A Definitive Ranking Of The ‘Final Destination’ Movies, Because Fate Comes For Us All

by Danielle Burgos
Originally Published: 
Final Destination 3
Warner Bros.

They say the only things certain are death and taxes, but surely we can toss in "sequels to films that turn a hefty profit." Starting in 2000 with a single brooding meditation on fate, the Final Destination series rapidly grew to a five-film franchise. And just as Death works overtime to put each soul in its proper place, so are we definitively ranking the Final Destination movies.

Each film follows a formula that's as simple as it is appealing: a mere mortal gets wind of fate's horrors, struggles to warn those around them, and with a few believers, seemingly averts tragedy. Unfortunately they've upset the delicate balance of life and death, and the latter is a ruthless debt collector. In the best horror films, the monster or slasher has an underpinning of societal fear or moral panic — something abstract made concrete. The Final Destination films bypass any subtlety as death, its inevitability, and the fragility of our corporeal forms go from subtext to text. In each film, the protagonists are literally trying to outwit their own mortality (or more gently, to earn a nonviolent death).

The fallacy that we can control our fate is stripped away by the stark fact that no matter what Alex Browning (Devon Sawa), Kimberly Corman (A.J. Cook) or Wendy Christensen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) do, no matter how clever they are, it's impossible for any of them to win. It's hard to face how little control we actually have in our lives, or the plain fact that we'll all die. But the Final Destination movies manage to work those grim reflections into entertaining memento mori.

That might explain the persistent rumors about a sixth film being on the way, though as of now there's no official release date. In the meantime, this ranking will help you better spend what precious little time we have on this plane.


Honorable Mention: 'Sole Survivor' (1984)

Long before any Destination was decided, there was the 1984 creeper Sole Survivor, an eerie predecessor to the entire series.

TV producer Denise (Anita Skinner) is the only survivor of a horrific plane crash. Immediately after leaving the hospital, she suffers a series of near-miss accidents. When those around her start dying, Denise believes she's at the center of a murderous conspiracy. Her hunky new doctor boyfriend Brian (Kurt Johnson) convinces her she's just suffering survivor's guilt. As the bodies pile up and Denise narrowly avoids the reaper, Brian begins to realize that she may be right.

With Death possessing the recently deceased to track down and finish off Denise, the film also anticipates It Follows and its disturbing, determined bodies ever-lurching towards the heroine. It's a spooky and entertaining film from the director of the equally amazing Night Of The Comet and a can't-miss for fans of the Final Destination series.


'Final Destination: If Looks Could Kill' (2005)

New Line Cinema

If you're thinking, "Weird, I've never heard of this one," that's because it's not a movie. It just so happens that there's an entire Final Destination extended world on paper! In addition to three film novelizations, there were seven books penned within the franchise universe, each revolving around a group who narrowly escape death, only to find it's coming back for them with a vengeance.

This particular volume has an amazing spin that predates and outdoes The Neon Demon's wildest aspirations. The world's top, and therefore most beautiful fashion model Sherry is about to board a luxury yacht with her fellow models to celebrate a successful season. After a vision of the boat's destruction, she convinces a small group not to get on, only to be the lone survivor pelted by flaming debris once they're on the dock.

Her looks ruined, Sherry's misery is compounded when her shallow coworkers "gift" her a mask, so they don't have to see her scars. A personification of Death tells Sherry she can literally save her skin and get her looks back... if she helps Death kill the remaining survivors before fellow model Cabernet's baby is born. (In case you're wondering, yes, they're all named after wines; model manager Merlot was killed in the boat explosion.)

This one ranks lowest for not actually being a film, sounding like a sub-Christopher Pike effort, and for retreading the shallow villainy typically ascribed to the fashion industry. That said, it seems like a ripping beach read, though the relative rarity (and resulting expense) of the entire series means no one but true Destination heads will pay to get their hands on it and see for themselves.


