American Horror Story, the anthology TV series that horror fans of all kinds love and look forward to, can be terrifying, dramatic, emotional, and even humorous. Creator Ryan Murphy puts love into his work as he pays homage to all things horror with each standalone season. With each season focusing on its own contained story and characters, some seasons have been outstanding while others have been rather unsatisfactory or even unwatchable.
Here is each chilling season of American Horror Story ranked.
American Horror Story: Apocalypse starts by setting up an interesting story about strangers locked in a bunker together to survive the apocalypse. Then, they all die two episodes in and none of it mattered. The rest of the season takes place before the apocalypse (so much for that theme) in which the witches from Coven battle it out with the almighty spawn of Satan who is ultimately defeated by getting hit by a car.
It’s a forced way to combine Seasons 1 and 3 for fanservice that’s more silly than scary or dramatic. The plot is all over the place, from Kathy Bates being a robot built for Satan to dweebs with bowl cuts selling their souls so they don’t overdose on cocaine. None of it fits together, making it incredibly difficult to watch.
Cult starts off pretty scary. Killer clowns chasing around Sarah Paulson in a convenience store is the stuff of nightmares. The mystery of who these costumed clowns are and what they are up to was exciting. Then, we find out who they were. They’re just every other character we’ve already met, which is dumb. They want to form a cult because Trump winning the election empowered them, and then Evan Peters’ character fires them all after putting in the effort to convince them to join. Ivy (played by Alison Pill) joins the evil clown cult just to torcher her wife after a domestic dispute which seems really extreme.
It starts with a scary mystery, then becomes a really dumb political story where characters’ actions didn’t match their personalities. Then it ends with the show’s primary victim starting her own cult. By the way, neither cult really stated what their goals were, other than being a cult.
Coven is American Horror Story’s take on witches. It uses a lot of fun ideas, like Salem witches vs. voodoo witches, witch hunters, a school for witchcraft, and trials to see who will take over as the next head of the coven. A full, multiple-season show using these ideas would have been absolutely incredible. More worldbuilding and more creative spells would create so much fun for audiences.
This season does fall a little flat for two reasons. One reason was that it isn’t even close to feeling scary. The season’s intro shows spooky footage of witches in all black practicing their evil witchcraft, and the show itself doesn’t match that tone at all. It’s more of a fantasy action series, which is fine and can be extremely entertaining, but it’s not quite “horror.” The other, more main reason the season falls flat is because, despite having all these really cool elements in place, they all take a back seat to an annoying Mean Girls-like plot. It’s all about teen girls dissing each other and less about witchcraft, leading it to be a bit of a miss.
Hotel is certainly an odd season, but it’s a fun one. The theme isn’t exactly clear since there was focus on both ghosts (like in Season 1) and on vampires. It also wasn’t as scary as you’d want something titled American Horror Story to be. However, the characters (especially Elizabeth Taylor) are memorable, the story is unique, and there it explores the world of well-known real-life serial killers. It’s a great season for murder show addicts.
The theme being unfocused and the lack of scarieness, along with some somewhat dumb plot points, prevent this season from being as great as it could be, but it’s certainly worth the watch for one of the more emotional sotrylines American Horror Story has had.
Roanoke is one of the more creative themes for a season, focusing on the Lost colony of Roanoke. This season uses almost all “found footage,” which can be an iffy modern horror trope. However, the show’s creators make it work surprisingly well. The cast of characters is entertaining enough to spend the time with and see what happens next with them. It’s also one of the scariest seasons in all of American Horror Story. An evil pig-man, a colony of murderous ghosts, and a family of killer rednecks all chasing and trapping our characters is absolutely haunting.
This season, however, sacrifices story for its “found footage” gimmick, which is a bit of a disappointment. There are also some things that don’t make a whole lot of sense, like Edward Mott being shown to be a good guy, just to then be more monstrous as a ghost later on for no apparent reason. This one is great on the scares and the characters, but somewhat misses with the plot.
If you grew up loving 80’s slasher movies, then this is the season for you. A group of teens head over to a summer camp to be councillors, a serial killer escapes from a nearby mental hospital, and you can piece the rest together. This whole season is chock-full of references and homages to classic slashers, but with extra twists mixed in. The character of Mr. Jingles is probably one of the most fleshed-out and interesting characters in American Horror Story yet, plus quite a few of the other characters are just as worth fighting for. The kills are gory and satisfying, and the story is riveting.
The only real drawback is that it doesn’t necessarily do anything new. The people who die at the campground are forced to be there forever, which we see in Murder House, Roanoke, and Hotel. Plus, it sets up some potentially interesting characters or plot points just to do nothing with them, like the doctor who has been studying Mr. Jingles like Loomis studied Michael Meyers is killed off without using her for anything.
3) Freak Show
Freak Show is a ton of fun to watch. Twisty the Clown is genuinely one of the scariest things Ryan Murphy has created for American Horror Story. Seeing what the freaks go through is an excellent metaphor for what marginalized groups experience in real life. The characters feel real. There are even a couple of fun musical performances.
It does get dull far too often, which can be an issue, but that doesn’t mean those moments are inherently bad. What is bad, though, is gunning down almost every character in the last ten minutes instead of giving them a proper ending.
2) Murder House
This is the season that started it all and even set up some rules for how the world works in some future seasons. There are countless memorable characters, whether they be in the main family, one of the many ghosts, or the crazy neighbor lady. This is probably the scariest season so far, with ghosts seeking to kill those who enter the house, the feeling of death lurking around every corner, and whatever mysteries can be uncovered in the basement. The formula used to set up the world’s rules and gradually showcase ghosts’ backstories while furthering the story of the central family is absolutely masterful.
The ending leaves the viewer wanting more, but maybe a little too much. There’s never a solid explanation for how some of the paranormal rules work, and some of the conflicts between members aren’t resolved. It was a bummer finding out that Season 2 wasn’t going to continue this excellent and terrifying tale.
Asylum may not be as scary as Murder House, but the theme is more interesting, the political aspect is thought-provoking, the story is more captivating, and the mysteries of the asylum keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat throughout the whole season. With mutant experiments, aliens, and all-too-realistic abuse of patients (and those who shouldn’t even be patients) do make for a scary-enough atmosphere.
This dark tale is easily the most interesting story in the whole series. The protagonist is so well-written and beloved that Ryan Murphy has featured her as a cameo in some of the other seasons. The role also solidified Sarah Paulson as one of the true stars of the show. Some minor plot elements, like the aliens, aren’t quite explained or focused on as much as they should be, but those can easily be overlooked due to how good the rest of this season is.
More seasons of American Horror Story are on the way, so it’ll be exciting to see how they rank among the rest of the stories we’ve seen so far. What is your personal favorite season of American Horror Story so far?