Ranking the entire Leprechaun franchise from so bad it’s good to just plain bad…
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, horror fans!
It was on a day like today that writer Mark Jones was watching a Lucky Charms commercial and found a horrific pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. At that moment, he thought to himself, “What if I made leprechauns scary?” A handful of years later, the LEPRECHAUN franchise was born and gave rise to a little green guy played by Warwick Davis who has entertained us for three decades now.
Personally, I didn’t discover the LEPRECHAUN franchise until I was in my teens, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t think much of them at the time, at least not the first two. But, over the years, I’ve learned to not just appreciate this underrated franchise. I’ve grown to love it. These films are B-movie treasures. The LEPRECHAUN franchise is never going to be known as the scariest, or the cleverest, or even well-made, but dammit if these movies aren’t the perfect cure for what ails ya on a lazy Sunday.
So, without further ado, here is a ranking of the entire LEPRECHAUN franchise, from best to worst!
1. LEPRECHAUN 3 (1995)
Directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith (Night of the Demons 2)
Written by David DuBos (Future Shock)
LEPRECHAUN 3 finds the Leprechaun in Vegas after he’s been resurrected in a pawnshop. Soon enough, the Leprechaun makes it out into the streets and discovers that the city is full of greedy, morally corrupt individuals who are willing to do anything to have their wishes granted, which is, of course, blood-curdling shrieks to the Leprechaun’s ears.
Like most franchises, everyone has their favorites, and I’m sure there are some that won’t agree with this choice, but for me, LEPRECHAUN 3 is the shiniest coin in the pot. I’ve always felt that the first two films seem to struggle with which direction they wanted the series to go. Should it be funny? Scary? A kid’s film? Rated R? But like the Nightmare on Elm Street series, part 3 is where LEPRECHAUN really finds its footing and sets the tone for the rest of the franchise. This movie features arguably the best kill in the franchise, which has Caroline Williams of Texas Chainsaw 2 fame blowing up into what looks like an oversized human duck monster.
Fun fact: Warwick Davis has said this is his favorite in the franchise.
2. LEPRECHAUN 4 (1996)
Directed by Brian Trenchard Smith (Leprechaun 3)
Written by Dennis A. Pratt (Deep Freeze)
I know, I know, how dare I not put the first LEPRECHAUN in the top two. But here’s the thing: LEPRECHAUN is at its best when the series is allowed to thrive on its absurd nature, and to call LEPRECHAUN 4 absurd would be an understatement. This movie is so bonkers, you have to wear special glasses just to keep it from melting your eyeballs.
This one is again directed by Smith, who essentially takes the absurdity of part 3 and blasts it into space, with the Leprechaun ending up on board a spaceship with a beautiful alien princess hostage who at one point threatens our heroes with her breasts (yes, really). LEPRECHAUN 4 is all about excess. It’s also the only time you’ll ever see a giant leprechaun giving everyone the finger. Plus, LEPRECHAUN 4 features one of the only memorable characters besides the little green bastard himself, Mitten-Spider, which is sort of like if you crossbred a human and a spider and then made him snort a room full of coke.
Fun fact: The scene with the light-saber is not the first time the LEPRECHAUN 4 franchise has referenced Warwick Davis’ Star Wars roots. He also asks Scott to “come to the green side” in part 3.
3. LEPRECHAUN (1993)
Written/Directed by Mark Jones (Rumpelstiltskin)
Here it is, the film that made Jennifer Aniston a star. Okay, not really. The plot for this first film is pretty simple: Family moves into an old house. Family finds evil Leprechaun. Evil Leprechaun tries to kill family. The end. No one, probably not even director Mark Jones, could’ve expected LEPRECHAUN to be the hit that it was, known as the first successful theatrical release of Trimark.
This film was Jones first try at directing, something he had to fight for, and all things considered, he does a great job. This is the only LEPRECHAUN film which has moments that even begin to come close to being “scary”, and the makeup on the Leprechaun himself is the best in the series. The problem, as I mentioned earlier, was that Jones was in a constant battle with the studio over which direction the film should go, and it shows. LEPRECHAUN was subjected to a ton of reshoots to up the scare factor, which wasn’t Jones intention. Warwick himself has even said he would’ve played the character differently, had he known that the film was going to be a hard R and not a fun horror movie for kids. Still, what kid doesn’t cheer when kid hero, Alex, delivers the best line in the franchise, “Fuck you, Lucky Charms”.
Fun fact: According to director Mark Jones, Jennifer Aniston hated the shorts she was forced to wear in this film. Ah, the 90s.
