American Horror Story: 12 Seasons Ranked Worst to Best

AHS has certainly had the good, the bad and the ugly. What season is the best?
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american horror story seasons ranked

When you’re a horror fan, you get used to the idea that there’s nothing new under the sun. Movies and TV series always fall into the horror film trope — like “the group splits up” or “the virgin survives.”

Audiences get tired of cliché after cliché. They crave new. They crave good. They want to be thrilled by intense visuals, genuine creepiness, and a story that makes them feel like they need to buckle up and hold on till their knuckles turn white.

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That’s what American Horror Story attempts to do, with varying degrees of success, series to series.

From Season 1 to 12, we nail down the best AHS season and one that’s bound to scare you the most. Here’s a list of all American Horror Story seasons ranked from worst to best…

12. Delicate (Season 12)

Synopsis

Emma Roberts stars as Anna, an aspiring mother and actress who stumbles upon supernatural forces and strange figures that make her pregnancy and quest for an Oscar a living hell. Following her IVF procedure, Anna suffers a miscarriage, but soon mysteriously falls pregnant again. Cue themes of Satanism, cults, and blood-thirsty witches, and ta-da, you have the mind-boggling 12th season of American Horror Story.

Why It’s the Worst Season

We don’t hate this season because Kim Kardashian is in it. In fact, she’s proved herself quite the actress (we said quite). Delicate is officially the worst season of American Horror Story, we don’t even know why Ryan Murphy is bothering anymore. While the first half of the season keeps us bewitched for a while, it ends with a WTF, and a big fat disappointed sigh.

With absolutely no ties to previous seasons (which, let’s admit, is pretty much what we want to see in AHS), lack of answers (can someone explain what Siobhan’s actual motives were?), and the entire “Rosemary’s Baby” trope gone wrong, Delicate winds up a hot mess. And don’t even get us started on those awful costumes. It may have had one less episode than usual — but thank GOD. You know what they say, less is best!

11. Double Feature (Season 10)

Synopsis

Double Feature is split into two different “American horror stories:” Red Tide and Death Valley; the former follows a family dealing with mystical pills and vampires, and the latter takes on a past and present plotline about extraterrestrials. Indeed, the 10th season of AHS is as messy and miserable as it sounds, a far cry from its heyday of season one.

Why it’s 11th Place

This season almost has potential, if each story was separated into two individual seasons. Scratch that: if only Red Tide was longer and Death Valley was completely scrapped. With the first half of the show being somewhat decent, treating us to fan-favorite tropes and beloved actors, its follow-up is a complete disaster — its extremely low ratings on IMDb proving our point.

Red Tide concludes, leaving viewers on a high, in hopes for an equally decent story to pursue, but instead, Death Valley drags and disappoints. It eliminates the likes of Evan Peters, Lily Rabe and Finn Wittrock, presents an underdeveloped duel timeline, and ultimately, has no connection to previous seasons. It’s no surprise Sarah Paulson decided this season would be her last.

10. NYC (Season 11)

Synopsis

It’s New York in the 1980s. There are hot pants, hit 80s songs, leather, and erm, the AIDS crisis, recited in a dark and poorly artistic, metaphorical manner. A serial killer in NYC is slaughtering gay men, and there’s an emergence of a new virus. Not a story we haven’t heard before.

Why it’s 10th Place

One way to describe season 11? A bad version of a crime drama. While the storyline is more cohesive and connected than the previous season, NYC lacks the mystery and suspense that the creators were going for. Although it recalls a certainly ‘scary’ time from the real-life 1980s in New York, NYC itself barely even raises a hair.

With cliché, stereotypical characters and a slow pace, one of the good things we can say about this season is the reemergence of stars Zachary Quinto, Patti LuPone, and Denis O’Hare, who we haven’t seen in a while.

9. Hotel (Season 5)

Synopsis

A nightmare collage of grand themes in a possible attempt to be the next ‘Masque of the Red Death’. Disturbing and paranormal scenarios of all kinds at the Hotel Cortez, campy vampire fashionista included — all for the low, low price of a terrible interwoven plot. A resourceful detective is sucked into the black hole trope that even the gods can’t escape due to the addition of a biblical-themed “Ten Commandments Killer” and the “Addiction Demon.”

Why it’s 9th Place

Over-reaching is a pitfall for writers who are trying to cram too much story into a single series, and this is exactly what happened to this poor season. Fans of the show tend to agree with this ranking of Hotel, and that its reach exceeded its grasp but not in a motivational way.

No amount of star power could save a bad story. Putting Lady Gaga into the series may have been some delusional attempt to make a bad story good, but the writing winds up being complex for the sake of complexity, rather than for an entertaining show. It’s safe to say Hotel is one of the worst seasons of American Horror Story thus far.

