This article contains spoilers
It may seem hard to believe, but at one stage Resident Evil was not only the highest-grossing film series based on a video game, but also the highest-grossing horror film series period. Consisting of six movies and a reboot, the Resident Evil movies just kept making money even while they were being bashed by critics. Most of those critics arguably had valid points, but the arrival of a new Resident Evil movie simply became oddly comforting somewhere along the way.
Thanks to the creative voices of Event Horizon director Paul W.S. Anderson and his Fifth Element actress wife Milla Jovovich, six of the seven Resident Evil movies feature the character of Alice (Jovovich firing on all cylinders), a former security specialist and covert operative who initially has amnesia but eventually remembers she’s out to take down the insidious Umbrella Corporation, a global company responsible for Earth’s weirdest zombie apocalypse.
As the franchise entries roll on, plenty of recognizable characters from the Resident Evil games show up, including Claire Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy and, of course, Albert Wesker. A reboot film, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, was released in 2021 to mid reviews and a comparatively unimpressively box office.
Join us as we take a look back at the entire Resident Evil movie franchise, ranking every entry from the worst to the first one…
7. Resident Evil: Extinction
Extinction is where the Resident Evil movie series began fostering the idea that it could get away with basically anything as long as it explained to the audience that there was a seemingly endless production line of Alices, and this third movie shows us a whole pile of her deceased clones rotting in the desert straight away. These poor souls are victims of Umbrella’s continuing “Project Alice”, headed up by Dr. Alexander Isaacs (Iain Glen) and Albert Wesker (Jason O’Mara).
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie sinks into sub-Romero territory by pitching out its main story amongst a convoy of survivors traveling through the desert, including Claire Redfield (a wasted Ali Larter) and fellow Raccoon City survivor Carlos Oliveira. Russell Mulcahy’s 2007 threequel is filled with zombie movie clichés and desert chatter tedium, but it does have a murderous flock of infected crows, so it’s not all bad news.
6. Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Alexander Witt’s sequel to the first Resident Evil movie has a “direct to video” quality about it. Arriving hot on the heels of the first film, Apocalypse expands the initial story by taking Alice’s fight from The Hive to Raccoon City. There, she finds allies in the likes of Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory in an absolutely ridiculous outfit from the games) and Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr), and has to battle a new enemy in the monster juggernaut Nemesis.
It’s a very, very stupid movie full of action padding that doesn’t exactly make a case for the franchise to continue, so it was a miracle – plus a decent box office despite bad reviews – that it did. Primarily, it all comes down to Jovovich’s consistent energy as Alice. Any time she’s on screen kicking someone’s ass, the movie improves by 2000%. With those moments lingering in the memory as the credits roll, it’s easy to find yourself saying “yeah, I could probably watch another one of these if I’m bored enough”, and that’s music to Hollywood’s ears, baby!
5. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich’s Resident Evil franchise sputtered to a close with 2016’s The Final Chapter, and we can accept that the grand finale wasn’t all we’d hoped for while also admitting that it definitely wasn’t the worst thing to happen that year.
The Final Chapter takes us back to the beginning, as the reason for the T-virus’ invention and its spread are finally laid bare for the very few people who were in this for, y’know, actual answers. Alice and her friends, having been inevitably betrayed by Wesker, are now in his endgame. It’s the last stand of their apocalypse, and a last chance to unleash an antivirus that could save the world from zombification, so Alice teams up with the Red Queen back at The Hive to get it done. Down there, we find out that Alice was originally cloned from Alicia Marcus, daughter of the creator of the T-virus, and Jovovich plays that character in some rather unconvincing aging makeup. All this lore gets in the way of the action. It’s clear the franchise has run out of steam and is straining for an emotional conclusion, but sadly it doesn’t quite manage to achieve one in The Final Chapter.
4. Welcome to Raccoon City
The main issue with Welcome to Raccoon City is that it loves the first two Resident Evil video games a little too much. The reboot strives to honor them wherever it can, aiming to set itself apart from the nonsense of the other movies and tell the unsettling story of the games.
The result is that despite having a more coherent vision with a much darker tone than the films that came before it, Welcome to Raccoon City is kind of, well, dull. It turns out there was a load-bearing Paul W.S. Anderson. Missing the action and nonsense of the Alice-focused movies, the creepy zombies of Raccoon City are simply nothing we haven’t seen before. The Easter eggs and fanservice may win over hardcore Resi players, but for those who have already seen the franchise be taken in a wilder direction, this reboot is just a little underwhelming.
3. Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: Afterlife starts with what tantamounts to a music video. Tomandandy’s score pumps out deep beats as we see rain fall slowly on Tokyo and a young woman turns into a zombie, attacking a passerby. This is how Japan fell to the T-virus. In the present day, an insanely overpowered Alice and her clones take down Umbrella HQ in Tokyo, but Pesky Wesker gets away, and writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson makes Umbrella’s most ridiculous villain do the smartest thing he can for the franchise: remove Alice’s superhuman abilities. From there, Afterlife has some of the highest stakes in the series, as Alice can simply just die.
Alice and Claire Redfield travel to Los Angeles in pursuit of the safe haven Arcadia, and must escape a prison with Claire’s brother Chris (a phenomenally hammy Wentworth Miller). By the time the crew get to the Arcadia and have their inevitable slow motion battle with Wesker, the movie is only concerned with having as much fun as it physically can while eschewing the laws of physics completely. Wesker parachuting away from a final CGI explosion takes the cake in Afterlife, but his laughable “Mr. Smith” sequence aboard the Arcadia should get an honorable mention.
2. Resident Evil: Retribution
2012’s Retribution was the fifth installment in the Resident Evil film series, and by this point the franchise had gotten so ludicrous and over the top that it had room to vary the stories that it wanted to tell, as long as they were hung loosely around preposterous action, gunplay, and combat. This one has a killer sequence near the beginning that’s reminiscent of Zack Snyder’s best movie, Dawn of the Dead. A cloned Alice wakes up as a happily married suburban mom in a twisted Umbrella simulation that peppers in clones of the first movie’s cast, including Colin Salmon as strike team leader James “One” Shade.
Michelle Rodriguez is also back – twice! – as both a good and evil clone of Rain Ocampo, and the film throws in first appearances by Resi game characters Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, and Barry Burton as the story sprawls from an Umbrella Corporation freighter, to an underwater facility, to “Moscow”, and beyond. Very little about any of this makes sense, but the pace of the film is so quick that it’s impossible to care.
1. Resident Evil
No clickbait in the headline here – we all know the first Resident Evil movie is the best one! But is it a “good” movie? Yes and no. It certainly hasn’t aged particularly well in terms of its style or effects. Created in a post-Matrix era where everyone and their mum was trying to blend slow motion gun-fu and CGI, 2002’s Resident Evil still manages to be an enjoyable romp by only embracing the skeleton of the Resi story and just building a regular action movie around it. It’s determined to do its own thing, and Paul W.S. Anderson’s choppy-if-competent direction works great with the film’s upbeat video game energy. It’s easy to see why he was brought back later on to give the franchise another jolt.
But honestly, the first Resident Evil probably wouldn’t have run quite as smoothly without the star power of both Milla Jovovich at the top of her game as Alice, and Michelle Rodriguez bringing the heat as Umbrella special forces operative Rain Ocampo. Together, the two have more on-screen chemistry than anyone else in the franchise, making Resident Evil an extremely entertaining and watchable package that stands the test of time if you have a love of action-horror nonsense in your blood and forgiveness in your heart.