Eight films, 16 years, and countless torture traps later, Saw remains a beloved horror series. The story follows John Kramer, aka the Jigsaw killer, a man who captures people in order to rehabilitate those he deems unworthy.
He adopts violent means to impart this message, forcing innocents into horrific death traps from which they have to do grisly things in order to survive. Despite the fact that he dies midway through the franchise, for the remainder of the series his acolytes, family and victims adopt the Jigsaw mantle, continuing his reign of terror.
The franchise also continues with Spiral: From the Book of Saw, the latest installment currently in US theaters and rolling out worldwide. It enlists fresh franchise meat in the shape of Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, and Samuel L. Jackson, as cops track crimes that resemble the infamous Jigsaw killer.
With that in mind, you might be considering a rewatch of the Saw movies to refresh your memory. With Jigsaw’s twists and turns, and the not-inconsiderable retconning, it’s a good idea to get reacquainted. Here’s how you watch the Saw movies in order – both chronologically and by release date, as we explain the best way to enjoy the horror films in 2021.
Saw movies in chronological order
- Saw II
- Saw III
- Saw IV
- Saw V
- Saw VI
- Saw 3D
- Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
To watch the Saw story in precise chronological order is like Jigsaw’s traps: difficult to figure out. It requires patience and an editing suite. Why? It's because each movie includes two story parts.
Our chronological order follows the present day timeline. A strict chronology based solely on the backstory means you’d be stopping and starting different movies every five minutes, and rewatching the movies several times. Accurate? Yes. Fun? Not so much.
But fear not. Here’s the explanation of what’s happening in the present, and we’ve included descriptions of the flashbacks that fill in Kramer’s backstory to help you make sense of the Saw movies as you go. Expect big spoilers ahead for the movies.
Part of Jigsaw (2017)
A portion of the story in Jigsaw takes place years before Saw. Five people wake up in a barn wearing Bucket Head Traps. This is the very first set ‘game’ by John (although not his first trap). One of the survivors of this game, Logan, goes on to become one of Kramer’s apprentices.
Present day: Dr. Laurence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell) both wake up chained up in an underground room. There’s a dead body in the room.
Flashbacks: Detective Tapp hires photographer Adam Stanheight to spy on Dr. Gordon. Kramer learns of this. His apprentice Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) kidnaps both of them. Kramer takes a cocktail of meds to slow his vitals, and lies in the underground room.
Saw II (2005)
Present day: One year after the events of Saw, Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) apprehends Kramer. But there’s another game underway with eight people including Matthews’ son Daniel and Kramer’s undercover apprentice, Amanda.
Flashbacks: After his wife Jill leaves him, Kramer tries to commit suicide but fails. His rebirth inspires him to teach others the feeling of “instant rehabilitation” and so begins his work to help others.
Dr. Gordon diagnoses Kramer with an inoperable tumor.
Saw III (2006) / Saw IV (2007)
Present day: In the franchise’s first big twist, it’s revealed that both films happen six months after the events of Saw II at the same time. They each follow games carried out by two of Kramer’s minions: Amanda Young and Detective Hoffman.
Flashbacks: In Saw IV we learn the motivation for Kramer’s entire scheme when his wife Jill miscarries as a result of the actions of Cecil Adams. Kramer sets his first trap for Cecil, cutting out a piece of his skin shaped like a puzzle piece, leading to his nickname, the Jigsaw killer.
Saw V (2008)
Present day: With Kramer dead, a new murderer begins a series of traps that resemble Jigsaw’s old games. Jill receives instructions from her dead ex-husband.
Flashbacks: The media frenzy surrounding Jigsaw leads to a copycat killer in the shape of Detective Hoffman. We learn it's Hoffman who created the trap for Seth Baxter at the start of Saw V to appear like a Jigsaw killing, as Baxter murdered his sister. Kramer finds out and enlists Hoffman to help his mission.
Saw VI (2009)
Present day: A few days after the events of Saw V, Hoffman starts a new game that involves health insurance executive CEO William Easton. Easton dies. Under instruction from her husband, Jill puts Hoffman in a bear trap, which he survives.
Flashbacks: Kramer asks Easton to fund an experimental therapy for his tumor that may save his life. Easton denies him coverage. We learn that Amanda was partially to blame for the miscarriage. Hoffman used this information to blackmail Amanda into carrying out her game in Saw III.
Saw 3D / The Final Chapter (2010)
Present day: A few weeks after the events of Saw VI, Jill and Hoffman battle it out to take control of Jigsaw's legacy. The main game involves Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), a man who lied about surviving a Jigsaw trap to garner fame. Hoffman is killed by Dr. Gordon.
Flashbacks: In a jump all the way back to Saw, we learn that shortly after he saws his foot off, Dr. Gordon cauterizes the wound and is enlisted by Kramer to be another apprentice.
Latter part of Jigsaw (2017)
Present day: Surprise! The main story of the detectives trying to locate the Jigsaw killer takes place ten years after Saw III. It’s his apprentice, Logan, who survived the barn trap that’s actually carrying out the game.
Without spoiling the movie if you haven't seen it yet, Spiral takes place years after the previous Saw movies.
Saw movies in release order
- Saw (2004)
- Saw II (2005)
- Saw III (2006)
- Saw IV (2007)
- Saw V (2008)
- Saw VI (2009)
- Saw 3D/The Final Chapter (2010)
- Jigsaw (2017)
- Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
Watching the Saw movies in chronological order is a good way to enjoy the series as a newbie. First-time watchers will get a good idea of what the franchise is about, without diving into the hows and whys. For those revisiting it a second time, it’ll serve as a handy refresher leading into Spiral.
What began with the grimy, low-budget original expanded into a complex web of plot twists and turns that audiences never saw coming. Saw throws you in at the deep end – in the middle of a story that unravels over the next decade of storytelling. The 2004 opener kicked things off modestly with a $1.2 million budget. Relative newcomers Leigh Whannell and James Wan co-wrote the script, with Wan tackling director duties.
The Mobius strip of Jigsaw’s plots grows ever more complex the deeper you get into the franchise. Watching the Saw movies in release date order, you’re able to chart the series’ box office success, purely based on how elaborate (and costly) the traps become in the later sequels.
As you progress into the series, the retconning and interwoven backstories grow more complex, which is why it’s a good idea to watch once without worrying too much about it. After that, you should revisit our first list to really get to grips with the specifics.
Best Saw movies
This all leads to one inevitable question: what are the best Saw movies? Everyone’s opinions differ on this topic, of course, with personal preferences being taken into account (we’re fond of the first three).
Here, we’re letting the film community speak for themselves, by ranking the Saw movies via their IMDB user ratings. To be honest, the general consensus feels pretty accurate to us. It’s interesting to note that newest entry Spiral sits quite high on the list already, but that could all change once the movie is widely available.
- Saw (2004) Rating: 7.6
- Saw II(2005) Rating: 6.6
- Saw III (2006) Rating: 6.2
- Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) Rating: 6.1
- Saw VI (2009) Rating: 6
- Saw IV(2007) Rating: 5.9
- Jigsaw(2017) Rating: 5.8
- Saw V (2008) Rating: 5.8
- Saw: 3D/The Final Chapter (2010) Rating: 5.6
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Gem Seddon is a Seattle-based freelance entertainment writer with bylines at Vulture, Digital Spy, TechRadar, GamesRadar+, Total Film, What to Watch, and Certified Forgotten. Librarian by day, scribbler by night, Gem loves 90-minute movies, time travel romance, single-camera comedy shows, all things queer, all things horror, and queer horror. Alien and Scream are tied as her all-time favourite movie. She won't stop raving about Better Things.