In December 1996, horror maestro Wes Craven introduced the world to Scream. Craven had first taken horror meta with his undervalued Nightmare on Elm Street semi-sequel, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994), but Scream, written by Kevin Williamson, represented a stylish and hugely successful leap forward. 

It featured a young, cool cast, including two major US TV stars – Friends’ Courtney Cox as hard-nosed reporter Gale Weathers and Party of Five’s Neve Campbell in the lead role as Sidney Prescott – and was filled with knowing plot points, in-jokes and references to franchise classics including Halloween and Friday the 13th. At the peak of 90s postmodernism, Scream was a slasher that suggested meta was better.

The first film introduced us to Woodsboro, a small suburban town in America where teens start getting murdered by a mysterious killer wearing a black cloak and ‘Ghostface’ mask – the one with a facial expression out of Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’. Prescott, whose mother Maureen was murdered a year before, becomes a target, while deputy sheriff Dewey Riley (David Arquette) investigates with the local police. A media circus descends on Woodsboro and with it Weathers, whose reporting suggested an innocent man, Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber), had been jailed for Maureen Prescott’s murder. 

Many bloody twists and turns later, Scream reached a frantic conclusion that left horror audiences begging for more. Two more sequels followed in the space of four years before a hiatus of 11 years drew the core cast trio, Craven and Williamson back for a fourth. To the great sadness of the horror community, Craven died in 2015, so directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett pay fitting tribute in a hilarious and savage new fifth instalment. This ‘requel’, written by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick, reunites Sidney, Gale and Dewey while putting all-new Woodsboro teens in mortal danger. 

To welcome the release of 2022’s Scream, here’s a look at one great scene from each entry to date. Beware: there are spoilers ahead.

Scream (1996)

Scene: The murder of Casey Becker

In the very first scene of the franchise, doomed teen Casey Becker doesn’t know what she’s letting herself in for when she answers the phone to a stranger (one of two killers in the original film but voiced, as always in the series, by Roger L. Jackson). Played by Drew Barrymore, she’s alone in her isolated home making popcorn while preparing to watch a horror film, so nonchalantly shoots the breeze about genre classics with her mystery caller before things take a terrifying turn. 

This opening is one of the all-time great pre-credit scenes – an unforgettable masterclass of building tension, heart-stopping terror and shocking images. From the gradually expanding popcorn bag to the grisly fate of Casey and her boyfriend Steve, who is held to ransom while the killer quizzes Casey on horror film protagonist trivia, it never loses its impact even after a dozen watches. 

If the phone chat has a creepy realism, that’s because Jackson was actually on-set crouching in the shadows outside the house watching Barrymore while they spoke during filming rather than recording his voiceover in a distant studio.

Scream 2 (1997)

Scene: The police car ambush

Sidney and her pal Hallie (Elise Neal) think they’re safe from harm getting a lift from two policemen. Wrong. A simple stop at a red light and some cheesy banter calls time on the cops tasked with keeping an eye on Sidney when a Ghostface-clad assailant appears in a terrific jump scare to put an end to their lols and lives before leaping into the driving seat. 

A crash into some roadworks later and we get to the dramatic meat of the scene. It’s a silent, breath-holding endurance test almost as nail-biting as the heist in Rififi (1955) as the young women delicately climb over the incapacitated killer and out of the crumpled squad car’s window to freedom. 

If that wasn’t stomach-churning enough, Sidney foolishly returns to the car once they’ve escaped to uncover the killer’s identity. This is a Scream film, so, of course, the killer has left the car and has further plans for carnage.

Scream 3 (2000)

Scene: Randy reappears

The weakest of the five Scream films and the only one of the first four not written by Williamson, Scream 3 sees screenwriter Ehren Kruger move the action from Woodsboro to Hollywood. Much of the plot is centred on the making of Stab 3, one of the film sequels based on Gale’s books about the killings. 

There’s fun to be had when Gale and the actor playing her in Stab 3 (played by Parker Posey) meet a clerk who looks just like Carrie Fisher (played – yes – by Carrie Fisher), but even better is when the core trio watch a video of uber-geek Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy). Before being killed off at college in Scream 2, Randy had prudently recorded a video of tips, should killings ever begin again. These are smart, funny and one of the finest moments of meta-narrative trickery in the franchise as Kennedy hints at what will come next. You regret that Randy isn’t a bigger part of 3 – he would have been an improvement on several less-deserving characters.

Scream 4 (2011)

Scene: Charlie tricks Kirby

Amid a series of films that relies on its own characters’ knowledge of past events, as well as that of the viewer, Scream 4 contains a shocking twist on part of the franchise’s famous opening minutes. From her home, Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) answers a phone horror quiz watching her gagged and bound love interest Charlie squirm in the garden, as poor Casey once watched Steve. 

This time, Kirby sails through questions about classic horror titles, their remakes and antagonist murder weapons, only for the killer to hang up. Overjoyed to have won the quiz, Kirby unties horror fanatic Charlie (Rory Culkin), who instantly stabs her and reveals himself as another one of the killers. It’s a trademark Scream narrative sideswipe and like so much in the series, dextrously executed.

Scream (2022)

Scene: Sushi with the Hicks

Scream (2022)
© Paramount Pictures

In the fifth instalment, hilarity jostles with genuine pathos. Cinephiles will lap up jokes for – and at the expense of – franchise fans, horror geeks and commercial filmmaking. Meanwhile, the scene in which Dewey and Gale reunite and exchange sad truths after years apart has moving dialogue that has an extra dimension, considering Arquette and Cox’s relationship (the pair met making the first film, married in 1999 and divorced in 2013). 

There’s also an abundance of startling kill scenes. A particularly juicy one involves Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton). When mom drives from the family home to pick up Sushi, the killer calls her and threatens a Psycho-style shower death for her son Wes (Dylan Minnette). While showering, Wes remains unaware, and Judy speeds home only to be killed unexpectedly on her doorstep. This is only half the story, though. In a few brilliantly poised minutes, a still-unaware Wes diligently prepares the table for a sushi dinner they will never eat, with each shot of an open fridge door heightening suspense until… well, what do you think?