‘Scream’ Opening Kills, Ranked

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The Scream franchise has now had 5 opportunities to match the magic of the 1996 original’s opening kill. Has it succeeded?

In 1996 Wes Craven, the genius filmmaker responsible for The Hills Have Eyes (1977), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and The People Under the Stairs (1991), gave birth to one of the greatest and most enduring horror franchises in cinematic history. Since then, Scream has held a special place in the hearts of fans of the genre everywhere. Its cultural impact cannot be denied. There is no other franchise that has drawn up more hype or excitement. Scream is known for its hyper-meta commentary, self-awareness, brutality, comedic edge, gore, and its splendidly formulaic pattern that manages to still subvert expectations. However, it’s the movies’ introductory sequence and opening kills that are the movies’ most vital components. 

The original opening scene of Scream was expertly turned into the cliched horror movie Stab (starring Heather Graham, pictured here) in the opening scene of Scream 2.

Since Casey Becker’s savage and untimely demise when her parents came home to find her hanging from a tree with her guts spilling out, the franchise set the tone for its legacy to come. Scream perfected the art of its bone-chilling introduction—the iconic and menacing phone calls, the frightening voice of Ghostface, the horror movie quiz, the cat-and-mouse chase. No other horror films have more pressure to deliver within its first minutes like Scream movies do. Arguably, the horror franchise is responsible for creating the most iconic opening kill in horror movie history. 

Read on to find each Scream opening kill ranked, from worst to best. 

6. Scream (2022)

Jenna Ortega portrayed Tara Carpenter, the daughter of a woman who had an affair with Billy Loomis around the time of the original murders. This shot is a callback to Drew Barrymore toying with a knife block in her kitchen during the original Scream opening scene.

As an opening scene, this one is phenomenal. The horror trivia and meta commentary is relevant today, with references to modern films of the genre and discourse on elevated horror. This scene evokes nostalgia for die-hard fans of the franchise and pays homage to the iconic introductory sequence of the first movie. Gen Z scream queen Jenna Ortega screened and studied Drew Barrymore’s legendary performance in Scream (1996)…and it shows. Her powerful acting makes 2022’s Scream first scene stand out from others in the franchise. The tension builds slowly, it’s a lot darker than other entries in the franchise, and the terror is visceral throughout. It effectively manages to set a new tone for a new era of the franchise. 

Among the many Easter eggs hidden for fans in Scream (2022) is this scene which may remind viewers of Halloween (1978) and is a hint for knowledgeable horror fans that Tara Carpenter will be this movie’s final girl.

When Ortega’s character Tara is finally attacked by Ghostface, it’s violent and brutal, but she puts up a respectable fight in ferociously defending her life. Tara suffers from gruesome injuries—she’s stabbed in the stomach and side, she takes a knife through the hand, and she’s even stomped on by the killer. In a truly revolutionary take for the franchise, no one is killed in the opening, but this is exactly why it ranks last among the other movies on this list. If this were strictly a ranking of opening scenes, it would rank a lot higher.

5. Scream 3 (2000)

Cotton Weary has created the life he’s always wanted in the Scream 3 opening scene, only to watch it all be destroyed by Ghostface.

Liev Schreiber’s Cotton Weary is the only notable character from a previous movie to meet his demise within the first minutes. Scream 3 has the worst introductory kill of a movie in the franchise. While it succeeds in creating a tense atmosphere, this scene is certainly the most forgettable. After receiving a sinister phone call in which his girlfriend is threatened while sitting in L.A. traffic, Cotton rushes home to save her from Ghostface. The killer wants to know Sidney’s whereabouts and goes after Cotton to obtain them. It would have made more sense for Ghostface to target Dewey, who actually maintains a close relationship with Sidney and was also in L.A. at the time working on the set of “Stab 3”. Cotton arrives home and after a well-executed fight scene, he and his girlfriend are both slayed by the new killer. 

Mrs. van der Woodsen what are you doing here?

Scream 3’s introductory kill just lacked something artful that the rest of the other films in the franchise possess. There’s no unpredictability, no cat-and-mouse chase, no meta commentary, no self-awareness, no elements that make it memorable. The voice modifier was something new, but in the end, Ghostface’s ability to make himself sound like anyone is very un-Screamlike. While Cotton’s death feels like a loss, and the movie would have benefitted from keeping him alive in terms of adding depth and complexity, that impact is diluted by watching his girlfriend get killed along with him. She’s a character no one knows or frankly cares about. 

4. Scream 4 (2011)

Scream 4 plays with horror movie tropes by having two fakeout cold opens that are revealed to be scenes from the Stab movies before the third cold open with Jenny Randall (Aimee Teegarden) and Marnie Cooper (Britt Robertson), bottom, is revealed to be the “real” opening kill.

Scream 4’s fake out opening sequence is a wild ride of a “move within a movie.” It featured some of the most popular actresses of the time: Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell, Lucy Hale, Shenae Grimes, Britt Robertson, and Aimee Teegarden. The film offers the most hyper-meta opening in the history of the franchise. After discussing torture porn and a “really hot” Facebook stalker, two teenagers are killed by Ghostface, one is violently stabbed and the other one has her throat slashed. It’s then revealed that it was actually part of an opening sequence for the in-universe movie “Stab 6.” In another sequence, two young women are watching “Stab 6” and after a much heated rant about “the death of horror” and “sequels that don’t know how to stop”, one of them stabs the other one in the stomach and tells her to shut the f*** up and watch the movie, only for the scene to be revealed to be a part of “Stab 7.”

