Best Saw movies, ranked! From the original Saw to Spiral
When it comes to the best Saw movies, you are quite within your rights to say “I saw the best Saw movie and it was the first one.” You wouldn’t be wrong but dumping the other *checks notes* eight in the bin in a pile of gory nu-metal isn’t the right approach either. The sequels arrived like clockwork every Halloween throughout the noughties and, while they range in quality, and at one point inexplicably cast two lookalikes in pivotal roles, the Saw movies do something that very few other horror sequels do; they maintain a story.
In fact, they’re so obsessed with a continuing narrative that you might actually need a detective-style corkboard to keep up with a plot with more twists than the roll of barbed wire that Jigsaw had been saving for a special occasion. Even the newly released Spiral, which follows a new set of characters, still holds the original movies as canon – and Jigsaw’s presence is certainly felt in the film. And why do we keep watching? Because there’s still something compelling about a serial killer who doesn’t do the killing himself and actually gives his victims an out. Although they’ll be missing something vital if they do manage to escape.
As Spiral: From the Book of Saw attempts to resurrect the franchise – remember, Jigsaw was dead by the end of Saw 3 – let’s set the definitive order of the best Saw movies and we’ll even include the best traps. Get on your tiny tricycle. It’s time to play a game…
9. Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
Best trap: Tongue hanging
The joy of Saw movies is that they can split people, figuratively as well as literally. While our review reads a four-star, for this horror fan, though, Spiral: From the Book of Saw falls like a (Chris) rock to the very bottom of the pile. A proposed reinvention of the franchise for a 2021 audience with the comedy star, the movie comes from director Darren Lynn Bousman, the man responsible for the green-hued nu-metal visuals of Saws 2, 3, and 4 respectively. If you see the problem with this approach, raise your hand. Don’t worry, there’s not a glass box full of needles above you or anything.
Bousman pits Chris Rock’s detective against an unknown attacker who, this time, is setting up elaborate killer traps for members of the police force. While this could be used to say something interesting about police corruption and the misuse of power, instead, the movie spends its time in dull offices reciting stereotypical angry cop lines. Tick off “let’s get this son of a bitch” on your tired police thriller bingo card now. Add in the fact that the murder machines feel like they wouldn’t even be on Jigsaw’s reject pile, a twist so predictable it hurts, and the removal of Billy the puppet from proceedings, and even a fun turn from Samuel L. Jackson can’t save Spiral from its own trap.
8. Saw 3D (2010)
Best trap: Blood-drenched garage of white supremacists
Don’t let that trap description fool you into thinking that this is good fun. Ironically known as the Final Chapter, Saw 3D or Saw 7, this is a shadow of everything that came before it. Only this time, there are traps that poke you in the eye because 3D. With Jigsaw long dead, we’re still following the antics of cheap Sly Stallone lookalike Detective Hoffman who now isn’t even keeping it secret that he’s one of Jigsaw’s significantly sloppier apprentices.
The exceptionally gory but somehow pointless game this time around follows a man called Bobby Dagen, who has been selling his story as a Jigsaw survivor for years. The only problem is that he’s been lying – wouldn’t you wonder if a psychopathic moralistic serial killer might not like this? – and before Jigsaw died, he set in motion a plan to have Bobby ‘tested’. The result is a dull and vindictively pointless exercise as Bobby repeatedly fails to save any of his staff from stabby things. Even the return of Cary Elwes as Dr. Laurence Gordon from the first movie can’t save this from being, like so many of Jigsaw’s victims, utterly DOA.
7. Jigsaw (2017)
Best trap: Reverse shotgun
The first attempt to revitalize the series seven years after Saw 3D is only a little more enjoyable. Jigsaw is still intent on continuing the plot of the original movies, and this is set long after the fate of Detective Hoffman, when police departments had presumably gone back to not worrying about finding full-scale human-mouse traps in warehouse buildings. Here, a fresh set of victims wake up in a multi-roomed barn and attempt to survive a new set of traps. This is while the police are tormented by a presumably new killer who is sending them the meaty results of each minigame.
So far, so intriguing, and there’s a real sense of drama as we go back to following the police investigation. But – and you knew there was a ‘but’ coming – the traps here feel like contrived rejects from the franchise; drowning in grain while a toolbox rains from the ceiling isn’t exactly what horror dreams are made of. Add in a final twist featuring flashbacks that might make you retrospectively angry about the other films, this just wasn’t a good enough reason to bring the wonderful Tobin Bell back to the franchise.
6. Saw 4
Best trap: Rapist ponders spiky eye hammers vs dismemberment
Saw 4 is what would happen if an algorithm wrote a Saw film and that’s not entirely a bad thing but it requires note-taking to keep up with the ludicrous plot pivots. After the success of the twisty narrative of the first three movies and the very permanent death of Jigsaw himself, Saw 4’s writers were faced with a dilemma; how to continue the franchise. The result is a frankly dizzying, aggressively edited nu-metal colored nightmare of green as a member of the police is forced to undergo his own test to try and teach him not to attempt to save everybody. Not a bad trait? Well the Saw movies teach you to stop asking questions or you’ll drown in them like grain.
On his journey, Officer Daniel Rigg meets a vile rapist in a hotel. Rigg has to plug the man into a dismemberment machine. Then there’s a couple who have inexplicably been skewered together through every major artery, and a woman who is not-so-gradually being scalped by a contraption wrapped around her ponytail. His end test you might only understand on second viewing but a fake-out involving Detective Hoffman manages to line up the rest of the series in a way that feels like your brain might have been scrambled in the process.
