Review: Final Destination (Film Franchise)

I resisted watching the films in the Final Destination franchise for a long time because I was afraid of how extreme the gore might be. I’m getting a little braver and I kept hearing good things about the first one, so I finally watched the first film last night.

And then binge-watched the other four films today.

I love this franchise. The setup is so great, the mythology of death so intriguing here, that it just works well in (almost) all of the films. After the first film, the sequels get a little worse in the order they are released, except for one astonishing entry that surprisingly jumps to the number one spot in my ranked list.

My Favorites

  1. Final Destination 5 (2011) – After watching the first film, I had every expectation that it would be my favorite of the series. From the opening moments of the latest film, however, it was clear that this fifth (fifth!) installment was going to be a thoughtful and polished refinement of everything that had come before. The actors are all generally fantastic and some of the characters are more complex than I had any reason to expect in a film like this. The horror/gallows humor ratio is perfect. The tension is dialed up to 11. The death scenes are surprisingly inventive and shocking this far into a horror series. Tony Todd has finally been given more long-overdue moments to shine. There’s even slightly better representation in this film, though the film franchise as a whole is pretty terrible at representation. There’s also one major addition to the mythology that the previous films didn’t have that I found simply genius. And as if that all isn’t enough, the final twist in the movie is one for the ages.
  2. Final Destination (2000) – The first in the series and a great setup for what was to come. The original film stars some of my late-1990s favorites. Devon Sawa is excellent as Alex Browning, a high school student noticing strange omens prior to boarding a flight from New York to Paris. Even though I thought the foreshadowing at the beginning of the movie was over the top, the movie’s narrative structure works so well and is so entertaining that I completely understand now how it launched such a successful franchise. Ali Larter is also excellent as Clear Rivers (yes, really.) Kerr Smith as Carter Horton has the most character development. The three play off of each other really well. And that marvelous ending scene and cut-to-black left my heart pounding.
  3. Final Destination 2 (2003) – This movie really shouldn’t work, but it does! A direct sequel to the first one (unlike a couple other entries on this list), the second film features one of the best opening disasters of the franchise. It also brings back (mild spoilers!) one of the previous film’s main characters. I found the character slightly disappointing, though I’m not sure why, but ultimately I liked the connection with the first film. The humor only hinted at in the first one is much more evident in the second film. The ending is also a highlight, though it’s more silly and played for laughs than the first film’s incredible ending.
  4. Final Destination 3 (2006) – Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ryan Merriman save what would have been an otherwise lackluster entry in the franchise. Winstead brings intelligence and believable emotion to the role and she and Merriman play off of each other well as they try to survive Death’s second design for them. While the opening disaster and some of the death scenes throughout aren’t especially compelling, the two leads kept me invested in the story. The tanning beds death scene is pretty inventive, and pretty gratuitous in its overwhelming male gaze.

The Awful One

The one film in the franchise that I didn’t include in my list above has little to recommend it.

  1. The Final Destination (2009) – Granted, I have zero interest in auto racing, but when the CGI is this terrible and the opening disaster is over in ten minutes instead of the usual 20-25 minutes of the other films, you know something has gone horribly wrong with the franchise. The Final Destination, especially in the first hour, seems like it was produced by The Asylum rather than a big studio. The opening disaster is terrible-looking, lacks tension, and is actually confusing and hard to follow. The movie improves somewhat as Death escalates its new design against the survivors near the end of the movie, but even then, the elaborate deathtraps just seem confusing and lackluster. When the film was over, I had little hope for the next installment. Thank goodness the franchise course-corrected so effectively after this one!

Franchise Problems

The Final Destination franchise, as alluded to before, suffers from poor representation. Later films offer more diversity in their casts, but they handle issues of race, for example, in a simplistic way. It’s great when the obvious racist dies in gory fashion, but in movies where most of the characters die brutally anyway, a racist’s death doesn’t feel like justice; it underscores how characters of color go through even more abuse and torture before they are killed off than the white characters do.

There are several strong female characters in the franchise, and the second film ends up with two strong lead female characters, but these women are often surrounded by men who objectify and sexually harass women as a source of so-called “humor” in these films. These men die in horrible ways, too, but, again, so do many of the women. This isn’t justice; it’s the problematic issue of “boys will be boys” being condoned, even celebrated, in these films.

Are there better ways to handle these issues in a horror franchise like this? The representation here leans more toward tokenism than true diversity, and as always with the horror genre, I’m bewildered by the complete lack of Asian and Pacific Islander actors in lead roles in North American films. There are also no LGBTQ characters. Fortunately, there also weren’t jokes at our expense, except maybe for one male character’s throwaway mention of fearing death by anal injury (a valid fear in a strictly physiological and gender-neutral sense, if you ask me!)

Here’s a freebie for a future installment in the Final Destination franchise: male character that objectifies and harasses women is depicted as horrible and utterly reprehensible. Maybe he goes to jail. Maybe the female characters and/or other male characters confront him about his behavior and he finally apologizes, vows to do better, wanders off ashamed but sticking to his new promises.

And then dies horribly anyway because Death doesn’t give a shit.

Better yet, don’t include male characters that objectify and harass women at all.

Final Killer Thoughts

I hope this franchise addresses these problematic elements in future films (Final Destination 6 is scheduled to arrive in 2022!) I enjoy most of these films very much and the mythology they explore and invent as Death unseen ruthlessly and hilariously offs the characters. With Final Destination 5, the writing has vastly improved, the elements that make these films work have been polished to perfection or close enough, and Tony Todd as the Coroner is finally getting the spotlight he deserves. Here’s another freebie: a Final Destination film that follows a day in the life of one William Bludworth.

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