This weekend, Saw X is out in theaters and the latest sequel is keeping the legacy of Jigsaw alive. Or we could call it a “midquel” if you prefer, because the film’s story is set between Saw and Saw II. Since the first movie’s debut in 2004, Saw has proven to be one of the most resilient and best franchises in horror alongside The Conjuring and Insidious. Not even killing off the main character has prevented Lionsgate from revisiting Jigsaw and his apprentices again and again. The movies have even made Jigsaw’s puppet, Billy (pictured above), into one of the franchise’s most iconic creations.
Now that Saw X has arrived, this is the perfect opportunity to rank all 10 of the movies in the Saw franchise. There’s definitely a dramatic drop in quality from the worst film to the very best. But it’s also worth saying that Saw X offers some promising signs that the filmmakers may have finally recognized why the franchise was floundering and come up with some ideas as to how it might continue beyond its 20th anniversary next year.
The big reason why Saw V ranks dead last out of 10 is because this is the one that felt the most like a cash grab. Audiences don’t tend to like sequels that don’t have much of a reason to exist. The continuing story from the previous film brings back Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) for a cat-and-mouse game after Strahm survived a death trap that he wasn’t meant to escape.
It’s also really easy to hate every single one of the Jigsaw victims in this movie, including Brit (Julie Benz), Mallick (Greg Bryk), and Luba (Meagan Good). The key lesson here is that if the filmmakers want the audience to care for the people who are being “tested,” then there has to be some shred of decency in these characters for viewers to latch on to. Instead, there was very little humanity to be found in this film.
Watch Saw V on Peacock.
After the way Saw III ended, Saw IV had to do a lot of heavy lifting in order to justify another sequel since all of the previous main characters were dead, including John Kramer! The solution was to introduce another Jigsaw apprentice, while sending Officer Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) through a trial that revisits several severe mistakes from his career that left people hurt.
Elsewhere, FBI Agents Peter Strahm (Patterson) and Lindsey Perez (Athena Karkanis) learn more about Kramer’s life and motivations from his ex-wife, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell). This film was also even more violent than its predecessors, which didn’t win it many accolades from critics.
Watch Saw IV on Peacock.
Guess what, there’s another secret Jigsaw apprentice in Jigsaw! The franchise was really starting to show its age in the eighth movie, especially since the previous film had seemingly killed off the last Jigsaw apprentice. The story starts a decade after John Kramer’s death, as Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) finds himself being framed as the new Jigsaw by the latest apprentice.
Meanwhile, Eleanor Bonneville (Hannah Emily Anderson) has developed a very unhealthy obsession with Jigsaw’s traps and with Kramer himself. That allows the real killer to throw suspicion on her while he operates in the shadows.
Watch Jigsaw on Prime Video.
Chris Rock personally pitched Lionsgate with ideas for a different kind of Saw movie. The result was Spiral, the ninth movie in the franchise that plays more like a spinoff. This was also the only Saw film in which Tobin Bell did not reprise his role as John Kramer. In the film, the legacy of Jigsaw inspires a copycat killer who has a specific agenda in mind.
Detective Zeke Banks (Rock) has a connection to the Jigsaw copycat, even if he doesn’t realize it immediately. It concerns the tainted legacy of Zeke’s father, Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), who was also a cop, and the culture of police corruption that extends to the present. The copycat killer is attempting to scare the police straight by eliminating the most corrupt members of the force in increasingly brutal ways. The real Jigsaw would be proud.
Saw VI felt very much like Occupy Saw because Jigsaw’s targets in the film were predatory lenders and greedy health care company executives and employees. This was all very timely in 2009. That also made William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) a very unlikely protagonist, as he was perhaps the worst executive from his healthcare company. He callously turned down coverage for patients, and yet his trial put the lives of his co-workers in his hands. And even in success, William still had to let some of his colleagues die.
Meanwhile, reporter Pamela Jenkins (Samantha Lemole) pushes her quest to expose Jigsaw too far, while Tara Abbott (Shauna MacDonald) and her son, Brent (Devon Bostick), attempt to figure out why Jigsaw is testing them as well. Both subplots circle back to William in the end.
