The Definitive Ranking Of Every ‘American Horror Story’ Season
"Normal people scare me."
Ten years ago, the first season of American Horror Story rocked our screens — probably illegally streamed and hid behind ads of sexy singles in your area, but nowadays way more easily accessed through iTunes and Binge.
Season 1, famously known as Murder House, defined an entire aesthetic era of thirsty Tumblr teens. All these years later, the anthology series probably doesn’t have the same hold as it did in its hayday, but continues to grab the attention of millions around the world.
When will they run out of spooky ideas? If co-creator Ryan Murphy could unnecessarily stretch out Glee for six seasons too many, and then have the nerve to make The Glee Project afterwards — it’s safe to say we can expect another decade of horror stories specifically set in America.
#10. 1984 (2019)
AHS is one of the few shows I’ll religiously watch no matter how bad it gets. That being said, 1984 really pushed my buttons. I couldn’t get past two episodes and broke my eight-year streak of pained dedicated viewership.
It’s probably because Murphy and his writer second-half Brad Falchuk could only land their B-grade B-graders, like Emma Roberts, and Cody Fern with notable absences from their usual fan favourites. The nylon-filled ’80s backdrop was insufferable, the plot weak, and Matthew Morrison in short shorts was the real nightmare of the season.
#9. Roanoke (2016)
Running off the coat-tails of acclaimed 17th-century horror film The Witch, came ‘Roanoke’ a year later. The grey season felt uninspired and a bit dry — another haunted house, more ghosts, but with Lady Gaga in there again to zhuzh things up. The minor villains, the inbred Polk family clan, were kind of interesting, but casting Cuba Gooding Jr. as a main character says all that needs to be said.
Lots of swine motifs, and a somewhat therapeutic disembowelment of annoying psychic ‘Cricket’ from Coven, but ‘Roanoke’s best elements were the documentary-style format, which cuts between ‘real time’, and a meta sequel documentary where all the characters decide to go back for some reason despite all the horrors they’ve gone through.
#8. Double Feature (2021)
Perhaps AHS is in its flop era. There’s no way I could handle another six episodes of ‘Red Tide’ — where great creatives are turned into legends taking a vampire-esque pill that makes you crave blood as a side effect, while mediocre losers transform into Nosferatu-looking creeps.
Double Feature, as the name suggests, splits the season into two different stories midway through, letting each half concisely keep the good stuff, and not spiral out of narrative control like AHS so often tends to do so. Part two comes in the form of ‘Death Valley’, an alien conspiracy that I’m quite shocked took a decade to come up with. Think Area 51 with exploding heads, and really smart extraterrestrials.
#7. Coven (2013)
The girlies will come after me but Coven is not as iconic as is often made out to be. It represents an incredibly cringe epoch that can only be described as American Apparel cross girlboss feminism under the guise of modern Salem trials. Its zingy one-liners make me want to throw my laptop at the wall, best encapsulated by witch Myrtle Snow being tied and burnt to the stake while yelling out “BALENCIAGA!!!!!” as her final words.
The race to unseat the Supreme through the Seven Wonders was the best part of the season, but as soon as they whipped out Stevie Nicks everything kind of fell downhill from there. There are also too many blonde people.
#6. Hotel (2015)
I don’t know how AHS managed to convince Lady Gaga to act, but Hotel should probably be credited to her first Oscar win for A Star Is Born four years later. A lot went down in the Hotel Cortez — it’s one of those seasons that are just a clusterfuck of narrative arcs that loop and weave and make you forget what’s happening because something more rogue just took place and you just have to run with it.
There’s a serial killer, sexy vampires, sexy vampire threesomes, torture, trans character representation, ghosts, a dinner party with ghost serial killers. The works. Hotel very much peddled to its fan base with sneaky winks throughout the season which gave off the energy in the writers’ room of “the gays will LOVE this”. It could’ve been stronger, but still holds up.
#5. Murder House (2011)
An unpopular opinion for sure, but cultural significance aside, Murder House was incredibly indulgent. It sits at number five because it set the stage for quirky, gore-filled, extravagant horror that thrust actors like Evan Peters into the limelight, and cemented Jessica Lange as a protect-at-all-costs star for the rest of our lives. The title sequence is arguably scarier than the season itself though.
So we know pretty early on that the house where many people are murdered is haunted by poor souls stuck there for eternity — a plot that dries up pretty quick, but is resuscitated by the Sixth Sense style twist that protagonist Violet was dead and didn’t know it. There’s a generation of stans who’ll forever be in love with her love interest Tate as well, RIP.
#4. Cult (2017)
An underdog for sure. Part of a bundle of reactionary material to the 2016 election which catapulted Donald Trump into power, Cult explores how an alt-right fanatic can use the spirit of the times to cause unrest and rally together a mass following. While a bit of a stretch, cult leader Kai Anderson was such a great character because he felt real and possible.
I get the feeling Cult will age badly, and wouldn’t be an enjoyable viewing experience all these years on, but in 2017 it was a product of its time. Besides the killer clowns (been there, done that, in Freak Show), Cult was able to make you feel the paranoia main character Ally is gaslit into.
#3. Apocalypse (2018)
Apocalypse felt like an attempt at redemption for Coven veiled as bringing the gang back together. The witches make a reappearance to battle it out against the dude witch fraternity guys (warlocks? wizards?), before joining forces to try and defeat the Anti-Christ.
The season starts out in a pretty nifty Fallout backdrop after a nuclear disaster, and a desperate bid to save humanity. There was also a nod back to Murder House and a guest appearance by Lange that sent the world into a spin. Unlike most AHS seasons, Apocalypse also had a decent final episode.
#2. Freak Show (2014)
Freak Show is as great as it was popular — despite being potentially retrospectively problematic. It felt like a lot of effort and care went into writing the characters, from the carnival “monsters” as they’re called, to freak show leader Elsa Mars, to the sad backstory to the incredibly terrifying killer clown Twisty.
It’s important with Freak Show to engage with the debate sparked at the time between representation of hiring disabled actors to play disabled roles, verse perpetuating the historical practice of gawking at people with physical or mental differences within the show.
Besides the blip of making Lange do a rendition of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Gods & Monsters’ — which teenage me downloaded as an MP3 anyway — Freak Show is filled with love, tragedy, sadism, torture, snuff, and a coddled mommy’s boy name Dandy who is equally, if not more, scary than the clown.
#1. Asylum (2012)
How could the season who gave us ‘The Name Game‘ musical sequence, and viral TikTok audio “Help, he’s escaping, the killer is escaping, help me“, not come first on this list?
Asylum is one of those seasons that has you at the edge of your seat, especially when Sarah Paulson’s character Lara Winters has to outrun her captor before it’s too late. Then her strength and conviction to come back and unearth the travesties that took place in the abusive mental asylum as the badass journalist Winters was? Iconic.
We all know and are in agreement that Asylum is a deserving winner. If you’re new to AHS, Asylum is a good place to start to keep your hopes in the show high. If you’ve already seen it, it’s probably time for a re-watch.