The Exorcist. The first horror film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, and the highest-grossing horror film of all time until IT in 2017. Based on the 1971 novel of the same name by William Peter Blatty, and directed by The French Connection director William Friedkin, it has cemented its place in popular culture half a century after its release. Yet with five sequels to its name, and a TV show of two series which was very much overlooked despite the incredible performances of Ben Daniels, does the original film remain the best instalment of its own franchise?
For obvious reasons, the TV show, despite being in the same timeline, is not included in this Ranked list from The Film Magazine, much like ‘Ash vs Evil Dead’ wouldn’t be included in an Evil Dead franchise ranking. We’re looking at the six feature films only. These are The Exorcist Movies Ranked.
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6. Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
It is an incredible achievement to get this many big names together for what must be the most anticipated sequel in horror history at the time, only for it to go this catastrophically wrong. Linda Blair returns as Regan MacNeil, they brought back Max von Sydow for a few fleeting shots, Jason Miller’s Father Karras is replaced by the inimitable Richard Burton as Father Lamont, Louise Fletcher comes in two years after winning the Oscar for Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, James Earl Jones is in it the same year as voicing Darth Vader for the first time… it really beggars belief. And this, the sequel to the most profitable, infamous, and most critically acclaimed horror movie of all time, should surely ensure nothing could go wrong?
But this film, directed by Sir John Boorman (Deliverance), is an absolute mess.
With Regan in hypnotherapy to try and discover what happened that fateful night in the first film, and Burton in to try and find out the truth, there’s some strange Pazuzu telepathy, lots of locusts, trips to ‘Africa’, and James Earl Jones changing into a leopard – it’s just two hours of clutching your forehead and asking ‘why?’ There’s nothing interesting, nothing thrilling, nothing even remotely scary. Much of the acting is awful, with the principal cast trying seemingly to stop themselves from bursting out laughing.
Very simply, it’s amateurish and derivative even by 1977 standards. There wouldn’t be a sequel for thirteen years thanks to this film, and even then, when Exorcist III did come out, writer William Peter Blatty didn’t want it to be named ‘Exorcist’ for fear people would have flashbacks to this one. Rightly reviled, The Heretic is damned for all time.
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5. The Exorcist: Believer (2023)
Deciding if this should be fifth or fourth in this list is a toss-up, and could change depending on the weather, as this and the following instalment in the franchise are both dull. This one takes fifth spot for having the least in connection with the rest of the franchise, seemingly just a normal exorcism film they retroactively messed around with and shoved into the series to get some more bucks out of.
The first of Blumhouse’s run with the series, this time there are two children being possessed. Only one of them is of any interest or has much characterisation, however, because only one is the main character’s kid. The pacing is all wrong, the shocks aren’t shocking, the best ‘scares’ are fake jumps. If that’s the best you’re pumping out, you’re doing something wrong. The atmosphere is non-existent, the reverence for tone and feel gone out with the bathwater. Nothing has any kind of bite.
It feels like a cheap Conjuring Universe film (one of the bad ones, which is a decent amount of them) that they just shoved the Exorcist name on. It is distressing how badly a lot of intelligent filmmakers can misunderstand the franchise they’ve bought, and the result is something one might need an exorcist to help them forget.