Final Destination Gave Us the Most Inventive Horror Franchise of the 2000s

20 years after its release, we look back at the unique supernatural thriller that used pitch-black humor and elaborate set-pieces to give us a modern cult classic.

by | March 17, 2020 | Comments

Everyone likes a good horror franchise with an iconic villain who preys upon a new group of innocents in every installment. The problem, though, is that they start to run out of steam after a handful of installments. No matter how good Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th are, eventually we get something like The Revenge of Michael Myers, The Dream Child, or Jason Goes to Hell. But there’s one franchise that, in the wake of Scream, utilized humor to help revitalize the slasher genre at the outset of the new millennium and made audiences afraid of literally everything, and it all began with 2000’s Final Destination.

Even if the franchise isn’t the most critically acclaimed, its very concept seems clearly built to be a lasting enterprise. Final Destination boasts a villain you can never beat and a series of kill scenes that only get more inventive with each installment. For its 20th anniversary, we’re getting off the plane to tell everyone how Final Destination kicked off the best horror franchise of the 2000s.


From its opening title sequence, the original Final Destination plays on the idea of anxiety and paranoia in everyday life. We meet Alex (Devon Sawa) as he’s preparing for a class trip to France, revising his schedule for the flight, when he suddenly freaks out at the idea of his mother removing the luggage tag from his last flight because it would bring him bad luck. From then on, both Alex and the audience see ominous signs everywhere, from a faulty alarm clock to the sudden cancellation of a bunch of flights to the sign with the gate number breaking. These omens culminate in a premonition of the plane exploding shortly after take-off and killing everyone on board. Those kinds of accidents are exceedingly rare, of course, but it’s easy to sympathize with the idea that when you’re anxious about something like flying, everything feels ominous.

Even before Final Destination gets to its convoluted, Rube Goldberg-like death traps, the films weaponizes very real fears, and that’s what makes the horror of the film follow you home and haunt you for days. Unlike a supernatural horror movie that depends on its victims being trapped in a haunted house or a slasher where the villain is a masked killer, the horror of Final Destination only feels like pure fiction until you’re driving home behind that truck carrying flammable gases, or you’re walking down the street and nearly trip over an uneven bit of pavement, or you realize your bathroom floor is extra slippery right as you enter the shower. From the big, opening premonition sequences that set each of the movies in motion to the bizarre and very bloody “accidental” deaths that follow, the Final Destination franchise takes advantage of your actual fears and turns them into your worst nightmares.

Suddenly you realize that not living anywhere near Camp Crystal Lake won’t save you, and that not moving into a haunted house won’t prevent you from dying a horrible death, because the villain here can’t be defeated, and it’s coming for us all.


Birth.Movies.Death’s Brian Collins said it best when we wrote that one of the most surprising things about Final Destination was the way the film became such a successful franchise despite its lack of a villain you could commercialize. The iconic hockey mask from Friday the 13th and the glove adorned with knives from A Nightmare on Elm Street are massively marketable props that helped their respective franchises stay alive.

But when it comes to Final Destination, there are no action figures or costumes for the film’s villain, because there is no villain in the traditional sense. The antagonist is the concept of Death itself, and we’re not talking about the Grim Reaper with his hood and sickle, but an unseen force that subtly (or not-so-subtly) gives objects a tiny little push in increasingly convoluted ways to ultimately lead to someone’s demise. Sure, the series tapped Candyman star Tony Todd to play the mysterious mortician Bludworth and lend the films some horror cred, but he’s more of a cheeky messenger than a harbinger of evil.

And yet, as fun as it is, this franchise is as existential and grim as it gets. In most horror movies, there are rules you can follow to survive, as Scream taught us in 1996. Slasher movies in particular act as sort of morality tales, with characters who behave badly facing divine justice in the form of a bloody demise. Final Destination is so terrifying because there is literally no escape. Even when the characters think they’ve found a loophole and manage to outlive death’s design, something else happens, and they all meet their gruesome ends. There is no hope for survival because, while you can outrun a man with a knife, solve Jigsaw’s puzzles, or exorcise a demon, you can’t outrun Death forever.


New Line courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by New Line courtesy Everett Collection)

Final Destination knows that scares and laughs go hand in hand, and no matter how grim the tone of the film is, it is always accompanied by a wicked gallows humor that provides a nice release of tension. The films are brightly colored, they are fast-paced, and even many of the kills are so ridiculously elaborate that they make you laugh.

Much like Freddy Krueger in the latter Nightmare films, Death in Final Destination has a dark and sadistic sense of humor. It’s not enough to simply die – though the beauty of the first film is that the deaths are so simple you could easily see yourself falling for those tricks – but Death wants to make fun of you with a brutal, gory, and preposterously untimely demise, like a barbed-wired fence that whips loose and cuts you to pieces. Tanning beds, gym weights, elevators, laser eye surgery, trains — anything can be used to kill a character. This gave the Final Destination franchise endless possibilities to do whatever it wanted when it came to death scenes; on the other hand, there are only so many ways Jason Voorhees can dispatch a teenager with a machete.

