For the Horrorathon for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), I watched all 10 Children of the Corn movies in a row. I realized in the middle of this process this franchise predates my existence, and will probably outlive me at the rate it is going. Yikes. These are my stories.
What I Learned
Why are there so many of these movies?
Like the Hellraiser franchise, the producers run the risk of losing the rights to this series if they do not churn these movies out on a somewhat frequent cycle. This was confirmed in an interview with John Franklin. I can only hypothesize that they are so dirt cheap to make, any profit is a profit on them. Like Hellraiser, there is probably hope to cash out on a big budget, theatrical remake. Speaking of the volume of these movies…
A lot feel like fanfiction sequels to the first movie
What if the evil corn was taken to an urban environment? What if someone’s family member gets entangled in the cult? What if…whatever the plot is of Children of the Corn: Genesis happens?
Some of them explain a connection to Gatlin, but some don’t even bother – they just assume a shot of corn and an evil child is enough of a connection. In one movie a virus causes the children to act evil, but in another they are ghosts? The only thing that IS consistent…
He Who Walks Behind the Rows is real
Almost all the movies, with the exception of the fourth movie, mention He Who Walks Behind the Rows. In the second film, it is suggested rotten corn is causing the children to hallucinate and turn violent, but it still establishes there is an evil pagan monster/demon that truly exists in the fields. The tenth comes the closest to implying the demon doesn’t actually exist which would be a neat way to approach the story, but otherwise the children are lowkey validated each time (!) because there really is a demon that takes care of them so long as they do its bidding. Sometimes it stays under the dirt, sometimes it is a cheaply rendered dragon, and in one movie it is disguised as a human. So that’s cool I guess?
The subgenre and tone changes to fit the times
Watching a franchise that spans four decades, it is interesting to see how contemporary hits impact each movie. The first movie is a pretty straightforward horror movie with tinges of melodrama, with the first two sequels leaning more into cheese in the late 80s/mid 90s. After the success of Scream, the fifth is an obvious slasher derivative. The sixth, seventh, and ninth movies from the 2000s/early 2010s introduce more supernatural elements. The tenth is a more serious attempt to go for horror drama. It is really a trip to see this play out back to back with each movie.
The heteronormativity/patriarchy is real
There’s NO movie where the leader of the evil children is a girl. These movies are comically heteronormative for the most part, with the first three movies ending with straight couples working together to defeat the evil, patriarchal cult children.
Ranking the Films
After watching a series of films where 80% were released straight to video or television, here is my ranking from worst to best.
Unlike my Hellraiser ranking, I can’t imagine this will be controversial. I’ve literally only found seven other people on the internet who have actually watched and ranked all these movies, but just in case you are part of the CotC fandom, I am rating things based on my personal enjoyment – NOT if I think it is a “good” movie.
I will also be giving each movie a ranking of 1-5 ears of corn for how crucial corn is to the plot.
5🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 = Corn straight up kills people/ is essential to the plot and character motivations
4 🌽🌽🌽🌽= Corn is significant but doesn’t actually murder someone or get addressed in the plot
3 🌽🌽🌽= Corn is prominently featured but not addressed much in the plot
2 🌽🌽= Corn is not prominently featured but still makes multiple appearances
1🌽 = Did this movie forget corn is 50% of the nouns in the franchise name?
Also there will be SPOILERS in my summaries. You’re welcome if you just want to know what the heck happens in these movies.
10. Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (2001) (#6 in the series)
IMDb Score: 3.5
What happens in it? A teenage girl returns to Gatlin to learn about her biological mother at the same time the original corn cult leader Isaac wakes up from a coma to leader his followers once again. It turns out, the teenage girl is one of the children OF the children of the corn, and when she inadvertently sleeps with the human embodiment of He Who Walks Behind the Rows (don’t think about it too hard), she leaves Gatlin pregnant with a prophesied demon child or something. I just hope she doesn’t live in Texas so she can nip that in the bud.
Why this ranking? I wanted to like this more since it had one of the coolest names AND featured screenwriting and acting from John Franklin as the titular returning character Isaac. Alas, it was one of the most obvious duds in the whole series, made more ridiculous by its obvious plot twists and bizarrely abbreviated ending.
Corny Ranking: 🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 Not even Isaac seems to remember that the main point of worshipping He Who Walks Behind the Rows is to ensure a good harvest. Come on now.
9. Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)
IMDb Score: 4.2
What happens in it? A woman (played by Naomi Watts) returns to her rural hometown to care for her severely agoraphobic mother and younger siblings. A bizarre fever sweeps through the town’s children when an evil child preacher is accidently resurrected somehow (?), causing the children to start murdering adults. Naomi Watts manages to stop the children by killing the resurrected leader, and also reveals in the process her “sister” was secretly her daughter that she had out of wedlock and let her mother raise as her own.
