American Horror Story Seasons Ranked: From Murder House to 1984

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's long-running FX horror anthology series American Horror Story is about to celebrate its tenth season on the air (with more to come as well as a spinoff that we'll talk more about in a few minutes). With production on the newest season reportedly set to kick off any day now (Halloween really would be a great time for another Murphy social media hint), we thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the previous nine seasons and tread into some very dangerous waters: ranking the seasons. While I understand the risk that I'm taking with an effort that will most likely result in a decent amount of people ripping me a new one over just how wrong I am, a point to keep in mind.

american horror story
A look back at nine seasons of American Horror Story (Image: FX Networks)

The list you're about to see is in order from "least favorite" to "favorite"- I'm avoiding the use of "best" and "worst" because even the seasons that I didn't connect with still meet the definition of what I call "beautiful disasters." That's my way of saying that even though I think Murphy and Falchuk may have missed the mark with me on something, I still appreciate the creative risk-taking and the desire to bring something fresh and original to our eyeballs that they undertake. Also, I'm going with some quick thoughts and overviews- each season would be worthy of its own series of analysis posts. So keeping all of that in mind, here's a look at where I think things stand in the AHS universe as we eagerly await word on the start of production on the tenth season:

"AHS: Hotel": So this is why I mentioned "connect" so much in the opener because that's what I couldn't do with Hotel. The biggest reason? Lady Gaga's The Countess / Elizabeth Johnson- and I doubly shocked then you are because there isn't much from her musically or otherwise that I'm not a fan of. But her performance reminded me of Natalie Portman in the "Star Wars" prequels: an excellent actor who seems to be just marching through the role, and I can't shake this feeling that it was an agreed-upon approach to the character. Whatever the reason, it ripple-effected its way through the other storylines. It felt like a stew of various season ideas with the hotel device to link them, but it wasn't enough. That said, props to Denis O'Hare as Liz Taylor, Sarah Paulson as Sally McKenna and Billie Dean Howard (needs a spinoff), and the devastatingly powerful "Devil's Night."

"AHS: Asylum": Okay, is there anyone out there who can look me in the eye and tell me there wasn't too much going on this season? Otherwise known as "The Season That Started the Alien Debate," this season couldn't decide what genre it wanted to be- and by the time it did? Too few episodes left to clean up so many things that had been built up. That said, props to Zachary Quinto as Dr. Oliver Thredson and Paulson as Lana Winters- both for their individual performances as well as their shared screen time. Lily Rabe's Sister Mary Eunice McKee cemented her in the upper echelons of the "Murphy-verse," and props to the season for promoting Adam Levine and then killing him off in record time: bold move for a still-relatively young series getting its footing. The most satisfying moment came when Winters reconciled with her murderous son Johnny (Dylan McDermott)- just in time to kill him herself. First, because it was the closure Winters deserved, but most of all? It kept McDermott in the "Murphy-verse."

"AHS: Freak Show": This is the season that reminds me of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket in one way: a classic beginning that loses its way by staying around a little too long. For me, "Edward Mordrake (Part 2)" felt like it was the end of the season- I was legitimately surprised that there were still nine more episodes to go (thankfully, AHS has found the sweet spot when it comes to the right amount of episodes). Wes Bentley's Edward Mordrake wasn't a concept or character that I hated (mostly because of Bentley and his ability to pull off questionable facial hair) but it also wasn't something I felt invested in. But then you have Sarah Paulson's amazing ability to instill individuality and personality to Bette and Dot Tattler, and that helps cover a ton of mistakes. Michael Chiklis's Dell Toledo was an impressive break from Chiklis's previous run of roles, impressively playing against type as much as O'Hare did as Stanley. Finn Wittrock's Dandy Mott made us want to reach through the screen and strangle him (in a good way), and then there's Jessica Lange's Elsa Mars and John Carroll Lynch's Twisty the Clown: two distinctly different yet impactful acting powerhouses.

"AHS: Murder House": The one that started it all, so it's also the one that carried the most responsibility. Is it perfect? No. In fact, Lange was given way too much dialogue to have to execute to clean up all the questions marks that remained before the series wrapped. But that's small potatoes compared to the narrative seeds that were planted that are still taking route nine seasons later. But just take a second and think back to this line-up: Connie Britton (who I wish we got to see more of in AHS), McDermott, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, O'Hare, and Lange. Those are five actors who have or could front their own series (and you can never go wrong with more of Paulson's Billie Dean Howard. Much like "Star Wars" fans consider "A New Hope" sacred, that's my vibe with "Murder House."

"AHS: Roanoke": I'm still not sure exactly how many different characters each person was playing during the season, and I needed a Charlie/It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia conspiracy board to keep everything straight between what was "real' and what was the show-within-a-show. Normally, that would bother the Hell out of me but because "Roanoke" did a strong job expanding the AHS universe' overarching mythology. Think of it as what happens when you mash-up "found footage" with Inception, and sprinkle in a nice coating of "meta." While Kathy Bates has deservedly received credit for some amazing turns in several seasons, her run as Thomasin White aka The Butcher (as well as Agnes Mary Winstead) deserves more attention. This was also the season that Cheyenne Jackson landed on our radar as Sidney Aaron James, in an excellent turn that foreshadowed his run in "Apocalypse."

