4. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
With this, the series’ first ending, the producers actually solidified some of its best elements. Jason goes after a group of actually memorable and likable teens and gets creative with his kills. But what stands out as fresh and different is the introduction of the Jarvis family. Corey Feldman plays Tommy Jarvis, who outwits Jason much like our final girl will do in Part II and brings a different energy to the movie. He actually could be one of the kids at the mythical, never complete Camp Crystal Lake, rather than just a randy counselor who gets his trope-demanded comeuppance. And finally, the effects are among the best in the series, truly visceral and memorable, which counts for a lot.
3. Freddy vs. Jason (2003)
I know, I know. This high placement on my list will draw some serious controversy–tell me about it in the comments! However, this is maybe the most fun film of the bunch. Years in the planning and promising (they’d planned to do it in 1988), these two titans of slash finally clashed on screen. This is a ridiculous plot: Freddy gets in Jason’s head to have him take out the last of the Elm Street kids, and then Jason is not pleased with being manipulated and turns on Freddy. This leads to an increasingly stupendous battle in Crystal Lake, culminating in a debate-stoking final scene where Jason decapitates Freddy, but Freddy literally gives the last laugh, leading us to wonder: who won this grudge match?
This film is a fan-pleasure, pure and simple. It’s filled with fun references and callbacks to both franchises, and a final showdown that no one needed, but everyone wanted.
2. Friday the 13th, Part II (1981)
Part II actually solidified Jason as the villain of the Friday the 13th franchise, and it follows nicely on the heels of the original film. We return to Camp five years after the end of the first film (even though this released less than a year after the first, creating a massive continuity problem that the series just bungles). While it’s often touted as just a rehash of the first film–and there are some grounds for that thought–it really does further the story along, dispatching our first final girl, Alice, and introducing a truly smart, strong one with Ginny. She quickly figures out who Jason is, and despite being utterly, viscerally terrified, she uses psychology and a pitchfork to take out Jason in the end. This is actually decently well-written, too, except for the unwatchable idiot in his underwear dancing about in a Native American headdress. I’m pretty OK when he gets killed off.
1. Friday the 13th (1980)
Sorry to stick with the mainstream, listing the original as the best! But it’s true. It’s got everything: a double-twist ending, actually decent acting (except for the dang cook, Annie, who is just dreadful), good kills, and an atmosphere of suspense and mystery that pervades the film. It’s streamlined in its storytelling, with little exposition and a good amount of visual trickery to throw you off the killer’s scent. Heck, it’s got Kevin Bacon getting an arrow through the throat while in bed! It’s got guts, this film. Ultimately, it establishes everything that will follow, even if the formula is messed with and shifted into unrecognizable space garbage by the end, the original is the purest, most watchable and enjoyable form.