Indeed, after the original movie, the sequels found delight in tricking the audience as they guessed how the characters would die. The film would introduce an obvious Chekhov’s gun, usually in the form of the protagonist having a vision, as in Final Destination 2 when Kimberly (A.J. Cook) notices a bunch of pigeons. Then the film shows the soon-to-be victim surrounded by said clue, as when Tim (James Kirk) sits in a dentist’s office full of dangerous equipment and watches the same pigeons fly in through the window – only for him to leave the dentist unscathed and fall victim to a giant glass pane that drops on him from above, crushing him. The film builds tension in making us think Tim will die at the dentist’s office, and when he actually meets his end, the over-the-top look of his crushed, unnaturally twisted body quickly turns the shock into a punchline.


New Line courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by New Line courtesy Everett Collection)

Each of the four sequels follows the same formula: a group of people managed to elude their own deaths, only to find themselves targeted by Death in the weeks to follow, hunted one by one in the order they would have originally died. However, each movie adds a bit of a twist to the way the survivors try to outrun their fates, building its mythology along the way.

In the first film, we discover that if you save someone’s life, Death skips them and goes after the next in line. Final Destination 2 brings back Clear Rivers (Ali Larter) from the first one to continue her arc and introduces the idea that new life cancels out death, while the third movie adds a “magic camera” that offers clues to how each character will die. Final Destination 5 makes the threat more human, as the characters believe killing another person will balance Death’s book. Even The Final Destination, which is considered the worst of the franchise, adds a fascinating new question: what if someone who isn’t the next in line tries to kill themselves? The answer, apparently, is that they won’t be able to.

Final Destination managed to stay fresh because it didn’t contradict its mythology, but added to it, providing new twists that made the series feel new each time. Few franchises, horror or otherwise, can boast that kind of inventiveness.


Doane Gregory/Warner Bros. courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by Doane Gregory/Warner Bros. courtesy Everett Collection)

A potential future installment could change things, of course, but for the time being, Final Destination has the rare honor of being one of the handful of horror franchises to have not just an ending, but a satisfying one that brings everything full-circle and ties it all together.

In Final Destination 5, after the ominous Bludworth introduces the idea of balancing the books by killing an innocent person to inherit that person’s lifespan, we get what appears to be the very first happy ending in the franchise, as Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) presumably saves Molly (Emma Bell) and himself by killing one of the other survivors. The film sees them move on with their lives by taking a trip to Paris. As they board the plane, they notice some commotion across the aisle involving none other than Devon Sawa’s Alex from the first film. Right then, the plane takes off and we revisit the very same explosion that kickstarted the original Final Destination, as audiences realize they’ve been watching a prequel all along.

It’s a clever way to bring the franchise back to where it started and wrap it all up with a nice little bow, and even if we never get another Final Destination, we’ll always have this ending, which once again shows that you can never really escape Death’s deliciously macabre design.

Where You Can Watch It Now

Netflix (subscription): Final DestinationFinal Destination 2Final Destination 3The Final Destination

Amazon (rent/own): Final DestinationFinal Destination 2Final Destination 3The Final Destination, Final Destination 5

FandangoNOW (rent/own): Final DestinationFinal Destination 2Final Destination 3The Final DestinationFinal Destination 5

Google (rent/own): Final DestinationFinal Destination 2Final Destination 3The Final DestinationFinal Destination 5

iTunes (rent/own): Final DestinationFinal Destination 2Final Destination 3The Final DestinationFinal Destination 5

Vudu (rent/own): Final DestinationFinal Destination 2Final Destination 3The Final DestinationFinal Destination 5

Final Destination was released on March 17, 2000.

Adjusted Score: 37.991%
Critics Consensus: Despite a panel of X-Files' alums at the helm and a promising premise, flighty performances and poor execution keep Final Destination from ever taking off.
Synopsis: Alex Browning, is embarking on a trip to Paris with his high school French class. In the plane's cabin, buckled-in... [More]
Directed By: James Wong

