All the Exorcist Films Ranked!

In 2020, at the height of the global pandemic, the braintrust over at Morgan Creek Entertainment, announced — with very minimal fanfare, that they’d be taking a crack at one of the most vaunted franchises of all time — The Exorcist. 

Very little information has come forward. Unclear plot. Uncertain who’ll be connected to the project. Would Linda Blair be back? Would Pazuzu be up for it? Would 87-year old William Friedkin be assigned to punching and threatening the reboot actors? As you’d imagine a project of this size is positively ripe with a bounty of questions, but unfortunately little to no answers. 

What we do know is that the newest Exorcist installment is allegedly coming our way in 2023! Some definitely say October 13, 2023, but many films of this size/scope have been unfortunately pushed to later days/years for a variety of reasons. With David Gordon Green and his massive (mostly) Halloween successes at the helm, the Exorcist reboot could be exactly the scares we need to reimagine the unimaginable. Interestingly, Green’s cowriter Peter Sattler has little to no writing experience. Sattler’s resume is a short one and certainly not on par with William Friedkin or William Peter Blatty. 

What’s this all mean? What happens in 2023? Is Regan coming back? Is Father Merrin back from the grave? All these questions are really beside the point. The point is that horror fans across the globe are just thrilled to the gills — you might even say possessed — to see the latest installment of the battle for good, evil, and the souls of youngsters everywhere. 

To get the Scariest Things Podcast ready for 2023, and potentially the most polemic film in years, we sat down and poured through the entire EXORCIST universe. Some brilliant, some soup-soaked, some awfully-awful, and some filled with the most horrifying images ever put to film. 

It’s a universe like no other. One that should be — nay required to be — debated, blessed, and most importantly, ranked. For those of you that are new to the blackened core of the horror universe, we give you all the Exorcist films ranked from worst to best!

ATMOSfx! Woo!

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) 

😈😈 out of 😈😈😈😈😈

Directed by Renny Harlin.

Well, if you’re up on the Exorcist franchise you’ll know that 2004’s Exorcist: The Beginning and 2005’s Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist are basically the exact same film. Same actors (mostly), same story (mostly), and same sets and locations. Both films follow a young Father Merrin (Stellan Skarsgard) who’s trying to put the church behind him as the result of WWII Nazi atrocities. He seeks out hard science and becomes an archeologist who takes part in African dig site that unearths a massive Christian complex that shouldn’t be there!

When The Beginning came out in 2004 Paul Schrader had already completed his version, Dominion. The studio however had other plans. They rightfully thought Schrader’s version was too stuffy and maudlin. Fact is…it was. 

Subsequently, the studio brought in a sultry young actress, Izabella Scorupco, to play the role of the young doctor in the African village. They also ratcheted up the jump scares nearly 100 fold and switched around the person who Pazuzu decides to possess. The Beginning also decided to neatly tug at the heart strings by manufacturing a relationship between Father Merrin and one of the local villagers. Interestingly the film also switches around the Nazi atrocities with completely different footage and an entirely different take on their atrocities. 

Why You Should Watch Exorcist: The Beginning

You’re an Exorcist completist, right? Well, then that’s largely the answer. The film really isn’t that great. The jump scares are tepid. The CGI is firmly parked in 2004 technology. The final battle with Father Merrin and Pazuzu is utterly ridiculous. But, The Beginning has a gnarly and terrifying birthing scene that will have you rethinking parenting altogether. Problem is…the same scene is in both films. 

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)

😈😈.5 out of 😈😈😈😈😈

Directed by Paul Schrader

As we all know, Paul Schrader has had some high-highs and some low-lows in the world of filmmaking. It probably made sense to attach this non-horror auteur (save for his involvement in the Cat People remake) to this franchise, but the results had a lot of auteur and not much horror. The film, and Father Merrin’s (again, played by Stellan Skarsgard) motivations, were much more clear and thoughtful as he slowly picked apart the Byzantine mystery and his connections to faith. All of his discoveries are largely routine and at no point are there any real scares in the film. 

The thing that will most disappoint movie-goers is the teen boy, Cheche (Billy Crawford), that Pazuzu decides to inhabit. He quickly and absurdly transforms from deformed boy to a bald super-demon out to terrorize Father Merrin and the African village. Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist goes from boring period piece to a climax wrapped up in a pile of mediocrity. 

Why You Should Watch Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist

It’s actually a really well done film. Devoid of the cloying CGI and jump scares from The Beginning, Paul Schrader turns in a pretty decent piece of work and manages to pull out some effective acting — including his wife with an uncredited voice role as Pazuzu. Stellan Skarsgard is great in both films, but unfortunately Dominion just isn’t that scary (read: it’s not scary at all). Funny enough, Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist could have removed the demonic possession angle entirely and still turned out an interesting product about a fallen priest whose faith has been shaken at the hands of the Nazis. 

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) 

😈😈.5 out of 😈😈😈😈😈

Directed by John Boorman and Rospo Pallenberg (uncredited)

Full-tilt psychedelia, the strangest green-screen action you ever did see, pseudo science abound, In Search of-like soundtrack, and more over-acting than has ever been crammed in to a single film.  In this case, the great thing about the over-acting is that all the over-actors — whether it was Max Von Sydow, James Earl Jones, Richard Burton or Linda Blair — was that they were all over-acting on different levels.  No one, read no one, was in synch in this film. Truly a sight to behold.  

A lot of folks put this in the same steaming trash heap as Ishtar, Howard the Duck, and Cannonball Run II, and while I don’t totally disagree, there’s something about the aesthetic of the Exorcist II: the Heretic that hit the spot. Whether it was the weird use of green screen, funky soundstage sets, or the groovy In Search of pseudo science, this flic really captured the era and that’s not all bad. So unless you’re an Exorcist completist, you can probably forgo a viewing of this 1970s pile-o’-junk.  Unless you really want to see it.  We won’t judge…

Why You Should Watch Exorcist II: The Heretic

The real answer? Max Von Sydow, James Earl Jones, Richard Burton and Linda Blair. Pretty compelling case right there. Additionally, the soundtrack is brilliant. So wonderful. So wacky. So chilling. Sure it’s a dated and weird piece of Exorcist history, but it’s still a pretty darn fun way to unpack the Exorcist mythos. 

The Exorcist TV Series (2016 to 2018)

😈😈😈 out of 😈😈😈😈😈

Directed by various directors.

In 2016, Fox decided to take a crack at the most profound horror franchise. The good folks at Fox described their effort as “…a propulsive, serialized psychological thriller following two very different men tackling one family’s case of horrifying demonic possession, and confronting the face of true evil.”  When all was said and done they actually hit the nail on the head with some creepy atmospherics, a plausible-ish return of Regan MacNeil in the form of Geena Davis, and a deliciously demonic climax to the first season. 

Problem is the story was so long and tedious, and probably just doesn’t lend itself to 20 episodes. Also problematic was the fact that Fox decided to employ 15 directors to cover 20 episodes. Sure, the great Ti West was one of those directors, but the entire run had a very disconnected feel. Fox and company definitely strayed from William Peter Blatty’s source material and it showed. 

Why You Should Watch The Exorcist TV Series

It’s a pretty fun distraction. Plain and simple. There are some legitimate scares and Fox was amazingly able to slip some very graphic material past the censors. They took a wild swing at Pazuzu and didn’t entirely strike out. 

