Often referred to as one of the greatest horror movies of all time (and certainly one of the most notorious), The Exorcist has been scaring audiences since it made its debut in 1973. The film – about a girl called Regan, possessed by a demon – may have started as a self-contained story, but has developed into a franchise which includes sequels, prequels, and a television show.

But The Exorcist film series is a complex beast, with a confusing lineage. Not only does the original film exist in multiple iterations, but the sequels are disjointed and the series contains two prequels that are in essence the same film!

Confused?

Well, if you are it is totally understandable – but hopefully I can clear things up.

Today I am looking at the best viewing order for The Exorcist films. I will be presenting a number of options, whilst explaining the reasons why this series is not as straight forward as it seems.

Now let’s grab some holy water and get started.

The Exorcist

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures

OK, so let’s kick-off with film that started it all. A film that exists in two different versions.

If you’re an Exorcist purist (i.e. someone who wants the film to remain the way was initially released), then you can watch the theatrical cut of The Exorcist. This is the version of the movie that was first seen in cinemas back in 1973.

However, if you have no problem with seeing a slightly altered cut of the movie, then you may wish to choose ‘The Version You’ve Never Seen‘. Yep, that’s really what it’s called!

The Exorcist – The Version You’ve Never Seen is a director’s cut of the movie, which includes some changes to the theatrical cut. The changes include the insertion of a ‘spider-walk’ scene, some subliminal images, an extended ending, and one or two other differences.

It’s debatable whether or not the theatrical cut is any better than the director’s cut and vice-versa, however, you have two choices to make.

  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • The Exorcist – The Version You’ve Never Seen (1973/2000)

And now onto the sequels…

________________________________________

The sequels

Image: ©20th Century Fox

Two sequels were produced for The Exorcist; with the first arriving in 1977. The second sequel arrived in 1990.

The films are as follows:

  • The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
  • The Exorcist III (1990)

The Exorcist II: The Heretic focused on Regan, and also included the character of Father Merrin – two key links to the original. But the film did not feature any involvement from The Exorcist‘s writer William Peter Blatty or director William Friedkin.

Blatty did return for the second sequel, this time taking on writing and directing duties, but Regan and Merrin were not a part of the story. In fact, The Exorcist III ignored the events of The Exorcist II and was instead an adaptation of Blatty’s novel Legion.

So, which was the better movie?

Due to the Regan/Merrin connection, The Exorcist II is more of a sequel to The Exorcist, however, it is the less interesting of the two films. The Exorcist III is a better movie, but it feels like it should be part of an entirely different series – so ultimately it is down to the audience to decide.

At the end of the day there are two sequels to The Exorcist, so if you want to watch all the films you should watch these two in order.

Oh and there is a saving grace – the films weren’t the production nightmare that the prequels would become. Speaking of which…

________________________________________

The prequels

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures

During the mid ’00s a prequel to The Exorcist went into production, with Paul Schrader as the director. The film – titled Exorcist: The Beginning – was to focus on Father Merrin, linking back to The Exorcist and The Exorcist II.

The movie entered production, with actor Stellan Skarsgård in the role of Merrin. However, just before the film finished its shoot, producer Morgan Creek Productions shelved the project fearing it would not be well received by audiences.

Keen not to abandon the project completely, Morgan Creek Productions removed Schrader from the project and hired director Renny Harlin to conduct reshoots. But with Harlin on board, the script received a few rewrites, before being completely re-filmed.

Skarsgård remained in place as Merrin – effectively going through the motions of creating a second picture – but many of his cast mates were replaced. This alternate production was given the name of Exorcist: The Beginning, the title of Schrader’s film.

Harlin completed the movie and handed it over to Morgan Creek Productions, who promptly put it in front of test audiences. Unfortunately the response was not what the producers had hoped for, leaving them with two films that had not lived up to expectations.

In an attempt to recoup costs, Morgan Creek Productions went back to Schrader’s film, investing additional money to complete the project. After all, why have two films and not make money on them both?

Warner Bros. released Harlin’s film – to negative reviews – in 2004. Schrader’s film was released the following year under a new title, to a slightly better response.

The film’s are as follows:

  • Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
  • Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005)

Although there are differences between the two movies, including a different tone for each, the stories are effectively the same. As such, they are two sides of the same coin, so depending on how you want to insert a prequel into The Exorcist series, you can take one of two paths:

The Merrin prequel order #1:

  • Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
  • The Exorcist III (1990)

Or…

The Merrin prequel order #2:

  • Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005)
  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
  • The Exorcist III (1990)

So, which prequel should you watch? Both? Neither?

I guess it depends on your own personal preference. Do you want to watch a film that the production company had no faith in? Or do you want to watch a movie that the production company regretted making?

*Shrugs shoulders*

Tough choice.

If you want my honest opinion (and you only want to watch one of the prequels), Dominion is arguably the better of the two movies – there really was no need to remake it. That said, it’s a film that was compromised during production so it’s not quite the picture that could have been.

________________________________________

Release order

Image: ©Warner Bros. Pictures

And finally, should you simply want to watch The Exorcist movies in the order they were released, then view them as follows:

  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)
  • The Exorcist III (1990)
  • Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
  • Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005)

And if you want a non-connected, but sort of associated movie, you could also watch the Exorcist spoof, Repossessed (1990). The film stars Linda Blair – the actress who played Regan in The Exorcist/The Exorcist II – alongside Leslie Nielsen and Ned Beatty.

________________________________________

Image: ©20th Century Fox

Should you want to go beyond the movies, in 2016 The Exorcist was turned into a television series. The show aired for two seasons, running a total of 20 episodes.

________________________________________

So, are you a fan of The Exorcist movie series? What works, what doesn’t? Do you think it’s an interesting mix of stories or is it all a collection of missed opportunities? Let me know your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below.

Read more: