The Scream Franchise Timeline Explained

"Scream" is unlike most major horror franchises in every way. Where "Friday the 13th," for example, never embraced a single female character long-term (often killing the Final Girl at the beginning of the next film), "Scream" became Sidney Prescott's story. She's survived five attacks and has grown stronger and more resilient because of it. Then, take "Halloween." The Michael Myers saga has been retconned and rebooted twice already. Meanwhile, the Ghostface slasher has kept a steady storyline, only adding character backstory to naturally further the plot. The timeline has never been mangled by wild cult subplots or a boat trip to Manhattan. Each installment builds organically from the previous legacy.

As such, the most fascinating aspects of the "Scream" series lie in several big reveals in later sequels. Additionally, Gale Weathers' exploitation of real-life events for her writing career, as well as the resulting "Stab" universe, adds even more complexity to Ghostface's history. With "Scream 6" currently in production and set for release in early 2023, it's time to retrace the "Scream" franchise's entire timeline. Grab some popcorn, sit back, and relax. And whatever you do, don't answer the phone.

Maureen goes to Hollywood

Resident horror expert Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) clues the audience into "an unexpected backstory" via recorded VHS tape in "Scream 3." The backstory in question revolves around Maureen Prescott, Sidney's late mother, and a two-year span in the late '70s during which she left Woodsboro to forge a professional acting career in Hollywood. The new killer leaves photos of Maureen at various crime scenes as a way to tease the police but also lure Sidney out of hiding. One picture in question shows Maureen taking headshots on a studio backlot.

Hot on the trail, Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and her doppelgänger Jennifer Jolie (Parker Posey), who's playing Gale in "Stab 3," follow the breadcrumbs to the archives at Sunrise Studios. After bribing the archives receptionist (Carrie Fisher), they gain access to a file on Maureen under her stage name Rina Reynolds. Maureen acted in only three feature films, including "Space Psycho" and "Creature from the San Andreas Fault," all directed by famed studio head John Milton (Lance Henriksen). When confronted, John reveals Maureen was sexually assaulted (allegedly by him at one of his wild parties) and left the business, claiming that "nothing happened to her that she didn't invite." Maureen returned to Woodsboro, met Neil (Lawrence Hecht), and had Sidney sometime in 1981. 16 years later, the past comes back to haunt her in a deadly way.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Billy's baby

Randy probably could have predicted the big revelation in "Scream" (2022). But any horror aficionado already knows how franchises typically get more convoluted as they go along. So, it's no shocker that the fifth Ghostface film goes one step further to reveal a lovechild fans never knew existed. The film's central protagonists Sam (Melissa Barrera) and Tara (Jenna Ortega) are half-sisters. In an emotional confession, Sam confides to Tara that she was scrounging around in the attic for Christmas presents when she came across a set of their mother's diaries. Curious about how their parents got together, she flipped through one of them and discovered a hard truth she never expected: her real birth father is none other than Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). She was only 13 at the time (putting the year around 2009), and the news sent her down a dark path of drug addiction and alcohol abuse. She later abandoned the family to forge another life in a town called Modesto.

In the original "Scream," Billy and Sidney are in an on-again, off-again relationship. During one of their separations, Billy hooked up with Christina Carpenter, who was dating Tara's father around the same time. Christina then lied about the pregnancy and covered up the affair, and no one was none the wiser. As the secret baby, Sam suffers from hallucinations of Billy, for which she takes antipsychotic medication. Her very existence gives the requel a decent reason to exist.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

The murder of Maureen Prescott

Revealed as the "Scream 3" killer, Roman delivers a passionate and deranged monologue, detailing how he'd been tracking Rina Reynolds his "whole life" and finally found her in Woodsboro. He explains that he knocked on her door and thought that she would welcome him into her home, but she rejected him for a new life and family. "She slammed the door in my face, said I was Rina's child, and Rina was dead," he seethes.

He then reveals he made a home video of his investigation and learned that Rina, aka Maureen, had a reputation around town. The footage includes Maureen meeting up with Cotton as well as Billy's father at a crummy motel outside of town. That was the key. Roman shared this discovery with Billy, instructing him on how to get revenge, now having an accomplice and someone to frame: "It was like he was making a movie." In "Scream," Sidney turns on the TV, and a special newscast marks the one-year anniversary of her mother's death. This puts the rape and murder of Maureen in September 1995. The month is later confirmed with a calendar hanging in the Woodsboro High principal's office.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Scream - 1996

The events in "Scream" unravel in real-time. The story develops in a linear fashion, starting with the iconic opening kill of Casey Becker (Drew Barrymore) that ignites Ghostface's reign of terror. The film, helmed by screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven, famously upends slasher conventions while simultaneously leaning into them and defining new rules. Sidney Prescott lies at the heart of the story. She is a Final Girl by definition, yet her entire character defies all preconceived ideas. As the killers circle around her like vultures, she still struggles with her mother's death and watches as her friends are picked off one by one. First, there's Casey and Steve, then Principal Hembry (Henry Winkler), Tatum (Rose McGowan), and cameraman Kenny (W. Earl Brown). Her boyfriend Billy does little to console her; in fact, he places blame squarely on her shoulders.

News anchor Gale Weathers deals in salacious headlines and leads local coverage of the murder spree. She strikes up an unlikely, very flirtatious friendship with deputy Dewey Riley (David Arquette), a well-meaning, oddball cop and older brother to Tatum. The tone of the film perfectly balances humor and terror with acrobatic ease, wielding a sharp whodunnit blade of its very own. The story culminates in a high school party at accomplice Stu Macher's (Matthew Lillard) house. Sidney, Gale, and Randy are the last ones standing. In one of the final moments, Sydney delivers the epic line, "Not in my movie," after shooting a reanimated Billy in the head.

Wrongly accused

Gale Weathers publishes her debut novel, titled "Wrongly Accused: The Maureen Prescott Murder," in late 1996. "It'll be out later this year," she tells Sydney during a confrontation in "Scream." It is the same night Ghostface attacked her while home alone, and she has just left the police station, where Billy is held for questioning. Clearly emotional, Sidney comments that she'll keep an eye out for it on newsstands, to which Gale replies, "I'll send you a copy." Sidney delivers a left hook straight to Gale's jaw, knocking the top news anchor to the ground.

The next morning, Sidney attempts to apologize to Gale for assaulting her. The two ultimately discuss a few finer details of the book. In "Wrongly Accused," Gale posits that Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) was "falsely identified" as Maureen Prescott's killer and uses various pieces of evidence and testimony to refute Sidney's claims, including Cotton's bloodied jacket. "He admits to having sex with your mother, but that's all," says Gale, before remarking that he was framed for the murder. Not a single word of Cotton's story had changed over time, and it plants a seed of doubt with Sidney about her own.

The Woodsboro Murders

For her follow-up novel, Gale Weathers records the events of "Scream" in her 1997 book "The Woodsboro Murders." Considering she was greatly involved, both as an investigative reporter and a Ghostface target, no one has better expertise to bring all the titillating details to print. She keenly recalls the events through her singular perspective, while centering the action around Sidney Prescott.

Naturally, Gale exaggerates certain elements from the real events, including her cameraman Kenny's death and the big finale, while also harpooning Dewey's performance as a deputy. In "Scream 2," Dewey confronts Gale about how she wrote about his job and specifically calls out a passage on page 32. "Deputy Dewey filled the room with his Barney Fife-ish presence," he chides. Then, he names a separate excerpt from page 41, saying, "[He] oozed with inexperience." "The Woodsboro Murders" becomes the source for a blockbuster slasher franchise titled "Stab," explored with numerous sequels throughout the "Scream" universe.

Scream 2 - 1998

"Scream 2" is set two years after the original. Sidney has gone away to Windsor College and has a passion for theatre arts. She lands a starring role as Cassandra in "The Fall of Troy" when a murder spree rocks the campus. In the opening kill scene, Ghostface fillets two moviegoers attending a midnight screening of "Stab." Jada Pinkett Smith plays one of the victims, Maureen Evans, who dies onstage with the crowd roaring around her. It's a theatrical piece that sets up the general tone of the first sequel.

Once again, Sidney lies in the eye of the storm, along with Dewey, Gale, and Randy scrambling to determine the killer. The body count is higher, and the kill sequences are much more elaborate, as Randy succinctly explains. Sorority sister Cici Cooper (Sarah Michelle Gellar), Sidney's roommate Hallie (Elise Neal), and ultimately Randy himself meet their grisly ends at Ghostface's knife. In the finale, an amateur news reporter (Laurie Metcalf) reveals herself as Billy's mother and the mastermind behind the latest serial killings, a maternal figure to her boyish accomplice Mickey (Timothy Olyphant). A shoot-out erupts on the theatre stage, with Gale suffering a flesh wound and falling into the orchestra pit. Mrs. Loomis holds Sidney at knifepoint and attempts to emotionally manipulate Cotton Weary into shooting Sidney in exchange for primetime news coverage. Fortunately, he has a heart and shoots the deranged mother instead. You know, what they say about sequels: sometimes you get one that more than lives up to the original.

Scream 3 - 2001

Three years later, Sidney has changed her name to Laura and gone into hiding. "Scream 3" is set in 2001, and Sidney now works as a counselor for a women's domestic violence hotline and spends her free time walking her dog, Cherokee. Her father Neil shows up from time to time to deliver groceries she needs, and it appears she's making the best life she possibly can — except for the nightmares about her mother. Woodsboro is traded up for Hollywood. Cotton Weary finally regained footing with the public and now hosts his own talk show. In the opening, he is stuck in traffic when he gets a call from the new Ghostface, who is now using a voice changer to mimic other people's voices. The killer pretends to be an obsessed fan, but quickly reveals plans to kill his girlfriend. Cotton rushes home, and in a shocking twist, Ghostface punctures his heart.

