Scream 3 Is the Best Worst Sequel of Any Horror Franchise

It's been 20 years and we're still not over Gale's bangs -- or that Creed soundtrack

Scream 3 Revisited

What’s your favorite scary movie? Better yet, what’s your favorite Scream movie? Odds are it’s not the third one. At least, that’s the reputation of Scream 3, the blockbuster second sequel to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking slasher franchise. When the film first hit theaters in 2000 with a curious February release, the reviews were mixed and the fan reaction was polarizing at best. There were questions — namely, who in God’s name did Courtney Cox’s hair — but there was mostly this lingering sense of disappointment. Now, two decades later, we’re left to wonder, Was Scream 3 really all that bad? Below, we’ve rounded up an esteemed panel of Hollywood C-listers to provide an answer.

Michael Roffman: After all these years, perhaps the most meta element of Scream 3 is how the sequel about a bastard child ultimately became the bastard entry of the franchise. Ask any fan, be it of Scream, of horror, or film in general, and they all will likely point to this one as a blemish in Wes Craven’s blockbuster franchise. They’re also not wrong. Blame it on Columbine, the lack of Kevin Williamson, or Creed’s one-note soundtrack, but there’s always been this general malaise to the film. It’s just not sexy in ways both 1996’s Scream and 1997’s far superior Scream 2 are; it’s tacky, campy, and exceedingly self-indulgent, mostly because it’s a 40 million-dollar Hollywood backlot party. And yet, for all its aggravating qualities (and we’ll certainly get to them shortly), Scream 3 is still fun to watch. It’s pop horror in the grandest sense, and while it’s a major stumble from the epic highs of its predecessors, there are still some gems to be found when you’re not being distracted by, say, Carrie Fisher or Jay and Silent Bob. Anyone agree?

Joe Lipsett: First off, I will accept zero slander at Carrie Fisher’s expense, particularly when she’s so game for a self-aware cameo that very cheekily addresses the film’s thesis about sexual assault and power hierarchies in Hollywood. Jay and Silent Bob, on the other hand…

In all honesty, though, Michael, your categorization of Scream 3 as a “backlot party” is entirely accurate. There are too many times when the film’s screenplay, written for the first time in franchise history by Williamson wannabe Ehren Kruger, simply goes for the low-hanging fruit by making tired jokes about Hollywood. Sometimes these work (I would 100% watch 100% Cotton), but too often Scream 3 feels lazy and uninspired, as though setting the film in Tinseltown is itself both the joke and somehow simultaneously the draw? I’m still uncertain about the thought process behind a lot of these creative decisions.

But really, do we even care about any of this when Parker Posey’s utterly divine Jennifer Jolie is still waiting to be discussed? Or the sheer queerity of Gale’s new (much maligned) bangs, whose impact audiences (and internet memes) have yet to recover from?

Scream 3 Revisited

Scream 3 (Dimension Films)

Jenn Adams: One might argue that Courtney Cox’s bangs are the second killer.

Trace Thurman: Jenn, haven’t Cox’s bangs been through enough? The poor woman (but yes, they are atrocious)!

Michael, I’m assuming you asked Joe and I to join in on this particular discussion because you know that we are unabashed fans of this franchise, even the much-maligned third entry (and yes, Scream 2 is the best Scream). Truth be told, it’s not great, but damn if it isn’t at least entertaining. I confess that I cut it more slack now knowing that we have the impeccable fourth entry now, but I can only imagine how upset people were in the time between the releases of Scream 3 and Scream 4. But hey, at least it’s better than any season of Scream: The Series, right?

Scream 3 is noticeably less violent than the other entries in the franchise, but I don’t think the lack of gore is that detrimental to the film. Scream 2 is surprisingly tame as well, but it has a mean streak that is sorely lacking from Scream 3 and that’s what kills the film for me. It has oft been compared to an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, and while that comparison would normally excite me (big Scooby stan over here), it just doesn’t work when the first two installments didn’t have that tone. On this, we can absolutely blame the aftermath of Columbine. We were a nation in mourning after that tragedy, and Scream 3 began production just three months after it happened. We didn’t want to see horror, because we had just seen real-life horror happen in the news. It’s a sad fact, but I understand why Scream 3 is the way it is, even if I don’t think it fully works (and don’t even get me started on the state of horror post-9/11).

