First released in 1984, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street introduced the world to Freddy Krueger. Freddy quickly became one of the most iconic figures in popular culture.
Of course, because it was the 80s and the film was a hit, the studio launched a franchise. We've now seen five direct sequels, a meta-movie about Freddy, a “vs.” movie with fellow horror icon Jason (of Friday the 13th), and a remake. In all but one of those films, Robert Englund plays Freddy.
Here I'd like to dive into the series, setting aside the Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy remake to see which nightmare is the best. From memorable kills to significant mythology, and from final girls to perhaps unexpectedly thoughtful considerations of trauma, the A Nightmare on Elm Street series has a lot of great things to offer, and as is inevitable with any long-running horror franchise, some not-so-great things.
8. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
The Dream Child introduces more lore to the series than any previous movie. The surviving final girl from the fourth installment, Alice (Lisa Wilcox), becomes pregnant with a child that Freddy then uses to attack her and her friends. Sadly, while that lore could have been interesting, The Dream Child gets so bogged down in its mythology that it fails to maintain momentum and draw in any new viewers.
The Dream Child
But to give some credit to The Dream Child, there is one great and memorable death. At one point, Freddy melds Dan (Danny Hassel) with a motorcycle in a sequence that feels like it's straight out of a Cronenberg movie or Titane.
7. Freddy vs Jason
Hollywood can't seem to get the “vs.” movies right. These bouts between legends are surprisingly tricky to make into compelling cinema, and Freddy vs. Jason is no different. It's also much more of a Jason movie than a Freddy movie, which could mean viewers' mileage may vary depending on which killer they prefer, but when ranking Freddy movies, I can't in good conscience place it too high.
Jason vs Freddy
The actual battle between the two slashers is fun and well-choreographed (no surprise from director Ronny Yu who came up in Hong Kong action movies). The problem is that it takes far too long and a wildly convoluted narrative to get there.
6. New Nightmare
Sometimes called Wes Craven's New Nightmare, this meta-movie offers an extraordinary amount to chew on thematically: the line between fiction and reality, dreams as a portal between the two, the ability of horror stories to keep us safe from real evil, and more. But it lands relatively low on this list because while it offers a lot of interesting ideas, it's simply not that entertaining.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Part of that is because it's longer than it needs to be (the film clocks in at just under two hours), but the major issue is that the scariest character in the movie is a child: Heather Langenkamp's son Dylan (Miko Hughes). Most of the film is pretty standard (if well-done) creepy kid stuff and not about the horror of being attacked in your dreams by Freddy.
5. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare
Considered one of the series' worst entries, Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare deserves a reappraisal. The movie offers some of Freddy's most ridiculous kills, including one where he uses a Nintendo Power Glove and chases a teen inside the world of a videogame, but it also seriously engages with issues of child abuse and trauma.
The Final Nightmare
There's some tonal whiplash between the movie's exploration of how adults engage (or don't) with histories of child abuse and the over-the-top kills, but both are some of the best stuff in the series. Freddy's Dead is also still the only major slasher franchise movie directed by a woman, which counts for something.
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge
Unlike Freddy's Dead, Freddy's Revenge has already been reappraised, thanks partly to the documentary Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street, which follows the film's legacy. Freddy's Revenge is undeniably different from the other films but it's one of the most entertaining and emotionally and thematically powerful in the series.
The film is now primarily seen as a story about the repression of homosexual desire on the part of Jesse (Patton, who is gay), who is possessed by Freddy and struggles with letting him out. It's a surprisingly rich movie when read through this lens, and it's not a lens you have to try very hard to apply.
3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
It's easy to see why Dream Warriors is widely considered one of the franchise's best sequels. The kills in the first half are equally creative, memorable, and horrifying. There's Freddy's “Welcome to prime time!” line that has become the stuff of horror movie legend. And what might be the most disturbing death in the series when Freddy turns a teen into a marionette by using the boy's veins as strings.
What keeps Dream Warriors from the top or even number two spot is that its ending falls short of the greatness that came before. The finale sees the teens team up to try to stop Freddy in the dream world while two adults fight Freddy's reanimated skeleton in our world. It moves too far into silliness without the winking sense of humor that would become more and more key to Freddy's persona and the movies.
2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
The Dream Master falls second only to the original on this list because it offers Robert Englund's favorite sequence in the franchise. There's a lengthy sequence where the lead character Alice (Lisa Wilcox) repeatedly attempts to leave her job, but the dream won't let her.
The Dream Master
Englund said this was his favorite sequence because it felt like “the most hypnotic, disturbing, and accurate depiction of a dream.” This sequence combined with the fast pace and jaw-droppingly executed kills earn The Dream Master a high placement in this ranking. It's the most dreamlike and the most troubling when it comes to portraying dreams' strange unreality, not just creative on-screen deaths.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street
Nothing compares to the original, no matter how good any of the sequels are. It's easy to see why Wes Craven's first film featuring Freddy immediately impacted horror film culture. The story introduced the world to the horror of simply sleeping while engaging with a thought-provoking “sins of the father” style story.
Nightmare on My Street
But more than anything else, what makes A Nightmare on Elm Street so great are the incredible images that Craven creates in the film. A Nightmare on Elm Street offers some of the most indelible images ever set to film. From Freddy's glove in the bathtub to a corpse being slowly dragged by nothing down a high school's hallways, and many more.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Kyle Logan studied philosophy and now constantly overthinks music and movies.
He’s a film and television critic and general pop culture writer who has written for Cultured Vultures, Chicago Film Scene, Castle of Chills, and Filmotomy. Kyle has covered virtual film festivals including the inaugural Nightstream festival in 2020 and the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival. Kyle is interested in horror films, animation, Star Wars, and Adventure Time, as well as older genre films written and directed by queer people and women, particularly those from the 1970s and 80s. Along with writing, Kyle organizes a Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd.