During his ’80s heyday, Jason Voorhees was one of the most iconic characters in film, and his hulking, silent demeanor and signature goalie wear have kept him in the horror zeitgeist since his inception. Thanks to the increasingly odd nature of the sequels and the fact that Jason has been under the control of an eclectic cavalcade of writers, directors, and performers (a total of 11 actors have portrayed the character of “Jason Voorhees”), the Friday the 13th mythology is fantastically convoluted.
All that is just the tip of a very bloody iceberg. Just in case you’re a Friday the 13th newbie, here’s the complete Jason Voorhees filmography, ranked in order from greatest to not so great (though the Friday the 13th franchise is a lot like pizza and sex — even the worst is still pretty good).
1. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
The fourth film in the series is its absolute peak. It has a super-bizarre cast, including Corey Feldman in his first film appearance, a breakdancing Crispin Glover, and hulking stuntman Ted White as Jason. It contains a ton of good stunts, some truly bizarre psycho-sexual subtext, and a bunch of neat kills (Glover’s end is particularly gnarly). It also works as a satisfying narrative (if you’re into that sort of thing), and contains one of the series’ strangest fringe characters in the morgue attendant Axel, who is described by a nurse as “The Super Bowl of self-abuse.” Whatever that means.
2. Friday the 13th Part 2
The first sequel actually marks the first appearance of grown-up Jason Voorhees, and set the character’s template for the rest of the franchise’s run. Part 2 is a little shaggy, but has a pretty sweet cast of victims, including the returning bicycle and curse enthusaist Crazy Ralph. Plus, this is the movie wherein Jason wears a burlap sack over his face — not as badass as the hockey mask, but still pretty sweet.
3. Friday the 13th
The original still packs a punch, and it’s remarkable how well it holds up even though everybody in the universe knows the twist at the end. Though all its moves seem cliché now, this movie set the template for a decade’s worth of cheap, reliably entertaining slasher flicks. What stands out nearly 35 years later is the fact that the movie carries so much tension even though none of the characters know anything is even wrong until there’s about 10 minutes left. That’s a pretty impressive feat of cinematic trickery. Also: Kevin Bacon!
4. Freddy vs. Jason
Oh man, how I love Freddy vs. Jason. It’s more of an action movie than a horror flick, but seeing Jason square off against the icon of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series is deeply satisfying (and pretty kinetic to boot). The balance between the two titular characters is stellar, and it introduces a little bit more mythology without getting too bogged down by it. Mostly, it expresses Jason’s immortality in one scene better than Jason Goes To Hell did in 90 minutes. Also, an oft-forgotten detail: Kelly Rowland is in this, making it the best film to feature a former member of Destiny’s Child (take that, Dreamgirls!).
5. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Take Manhattan
I’ll admit that this I’m probably overrating this entry just a tad, as I can objectively acknowledge that this is a terribly-made movie: It looks cheap (even by the standards of Friday the 13th), the character motivations make no sense, the title is something of a lie (they spend most of the movie on a boat), and the ending is completely non-sensical. Still, it is wildly entertaining, mostly thanks to a cheeky sense of humor about the Jason character and this fantastic sequence.
6. Jason X
With Jason theoretically eliminated, the producers of the franchise sent the series into a post-apocalyptic future where a team of students is excavating what is left of Earth and comes across a cryogenically preserved Jason. This entry has a wicked sense of humor, mostly manifesting in jokes about the future (there’s a hardened war vetaran who talks about “the Microsoft conflict,” apparently hockey has been outlawed, and nobody knows what a bike is). There are so many peaks in this movie, from the bizarre S&M sequence, the self-aware death of the Sarge, the conversion from Jason to Uber-Jason (seriously, that’s what they called him in the credits), and the Holodeck-esque portion that sends Jason back to Crystal Lake to annihilate some topless ladies in sleeping bags. It’s the best.
7. Friday the 13th 3D
Notable for the introduction of the hockey mask, and the fact that Jason fights a biker gang at one point. But this movie is really all about Shelly Finkelstein, who set the template for the “annoying goofball outcast prankster” character that tended to show up every other movie or so. It should also be noted that the 3D effects in this movie are terrible. Look out for that yo-yo coming at you!
8. Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Also known among fans as Carrie vs. Jason, this entry finds our slashing hero squaring off against a teen with telekinesis. The mind power stuff makes for some cool effects, and for the first time it actually seems like the person meant to defeat Jason actually has the ability to do so, which ratchets up the dramatic tension a bit and gets you invested in the telekinetic Tina Shepard (played by a game Lar Park Lincoln; between this and House II: The Second Story, she really should have been a bigger star). Also of interest: Tina’s mom is played by actress Susan Blu, who did voices for basically every ’80s animated TV series, and the true villain of the piece is the nefarious Dr. Crews, who is played by Terry Kiser (aka Bernie).
9. Friday the 13th (2009)
Of all the modern reboots of classic horror franchises, Friday the 13th actually fares the best. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before it, it’s hurt by the fact that everything looks a little too polished. But the violence is top-notch, and Derek Mears makes for a wonderfully menacing Jason.
10. Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
As of this movie, Jason made the transition from a tough dude with a weird head to a supernaturally-powered undead zombie hero. Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman’s character from The Final Chapter) finds Jason’s grave and wants to make sure he is dead. But in doing so, he accidentally sends a bolt of lightning into him, Back to the Future–style, and resurrects our favorite killer. The movie settles into familiar territory after that, but those first few minutes are balls-out insane.
11. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday
As noted above, it’s impossible to follow this thing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Creighton Duke is a completely bizarre creation, and his various speeches about only a Voorhees being able to kill a Voorhees are the stuff of scenery-chewing legend. I mean, just watch this guy work.
12. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
The only entry in the series that is genuinely skippable, which is a shame because it operates on a pretty interesting premise: The killer who is picking off the residents of a halfway house is actually an impostor posing as Jason, using his legend as a smoke screen. But it doesn’t explore the psychological ramifications of using a legend for your own means and features perhaps the dullest cast in the history of slasher flicks. Still, completists will want to sit through it, if only for the score, which is probably Harry Manfredini’s best work in the series.
Beware, horny camp counselors of the world.