4. LEPRECHAUN RETURNS (2018)
Directed by Steven Kostanski (The Void)
Written by Suzanne Keilly (Ash vs Evil Dead)
It’s not often that a series requel/reboot that replaces the iconic villain actor finds its way into the hearts of horror fans, but director Steven Kostanski absolutely nails the tone of the franchise, and Linden Porco, while no Warwick Davis, is a great fit for the Leprechaun character in his own way. This is also the ONLY film in the series which has any connection whatsoever to the others, since this is a direct sequel to the original in which the daughter of Jennifer Aniston’s character returns to the same house, now a makeshift sorority house. And while Aniston herself doesn’t return, we do get someone impersonating her voice over the phone, and Mark Holton even returns as the loveable Ozzie!
Of course, it isn’t long before the Leprechaun pops back up from the well to wreak havoc, and it’s in that havoc that makes LEPRECHAUN RETURNS one of the best in the franchise. Kostanski is an effects expert, having worked on a ton of huge studio films in that department, and he delivers here. The kills and all around gore in LEPRECHAUN RETURNS are crowd pleasers. The way in which the Leprechaun is rebirthed still haunts me in fact. If you passed on this one but you enjoy the LEPRECHAUN films, stop wasting time polishing shoes and watch it NOW.
Fun fact: This is the ONLY film in the franchise to reference any of the other films.
5. LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD (2000)
Directed by Rob Spera (Witchcraft)
Written by Doug Hall (Black-ish) and Jon Huffman (Conviction)
He has been to Vegas. He has been to space. So, what was the next logical frontier for Lep to explore? Why the hood, of course! Actually, it does make a lot of sense. Hood horror was a popular trend at the time, and the Leprechaun fits right in as a greedy mofo hell-bent on getting his gold flute back from three rappers. Of all of the films, LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD actually tells one of the most interesting stories in the franchise, as our three heroes are a timely trio of characters fighting to get out of the hood, guys who believe in positivity over hate, which ends up leading to the most chilling ending in the series.
Despite the somewhat more serious messaging, LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD maintains the same level of comedy as the other films, like Ice-T pulling a baseball bat out of his fro. The film is racist, sexist, the kills aren’t quite as good and the film is somehow less over-the-top than the others, but LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD is also the only time you’ll ever see Warwick Davis rap, which is worth the price of admission alone.
Fun fact: This is the last entry to be released by Trimark.
6. LEPRECHAUN 2 (1994)
Directed by Rodman Flender (Idle Hands)
Written by Turi Meyer & Alfredo Septien (Candyman: Day of the Dead)
And now we arrive at one of the least fun films in the franchise, LEPRECHAUN 2. Completely throwing out Mark Jones story and lore, LEPRECHAUN 2 is the first to begin the trend of ignoring the film’s predecessors. This time the film follows the Leprechaun as he tries to snag a human bride, which leads me to wonder about something. Are there no other Leprechauns in the world? Is that why he’s such an obsessive, rapey asshole?
The story isn’t great, and the jokes are mostly a miss, but LEPRECHAUN 2 does include some of the most memorable kills in the franchise, such as the fan-boobs of death and a pot of gold that the slimy Morty immediately wishes he didn’t ask for.
Fun fact: The only LEPRECHAUN film to take place on St. Patrick’s Day
7. LEPRECHAUN BACK 2 THA HOOD (2003)
Written/Directed by Steven Ayromlooi (The Fence)
Again, for some reason, this seemingly direct sequel to LEPRECHAUN IN THE HOOD has literally nothing to do with that film, focusing instead on a group of friends who find a treasure chest full of gold coins that belong to good ole Lep, which of course puts the Leprechaun on a hunting spree for his damn gold.
Aryomlooi’s film maintains the comedy of the rest of the franchise, along with its penchant of having no budget. This film clearly had the least to work with. Unfortunately, there just isn’t all that much that’s as memorable in this film that we don’t see in the others, and it’s clear by this point that the franchise was beginning to run out of steam.
Fun fact: The first LEPRECHAUN film to be made by Lions Gate Entertainment.
8. LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINS (2014)
Directed by Zach Lipovsky (Dead Rising: Watchtower)
Written by Scott Salter (Jersey Shore Shark Attack) and Harris Wilkinson (only feature)
LEPRECHAUN: ORIGINSrivals A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) as one of the worst horror remakes ever made, and I’d say it deserves the title. In this film, which finds two couples backpacking through Ireland who run into a monstrous Leprechaun creature, the filmmakers and WWE Studios completely ignore everything that made the franchise so special.
Here, there is no Warwick Davis. No comedy. No fun gags. A lifeless cast. And a zero-personality orc-like creature that doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the other films. I suppose you can credit WWE Studios for trying to make LEPRECHAUN “scary”, but what we get instead is an ill-advised remake that is a stain on the LEPRECHAUN boxed set.
Fun fact: There’s nothing fun about this movie.
So, what do you think horror fans, how do your rankings stack up against this list? Let me know in the comments below! In the meantime, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, so I’m going to go get my Irish whiskey on and watch some so bad they’re good LEPRECHAUN films.