Rank ‘Em: John Carpenter’s Films

With Halloween nearly upon us, it seems appropriate to delve into the filmography of one of the most well-known and acclaimed directors of the genre. Carpenter is, without question, a master of suspense. His utilization of music in crafting an ominous atmosphere is essentially unparalleled, and his ability to engross and unnerve the viewer with subtlety and craft is nothing short of transcendent. Hyperbole aside, I am not quite sure that there is another American director that has enthralled me as well or as much as Carpenter.

In the interest of generating a great deal of discussion, I will provide a simple tiered list, from worst to best, to get the ball rolling. Without further ado…

The Gutter

  • Ghosts of Mars
  • Village of the Damned
  • The Ward
  • Memoirs of an Invisible Man

    The Watchable Yet Disappointing

  • Escape from L.A.
  • Vampires

    The Ambitious Near Misses

  • In the Mouth of Madness
  • Christine
  • Dark Star

    The Second-Tier Classics

  • Starman
  • The Fog
  • Prince of Darkness
  • They Live
  • Escape from New York

    The Masterpieces

  • Big Trouble in Little China
  • Halloween
  • The Thing
  • Assault on Precinct 13
  • Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
    Jandy Hardesty

    I’ve only seen a few Carpenter films – The Thing, Escape from New York, The Fog. Yeah, I think that’s it. No, I saw In the Mouth of Madness, too. Didn’t like it much, but I also don’t remember anything about it. We just watched The Fog the other day, actually, a nearly blind pick off Netflix Instant. Really, really liked it. Creepy, atmospheric, a little goofy – perfect for me.

    David Brook

    (EDIT – Just realised I posted my list back to front!) I saw Halloween on the big screen just this weekend – god that film is brilliant. There are quite a few titles that I haven’t seen in ages, but from the ones I remember fairly well (mostly just the really good ones, so the ordering of the top 3 was tough) here’s my list:

    The Thing
    Assault on Precinct 13
    They Live
    Dark Star
    Escape from L.A.

    I absolutely adore the top 3 of that list. Out of his other classics, I’ve never seen Big Trouble in Little China all the way through and I can’t remember much about Escape From New York or The Fog, it’s been decades.

    Jim Laczkowski

    I will be posting up a Director’s Club Podcast episode tomorrow covering the work of the great John Carpenter, focusing on Halloween & Escape from New York! Here’s my list:

    1. The Thing
    2. Halloween
    3. Assault on Precinct 13
    4. Prince of Darkness
    5. Escape From New York
    6. Christine
    7. In the Mouth of Madness
    8. Starman
    9. Big Trouble in Little China
    10. They Live
    11. The Fog
    12. Escape From LA
    13. Village of The Damned
    14. The Ward
    15. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    16. Ghosts of Mars


    Strangely i’ll be watching They Live and In the Mouth of Madness for the first time this weekend.


    Big Trouble in Little China
    The Thing
    Escape from New York
    Assault on Precinct 13
    Memoirs of an Invisible Man
    The Fog
    Prince of Darkness

    Only films i don’t like
    The Ward
    Dark Star
    Ghosts of Mars

    Jandy Hardesty

    Just watched Halloween for the first time last night. Solid, solid film – easily my favorite of the slasher franchise openers I’ve seen so far. I doubt Friday the 13th, the only one I’m missing, will top it, either. 🙂 Carpenter is SO GOOD at the ominous appearance thing that I like so much in horror – you just look and become aware that Michael is in the shot. Don’t kill me, though – I might’ve actually liked The Fog a tiny bit better. I think Halloween is stronger in a lot of ways, particularly the ending (the ending of The Fog didn’t make a whole lot of sense), but I just really liked the ghost story background and the setting of The Fog more than the standard suburban teenage slasher milieu of Halloween. I guess it wasn’t standard then, but it sure is now.