Content Warning: The Purge is a franchise that contains disturbing violence, often motivated by racism and classism. Know your audience if you’re planning a movie night to make sure everyone feels safe and has fun!
The premise of The Purge franchise—once a year (most) crime is legal for twelve hours—provides endless possibilities. Enough to inspire five films and a television series. Typically, the films set themselves apart by picking an interesting year or setting themselves in an interesting location. Most of the films feature racially diverse casts and complex and intriguing characters to root for. Of course, like in any long running franchise, the five films vary in quality, so today I'm ranking The Purge films to help you decide which ones you want to watch, rewatch, or skip entirely.
Not to be confused with its superior prequel (The First Purge), the first Purge film fails on multiple levels. For one, it doesn’t quite feel like a Purge film, instead functioning more like a home invasion thriller. The Purge follows a white, wealthy, suburban family that’s locking down together to survive the annual Purge. Things get complicated when the daughter’s boyfriend attempts to kill the father, the son lets Dante Bishop, a homeless Black man, into the house to escape violent Purge participants, and later on, those participants and even more neighbors break inside. The film takes place almost entirely within the house, with only limited television footage revealing what’s going on outside. The plot plays out exactly as you’d expect, with the family sneaking around the house, trying to avoid the invaders.
Home invasion movies always come up with some reason why the homeowners don’t just call for help. Maybe the house is in the middle of nowhere and help won’t arrive in time (Hush) or maybe cell phone reception is cut off (You’re Next). Legal crime is certainly a logical reason for why the family couldn’t just call 911. But this leaves the idea of legal crime feeling like a wasted premise. And until the sequels, that was how most people discussed The Purge. A mediocre film that wasted a cool premise.