5. Saw 6 (2009)
Best trap: Murderous merry go round of immoral insurers
Right, now we’re into the pretty good stuff which, honestly, isn’t something you usually say when it comes to the sixth entry in a brutal murder franchise, but here we are. From the get-go, when a man and a woman literally carve off their own flesh in a ‘who can put the most skin on the scales’ competition, Saw 6 has a brutal confidence that makes it a lean 90-minute horror machine.
Most of this is down to its central victim, a health insurer called William Easton who makes a living out of denying payments to the sick and dying. He’s the kind of character you want to boo and hiss at, making him a perfect victim for a series of nasty traps in an abandoned zoo. Most of these are deliciously inventive and involve his business associates. There are few things as satisfying as watching a spinning merry-go-round of pleading yuppy insurers who make sure that Saw 6 has the highest body count in the whole franchise. Plus, the continuing subplot around Detective Hoffman and Jigsaw’s widow Jill is a welcome addition and there’s genuine tension as he is finally unmasked within the police force.
4. Saw 2 (2005)
Best trap: The needle pit
For some, Saws 1 and 2 were quite enough thank you very much and that’s because the step from the original to the sequel was stark. Where the original actually shows very little gore, the sequel took things into what was not-so-lovingly accused of being ‘torture porn’. Truthfully, this isn’t the case and Saw 2 has none of the tonal vindictiveness as something like Hostel, but it does up the ante with a series of violent traps that would dictate the direction of the rest of the franchise.
A group of people wake up in a house packed with Jigsaw’s latest inventions as Detective Eric Matthews (played furiously by Donnie Wahlberg) interrogates Jigsaw to find out the location. It’s no accident that his son is in there and Jigsaw is teaching Matthews his own lesson. While the house traps are a little disappointing – other than the memorably prolonged agony of the needle pit *grah* – the jumps back and forth between the victims and police make this an enjoyable ride. Tobin Bell gets to chew up the scenery as the hooded Jigsaw sitting in police custody and there’s a cracking anachronistic twist that none of the sequels since have quite been able to match.
3. Saw 3 (2006)
Best trap: Drowning in rotten pig guts
Saw 3 was meant to be the end of it. It was after Saw 3 that original writer Leigh Whannel left and the movie even finishes with a violent montage of everything that has come before, like a bloody finger drawing a line under everything. What’s so enjoyable about Saw 3 isn’t the lawyer starting to drown in grated rotting pig corpses, or a giant crucifixion style bone snapping machine cranking into action as a man called Jeff atones for ignoring his family after the death of his son, it’s the relationship and tensions between Jigsaw and his unpredictable protegee Amanda.
Now truly at the end of his life, Jigsaw is confined to a bed in an industrial facility, tended to, of course, by a woman in an electric collar of shotgun shells that’s inextricably tied to Jigsaw’s heart rate. Oh and she’s Jeff’s wife, so no pressure… Meanwhile, Amanda, now a survivor of both the original Reverse Bear Trap and being tossed into the needle pit of Saw 2, is losing her guiding light. Even if that guiding light is a mass murderer with a very definitive line on morals. It all means that Saw 3 feels electric with tension. It’s silly but it’s on-brand silly and the ludicrous multi-twist ending is pure absurd Saw.
2. Saw 5 (2008)
Best trap: Blood sacrifice machine
Yes, we live in a world where the fifth entry of Saw is our second favorite of them all. It’s our list and we can do what we want, and the irony and twist of this entire article is that you’re going to have to watch them all anyway for them to make any sense. Game over… Anyway, this entry gleefully sees FBI agent Peter Strahm playing cat and mouse with Detective Hoffman who continues to do Jigsaw’s work under the guise of a police officer. Ignoring the fact that both actors look disturbingly similar, making it slightly confusing, the evidence against Hoffman is mounting up and another game is underway.
This game is significantly improved by starring Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dexter’s Julie Benz as one of the victims. The collection of traps here are good fun, but why have we chosen the blood sacrifice machine as our favorite? Because not only is this one of the most prolonged and, quite frankly, sickening sequences in the series as two people drain themselves of plasma-like punctured juice cartons, it’s also a giant middle finger from Jigsaw. Every single one of the traps in this game was designed as team efforts with minimal bloodshed. Had the group not murdered one another in selfish desperation, they’d all have survived and have lost a lot less blood. Violence isn’t the answer, folks. You’ve been watching too many movies…
1. Saw (2003)
Best trap: Reverse bear trap
Here it is. The original and best – and really what the sequels have always wanted to replicate but just never have. One of our best horror movies of all time, Leigh Whannel and James Wan’s Saw simply cannot be beaten as a horror-thriller firing on all cylinders. It had no budget to speak of; crafting car chases with a garage full of smoke and reusing shots by reversing them, but the sheer intensity of Saw’s mystery is incomparable. When Adam and Dr. Laurence Gordon woke up in a bathroom armed only with a saw each for their chained legs, a horror legend was born, even if he was just lying on the floor between them not doing anything.
Saw is actually remarkably restrained. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is very little blood, only the suggestion of gore and moments of depravity. Instead, James Wan’s deft direction and terrifying jump scares combine perfectly with the pure horror of a moralistic killer who doesn’t kill but engineers death via a series of games and tests. There’s a reason that this one-budget horror indie spawned eight more movies and even a theme park ride. Even in death, Jigsaw prevails. Oh, and he has a killer soundtrack too.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw is in cinemas now. For more, check out the best Netflix horror movies available now.