Since its 2011 premiere, American Horror Story has become one of the most championed horror dramas of all time. Each year, eagled-eyes viewers wait with bated breath to discover which lauded stars will return for another slice of terror and gore, as well as the classic horror trope that will be explored and picked apart next. The anthology series has also received rave reviews from critics due to its unapologetically queer themes, twisted (we repeat, twisted) storylines and performances of the main cast – particularly Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett and, of course, Jessica Lange. As we await the premiere of the show’s star-studded 10th season, sub-titled Double Feature, we’ve ranked all nine instalments of American Horror Story so far from worst to best. As is the case with most rankings, we’re expecting a bit of backlash – especially for the placements of two particular seasons – but remember to, you know, keep it cute.
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
American Horror Story’s seventh season 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 the brilliant Evan Peters. While the premise had promise, it fell a bit flat, sadly. Sarah Paulson’s leading ‘hero’, Ally Mayfair-Richards, was nails on a chalkboard-levels of irritating and the season didn’t fully commit to representing the conflict between the United States’ two major political parties. Despite this, Cult was undeniably one of the creepiest seasons in the show’s history, and it’s 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 icon 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, and deservedly so, the season suffered without OG badass Jessica Lange, who departed the series as a regular after the fourth season. Some of the storylines had potential, such as the mystery behind the Ten Commandments killer and the strap-on-wielding Addiction Demon, but most of it went absolutely nowhere. However, Sarah Paulson and Denis O’Hare delivered two of their best performances so far as dead prostitute Sally McKenna and eccentric transgender bartender Liz Taylor. If they popped up in another season, we wouldn’t be mad.
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 delved into one of the United States’ last remaining freak shows, headed by Nazi Germany survivor Elsa Mars (Jessica Lange), whose eyes are set on Golden Age Hollywood. The season started off really strong, with the introduction of one of the series’ most iconic villains, serial killer clown Twisty, but faltered with his undeserving death and emphasis on Finn Wittrock’s spoiled, psychopathic character Dandy Mott. Fun fact: Freakshow received 20 Primetime Emmy Award nominations, the most for any season of American Horror Story. Yeah… confusing.
6. 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
Apocalypse was fan service executed perfectly. The crossover between Murder House and Coven (and later Hotel), didn’t disappoint, bringing together some of the show’s most iconic characters ever: Madison Montgomery, Cordelia Foxx, Myrtle Snow, Queenie and Marie Laveau. Jessica Lange made a triumphant American Horror Story comeback as her first Emmy Award-winning character Constance Langdon, while Sarah Paulson served versatility as her most sinister character: Ms Venable. However, too much time was spent in the past and there wasn’t much of an… apocalypse. Like, it’s in the title! If we had a few more episodes with the characters exploring the nuclear wasteland and the potential horrors that would emerge because of it, this season would rank much higher.
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 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. The performances are perfection, especially Adina Porter’s bonkers portrayal of Lee Harris and Sarah Paulson’s hilarious British actress, Audrey Tindall. Roanoke is often overlooked by fans, but honestly, it feels like the last season of the show that tried to scare the shit out of viewers. Remember, it’s American Horror Story.
4. 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 (Jessica Lange) and Madison Montgomery (Emma 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 legendary? Lange’s performance as Fiona is possibly her finest character work ever, Frances Conroy shines as Myrtle Snow – the eccentric head of the Witches’ Council – and Angela Bassett left us slain with her portrayal of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. The fact that each star didn’t receive an Emmy is an abomination.
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
Set in 1980s and inspired by slasher classics such as Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sleepaway Camp, 1984 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! Billie Lourd and Leslie Grossman stole the show, proving their status as the new supreme queens of the franchise, while Angelica Ross – fresh off her stint as Candy on Pose – delivered another captivating performance, making history in the process as the first trans actress to secure two regular television roles. Let’s not forget John Carroll Lynch, one of the most reliable villain actors in the industry. If Ryan 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. Jessica Lange experienced a huge 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. Although we still stan American Horror Story, it feels like it’s transformed wildly since its inaugural instalment, and we’re hoping Double Feature takes inspiration from Murder House with a back-to-basics approach.
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. 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. The season also provided us with the most iconic scene – and one of the best musical numbers on television – in history: The Name Game.