dies early in the film, this one focused entirely on the 9-year-old Jamie escaping her uncle. It follows Jamie in a children’s mental health clinic, suffering convulsions and muteness one year after the previous film’s events. The rising tension of the film is Jamie’s psychic connection to Michael, and her struggle to tell authorities of the danger lurking without full use of her voice. Since I watched all of the Halloween films as a kid, I felt the most connected to this installment, since it focused on a little girl around my age being a survivor. Jamie showed courage, strength, and intelligence in escaping Michael that I admired.
Revenge does do some things with mental health and disability that are definitely uncouth. But, it doesn’t last long, so if you can stomach the beginning I think you may find this one endearing. Danielle Harris is overlooked when it comes to heroines of the Halloween-verse, in my opinion.
5. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
Wild to consider that the most recent Halloween film was 40 years later, and 20 years after this one! There are comparisons to be made with the Laurie Strode of H20 and the Laurie Strode of the 2018 version. As we’ll discuss later, I feel that Laurie’s levels of PTSD and paranoia should be switched when the audience considers the timelines of both movies. In H20, the events of the original and the 1981 sequel are canon. In the 2018 sequel, only the original film is canon.
Jamie Lee Curtis’ first return to the series since Halloween II sees her character Laurie Strode living under a new name, with one teenage son, John, played by baby Josh Hartnett in his first film role. I was initially devastated that this film erased the previous three, and thus Jamie’s entire existence. Keri Tate teaches at a California boarding school and seems to live a normal life. In her solitary moments, however, Keri still has panic attacks and visions of Michael coming to get her. She wakes up regularly in screaming fits and takes medication likely for a mental illness. Most importantly, she is intensely protective of her son, John. In spite of her anxieties, Keri still seems sociable, finding a loving boyfriend in one of her colleagues at the school.
Of course, though, Michael does eventually come for her and her son, leading to the film’s climax. This sequel is really carried under Curtis’ wonderful reprisal of Laurie Strode. It is remarkable how she manages to bring a different energy to each chapter of Laurie’s story no matter what timeline she’s in. I also liked that for once, a responsible adult saves the teens in the movie! Parents are always nowhere to be found in slasher films, so it was refreshing to see the kids not have to save themselves and instead be saved by a parent. Josh Hartnett and a young Michelle Williams are believable in their angst and despair, making the film well rounded in its performances.
Oh, and the was the first Halloween film to feature a Black person in a marquee role, with LL Cool J playing a security guard. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is briefly in the movie as well!
4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
The “return” in question is referring to whatever Halloween III was. The filmmakers involved realized what fans loved about the first two films and returned to form accordingly. Jamie Lloyd, the child of Laurie Strode and an unnamed man, is now living with a foster family, under the impression that her parents died in a car crash. She sees Michael in her dreams (or were they?), and consistently cries wolf to her parents and older sister, Rachel. Her schoolmates seem to know that Laurie was her mother and in turn that Michael is her uncle, and is teased about her relation to the “Boogeyman.” Every year, she is afraid to go trick-or-treating like other kids because of the stories about her mom, but this year she decided to be “normal” and go for it. Always listen to your gut, kid! Obviously Michael appears to ruin the fun and kill everyone.
This sequel ranks high for me because it did something new with the original story to extend the shelf life of the franchise. It introduced new Final Girls in Rachel and Jamie, and it was frightening to see Michael so viciously pursue a small child. That roof scene is still chilling! Also, the car sequence was innovative (and I have to imagine, hard to film with the tech of the day) and compelling. We wanted to cheer for Rachel taking charge to protect her little sister. For me, this attitude change for the series is what lands it in the top five.
3. Halloween II (1981)
I looooove the original sequel to the first movie. The iconic setting of a deserted hospital (an already scary place to be, especially now with COVID) is what makes this one memorable. Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance reprised their roles from the original, and they gave stellar performances (despite the poor reviews this film received at the time). Outside of its unforgettable setting, this film is also crucial to the Halloween universe because it is the one where we learn of the sibling relation between Michael and Laurie. Although almost none of the sequels that followed would be critically or financially successful, without this twist, the franchise would arguably be nonexistent.