I’ll echo Joe’s lamentations about Kruger. It feels like he’s trying to copy Williamson, but part of the blame here has to go to the Weinsteins, right? Famous behind-the-scenes tinkerers that they are, I’m sure that losing Wiliamson, only having their lead actress (Neve Campbell) available for 20 days of filming (Campbell was a busy girl in 1999), and the aforementioned Columbine massacre really set off their need to tinker. They are bad enough under normal circumstances, so add in those three factors and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. And yet, Scream 3 isn’t as bad as it could have been (it’s better than Cursed, another Craven/Williamson film with a notoriously troubled Weinstein production, after all), but it just doesn’t feel like Scream, does it?

Scream 3 Revisited

Scream 3 (Dimension Films)

Jenn: It feels like a Scream knock-off, hitting the beats of the first two films — Home Alone 2 style — with a mish-mash of Nightmare on Elm Street imagery, My Girl 2 plot points, car chases, and explosions. I disagree that Scream 2 is better than Scream (and I will die on this hill), but what they both get right is cleverly referencing the genre and itself without losing control of the story. Scream 3 tries to walk that line, but quickly becomes a parody of itself. And Trace, you’re right, the mean streak is gone. We have an entire cast of Scooby Doppelgängers to kill off, leaving our core three — Gale, Sidney, and Dewey — safe for a happy ending. How many times can we reasonably expect them to survive? There’s a good movie here, but the execution is clunky and feels like it’s taking the script of a Scary Movie sequel and dressing it up for company.

What does work for me is something you mentioned, Joe. There’s a strong undercurrent of sexual assault, victim blaming, and the generational cost of repressing trauma. Maureen’s promiscuity has been blamed for the events of the entire franchise and Scream 3 clumsily attempts to reckon with that. By positioning her as a survivor of sexual assault, we can look at her actions with more understanding and compassion. Sidney mentions never knowing who her mother truly is, and with these new revelations, we see two generations of women distance themselves to avoid being hurt again. Is this done well? Not really. The way the inciting rape is described in the final act is horrifyingly harsh. But the seeds of this story are there and in better hands, could have been really powerful.

I also love Sidney’s arc. While still suffering from her own (likely) PTSD, we see her use her pain to help other women. (And let’s not understate the normalizing power of hearing a woman report intimate partner violence to a crisis line.) I’ve always remembered Sidney’s final scene fondly, but I was really moved by it on re-watch. Her choice to leave both her gate and door open thus opening herself up to engaging with the world again reminded me of Jay’s arc in It Follows. Patrick Dempsey’s admittedly cheesy line about having to see what kind of movie they would watch made me feel hopeful that she could begin to move forward with her life.

Michael: Oh, the final shot with the door is perfect. So perfect that it almost makes Scream 4 a harder pill to swallow. There’s so much poetry and grace to seeing that door drift open, and there’s a genuine relief that comes from seeing Sidney at peace with the unknown. But, is it earned? Yes and no. On one hand, this movie really feeds off her frustration, and you see it in that final showdown with Roman. She’s exhausted by this shit, it’s consumed her entire life, and yet so much of that energy admittedly stems from how insane this story has become.

To borrow from the tragically underwritten Robbie Mercer in the fourth entry, it’s meta. (Yes, meta Dewey.) When Roman starts barking at Sidney about how fucked his life is and how he’s the one who set these killings in motion, it’s so ludicrous that we immediately empathize with Sidney as she spits back with venomous apathy. After all, how far is this going to go? How many sins is she going to be served? How many times are we going to buy these new chapters? It’s sequelitis-turned-narrative, and in that respect, it’s easy to relate to Sid.

Scream 3 Revisited

Scream 3 (Dimension Films)

But it’s also not that interesting. If anything, Roman’s revelations wind up distracting from the more intriguing arc that belongs to Maureen Prescott, as we’ve discussed, which is done even more disservice by the film’s deranged tonal sensibilities. Hell, just break down that final scene! Think about all that’s being unloaded — that one line about Maureen being fucked three ways to Sunday, comes to mind — all while Fred and Daphne are trying to muscle their way through the door and Detective McDreamy is proving looks don’t lead to proper arrests.

These tonal consistencies just inject helium in a subplot that is arguably the most dire of the entire franchise. Because in this setting, and the way it’s executed, Maureen’s fate is nothing more than a MacGuffin, a way to conjure up some element of surprise, and there’s something really gross about that. Perhaps it’s because we’re so attuned to the stories now in the MeToo movement, but that carelessness screams unflattering. The irony that this was produced by the Weinsteins only exacerbates those feelings 20 years later.

Again, though, I love that final shot, but almost as a “Okay, we’re good here.”

Jenn: You’re right, Michael. It does feel really gross, and I wonder how different it would be if made today, or if survivors were involved in the writing.

