Which season of American Horror Story comes out on top?
Ryan Murphy’s anthology horror series has received massive amounts of critical acclaim since its premiere, with particular praise for the performances of its lead stars – especially Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters and Angela Bassett.
The series has just aired its most critically-acclaimed instalment to date, 1984, and has been confirmed to return for a 10th outing, which has sadly been delayed until next year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. While we wait, we ranked all nine seasons from worst to best.
Oh and please remember, this is just a television show. Don’t get too worked up.
9. Cult (season 7)
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Alison Pill, Billie Lourd, Billy Eichner, Emma Roberts, Adina Porter, Leslie Grossman, Colton Haynes, Chaz Bono, Lena Dunham
Best known as the season where Sarah Paulson’s character cried every five fucking minutes, American Horror Story’s seventh instalment explored the aftermath of Donald Trump’s presidential election and the rise of a cult headed by Kai Anderson, a deranged, blue-haired lunatic portrayed by Peters. It’s one of the creepiest seasons so far, and it’s probably because it’s the most realistic. There aren’t any aliens, vampires, witches or Edward Mordrake’s, there’s just clowns and Donald Trump – which is way worse.
8. Hotel (season 5)
Cast: Lady Gaga, Kathy Bates, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloe Sevigny, Denis O’Hare, Cheyenne Jackson, Angela Bassett, Mare Winningham, Finn Wittrock
Lady Gaga’s American Horror Story debut earned the pop kween a Golden Globe in 2016 for her role as The Countess, a bloodsucking fashionista who resides in the penthouse of the Hotel Cortez. Despite receiving acclaim for her performance, the season suffered without OG badass Jessica Lange, who departed the series after the fourth season. Some of the storylines had promise, such as the mystery behind the Ten Commandments killer and the strap-on-wielding Addiction Demon, but most of it went nowhere. However, Paulson and O’Hare delivered two of their best performances so far as dead prostitute Sally McKenna and eccentric transgender bartender Liz Taylor.
7. Freakshow (season 4)
Cast: Jessica Lange, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Michael Chiklis, Frances Conroy, Denis O’Hare, Emma Roberts, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Wes Bentley
Set in 1952 Jupiter, Florida, the show’s fourth season explored one of the United States’ last remaining freak shows, headed by Nazi Germany survivor Elsa Mars (Lange), who has her sights set on Golden Age Hollywood. The season started off strong, with the introduction of one of the series’ most iconic villains: the serial killer clown Twisty, but faltered with his death and emphasis on Wittrock’s spoiled, psychopathic character Dandy Mott. Fun fact: Freakshow received 20 Emmy nominations, the most for any season of American Horror Story.
6. Coven (season 3)
Cast: Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe, Emma Roberts, Taissa Farmiga, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Denis O’Hare, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Gabourney Sidibe, Patti LuPone, Stevie Nicks
American Horror Story’s third season dialled down the horror and amped up the camp with iconic characters such as Fiona Goode (Lange) and Madison Montgomery (Roberts), providing us with some of the show’s most gif-worthy and viral scenes. The spellbinding season – which stands as one of its most critically-acclaimed so far – followed a Coven of Salem witches in New Orleans as they learn how to use their abilities against demonic threats. Unfortunately, it loses its way halfway through – but who cares when the characters are this gag-worthy? Lange’s performance as Fiona is possibly her finest character ever, Conroy shines as Myrtle Snow – the eccentric head of the Witches’ Council – and Bassett left us slain with her portrayal of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau.
5. Roanoke (season 6)
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lily Rabe, André Holland, Lady Gaga, Denis O’Hare, Wes Bentley, Evan Peters, Cheyenne Jackson, Adina Porter, Leslie Jordan, Frances Conroy
After the mixed reviews of Hotel, there was a lot of pressure for American Horror Story to deliver with its sixth season. Roanoke revisited the slower, subdued pace of the show’s earlier seasons and in turn, became its most shocking and terrifying to date. Presented as a paranormal documentary series titled My Roanoke Nightmare, the season told the story of a married couple who experience spooky disturbances in their North Californian home. It’s quite easy to follow for its first half, but then goes completely apeshit for its final six episodes. All of the performances are sensational, especially Porter’s portrayal of Lee Harris and Paulson’s hilarious British actress, Audrey Tindall.
4. Apocalypse (season 8)
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates, Evan Peters, Adina Porter, Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, Cody Fern, Emma Roberts, Cheyenne Jackson, Jessica Lange, Billy Eichner, Frances Conroy, Taissa Farmiga, Gabourey Sidibe, Billy Porter, Angela Bassett, Lily Rave, Naomi Grossman
The eighth instalment of American Horror Story was fan service executed perfectly. The crossover between Murder House and Coven (and later Hotel), didn’t disappoint, bringing together some of the most iconic characters in the show’s history: Madison Montgomery, Cordelia Foxx, Myrtle Snow, Queenie and Marie Laveau. Jessica Lange made her American Horror Story comeback as her first, Emmy Award-winning character Constance Langdon, while Sarah Paulson starred as her most sinister character ever: Ms Venable. Our only critique is that the season spent far too much time in the past – but how can we complain when it wrapped up so perfectly?
3. 1984 (Season 9)
Cast: Emma Roberts, Leslie Grossman, Billie Lourd, Angelica Ross, Gus Kenworthy, Matthew Morrison, Cody Fern, Zach Villa, John Carroll Lynch, Orla Brady, Lou Taylor Pucci, Lily Rabe
Unpopular opinion alert: 1984 was absolutely brilliant. Set in 1980s and inspired by slasher classics such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sleepaway Camp, the season followed five camp counsellors who become hunted one-by-one by two separate serial killers: The Night Stalker and Mr Jingles. Although it was the first season not to feature series mainstays such as Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters, it was a thrilling ride from start to finish and most importantly, it was fun. Lourd and Grossman stole the show, proving their status as the new supreme queens of the franchise, while Ross – fresh off her stint as Candy on Pose – delivered another captivating performance. Oh and Caroll Lynch? It’s time for an Emmy. If Murphy is smart, he’ll keep these four around.
2. Murder House (season 1)
Cast: Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Evan Peters, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Kate Mara, Zachary Quinto, Jessica Lange, Eric Stonestreet, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe
The first season of American Horror Story followed the Harmon family, who relocate from Boston to LA and move into a restored mansion which is – surprise! – haunted by malevolent spirits. It was spooky, sexy and terrifying, and unlike anything on television at the time. Lange experienced a resurgence in her popularity and earned heaps of critical acclaim for her role as Constance Langdon, and was ultimately awarded a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy.
1. Asylum (season 2)
Cast: Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Lily Rabe, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Evan Peters, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Chloe Sevigny, Ian McShane, Naomi Grossman, Frances Conroy
This isn’t an unpopular opinion is it? American Horror Story’s sophomore season is often regarded as its best among fans and critics. Its crowning achievement. Its magnum opus, etc etc etc. Why? It’s terrifying, unsettling and – this part is important – cohesive. The anthology series is often guilty for dipping in quality as each season progresses, but Asylum is – thankfully! – on top form for all thirteen episodes and concludes perfectly. Oh, and the season provided us with the most iconic scene – and one of the best musical numbers on television – in history: The Name Game.