James Wan is one of the pioneers of modern horror, and we’ve ranked each of his movies from worst to best!
James Wan ’s movies have become a staple of modern horror, and we’ve ranked them below from worst to best! Plenty of his films have amassed a cult following, and over the years he’s developed his iconic style into more high-budget, studio horrors that have found their own place within pop culture. From Saw to Insidious, it’s clear that Wan has a deep understanding of exactly what it is that makes a film scary – and how to make his audience’s skin crawl in terror. So, if you’re a fan of modern horror, or maybe just looking to spend a couple of intense hours with friends, then some of these may be for you!
7. DEAD SILENCE
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Donnie Wahlberg
Despite its position at the bottom of this list, I’d still suggest that Dead Silence is James Wan ’s most underrated film to date. It has a great use of atmosphere, a compelling mystery and lots of genuine scares to keep you on the edge of your seat. The film takes the everyday concept of ventriloquist dolls and turns them into a symbol of terror, utilising every aspect of tense filmmaking possible to morph them into the stuff of nightmares. It might not have the relatable characters, powerful performances or sleek visuals of Wan’s later films, but it’s a strong, short thrill-ride that should hold your attention throughout and offer a few unpredictable twists and turns.
6. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2
Whilst it’s not quite as effective or immersive as the original, the second instalment in James Wan ’s Insidious franchise is a perfectly suitable continuation of the original, spine-chilling story. It doesn’t hold back when it comes to the suspense and tension, and the thrilling payoffs almost always work brilliantly. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are the highlights of these films – Wilson was born to play a role like this, and whilst it isn’t Byrne’s typical style, she displays a great level of emotion and relatability throughout. The film’s main problem is that the plot just isn’t as compelling or interesting as the first, taking an investigative approach into the family’s history rather than using the smart supernatural concept to explore the character dynamics in the present.
Unfortunately, the scares in this film just aren’t as effective or exciting as in the first either. Now that the family has a gained understanding of the spirit world, the creatures themselves don’t have the same level of incomprehensible terror that they displayed in the first instalment – which is exactly what created the atmosphere of fear that made it so compelling. Wan’s technical prowess means that he’s still able to craft an entirely immersive jumpscare, but it never really goes any further than that. Regardless, the second chapter of the now-iconic Insidious franchise is still a lot of fun once you’re invested in the characters and their relationships, and it does a lot to set up the future of that universe.
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young
Full Review: Malignant (2021 Film) Review: A Confused, Bloody Mess
After a few years away from making movies, James Wan is finally back with what he’s described as his love letter to the horror genre, Malignant. The film follows a young woman who is left paralyzed by shocking visions of death after a brutal injury, but the nightmare only becomes worse when she realizes that these visions are becoming her reality. There isn’t a single second of Malignant that’s predictable or conventional, with Wan subverting expectations at every single turn and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats throughout. It might be a little too complex and convoluted for some viewers, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most original and unique horror movies in the last few years.
The only real problem with Malignant is that it relies on its third-act twist to make sense of the complicated narrative, and up to that point it can be pretty difficult to know what’s happening and why. Whilst it’s refreshing to see a horror movie that doesn’t hold the audience’s hand through every single scene, Malignant’s second act does sometimes get a little caught up in its own complexity and forgets to be engaging.
James Wan ’s evolution into mainstream horror results in one of the scariest, most effective vehicles of terror there’s ever been. The chilling story of one family’s battle with the supernatural is a perfect setting for Wan to work his magic, meticulously crafting a unique piece of horror that provides in almost every way.
The entire first half is precisely formed to establish the tone and atmosphere of the film, whilst introducing us to the characters and offering some terrifying scares. The way Wan works with a larger budget is really interesting – where his earlier films are limited by their visuals and costume design, Insidious goes all out by introducing us to countless different ghosts and spirits that allow him to focus on the grotesque element of horror. Whilst it can sometimes be a little overbearing and overwhelming, it creates the opportunity for Wan to precisely craft some of the most effective jumpscares in history.
