Dystopian horror saga The Purge has shot through five films all based around a terrifying premise; for 12 hours every year, the U.S. government sanctions all crimes as legal to allow citizens to release built up anger in hopes of diminishing crime rates the other 364 days of the year. With the latest film now out in cinemas, here’s our ranking of all five films.
5: The Forever Purge (2021)
The latest instalment in the Purge franchise scraps the traditional yearly 12-hour purge and sees a rebel group decide one night of killing is not enough, deciding they need to purge anyone they don’t deem to be a true American. There’s clear social commentary on immigration among other things, but given the rushed story, lack of character development and some outright boring segments, the whole thing just seems half-baked. The story is generic and predicable, and there are no creative or memorable villains or costumes like there are in all of the other movies.
The Forever Purge is making an obvious shift from horror to action, which is fine, but it isn’t why fans fell in love with the iconic series – and it isn’t done well enough to progress this way. Overall, The Forever Purge tries too hard to reference as many topical issues as it possibly can in 90 minutes, yet you leave feeling unsure what the writers and directors are actually trying to say about any of it. Ultimately, you could change the name of this film and never guess it was a Purge movie.
4: The Purge: Election Year (2016)
The Purge: Election Year succeeds in building on some of the ideas and foundations that were laid in the previous two films, namely political corruption and the ruling class bending rules to try and remain in power. This, in turn, adds a larger scope to the movie, whilst at the same time not forgetting the central premise of what audiences want to see entering a Purge film.
Unfortunately, it gets lost when trying to introduce concepts such as the political leaders being part of a religious cult performing ritual sacrifices during the purge. Frank Grillo’s return as Leo Barnes is welcomed however, and helps provide some continuity between the films that is sometimes lacking. Election Year isn’t a terrible movie, and has its positive points. It just isn’t memorable. The third act is painfully sloppy, which sours what could have been an otherwise entertaining time.
3: The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
The first sequel to The Purge truly embraces the concept and gives us our first proper glimpse into the horror of a purge night out on the streets of America. Cue big-scale carnage, gruesome deaths and way more action than the original.
The story takes a closer look at the effect the purge has on anyone who doesn’t happen to live in an expensive bunker of a house. There are some great performances from the cast, Frank Grillo in particular, and interesting theme explorations including classism, government corruption and revenge. Something this particular movie does well at is putting you in the shoes of its characters, never knowing what’s around every corner. Giving audiences a look at what actually happens on purge night was what was needed to be done following the first movie, and The Purge: Anarchy does that pretty well.
2: The First Purge (2018)
The First Purge was the first film of the series to successfully merge its attempt at a social commentary with a solid story and decent scares, making it the most memorable entry since the very first film. Since the third film ended with the election of a Hilary Clinton-esque figure promising to cancel the purge, the only way the series could look is backwards. We’re taken back to when the concept of the Purge was first introduced to America, as a ‘social experiment’, and poor residents of a Staten Island neighbourhood are offered $5000 to take part.
This movie goes all in on its politics, and doesn’t shy away from exploring the elitist, racist discrimination the purge experiment presents. The movie shines when it delivers its creative fight sequences and subtle comedy, and lead character Dmitri (Y’Ian Noel) is someone you’re really rooting for throughout the film. Not to mention, main antagonist Skeletor (Rotimi Paul) is spine-chilling, especially in the explosive final act.
1: The Purge (2013)
It’s hard to imagine any future instalments in the Purge franchise will ever succeed in topping the very first movie. It’s a terrifying home invasion scare-fest, with a simple yet solid story, characters you actually care about, and masks that had Halloween in a choke-hold for years. One of the reasons the first movie struck such a chord with horror fans is that it actually felt somewhat realistic – exponentially adding to the sheer terror of it all.
Small in scale, the whole movie takes place in one house and follows a single family, as opposed to the mammoth scale all its successors boast. The core family and the main antagonist are both fantastic, namely Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey, and save the film from what could have been something forgettable.
Purge movies will keep coming as long as the box office numbers are healthy, so be prepared to keep hearing those alarm sirens.
Words by Ben Wilkinson