With Exorcist Believer now in theaters and earning satanic word of mouth, we decided to rank all the exorcist movies worst to best.
The Exorcist is my choice for the best horror movie of all time. Some may say Rosemary’s Baby or The Shining or Night of the Living Dead, but as a good Catholic boy, nothing has ever gotten under my skin the way William Friedkin’s original did. But, with great success comes the desire for Hollywood to make a hit into a franchise, but Friedkin was not a franchise director. He famously turned down French Connection II, but the studio, perhaps noticing how the second French Connection turned out decently, decided to go ahead and turn it into a franchise. Still, the results, with one notable exception were a disaster. So without any further adieu, here’s our list of Exorcist movies ranked – from worst to best.
Exorcist II: The Heretic
So, worst is a degree here rather than a black-and-white fact. All of the Exorcist sequels – with that one exception I’ll get to later – are terrible. Yet, of them all, none is quite as bad as the infamous Exorcist II: The Heretic. What’s crazy is that the movie comes from a pretty fantastic director, John Boorman. Still, he’s also a guy who, in between making masterpieces like Excalibur and Deliverance, also made the odd stinker, like Zardoz. Exorcist II: The Heretic is like the overacting Olympics. Poor Richard Burton sweats booze as Father Lamont, who’s having a crisis of faith while investigating the death of Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow was lured back for a small role). He meets with Linda Blair’s Regan, who’s now a teenager and seems well adjusted, all things considered. The is a batch of hokum that includes ESP, James Earl Jones dressed as a Locust, a weird Italo-disco score by Ennio Morricone, not one but two tap dancing sequences for Linda Blair, and Burton doing all of his own sweating and looking like he needs a drink – badly. This movie was so bad that Boorman had to physically cut film prints that were already playing theatrically in order to make the movie a little shorter. Yet, as bad as it is, it’s one of the most entertainingly awful movies ever made, and the cinematography by William A. Fraker is legitimately great. Also, no one says Pazuzu like Richard Burton.
The Exorcist: Believer
While not as poorly made as Exorcist: The Heretic, Believer is undoubtedly a more boring film and about as lazy a horror movie as you’re likely to encounter. Judging by the toxic word of mouth, you can imagine Universal is kicking themselves by shelling out $400 million for the rights to the franchise, even though none of the sequels have ever been financially successful.
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
Paul Schrader’s Exorcist prequel was considered such a disaster that the studio that made it, Morgan Creek, shelved and remade the entire film. While it’s hip to say Schrader’s movie is excellent, the truth is that despite some interesting moments, it’s very dull. It’s an interesting curiosity, and Schrader would eventually make a masterpiece about faith (First Reformed), but this isn’t it. That said, I’m happy it eventually saw the light of day as I’m not in favor of shelving movies, no matter how bad they are.
The Exorcist: The Beginning
Like The Heretic, this alternate Exorcist prequel, by Renny Harlin, is of the so bad it’s good variety. Harlin turned the franchise into an action film, with Stellan Skarsgård’s Father Merrin reimagined as a badass priest who even performs a holy head-butt at the film’s conclusion. It isn’t good, but it’s kind of fun. Skarsgård really does his best, and its interesting to compare his Liam Neeson-like action star performance in this to his quiet turn in Dominion.
The Exorcist III
It’s literally the only good Exorcist sequel. William Peter Blatty initially set out to make a looser kind of sequel, with it being an adaptation of his novel Legion. But, after the movie was completed, Morgan Creek got uncomfortable with his police thriller version of the film, insisting he reshoot the ending to include Jason Miller’s Father Karras and a grand guignol, eighties-horror style Exorcism. Despite being compromised (you can see the reconstituted director’s cut on the Blu-Ray), the movie is still quite good, With George C. Scott excellent as the recast Lt. Kinderman (the original actor – Lee J. Cobb – was dead by this point). Blatty also includes some weird touches, including a cameo by Fabio as an angel. One might also consider Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration as a quasi-sequel given that a minor character from the first film is the star, but the genres are very different. If that one were counted it would place highly on our list of Exorcist Movies Ranked.
Simply put, the greatest horror movie ever made. If you’re making a list called Exorcist Movies Ranked, and this doesn’t land in first place, what are you even doing? Friedkin was right never to try and make a sequel because it can’t possibly be beaten, or even equaled. That said, avoid 2000’s The Version You Never Saw, as that was Friedkin doing a favour for William Peter Blatty, who hated how vague the director had left the conclusion of his battle between good and evil. I much prefer the darker original. As for the Spider-Walk – who needs it? If you want to see another quasi-horror movie from Friedkin, check out the 1980 serial killer thriller Cruising, which is very disturbing and loosely based on a real killer’s exploits. The kicker – this killer was a radiologist who played himself in The Exorcist! It’s weird but true.