The entertainment industry, movie world, pop culture and society at large lost an innovator in August of 2015 when horror film icon Wes Craven passed away at the age of 76 years old. Largely known for the slasher movies that he wrote, produced and directed, Craven first broke into the mainstream in 1972 with a terrifying flick that was in part a depiction of the real-life crimes that received national headlines during that decade and also a bone-chilling story of revenge. While that film has been remade, it is widely said by fans and critics that nothing can match the all-time classic created by Craven.
Nobody, not even the most insightful movie mind of the time, could have imagined following Craven’s debut in the genre just how much he would mean to horror movies over the subsequent decades. Craven would go on to create two different franchises that would become recognizable among even those who would never go out of the way to watch such movies. It is those two franchises that could, in time, be viewed as the biggest legacies that Craven left to the entertainment world because of what they and the characters depicted in those stories meant to pop culture and to society.
Choosing the best Wes Craven movies from the dozens that he gave to fans is no easy task for several reasons. Personal preferences and even the age of the individual ranking that list has to be considered. One must also reflect upon how the Craven movies have been remembered over time and also how they impacted future generations of horror fans. They are many movie producers and even actors paving their routes through Hollywood today that owe quite a bit to Craven for all that he did during his legendary career. Without Craven, we would not have the character who may very well be the king of horror movies.
10. Music of the Heart (1999)
What do you do after you have created the first two installments of the Scream series that put horror films back into pop culture? If you are Wes Craven, you direct an uplifting drama that features movie legend and film royalty Meryl Streep in a lead role. A far cry from the genre Craven is most known for, Music of the Heart follows the story of a music teacher, played by Streep, attempting to save a school art program in Harlem. Streep received multiple awards nominations for her performance in the movie, and the film showed that Craven was capable of branching out beyond the movies that made him famous.
9. Red Eye (2005)
In another departure from the slasher films that would showcase one or more villains carving up innocent civilians, Red Eye is a Craven thriller in which Rachel McAdams plays a hotel manager who unexpectedly finds herself in the middle of an ongoing assassination plot. The performances of McAdams and of Cillian Murphy, the latter serving as the charming and haunting terrorist, steal the show in a movie that received positive reviews from several critics despite the fact that plot had some noticeable holes that need to be ignored if one is going to enjoy the film. Not every story is flawless.
8. The People Under The Stairs (1991)
The People Under The Stairs offers a unique and even bizarre twist on a theme that Craven visited multiple times during his career: A group of people, children in this instance, lose their humanity due to other elements found in the film, vile landlords who are as greedy as they are deranged. Different than a basic slasher film that showcases one lunatic stalking innocent girls before he cuts up his victims, The People Under The Stairs is polarizing among Craven fans in part because it stands out on its own as a tale of economic inequalities that just so happens to occur inside of a horror film.
7. Swamp Thing (1982)
Not every movie written and directed by Craven launched a million-dollar brand or a movie franchise. Swamp Thing is but one example, but that does not mean that the film should be ignored by those who have only a limited knowledge of Craven’s works. Yes, the movie is hokey in many ways. Yes, the effects and the Swamp Thing suit look absolutely ridiculous 30 years later. Swamp Thing brings with it a fun ride for first-time viewers, one based off of the DC Comics character. Prepare yourself for some unintentional comedy, and then enjoy Swamp Thing for the cult classic that it is.
6. New Nightmare (1994)
The Freddy Krueger character had become stale and even played out by the time Wes Craven’s New Nightmare hit theaters, and thus was a financial flop that unfortunately had to compete with Pulp Fiction for attention from movie goers. This edition of the movie franchise broke free from other stories in that Heather Langenkamp, the star of the original Nightmare, plays herself, an actress who is tortured by a real version of Freddy. Art and entertainment overlap into reality in what could very well be the second-best film from the iconic franchise, a movie that breathed some needed life into a dying character.
5. Scream 2 (1997)
A perception had by many is that sequels are rarely as good as original films. Not only was that not a worry with Scream 2. Some say that the second edition of this franchise is better than the first. Scream 2 went where others before it never traveled, making fun of elements found in other horror sequels while at the same time serving as a slasher movie that had fans wondering who was behind the “Ghostface” mask this time around. It stopped just shy of being completing satirical, and the combination of horror and comedy made Scream 2 a financial hit.
4. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Five years after Craven’s debut into horror movies that continues to live on among fans, he presented fans with a story that has become familiar among those who follow the genre. Tales of mutants murdering innocent individuals while on the outskirts of society is nothing new to movie fans these days, but one could say that The Hills Have Eyes gave birth to this idea being used and reused by future studios. Craven would later have a hand in a sequel to the original and also a sequel to a remake, but neither of those movies are viewed as fondly as is the first film that was released in 1977.
3. The Last House on the Left (1972)
“To Avoid Fainting, Keep Repeating: ‘It’s Only A Movie.’” This was the famous tagline associated with The Last House on the Left, Craven’s directorial debut remains a movie that is, at times, difficult to watch because of the disgusting and nauseating crimes that are depicted in the flick. A duo of teenage girls are sadistically tortured and then killed by a group of depraved criminals, only for those criminals to then be caught by the parents of one of the victims. The revenge obtained by the parents is no less gruesome than the original crimes, and the overall story makes for what some have called Craven’s best work.
2. Scream (1996)
The horror genre was one that was supposedly a dying breed in 1996 when movie goers were asked a simple question: What’s your favorite scary movie? The original Scream became a pop culture phenomenon of the 90s, one that was a hit in theaters and one that was followed by three sequels. Two decades after Scream was first released, an MTV show of the same name was launched and then picked up for a second season. The “Ghostface” mask is one that can still be seen on Halloween nights, and there have been conflicting rumors that the movie series may continue. Those whispers were, however, floating around before Craven’s death.
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The concept of a villain being able to attack younger victims in their dreams where they could neither hide nor escape was nothing short of brilliant. A Nightmare on Elm Street is, on its own, a spectacular horror flick. It also created a movie franchise, one of the most beloved and most terrifying characters of the genre, and also merchandise and video games. The Freddy Krueger name is known all over by people who would never voluntarily watch even a second of the Nightmare movies, and the impacts that this movie had on Hollywood and other aspects of entertainment are still felt three decades after the brand was launched.