'The Final Destination' (2009)

The Final Destination might have been the most successful of all the films at the box office, but it's almost universally considered the worst in the franchise by fans and critics alike. Audacious enough to name itself as the definitive entry, the fourth film was the first in 3D and shot with the medium in mind. It's a gimmick that falls even flatter when rewatching without the extra dimension, when the only thing "coming at ya" is the growing sense that you've seen a lot of these deaths before in earlier installations. Poor CGI and boring characters to boot make this the series nadir. Adding insult to injury, it's the only film out of the five to not feature Tony Todd, a.k.a., the creepily knowledgeable undertaker William Bludworth (or, in Final Destination 3, the voice of the Devil himself).


'Final Destination 3' (2006)

Though it's in fourth place, Final Destination 3 is leaps and bounds above bottom-rung The Final Destination, taking a lower spot among the sequels due to its baffling digital photo death hints and because its grisly depictions of NYC subway and roller coaster derailments touch on this writer's irrational phobias. (I have to ride the former every day, guys.)

It's also divisive film among franchise fans: some love its goofier tone, others find it too stupid for its own good. Those comparing it negatively to the first film's serious, brooding tone may not realize that it reunites the former X-Files dream team and Final Destination director/producer combo James Wong and Glen Morgan. They're clearly having a ball wringing every bit of gallows humor and silly set up from the grim, gory reality of our flesh's painful fragility.


'Final Destination 5' (2011)

The first film in the franchise to generally win over critics, this second series venture into 3D offers a lot more than an extra dimension, including a full-circle ending reframing the entire film's place in the series. While Final Destination 5 is also guilty of adding a complicated wrinkle to the sweet n' simple "delay death" mission, this one is darker and more fitting. Featuring a group mostly cemented by work relations (boss, coworkers, etc.), the idea that you literally have to kill to make it in this film (killing someone gains you their remaining lifespan) makes it feel like an exegesis of late-stage capitalism.


'Final Destination' (2000)

Despite having a darker tone and sludgier pace than its sequels, this was the film that set everything in motion. While this was never #1 for gore hounds — it takes its time with setup, and subsequent films outpace it by miles in creative kills — it's the most philosophical of the bunch. A group of teens realize they're fighting for their lives not against some silent slasher or vengeful demon, but the pure inevitable fact of human mortality. Admittedly, Death shows some flair correcting its books, but these teens initially reveling in cheating their demise come to the same conclusion every mortal creature must: we're all living on borrowed time in the face of eternity.


'Final Destination 2' (2003)

This sequel suffers small sins, like killing off the first film's protagonist Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) almost as an afterthought. After all the trouble he went through, he's knocked offscreen by a falling brick. For shame. It also adds too many convoluted rules to a pretty straightforward concept, in this case, the idea that a new life can cancel out the old one "owed" by characters not dying at their appointed time. But all is forgiven for merging slapstick humor, gruesome physical reality, and awareness of mortality in a glorious danse macabre not seen since medieval manuscripts at the height of the Plague Years, all while tying back into the first film.

With a long enough time span, everyone's going to succumb one way or the other, making Death's increasing Rube Goldbergian traps seem like a way of alleviating the boredom of eternity. The film warns of what happens when you spend life fearing death, painting the first film's lone survivor Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) as an isolated conspiracy theorist. But even she realizes that a life un-lived is a fate worse than whatever ghoulish plans the Reaper has in store and busts out to help the Route 23 survivors face their destinies.

Speaking of, this film has the most detailed, emotionally invested, and appalling inciting incident of all the films: a highway pileup. Statistically, car crashes are the second most likely way any of us will accidentally die, and the film leisurely introduces us to every main character on the road, each doing something considerably unwise to do while operating a one-ton vehicle at 65 mph. The familiarity makes it all the more terrifying when things go awry.

No matter what order you watch them in (and even if you skip the lowest ranked), you'll walk away from your Final Destination marathon a little more appreciative of the mere fact of your existence... and probably a lot more cautious walking around outside.

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