I think the biggest problem is that the movie is trying for way too much. So many plot lines either lead nowhere (which version of the script did the killer read?) or are handled so poorly that they lose any emotional weight they may have had. While I love the inclusion of Maureen’s story, (and frankly, we need to see more of them) it feels harsh because it’s not fully fleshed out. Roman’s story line could have been complex and moving, but the attempt to present him as a vapid Hollywood stereotype keeps him from ever feeling like a serious threat. Especially since the movie goes out of it’s way to describe the killer as superhuman, only to reveal that his power is a simple bulletproof vest. We’re led to believe that he and Milton are sleeping with their actresses then we’re expected to pity him as an indirect victim of the very power dynamic he’s supporting. He’s not mad that his mother was assaulted, he’s mad that it affected him. The movie tries to have it both ways and fails on both ends.

Roman’s silly death is particularly egregious and kills any chance for a complex narrative for his character. Sidney holding his hand as he dies, humanizing him and putting his life and death into context could have been a powerful commentary on revenge. His final line about getting to make his movie could be read as speaking his truth. But because it’s not a scream movie unless the killer comes back for one last scare, we get the insanity of him screaming and waving his arms like one of those whacky inflatable tube dancers while the entire surviving cast screams at Dewey to shoot him in the head. (What?) And Sidney doesn’t even get the kill shot.

That said, there are moments when the movie feels controlled and really works. While Jenny McCarthy is not my favorite, I do enjoy (and share) her disdain for how female characters in horror movies are written. I love Heather Matarazzo (those glasses!) and wish she were more than a vehicle for a Randy cameo. And while I wish they would take the subject of their investigation more seriously, I do like the Jennifer Jolie (oh god, the names) and Gale Weathers super sleuth tag team. Parker Posey is a delight and when done right, this pairing provides an interesting commentary on Gale’s character.

Click ahead to read more about the great Jennifer Jolie…

Joe: Oh, let’s be clear: the main reason to watch Scream 3 is Parker Posey. Sure at the time most of us were excited because we assumed that this was the end of a trilogy, but with twenty years perspective, it has become increasingly obvious that casting Posey as a more ridiculous version of Gale Weathers is the one truly inspired contribution that this film makes to the franchise. The sheer comedic line delivery of “My lawyer liked that”? <chef’s kiss>

In retrospect, despite the disappointing revelation of Roman, the farcical tone, the too on-the-nose cameos and wink-wink, nudge-nudge Hollywood jokes, my biggest issue with Scream 3 is the supporting cast. Aside from Jennifer Jolie and Patrick Warburton’s bodyguard, Steven Stone (woof on that name, too, Jenn), none of the other new characters manage to make an impression. When you consider the time and energy that Williamson and Craven spent on characters like Tatum and Randy in Scream, and to a lesser extent Halle and Derrick in Scream 2, there’s a noticeable drop-off in the character development in the third entry. I can’t even remember these characters names, for crying out loud!

For me, Scream 3 is where the franchise becomes just another rote, lazy slasher (evocative of later entries in the second Slasher Cycle) and that hurts my heart a little.

Michael: Same, Joe. Looking back, the subversions, the mystery, and the horror trivia weren’t what won me over with Scream. It’s always been the characters, and how they all demand mini-subscriptions. Growing up, I adored Randy — as I exhaustedly addressed to middling effect a couple of years ago — and not just because I saw myself in the rental store nerdery, but the self-aware humor. I loved how he acknowledged he was a total fucking loser, but I also loved that Williamson allowed him to have an air of slacker swagger akin to Daniel Waters’ rogues gallery. The same goes for Stu. Or even Mickey. Hell, let’s drag Neal Prescott in there, too! (It’s that boomer smile of his.) They all have nuance to them in ways this subpar supporting cast of no-names don’t.

You’re right. I can’t for the life of me think of a single name other than “Oh, wow, Emily Mortimer!” or “Oh wait, that’s not the guy from The Last Kiss.” They’re all so loosely introduced and crudely framed and downright shallow. Good god, have you ever met a cast that’s so fucking miserable? All they do is complain about scripting issues, on-set dramas, media backstabbing, and the list goes on. Sure, it’s emblematic of the industry — one of the reasons why I loathe Hollywood movies set in Hollywood — but Kruger could have given them something. Then again, none of the stars ever rise above the material, either, and with the exception of Supreme Being Parker Posey, who, yes, is MVP of this final entry, they’re useless, worthless, forgettable.

Are we wrong Trace? Or do you think there’s an argument to be had for Tom Prinze?

