(Photo Credit: Lionsgate)
Another October is upon us, which means another Saw has managed to slice its way into movie theaters. Saw X offers a breath of fresh air for a franchise that grew stale nearly a decade ago. Sure, it never fully justifies its existence. Still, at least longtime franchise director Kevin Greutert finds unique ways to shock fans.
So — where does the new flick rank amongst its brethren? Read on to find the Saw movies ranked from worst to best.
10) Saw 3D (2010)
A “3D” tag on any movie’s title is typically cause for concern. In the case of the seventh Saw flick, that designation warns viewers of the trash they’re about to watch and highlights the sequel’s excessive approach. Here, you get more kills, more characters (hello again, Dr. Lawrence Gordon), more elaborate (and confusing) Jigsaw backstory, more gore, and more flashbacks rendered in horrendous 3D. The excess proved detrimental, forcing the franchise into a seven-year hiatus before 2017’s Jigsaw.
9) Saw V (2008)
More focused than IV and with a tad more moral complexity, Saw V is still a lifeless affair. It’s content to cater to bloodthirsty audiences, without offering anything remotely clever. The murder-house formula feels routine, but at least presents characters worth connecting with. Jigsaw’s quest for moral vengeance (now executed by his minions) no longer carries the intrigue it once had, which leaves this fifth chapter feeling more obligatory than necessary.
8) Saw IV (2007)
By Part IV, Saw had clearly run out of ideas and decided to go extreme in the gore and violence factor to make up for its narrative deficiencies. Donnie Wahlberg is back for some reason, as is Shawnee Smith. Darren Lynn Bousman has fun with the time jumps that place the events of IV with those in III. There are nasty death sequences galore, scenes of rape, torture, and buckets of blood – if that sounds like a good time, have at it.
7) Saw VI (2009)
As the series progressed, Saw’s production values dipped considerably. Part six, in particular, looks like a cheap TV movie, with its cheesy “horror” lighting and silly set pieces. By this point, I didn’t care anymore. Even with some of the nastiest traps — the pound of flesh and acid melting sequence — this one feels stale compared to the other chapters.
6) Jigsaw (2017)
Following its extended break, Saw returns and … offers nothing new to the franchise, save for a more polished look and a hefty batch of dark humor. Fans will get a kick out of the elaborate kill sequences — the laser collar bit is wild. But the overarching narrative remains largely unchanged — Jigsaw kills people he finds morally bad — and the various twists feel more hackneyed than clever. Jigsaw gives viewers what they want but doesn’t give them what they need — a novel entry that justifies the extra chapters.
5) Spiral (2021)
I dug Spiral as a trashy Seven knockoff. The Chris Rock/Samuel L. Jackson vehicle doesn’t always work, but the morality tale at its core revolving around corrupt cops gives the picture weight. Unfortunately, the film failed to ignite the box office, forcing the franchise to retreat to its comfort zone in Saw X. It left Spiral as more of a curious outlier than essential viewing. But aside from an obvious twist, there’s plenty here to enjoy — including a wicked opening sequence that stands as one of the best in the franchise.
4) Saw II (2005)
We should have seen the signs of a decaying franchise as early as Saw II. Director Darren Lynn Bousman traded in the creative juice of James Wan for a series of intricately plotted death traps that feel far too impossible for any of the morally ambiguous characters to overcome. What’s the point? Well, Jigsaw likes to teach lessons the hard way. To what end? To save the world? To achieve a sense of purpose in his vacant life? Ah, who cares! Saw II delivers the nasty goods. But those expecting a clever ending on par with the original’s shocking finale will be left wanting.
3) Saw III (2006)
Saw II and III are tied for Best of the First Batch of Sequels, which isn’t saying much. The third chapter gets a slight nudge thanks to its complex (and ridiculous) plotting, the rib separator bit, and its willingness to traverse into some really gruesome territory. Director Darren Lynn Bousman focuses on well-produced gore — sometimes veering a little too far on the nasty side. Those seeking buckets of blood and guts, though, should get a kick out of the gristly chaos in the threequel.
2) Saw X (2023)
Saw X gets down to brass tacks and embraces a mature new tone without upending the formula. The results are familiar but less contrived than most entries on this list. Ditching the cast of Spiral, the tenth chapter nixes the camp of previous installments and opts for a simpler tone closer to James Wan’s original. It’s a basic revenge thriller, but the emphasis on characters means the death scenes hit harder, and the stakes feel bigger.
Despite Kevin Greutert’s efforts and the series’ signature creepy music, it is not a remotely scary film. Still, you feel a sense of dread and care about what’s happening, which is a huge win for a franchise that has been running on fumes for nearly twenty years. Newer elements are also introduced that promise intrigue in the future — a villain for the villain, as it were. I’m curious to see where the following film heads, which I never thought I’d say about Saw.
1) Saw (2004)
Still the best, James Wan’s shocker remains gleefully schlocky and hits all the right notes en route to one of the best twist endings in slasher film history. Rather than focus too much on the gory kills, Wan focuses on surprisingly well-developed characterizations and a moody atmosphere to propel his story forward. We know what will happen the moment we see that saw lying on the floor between Lawrence and Adam — it’s just a matter of when. Thanks to Wan’s careful direction, you’re still left feeling shocked and squeamish when it does happen.
Admittedly, Saw hasn’t aged well; its green hues and frenetic editing are dated, and Jigsaw is no longer the enigmatic killer he once was following an assembly line of corny sequels. Still, as aughts thrillers go, Saw stands above most.
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