30 years ago, on November 9th, 1984, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street opened in theaters, introducing the world to what would become one of the most successful series in horror history and to one of its most notable characters – Freddy Krueger.
As Freddy turns 30, we decided to rank the Nightmare on Elm Street films. Like any long-lasting horror series, there are big ups and downs here, with some incredibly satisfying sequels and some that missed the mark in a big way.
Note that I decided to only include the original incarnation of Freddy, played by Robert Englund, hence you won’t find a listing for the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (though you can read my thoughts on that film here).
Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
A combination of elements, including dilution of the character and over-saturation -- the first five movies came out within six years! -- led to the decision to wrap up the Elm Street series in 1991 (at least for the time being). Sadly, despite what the poster promised, Freddy did not go out on his best installment – not by a long shot. Pushing Freddy’s humor into the most cartoonish places imaginable -- Freddy wears a witch's hat and rides a broom at one point -- The Final Nightmare suffers from flat direction from Rachel Talalay that lacks the atmospheric touches most of the other series boasted. At least it has an amusing power glove reference though – and an appreciated cameo from Johnny Depp, giving thanks to the series that started his career. But let's try and forget that gratuitous and incredibly cheesy 3D sequence that closes out the film.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
The first sequel shows a series still trying to figure its path out and unlike most of the other Elm Street films, there is no story connection to what came before except for the main character moving into the same house Nancy once lived in. The whole idea of Freddy being able to physically possess someone and then actually transform into his burnt Freddy body feels out of place – even though the transformation itself is pretty cool. In a scene that even upon release stood out like a sore thumb, Freddy is brought into the real world and massacres a group of teens at a party one after another, in a manner that feels more appropriate for a Friday the 13th movie than the more specific, individualized kills the rest of the series is known for. The most interesting aspect of Freddy’s Revenge was apparently accidental – a prominent undercurrent of homoeroticism (many have said the film reads as being about a teenage boy struggling with his own sexuality) that the filmmakers have said wasn’t intentional but has at least sparked many discussions about the film as something different in the slasher subgenre.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
On the heels of two incredibly popular films (with each out-grossing the previous sequel), The Dream Child unfortunately was the sequel that halted Elm Street’s momentum. Stephen Hopkins’ installment has some cool visuals and memorable moments, but also suffers from never finding a consistent tone and some performances that are all over the map. At this point, the Freddy movies had become incredibly fun and Dream Child doesn’t live up to that and while an attempt to bring Freddy back into a bit of a darker feel was commendable, it also isn’t a sufficiently frightening film. Still, there are some clever touches, such as the black and white “Super Freddy” sequence (even if it does briefly put Freddy on a skateboard).
Freddy Vs. Jason
After so many years of anticipation (and a rather ridiculous amount of different scripts) it was going to be hard for Freddy Vs. Jason to live up to the hype… and unfortunately, it didn’t. Still, it was a fun theatrical experience, with opening weekend audiences hooting and hollering in all the right places - When the two iconic horror characters fight, the film certainly goes for it, in an amusingly over the top, blood-gushing manner. However, Freddy himself only gets in one kill in the entire movie and it’s hard not to think of Freddy vs. Jason as a better Friday the 13th movie than it is a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. This movie also gave us the gloriously terrible line, "Freddy died by fire, Jason by water. How do we use that?"