William Peter Blatty’s novel, “The Exorcist,” birthed one of the most iconic yet divisive horror franchises in media history. The franchise, initiated by the 1973 classic directed by William Friedkin, has since seen numerous sequels, prequels, and reboots. The latest addition to this dark universe is “The Exorcist: Believer,” directed by David Gordon Green in 2018, which aims to kickstart a new Exorcist trilogy. With this ongoing saga, it’s a perfect time to rank all the films and TV shows in the franchise from least to most impressive.
The Exorcist (1973) Horror Movies
Unsurprisingly, the original 1973 film reigns supreme. Its shocking imagery, particularly the 12-year-old girl’s possession scenes, have left an indelible mark on audiences worldwide. The extended 2000 cut remains true to Blatty’s novel, featuring the infamous “spider walk,” Merrin’s theory about the demon’s choice, and the touching friendship between Father Dyer and Lt. Kinderman. Beyond its terrifying moments, the film explores themes of faith in the darkest of places, making it a masterpiece unmatched by other possession movies.
The Exorcist (2016-2017) Films
This TV series, helmed by Jeremy Slater, the showrunner of “Moon Knight,” offers a fresh take on the franchise. It follows Fathers Tomas and Marcus as they exorcise a demon from a young woman, Casey, who happens to be the daughter of an adult Regan MacNeil (played by Geena Davis). This genuinely frightening show expands upon the original story while introducing new elements. Its second season continues to impress with an entirely different possession case. It’s a shame the series was canceled prematurely.
The Exorcist III (1990) The Horror Franchises
Directed by William Peter Blatty himself, this sequel follows Lt. Kinderman’s investigation into a series of Satanic murders seemingly linked to a serial killer executed on the night Father Karras died. Despite an exorcism shoehorned into the climax, the film successfully delivers an unnerving and suspenseful horror experience. Brad Dourif’s performance as the Gemini Killer is haunting and underrated.
The Exorcist: Believer (2023)
In this installment, directed by David Gordon Green, two young girls return from the woods possessed by a demon, prompting their parents to seek help from Chris MacNeil. While it pays homage to the original, this reboot takes a more measured approach to terror, missing the intense shock value. It introduces numerous new characters and sidelines Chris after a few scenes. However, it does build tension effectively, offering hope for a stronger sequel.
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
Directed by Paul Schrader, writer of “Taxi Driver,” this version of Stellan Skarsgård’s prequel was better received than its theatrical counterpart. It takes a slower, psychological approach, focusing on Merrin’s crisis of faith after World War II. While it offers religious and philosophical insights similar to Friedkin’s film, it lacks the shock factor that made the original so popular.
Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
This prequel had a tumultuous production history, with extensive reshoots resulting in a significantly altered final product under a new director. The story explores a young Father Merrin’s encounter with Pazuzu in an African temple excavation. In an attempt to appease fans, the film rehashes elements from the original but ultimately delivers another possession tale with unrealistic CGI, falling short of expectations.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
Following the immense success of the original film, a sequel became inevitable. Directed by Sir John Boorman (“Deliverance,” “Excalibur”), “The Heretic” takes a more metaphysical approach, delving into Regan’s psychic healing abilities and her connection with the demon Pazuzu. Despite its ambitious script, talented cast, acclaimed director, and a terrific score, this sequel disappointed many audiences and is often regarded as one of the worst films ever. Its convoluted storyline, awkward acting, and dated special effects have led it to be largely ignored in the franchise’s canon.