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  • Writer's pictureMichael Lee Simpson


From epic logging truck sequences with traffic pile-ups to lame spats on pavement, here’s EW’s definitive worst-to-best list of the Final Destination saga.

Nothing in life is more certain than Death, a theme the Final Destination franchise explores with furious brutality. In a world where cheating that demise is a cardinal sin, this force — whether it's karma, evil personified, the Spectre of Death, or the Final Destination curse — circles back, sweeping over survivors with relentless savagery. Freak accidents streak through the storylines with kinetic, electrifying energy, igniting a chain reaction of over-the-top kills that coincide under extreme circumstances.

Five films, a comic book titled Final Destination: Sacrifice, the comic book series Final Destination: Spring Break, and nine novels later, the franchise stays pinned on the map with an untitled sixth installment in pre-production. From 2000 to 2011, here are all five Final Destination movies, ranked.

5. The Final Destination (2009)

Like Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare promised one last celebration for the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, The Final Destination sends the same message for this long-running horror narrative. New Line Cinema even plays the same card from '91 — claiming an Ace of Spades while holding a 2 — presenting another 3D experience.

Events kick into gear during an auto race at the McKinley Speedway. College students Nick (Bobby Campo), Lori (Shantel VanSanten), Hunt (Nick Zano), and Janet (Haley Webb) are on semester break, cheering in the grandstands when Nick's premonition shifts to reality. The stadium erupts in pandemonium as race cars crash, blowing up in flames, debris flying over the track, stray tires decapitating heads, and concrete crushing the crowd. The remaining characters perish in a string of poorly executed, straight-to-video-worthy deaths. A lawnmower ricochets a rock through someone's eye; a carbon dioxide tank launches a man into a metal grid fence at a mechanic shop; and Hunt's intestines are sucked through the drain pipe at a swimming pool.

As the first standalone sequel after the third installment, The Final Destination is further alone in that the plot seems to go nowhere. Final Destination 2 director, the late David R. Ellis (Cellular, Snakes on a Plane), returns with 2's co-writer Eric Bress, who co-wrote and co-directed The Butterfly Effect. After hitting the bullseye with that phenomenal Final Destination sequel years prior, the mark is missed here with uninspired filmmaking and a disoriented screenplay. The scares are dull and anticlimactic, stumbling around like a walking skeleton swinging a rubber axe, hitting nothing, seeing nothing with no sense of direction. The film itself seems to be Death's next target, dead as a doornail.

4. Final Destination 3 (2006)

A red-painted roller coaster called Devil's Flight is the hallmark of Final Destination 3, where more unsuspecting teens walk into fate's mousetrap at a Pennsylvania amusement park. The premonition haunts Wendy, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Wendy's boyfriend, Jason (Jesse Moss), her best friend, Carrie (Gina Holden), and Carrie's boyfriend, Kevin (Ryan Merriman), among other high school classmates, board the ride. Although Wendy's meltdown persuades nine people to hop off, skeptics stay onboard. As the coaster rises, the clickety-clack turns to screams and sparks in the night when the hydraulics securing the restraints fail. Train cars soar off the tracks, passengers plunging hundreds of feet to the concrete. A photograph taken before the crash carries the plot, with Wendy and Kevin examining its hidden meanings as to who the next victims will be.

Death skips around like a clown holding a Tommy Gun, firing rounds of ingenious kills in salons, gyms, drive-thru restaurants, and hardware stores. Two friends burn alive in defective tanning beds; a Bowflex machine crushes a meathead; a semi-trailer truck collides with Kevin's car, rocketing the motor into a bystander; and one girl's skull gets pelted by a nail gun.

Director James Wong, who helmed the original, teams up with screenwriter Glen Morgan, whose collaboration on The One with Jet Li broke barriers five years earlier. "One of the reasons why Final Destination is such an enduring franchise is because the audience has a real chance of experiencing the horrors the characters face on screen," Wong tells EW. "While it's unlikely you'll have a face-to-face with a serial killer like your typical slasher movie, I can't tell you how many times people have come up and told me a story about how they had a 'Final Destination moment.'"