Unfortunately, the second half goes a little off the rails, and it would be easy to lose interest pretty quickly as the film attempts to draw fear from a completely different style that almost contradicts the film’s foundations. The dialogue is a little clunky and the editing could use some work, but Insidious is a superbly effective thrill-ride that offers much more than just cheap scares. It’s a perfectly apt display of Wan’s understanding of the genre, melding unconventional filmmaking with a classic haunted house story that bumps the thrills up to eleven.
3. THE CONJURING 2
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Madison Wolfe
Related article: All Conjuring Universe Films Ranked From Worst to Best
Although it might not live up to the legacy of its predecessor, The Conjuring 2 is still a greatly entertaining studio horror with a truly impressive level of skill behind the camera. Whilst there may have been a lot of pressure for this film to live up to, the new cast (mostly) and fresh new story gave it a distinct feel and plenty of successful opportunities to impress.
It features some great breakout performances, a dark atmosphere that grows more and more unsettling with every passing minute, and some of the best camerawork of Wan’s career. Spurts of awkward dialogue and usage of overly convenient plot devices hold the film back from greatness, but Wan’s directorial skills elevate it way beyond the quality of the screenplay.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are electric in the lead roles, and this sequel takes a lot of time to develop their characters and relationship without ever feeling like a distraction from the film’s central conflict. It’s got all the scares and surprises that you’d expect from a film in this franchise, and also introduces a couple of key characters that make their presence known in the later spinoff films – and they’re absolutely terrifying. It also has some of the best and most effective atmospheric control that I’ve seen in any recent horror film, rivaled only by its precursor.
Starring: Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover
Related article: All Saw Films Ranked From Worst to Best
For many people, the mixed reception and critical panning of the franchise’s sequels might leave them confused as to why Saw is so high up this list, but the fact remains that Wan ’s original instalment is a revolutionary piece of low-budget horror that changed the landscape of the genre forever.
There are few people out there who haven’t at least heard of the film, and that truly comes down to the way by which the film has embedded itself within popular culture – some sources suggest that the film has been referenced or parodied in over 50 mainstream television shows and video games since its release. The reason for this, mostly, is thanks to the film’s eternal simplicity. It might not be the most refined, precise screenplay out there but it’s straight to the point, thrilling and intense, and supported by Wan ’s truly innovative directorial choices.
The story of two men locked in a room is a solid foundation for a confined thriller such as this, but the way Wan weaves in an intricate backstory and heavy emotional payoffs elevates it even further and makes those 100 minutes feel like mere moments as you become more and more invested in the lives and fates of the two central characters. There are certainly issues with the dialogue and pacing, and sometimes the stylish camera movements become a little excessive, but when a story is this gripping and clever, it becomes hard to care about that.
1. THE CONJURING
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor
Related article: All Conjuring Universe Films Ranked From Worst to Best
When you think of modern horror movies, The Conjuring may be one of the first few titles to come to mind. James Wan ’s chilling haunted house story has become a staple of supernatural horror, and it’s no wonder why – the film is expertly crafted to capitalise on tension and fear at every moment possible. The intricate sound design, empathetic performances and stylish camera movements all come together to make an experience that is just as gripping as it is terrifying.
The story follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators who are called to look into some supernatural occurrences that have been happening in an old, historic house that’s just been bought by the Perron family. The film plays out mostly as you might expect – the Warrens arrive to investigate the property, and discover a hostile spirit with a dark past that threatens to tear the family apart. What isn’t so predictable, however, is how effortlessly and skillfully Wan bends this story into something so intense and disturbing, using every tool at his disposal to keep the audience on their seat for two thrilling hours.
What distinguishes The Conjuring from other supernatural horrors is just how immersive it is. Wan ’s dynamic camera perfectly captures the feeling of being inside the house with the central characters, and the way he obscurs and frames his shots makes even the most innocent of moments feel ineffably terrifying. It’s a film that’s fuelled by its atmosphere, allowing those quiet moments to crawl under your skin and fill you with apprehension of what’s to come – not relying on surprises or jumpscares, but knowing exactly how to use them sparingly to maintain its solemnly chilling atmosphere.
The performances from every single member of the cast are perfectly tuned to add to this dark tone, and allow us to connect with the characters and truly care about the film’s stakes. The film is masterfully put together, and it’s no wonder it’s become such an instant classic of the genre.