William Peter Blatty’s novel, The Exorcist, conjured up one of the most iconic but divisive horror franchises in media history. With the first movie released in 1973, director William Friedkin‘s shocking phenomenon set a high bar for its many sequels, prequels, and reboots.
And now, 2018’s Halloween director David Gordon Green has released his latest horror sequel, The Exorcist: Believer, which is meant to up another Exorcist trilogy. So with another dark chapter in the books, here’s a list of every film and TV show in the franchise ranked from worst to best.
After the head-spinning success of the first film, a sequel seemed all but inevitable. Directed by Sir John Boorman (Deliverance, Excalibur), The Heretic takes a more metaphysical approach than its predecessor by using science to unearth Regan’s buried trauma, revealing that she has psychic healing abilities that attracted the demon Pazuzu.
Even with its ambitious script, capable cast, acclaimed director, and terrific score, this sequel disappointed many audiences and has been deemed one of the worst films of all time. The story goes in many different directions, and with its awkward acting and special effects, this second film has undermined the legacy left by the first, and to nobody’s surprise, it has now been widely ignored in the franchise’s canon.
This prequel film has a complicated production history. After the original cut was deemed not scary enough for theatrical release, the studios ordered reshoots that eventually led to an entirely different film with a new director.
The basic premise shows a young Father Merrin when he first encounters Pazuzu while visiting an unearthed temple in Africa. Per the studio’s demands, this film tries to satisfy fans by rehashing elements from the original, only to deliver another gory case of possession with unrealistic CGI.
Directed by Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader, his cut of Stellan Skarsgård’s prequel was better received than what was released in cinemas. Along with many differences in plot, this film is more of a slow-burning, psychological horror that focuses more on Merrin’s struggle with his faith after his experiences in World War II.
Even though this version is considered superior, it still didn’t receive much fanfare, for while it carries the same religious and philosophical insight seen in Friedkin’s film, it lacks the shocking energy that made the latter so popular.
After two young girls disappear in the woods, they return three days later, possessed by a demon, forcing their parents to seek the help of Chris MacNeil. While it features many callbacks to the first movie, this reboot fails to reach the same frightening heights as its predecessor, taking a more steady approach to its terror without adding much shock.
It also tries to do so much in one film, adding too many new characters while sidelining Chris after a few scenes. But if there’s anything good about this film, it’s that it takes its time, and hopefully, that buildup will pay off in a much better sequel.
Directed by William Peter Blatty himself, this sequel follows Lt. Kinderman as he investigates a string of Satanic murders seemingly carried out by a serial killer who had been executed the night Father Karras died.
The movie may suffer from the exorcism shoehorned into the film’s climax, but overall, it succeeds in presenting an unnerving and suspenseful horror film featuring probably the greatest jump scare ever seen in cinema. Also, Brad Dourif delivers one of the most haunting and underrated performances in movie history as the Gemini Killer.
If David Gordon Green’s sequel ever seemed unnecessary, it’s probably because of this series helmed by Moon Knight showrunner Jeremy Slater. In it, Fathers Tomas and Marcus are called upon to exorcise a demon from a young woman named Casey, who is revealed to be the daughter of an adult Regan MacNeil (now played by Geena Davis).
This genuinely frightening show succeeds in honoring and expanding upon the original story while still adding some new things to the franchise. Also, its second season still went strong as it focused on both priests in an entirely different possession case. Thus, it seems this series is the better reboot, and it’s a shame that it was canceled so soon.
Yep, everyone saw this coming, right? With its shocking images of a 12-year-old girl vomiting green bile, spouting obscenities that would make Lenny Bruce blush, and violating herself with a crucifix, the original film has burned itself deep into the brains of audiences around the world.
Meanwhile, the better, extended cut released in 2000 stays true to Blatty’s novel by including Regan’s infamous “spider walk,” Merrin’s theory of why the demon chose to possess Regan, and the ending in which Father Dyer and Lt. Kinderman become friends. And the movie isn’t just terrifying; it’s a thoughtful and well-acted tale about finding faith in the darkest of places, and no other possession movie has rivaled it since.