Seeing a Saw movie in theaters used to be an annual tradition for horror fans. The franchise is a quite big one, and definitely has a devoted following. Even after the quality and box office returns dropped considerably, there’s no denying that there is still a market for these types of films. Yes, every single year, Liongate would pump one of these bad boys out for the world to see – and why not? The budgets are super low and the returns are super high. For one of these to flop, it would have to flop really hard, and that didn’t ever happen. Hell, Saw 3D or Saw: The Final Chapter had a “high” budget of $20 million compared to the other movies – and still made $136 million worldwide. Not a bad return at all.
This weekend, Spiral: From The Book Of Saw hits theaters, and it’s the first Saw related movie to come out in about four years. With that being said, what better time is there to re-visit all of the other movies? Obvious spoilers follow!
9. Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)
This was the film that was supposed to end the franchise, and while it may have technically ended it, it wasn’t really the ending that fans were hoping for. By this point, the franchise had been played out, and needed a break. The traps in this movie were pretty much made for the sole reason of being in 3D, so they ended up being underwhelming compared to the other ones we’ve seen.
Not even an appearance from Cary Elwes as Dr. Gordon could save it. In fact, that appearance made the movie even more ridiculous than it already was. And not in a good way. As you may remember, it turns out that after the first Saw movie, Gordon decided to work with John Kramer AKA Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and ends up as one of his apprentices. Had we not had so many other sequels where we saw characters do this, it might have been a little more shocking. How many people truly want to join forces with a person who kidnapped them and forced them to mutilate themselves? Would you even talk to someone after they forced you to saw your foot off?
It’s pretty obvious why the franchise decided to take a seven year break after this.
8. Saw V (2008)
They should have titled this movie “Flashback” because that’s all that really seems to be going on here. Maybe the producers realized that a year had passed and not everyone could have remembered the mediocre film that is next on our list, so they had to use Saw 5 to get us all caught up again.
Aside from those problems, there are a few cool traps – but the focus is so much on the flashbacks, nothing really gets going due to all of the awkward transitions. Scott Patterson does turn in a good performance as Agent Strahm – and you find yourself rooting for him the entire movie – which is what makes the ending so frustrating and unsatisfying. Honestly, I’d say it’s pretty much in a tie with The Final Chapter in terms of ranking on this list.
7. Saw IV (2007)
Saw 4 is where things started to get bad. The traps just became too unrealistic (even by horror movie standards) and the reasons that the victims were “playing the game” became dumb. The cop in this film, Daniel Rig (played by Lyriq Bent) is punished for trying to rescue Jigsaw’s victims. That’s it. That’s the reason why he must go through all of the excruciating tasks that are presented to him in the movie. Trying to save people.
There are also a ton of twists in this movie, which I mean, it’s a Saw movie, yes, but how many twists can there be? Detective Eric Matthews is alive, and Detective Lieutenant Mark Hoffman is on Jigsaw’s side. Yet another disciple of Jigsaw. Aside from the twists, there are a lot of flashbacks, which is a trend that would continue in Saw 5, as mentioned above.
Personally, I was expecting to see more of the story about Jeff Denlon (Angus Macfayden) carry on from the third movie, but that’s pretty non-existent in this film aside from the actor being in it for a few seconds. It’s said that he was supposed to have more of a part in Saw 4, and even die in a blender trap, but that was ultimately scrapped for the film we ended up getting – which ended up feeling like it was made simply for traps and no mental horror aspect of it at all. It’s also where Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) becomes the focus of the franchise.
6. Saw VI (2009)
Saw 6 isn’t exactly good movie, but it is a step up from 4 and 5, if that’s saying anything. It has some clever traps (if you can look past the fact that we are supposed to believe that one person did all of this) and had an overall interesting message about life and death. My problem with this film, was if John Kramer was wronged by the insurance agent Peter Outerbridge (played by William Easton) in such a way that the film shows – why wouldn’t Outerbridge been his first target? Instead of Dr. Gordon? Or at least in the first movie? By this point in the franchise, there are so many different people that Jigsaw has been wronged by and so many different traps, it becomes impossible to believe – and there’s no mystery to anything anymore. You know everything about Kramer.
Honestly, though, if you’re still locked into the franchise at this point, you probably have already stopped hoping for realistic scenarios. This movie ranks higher than Saw 4 and 5 because the flashbacks are at least somewhat interesting and you can tell the filmmakers knew that audiences were kind of burnt out on all of the ridiculous dot-connecting that took place in those two films.
