American Horror Story has one of the most passionate fanbases of any TV show, and that level of fandom comes with many strong opinions.
Arguably the biggest debate among viewers is about which season is the best and, of course, which is the worst. Some love the campy thrills of Coven and Apocalypse, while others prefer the pure horror of Asylum and Roanoke. We’re sure some people out there like Cult, too.
With the Ryan Murphy-led show’s return on the horizon (you can find out everything we know about Season 10 right here) we’re revisiting every season of American Horror Story and ranking them from worst to best.
Remember, this is just our opinion, so feel free to disagree. But you’ll be wrong.
While American Horror Story has always had one foot in the real world and the other in the supernatural world, Cult took the plunge straight into real-life horror, focusing on the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States.
Most fans felt uneasy about the premise of Cult from the star, and the final product didn’t do much to change their minds. Ultimately, it got too weighed down in politics, and trying to show both sides of the divide meant the season came across messy and unsure of itself. The lack of real scares didn’t help.
It also featured one of the very few AHS scenes that truly was unwatchable; an almost ritualistic murder of cult member RJ, with each fellow cultist firing a nail into his head to see how long it takes him to die. We all expect to be grossed out watching American Horror Story, but this one felt unnecessary.
Hotel had one of American Horror Story’s best premises, some absolutely stunning design choices, and the exciting prospect of seeing pop superstar Lady Gaga step into her first major TV role alongside fan-favorite actors like Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson.
But all those things couldn’t save Hotel. Gaga did a fine job as The Countess. She even won a Golden Globe for her role, but the loss of Jessica Lange, arguably the glue that held the first four seasons together, was felt strongly in this season. The plot was weak, and the whole thing ultimately felt like style over substance.
Like Cult, Hotel also featured a borderline-unwatchable scene courtesy of the Addiction Demon, which crossed a line for many viewers. The season’s saving grace was Denis O’Hare’s performance as Liz Taylor, which is widely regarded by fans as one of the greatest characters in the show’s history.
7. Freak Show
Freak Show was Jessica Lange’s American Horror Story swan song, and as a result, it holds a special place in the hearts of many fans. The acting legend played Elsa Mars, a German expatriate who manages a dying freak show, and it’s one of her finest roles (we’re not going to talk about her German accent, though).
Sarah Paulson portraying conjoined twins Bette and Dot was an example of something only American Horror Story could come up with, and Twisty the Clown – clearly inspired by Pennywise from IT – remains one of the franchise’s most terrifying and visually striking characters.
Unfortunately, the season’s primary villain Dandy Mott didn’t really go anywhere interesting, and the overall storytelling was lackluster. Even musical numbers from Lange’s Elsa Mars, which sounds great in theory, just didn’t work. For many viewers, this was where their interest in the show began to wane.
After multiple seasons of wild, totally-out-there themes like the meta twists of Roanoke and the end-of-the-world terrors of Apocalypse, Ryan Murphy took things back to basics with 1984, a cabin-in-the-woods style slasher inspired by major horror franchises likes Halloween and Friday the 13th.
John Carroll Lynch did a wonderful job as Mr Jingles, the notorious ear-severing serial killer with a heartbreaking origin story, while newcomer Angelica Ross stole the show as a Camp Redwood nurse who was secretly a serial killer investigator. It was a great blend of old AHS favorites and newcomers.
Unlike pretty much every other season of the show, 1984 came and went without any truly major twists. There were plenty of theories floating around, like the characters existing in a video game or filming a horror movie, but the reality was just a plain old slasher with ghosts – and that’s nothing new for Amrican Horror Story.
In some ways, this felt like a breath of fresh air for the franchise, but when fans have such high expectations of the show – especially on the tail end of Apocalypse – it did feel a bit underwhelming.
Apocalypse was without a doubt the show’s most ambitious season ever, and it actually managed to live up to the high expectations. Essentially, it was an expert lesson in fan-service, bringing back the most-loved characters from Coven and Murder House including the witches and Jessica Lange’s Constance Langdon.