Why this ranking? Wow was this boring. Not even a young Naomi Watts or some decently entertaining (if not dubious) death scenes could save this movie from a full two minute sequence of adults trying to give feverish children ice baths. Also where’s the evil corn?! You can’t have corn itself start attacking people in the second movie and not continue with that winning formula.
Corny Ranking: 🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 There’s a cornfield. That’s about it.
8. Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011) (#7 in the series)
IMDb Score: 3.6
What happens in it? A stranded husband and wife in the California desert stay with a creepy man and his wife who appear to be keeping a child captive they insist is evil. It turns out, the creepy man is from Gatlin, and his child is evil AND telekinetic, so his isolated farm serves as a weird, bigamist sect of the cult that is just kind of resigned to being imprisoned by this child. The husband of the main couple dies, and his pregnant wife seems to join the cult (albeit in a catatonic state) at the end.
Why this ranking? I did find this entertaining in its own stupid way. Where are the children (the telekinetic kid is in the movie about as long as the shark in Jaws)? Where is the corn? This feels the most like an original script that got some franchise lore tacked onto it to make it more profitable.
Corny Ranking: 🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 This movie sincerely seems to have forgotten the corn part of the title.
That being said, I find this Final Destination 2 knockoff scene so hilariously bad my ranking will stay:
7. Children of the Corn: Runaway (2018) (#10 in the series)
IMDb Score: 3.8
What happens in it? A former child corn cult member thinks she escapes her past in Gatlin, but the cult keeps chasing her and her teenage son. Ruth thinks cult members have found them and are just coincidentally murdering people who have wronged her, but it is eventually revealed Ruth is killing people in a fugue state. She begs her son to flee after realizing what she’s done, but he stabs her to death and becomes the next leader of the corn cult after a charming cult member gets into his head.
Why this ranking? Just like Amityville: The Awakening, I appreciate how serious this movie takes itself and that it has a somewhat interesting premise of a former cult member trying to escape her past. Ruth is a surprisingly likeable character who really is trying to do the right thing, making it pretty sad when the truth is revealed AND she is betrayed by her son, the one person she loved and wanted to protect from her dark past. With some better editing and less filler, this had more promise than some of the other films.
Corny Ranking: 🌽🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 The only thing saving this rating is the charming cult member creepily talking about hearing the corn grow if you listen carefully. Still a low amount of corn for a movie with corn in the title!
6. Children of the Corn: Revelation (2001) (#9 in the series)
IMDb Score: 3.4
What happens in it? When her grandmother stops returning her calls, an adult granddaughter goes to visit only to find her grandmother had a shocking corn cult past that continued to haunt her in Omaha. The grandmother moved to a decrepit apartment complex because it was the location where her sect of the corn cult burned themselves to death, but her return inadvertently caused the cult to resurrect as evil ghost children. The protagonist burns the ghosts (!?) to death once again, hopefully ending the curse.
Why this ranking? I’d like to remind you these rankings are based on entertainment value, and this shit was ridiculous. It was basically a so bad it’s good version of Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest with a blend of early 2000s supernatural scholock and slasher. I legit adored that this movie, instead of explaining its elements like a normal movie, just sprinkled in tropes and hoped that was enough to turn a profit. For example, there’s a creepy priest who literally never explains how he knows about the corn cult or what’s happening – he just keeps appearing to give Harbinger of Impending Doom advice. Also Hopscotch Girl alone makes this worth the ranking.
Corny Ranking: 🌽🌽🌽🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 Corn is featured HEAVILY through this movie, but at no point do the characters mention the importance of harvesting corn specifically. It does technically kill someone by drowning her (that is a real sentence).
5. Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)
IMDb Score: 4.3
What happens in it? A journalist named Garrett and his estranged teenage son travel to Nebraska to follow the news story of a town of murderous children. They bite off more than they can chew when the children, much to no one’s surprise, start murdering adults again. But Garrett, his son, and their love interests manage to destroy the corn cult with the power of heteronormativity.
Why this ranking? The last Children of the Corn to be released in theaters is a decent and very direct follow-up to the original film, literally beginning with the surviving Gatlin children getting bussed to the neighboring town of Hemingford to be put into foster care. We get a Goth for our new cult leader, some spectacularly bad CGI, and a mystical Native American figure who gets to crack some amazing one-liners.
We also get John “tells my teenage son yes you were a mistake” Garrett:
MOREOVER, we get the infamous “Wheelchair Scene”. This is definitely the “Garbage Day!” moment for this series:
Corny Ranking: 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 You would die if you tried to drink everytime you saw corn or heard corn in this film. Plus corn itself kills multiple people. The movie even alludes to corn causing the children to hallucinate and become murderous (though it also indicates there really is a supernatural evil force). If this movie was a Scooby Doo episode, when the mask was removed the villain would be revealed to be an ear of corn.
4. Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)
IMDb Score: 3.9
What happens in it? A group of college students end up stranded and hunted by the corn cult, including the main character’s estranged little brother who joined the cult at a young age. The main character eventually destroys this cult’s source of power (a green silo flame) before adopting her little brother’s baby after he dies.
Why this ranking? What can I say? I love slasher films, and the decanted angles and CW looks of the cast including a young Eva Mendes really made this an enjoyable departure from the repetitiveness of the other CotC films. If you want to watch a film and go “yep, that’s a late 90s Dimension Films slasher” watch this.
Plus, I will go on the record as stating there are some great shots as well as a fantastic final girl in Allison. Stacy Galina is like Mary Elizabeth Winstead in giving this role and movie way more acting chops than it deserves. This is the only film she had a main role in, and she actually retired from acting in 2011 due to struggling with a learning disability that she said made it difficult for her to memorize lines and keep up with the rest of the cast.
Corny Ranking: 🌽🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 The corn silo contains the source of evil, but these evil cult children are not nearly as interested in the harvesting side of their evil plot as they should be!
3. Children of the Corn (2009) (a remake of the original but #8 in the series in terms of release)
IMDb Score: 3.8
What happens in it? In this remake of the original, a married couple on the cusp of divorce make an unfortunate detour in Gatlin, Nebraska where an evil corn cult murders them in the name of He Who Walks Behind the Rows. This is a much more faithful adaptation of the grim short story.
Why this ranking? Vicky and Burt were utterly despicable, but I liked the dark places this remake went to. Even though I wasn’t wild about the casting for Isaac, Malachai and Ruth are so well-done and make you actually like them more than the protagonists. Plus look at this image:
Corny Ranking: 🌽🌽🌽🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 Lot of eating corn and stuffing corpses with corn, but corn only gets to slap someone in this movie so it doesn’t quite get a perfect score.
2. Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
IMDb Score: 4.2
What happens in it? Two brothers from the outskirts of Gatlin are adopted by a married couple in Chicago. The younger brother uses evil magic corn to indoctrinate the other children at school, eventually bringing a demonic dragon iteration of He Who Walks Behind the Rows to life. His older brother ends up killing him and saving the day, but not in time to stop the evil corn to be exported to Germany!
Why this ranking? This and Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice know exactly what they are and how ridiculous it is to stretch this concept, thus they are superior movies compared to the rest of the series. Plus I’m a sucker for the fact this is set in Chicago.
Corny Ranking: 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 Now THIS is a movie that lives up to the franchise name CHILDREN of the CORN. Eli is obsessed with growing magic corn, poisons people with magic corn, and even exports evil corn to Germany! That’s right, only a short time after living in the big city, the corn gets invested in the false dream of capitalism!
1. Children of the Corn (1984)
IMDb Score: 5.6
What happens in it? A couple accidently hits a child who runs into the road in rural Nebraska. They realize the child’s throat had been slit, and go the nearest town of Gatlin to report the murder. There, they realize the town is nearly deserted aside from the children, who have murdered all the adults and taken to worshipping a pagan god He Who Walks Behind the Rows. The couple enlists the help of two young siblings who betray the cult and work with them to destroy the god. The ending implies the couple will adopt the two children.
Why this ranking? I mean come on it kind of has to be number one. I do agree with the creator of the remake that it is heavily “Hollywoodized”, with a sugar sweet happy ending that is aggressively heteronormative, it is the superior film of the lot. John Franklin is perfect as the leader of the cult Isaac. Plus this is only film to show the original massacre.
Corny Ranking: 🌽🌽🌽🌽 out of 🌽🌽🌽🌽🌽 The reverence of corn is critical in this movie, but the children are doing the actual killing so one ear removed for lack of corn physically murdering people.
Adult Protagonist Who Is Most Excited to Kill Children: Burt from Children of the Corn (2009)
This man’s reaction to the children attacking him is to IMMEDIATELY start bragging about how good he was at fighting during his tour in Vietnam.
Best Evil Child Leader Besides Isaac: Eli from Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
Isaac is iconic, but Eli is definitely the next best evil child leader. He takes his evil corn suitcase to Chicago and converts nearly all the children he comes into contact with, and convinces his adoptive father to get into the corn exports business. No one has single-handedly done as much to spread the good word of He Who Walks Behind the Rows as Eli.
Another highlight is how he goes toe to toe with the school principal/head priest and whoops him in his own church.
And that’s it! For the next post, I will be trading children and cornfields for sharks and ocean water to do a ranking and summary of each Jaws movie.