5. Jigsaw (2017)
Jigsaw is sort of like Saw 6. It isn’t really a good movie, but it’s not as bad as what we’ve seen before – it just doesn’t capture what made the first few films so interesting. It does, however, at least try to take the franchise to a different place, and you can see that early on.
There are some good traps in the movie and even a really clever one in the “Shotgun” game, where Kramer tells the victims exactly what they need to do to survive – but they don’t understand the riddle until it’s too late.
This one just seemed to suffer from what the other later movies have suffered from – the reveal just isn’t that shocking anymore from what we’re expecting. When you’re given top-notch twists early on in a franchise, you have a high standard for that kind of thing. So while Jigsaw delivers in some aspects, it doesn’t quite capture the form of the first films.
4. Spiral: From The Book Of Saw (2021)
Despite being an attempt to take the Saw franchise in a new direction, Spiral is more of the same – except it has Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson. It’s directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed Saw 2-4 and you can tell. If the idea was to take it somewhere new, maybe they should have brought in a new director to give the franchise some fresh blood. The “new Jigsaw” voice is also a massive downgrade from the iconic original voice we heard in the other movies.
Fans of the other movies will likely enjoy it, but I feel it’s closer to Jigsaw than Saw, in terms of quality and honestly, a bit predictable. Actually, really predictable. It’s not a bad twist, but the reveal could have been made a little less obvious – as we’ve seen other films in the franchise do – even if the reveals turn out to be silly in the end, at least they kept us guessing.
3. Saw III (2006)
The franchise made its biggest mistake in this film – killing off Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw character. After this film, none of the movies really compared and became far too unrealistic to be anything other than entertaining for fans of gore. While that is fine, the thing that made the Saw movies popular wasn’t just the gore – it was the psychological aspect of it as well.
The gore is definitely here though, as it’s the goriest film in the franchise. It received the NC-17 rating by the MPAA numerous times before finally receiving an R-Rating. Bousman said it was Rob Zombie who helped him secure the rating.
Saw III trivia. I had to call @RobZombie and ask for help with the MPAA. Saw III received the NC-17 half a dozen times. Rob gave me advice on how to get that R. The only movie I had more trouble getting the R on was… SPIRAL. #SAWathon
— Darren_Bousman (@darren_bousman) May 9, 2021
An example of that gore would have to be one of the most popular traps in the franchise in “The Rack”.
2. Saw II (2005)
Director James Wan left after the first movie, while writer Leigh Whannell stayed on for this one and Saw 3. For the most part, Saw 2 is a pretty good horror movie and features a pretty big surprise at the end, leaving fans wanting more. Amanda being Jigsaw’s disciple was huge and almost on par with the twist at the end of the first film. It also increases the violence without sacrificing the story – as we saw other sequels make the mistake of doing.
I feel like this was the only sequel that truly delivered.
1. Saw (2004)
Not much of a shocker here, as Saw is (and is regarded as) the best film in the franchise. The film’s twist was one of the best ever in a horror movie (or any movie for that matter) and had a pretty basic setup when you compare it to the ridiculous lengths we saw the franchise go later on. Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell give great performances (especially when you consider the time and budget constraints they and director James Wan were working with) and the movie keeps you guessing up until the very end. It was an ending that left audiences shocked and wanting more – and little did they know, they’d get it. And then some.
The hype of this movie is something the franchise keeps trying to get back – but even after some breaks, it seems as though it was just a case of perfect timing.
Conclusion: To me, the Saw franchise really started to fall off after Saw 3. As I stated above, the decision to kill off Jigsaw proved to be a big mistake, as Tobin Bell is who carried those movies. Just look at 2017’s Jigsaw. If it wouldn’t have had Bell in the movie, it likely would have suffered the same reception as the other films without him. Making Hoffman the focus of the franchise after the third movie was not a very good idea, as he’s just not as interesting of a character as Kramer. If they wouldn’t have done that, or at least had a better replacement for Kramer, we may have had better quality sequels and the franchise would still be going strong. Then again, despite the declining box office returns of each movie, the franchise maintains a core fan-base.
The films just kept diving deeper and deeper into absurdity, rather than being the clever and shocking thing they once were. Sure, there were decent traps in ALL of the movies, but unless that’s the only thing you’re looking for, they just don’t cut it in the end. The traps also became less about teaching people lessons for doing bad and more about simply how much gore they can put in a scene.
With Saw 10 already said to be in the works, it’ll be interesting to see what they decide to do with the franchise. Reboot? More flashbacks? New sequel that ignores all of the other sequels? More spin-offs like Spiral? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.