The Saw series is one that largely revolves around people playing a series of grisly games where, to win, actions both physically and psychologically damaging must be performed. Similarly, every time someone watches a Saw movie (and there are now, remarkably, 10 of them), they enter into a game with the film, in a way. That game is to survive the entire movie without feeling sick or looking away from the screen, and given how intensely gruesome some of these movies often get, that’s easier said than done.
What follows is a cautious appreciation of Saw at its most visceral, with all movies in the series ranked below not by quality, but by how violent they get. It’s difficult to do, because barring the first movie (which implies much of its violence), all the Saw movies are pretty uncompromising in showing disgusting and violent things. Ultimately, this is one series that should be avoided by those who are squeamish, with the ranking below starting with the intense and ending with the most full-on.
10 ‘Saw’ (2004)
Mind over matter
Kicking things off both for the franchise as a whole and for this ranking is the original Saw, released way back in 2004. This is one horror movie that definitely earns its R-rating, but it is less blood-drenched and shocking when it comes to what’s shown on-screen than all nine of its follow-ups. The Jigsaw Killer is at large during the events of this film, and some of his infamous traps are shown, though usually just in glimpses, or with a focus on the aftermath of such violent tests.
By no means is Saw easy to watch, as its approach ultimately manages to keep the tension high, and things could prove psychologically confronting for viewers imagining what they’d do in certain situations. But if the series had continued this emphasis on implying violence rather than reveling in it, the Saw movies might well have a different reputation today. The sequels, of course, doubled down (and then some) on the violence and the act of showing it in vivid detail, eventually giving the series its bloodthirsty and controversial reputation.
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9 ‘Spiral: From the Book of Saw’ (2021)
More police procedural than splatter movie
Once you get past 2004’s Saw, differentiating the levels of violence throughout the series’ installments becomes very difficult. It’s plain to see that all are extremely violent, though it’s debatable that some get more extreme than others. Spiral: From the Book of Saw is perhaps the series’ biggest outlier, being the only film of the 10 to not feature Tobin Bell as John Kramer/The Jigsaw Killer (outside a photo of him being seen), and it centers on its police characters more than its victims, feeling like a horror film plus a crime/drama/mystery movie.
Many Saw films do play out like police procedurals (including the first film), but most either treat such scenes as a subplot, or at best split things 50-50 between the police investigating things, and people escaping traps. Spiral sees a killer inspired by Jigsaw targeting corrupt police officers, with several of these torturous traps shown throughout, albeit usually briefly. Some of them are very gruesome, but Spiral’s decision to de-emphasize the traps means it’s not as aggressive or relentless in its depictions of violence as other Saw movies.
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8 ‘Saw X’ (2023)
Some milder traps, some nauseating ones
Saw X can feel like a return to form for the series after some of its predecessors proved divisive. It similarly returns to the series’ past, being a prequel that takes place between the first and second movies. Things largely take place in Mexico, with John Kramer going to desperate lengths to have an experimental procedure that will apparently cure his cancer. Yet things get personal when he realizes it’s all a scam, and he decides to put those who wronged him through a series of his signature tests.
At its most violent, Saw X is properly nauseating, though its initial “trap” is only there so that the first act can have such a sequence, and it ends up having its impact mitigated by being a dream. But once it turns into a true Saw film, the initial traps are horrific (especially one involving bone marrow, and another revolving around a brain). But its latter traps are a little lacking, and the film’s most villainous character doesn’t seem to get punished nearly as badly as the others. Some sequences are honestly on the milder side here, but at least a couple do still show that the Saw series isn’t entirely afraid to be confronting anymore.
- Release Date
- October 7, 2023
- Kevin Greutert
- Shawnee Smith, Michael Beach, Synnøve Macody Lund, Tobin Bell
- 118 minutes
- Main Genre
7 ‘Saw 3D’ (2010)
A barrage of pink blood
By the time the seventh Saw movie came out, Saw 3D (sometimes called Saw: The Final Chapter), Jigsaw had been dead for more movies than he’d been alive. But when his legacy lives on through apprentices and copycats, and flashbacks are plentiful, can such an infamous horror movie character ever really be dead? Still, this entry – largely revolving around one of Jigsaw’s apprentices seeking revenge on Jigsaw’s ex-wife, and a fraudulent man being tested – did suggest things were really getting stretched too far.
But if it’s not great as a movie, then how does Saw 3D rank as a gratuitously violent horror movie? It has near-constant bloodshed and easily the highest body count of any Saw movie, but given it was shot in 3D, the blood takes on a different color to what viewers might be used to. When watched in 3D, it’s darkened to a normal red color, but when viewed without the 3D effects, the blood looks oddly pink. This certainly lowers the impact of many violent scenes, affecting Saw 3D’s overall ranking here.
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6 ‘Jigsaw’ (2017)
Delivers the gory goods
While it can’t count itself as one of 2017’s very best sequels, Jigsaw – the eighth movie in the Saw series, and notably released seven years after the seventh – still has aspects to admire. It’s shot in a way that feels a little more slick and cinematic than many movies that preceded it, and this gives it something of a new flavor. But when it comes to the story, following survivors trying to escape traps while police on the outside investigate, it’s pretty familiar stuff for fans of the series.
Also familiar is the level of violence here, with Jigsaw not being one of the series’ most graphic, but also not slacking off in the blood and gore department by any means. Bodies are damaged and sometimes outright destroyed in squirm-inducing ways, and more so than some other Saw movies, Jigsaw’s really not shy about lingering on the aftermath of certain deaths. There’s unlikely to be anything here that will scar viewers who’ve survived the first seven movies, but it’s still more violent than the majority of films in general out there.
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5 ‘Saw V’ (2008)
The fifth movie and the fifth grisliest
With 10 movies in the Saw series so far, Saw V manages to pretty much sit in the middle of the series in chronological release, and when judging them for their violent content. Like the second movie and the eighth one, Saw V focuses on a group of people forced to survive a series of traps, and on the non-trap side of things, it feels more like a thriller than ever, with an almost Heat-style game of cat-and-mouse between two detectives… one of whom is trying to hide the fact he’s an apprentice of Jigsaw’s.
Things kick off with a death involving a blade and a pendulum, and it sets the mood well. The traps are generally what you’d expect, by Saw’s standards, but then the final test – which involves a quite literal blood sacrifice – is quite nauseating to watch. As for the final scene of the entire movie? In terms of saving the best (or most extreme) for last, it certainly crushes it in that department.
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4 ‘Saw II’ (2005)
Steps up the bloodiness from the first
Saw II is generally well-liked among fans of the series, and more often than not, it’s considered a worthy sequel that holds up to the first. What it is sometimes notorious for being, however, is more violent than the first. What was largely implied or suggested in 2004 became shown more graphically in 2005. As such, even if it’s not the most violent of all 10 films, it’s perhaps the one that’s most likely to surprise newcomers to the series regarding violence, because it truly does push well beyond what had been seen in the first movie.
The main game in the first movie had two people (some other isolated traps were glimpsed throughout), but in Saw II, eight people are trapped in a house and forced into a series of grisly survival-related tasks. These are shown in considerably more detail than similar things were in the first, and even if this makes the film feel a bit cruder, it does succeed in conveying the pain viscerally. Saw II is also notorious for having the pit of needles trap, which is easily one of the hardest-to-watch scenes in the whole series.
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3 ‘Saw VI’ (2009)
Starts at 11 and never lets up
The thing about Saw VI is that it begins with one of the most extreme, over-the-top, and gnarly scenes in the entire series. Two people compete to survive a test that involves placing a heavier mass on a scale than the other person, and given this is Saw, you can quite easily guess where that “mass” comes from. Those who aren’t fans of the series will be turned off right away, but those who’ve made it this far will be pleasantly surprised by this sixth film overall, because it’s one of the series’ better entries.
The quality of Saw VI and the quantity of hard-to-watch violence happen to line up in this instance, and beyond the opening scene, other memorable moments of carnage include the shotgun carousel, one scene involving acid, and an on-screen depiction of what the infamous reverse bear trap is (partly) capable of. It’s persistent with its violence, and much of it is also incredibly graphic, which could be what makes it a fan-favorite sequel in the eyes of numerous Saw aficionados.
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2 ‘Saw III’ (2006)
Might be the most wince-inducing
Saw III saw the series take another step up in the gore department from the already full-on Saw II. The motive behind this third movie seemed to be not only making things more gruesome, but also more uncomfortable and wince-inducing to view. There’s an argument to be made that this is the most disgusting Saw movie, too, with one of Saw III’s most infamous moments not being violent exactly, but involving rotting meat in a way that makes a comparable scene in 1989’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover look like a Disney film.
Maybe the level of grim violence is fitting, considering the story has John Kramer/Jigsaw himself dying of cancer, and one of his apprentices taking his traps in more harrowing directions than even he was capable of. This involves traps that are either hard to survive or impossible to get out of, leading to tons of heinous violence. Saw III’s also home to the infamous rack trap, as well as one “challenge” that involves freezing to death, making it an undeniably graphic and vicious Saw movie overall.
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1 ‘Saw IV’ (2007)
After Saw IV, there wasn’t really anywhere the series could go without it starting to get slapped with NC-17 ratings. The fourth Saw escalates things slightly more than the third, and even if such an escalation might be expected by such a point in the series, it’s still a lot to handle. It’s already high on the gore scale before it even gets to any traps or death scenes, as it opens with an unflinching autopsy scene to demonstrate Jigsaw’s not coming back without the help of a flashback, and it all looks disgustingly real.
And after that opening, the traps don’t let up, and are comparable to the horrific ones seen in Saw III (just the names of some – especially the “scalping seat” – are bad enough). Thanks to the finale of this film, you’ll probably never look at a large block of ice the same way again, too. It’s an assault on the senses and truly grotesque stuff, pushing the level of violence allowable within an R-rated movie to its absolute limits, and ending up the most graphic Saw movie as a result.
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