Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street all launched major horror franchises in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, each playing a major role and influence in the golden age of slashers, and with them came three of the largest horror icons to date in Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. Despite these popular franchises spanning decades, amassing 31 films between them, the three slasher titans only occupied the same theatrical space in 1988 and 1989, all vying for box office domination. But what did these franchises look like in ’88 and ’89, and more importantly, who reigned supreme?
Released in 1978, John Carpenter’s seminal slasher struck fear into hearts everywhere and became so popular that it launched the slasher craze known as the golden age of slashers. The boogeyman at the center of the film, murdering his way through Haddonfield, was Michael Myers. Myers racked up 7 kills in Halloween, and would go on to slay 9 more in 1981’s Halloween II, a direct continuation of the story. But the following year marked an attempt to turn the series into an anthology, letting Myers step down from the spotlight in favor of witchcraft powered killer masks. The lack of Myers, and familiarity, had critics and fans alike outraged. It would take six years for another entry in the franchise to arrive.
Friday the 13th
1980 saw the birth of a new slasher series in Friday the 13th, but it wasn’t until the sequel, Friday the 13th Part 2, that it found its slasher icon. It’s easy to see why, too, as even with just a burlap sack for a mask, the giant Jason Voorhees made the bloodiest debut of them all with a kill count of 10. It wasn’t until 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III that he received his signature hockey mask. Regardless of look, Jason Voorhees became the most dependable and bloodthirsty of the slasher franchises, offering up a new sequel almost every single year of the ‘80s and with it a high body count. By the time he was ready to step into the box office battlefield of ’88, he’d already slaughtered 54 unwitting campers across 4 sequels (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning didn’t have Jason Voorhees either).
A Nightmare on Elm Street
Wes Craven unleashed Freddy Krueger into our nightmares with 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street. A latecomer compared to the other icons, Freddy Krueger quickly caught up to his older slasher siblings in terms of popularity. Instead of Haddonfield and Camp Crystal Lake, Krueger’s slaying ground took place within the dream realm of his teen victims. This meant a whole lot more creativity in his attacks, and with it a larger-than-life personality that threatened to hog the spotlight. By the time he entered the ’88 ring, his death count had reached 20 from his three films.
The Battle of 1988
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
First to enter the ring was Jason Voorhees, with the seventh entry of his sprawling franchise, on May 13, 1988. A Friday, of course. This sequel marked the first appearance by Kane Hodder in the role of Voorhees, and also the first time the masked killer would contend with a final girl with supernatural powers of her own. A sort of Carrie vs Jason Voorhees, directed by notable special effects artist John Carl Buechler, this film had to have many of its goriest scenes trimmed to avoid an X-rating. Even still, it didn’t slow down Voorhees’ death count of 16 victims. But, as the 7th entry in the series, it opened at number one at the box office that weekend and grossed $19.2 million in its theatrical run.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Dropping into theaters on August 19, 1988, the fourth entry of this franchise came hot on the heels of the very popular sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The Dream Master, directed by Renny Harlin, wasted no time dispatching the previous film’s survivors before building up new heroine in Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox). Krueger slaughtered 6 teens before Alice used the dream powers of her fallen friends to battle the dream demon in an epic special effect driven showdown. The Dream Master dominated the box office on opening weekend, and became the highest grossing film of the franchise with $49.4 million (until Freddy vs. Jason came along, anyway).
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Michael Myers’ long-awaited return to the big screen came on October 21, 1988. This sequel saw Myers awaken from a 10-year coma to pursue and murder his niece, little Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris). Donald Pleasence reprised his role as Myers’ adversary Dr. Sam Loomis. The return of this serial killing boogeyman marked a return to familiar slasher territory, and with it an all-time high (at the time) kill count for Myers with 15 kills. The Return of Michael Myers grossed $17.8 at the box office.
Box Office Champ: Freddy Krueger
The Battle of 1989
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
The 8th entry in this franchise arrived in theaters on July 28, 1989. It saw Kane Hodder return as Jason Voorhees, who this time opted to leave Crystal Lake by hitching a ride on the SS Lazarus, in route to New York City with a graduating high school class in tow. Never mind that Manhattan doesn’t really come into play until the end of the movie. Despite the change in scenery, Voorhees managed to top his previous kill count, amassing 18 kills this time. As for box office, Jason Takes Manhattan is the lowest earner of the franchise and grossed $14.3 million in its theatrical run.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
Two weeks after Jason Takes Manhattan released in theaters, Freddy Krueger tested his box office power with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, which released on August 11, 1989. Heroine Alice Johnson returned once again, only this time Krueger was after her unborn child. The icon slowed down his kills, too, with only 3 death scenes in the film. Ripped apart by critics upon release, and a low point overall in the franchise, it marked the second lowest grossing entry in the series with $22.2 million. It probably didn’t help that The Dream Child faced steep box office competition from The Abyss.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Keeping consistent with the Halloween theme, Halloween 5 dropped into theaters on October 13, 1989. Ignoring the previous entry’s final moments, which saw Jamie Lloyd following in her homicidal uncle’s footsteps, this sequel repeats the Michael Myers hunting Jamie Lloyd narrative. Myers still doesn’t manage to slay his young niece, but kills 13 victims in his attempts. In other words, a fairly boring redo of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Audiences felt the same, as it only grossed $11.6 million in its theatrical run.
Box Office Champ: Freddy Krueger
In terms of box office numbers, Krueger won out both years, though this was a younger franchise hitting peak Freddy Krueger mania, so he had a clear advantage. In terms of body count, Jason Voorhees won out by far. 1988 and 1989 give an interesting glimpse into the state of these major franchises well into their run, and hints at where fatigue might set in. Numbers aside, which icon reigns supreme to you?