Curtis portrayed an injured and confused Laurie in this film, still in shock about the trauma she’d just endured, but intuitively knowing that her fight is not yet over. Her hunch was correct, and Michael does hunt her down at the hospital while Dr. Loomis is informed of his relation to Laurie by Marion Chambers away from Haddonfield. To me, this sequel was the most believably scary, as Laurie had to run from Michael while drugged up, likely still bleeding, and on a bum ankle. The way Curtis never forgot to favor that ankle, though!
This film is excellent because it was horrific but not too gory, and expository while still leaving room for exploration of its core characters. A must-watch for anyne new to the franchise.
2. Halloween (2018)
I and other Halloween fans are still in mourning at the loss of the sequel to this movie that was supposed to debut this year. We pine for it because of this film’s excellence.
This one was a return to the collaboration between actor-director duo Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter, and thus is a direct sequel to the original film. This makes the smallest timeline of the series to date, at least until its sequels are released.
It portrays Laurie Strode and her family 40 years after that deadly Halloween night. Laurie is a paranoid recluse who is distant from her family; she apparently lost her daughter Karen to the state when Karen was 12, and thus the two have a strained relationship. Laurie maintains contact with her daughter only through her granddaughter, Allyson. Laurie lives in a house with bright surveillance lights outside and a weapons dungeon in the basement. The Laurie of this sequel, unlike the Laurie of H20, is intensely guarded considering she only had one interaction with Michael (unlike H20 where she had two). Additionally, with the 1981 sequel out of canon, Michael and Laurie have no relation in this film. In hindsight, one would think Laurie would have taken such drastic reclusive measures in H20, rather than this sequel. Nevertheless, Laurie’s obsession of preparedness for Michael’s inevitable return is integral to this movie’s plot.
Like the first installment, Michael breaks out of Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, where he’d been kept since Halloween 1978. In his quest back to Laurie, Laurie attempts to warn her family once again of the danger that lurks. But, her daughter Karen has become a typical modern suburban mother, unwilling to believe that the world is inherently out to get her. She pleads with her mother to be more open to the world around her, but Laurie refuses. And surprise! Laurie was right!
The 2018 take on the franchise revived the random horror of the original and created a compelling development in the Laurie Strode character. Not only that, but I really loved the bond the Strode women shared by the end. For Karen and Allyson to survive Michael Myers with Laurie’s guidance, giving us three generations of Final Girls at the end, was badass. This movie was a breath of fresh air despite the slasher era being long past. For devoted fans of the franchise, it was worth the ticket price, and we can’t wait for more.
1. Halloween (1978)
Did you really think anything else would top the list? The critically acclaimed classic is undoubtedly the best Halloween film of all time. It was so subversive for the time, was a pioneer of an entire genre of horror films to follow, and gave birth to Jamie Lee Curtis in film!
In the film where it all began, Michael Myers killed his sister 15 years prior on Halloween night when he was six years old. The reason why was unexplained; as Dr. Loomis would tell authorities, Michael was “purely and simply evil.” Donald Pleasance became an icon for his Hitchcock-esque portrayal as Dr. Samuel Loomis, the psychiatrist that attempted to get through to Michael for ten years before dedicating his life to containing Michael’s malevolence. He is the viewer’s guide to understanding the unhinged darkness of Michael throughout the film.
Laurie Strode as played by Curtis is a bookish, awkward teen with much cooler (and notably very petty) friends. She is wholesome, spending her Halloween night babysitting, which makes her an innocuous – and unsuspecting — target.
The pure fright of this film is its suspense. Little known about Halloween is the fact that it actually was not classified as a horror film, but suspense. Throughout the film, the viewer is forced into Michael’s point of view, with muffled breathing noises in the background and slow footsteps to boot. The idea being that Michael is ubiquitous, he is everywhere, and he may just be one of us. Michael, while referred to by name by Dr. Loomis, is billed in the closing credits as “The Shape.” This choice was intentional; Halloween aimed to portray Michael as not necessarily human. Or rather, not just human, but “evil on two legs.” He is a mysterious and deadly force of evil who cannot be reasoned with – he is omnipresent in our lives waiting to pounce.
The takeaway from the movie that started it all is that it doesn’t matter how quiet of a life you live or how good you may or may not be. Evil will always be, and sometimes, you can’t stop it. And that, combined with the film’s brilliant production, performances, and plot, is what makes it the best installment in the franchise’s history.