Trace: The only positive thing to be said about Tom Prinze is that his is arguably the only inspired death sequence in the film. With the exception of the explosion (in my slasher movie?! Fuck you, Kruger), the whole setup with the killer faxing(!) pages of the script to the cast is quite excellent. The most egregious death to me is actually Posey’s. Her banging on the one-way, sound-proof glass doors is actually quite suspenseful (a quality that Scream 3 is sorely lacking), but that she is killed off-screen with a single stab to the gut? Again, fuck you, Kruger. The first time I saw this movie I didn’t even realize she had died!

Y’all are missing the most important supporting character, though: Emily Mortimer’s Angelina Tyler. She is is Scream 3’s biggest missed opportunity. We are told that this woman won the chance to play Sidney in Stab 3 via a contest(?!). Of course, the truth is revealed shortly before she is unceremoniously murdered by Roman: she had sex with Stab 3 producer John Milton (Lance Henriksen, in a role that can now be viewed as a stand-in for Harvey Weinstein) to leverage her way into the role when Tori Spelling opted out. This is the interesting subplot that could have something important to say, but it is played for a laugh! One of her final lines of dialogue is telling Gale and Jennifer “I did not fuck that pig, Milton, to get a leading role just to die here with second-rate celebrities like you two!” Um, care to elaborate on that?! Nope, she’s dead less than a minute later. It just comes across as so thoughtless. As you said, Jenn, I imagine this would play out differently if it were made today (check out Apple TV’s The Morning Show for a much more scathing and complex look at the #MeToo movement).

Scream 3 Revisited

Scream 3 (Dimension Films)

Honestly, as many problems as Scream 3 has (and it has a lot), the biggest problem is Roman’s faux-death in the basement. It doesn’t seem like it’s that big a deal, but his off-screen death fakeout is a cheap tactic that the first two films would never have employed. Part of what makes Scream and Scream 2 so successful is the whodunnit aspect. You really don’t know who the killers are until they are revealed. This fakeout is an immediate tell. What’s the old saying? If you don’t see someone die, don’t ever assume they are dead? That’s not a saying? Oh, well it should be.

The other part of the film that I have trouble suspending my disbelief for (and hear me out) is that Stab 3 is apparently going to theaters? With the overall quality of the script (or at least what we’re told about it) and the many re-castings going on, this has “Straight-to-DVD” written all over it. Would that not have been an interesting segment of Hollywood to satirize? I’m simply positing a “what if” scenario here, but it seems like a(nother) missed opportunity.

Jenn: Ah, Creed. I remember blasting this soundtrack in my car before I knew any better.

I do get the straight to DVD vibe. There’s so much to love about Scream 2, but the Stab scenes and cameos really make it sing. They perfectly reflect Hollywood’s tendency to dumb down and sex up. And the stunt casting feels fresh and exciting. The “what if” Kruger must have posed to himself is, “What if we make this the whole movie? What if we make this way longer and squeeze out any ounce of fun?” And isn’t that the actual Hollywood commentary? I’d like to think it’s so meta, it’s earnest, but I think that’s also giving the script too much credit. We’ve gone from “not in my movie” perfection to “He was making a movie called Stab … he was stabbed.”

And is it any wonder that the side characters feel empty? They’re not even stock characters, they just play them in the movies. They exist as grumpy versions of characters we’ve already fallen in love with, then they die. Although I do enjoy seeing the contrast between Parker Posey’s “Gale Weathers” outfit and her “crazy actress” outfit — and that hairstyle was all over my senior prom. And you are right, Trace, Emily Mortimer’s character is a missed opportunity, but it’s emblematic of the care female characters are shown in this movie. And if Weinstein is your producer, how seriously can your movie actually take sexual predation? I’m actually kind of amazed that it ended up in the movie at all.

Scream 3 Revisited

Scream 3 (Dimension Films)

Then again, I’m also not crazy about the way Gale is presented. Her first scene ends with a man asking her if her willingness to break the rules and going against the status quo was worth it. And she doesn’t even get to answer! She’s callous and ambitious in the first two, but here she’s vilified in a way that feels demeaning. If anything, Scream 3 seems to revel in her personal and professional downfall. And I love Dewey, but he proposes to her by literally cutting the heart out of her work and replacing it with a ring. Not my Gale!

Still, I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for Scream 3, mainly because I just love Sidney, Gale, Dewey, and even Ghostface. It does feel like a cash grab, but on the plus side, we can probably credit it with bringing back Patrick Dempsey, and maybe even the trend of reemerging teen heartthrobs (you can’t buy that kind of dreamy aging). All joking aside, Scream 3 doesn’t hold up like I hoped it would. But overall? My. Hangover. Liked. That.

Joe: I completely agree with all of love/hate feelings, but like you folks, I still really enjoy Scream 3.

