Ranking the Saw Movies

Love them or hate them, the Saw franchise has been anything but a steady level of quality. Some have been good, some irredeemably bad, and with the much-smarter-than-usual-looking sixth installment coming out later this week, we thought it would be a great time to take a look back and rank the films that have dominated the Halloween box office five years running.

5) Saw V

Easily the worst of the franchise thus far, this installment desperately tried to continue a story that had pretty much been finished up in the third film. How do you come back from having a dead villain in a franchise that refuses to enter into the realm of the supernatural? You go back in time and start telling it in prequel format. Picking up right where part IV left off, we follow a character who turns out to be working with Jigsaw -- the guy feeding him information -- but when someone catches on to what he's up to, it becomes a game of cat and mouse that doesn't end well. Marred by a script that was butchered and combined two characters into one guy talking into a tape recorder, the film feels forced and even contains a flashback-within-a-flashback for added goofiness. While the twist to this one -- that each deadly game involving the side story characters can be accomplished if everyone works together -- is interesting, all of the characters are so annoying, you're kind of glad they all bite it horribly, often dying seconds after revealing themselves as being useful or likable.

4) Saw IV

Coming hot on the heels of Saw III, this film is the one that started the idea of picking up moments after we last left off. Taking place after the death of our villain in Saw III, this film follows what may or may not be Jigsaw's final game. This is only marginally better than Saw V, and only because it doesn't involve all of the forced storytelling techniques of its successor.

3) Saw

The first film, while a wild phenomenon, is the most flawed of the original trilogy. Punctuated by moments of bad acting and the occasional silly cliche plot point, the film suffers from two major flaws. The first is that the third act is exactly what the audience THINKS is going to happen, and so it seems hackneyed and disappointing -- even funny. If you were in the wrong audience, like I was, people were rolling in the aisles with laughter rather than on the edge of their seats. And despite how much of a kicker the twist is -- invalidating the silliness of the third act -- you can never cure the experience of laughing during the sawing scene. The second problem is that the film's biggest centerpiece (hacksawing a leg off to survive) was stolen from the classic Mad Max (the writer and director even admit as much in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood). Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

2) Saw II

A marked improvement over the first film, this was actually a really clever take on the idea that would find itself repeated in the fifth film. By putting a group of people together in a house and forcing them to work together, the dynamic was different enough not to be a repeat of the original while offering up some great kills. The twist, however, comes out of left field and is fortunately ultimately saved by the third installment.

1) Saw III

It is rare indeed that a sequel comes along and improves the quality of the previous films, but here it is. The best of the series, hands down, Saw III is a devilish little film that is incredibly clever, twisting and turning through what we believe to be Jigsaw's final game. And when the revelation comes that he is playing with more than our victim, the film comes to a brutal, bloody climax that serves up the very best moments in the series. Had the series ended here, it would no doubt go down in history as the one horror franchise that got better as it went along, rather than the roller coaster ride it has proven to be.