"AHS: Cult": How do you decide between Paulson demonstrating to viewers the various facets of Ally Mayfair-Richards's season-long evolution and Peters getting to the essence of six (in)famous cult leaders (Andy Warhol, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Jesus, and Charles Manson)? You don't. You just appreciate both of them. But while you're at it, you also add Adina Porter's Beverly Hope to that list of impressive performances, as well as Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, and Chaz Bono. But this season came down to the make-or-break back-n-forths between Peters and Paulson- and once again, they did not disappoint. The season gets extra points for one of the most disturbing killings we've seen from the franchise: Emma Roberts's reporter Serena Belinda being killed by one of Kai's (Peters) clowns- and we literally see it coming but can do nothing about it.

"AHS: Coven": A season about a modern coven of witches that must deal with threats from outside and from within? And you're giving me Paulson, Rabe, Roberts, Lange, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy, Angela Bassett (Amen!), Gabourey Sidibe, and a ton of others? Yes, please. For me, "Coven" is the only season that is deserving of its own spinoff season- and the one that felt like the passing of the AHS crown from Lange to Paulson. You'll never lose points with me for having Stevie Nicks as "The White Witch," but what wins me over about this season was its sense of family- even the ugly, heartbreaking parts of it.

"AHS: Apocalypse": Yeah, yeah yeah. I know some of you might be scoffing. But for me, this was The Love Boat landing on Fantasy Island. The was a horror version of "Crisis on Infinite Earths." This was the season that played upon every single "feel" my inner geek's had since it was a little to have all of his action figures exist in a shared universe. And you do it by bringing in the heavy hitters from "Coven" to serve as our "Justice League"? How can you possibly go wrong? You can't, especially when you have career-strengthening turns by Lourd as our new supreme Mallory and Grossman's Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt- who she portrayed so distinctly different between the "before" and "after" moments that we credit her with two roles this season. But it was Cody Fern's Anti-Christ Michael Langdon who stole the show… and nearly destroyed the world in the process. From moments of sympathy to moments of pure, unadulterated hatred, Fern had viewers running a gamut of emotions- and the viewers and the series were better for it. What keeps it from the top spot? Without another Charlie/It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia conspiracy board, I'm still not sure what changes that happened in "Return to Murder House" actually stuck by the end of the season finale (because there's some heartbreak returning if they didn't).

"AHS: 1984": The perfect season for reasons too numerous to go into in this rundown, but let's look at a few. First, it was the season that proved "the kids are alright"- without either Paulson or Peters aboard to serve as experienced "anchors" for the ensemble. That might be one of the reasons why the season worked so well: it felt like a true collective as opposed to a one or two "mains" with impressive support. Whether it was Roberts, Lourd, Grossman, or Fern, the veteran cast couldn't have looked like they were having any more fun than if they pointed at the camera and told us themselves- and it translated into how serious they took their roles even during the more absurd moments. I hope to see more of Matthew Morrison, Zach Villa, and Gus Kenworthy in future seasons (and props to Gus, who wasn't impressive in his first ep but really flipped things 180 degrees in no time), and Angelica Ross should be given the keys to the seasons for whatever she wants to do. But as much as I mentioned family earlier, it's a theme that's foundational during this season. To be a better man and a better father for his son Bobby (Whitrock) and to break the cycle of violence, we see Lynch's  Benjamin Richter aka Mr. Jingles as one of Murphy and Falchuk's most tragically heroic figures. For me, being able to say that a season proved Grossman could play a beautifully despisable (in a good way) "big bad," found a way to connect the entire franchise in a way that raised as many questions as it answered, offered us what can best be described as a "happy ending" while staying true to franchise's foundations, and a dozen other accolades means the top spot is well-deserved. Plus, doesn't it make you sleep a little better at night knowing that Camp Redwood's protectors are on the job?

American Horror Story key art over the course of nine seasons. (Image: FX Networks)
American Horror Story key art over the course of nine seasons. (Image: FX Networks)

Since we're already here discussing the American Horror Story universe anyway, let's look back at what we know so far- starting with Murphy posting an image of sand dunes on a beach with the caption, "American Horror Story. Clue." Considering the imagery and the location of Provincetown, Massachusetts, being utilized for filming on the upcoming season, we're going with the story being based around (or including) the "Lady in the Dunes": the name was given to the body of an unidentified woman discovered in July 1974. Though efforts were made in 1980, 2000, and 2013, to learn the victim's true identity (as well as the identity of her killer) remains unknown.

Then in late August, Murphy posted an image of a set of sharpened teeth with the news that production on the tenth season would begin in October. Could the set of sharpened jaws be teasing a water-based menace? Possibly killer mermaids? And what about Sarah Paulson's tease (joke?) about aliens being a factor?

Set to the tune of Orville Peck's Dead of Night, the American Horror Story cast reveal video above confirmed that AHS alums Paulson, Peters, Bates, Grossman, Lourd, Porter, Rabe, Ross, and Wittrock will return. In addition, Home Alone alum Macaulay Culkin is set to join the franchise's universe for the first time. Over the weekend, FX Networks released a new teaser for their upcoming programming titled "The Ride" (below) that offered AHS fans their first teaser for American Horror Stories– with the ominous line: "Times may have changed, but the nature of evil has not."

About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.

twitter   instagram   envelope