John Carpenter has a unique style that makes it clear you’re watching a movie he made—no matter what genre it happens to be in.
Synth-heavy soundtracks. Gruesome special effects. And even if you miss his signature elements, his own name finds its way above movie titles so you always know you’re watching a John Carpenter movie.
John Carpenter’s movies span a range of genres—from sci-fi to action to romance—but he’s known as the Master of Horror for good reason. He’s an auteur with a gift for turning low-budget, high-concept ideas into underrated cult classics.
We’ve taken every single John Carpenter movie and created the ultimate ranking of John Carpenter’s filmography. Which one sits at the top? You might be surprised!
18. Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Trailing a considerable distance behind the competition, Ghosts of Mars takes last place as Carpenter’s worst movie.
Set in the distant future, this sci-fi action-horror flick sees a mining colony on the Red Planet possessed by evil spirits. It’s up to the Martian police and convicted criminal Ice Cube to save the day.
17. Village of the Damned (1995)
Carpenter’s remake of the 1960 horror classic was poorly received by fans and critics alike.
Village of the Damned takes us to a seaside village where residents mysteriously become pregnant. Nine months later, they give birth to strange children with white hair, glowing eyes, and psychic abilities.
16. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Loosely based on H.F. Saint’s novel of the same name, Memoirs of an Invisible Man introduces us to a stock analyst (played by Chevy Chase) who becomes invisible after a freak accident.
The government wants to catch him for experimentation, so he uses his new power to go on the run.
15. Vampires (1998)
After his parents were bitten by vampires, the Catholic Church raised Jack Crow to lead a team of highly-trained vampire slayers. Now, he must stop the deadly master vampire who wiped out most of his team.
James Woods stars in this schlocky action movie that depicts vampires as fearsome monsters, not teenagers to fall in love with.
14. The Ward (2010)
Carpenter practically came out of retirement to make The Ward, his most recent movie as of this writing.
It takes place in a women’s psychiatric ward that takes in a new arrival (played by Amber Heard). This new patient is troubled by her past, but even more troubled by the deformed figure that appears to be picking off the other patients through the night.
13. Escape From L.A. (1996)
Escape From L.A. sees the long-awaited return of Snake Plissken, the badass renegade who inspired Solid Snake in the Metal Gear games.
In his second outing, Snake is sent to the island of L.A. to retrieve a deadly weapon that fell into the wrong hands. It’s a bombastic action-adventure, but it fails to reach the heights of the original—Escape From New York, which is listed later on in this article.
12. Dark Star (1974)
Dark Star tells the story of an astronaut crew that’s tasked with destroying unstable planets, but it all goes wrong when their own ship becomes unstable.
Although this was his first feature-length film, Carpenter doesn’t consider Dark Star as one of his “real” movies—because it wasn’t made on a schedule. Carpenter wrote this sci-fi comedy movie with Dan O’Bannon, who later went on to pen Alien.
11. Prince of Darkness (1987)
Prince of Darkness is the second installment of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy—named for their bleak endings—which combines science with religion to form a satanic horror film.
Academics find themselves trapped inside a church as they experiment on a strange liquid that appears to summon demons from another realm. Can they discover what’s going on before it’s too late?
10. In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
Sam Neill stars in In the Mouth of Madness as John Trent, an insurance investigator who’s looking into the disappearance of a popular horror author. The author’s books seem to lead readers to madness, which Trent discovers for himself as he explores the supernatural mystery.
In the Mouth of Madness was the final installment of John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, capping off the otherwise unrelated movies with an entry that was received with lukewarm ambivalence.
9. The Fog (1980)
On the 100th anniversary of a fishing town’s establishment, residents find the place shrouded in a dense fog and must face the deadly creatures that lurk within it. Can they survive the night?
Don’t bother with the 2005 remake of this film, as Carpenter’s original version remains far superior. And while the premise may seem similar to Stephen King’s The Mist, don’t be put off! The Fog is a very different kind of story that’s worth watching.
8. Christine (1983)
Nerdy high school student Arnie Cunningham has just bought himself a banged-up old car. Through an exhaustive restoration process, he soon becomes obsessed with the vehicle—to the point of insanity.
Carpenter’s classic horror film is based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. When two kings of horror come together, you know it’s going to be good for a few scares.
7. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Despite its commercial and critical failure upon release, Big Trouble in Little China has garnered a huge cult following in the decades since.
This hilarious martial arts comedy adventure follows big-talking truck driver Jack Burton as he gets caught up in an ancient war between two Chinese clans. Burton’s so overconfident, he doesn’t realize he’s only the sidekick in this tale.
6. They Live (1988)
Rowdy Roddy Piper plays a drifter who stumbles across a special pair of sunglasses. When he wears these shades, Piper sees the world as it really is: an alien ruling class keeps people in place through subliminal messaging that tells us to obey, consume, and reproduce.
Now that he knows the truth, Piper’s having none of it—and he takes us on a crazy action-infused sci-fi/horror journey. They Live is based on a short story from 1963 called “Eight O’Clock in the Morning.”
5. Escape From New York (1994)
In a dystopian future, Manhattan has become a maximum-security prison for the most dangerous criminals in the country. But when the president is kidnapped and taken hostage, Snake Plissken must infiltrate the prison on a daring rescue mission.
This over-the-top action movie knows exactly how corny it is, never takes itself too seriously, and has a lot of fun with the ludicrous premise. Escape From New York is the perfect example of a 1980s sci-fi action movie worth watching.
4. Starman (1984)
When an alien creature visits Earth from outer space, it takes the form of Jenny Hayden’s dead husband. The government is in pursuit of the technologically-advanced lifeform, so the love-struck duo must reach Arizona for a rendezvous with an incoming spaceship.
Jeff Bridges received an Oscar nomination for his performance in this romantic sci-fi movie—a genre that John Carpenter seldom touches, but ended up totally knocking it out of the park.
3. The Thing (1982)
In the first installment of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, a shapeshifting alien infiltrates an Antarctic research base, mimicking whoever it can get a hold of. Now who can you trust?
For many people, myself included, The Thing is a clear contender for John Carpenter’s best movie. Why am I listing it third? Because critics panned it when it first released. These days, The Thing is considered one of the greatest horror movies of all time.
2. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Assault on Precinct 13 takes place in a decommissioned police station that’s under attack by gang leaders. The cops must use everything at their disposal to survive the night—including their prisoners.
Given that John Carpenter considers Assault on Precinct 13 to be his first “real” movie, it’s incredible to see it ranking so highly. The 2005 remake is also worth checking out for its more modern plot and reimagined take, but isn’t as complex as the original.
1. Halloween (1978)
Halloween introduced the world to Michael Myers, the mask-wearing serial killer who slashes his way through most of the cast and leaves none other than Jamie Lee Curtis to fight for survival.
Michael Myers is one of the best horror villains in cinema history and Halloween spawned an iconic franchise with countless sequels. It’s safe to say that the slasher genre would not be what it is today without Carpenter’s landmark contribution in this movie.