Thumbnail image by New Line Cinema

Tag Cloud

ITV concert Emmys Pop TV Amazon biography italian Fox Searchlight aapi free movies 2018 21st Century Fox TNT venice Tarantino Premiere Dates IFC 71st Emmy Awards festivals parents Animation Britbox Arrowverse blaxploitation Spectrum Originals Endgame FXX best nbcuniversal MTV Super Bowl Hallmark Christmas movies Crunchyroll VOD VICE serial killer BET TV One Extras golden globe awards james bond indiana jones based on movie GoT twilight PaleyFest sitcom Sundance Song of Ice and Fire black Netflix Christmas movies superman scorecard YouTube Premium miniseries Black History Month Sundance Now sequels CNN comic books international canceled TV shows Comedy Central Film Festival WGN a nightmare on elm street Chernobyl new zealand Summer crime thriller HBO Max Biopics book critics Spike Universal tv talk Pet Sematary Martial Arts thriller fast and furious OWN 2020 PBS jurassic park television ABC Signature Schedule 2016 breaking bad casting politics cinemax elevated horror hidden camera USA Network Election Turner Classic Movies Showtime Video Games BBC One Interview APB Lionsgate joker Rom-Com TCA Winter 2020 streaming Comics on TV chucky spider-man harry potter Calendar Sony Pictures mutant Baby Yoda ESPN crime LGBT 007 obituary Oscars spy thriller revenge Fantasy Television Critics Association Heroines Valentine's Day period drama Adult Swim Reality psycho Spring TV independent criterion monster movies scene in color animated award winner screenings romance Action deadpool name the review trailers Exclusive Video Podcast Character Guide RT21 king kong comics australia stoner Family news DirecTV target E! A24 superhero Best and Worst DGA reboot Creative Arts Emmys series game of thrones know your critic emmy awards kong kaiju Tumblr Awards Tour Cannes rt archives directors Amazon Studios Christmas SXSW comiccon Starz Walt Disney Pictures hispanic Stephen King Disney streaming service high school FX on Hulu indie halloween mission: impossible Travel Channel child's play San Diego Comic-Con HBO Go Logo cartoon 4/20 disaster south america See It Skip It 72 Emmy Awards suspense Mary Poppins Returns The Walking Dead ghosts CMT docudrama Holiday Hallmark spain TCM Red Carpet comedies classics richard e. Grant game show blockbuster science fiction cancelled TV series halloween tv worst movies TBS Bravo supernatural docuseries universal monsters cats crossover LGBTQ Academy Awards YouTube binge Sundance TV President anthology Mary poppins zombies Dark Horse Comics Funimation asian-american Writers Guild of America Box Office strong female leads Superheroes Discovery Channel children's TV Country TV Land japan spinoff Marvel NBC rom-coms video on demand cults versus Pride Month 45 streaming movies legend X-Men quibi zero dark thirty Comedy Apple TV+ Esquire prank History Set visit dceu Trailer sequel Turner Certified Fresh Tokyo Olympics Star Wars justice league Sneak Peek Teen Rocketman wonder woman facebook Watching Series WarnerMedia Reality Competition talk show IFC Films First Reviews ABC 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards The Purge A&E medical drama Vudu kids boxoffice cancelled television films AMC Warner Bros. TLC The Witch cancelled TV shows die hard Binge Guide TIFF SundanceTV japanese Thanksgiving Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt toy story new york Mindy Kaling jamie lee curtis Marathons Broadway cancelled Comic-Con@Home 2021 war Pirates Cartoon Network stand-up comedy worst Nickelodeon remakes Western witnail Shondaland 2021 Fox News Pop 20th Century Fox ID slashers Mudbound hist Toys Star Trek MCU The Academy Netflix 90s Fall TV adventure police drama archives theme song National Geographic NYCC Brie Larson 2019 documentaries lord of the rings Wes Anderson all-time olympics marvel cinematic universe CW Seed Masterpiece crime drama Musical spanish language Anna Paquin batman Drama laika CBS Rock romantic comedy Hear Us Out reviews American Society of Cinematographers new star wars movies Polls and Games Amazon Prime NBA Quiz Music Shudder mockumentary telelvision Women's History Month football TV movies dramedy TruTV Peacock 24 frames YouTube Red TCA 2017 doctor who PlayStation Elton John teaser 1990s Musicals Acorn TV natural history dc video Tubi VH1 Ellie Kemper New York Comic Con dark space ABC Family razzies adenture latino Tomatazos nature Marvel Television christmas movies Superheroe Infographic Horror diversity Lifetime aliens FX composers Avengers green book zombie Mystery FOX DC Universe cooking saw Amazon Prime Video historical drama movies MSNBC Disney singing competition Image Comics foreign nfl hollywood BAFTA dragons Television Academy travel Nat Geo what to watch adaptation Pixar BBC Holidays Year in Review Opinion social media TCA sag awards Disney Plus Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Apple TV Plus Awards BET Awards TV renewals documentary Crackle anime sports Paramount festival political drama Food Network The Walt Disney Company Rocky ratings satire godzilla USA golden globes toronto Paramount Network movie fresh robots stop motion DC Comics women RT History OneApp Hulu french Disney Channel Lifetime Christmas movies discovery Classic Film king arthur renewed TV shows Captain marvel Paramount Plus Alien Black Mirror GLAAD boxing scary movies Countdown pirates of the caribbean canceled Lucasfilm live action BBC America Comic Book TV Nominations Columbia Pictures 93rd Oscars true crime Photos cops werewolf finale SDCC rotten comic psychological thriller spanish First Look cars Syfy The Arrangement Grammys heist movie unscripted Ghostbusters HBO Ovation basketball 2017 Pacific Islander Apple rotten movies we love Sci-Fi Marvel Studios vampires Trivia CBS All Access Trophy Talk book adaptation 99% blockbusters YA TCA Awards GIFs Disney+ Disney Plus screen actors guild Film transformers E3 dogs El Rey Freeform ViacomCBS Mary Tyler Moore technology The CW Legendary Winter TV Epix Cosplay franchise DC streaming service 2015 Kids & Family Winners Emmy Nominations popular