The Saw series is one of the most popular and successful horror franchises of all time. Made on extremely modest budgets, the seven films released between 2004 and 2010 have earned more than $870 million to date at the worldwide box office. The eighth movie, Jigsaw, arrives this week, and hopes are high that after a seven-year gap, the gory formula that made the franchise so successful still works. You can check out GameSpot's Saw story recap here, but which movies are the best? Here's our ranking of all seven films to date, from worst to best.
While the series did well to make it to six movies without an entirely bad entry, its luck did eventually run out. Saw 3D is the worst Saw movie by some distance, and its mediocre box office results killed the franchise for seven years. The filmmakers attempted to inject some interest with the return of Cary Elwes as Dr. Gordon, who it turns out has been Jigsaw's apprentice since the first movie. But the confused, flaccid narrative, annoying characters, terrible acting, lame 3D, cheap production values, and general lack of Tobin Bell add up to a movie that even the biggest Saw fans hated.
Saw IV was the point that the series went from complicated to confusing. To its credit, it contains a great twist; it turns out the movie is happening simultaneously with Saw III, and that Jigsaw is orchestrating events from his deathbed. But there's an over-reliance on backstory and flashbacks, and for once Jigsaw's main victim--obsessed cop Riggs--seems completely undeserving of his test. Returning director Darren Bousman has since stated that he put very little effort into the movie: "I was a cog in a wheel of a well-oiled machine. It made me lazy and complacent," he told the LA Times. It shows.
Given Saw III and IV can be seen as part of the same story, Saw V was a test as to whether the story could continue successfully after the death of both Kramer and Amanda. It's a reasonably entertaining film, but the new central villain--crazy cop Matt Hoffman, played by Costas Mandylor--lacks the dark charisma that Tobin Bell brought to his role. The traps, such as the pendulum and the glass coffin, are good, but the tests are not nearly as well integrated into the central story as the best movies in the series.
The second film didn't begin life as a Saw movie at all. With the sequel rushed into production, a non-related script called The Desperate was rewritten to place it within the Saw universe, and its writer, Darren Bousman, was hired to direct. What's surprising is that it really works, and really laid down the template for the movies that followed. The extravagant traps involving multiple people, the apprentices, the idea of Jigsaw controlling events from behind the scenes, all started here. But Saw II also has a simplicity and focus missing from some of the more narratively dense films that followed.
Saw III was Jigsaw's final appearance while still alive, and it's still one of the best, with some personal stakes for all of Jigsaw's victims and a twisting plot that is both unpredictable and--unlike the later parts--largely coherent. It's got some of the series' most enjoyably gruesome traps, too. From the shotgun collar that Dr Denlon must wear while trying to save Kramer's life, to the rack, and the truly disgusting pig vat, Saw III delivers.
The original movie now seems so different from what followed that it feels like it should be in another franchise. There's a small cast, only a couple of traps, and despite a variety of gruesome scenes, it plays out much more as a claustrophobic mystery thriller than the ludicrous horror melodrama that the series ultimately became. But it remains one of the decade's best shockers, with a gripping storyline and an ingenious final twist.
With the series becoming increasingly silly and confusing, hopes weren't high by the time the sixth movie rolled round. But against all the odds, director Kevin Greutert (who had edited all of the previous entries) knocked it out of the park. Some more casual viewers might prefer the small-scale intensity of the first film, but for true horror fans, as well as those fully invested in the unfolding story of Hoffman, Jill, and Jigsaw's legacy, this one is the goriest, paciest, and most gruesomely enjoyable one of the lot. Hoffman was never the most compelling of villains, but it's great fun to see him try to stay one step ahead of the FBI, while Jill makes for a worthy adversary. It also had a topical edge--Jigsaw's final victims are a bunch of crooked insurance agents--which makes their gruesome deaths all the more satisfying. Sadly it was all a bit too late, and Saw VI ended up as the lowest grossing movie in the entire series.