The Most Confusing Horror Franchise Timelines, Explained

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Vote up the timelines that hurt your brain.

Anytime there's a popular horror movie, it's bound to get a sequel - or two, or three, or nine. With so many franchise installments, many of them produced on the cheap, horror movies aren't exactly known for their rigid continuity. In fact, later movies in a series will often outright contradict earlier ones, while some installments specifically ignoring their predecessors altogether.

As a result, keeping track of just what the heck is going on in your favorite horror franchise can be - frankly put - murder, especially in the age of remakes, reboots, and late-era sequels. Fortunately, we've pulled apart the timelines of some of the most confounding franchises to help walk you through which movies “count” in continuity, which don't, and in what order you need to watch them in to get the whole story - or all the different stories, as the case may be.

Vote up the tangled timelines that left you scratching your head long after you left the theater (or turned off the TV).

Photo: Hellraiser / Entertainment Film

  • 1
    51 VOTES

    With the culmination of the recent Halloween trilogy - which includes Halloween (2018), Halloween Kills, and Halloween Ends - the franchise, kickstarted by John Carpenter's original classic all the way back in 1978, boasts one of the most fraught timelines in cinema history.

    Part of this traces back to the fact that Halloween was never intended to be the franchise it became. Instead, John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill envisioned an anthology of unrelated stories, all connected only by their proximity to the eponymous holiday. That said, the runaway success of the 1978 original prompted demand for more of the masked slasher Michael Myers, which in turn brought us to the quagmire of competing timelines the franchise has today.

    Most timelines begin with Carpenter's original. In fact, for decades, there were only two timelines to contend with: The one featuring Michael Myers, which began with the first Halloween and continued through installments 2, 4, 5, and 6, and the odd-duck film that was Halloween 3, a leftover byproduct of the original anthology plan, which remains unconnected to any of the other films.

    The 1998 release of Halloween H20 created a third timeline. This one ignored the intervening sequels and brought back Jamie Lee Curtis but kept Halloween 2's detail that Curtis's Laurie Strode was secretly Myers's sister. This timeline culminated in Halloween: Resurrection four years later.

    Then, there were Rob Zombie's remakes. These jettisoned all other official timelines in favor or remaking the first film with Zombie's own vision, then making a direct sequel for that remake. Finally, 2018 saw the release of a new movie simply called Halloween and, with it, the start of yet another timeline. This one kept Carpenter's original film but not the original sequel, bringing Curtis back once again but abandoning the unpopular twist that made her Michael's sibling.

    51 votes

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  • For most of the ‘80s and ’90s, the timeline of A Nightmare on Elm Street was relatively straightforward, especially for a series with such a weird premise. Starting with Wes Craven's 1984 original, the films maintained the same continuity all the way up through 1991's Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Even the 2003 mash-up Freddy vs. Jason uses this same timeline while smashing it into the equally popular Friday the 13th franchise.

    After these, however, a few monkey wrenches were thrown into the works, starting with the 1988 TV series Freddy's Nightmares, which featured Freddy Krueger as a host for an anthology horror show. Most of the time, he didn't appear in the episodes themselves, but when he did, it was with a subtly different background than that of the movies, suggesting an alternate timeline.

    More striking was the 1994 release of Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which saw the director returning to the franchise for the first time. In this movie, the previous films were just that, films, with Heather Langenkamp (the original's lead actress) playing herself. Freddy, however, was real enough, a demon waiting on the other side and using the films' power (and the fans' enthusiasm) to grow strong enough to cross over.

    That just leaves timeline number four, introduced when the original Nightmare on Elm Street was remade in 2010, with Jackie Earle Haley taking over the role of Freddy Krueger.

    44 votes

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  • 3
    41 VOTES

    The four-film Insidious franchise may only have a single timeline, but good luck keeping it straight. The first film in the series, released in 2010, is its own fairly straightforward ghost story, even as it introduces some intriguing aspects from the series's past. The 2013 sequel, however, really begins to mess things up.

    Like a traditional sequel, Insidious Chapter 2 takes place almost immediately after the events of the first film; however, the characters entering “the Further,” a liminal space that acts as a spirit-world purgatory, stretches the limits of time, meaning that actions they undertake in the film's present can affect the past - namely, causing some of the unexplained events in the first film.

