Today I am ranking the Exorcist franchise, including the latest film: Believer. I am going to be perfectly honest and admit this is one of the worst horror franchises I’ve tackled, with more bad instalments than good. There are high highs and very low lows. If you didn’t know, the films typically feature an exorcist (shock), a cunning demon named Pazuzu and a possession story. There is definitely a lot more to it than that, which I will be breaking down today. Without further ado, from best to worst, let’s get into it!
1.) The Exorcist (1973)
When young Regan (played by Linda Blair) begins behaving in a strange manner, her worried mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) seeks medical help, only to hit a dead end. A local priest, believing the girl may be possessed by the devil, makes a request to perform an exorcism. The church sends in an expert (Father Merrin) to help, with deadly consequences. I’ve mentioned this before, but I saw The Exorcist for the first time when I was 18. It traumatised me so badly, I slept in bed with my mum longer than I care to admit. To this day, I can still appreciate why it affected me and countless viewers worldwide, all those years ago. From the iconic theme music to the horrifying scenes we will never forget, the original film is undeniably the best in the franchise.
2.) The Exorcist: Believer (2023)
In second place, we have The Exorcist: Believer, which came out just this month! It was directed by David Gordon Green – the name behind the recent Halloween franchise and much like that series, this one will also become a trilogy. When his daughter, Angela, and her friend Katherine, show signs of demonic possession, it unleashes a chain of events that forces single father, Victor Fielding, to confront the root of all evil. Terrified and desperate, he seeks out Chris MacNeil, the only person alive to have witnessed anything like it before. I think this film was beautifully shot. It had its own version of Tubular Bells that I really enjoyed. However, I did not like how Ellen Burstyn was treated. They really did her dirty! It also got quite preachy in the third act but overall, it was chilling, well-acted and compared to the rest of the instalments below, a huge improvement.
3.) Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
In third place, we have The Beginning, which serves as a prequel to the original film. Father Merrin (played by Stellan Skarsgard) is haunted by his experiences in World War II. In the aftermath, he has renounced his faith and begun working as an archaeologist. He travels to Kenya, where a fifth-century Byzantine church holds ancient relics. Strange occurrences soon begin to reunite him with the evil he sought to escape. This is where things get a little bit complicated. The Beginning and Dominion (see below) are essentially the same film, with some of the same actors. However, the production company did not like the way Dominion was shot and believed it would flop, so a new director came on board and retooled it. Whilst I definitely preferred The Beginning, it wasn’t that much better. In its defense, it was more fleshed out than its predecessor and the solid chilling moments gave it a higher rating above the rest. That isn’t saying much though!
4.) The Exorcist III (1990)
In fourth place, we have The Exorcist III from 1990. Police Lt. Kinderman begins to notice similarities between his current murder investigation and the methods used by the “Gemini” killer (played by Brad Dourif) who was executed 15 years before. He soon discovers a hospitalized mental patient, claiming to be the dead serial murderer, but who looks uncannily like Karras from the original film. As more bodies are found, Kinderman searches for a connection between the two supposedly deceased men. I know this is a favourite for many but for me personally, it was too boring. I liked that one iconic scene (if you know, you know) but the rest was a slog to get through. It also felt like it didn’t belong in the franchise. It completely ignored the sequel and pretended like nothing had happened before it. This disconnect furthers my point that this is one messy franchise.
5.) The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
In second last place, we have The Exorcist II: The Heretic. Owing to his experience with exorcisms, Father Lamont (played by Richard Burton) is chosen by his superiors to investigate the death of Father Merrin, who died during the exorcism of young Regan MacNeil. Lamont finds Regan under the psychiatric care of Dr.Tuskin. By hypnotizing the girl, he is able to learn that Merrin previously exorcised the same demon from a boy in Africa. Hoping for answers, Lamont travels there in search of the youth. This sequel has been named one of the worst movies in cinematic history. In fact, it had such a bad reputation, the director himself disowned it! See what I mean by a messy franchise? Ironically, it wasn’t my least favourite though. I did like some aspects of it – in particular, the last scene – but compared to what had come before, it was a huge flop.
6.) Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
In last place, we have Dominion, which as mentioned above, was the first prequel filmed and later rejected by production before being released. That tells you everything! I’m not going to repeat the plot (see The Beginning above). Just know it made zero sense, lacked the horror elements of a good possession film and had no idea what it wanted to be. It was truly an abomination. Sorry!
Thank you so much for reading! How would you rank the franchise? What do you think of the series as a whole?
Peace & Love xoxo