The Friday the 13th franchise started as a way to cash in on the success of Halloween, and several Jason movies have matched up to the John Carpenter classic in terms of success. Director Sean S. Cunningham took an ad out in Variety calling it “The Most Terrifying Film Ever Made,” all before the movie even had a plot, according to Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday The 13th. Other films like Sleepaway Camp and Prom Night had the same goal of matching up a camp setting or day on the calendar to a slasher killer, but they never had the longevity or the pure effect of Cunningham’s campground set classic.
With writing that feels organic to the characters and the time period, Friday the 13th set a precedent that 11 follow-ups have tried to match or top. These movies brought more victims to Crystal Lake for Jason to dispatch. Soon, the Jason movies took him away from the lake setting, sending him to New York City, Elm Street, and even on a trip into outer space. Through it all, Jason killed 195 people on his way to becoming one of the most iconic slasher killers in horror movie history.
Jason Takes Manhattan is the eighth and final Friday the 13th installment of the Paramount golden years, but most fans hated it. Based on fan scores, it ranked at 4.5 on IMDb and a low 27% on Rotten Tomatoes audience score. While almost none of the Jason movies had positive critical scores, this was one of the movies that the fans agreed fell short of expectations. Part of the problem was taking Jason to New York City and out of Crystal Lake while another problem was budget limitations keeping the project from exploring enough of New York City. It did feature one of the best Friday the 13th kills as Jason has a boxing match with one victim.
After Paramount’s decade with the series, New Line took over with the help of the original film’s Sean S. Cunningham and gave audiences the very different Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Cunningham brought on the very young Adam Marcus (23 at the time) to write and direct the film, and few could argue he played it safe. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday found a way to balance the original films’ cut-and-dry layouts and tones with high-concept, body-swapping material. The low box office finally doomed the franchise until the next Jason movies saw him go into space and then Elm Street to battle Freddy.
Jason wielded his iconic horror movie weapon, the machete, in space for the late James Isaac’s Jason X. Seen by some as the nadir of the Friday the 13th franchise, Jason X blows most of its comparably “high” budget on the opening credits (where the audience sees themselves ascending from Hell). While the movie received poor reviews, it was at least funny and highly creative. A frozen face smash kill was unlike any kill seen before in the Jason movies and there was a hilarious callback to the sleeping bag scene in a holo-deck scene. This movie also saw Jason battle a female cyborg in an inventive battle so it gets points for being different.
There’s something about Friday the 13th Part III that feels like a natural continuation from the first two films while simultaneously being a step in a darker direction. Jason was never scarier than he was in Part III, and he was also never more cold and ruthless. The filmmakers also got away with some of the most shocking imagery seen in the franchise, particularly Vera’s spear-in-the-eye death, expectant father Andy’s bisection while walking on a handstand, and the pregnant Debbie’s hammock demise. It’s a grim film with the best third act of the franchise, but it isn’t as widely accepted as the first two.
Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th: A New Beginning is one of the most notorious Jason movies for one big reason. This was the only movie in the franchise that didn’t have Jason Voorhees in the movie. Tommy Jarvis was back, and he was having nightmares of Jason years after the killer’s death. However, when Jason returned and started killing again, no one could figure out how he survived. That is because this was a copycat Jason. A New Beginning has more detractors than defenders, but it feels in line with the first four more than any subsequent entry when it comes to the violent kills on display.
Steve Miner, a producer on the original, took over the directorial reins for Friday the 13th Part II and delivered a film just as entertaining and possibly even more well put together. However, it doesn’t quite match the gorily inventive and grisly heights of the original, even if it did bring the series’ iconic antagonist to the forefront, as this was the first movie that had Jason as the killer. It also introduced the franchise’s best protagonist, Ginny Field, who only appeared in the second movie. It seems strange that she never once returned for any of the sequels after such a great performance in this movie.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood featured one of the best Jason designs in any movie in the franchise. It also changed things in the Jason movies by introducing a protagonist with superpowers in Tina Shepard, a young woman who had telekinetic abilities, which was how Jason was brought back from the bottom of Crystal Lake for his killing spree to start again. The movie was a huge success, with a $19.1 million box office on only a $2.8 million budget (via The Numbers). The movie had low critical reviews, as is the norm for the franchise, but dollars made sure the Jason movies continued on,
The first 15 minutes of Marcus Nispel’s Friday the 13th remake are phenomenal. It swiftly introduces a group of teens looking for weed, has two of them have sex, and then Jason kills them all, save for one. But then the movie repeats itself, only in a more elongated fashion with new characters. This arrived in an era where Hollywood was remaking several classic horror movies, and it was a box office success, making $92.7 million on a $19 million budget (via The Numbers), the second-highest gross of the Jason movies, although that wasn’t enough to warrant another entry in the years since its release.
Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason showed that the director’s successful Bride of Chucky was no fluke, but rather the work of someone who knows how to reboot dormant horror franchises by giving fans what they want. The movie saw Jason and Freddy go to battle with The Nightmare on Elm Street icon manipulated Jason to put fear into the hearts of Elm Street kids once again. Out of all the Jason movies, this made the most money of the entire franchise, making $92.7 million on a $19 million budget (via The Numbers). It also had the third-highest critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes with 42% and fans liked it, giving it a 50% audience score.
The Jarvis house is one of the most iconic locations from the Friday the 13th game, just as it’s one of the top locations from the films. Positioned just by Crystal Lake, the Jarvis house is a perfect location for a “final” Friday the 13th because it added a new dynamic to the mix. The Final Chapter moved away from the teens-getting-slashed formula of the first three films to bring a single mother and her two kids into the mix. But the fourth film of the franchise managed to stand out because of who it primarily followed. Namely, the young Corey Feldman’s Tommy Jarvis, the ultimate Friday the 13th protagonist if there is one.
Tom McLoughlin’s Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, is a film that’s much better than it had any right to be, considering it’s the sixth installment of a franchise. The film is a testament to just how big a filmmaker McLoughlin should have become. Serving as both writer and director, McLoughlin made a late installment of an at-the-time slumping series somewhat reputable. Jason Lives is effectively a precursor to Wes Craven’s Scream, possessing the ability to wink at the audience while simultaneously giving the fans the kills they paid for, to begin with.
Sean S. Cunningham never really directed a major film outside of Friday the 13th, nor did he helm any of the sequels, but he did introduce the iconic Camp Crystal Lake to the world. The original Friday the 13th was lambasted by critics, to the point that Roger Ebert irresponsibly put poor Betsy Palmer’s mailing address on a public forum for all to see. In reality, Friday the 13th is extremely tame unless compared to John Carpenter’s Halloween or Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Friday the 13th is a journeyman filmmaking classic and one of cinema’s greatest success stories.