Watch Saw VI on Peacock.
As you may have guessed, Saw: The Final Chapter was less than final. But the same was true of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which was the fourth film in that long-running franchise. In this case, The Final Chapter was the seventh installment of Saw, and it was meant to be a real ending. On that level, it works really well as the wrap-up for Mark Hoffman (Mandylor), the renegade apprentice of Jigsaw. There are also a lot of returning characters from the previous films, even if they only briefly appear.
Aside from Hoffman’s rampage, the primary story of this film belongs to Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), a man who found fame and fortune after surviving one of Jigsaw’s traps. Or so Bobby led everyone to believe. To punish Bobby for his lies, Hoffman puts him through a series of even more brutal tests than the ones he made up. And if Bobby fails, his wife, Joyce (Gina Holden), will pay the ultimate price.
Watch Saw: The Final Chapter on Peacock.
The second film, Saw II, upped the stakes from the first movie by expanding the scope of Jigsaw’s game to include more than just a handful of people. Kramer (Bell) also steps out of the shadows and allows himself to be captured by Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), only to reveal that Eric’s son, Daniel (Erik Knudsen), is one of the victims in his latest game.
Amanda (Shawnee Smith) also returned, and one of the best surprises in the film is that she wasn’t the final girl of Saw. She was meant to be the next Jigsaw, and Amanda only took part in this trial to make sure that the latest victims followed the rules of the game.
If the Saw franchise had come to an end with Saw III, then it would have been considered one of the best horror trilogies ever. Unlike the first two movies, this one spends a lot of time with John Kramer (Bell) while he is on his death bed. Kramer’s apprentice, Amanda Young (Smith), also kidnaps Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) to help her keep Kramer alive a little bit longer. But in her paranoia, Amanda becomes jealous of Lynn’s interactions with Kramer.
Meanwhile, Lynn’s husband, Jeff Denlon (Angus Macfadyen) is put through a series of Jigsaw-style puzzles. But in the end, everyone is being tested by John, and the wrong choices may leave no one left alive to tell the tale.
Jigsaw is dead, and yet John Kramer is never far from the franchise. Instead of the flashback trickery of the earlier movies, Saw X resurrected Tobin Bell’s iconic character by setting the story before his death in Saw III. When this film picks up, Kramer is desperate for a cure for his terminal cancer. Cecilia Pederson (Synnøve Macody Lund) offers Kramer the hope that he needs with an experimental procedure in Mexico.
When Pederson’s promises turn out to be an elaborate con, Kramer does exactly what you would expect by kidnapping Pederson and her accomplices for another elaborate Jigsaw game. This is one of the few times where Kramer’s fury seems justified, but that doesn’t mean that his Jigsaw traps and challenges are any less brutal. Regardless, the reason this sequel rises above the others is that, at long last, Kramer seems like a genuine human being outside of his Jigsaw persona. There’s a real pathos to Kramer’s depiction in this film, right up until he puts his revenge in motion.
Saw X is now playing in theaters.
Cary Elwes and Danny Glover were the most established performers in the original Saw, and both gave some of the best performances in the series. Under the direction of James Wan, Saw was much more subdued than the films that followed it. Most of the movie takes place in a ruined bathroom where two strangers, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Elwes) and Adam (Leigh Whannell), are chained by their feet and given conflicting instructions by their unseen captor. Adam is told to live, while Gordon is ordered to kill Adam in order to spare his wife and daughter.
Through flashbacks, the film reveals how Gordon was a suspect in the Jigsaw killings, and Detective David Tapp (Glover) remains convinced of his guilt. This was also the film that introduced Smith as Amanda, one of Jigsaw’s earliest victims in the now iconic reverse-bear trap that was placed on her head. Nearly 20 years after its release, Saw remains the best film in the franchise, in part because it wasn’t meant to be more than a single movie. It told the story that it needed to tell and had a definitive, and still shocking, ending.