3. Final Destination 5 (2011)

Doom flashes before the eyes of Sam (Nicholas D'Agosto) while riding a bus on the North Bay Bridge, convincing his colleagues to evacuate before the structure collapses. In classic Final Destination fashion, the survivors inevitably meet graphic deaths. A Buddha statue crushes Issac (P. J. Byrne) during an acupuncture appointment; Candice (Ellen Wroe) falls off a beam and snaps her spine at gymnastics practice; a rotating belt sander torpedos a wrench into Dennis' (David Koechner) head; and Olivia's (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) LASIK surgery is now a laser-burning, eyeball-popping YouTube phenomenon.

But Molly (Emma Bell), Nathan (Arlen Escarpeta), and Peter (Miles Fisher) steal the show, leading us to an unexpected twist: Final Destination 5 turns out to be a prequel, not a sequel. William Bludworth (Tony Todd), owner of Bludworth Funeral Homes, appears for the third time, and, as always, presents morbid wisdom about Death's rules and sinister forces. Being a coroner — and the guy who played Candyman — his character cries Grim Reaper.

After the disastrous 2009 film at the bottom of this list, Steven Quale's follow-up proves the series has hope. Quale, James Cameron's second unit director on Titanic and Avatar, brings cinematic flair to the production. Many sequences are influenced by real-life events as well. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer (Bird Box, Arrival) modeled the opening after 1940's Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse and — inspiring Issac's Death — an acupuncture needle once pierced through someone's heart after they fell off the table.

2. Final Destination 2 (2003)

Co-written by J. Mackye Gruber and Bress — writing/directing partners on The Butterfly Effect — this relentless, exhilarating sequel officially launches the franchise into Final Destination fandom.

"It was an enormous privilege to be asked to write Final Destination 2 after the success of its predecessor," Gruber tells EW. "But it also meant pressure to make it even better and different enough to allow it to stand out and become memorable. It was our first studio film and will always hold a special place. The only downside is that once you write a Final Destination film, it gets in your head and you see the possibility of Death everywhere!"

1. Final Destination (2000)

James Wong's supernatural horror classic reinforced to audiences that true danger isn't a masked villain chasing people through the dark, exploiting fears beyond Victorian castles and zombie-packed graveyards. As Scream reinvented the slasher genre, Final Destination introduced real-life phobias controlled by unseen forces.

"The original idea came from an article I read about a woman who was on vacation and her mother told her to switch flights because she had a bad feeling," Reddick explains to EW. "The woman switched planes, and the plane she was scheduled to be on crashed."

Volée Airlines Flight 180 — the catalyst for all five films, comic books, and nine novels — added the simple formula: Protagonist has a premonition, the premonition turns real, characters involved escape, Death pursues them in the order in which they were meant to die.

Alex (Devon Sawa) foresees the plane crashing with classmates on a trip to Paris, accompanied by Clear (Larter), Billy (Seann William Scott), Carter (Kerr Smith), Valerie (Kristen Cloke), Terry (Amanda Detmer), and Tod Waggner (Chad E. Donella). Once they get off the flight — and the plane does crash — Death's dominos begin to fall.

Speaking exclusively to EW about making the film, Seann William Scott says, "I had an awesome experience shooting Final Destination, and felt so fortunate to be a part of it. It was fantastic playing a character who gets half his head cut off."

Another star said something similar. Despite negative reviews, The Final Destination ignited Shantel VanSanten's career on smash-hit shows like Shooter, The Boys, Scorpion, and The Flash. "[That] was only my second film ever," she tells EW. "I had just finished filming a love story called You and I in Russia with acclaimed director Roland Joffé. Three weeks later, I was on The Final Destination set watching heads being chopped off. What a perfect metaphor for a start in the business."

In a 2021 interview with EW, Devon Sawa, too, reflected on his involvement: "What I remember the most is just being blown away by the finished product. I think those filmmakers, James Wong and Glen Morgan, were geniuses."

To top it off, there's an eerie connection between the filmmakers, too. Wong co-wrote the script with Glen Morgan, his writing/producing collaborator on The X-Files. And creator Reddick originally wrote Final Destination as a spec script for the sci-fi series, which he instead expanded into a feature for New Line Cinema.

"The stories usually start off normal enough, but through a set of improbable events, people end up having a close call with death," Wong tells EW. "I myself still check for signs whenever I board a plane, and nobody wants to follow a logging truck on the highway. Final Destination has made the mundane dangerous, and if you cheated Death, well, anything and everything can kill you."

-Entertainment Weekly


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