"Scream 3" follows the production of "Stab 3" with a cast of doppelgängers as the new victims. Parker Posey plays Jennifer (or Gale in "Stab 3"), Matt Keeslar as Tom Prinze (or Dewey), and Scott Foley as Roman Bridger, the film's director. Roman uses a flair for the dramatic in his approach to Ghostface, revealing in the third act that he's Sidney's long lost brother and first child of Maureen Prescott. He lays out all his vengeful plans with relish, but of course, it's not enough to distract Sidney from taking him down.

The death of Neil Prescott

In a deleted scene from "Scream 4," Dewey urges Gale to attend Sidney's upcoming book signing. "I think it would be really nice if you did. Her first time back since her dad died," he says. It's unclear when Neil Prescott, who only appears in the original and "Scream 3," died. There was great storytelling potential to explore how Maureen's death and constant attacks on his daughter would have had on him, but alas.

You could argue this scene in question is not canon, and that's totally fair. But his absence from Sidney's life after his small role in "Scream 3" is glaring. Alive or dead, he has shown very little interest in her life, as far as viewers can determine. Could he make a surprise appearance in a future "Scream"? Sure, but it's not likely at this point. It's a safe bet to say Neil has shaken off his mortal coil and won't be returning.

Scream 4 - 2011

A decade is an eternity in the movie world. "Scream 4" is like reconnecting with friends you haven't seen since high school. Sidney has triumphantly moved on with her life and written a memoir, titled "Out of Darkness," about her experiences in reclaiming her life. She's no longer willing to be a victim and instead has learned to take charge by rewriting the narrative. The promotion for the book revolves around the 15th anniversary of the infamous Woodsboro murders, setting the film's events in September 2011. It's her first time returning to her hometown since her father died, if you consider Neil Prescott's fate in the deleted scene canon. 

The town looks pretty much the same as it did decades ago, and a fresh face of teens, including Sidney's cousin Jill (Emma Roberts) and her best friend Kirby (Hayden Panettiere), are put up on the butcher's block. With commentary digging into remakes, "Scream 4" is essentially a reimagining of the 1996 original film, in spirit at least. The story flips expectations, like misdirecting the audience with a "false ending," as resident film geek Charlie (Rory Culkin) describes, before finishing off with a big finale. Instead, the third act unravels across two locations (initially Kirby's house and later the hospital) and taps into fame-hungry influencer culture. The killers 一 revealed as Jill and Charlie 一 want to "know fame like you never even dreamed of," as Jill professes in her epically deranged monologue.

The Stab franchise

As of "Scream" (2022), there are eight "Stab" movies so far. The original "Stab" is introduced in the iconic opening of "Scream 2" when the local cinema holds a rowdy midnight screening. That puts the film's release in 1997. Based upon Gale Weathers' "The Woodsboro Murders," the initial "Stab" trilogy was solely based on Sidney Prescott's life, as genre aficionado Jenny Randall (Aimee Teegarden) shares in exposition in the "Scream 4" opening. Sidney then "threatened to sue if they used her story," so subsequent sequels branched off and explored other storylines. Jenny groans about how "Stab 5" has time travel, "which is by far the worst." "Scream 4" also clues the viewer into the progress of the "Stab" series, toying with perceptions by including an intro-within-an-intro 一 the opening scene of "Stab 7," for example, is a scene from "Stab 6."

In "Scream" (2022), a character named Richie (Jack Quaid) peruses YouTube and comes across a video review for "Stab 8" (or rather just "Stab") created by Dead Meat's James Janisse. "Don't even get me started on Ghostface's new signature weapon," the horror host laments, noting the iconic killer's use of a flame thrower. "And can we talk about the title ... 'Stab' ... what? Just like the original?" his co-host Chelsea adds. Earlier in the film, goth girl Liv (Sonia Ben Ammar) notes the director of "Stab 8" as "the 'Knives Out' guy" (that would be Rian Johnson), as well as the release date a year prior (2020).

Scream - 2021

10 more years separate the last entry and "Scream" (2022). The latest bloodbath marks the 25th anniversary of the original, making it set in 2021. Sidney Prescott has put the past further in her rearview mirror in more ways than one. She's married to Mark (from "Scream 3") and has several young girls. "I'm trying to get a run in before I take the girls to school," she tells Dewey over the phone, as she's pushing a stroller along a scenic boardwalk. The victims this time are Sam and her younger sister Tara. Woodsboro has returned to its quieter, more idyllic days. Ghosts of the past only linger in hushed rumors and gossip. When Ghostface strikes, he comes back with a vengeance. 

Everything relates back to the past, from the primary targets — who all have a connection to the original killers — and the return of the original trio. Horror commentary references legacy sequels (or as Randy's niece Mindy explains, a "requel"), toxic fandom, and "elevated" horror. Dewey's shocking death in the third act leads to Sidney's long-awaited return to town, but her presence is merely ceremonial. The two killers, Richie and Amber (Mikey Madison), met over a "Stab" sub-Reddit and conspired to create their own version of "Stab" but with actual stakes. Sam, who sees visions of her dead dad Billy, uses her familial lineage to channel her inner serial killer, ultimately stabbing Richie dozens of times. Sam and Tara both fill Sidney's shoes quite nicely.