Every Paranormal Activity Movie Ranked By How Scary It Is

The Paranormal Activity franchise completely rejuvenated the horror genre, ushering in the era of paranormal horror and leading the way for films like Insidious, The Conjuring, and more. Before the original's release, horror was knee-deep in the "torture porn" era, where graphic franchises like SAW and Hostel were dominating pop culture.

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When Paranormal Activity was released, however, it was the exact opposite. Instead of showing intense gore, the true horror came from what audiences didn't see...a lurking demonic force that could be anywhere at any time. The series has since produced seven films, including the most recent, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, arriving on Paramount+.

7 Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015) - Stream On Paramount+

The franchise's biggest misstep was 2015's The Ghost Dimension. By this point, the main story had been completed and new plotlines were being created to keep the series going. The Ghost Dimension thought it would switch things up by letting audiences finally see the ghostly activity...including a neon-infused glittery portal to the "other side." Though the concept was novel, it was in no way scary.

This naturally didn't work because the horror of Paranormal Activity came from not seeing what was happening. The series was popular because the lack of visual effects kept it filled with an endless sense of tension. The Ghost Dimension was panned by critics and audiences, currently holding a pitiful 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.

6 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) - Stream On Paramount+

Another film that took place after the conclusion of the original storyline was The Marked Ones. This time, the movie centered around a group of teenagers in Southern California who sneak into the apartment of a recently deceased witch. Before long, paranormal activity begins to happen all around them, and some of the teens start to become possessed.

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Once again, the film broke the golden rule of the franchise and showed too much. The Marked Ones included superhuman strength, teleportation, levitation, and more, all requiring CGI effects that simply don't work with the gritty, found-footage style of the franchise.

5 Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) - Stream On Paramount+

The third installment served as a prequel to the first two films, explaining the origins of how the demonic entity came into Katie and Kristi's lives. For the most part, the film wasn't bad. It had its scary moments, including a few brilliant scenes that take place in the home's first floor using a camera that slowly rotates from left to right between the living room and kitchen. With each rotation, the camera reveals something new (and usually terrifying).

The movie was also tasked with a tough job: providing backstory to a tale of demonic possession. The franchise chose to introduce a coven of witches to explain this, which, wasn't exactly scary. Plus, it hindered the feeling of isolation from the first two films by adding in more human characters. Despite this, it had some genuinely scary moments.

4 Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) - Stream On Hulu

2011's Paranormal Activity 4 took place around seven years after the first two films. Now fully into the witch coven plotline, the movie needed to bring two storylines together: Further explaining the witch coven, while also introducing a new series of hauntings. Storywise, the movie did the best it could, but certainly wasn't perfect.

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However, the film brought in some excellent scares, including an ingenious use of the Xbox 360's Kinnect device, which produces tons of dots that fill up the room thanks to its infrared sensor. While invisible to the naked eye, cameras in night vision mode can see them. This created tons of new and terrifying moments in Paranormal Activity 4, giving the movie a fresh feel.

3 Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (2021) - Stream On Paramount+

Set during the pandemic, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin is the franchise's newest addition. Its story centers around an adopted girl and her friends who visit an Amish community where her birth mother used to live. Not long after arriving, it's discovered that this is no ordinary Amish community, and is instead a devil-worshipping cult.

Still filmed in the found-footage style, the movie adds a new story and vibe to the Paranormal Activity franchise and serves as a great way to revamp the series. The movie's scariest scenes take place in a hollowed-out well, which is used for sacrifices. The narrow caverns and utter darkness leads to tons of great jump scares and constant tension.

2 Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) - Stream On Starz

After the runaway success of the first film, a sequel soon followed. The movie takes place slightly before, congruently with, and just after the first film. It's a brilliant plot device that continues to make Paranormal Activity 2 feel smart and classic. The film follows Kristi, Katie's sister, and her family.

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One of the most terrifying settings in the film was the house's basement. As everyone who grew up with one knows...they were a constant source of horror as kids. Dark, quiet, and mysterious, basements naturally envoke fear, making it the perfect new setting for the sequel. Paranormal Activity 2 is so brilliant because it was able to equal (and at times, surpass) the fear level of the original film, something that isn't easy for horror sequels to do.

1 Paranormal Activity (2007/2009) - Stream On Starz

Though not released in theaters until 2009, Paranormal Activity actually had a two-year journey beforehand in select screenings across the country. Beginning in 2007, the movie premiered at a few film festivals, followed by screenings on select college campuses around America. By 2009, online horror communities were buzzing about Paranormal Activity, calling it the scariest movie in decades.

In October of that year, the film got its wide release. Shot in the found-footage style, the movie chronicled a couple's battle against a demonic haunting. What made Paranormal Activity so powerful was that the demon is never seen. Instead, the movie keeps viewers guessing, unaware of what might be behind the strange events. The endless edge-of-your-seat anticipation proved to be wildly successful and the movie grossed almost $200 million at the box office, on a budget of just $230,000. Paranormal Activity has since been named one of the scariest movies of all time.

NEXT: 10 Best Horror Movie Franchises, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes

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