Following Columbine, it seemed very possible that we might never see these characters again. At the time, it was hard for me to divorce my overhyped excitement at seeing the trio again with my deep, deep disappointment with the changes in tone and character as a result of Williamson’s absence. Over time, however, part of me has really grown to respect and admire Scream 3 — it’s a messy, imperfect film, but its willingness to tackle systematized sexual assault and power hierarchies makes it a surprisingly risky film for 2000. I literally can’t think of another contemporary horror film of that period that dared to fly so close to the sun with its political agenda.

Did it nail the landing? As we’ve discussed, it’s a resounding no. But you have to give the film props for trying and, if nothing else, the narrative has only made the film more culturally relevant after the events of the last few years.

Out of the glare of sky-high initial expectations and comparisons to its predecessors, Scream 3 plays a lot better. It may be Scooby Doo with an entry-level approach to #MeToo, but as Trace and I have repeatedly stated over the years, even the worst Scream is still a fucking great film.

Trace: Holy crap, Jenn. I had never thought to read Dewey’s proposal as “cutting the heart out of her work,” but you’re totally right! Even though the scene serves as a way to condemn her motivations behind writing it (and her description of the Dewey character as explained in Scream 2), it does seem like it’s in poor taste. This is an instance in which a woman’s ambitions are viewed as evil and negative, so the film has to de-fang the character in order to make the ending more audience-friendly. But hey, Scream 4 partially remedies that by showing us that a simple life of domesticity just doesn’t suit Gale, so at least we have that!

Joe, I didn’t even consider the hype factor involved in Scream 3’s release. This is a franchise whose first two installments each grossed over $100 million domestically. This wasn’t a niche horror franchise. It was mainstream to the point where everyone knew about it. That there was a 26-month gap between the release of Scream 2 and Scream 3 (as opposed to the 12-month gap between Scream and Scream 2) only added to the anticipation. The marketing team at Dimension clearly knew this, because all of it centered around the fact that this was the end of the trilogy. The trailer is also remarkably spoiler-free, a rarity nowadays. This should have been a slam dunk box office success, and it was, but it “only” earned $89 million at the domestic box office in 2000. It’s a drop, albeit a slight one, but you have to assume that poor reviews and negative word of mouth contributed to that lower gross. But hey, it claimed the No. 1 spot two weeks in a row. How often does that happen for a horror film?

I confess, the fact that we have Scream 4 (a much better film whose poor reception can be attributed to the fact that its central commentary on social media addiction and Internet fame were a few years ahead of their time) makes all of the sins of Scream 3 somewhat forgivable. Had we not gotten Scream 4, I might look back on 3 with a more unforgiving eye. There are a lot of flaws here, as we have all rightfully pointed out, but there’s enough good spread in there to merit a recommendation, albeit with a few caveats. I’ll always be the one to “well, actually” someone when they immediately dismiss Scream 3 as a terrible film. It’s not a particularly good Scream film, but as Joe said: Even the worst Scream is still a fucking great film.

Scream 3 Revisited

Scream 3 (Dimension Films)

So after all of this, what would we say is the legacy of Scream 3? I’m honestly not quite sure. It’s never brought up favorably in conversation. Any time the franchise it’s mentioned, it’s usually like this:

Scream is a classic that saved the horror genre.

Scream 2 perfects the formula that Scream created and is one of the best horror sequels of all time.

Scream 3 is the bad one.

Scream 4 is currently undergoing a reappraisal similar to that of Jennifer’s Body, with more and more people giving it a second look and realizing that it actually is a good film.

Is Scream 3 doomed to be forever described as “the bad Scream film?” I certainly hope not, as that would diminish all of the things it does have going for it. But that seems to be the way it’s going to be, doesn’t it?

Michael: At least until the inevitable Craven-less fifth entry comes rolling around. But chew on this: Scream 3 isn’t skippable. In other words, it’s no Halloween Resurrection, it’s no New Blood, and it’s certainly no Freddy’s Dead. Maybe I’m overlooking another franchise, but out of all the horror institutions, this is easily the greatest “worst sequel” out there. So, it’s got that going for it, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that the film came out in the middle of the worst era for pop culture — 1999-2000 — and sports a soundtrack by Creed. All things considered, Scream 3 could have been a whole lot worse, and had it been, we probably wouldn’t have spent all this time talking about it… ::door opens::

scream 3 final shot Scream 3 Is the Best Worst Sequel of Any Horror Franchise

…and I can live with that.

Looking for more horror-related chats? How about some podcasts? Subscribe to Horror Queers featuring Joe Lipsett and Trace Thurman; The Horror Virgin featuring Jenn Adams; and both The Losers’ Club and Halloweenies featuring Michael Roffman.