Every Nightmare On Elm Street movie ranked from worst to best

Freddy Krueger terrorises a young lady
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Inspired by a mixture of his own childhood experiences and a random series of sudden deaths during nightmares that were reported by The LA Times in the 1970s, in 1984 Wes Craven brought us one of the most unique and thought-provoking horrors of its generation. A Nightmare On Elm Street not only brought a new dimension to the all-conquering slasher genre, but provided it with arguably its greatest antagonist yet.

In Robert Englund's brilliantly realised Freddy Krueger, Craven had created a horror icon that was instantly recognisable, legitimately scary and came armed with one-liners even sharper than his finger-knives. A box office smash upon release, Elm Street inevitably succumbed to the same franchise overkill that plagued most big horrors of its time, with five direct sequels, a meta-horror off-shoot, a franchise-crossing face-off, a remake and even a TV show all following in its wake.

The quality of what came after the original varied vastly, spanning from the excellent to the excruciating. With that in mind, we've taken all nine film entries in the Nightmare On Elm Street series that exist so far, and ranked them from worst to best.

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9. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Ultra-cheesy, beyond silly and about as terrifying as an episode of Sesame Street, The Final Nightmare represents the nadir of a series that had been in freefall for years. By this point, Freddy Krueger himself was little more than a goofy, chuckling, catchphrase-spitting caricature of the legitimately scary, iconic horror villain that had slashed his way into our dreams seven years before, while an overthought plot involving a long lost daughter and, um, dream demons felt like desperate retconning rather than some interesting new layers to explore.

There's no doubt that New Line and director Rachel Talalay (who'd later helm 90s cult classic comic adaptation Tank Girl) made a conscious decision to lean into the daftness that had been creeping into the franchise as the 80s wore on, and if you're willing to embrace the film for what it is, Freddy's Dead could at least be called a good laugh (who doesn't love a head-exploding hearing aid?). Knowing just how great the Elm Street franchise can be, however, ultimately makes this a tedious watch. We really don't need to see Freddy riding a broom again, for a start.

8. A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)

If nothing else, The Dream Child deserves credit for being completely off its tits. The gruesome birth of demon baby Freddy. A model getting fed to death. 'Super Freddy' turning a comics geek into a paper version of himself and shredding him. There is a lot going on. Sadly, as gamely as Robert Englund takes the character into full-on parody mode (and to be fair, the "IT'S A BOY!" scene is pretty cool), there's just no getting away from the fact that at this point, the Elm Street series was a shadow of itself.

Protagonist Alice Johnson, played once again by Lisa Wilcox, returning from the previous movie, is a solid enough Final Girl, but Wilcox has little hope of standing out in a film that is so relentlessly over the top, gross to the point of obscenity and bogged down by a convoluted plot that involves Freddy trying to possess an unborn child so he can be reborn into the real world. Or something. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of The Dream Child is that given some of the ideas going around, there was the potential for greatness here. It's potential that just wasn't realised. At all.

7. A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)

Horror remakes are so rarely a great idea, but Samuel Bayer - more used to helming music videos for the likes of Nirvana, Iron Maiden, Green Day and My Chemical Romance - clearly tackled his vision of A Nightmare On Elm Street with honourable intentions. Fresh off his show-stealing turn as Rorschach in Watchmen, Jackie Earle Haley not only seemed like a solid choice for a new Freddy, but came Robert Englund-approved, and the return to a darker, more menacing Krueger with zero quips seemed like a reasonable decision for a horror landscape that was turning away from self-aware slashers. Bayer's prior CV certainly pays off in some ways; this is by far the slickest-looking film in the franchise, and includes some solid jump scares and effective kills.

Sadly, it's also severely lacking in both imagination and personality, falling victim to the same missteps that so many latter horror franchise entries remain prone to. While it's not as much of a hot mess as some of the sequels, forgettable protagonists (including the usually great Rooney Mara), overegged exposition and wildly misfiring attempts to make the film darker than its predecessors make this an often laborious watch. The fact that it raked in more money worldwide than any other Elm Street film yet never got a sequel suggests that everyone involved knows that, when push came to stab, this just didn't cut the mustard.

6. A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)

After the tremendous return to form of Dream Warriors, fans could be forgiven for hoping that the Elm Street franchise would buck the horror trend and avoid a fall into increasingly crappy sequels as the golden era of slashers began to run out of steam. Sadly, The Dream Master made the decision to prioritise Freddy Krueger's growing status as a walking one-liner with a cool glove, setting the stage for a poor trilogy of films to finish the series' original run off.

Compared to what came after, The Dream Master certainly isn't a total loss. It's packing one of the all time great Elm Street kills for a start; bug-fearing Debbie's graphic, slimy morph into a cockroach before getting squished is a genuinely disturbing and stomach-churningly gross spectacle. Unfortunately, for every flash of a good idea or brief hint of real darkness, the silliness is ramped up to unbearable levels. It speaks volumes of Robert Englund that he actually managed to make lines like "I love soul food!" sound slightly menacing, but even he couldn't save a scene where Freddy is chomping on little meatball people. Ah well.

5. A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)

Freddy's Revenge is granted one of the more curious statuses in horror lore. At face value, it was simply a classic example of a sub-par horror sequel, a few interesting, new ideas (Freddy possesses his main victim!) just not handled well enough to put it anywhere near the pedestal occupied by the original, even if it allowed Robert England another chance to portray Freddy as a truly dark, menacing villain before he began to lapse into self-parody.

