(Photo by Warner Bros./courtesy Everett Collection)
All John Carpenter Movies Ranked by Tomatometer
John Carpenter was still a student at USC when he started piecing together what would become his first feature: 1974’s Dark Star, a sci-fi comedy about intrepid goofballs in deep space. Carpenter not only directed, but also wrote, produced, and scored the music — a DIY approach that would characterize his most legendary work.
Indeed, it’s Carpenter’s relentless synth theme that opens 1978’s Halloween, his third feature (made after the claustrophobic Assault on Precinct 13) that would go on to shock audiences with its violation of suburban idyll, break box office records, and change the face of horror for decades to come. Though Michael Myers quickly grew up in the hands of other producers, Carpenter was never too far from his baby in the genre/horror world. 1980’s The Fog was icily efficient, while Escape From New York gave us sardonic action icon Snake Plissken and a blueprint of infiltration-and-rescue movies for plenty of low-budget directors to copy. Carpenter followed that up with his paranoid masterpiece, The Thing, in 1982, a year that gave us a bonanza of other sci-fi influencers like Blade Runner, E.T., and Tron.
Still, Carpenter showed no sign of slowing down in the ’80s, with the release Stephen King adaptation Christine, softening his image with Starman, and putting out beloved goofy lark Big Trouble in Little China. 1988’s They Live, the action/horror hybrid satire that body checked consumerism and media propaganda, would mark his last Fresh movie to date.
Some of his work in the ’90s certainly has its legions of fans — the Lovecraftian In the Mouth of Madness and Escape From L.A. especially — but critics and audiences were losing patience with his cobbled-together filmmaking style. 2001’s Ghosts of Mars was a bomb that effectively sent him to Hollywood jail, insomuch as it would be 10 years before his next (and perhaps final) feature, The Ward. Carpenter has since focused on his moody synth music, putting out albums and performing live. Thus, he was able to return to the Halloween franchise with the Certified Fresh 2018 sequel as composer and executive producer.
And now we look at his directorial work as we rank all John Carpenter movies by Tomatometer. —Alex Vo
Adjusted Score: 27704%
Critics Consensus: John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is not one of Carpenter's better movies, filled as it is with bad dialogue, bad acting, confusing flashbacks, and scenes that are more campy than scary.
Long inhabited by human settlers, the Red Planet has become the manifest destiny of an over-populated Earth. Nearly 640,000 people... [More]
Adjusted Score: 31545%
Critics Consensus: With John Carpenter at the helm and an eclectic onscreen ensemble, this Village of the Damned should be distinguished by more than its improved special effects.
Ten months after the small California town of Midwich was struck by a mysterious event during which everyone in the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 34927%
Critics Consensus: Lacking the hallmarks of his best work, The Ward proves to be a disappointingly mundane swan song for director John Carpenter.
No one believes the claims of a young woman (Amber Heard) that a dead patient is stalking the residents of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 43926%
Critics Consensus: Nothing but one showdown after another.
Ever since his parents were murdered by vampires, Jack Crow (James Woods) has had one purpose in life: putting stakes... [More]
Adjusted Score: 55264%
Critics Consensus: Escape from L.A. has its moments, although it certainly suffers in comparison to the cult classic that preceded it.
In 2013, the United States president (Cliff Robertson) is exiling all citizens who don't conform to his hyper-conservative views to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 63219%
Critics Consensus: Prince of Darkness has a handful of chillingly clever ideas, but they aren't enough to put John Carpenter's return to horror at the same level as his classic earlier outings.
Poking around in a church cellar, a priest (Donald Pleasence) finds an otherworldly vial filled with slime. Frightened, he brings... [More]
Adjusted Score: 60054%
Critics Consensus: If it fails to make the most of its intriguing premise, In the Mouth of Madness remains a decent enough diversion for horror fans and John Carpenter completists.
When horror novelist Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing, insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) scrutinizes the claim made by... [More]
Adjusted Score: 67059%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Filmmaker John Carpenter introduces a trio of terror tales: "Unleaded," "Hair" and Tobe Hooper's "Baseball Man."... [More]
Adjusted Score: 70185%
Critics Consensus: The cracks are starting to show in John Carpenter's directorial instincts, but Christine is nonetheless silly, zippy fun.
Unpopular nerd Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) buys a 1958 Plymouth Fury, which he names Christine. Arnie develops an unhealthy obsession... [More]
Adjusted Score: 80257%
Critics Consensus: A well-crafted return to horror for genre giant John Carpenter, The Fog rolls in and wraps viewers in suitably slow-building chills.
Strange things begin to occurs as a tiny California coastal town prepares to commemorate its centenary. Inanimate objects spring eerily... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77282%
Critics Consensus: A loopy 2001 satire, Dark Star may not be the most consistent sci-fi comedy, but its portrayal of human eccentricity is a welcome addition to the genre.
A satiric look at the problems experienced by a crew of bumbling astronauts on a mission to destroy rogue planets.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 79265%
Critics Consensus: Brimming with energy and packed with humor, Big Trouble in Little China distills kung fu B-movies as affectionately as it subverts them.
Kurt Russell plays hard-boiled truck driver Jack Burton, who gets caught in a bizarre conflict within, and underneath, San Francisco's... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87690%
Critics Consensus: What initially begins as sci-fi transforms into a surprisingly sweet, offbeat drama, courtesy of John Carpenter's careful direction.
Answering a NASA message intended for aliens, a space being tries to contact mankind, but an American missile grounds his... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90322%
Critics Consensus: Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects.
In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89351%
Critics Consensus: A politically subversive blend of horror and sci fi, They Live is an underrated genre film from John Carpenter.
Nada (Roddy Piper), a wanderer without meaning in his life, discovers a pair of sunglasses capable of showing the world... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90648%
Critics Consensus: Featuring an atmospherically grimy futuristic metropolis, Escape from New York is a strange, entertaining jumble of thrilling action and oddball weirdness.
In 1997, a major war between the United States and the Soviet Union is concluding, and the entire island of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103552%
Critics Consensus: Scary, suspenseful, and viscerally thrilling, Halloween set the standard for modern horror films.
On a cold Halloween night in 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100043%
Critics Consensus: Lean, taut and compellingly gritty, John Carpenter's loose update of Rio Bravo ranks as a cult action classic and one of the filmmaker's best.
When the LAPD kills several members of the South Central gang Street Thunder, the remaining members avenge themselves by way... [More]