8. Apocalypse (Season 8)

Synopsis

It’s the end of the world as we know it, but not a single person feels fine. Maybe. This season is such a mess, a synopsis is difficult to pin down. But to sum it up, the antichrist is Michael Langdon from Murder House (season one), time flips to show the new world/future, and there are more ins and outs than a brothel on a Saturday night.

Why it’s 8th Place

Remember what we said about complexity for the sake of complexity rather than a good story? That fits this season perfectly. Confusing, boring and simply pointless is pretty much what sums up Apocalypse.

Additionally, the final battle between Michael and Mallory has to be one of the most anti-climactic let-downs in television history. The only saving grace that keeps Apocalypse from the bottom of the barrel is that as soon as you’re tired of everyone, they all die.


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7. Freak Show (Season 4)

Synopsis

Jupiter, Florida. 1952. Differently abled-people outcast from society gather in one of the last remaining Freak Shows in the United States under the reigning terror of ringleader, Elsa Mars. Essentially, this season is a poor-man’s tribute to the 1932 classic film, Freaks.

Why it’s in 7th Place

Actors, amazing as they are, cannot carry this season alone (well, maybe Jessica Lange). While the first few episodes of Freak Show are eye-catching and interesting, the story begins to drag and fizzle out. The second a story begins to glorify itself with a self-congratulatory musical revue, all hope is lost, leaving the viewers to scratch their heads and cry for a lost plot.

The fact that it started out strong is why it’s not quite the worst American Horror Story season, but it has enough demerits to warrant the near-bottom of the pile. It’s a shame, too, because the way society treats the differently abled and those who just don’t “fit in” is deserving of a damn good story.

6. Roanoke (Season 6)

Synopsis

A reality show focusing on a couple who moves to Roanoke, experiencing phenomenon in the forms of dead nurses, evil haunted woods, an evil spirit: fun times. At least for the first half of the season. The rest of the season moves on to the real people and actors who portrayed them going back to the house after the production company closes down the reality show. The actors and real people return to film their experiences. Creepiness ensues.

Why it’s in 6th Place

Roanoke isn’t the worst, and the writers give it their all with a snazzy plot twist halfway through the season. That deserves a bit of merit. Additionally, fans tend to agree that there are spine-chilling moments that make it worth watching.

The downside is that pitfall of hasty writing — plot holes and dropped plotlines abound, which is why it hits the mid-tables of mediocrity. With an improved story, Roanoke had the potential of being the scariest AHS season.

5. Cult (Season 7)

Synopsis

A killer clown cult indoctrinates a Michigan town into its evil snare, no supernatural themes required. There’s a ton of themes in this season from multiple phobias with psychosis to LGBT rights and how people cope with a culture of fear and fear mongering. Cult centers around politics and is all about how ugly human beings can be when they go to extremes.

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Why it’s at 5th Place

There is merit in looking at the horror of the human psyche, and this season captures exactly zero paranormal themes, focusing solely on the horrific crimes of cult leaders.

However, Cult relies too heavily on tropes and turns fans off who are in it for the paranormal surreal or prefer straight up scary entertainment as opposed to being smacked in the head with realistic, everyday themes.

4. 1984 (Season 9)

Synopsis

80’s nostalgia, stabbings, and a camp-site full of rampant, murderous ghosts is pretty much what sums up season 9 of AHS. Reminiscent of classic slasher movies from the 80’s, 1984 centers around Camp Redwood, a summer location known for its brutal and bloody past where a certain Mr. Jingles once slaughtered numerous campers. With new teens now exploring the area, things take a gory and gruesome turn — expect a few twists and a killer 80’s soundtrack.

Why it’s in 4th Place

A decent season, with plenty of blood, gore, and 80’s nostalgia pulling viewers in. 1984 had great storytelling and a brilliant cast, although our favorite leads (e.g. Sarah Paulson, Kathy Bates) were MIA. It’s safe to say however, that the cast, both new and returning were impressive enough — Finn Wittrock, you rock (even though you only cameoed in one episode)!

Those in favor of cheesy and campy fun, as well as awesome hits from that very era would have loved this season. It was pleasing to have a happy ending for once, too!

3. Coven (Season 3)

Synopsis

New Orleans, 2013. Voodoo. Delphine Lalaurie and Marie Laveau. A coven of witches fighting for survival. Historical flashbacks to the Salem Witch Trials, the fictional demise of Lalaurie, and the rise of a new coven leader as the elder leader fades.

Why it’s in 3rd Place

Mixing reality with fantasy can make for an interesting story, and Laveau’s influence on New Orleans and Voodoo culture is big enough to deserve a spot in legend. The writers masterfully give the audience what we crave, too, when Delphine Lalaurie gets buried alive (in reality, she escaped the mob justice she so richly deserved) for her atrocious torture of her slaves.