After the two “gotcha” intros, the film finally gets to the real opening, and while it’s gruesomely brutal, it doesn’t quite land because the viewer is left questioning whether it’s another fake scene. The first two fraudulent kills take away from the suspense and terror of the real opening deaths of the movie. While truly unique from other first kills of the franchise, the alternative scene, which didn’t spend any time in the in-universe “Stab” franchise, would have made the kills hit so much harder.

3. Scream 2 (1997)

Omar Epps and Jada Pinkett Smith are an intelligent, bickering couple who are well aware of horror movie tropes but still fall victim to Ghostface in the Scream 2 opening.

Scream 2 has two of the best opening kills of the franchise. And that setting? A movie theater? Truly unique and terrifying. It proved that there is no place anyone is safe from Ghostface. Just like Scream 4, the introductory sequence is hyper-meta. Jada Pinkett Smith plays Maureen Evans, a young woman on a date with her boyfriend Phil Stevens (Omar Epps) at a midnight sneak-preview of the movie “Stab,” inspired by the murders committed by Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. Heather Graham reenacts Casey Becker’s iconic demise on the screen inside the screen. During a bathroom break Phil hears an amusing voice through one of the stalls, puts his ear up to it, and is stabbed through the ear. Ghostface returns to his seat in his jacket, fooling Maureen just long enough to stab her in the stomach. She’s continually stabbed as she tries to flee, and it doesn’t even register with anyone in the audience. When she finally makes her way to the front of the screen, the audience finally realizes what’s happening. 

Jada Pinkett Smith told Wes Craven: “I want to die the most horrific death that has ever happened in a horror film.” And it shows.

The scream Jada lets out as Maureen as she meets her end is extremely jarring. What a horrible way to go out—getting killed in the middle of a sea of Ghostfaces as everyone watches. It was a truly genius idea on behalf of the filmmakers. It was gutting to see her make attempts to reach out for help only for the moviegoers to cheer and play along with the real killer. Bonus points for the scene offering commentary on racial diversity and the objectification of female victims—truly ahead of its time. 

2. Scream VI (2023)

Samara Weaving reunited with the Radio Silence directors to star as the victim of the opening kill in Scream VI.

Undeniably, the introductory death sequence of Scream VI is one of the most unforgettable of the franchise. The filmmakers were truly bold in taking some risks, and it worked spectacularly—a truly different spin than that of other sequels. Like all other movies, it leans into meta commentary and satire, this time during Laura’s phone conversation with who she thinks is her date inside a very public, crowded, and bustling restaurant. After being lured out into a dark alley to save someone she hasn’t even met yet, her date’s voice changes into Ghostface’s, and instantly the associate film studies professor knows she’s in trouble. But it’s too late. The talented and brilliant Samara Weaving gives an exceptional performance—her cries and groans of pain feel raw and real. The scene is extremely unsettling and sets the bar for the brutality ahead. 

Ghostface worshipper slash mediocre film student Jason (Tony Revolori) was the surprise second kill in Scream VI‘s opening.

Seeing Ghostface reveal himself in the introduction was groundbreaking. Jason’s monologue about how it felt to kill chilled to the core: “Alright, fine. It was even better than we could have imagined. And when the knife went in her, it’s like… she wasn’t a human anymore. Just an animal. And everytime when I went in, she was less… Less human… And then? She was… just meat.” Tony Revolori played the dehumanizing, heartless killer exceptionally well. In a surprise and iconic twist, Ghostface is stalked and killed by another Ghostface. Before the title card even came on the screen, the audience knew they were in for a wild, unpredictable, and bloody ride. 

1. Scream (1996)

At first Ghostface is charming, getting Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) to flirt back with him even though her boyfriend Steve is en route.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Scream? It’s definitely the first movie’s savage 11-minute opening sequence, which can function as a petrifying short film of its own. It defines the whole horror franchise. These moments set the stage for all sequels to follow—the creepy phone call, the cat-and-mouse chase, the brutal deaths, the self-awareness and the horror-defying tropes. Everything from the writing, production, setting, suspense, acting, hair and makeup was crafted to absolute perfection.

This opening sequence alone stands as one of the most iconic pieces of art. It excels in building tension, it’s bone chilling and menacing, and it delivered one of the most memorable kills in cinematic history. High schooler Casey Becker pads around barefoot in her kitchen and prepares popcorn on the stove as gets ready for a scary movie night-in. The seemingly harmless stranger on the other end of the line turns out to be much nearer. After witnessing her boyfriend take his last breaths tied to a patio chair, she tries to make her escape to no avail. The part where she’s dragged across the lawn just feet away from her parents as they arrive home—audiences knew what they were in for. Her mother’s shrieks of horror as she discovers Casey’s bloody, mangled body hanging from a tear are forever etched into the minds of fans. 

Casey’s death was revolutionary particularly because horror fans were misdirected into thinking she’d be our final girl. Drew Barrymore was heavily utilized in the movie’s advertising. In fact, she was originally cast as Sidney Prescott, and it was her idea to play the opening kill. Drew shared on her talk show, “You kind of always have this tension, but you kind of know that your hero is going to make it. And I thought ‘What if I die?’, and then it’ll be like all bets are off, anybody could get killed in this movie and would take away that cliché safety net of the girl always gets away.”

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Meet The Author

Natalia is a writer, poet, and collage artist living in Houston, Texas. Her favorite scary movies include Pearl, Midsommar, and Jennifer’s Body. In her spare time, she enjoys writing “good for her” horror fiction.