Across the decades, however, the undeniable homoerotic subtext of Freddy's Revenge - denied by its makers for years before eventually being conceded in the excellent Never Sleep Again documentary - lends it a much richer, deeper interpretation. Jesse Walsh's desperate battle to deny Freddy's possession of his body as an allegory for the trauma experienced by many gay youths in coming out looks years ahead of its time now, while the film's spicy set pieces - at one point Jesse's coach is literally pelted with balls before being tied up in a shower and whipped - has made it a queer horror cult classic. Sadly, the film's star, Mark Patton - a gay man who had not publicly come out at the time - later claimed that the film's production and reception left him typecast and unable to work, leaving Freddy's Revenge with an awkward and confused legacy.

4. Freddy Vs Jason (2003)

Cynics would point out that, for such a historic meeting of two horror icons, Freddy Vs Jason is stupid, over the top and sorely undermines what made its source materials work so effectively in the first place. Realists would point out that all those attributes can be applied to 99% of all horror sequels ever made. With that in mind, for what it is, Freddy Vs Jason is an absolute blast: one of the funnest slashers of the 2000s and packing a ton of 'FUCK YEAH!', fist-in-the-air moments made for chucking popcorn across the room in a lairy cinema screening.

With both franchises neck-deep in goofy sequels by this point, director Ronny Yu deftly strikes a tone that's heaps of fun while still packing in legitimately cool ideas and badass set pieces. The plot of Freddy invading Jason's dreams to have him reap havoc on Springwood isn't actually as ludicrous a premise as could have been concocted, while the show-offs between the two unlikely foes are entertainingly bullish, more bloody WWE brawl than terrifying slash-up. Throw in a banging nu metal soundtrack and you have a perfectly enjoyable, if admittedly throwaway, millennial horror mash-up (although we can't forgive the gaff of a subplot involving Jason being afraid of water. That one really makes no sense).

3. Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)

Following a pooh-poohed attempt to bring his idea to life for Dream Warriors and two years before he'd perfect it and change slasher movies forever with Scream, Wes Craven had his first proper stab at meta-horror with this ingenious and sorely underrated cousin of the franchise. A pseudo-sequel set in the 'real world' where Heather Langenkamp, the actress who played OG Elm Street final girl Nancy Thomson, is plagued by all too familiar, horrific visions, New Nightmare both paid clever homage to Craven's original while adding some clever twists and knowing new layers.

Robert Englund's darker would-be-Freddy is without a doubt the most terrifying looking of the whole series, while Craven's decision to be relatively sparing with the bloody special effects makes them all the more impactful when they're unleashed. Some moments don't quite land - the scene where Craven, playing himself, leaps to the conclusion that the Elm Street films have summoned a real, different kind of evil is forced and awkward - but for a franchise sorely needing a new lick of paint, New Nightmare is a hell of a return to form. Quite frankly, it's an insult that this is the series' lowest-performing entry.

2. A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Given that the franchise had already started to fall off course by this point, it's nothing short of miraculous that Elm Street managed to not only bounce straight back, but produce a sequel so great it only just falls behind Wes Craven's masterful original in terms of sheer quality and invention. A huge part of the credit for that must go to Craven himself, who returned to the series to pen the screenplay for Dream Warriors, but also to director Chuck Russell, who does a wonderful job bringing a refreshing spin on the Elm Street mythos to life.

Taking place in a psychiatric hospital where a newly employed Nancy Thompson, last seen in the original, leads a group of vulnerable, troubled teenagers into the dreamworld to fight Freddy head-on, Dream Warriors boasted some of the franchises' greatest set pieces and coolest ideas - 'needle-fingers Freddy' remains a popular variant within Elm Street collectables to this day, while "Welcome to prime time, BITCH!" might just be his most ludicrously brilliant one-liner ever. The return of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy was both welcome and well-executed, while Patricia Arquette's turn as new protagonist Kristen Parker made the character a series favourite. Dream Warriors is living proof that with the right ambition and good faith, horror sequels are capable of living up to their predecessors. Plus, it's packing that absolute banger from Dokken.

1. A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

The knife-fingers emerging from the bath. The bed blood fountain. Tina's murder on the ceiling. The body bag in the school corridor. The tongue-phone. The melting steps. Wes Craven's original masterpiece is filled with more iconic, generational horror moments than most of its sequels put together. More than that, though, A Nightmare On Elm Street took the rulebook on 80s horror and clawed it to shreds. In an era where slashers were king, Craven's idea to take the terror of the chase into our own dreams not only opened everything up to a whole new world of mind-bending, out-of-the-box possibilities, but presented one of cinema's most enduringly simple premises: if you fall asleep, you die.

All of this would have been effective enough, but thanks to an iconic look and Robert Englund's superb portrayal, in Freddy Krueger we had an instant-classic villain that was terrifying, quoteworthy and...whisper it...kinda cool. The gleeful menace with which Krueger stalked, slashed and terrified his victims put him straight in the pantheon of Messrs Myers, 'Face and Voorhees, while his opposing cast of characters were interesting enough to make worthy foes. Throw in a humdinger of a creeping score from composer Charles Bernstein and you have one of the most perfectly executed, infinitely influential horrors ever made. Sometimes, first really does mean best.


Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.