After eight years, it also made a wild fan theory come true: that Tate and Vivian’s human-ghost-hybrid son Michael would go on to become the antichrist. Again, it just worked. Murphy likes to listen to the fans of his shows (we saw that with Glee), and he showed with Apocalypse that it’s not always a bad thing to do.
Other highlights included a brilliant appearance from Dame Joan Collins as the glamorous Evie Gallant, Connie Britton finally returning to the show as Vivian Harmon, and an ending that made nearly every fan happy – which isn’t a common occurrence in the world of American Horror Story.
If you’re team Coven, it’s likely that you won’t settle for anything less than the top spot on this list. The season went in a different direction from Murder House and Asylum, distancing itself from pure horror and turning up the camp factor. It worked for some fans, but others weren’t so thrilled.
Let’s focus on the good, though: both Jessica Lange and Sarah Paulson gave standout performances as warring mother-daughter duo Cordelia and Fiona Goode, and the female-first supporting cast was just as fierce. Angela Basset is epic as voodoo queen Marie Laveau, and Emma Roberts delivers iconic line after iconic line. There truly isn’t a weak link here.
In fairness, the middle of the season is patchy at best, but the insanely watchable cast does more than enough to carry it along; honestly, we’d watch this coven of witches do anything.
The ending is also a franchise highlight, as the coven prepares to take part in the seven wonders trial to find out who will be the next Supreme while actual Stevie Nicks makes a cameo to perform her song Seven Wonders. Talk about iconic.
3. Murder House
The OG season of American Horror Story is still considered by many fans to be the best, and it’s easy to see why. Before Ryan Murphy’s wonderful imagination took us to witches’ covens and the literal end of the world, the first season took one of the most basic horror tropes, a haunted house, and spun it into gold.
That doesn’t mean it was short of creativity, though. In fact, it’s one of the most memorable debut seasons of a show in recent memory. To this day, fans still crave updates on Tate and Violet’s relationship, while Rubber Man has been a recurring piece of symbolism throughout the franchise.
It does an excellent job of blending real and supernatural scares, exploring what happens when ghosts of the past come back to haunt you – both figuratively and literally – as it flashes through the family drama, affairs and murder that have taken place in the house through the decades.
Oh, and that twist revealing Violet is actually dead? One of the show’s best moments, by far.
If you’re looking for pure horror, Asylum is the way forward. It’s slightly more ambitious than it’s premiere season, but remains grounded enough to have a concise and satisfying narrative arc. Watching Jessica Lange and a possessed Lily Rabe compete for the title of ‘world’s scariest nun’ is a riot.
It also introduced viewers to Lana Winters, a character who would go on to become the heart of American Horror Story. She faced kidnap and assault, went through horrifying gay ‘cure’ therapy, and had to kill her own son – and came out on the other side a total badass. There’s a reason fans love her so much, and why she keeps on coming back for more.
The only (very slight) criticism we have for Asylum is its alien subplot, which came and went with no explanation and no real impact on the American Horror Story franchise. To this day, fans are still waiting for the concept to be developed further. Hopefully, they’ll return in a future season.
The majority of American Horror Story viewers would agree that the signature season of the show is either Asylum or Murder House, but we truly think Roanoke was the best so far. Hear us out, okay?
For fans of meta-horror like Scream and Cabin in the Woods, Roanoke was a dream come true. It took the genre and ramped the dial up to 100, presenting itself as a mockumentary called My Roanoke Nightmare and then flipping the script to become a Big Brother-style reality show halfway through, an ingenious move which kept viewers gripped.
The season also featured arguably the best cast so far, with longtime favorites like Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett portraying multiple characters, and standout appearances from Leslie Jordan and an unrecognizable Lady Gaga – a celebrity cameo that really worked.
It offered genuinely terrifying scares (the cannibal Polk family still haunts us) and great pacing that didn’t get bogged down trying to tie various seasons together with far-fetched crossovers – save for a brilliant and unexpected appearance from Lana Winters, Sarah Paulson’s beloved character from Asylum, in the final episode.
If you don’t agree with us, give Roanoke a rewatch. We’re sure you’ll change your mind.