Leap of Faith William Friedkin on the Exorcist (2020)

😈😈😈😈out of 😈😈😈😈😈

 Directed by Alexandre Philippe

There exists that great space in documentaries that take place decades after the event occurred. It’s this beautiful melange of revisionist history, lucid thoughts, purposeful sleepwalking, and repressed memories. All answers are correct and infallible when the documentary is filtered through the iconic lens of a single and thoughtful directorial darling. THE William Friedkin is the ultimate bridge between Hollywood’s glorious beginnings and the revolutionary young guns of the 1970s. It should come as no surprise the Friedkin has some rather insightful things to say about one of the greatest films of the 1970s, possibly the greatest horror film of all time, and in some camps, THE greatest film ever put down on celluloid — the Exorcist.  

Seemingly nothing was off topic, nothing was scripted, and nearly every possible aspect of the Exorcist was thoroughly analyzed. Well, almost everything. As the aforementioned grizzled horror fan, it sure would have been nice to know what Friedkin thought of the Exorcist II, and the Exorcist III, and whether he still talks to Linda Blair, and how they did the stairwell crawling scene, and, and…there are so many questions that could have been asked. But as Friedkin himself notes when asked about the true demonic possession, he curtly responds “Do I have any idea if there’s such a thing as demonic possession? No I don’t. We don’t know anything.”

Why You Should Watch Leap of Faith William Friedkin on the Exorcist

We GUARANTEE that you will learn something new about the Exorcist. This film is a fascinating and singular look in to the William Friedkin’s hyper-complex brain, his influences, and the weird story behind one of the greatest horror films ever. Think you know everything about the Exorcist? You don’t. 

The Exorcist III: Legion (1990)

😈😈😈😈😈 out of 😈😈😈😈😈

Directed by William Peter Blatty.

William Peter Blatty was champing at the bit to have greater involvement in the original Exorcist and even pleaded with William Friedkin to play the part of Father Karras. His possession followed him and compelled him to write 1983’s Legion, the ultimate source for the Exorcist III. This film contains an incredible opening sequence, sweeping and lovely shots of the Washington, D.C. area, and a couple of the scariest scenes (arguably the scariest) ever laid down on celluloid. 

Interestingly, neither the book or the screenplay had much to do with actual exorcisms. After the studio completed the principal filming they quickly realized this bait/switch error and added the last act of the film and the battle between George C. Scott (Kinderman), the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif), and Patient X (Jason Miller). The film’s budget was $11 million, but this little oversight and subsequent reshoot cost the studio another $4 million. 

Why You Should Watch The Exorcist III: Legion

This film will scare the crap out of you. Your feet will be off the floor. You won’t want to walk upstairs. The Gemini Killer will haunt your dreams. And it’s a pretty decent police procedural too. While the Exorcist III dropped 20+ places in our recently tally of the greatest horror films of all time, trust us, this is still an incredible horror film. Some in the horror community, including the Scariest Things Podcast’s Liz Williams, think it is even better than its 1973 progenitor. 

The Exorcist (1973)

😈😈😈😈😈 out of 😈😈😈😈😈

Directed by William Friedkin.

There’s very little that needs to be said about this totemic work. The film will forever be a top five horror film. The scares are deep and lasting. The soundtrack is haunting. And you’ll never look at Georgetown, split pea soup, crucifixes, the Catholic Church, or staircases in the same way. This film has stood the test of time and spewed out hundreds of imitators and also-rans. The ultimate compliment to a films lasting prowess is satire, impersonations, and frankly sequels, prequels, and reboots. 

In a hundred years, people will still look back at this film and recognize it’s horrifying greatness. 

Why You Should Watch the Exorcist

You HAVEN’T? What the hell are you doing? Close this browser tab. Stop reading. Run to the video store. Queue up a streaming service. Start watching and be prepared to get really and truly frightened. Do you need more of a reason? Trust us…this is one of, if not, the scariest things you’ll ever see. We should know, our podcast is the Scariest Things!

That’s all of them…until October 2023. Check back with us in ten months and we just might have something else to add to this demonic list! Where will David Gordon Green’s installment end up? Think you know? You do? Then drop us a line here and tell us!


or here: mike@scariesthings.com

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