Saint Patrick’s Day: ‘tis the time for Irish beer, McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes, and Leprechaun movie marathons. I got started a bit early on the last one.
Back in January, I decided that I would spend the final week of my winter break watching the entire Leprechaun series from start-to-finish. “Have fun with that,” my friend told me, albeit sarcastically. Thanks! “Why? It’s not even Saint Patrick’s Day yet,” inquired my father. Well, I conducted several highly scientific and extremely credible Twitter polls asking which slasher franchise I should watch next, and somehow, Leprechaun won. I simply cannot betray all five of my followers who voted, dad. Parents just don’t understand.
For those of you who don’t know, the Leprechaun franchise revolves around a wisecracking leprechaun (simply known as the Leprechaun, sometimes as Ludban) hellbent on killing anyone who steals his gold—along with everyone else he crosses paths with. As with most slasher villains created after the success of Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street, the Leprechaun is meant to be more comedic than menacing, imparting jokes and limericks on his unlucky victims before slaughtering them in numerous brutal ways. He’s no Freddy Krueger—hell, he’s not even Chucky—but he sure is something, I’ll give him that much. Warwick Davis, who plays the character in most of the movies, actually does a great job with the role, making even the worst entries in the series somewhat tolerable. The franchise began in the early 1990s and, in spite of a constant slough of negative feedback, has managed to churn out seven sequels of varying quality and success, amassing a significant cult following and turning the Leprechaun into a horror icon in his own right along the way.
If you’re looking for a slasher franchise as good as Scream, or at least as good as Halloween, I advise you to look elsewhere. The Leprechaun movies are not good, but for the most part, they aren’t exactly trying to be good either. They know they’re pure garbage, and they run with it, throwing in as many ridiculous ideas as they possibly can into each movie and just hoping for the best. I think that’s why this franchise has lasted as long as it has, whereas more popular and well-regarded franchises like Friday the 13th have remained dormant for years. These movies can be made with practically no budget, and they don’t have to be even remotely coherent or sensical. People will still watch them regardless because that is what has come to be expected from the Leprechaun franchise. Sometimes, you’re just in the mood to watch a really obnoxiously bad horror movie, and Leprechaun has that market cornered. It is also (to my knowledge, anyway) the only Saint Patrick’s Day horror movie—another win for the franchise.
I didn’t want to say I watched all these movies for nothing, so I decided I would review them in celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day, which also happens to be the Leprechaun’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Leprechaun! Now, without further ado, I present to you my definitive ranking of all eight Leprechaun movies:
8. Leprechaun: Origins (2014)
Let me start off by saying that Origins doesn’t deserve to be an official Leprechaun sequel—not just because it’s terrible (I mean, did we expect anything else from a WWE Studios production?) but also because it doesn’t even attempt to forge any semblance of a connection to the previous films. Origins is just a mess from start to finish. The plot is as follows: a group of backpacking co-eds exploring the Irish countryside find themselves, at the behest of some disgruntled locals, caught in a deadly tourist trap involving—you guessed it—a killer leprechaun. WWE wrestler Dylan “Hornswoggle” Postl plays the titular antagonist, who, in this film, looks more like the cave-dwelling creatures from The Descent than the Lucky-Charms-gone-bad caricature made famous by Warwick Davis. Between this drastic character overhaul and the overall darker, decidedly unfunny tone of the film (the only “jokes” are a homophobic insult and rehashed quote from the first film that wasn’t even very funny in the first place), it is evident that Origins desperately wants to be taken seriously… but, let’s face it, how can anyone take a movie about a killer leprechaun seriously? The original films thrive in how ridiculous and self-aware they are. Yes, a lot of the jokes fail to land, but that is part of the humor. Origins completely abandons this satirical, tongue-in-cheek quality, and it falls flat on its face in the process. There was no need to switch up the formula. I believe the saying is: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Best Kill: Leprechaun ripping out a man’s spine
7. Leprechaun in the Hood (2000)
I knew Leprechaun in the Hood could not be trusted the moment I found out it was written and directed by not one, not two, but three different white men. This movie is, to put it plainly, a complete and utter snoozefest. Every time I tried watching it, I fell asleep after fifteen minutes and had to—begrudgingly, might I add—resume it the next day. The uninteresting, bare-bones plot (three struggling rappers acquire a magic flute belonging to the Leprechaun and discover that it makes people think their awful music is actually decent) chugs along at a snail-like pace, and with its anticlimactic ending, there is practically no justification for making viewers sit through ninety minutes of nothing. To add insult to injury, Leprechaun in the Hood employs just about every offensive racial stereotype in the book and throws in some casual transphobia for good measure. Save for a surprisingly delightful opening sequence paying homage to the blaxploitation flicks of the 1970s, cameos from rappers Ice-T and Coolio, and an impromptu rap performance from the dastardly, weed-smoking Leprechaun himself, there is nothing about this movie that could be considered noteworthy or memorable—at least not in a positive light. Leprechaun in the Hood fluctuates between being boring and just straight-up bad. It sits above Origins solely because it is somewhat more competently made.
