For 50 years now, The Exorcist franchise has loomed as a towering presence in the horror landscape, and it all ties back to the original film. William Friedkin’s 1973 adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel retains a reputation as one of the best horror films not just of its era, but of all time, and so it’s no surprise that we’re still talking about it now.
It’s also no surprise that filmmakers keep going back to the well of that original classic. After all, a world in which demons are real and out to prey on the innocent is one in which a lot of memorable horror stories can be made, provided the right filmmakers come together at the right time. With this weekend’s The Exorcist: Believer, the franchise gets its seventh filmed entry, and with it comes the launch of a new trilogy of films which aims to bring the franchise into a new era of success and horror. So, in honor of Believer‘s impending release this Friday, let’s take a look back at the whole saga. This is the Exorcist franchise, ranked from worst to best… including Believer.
Ranking Every Franchise Entry in The Exorcist
7. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
The inevitable sequel to the megahit that was The Exorcist plays like a movie that simply had too many cooks in its very strange kitchen. The talent was certainly there, as the film boasted everyone from Richard Harris to Ennio Morricone in its credits, and the film even took some pretty big swings with its content. But this story, set four years after the original and marking the only sequel so far to feature Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil, ends up playing more like a weird collection of images and ideas than an actual story. Some of those images are pretty memorable, but it’s not enough to salvage it.
RELATED: Why The Exorcist Still Haunts Us, 50 Years Later
6. Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
The product of a massive reshoot effort led by producers and director Renny Harlin, Exorcist: The Beginning sets out to tell the story of Father Merrin (played by Stellan Skarsgard this time around) and his first exorcism, the one that made him into something of a church legend. You can practically see the producorial notes to add more action, sex appeal, and visual effects, and Harlin does his best with what’s ultimately a hodgepodge of old ideas and new notes. In the end, though, despite some entertaining scares, it’s a pale imitation of an Exorcist movie.
Watch it on Peacock now!
5. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
Before Harlin came along to reshoot the whole thing, the Exorcist prequel existed as Dominion, a film from director Paul Schrader that attempted to tell the same Father Merrin origin story, but with a much more psychological bent. Schrader doesn’t prove as adept as we’d hope when it comes to juggling the psychological drama with actual scares, but there’s still plenty of good stuff here. Skarsgard gives a lovely performance, and it’s a fascinating film given Schrader’s previous efforts, and what he would do later.
Watch it on Peacock now!
4. The Exorcist: Believer (2023)
Making a full-on legacy sequel to The Exorcist is hard, because the original film is just so good that it feels impossible to live up to that kind of impact. Believer can’t live up to it, but damned if it doesn’t try. David Gordon Green’s tension-laden, 50-years-later follow-up is at its best when it’s going its own way, finding new ways to create an exorcism and new ways to explore how faith works within different people, not to mention how possession works when it’s two people at once. It’s not as good as the original (what is?), but there are moments that will chill you to the bone.
3. The Exorcist (2016-2017)
Developed by Jeremy Slater (Moon Knight), the Exorcist TV series set out with its first season to tell what turned out to be a stealth sequel story to the original film, and it did it with memorable, often frightening power. With an all-star cast that included Geena Davis, Ben Daniels, and Alfonso Herrera, the show immediately gripped horror fans, and turned out to be a rather successful follow-up to the 1973 classic. The second season didn’t turn out as well as the first, though, and the show was ultimately cancelled. It might have worked better as a miniseries in the end, but what we got was still pretty damn entertaining.
RELATED: How Exactly Did Linda Blair Contribute To The Exorcist: Believer As Technical Advisor?
2. The Exorcist III (1990)
Exorcist writer William Peter Blatty returned to the franchise to write and direct this adaptation of his novel Legion, and gave us one of the great unsung horror success stories of the 1990s. Starring George C. Scott as an aging police detective chasing a killer with unexpected ties to Regan MacNeil’s possession, Exorcist III is full of memorable images, great moments of theological terror, and jump scares that’ll knock you off your couch.
Watch it on Peacock now!
1. The Exorcist (1973)
Was there ever any doubt? There have been other storytelling successes in the Exorcist franchise, to be sure, but none have ever come close to the pure, terrifying magic Friedkin captured in his original adaptation. Full of wonderful exercises in filmmaking craft from the visual effects to the sound design, and anchored by phenomenal performances from an all-around great cast, The Exorcist is, quite simply, a masterpiece of the horror form. Scary movies rarely get better, or more frightening, than this one.
The Exorcist: Believer is in theaters Friday, October 6. Get tickets at Fandango.