    This gets even more confusing with Insidious Chapter 3, which is a prequel rather than a sequel. This film shows events from several years before the first two movies and stars Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier, a medium who is deceased in the earlier films' continuity.

    The final film in the series (at least so far), The Last Key, bridges the time gap between Chapter 3 and the first film while also revealing more about Elise's history. Plus, there are more time-bending shenanigans, as events that take place in The Last Key affect future events that took place in the first film.

    41 votes

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  • 4
    26 VOTES

    The first four movies in Clive Barker's Hellraiser franchise tell a narrative that's fairly tightly knit, with the exception of abandoning original plans to make Julia Cotton the series's main villain after the second installment. After 1996's Hellraiser: Bloodline, however, things take a turn.

    Bloodline was the last major series installment to get a theatrical release, and in its wake came a spate of direct-to-video sequels. These sequels had much less to do with the original films' events, instead focusing on largely unrelated individuals who fell afoul of the Cenobites and the Lament Configuration. In fact, at least a few of these direct-to-video sequels were originally spec scripts re-worked to include elements of the Hellraiser mythos.

    While these sequels had very little to do with the original films, they remained part of the same timeline (at least ostensibly) until the 2005 release of Hellworld, the franchise's eighth installment. Hellworld took place in a world in which the previous Hellraiser films all existed as films and gave rise to a popular MMORPG.

    This was followed by two other films, Revelations in 2011 and Judgment in 2018, which followed a similar template to the earlier direct-to-video sequels in having little or no connection to the previous films - except, of course, for the Cenobites. These two late-era sequels were also the first to recast Pinhead, who had, until then, been played by Doug Bradley.

    Finally (at least for the time being), David Bruckner directed a 2022 remake/reboot of Hellraiser, this time starring Jamie Clayton as Pinhead/"the Hell Priest." This film is presumably the start of a whole new timeline for the series.

    26 votes

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  • 5
    15 VOTES

    With nine films out and another in the works, the Saw franchise is one of the most successful horror film series in history. What's more, its lore doesn't seem all that confounding, at least at first glance.

    Unlike virtually every other franchise to tuck even remotely as many films under its belt, the Saw movies all take place within one continuous timeline, despite half a dozen different directors and nearly as many writers.

    This doesn't mean the Saw films are precisely straightforward, however. After all, the main villain dies in the third movie, to be replaced by a parade of accomplices and apprentices, even though he continues making appearances in flashbacks and fake-outs.

    This “who is the villain” approach means the films can get extremely confusing, even before later sequels start incorporating tricky elements that play with the audience's sense of time and red herrings suggesting Jigsaw is still alive and kicking.

    15 votes

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  • 6
    31 VOTES

    Continuity between films in a franchise apparently wasn't as expected during Hollywood's Golden Age as it is now. Plenty of early examples of somewhat-fuzzy timelines pop up among, for example, the Universal monster franchises of the ‘30s and ’40s, and perhaps none is weirder than that of The Mummy.

    For decades, the six Mummy movies had three timelines between them: There was the original from 1932, starring Boris Karloff; then there were its sequels, which all featured their own unbroken timeline unrelated to the first; and then there was Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy in 1955, which borrowed from the others but didn't connect to them directly.

    The film has been remade several times since, however. Hammer introduced its own Mummy movie franchise in the ‘50s, but even if you only count official Universal remakes, you get the 1999 version helmed by Stephen Sommers and starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. That film spawned its own series of sequels and spin-offs, which eventually hopped back in time to tell the origin story of one of the series’s antagonists, the Scorpion King. Then there was another reboot in 2017, this one starring Tom Cruise and introducing a very different mummy, played by Sofia Boutella.

    Stranger than any remakes or reboots, however, is the timeline of the original Mummy sequels from the 1940s. Beginning with The Mummy's Hand in 1940, these films take place roughly in the year they were made - or, at least, they start out that way. But between The Mummy's Hand and The Mummy's Tomb, which came out just two years later, they jump ahead a generation, and that happens at least once more. By the time we reach the end of the series with 1944's The Mummy's Curse, then, the films would have actually been set in the ‘90s - never mind that everything still looks exactly like it did in the '40s.

    31 votes

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