However, Coven is not the best season and can’t quite be ranked at first place due to a few follies. Inaccurately portraying Papa Legba is a letdown, and the inclusion of Stevie Nicks to try to support a rotting plotline of Misty Day (portrayed by Lily Rabe) falls through in spectacular fashion. As much as we love Stevie Nicks and Lily Rabe, Coven has a disappointing plot that fizzles right out.

2. Asylum (Season 2)

Synopsis

At fictional Briarcliff Manor, a Catholic mental institution, stories unfold of patients and staff as accused killer Kit Walker arrives. Includes a brilliant sub-plot of a Nazi doctor experimenting on patients, and an innocent nun who catches his eye — only later, the nun succumbs to demonic possession.

SEE ALSO:
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Why it’s Second Best

The writing and plots are tight, giving care to wrap things up, so there are no dangling storylines or plot holes. The only reason Asylum doesn’t rank at first place is that there are some pacing issues that either slow the story too much or speed it up unnecessarily.

The writers do an excellent job, however, of weaving supernatural elements into the harsh reality of mental asylums which makes for a fun and interesting bend to perceptions. This season is a successful nod to magical realism.

1. Murder House (Season 1)

Synopsis

After catching her husband having an affair, Vivien, her husband Ben, and daughter Violet attempt to pick up the pieces of their dysfunctional family. They move to the infamous Murder House, built by Doctor Charles Montgomery: a doctor driven to perform illegal abortions to support his family.

Why it’s the Best

Murder House officially ranks as the best American Horror Story season. This is an instant classic that takes archetypes and tropes and twists them, interweaving brilliant subplots. There are scary and jumpy moments as well as themes that keep people talking to this day. Though there are tropes throughout the season, they are purposeful tropes that drive the story along. Additionally, the characters, both men and women, are well-rounded and engaging (whether we hate them or love them).

On top of all of that, the special effects in Murder House don’t strive to go over-the-top. Instead, they focus on interweaving a brilliant and genuinely scary story with multiple, intersecting plot lines. It seems that the lower the budget, the harder the writers work to make the story worth watching.

Writers with small budgets work hard to bring great stories to both television and the silver screen, but the more success they enjoy and the bigger the budgets grow, the lazier and sloppier the stories get.

We see this played out in the 12 seasons of American Horror Story, proving that big budgets, fine actors, and beautiful visuals cannot substitute the meat-and-potatoes of an engaging story.

What would your American Horror Story ranking look like? Agree with ours? Let us know in the comments below!

Originally published in July 2019.

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Tale Teller

  • Angela Stephanou

    After completing her BA in Communication, Media and Film studies, Angela launched Tell Tales Online, and now writes and oversees the content and strategy across the site. As a pop culture junkie, she follows more celebs than real-life people, her guilty pleasure is watching The Kardashians, but she's also a fan of Marvel and Game of Thrones.

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Dr. Gonzo
2 years ago

Holy crap, what a terrible list. Coven was one of the worst seasons and it just dragged on and on and never seemed like it was going to end. I’d say it’s at the bottom, but I didn’t watch Cult. I’d say it’s at the bottom of the list too, just from subject matter alone.

Freakshow was one of the better ones. In fact, it was my favorite. 1984 was up there too, even though they had too many twists.

Which is a big overall issue with this series. The seasons will start out good and then halfway through after a couple twists, it “jumps the shark” and gets too convoluted. It’s unnecessary and played out. I’m not even interested in trying out any more seasons. Not worth it.

Clark Walker
2 years ago

Okay. So, I haven’t watched all of the seasons, but Hotel behind Cult and Apocalypse makes no sense. Both of those seasons are absolute shit and I’d put Hotel in the top 5 (probably at 3 or 4) out of the 7 seasons that I have watched so far ( I haven’t watched Murder House or 1984 and I’m currently watching coven which i find to be fun and better than several of the others). Asylum is great, I liked the first half of double feature this season but can’t get into the second half. Your list just makes no sense.

Annoyedasusual
2 years ago

Your list is trash. And list that doesn’t have 1984 & Cult in the bottom 2 is complete garbage, just like those seasons. The only ones you got right were the top 3.

pineapple
3 years ago

roanoke is shit

Truth
3 years ago

*than you

You are not the “rest of us”, this list makes sense for many as much as you “believe” it doesn’t for others. Except Murder House, AHS is always a mess and seasons like cult were absolutely retarded, while Hotel is usually reviewed as the worst, along Apocalypse. Ratings confirm.

Even Asylum was a complete mess of sub-stories and garbage writing, they could not even close the alien cycle or give a decent death to the evil characters, only the first episodes and the last ones made sense. So it’s not like you’re trying to defend a good piece of media.

Check your sources
4 years ago

Coven at #3? You must be joking, it was basically a high-school/teenage drama series with a pinch of “darkness”. Weird list and reasoning behind placements, feels like you watched a completely different show than the rest of us.

Yourmom
4 years ago

Your list is garbage.

Sarah Elrod
4 years ago

Great article. Totally agree with the order!