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Monday, October 25, 2021

Ranking the Entire ‘Paranormal Activity’ Franchise Before ‘PA: Next of Kin’ Releases This Friday

I’ve been in love with the Paranormal Activity franchise ever since I first stepped foot into a midnight screening of the first film back in 2009. The movie was spooky enough, but what really stuck with me was how its subtle scares managed to follow me home after the credits rolled. Of course, I wasn’t the only one who had trouble sleeping that weekend, as Paranormal Activity became an unexpected box-office hit, reigniting the Found Footage craze much like The Blair Witch Project had done a decade prior.

Making over $193 million on a $15,000 production budget, it’s no surprise that Oren Peli’s minimalistic classic spawned a long-running franchise. What no one expected was that the legendary series would finally make a comeback in 2021 with the upcoming Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin. And as we wait for William Eubank and Christopher Landon’s return to this spooky world of eerie surveillance footage and carefully orchestrated jump scares, I think it’s the perfect time to look back on the franchise and rank every single Paranormal Activity movie!

Naturally, this ranking is based on personal taste, so I ask that readers interpret it as a single fan’s humble opinion rather than a definitive evaluation of these movies. That being said, don’t forget to share your own personal ranking with us in the comments below.

7. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)

Boasting at least a couple of fun jump scares, The Ghost Dimension has its charms, but it’s easily the worst entry in the series. From Toby’s underwhelming reveal to several recycled plot elements, it makes sense that the franchise took a six-year-long hiatus after this underwhelming sequel. The ill-advised 3D gimmick and questionable CGI also ruin any hope of viewer immersion, which kind of defeats the purpose of found footage filmmaking.

I’d only recommend this one to die-hard fans of the series, though I usually ignore it during the occasional franchise re-watch.

6. Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

By 2012, the series was already suffering from repetitive scares and a convoluted mythology explaining Toby and his followers. Even so, the fourth entry managed to stay relevant through a handful of effective set-pieces involving satanic rituals and even an Xbox Kinect camera. It may be better than The Ghost Dimension, but Paranormal Activity 4 already made it clear that the franchise needed a new direction.

Despite this, this film is notable for being one of the first Found Footage movies to make use of desktop recordings in its narrative, setting a precedent for future Screenlife thrillers like Unfriended, Searching and The Den.

5. Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)

Bigger isn’t necessarily better when it comes to Found Footage, and Paranormal Activity 2 is a great example of this. Even in this first sequel, the lighting and video quality are already way too good to be believable, and focusing on a larger family means that less time is spent developing individual characters. The script also doesn’t do a good job of justifying why a lot of this footage exists in the first place, though that’s more of a nitpick than real criticism.

Even so, PA2 shows much more restraint than its follow-ups, with Tod Williams finding convincing ways to use Found Footage as a vehicle for tightly choreographed scares. From moments like the panning fan-camera to an improvised exorcism, this is definitely a worthy follow-up to Peli’s opus.

4. Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night (2010)

While it’s no longer part of the main series canon, Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Night was a strange little Found Footage experiment that’s still worth revisiting today. Re-interpreting the minimalistic formula of the original film with a J-Horror twist (complete with an eerily claustrophobic apartment setting), it’s a shame that so many fans of the series missed out on this one.

The connection to the first film is a little tenuous, with the spin-off following a young Japanese woman who had an unfortunate encounter with Katie during a trip to America, but this slow-burn thriller has quite a few spooky tricks up its sleeve. The scene where Haruka is forced to stand up despite her broken legs is one of the most chilling moments in the whole franchise, and there are plenty of other subtle scares to be found here if you can stomach the deliberate pacing.

3. Paranormal Activity 3 (2011)

One of the first instances of a Found Footage prequel, Paranormal Activity 3 was already testing audiences’ suspension of disbelief by suggesting that Katie’s cursed family was hoarding even more spooky footage. The VHS gimmick may not be all that convincing (it’s in Widescreen and HD), but Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman’s attempt at fleshing out the franchise’s mythology makes for a surprisingly entertaining throwback.

While it’s a shame that the original trailer promised several scares that aren’t in the finished film, there are still many chilling moments in this retro horror story. I particularly enjoy how it presents Toby as an imaginary friend from hell, and you’ve got to give the studio props for hiring the directors behind Catfish to help with the franchise’s authenticity.

2. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Borrowing elements from films like Chronicle and Afflicted while also dealing with time travel and ruthless street gangs, The Marked Ones may not be the most down-to-earth outing in the series, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t one of the most entertaining!

Focusing on a Hispanic high-school graduate as he finds himself in the middle of a supernatural conspiracy, the film may seem like an unorthodox take on the franchise, but this underrated spin-off was actually a calculated risk. With Paranormal Activity being popular among Latino audiences, producers figured that this sizable demographic might appreciate something marketed specifically towards them. As a South American who considers this a great companion piece to the original trilogy, I guess they were right.

1. Paranormal Activity (2007)

The Blair Witch Project may have put Found Footage on the map, but there’s no denying that Oren Peli’s original Paranormal Activity is responsible for popularizing the sub-genre as a reliable source of low-budget scares.

The most lovably low-fi movie of the bunch, the first film still holds up both as a Found Footage landmark and an inspiring example of indie horror. It’s the cheapest production on this list by a huge margin, but its independent origins and low production value are precisely why I think it’s the series’ most effective outing so far.

After all, Found Footage is at its best when it hits close to home, so what could be scarier than a home movie from hell?


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