Every Season Of American Horror Story, Ranked From Worst To Best
American Horror Story: Cult has come to an end, leaving fans wondering what Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk may have up their sleeves for 2018. While we wait, here’s a polarizing question: Which season of American Horror Story is the best?
Every season speaks to different horror tropes and sensibilities. Some hit the nail on the bloody head, while others have left fans feeling a bit disenfranchised. The Murphy-verse, so to speak, wouldn’t be complete without its rubber demons, killer clowns, feminist witches, and sexy vampires--but that only just scratches the surface.
From the deeply scary to the flatout silly, here’s each season of American Horror Story, ranked from worst to best.
7. Freak Show
The fourth installment of the FX hit had two things going for it: Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) and freak show manager Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange). The first visual of the murderous clown hacking up a couple in the park was so terrifying, Ryan Murphy revisited the scene in AHS: Cult. Jessica Lange’s David Bowie-style swagger gave Freak Show a stylish edge. But outside of those two elements, things quickly got silly.
Aside from its ongoing musical component—the cast would regularly perform modern day pop songs, for some reason—the series couldn’t decide on a big bad to focus on. Dell Toledo (Michael Chiklis), Stanley (Denis O’Hare), Chester Creb (Neil Patrick Harris), Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley) and Dandy Mott (Finn Wittrock) were all featured as villains. One could say Freak Show fell down the Heroes trap, but instead of presenting too many characters worth rooting for, the show got bogged down with all the baddies. Once that happened, the story became an overcrowded mess that lost its way more than once.
The sixth season of AHS was ultra gritty, super meta and anything but polished. The first five episodes of Roanoke presented themselves as My Roanoke Nightmare, a show-within-a-show docu-series that followed a married couple struggling to make it out of a haunted house alive.
The big twist came halfway through the season, exposing the whole thing as one big exercise in meta storytelling. The combination of reenactments, flashbacks, and found footage tropes quickly unraveled the story into a trainwreck. Not even Kathy Bates’ portrayal of Agnes Mary Winstead, Thomasin White or The Butcher—for which she earned an Emmy nomination—could dig the season out from the hole it buried itself in.
American Horror Story’s third season doubled down on the stylish camp of the witch sub-genre. The mostly female cast helped elevate FX’s series into refreshing feminist territory, garnering Emmy wins for Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates--who played coven Supreme Fiona Goode and socialite serial killer Delphine LaLaurie, respectively.
References to New Orleans’ spooky past are plentiful here, but that historical element isn’t enough to keep things interesting. Exploring the power dynamic and relationship drama that exists among the witches made for interesting fodder. But aside from the conflict between Kathy Bates’ racist severed head and Angela Bassett’s vengeful voodoo priestess, the tale being told became more of an exercise in soap opera spectacle than a compelling horror story.
AHS: Hotel was built on a foundation of gothic decadence, where a gaggle of Lady Gaga-led vampires reveled in some fabulous ‘80s-themed wardrobe. There are many moving parts in Hotel: A hunt for a Se7en-style serial killer, a vampire queen coveting other people’s vampy children, a flamboyant millionaire murderer who turned his hotel into a killing machine, and an addiction demon who murdered junkies with a drill-bit dildo. But, the fifth season of the series was an exercise in extravagance over any real story substance.
Lady Gaga and Denis O’Hare deliver standout performances here, which is worth paying the Hotel Cortez a visit. Just don’t expect a hard-hitting story to connect each episode. Style has always been greater than substance in American Horror Story. In Hotel, the shiny glitz and bloody glamour wasn’t just the icing on the proverbial cake—it was the cake.
Just a year after Donald Trump was elected as the 45th President of the United States, the inspiration for the newest round of episodes was the 2016 election. AHS: Cult was the first season of prime time TV to delve headlong into this political fallout. It was also the first installment of the FX series to avoid any supernatural subject matter altogether.
The story explored the psychology behind people driven to join cults and those who lead them. Evan Peters’ portrayals of Charles Manson, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Andy Warhol make Cult definitely worth a watch. But what makes it terrifying is the symbolic mirror the story holds up to present day America. It’s a season that’s both cathartic and terrifying--echoing regularly trending events gracing the 24-news cycle. There’s not much escapism here, and that’s kind of the point.
2. Murder House
When American Horror Story premiered in 2011, no one really knew what to expect. The promos featured an ominous Rubber Man stalking a pregnant Connie Britton, which definitely succeeded at raising some eyebrows. Once the show began killing off each of its main characters, it proved to be a rule-breaker within the genre TV space.
As the Murder House story unfolded, the haunted house motif—which has been revisited multiple times throughout the series—acted as a compelling reflection of the Harmon family’s fractured state. Tate’s (Evan Peters) school shooting, Ben Harmon’s (Dylan McDermott’s) dwindling grip on reality, the questionable things happening in that basement, and of course, the murderous Rubber Man help make the freshman season well worth a watch.
American Horror Story: Asylum follows investigative journalist Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who finds herself committed at the 1960s insane asylum she was investigating. Audiences followed Winters as she set out to take the establishment down from the inside. Jessica Lange’s Sister Jude, Zachary Quinto’s deranged Dr. Thredson, and James Cromwell’s Nazi Dr. Arden provide multi-layered threats that only add to our hero’s compelling journey.
Experimental mutants, demonic nuns and abducting aliens filled out a packed season. But unlike most of the other installments of FX’s series, the Asylum story stays on task. Not only does Winters’ story arc reach a fulfilling end, the outcasts within Briarcliff all gain their own sense of justice. And while Freak Show’s musical numbers became one of its biggest flaws, Jessica Lange’s dreamlike performance of The Name Game was absolutely spot on.