Best Kill: Electrocution by microphone stand
6. Leprechaun 2 (1994)
Leprechaun 2 is an admirable yet unsuccessful attempt at creating some sort of lore for the series. There is a clear vision here, and I respect it. It is just severely mishandled. The opening sequence is set exactly one millennium ago in the village of Killarney, Ireland, where everyone’s favorite murderous leprechaun is celebrating his one-thousandth birthday. Wait, didn’t he say he was six-hundred years old in the first movie? Anyway, this is a very special birthday for the Leprechaun because he is finally old enough to claim his bride, and he has had his beady green eyes set on one young woman in particular for quite some time. When his plans to seduce her (with magic, of course) are thwarted by her father, he curses her bloodline, vowing to return in another thousand years to marry her descendant. Flash forward to the present, and sure enough, the Leprechaun is back to take what is his. From this point on, the movie is carried by Warwick Davis alone with occasional assistance from some credible character actors like Kimmy Robertson (Twin Peaks) and Michael McDonald (MADtv). The protagonists are bland and virtually unlikeable, and the plot itself is just a mess. Certain elements, like the kills, work moderately well but fail in the context of the film as a whole. Shot in December 1993 and released in April 1994, Leprechaun 2 was extremely rushed, and it shows. It was trying to do more than was realistic given the time and budget constraints, and the finished product feels clumsy and disorganized as a result. It was such a critical and commercial failure that it would be the only sequel to receive a theatrical release until Origins.
Best Kill: A pot of gold growing out of a man’s stomach
5. Leprechaun (1993)
This is the movie Jennifer Aniston doesn’t want you to see. Literally. In 1993, a then-unknown Aniston made her motion picture debut in Leprechaun, acting alongside Warwick Davis (who back then was known as the guy from George Lucas’s Willow). She has made it abundantly clear over the years that she is embarrassed by this film and would rather pretend it never happened. What I have to say to that is: really?! Sure, she didn’t give a career-defining, Oscar-worthy performance—she was giving more B-movie starlet with no other acting credits to her name on IMDb—and the premise of a killer leprechaun hunting some kids is… a lot to take in… but for what it is, the original Leprechaun is a fairly serviceable post-Nightmare on Elm Street, pre-Scream slasher. It’s definitely nothing to be embarrassed by. Aniston plays Tory, a bratty Beverly Hills teenager who is forced to spend a summer on her father’s dilapidated farmhouse in North Dakota. Little does she know, there is a vengeful, bloodthirsty leprechaun hiding in the basement, and she just inadvertently became his latest target. This is one of the more restrained entries in the series, and for the most part, this minimalism works in its favor. The body count is low (only four kills), but the chase scenes are decently enjoyable; the stock characters probably should annoy me, but I actually find them strangely charming; and the Leprechaun is not quite as personable as some of his fellow slasher villains are, but he still manages to deliver a few solid one-liners here and there. Although it plays it safe, there is never a dull moment… but there is also never a moment that truly impresses me. As far as both slashers and Leprechaun movies go, this one is pretty average—for better or for worse.
Best Kill: Leprechaun stomping repeatedly on a man’s chest with a pogo stick
4. Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997)
Houston, we have a problem. There’s a lightsaber-wielding leprechaun aboard this spacecraft! He just exploded out of a man’s penis! Oh no, we accidentally struck him with our highly experimental magnification ray! Go get the captain for help—wait, he transformed into a giant humanoid tarantula? What are we going to do now?! Oh, what I would give to be a fly on the wall when the plot for Leprechaun 4: In Space was proposed. It really is just as absurd as it sounds, and it is absolutely glorious. The 1990s and early 2000s saw an influx of low-budget horror sequels set in outer space (Jason X, Hellraiser: Bloodline, Critters 4, etc.), and after raising hell on a remote farm in North Dakota (Leprechaun), painting the streets of Los Angeles red with blood (Leprechaun 2), and winning big in Las Vegas (Leprechaun 3), it only made sense that the Leprechaun would find himself joining this ever-growing list of villains who so valiantly ventured into the great beyond. This movie shouldn’t work, and quite frankly, had it been helmed by anyone other than prolific B-movie director Brian Trenchard-Smith (a favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s), it probably wouldn’t have worked. He has such an idiosyncratic voice as a filmmaker, and it meshes very well with this particular franchise. There is a reason Trenchard-Smith remains, to this day, the only director asked to return for more than one sequel (he also directed Leprechaun 3). He just kind of gets it. Leprechaun 4: In Space doesn’t try to work around its low budget, nor does it try to overcompensate. Instead, it embraces it, using the cheap special effects as a gag and taking on a farcical tone akin to a parody. It is an exercise in high camp absurdity.
