CREDIT: YouTube Screenshots

The best horror movies are the ones where you actually care about the characters, even though the fun of horror movies often has to do with the sadistic glee of reveling in fictional blood and guts. The Final Destination franchise reconciles this paradox by making the whole premise about the Grim Reaper gradually catching up to the heroes, thereby making Death the real hero, or at least the main attraction. At their cores, these movies don’t make a lick of sense (why do people who have never before displayed supernatural powers suddenly have premonitions of horrible accidents that allow them to save themselves and their friends only to eventually die anyway?), but they have their moments that produce some delightfully pulpy thrills. Thus, I present to you a reflection of how well each entry embraces its destiny.

5. The Final Destination (2009)

Final Destination 5 is the only FD movie I saw in the theater, and I really wish I could have seen The Final Destination on the big screen as well. It was the first of the series presented in 3D, and that extra dimension is easily the best (or quite possibly the only good) thing about it. But even watching the 2D version on my normal-sized TV was a better 3D experience than most 3D movies, as all the objects popping off are wonderfully bold and blunt. This is when the series first fully realizes its true Grand Guignol Rube Goldberg identity, but hoo boy, are the characters wooden. I don’t want to blame the actors here, because there is only so much you can do when the dialogue has been carefully stripped of all personality.

4. Final Destination 2 (2003)

The reverse death order in FD2 is enough to justify a sequel. Otherwise, though, this is essentially a retread of the first go-round, both in terms of vibe and effect. Ali Larter is allowed to tap into something a little more supernatural than she was in #1, but overall at this point the franchise is too green to realize how much it is allowed to experiment.

3. Final Destination (2000)

The first FD movie I saw was the fifth one, and then I went back and watched the rest of them in order. While taking in the first, I was struck by how many elements of #5 that felt essential to the franchise were not there from the beginning. The kills are not particularly gory, nor are they trying to be particularly creative, and the death order is fairly straightforward. So FD1 mainly gets credit for coming up with the premise in the first place. It also has a certain opposite-of-extreme charm by not feeding a need to shock. Alas, that restraint is the opposite of where this series fully excels.

2. Final Destination 3 (2006)

The franchise is still finding itself at its midpoint, but it manages to stand above its predecessors thanks to a dose of emotional investment. Final Destination 3 is basically the only FD movie in which I actually care what happens to the main character, and that’s all thanks to the eminently compelling Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Amanda Crew isn’t so bad as her sister, either, and Ryan Merriman is perfectly decent in the friend role, too. Remember when he was the king of Disney Channel movies?

1. Final Destination 5 (2011)

FD5 feels like the product of everyone involved declaring, “Okay. We finally figured out the best way to make a Final Destination movie.” From its bravura opening premonition to its blackly comic final note, this is a case study in how to learn lessons from the past and use everything at your disposal. At this point, it is fully clear that this series works best not as horror movies but instead as anarchic comedies of catharsis (as well as warnings about crumbling infrastructure). FD5 is also the most well-cast from top to bottom, with David Koechner and P.J. Byrne providing new cheeky flavors and Tony Todd finally returning as Coroner Bludworth to sink his foreboding grin back into the mix.