Master of Horror John Carpenter has had one of the biggest impacts on genre cinema of anyone to turn their hand to directing. He is up there with the greats, jumpstarting one of the biggest horror franchises of all time, invading pop culture with numerous films, and keeping us up at night with synth scores to chill the bones.
In this Movie List, we at The Film Magazine pay tribute to one of the giants of independent genre cinema, ranking John Carpenter’s cinematic releases from the not-so-good to the bordering-on-perfect. These are the John Carpenter Movies Ranked.
(Note: For this list, we are looking at straight-to-cinema releases. The director’s well-received, Golden Globe-nominated TV biopic ‘Elvis’, and his Masters of Horror segments, therefore do not make the list).
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18. The Ward (2010)
John Carpenter’s last film to date was released nine years after his previous effort, and there’s a reason you haven’t heard of it.
The Ward is a film about a bunch of teens in a psychiatric ward with a ghost on the loose. It sounds like the type of film which, were it released in the 1970s, would be a cult classic. Now it feels outdated and bland.
There’s no atmosphere, no creativity, nothing of any particular interest. It’s as dull of a fright-fest as you could imagine, if one could include the word ‘fright’ at all, and the only reason to possibly suggest viewing it is to complete Carpenter’s oeuvre. Aside from that, please forget it exists.
17. Ghosts of Mars (2001)
A film with a troubled production history (as were quite a few of John Carpenter’s films), Ghosts of Mars was rumoured to be originally conceived as a sequel to Escape from L.A., which would have made it the third of the director’s Escape films, though this has been denied by the producers.
Ghosts of Mars still has much of the Escape film vibes, a blend of sci-fi, action, western, and horror. Here, Jason Statham, Natasha Henstridge, and Ice Cube fight off possessed miners on Mars, dressed up in leather and sporting piercings. It’s all kinds of bizarre and strange and not incredibly great.
The budget hampers the effects, the characters aren’t particularly likeable, the plot is ridiculous, and what the hell is with those Star Wars wipe transitions? John Carpenter has been a genius in the directing chair before, but here he completely misses every mark possible.
If you want something campy and stupid, possibly intentionally so (especially with a title like Ghosts of Mars), maybe this works for you. As a good film, however? Definitely not.
16. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man is possibly the most forgotten film in John Carpenter’s oeuvre, and that’s a bit of a shame.
Following a lab accident in which a coffee cup on a computer causes a systems meltdown, Chevy Chase’s Nick Halloway sleeps through the entire building seemingly exploding around him. Only there’s no debris. The whole place is invisible, and so is he, and the CIA (with Sam Neill at the helm) is on his trail.
It’s a radically different take on the ‘invisible man’ premise; an interesting idea. There are lots of effects, there are love stories, there’s comedy, there’s some… stuff. But, when Carpenter was battling studio interference and a cast he couldn’t work with, and was never the director they wanted anyway, the movie is bound to be a bit of a mess.
This film essentially stopped Carpenter from stepping into big studio projects, although he did get a friendship with Sam Neill out of it, whom he would team with again in a few years time (In the Mouth of Madness – 1994), so perhaps that’s a win.
The issue with Memoirs of an Invisible Man is that it’s just too boringly mediocre at best, and uninteresting at worst. There’s a reason it’s forgotten: like the invisible man, it’s hard to see if there’s any substance here at all.
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