Best Kill: Leprechaun exploding out of a man’s penis
3. Leprechaun 3 (1995)
Las Vegas, the infamous “city of sin,” is the most perfect setting for a Leprechaun movie. It only took three tries for someone to finally realize this and capitalize on the idea. Leprechaun 3’s protagonist is a young man fresh out of high school who, on his way to college in California, decides to make a quick pit stop in Las Vegas to see what all the fuss is about. What was meant to be just a brief passing-by devolves into a night of reckless gambling. In traditional Vegas fashion, he suffers an unfortunate string of losses and goes completely broke; however, when he finds one of the Leprechaun’s gold coins in a pawn shop, he is suddenly earning all his money back (and then some) at the casino. The Leprechaun, of course, is not so thrilled about this. As the coin gets passed from one person to the next, the body count continues to rise, each kill more extravagant and over-the-top than the one that preceded it. By the end of the film, there are seven kills—a mere coincidence, or a deliberate reference to the seven deadly sins? Either way, Leprechaun 3 is one superbly campy film. The cast is filled with a number of larger-than-life personalities—such as the vain Loretta (Caroline Williams) and the overly prideful Fazio (John DeMita)—whose wackiness rivals that of the Leprechaun himself. In the final act, the main character transforms into a leprechaun after being bitten by the Leprechaun, and this makes for some amusing interactions between the two during their epic duel. Just like Leprechaun 4: In Space, the plot is absurd in all the right ways. They rolled the dice on this one and ultimately hit the jackpot, because this is easily one of the best entries in the series.
Best Kill: Death by botched plastic surgery
2. Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood (2003)
Hear me out: Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood is a poignant socio-economic commentary on capitalist greed and the unequal distribution of wealth, the franchise viewed through a Marxist lens. Let me explain. In Back 2 tha Hood, a young woman working laboriously to save up for college miraculously stumbles upon a pot of gold in the ruins of an abandoned youth center. She splits the treasure with her friends, all of whom spend it to better their lives—whether that means investing in a nice new car after making do with a broken one for a while or heading to Rodeo Drive for a shopping spree. It doesn’t take long for the Leprechaun to start murdering them one-by-one for laying their hands on his riches. Essentially, the protagonists are punished for daring to infiltrate the upper echelon of society after spending years relegated to the bottom of the totem pole due to discrimination and segregation. Okay, maybe I’m reaching a little bit with this analysis. However, I can confidently say that Back 2 tha Hood has the most engaging plot of all the Leprechaun films, and for the first time, I found myself rooting for the protagonists—not for the Leprechaun. Back 2 tha Hood adheres more closely to the tried-and-true slasher formula than any of the previous films did, and it also boasts the highest body count of the entire series. Despite being released in 2003, the tone is evocative of 90s slashers like Urban Legend and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and it’s a refreshing new direction for the franchise. Based on the cringeworthy subtitle, I was expecting this to be another terrible sequel a la Leprechaun in the Hood, but it actually turned out to be a very entertaining, occasionally humorous, and surprisingly gruesome movie.
Best Kill: Leprechaun ripping out a woman’s mandible
1. Leprechaun Returns (2018)
Leprechaun Returns is, in essence, the Halloween (2018) of the Leprechaun series, functioning as a direct sequel to the first film and negating all the nonsensical, canonically inconsistent sequels that initially followed. Don’t fret: this is not another WWE Studios production, but rather a Syfy production. We’re in safe hands. In Leprechaun Returns, Lila, the daughter of Jennifer Aniston’s character from the original Leprechaun, finds herself in a dilapidated North Dakota farmhouse—yes, the same one where the events of the first film unfolded twenty-five years earlier—after joining a sorority currently in the process of transforming the property into an environmentally sustainable farmstead. You can guess what happens next: the sorority girls unwittingly awaken the Leprechaun during the renovation. All hell breaks loose, and Lila’s familial connection to Tory from the first film makes this massacre more personal. This is about as perfect as a Leprechaun movie can possibly be. It is honestly hilarious; there are some moments that genuinely made me laugh out loud, which none of the other sequels succeeded in doing. Each character has a distinct personality of their own and an individual role to play in the progression of the narrative; there are no filler characters present for the sole purpose of adding to the body count as there were in, well, basically every other Leprechaun movie. The kills are bloodier and more creative than ever; I can hardly pick a favorite one because they all were that good. Warwick Davis sadly elected not to reprise his role this time around, but his stand-in, Linden Porco, is a phenomenal replacement, breathing new life into the character. Everything about Leprechaun Returns feels fun and fresh—major Blumhouse vibes all around (this is a compliment of the highest order). Pardon the pun, but they really struck gold with this one.
Best Kill: Solar panel falling and slicing a man in half vertically
If you’re looking for a movie to watch this Saint Patrick’s Day, I would highly recommend making a double feature out of Leprechaun and Leprechaun Returns. And watch them while drinking some Irish beer. Or a Shamrock Shake. You’ll have a good, festive time.