When it opened on May 9, 1980, director Sean S. Cunningham’s blood-soaked “Friday the 13th” captured the imagination of audiences everywhere, earning nearly $60 million worldwide on a budget of just over half a million. Set at a rural New Jersey summer camp 21 years after the mysterious drowning of a severely deformed child named Jason Voorhees, the film borrowed a page from Agatha Christie’s 1939 thriller “And Then There Were None,” in which a group of isolated characters are systematically murdered in creative ways by a mysterious assassin.
Although initially greenlit in response to the success of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” which was released two years earlier, Cunningham’s savvy instincts behind the camera gave “Friday the 13th” an identity all its own. Rather than mimic Carpenter’s less-is-more approach, which emphasized mood and style over graphic depictions of onscreen violence, Cunningham took a chance and dramatically increased the gore levels, dispatching his film’s victims with axes, arrows, hunting knives, and machetes. The gamble paid off, and the movie opened at number one.
Yet even the most hopeful of horror fans couldn’t have predicted that the low-budget slasher pic would eventually spawn nine sequels, one crossover, and one reboot. On the 40th anniversary of Jason Voorhees big screen debut, here’s our ultimate Friday the 13th movie ranking, from misbegotten mess to the top title in terror.
A 40th anniversary Blu-ray Steelbook edition of “Friday the 13th” will be available June 16 from Paramount Home Entertainment.