The Resident Evil franchise is something I have had my eye on for a long time. I missed them all in the theater, and I am absolutely a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to the greatness of the films and Paul W.S. Anderson. Better late than never (I hope).
But yea, so these films are so much fun and do the #1 most important thing for me when it comes to franchises: each film feels different and unique.
Even with my beloved Fast/Furious and Mission: Impossible franchises, a lot of franchises “figure out” how to make a successful version of what they are doing and then just do it over and over again. (The PWS Anderson) Resident Evil series mostly avoided that entirely.
Without wasting any more of your time, here is how I have the Resident Evil movies ranked.
7. Welcome to Raccoon City 
Five years after the original Resident Evil film series ended, the studio decided it was time for a fresh go of things. Unfortunately, the new version of the franchise got off to an uninspired start.
The lack of Milla Jovovich and Paul W. S. Anderson was immediately felt in this film. It lacked all personality, star power, and truly compelling action scenes. It felt like a direct-to-DVD film to cash in on the brand, only the film somehow escaped into theaters. I cannot envision a successful future for this new version of the series.
(Probably the most notable thing about this attempted franchise reboot is their halfhearted attempts to convince us it is 1998. The characters have beepers. Blockbuster and Planet Hollywood get mentioned. A Palm Pilot is a significant plot device.)
6. Apocalypse 
The second film in the series had one important job: establish that each film in this series would feel unique and distinct. In other words, the series needed to become like the Alien series.
Thankfully, Apocalypse manages to do just that. If the first film almost felt like a haunted house horror film (on steroids), this was closer to being an acton film.
If the first film made the majority of its characters feel indistinct from one another, this film instead tried to emphasize the colorful personalities of each member of its ensemble.
The 2002 film featured some of the ugliest and crudest-looking CGI villains that I have ever seen. In 2004, they made the big bad zombie a costumed zombie.
In the first film, Jovovich’s Alice is essentially spends the majority of the film silent and cautious and does a slow build to her being a proactive protagonist. Here, she is an ass-kicking machine from beginning to end.
And while the original movie had a clear and distinct filmmaker’s stamp, this movie was far more hacky and less cool. Still fun as hell though!
5. The Final Chapter 
While a perfectly solid little film with some fun sequences and the usual strong lead work done by Jovovich, this was undeniably a weaker note for the series to go out on compared to what immediately preceded it. There just seemed to be less passion for what was happening on the screen in comparison. That is not to literally theorize that there was literally less care for what they did here compared to the past PWSA entries. It is more to say it seemed like they ran out of interesting things to do and were left with little left to accomplish. That feeling made the film feel more obligatory than anything else which has always been something the previous films avoided. Nonetheless, it was still a fun little film that was better than what you typically get. If anything, my lack of enthusiasm is merely a testament to how much I enjoyed what came before this one.
4. Extinction 
The most important aspect about this film is that it once again went to the necessary lengths to make sure this film felt unique compared to what came before it. While the second film may have been technically called Apocalypse, the third entry here was far more of an “apocalypse” film. The world has ended, and the characters in the film are just really looking to survive. There is a rather distinct tonal shift in this film from the last one. It truly feels much bleaker and like there is no chance of anything good being able to happen again.
This tone shift is best captured by the characterization of Milla Jovovich. In the second film, she was an ass-kicking protagonist who seemed to get some pleasure from murking zombies. Now though, there is far less joy to be had. It is simply a necessary component of the everyday existence in this apocalyptic hellscape. If in previous films, there was happiness found in surviving, as seen in the image above moments before (the great) Oded Fehr’s demise, there is a greater peace to be found in letting go and welcoming death. This shift gives the film the edge over Apocalypse. There are fewer cringe moments and more just embracing its natural state of grim violence.
3. Resident Evil 
While a far a from perfect movie in it of itself, this movie did do an incredibly effective job of making me invested in the idea of Resident Evil. The film manages to establish the world clearly but without condescending about it.
It drops you into Raccoon City and delivers the bare minimum amount of exposition required to ensure people can keep up.
Anderson creates a foundation for a strong worldview for the show to fall back: corporations run the world and value profit over humanity.
Milla Jovovich is clearly a compelling lead and an excellent choice to build the franchise around. She manages to balance the superhero quality required for the action stuff while still feeling decidedly human.
The film also manages to tell a complete story in its own bubble while still having a tremendous sign-off that makes you invested in sequels.
Also, the laser decapitation scene is also one of the coolest and most terrifying things I have ever seen in a movie. (The only major weakness of the film is that there are a shit-ton of characters and barely any of them register of as worth being invested in.)
2. Afterlife 
After two guns for hire did a fine job with entries two and three, Paul W.S. Anderson really came back and claimed this series as his own. Right from the jump, it becomes instantly clear that a real filmmaker is once again at the helm behind this series. The look and feel of the film was just so much more interesting and cinematic. On top of that, Anderson also managed to take the series in yet another new direction. After back-to-back entries dealing with the immediate collapse of society and more long-term impact of existing after the apocalypse, this film became almost a prison break movie (complete with a Wentworth Miller casting!!).
1. Retribution 
With this film, Paul W.S. Anderson blissfully went full bozo mode, everyone. It was this bizarre cross-bred surreal/horror/action film that was designed to leave us questioning reality and everything we had experienced so far in the series. More important than any of that though was that the film was constructed in a manner that clearly prioritized putting together as many fun and interesting action sequences together and then find a way of justifying them. For a movie like this, that is always the way to go.