Every Movie Murder Clown Ranked By How Huggable They Are

The killer clown trend has amorphous roots, with anthropologists and clinicians failing to settle on where the slow tilt of clowns into full-borne nightmare material originated. It might have been in Ruggero Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" (riffed amazingly in Seinfeld), or it might be considerably grimmer, inextricably tied to the case of American serial killer John Wayne Gacy. In the modern canon — whether in film, television, or literature — the prevailing theory is Stephen King's Pennywise from "It," which popularized the killer clown archetype. Some scholars contend it goes beyond a phobia, becoming something akin to a cultural phenomenon.

Of course, horror audiences remember the Great Clown Panic of 2016, a time when, for some reason, people were dressing up as clowns and running around in the dark. While the reporting then was overblown, there's no denying the killer clown dominates the current age of horror. Yet, audiences might forget these clowns have feelings too. Sure, they're homicidal maniacs, but they're also people (well, mostly). Here, we'll be looking at the most famous movie murder clowns, ranking them by just how much you'll want to hug them.

Art the Clown (Terrifier series)

"Terrifier 2," the latest entry in Damien Leone's Art the Clown saga — including the original "Terrifier" and the anthology segment in "All Hallows' Eve" among other shorts — has been a remarkable success — grossing nearly $11 million in a limited theatrical release. A niche horror outing, it's laudable for its extreme gore — some of which was almost too brutal to film. Still, while Art the Clown is making bank, he's sending audiences straight out of the auditorium.

While Art the Clown is a modern horror icon, he's probably not one the audience wants to get to know better. Art takes methodical killing to an extreme level. Even Pennywise's centuries of waiting in the sewers pale in comparison to how committed Art is to massacring anyone who gets within 10 feet of him. Art doesn't simply kill his victims. Most of the "Terrifier" series amounts to protracted slaughter scenes, the kind audiences will be watching while wincing behind their fingers. In other words, stay far away. Art is not huggable at all. He can't be fixed, sorry.

The Joker (Joker)

The Joker has had several noteworthy portrayals in recent years, including an Oscar-winning turn from the late Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight." In 2019's "Joker," Joaquin Phoenix took on the origin story role, similarly winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, a nihilistic failed clown. While Todd Phillips' "Joker" remains as divisive as ever (at least until the Lady Gaga sequel arrives), there's no denying that Phoenix is on an entirely different level here. He's remarkably chilling in the role. His slow descent into diabolical acts came with more care and tact than most (even if, in retrospect, some of that empathy is chillingly problematic).

Truthfully, it's Fleck's violent rebellion that renders him a no-go for hugs. Maybe early on, sure! But as the film progresses and Fleck's mind spirals, he's not someone audiences will want to embrace. After all, his big, climactic moment occurs late in the film. Fleck, fully committed to the Joker persona, kills Robert De Niro's Murray Franklin. A hug isn't going to help treat that.

Bobo (Out of the Dark)

Bobo isn't nearly as popular as some of the other clowns listed here, though it isn't for a lack of trying! After all, Michael Schroeder's "Out of the Dark" is criminally underrated, and its progressive mix of sex-positive politics and queer undertones is practically begging to be remade through a modern lens. The general gist of "Out of the Dark" is that a killer clown is targeting workers at the Los Angeles phone sex line "Suite Nothings." The movie never succumbs to exploitative, tawdry impulses, as its women characters are all developed.

Of course, Bobo the killer clown is another story entirely. Principally, Bobo feels entitled to the women's attention, which we learn when the film's final reel unmasks him. While I won't spoil Bobo's identity, he doesn't deserve a hug because he feels too innately entitled to one in the first place. Sure, while he's not as criminal as the Joker or as violent as Art the Clown, Bobo remains a creep in his own right. No amount of face paint is going to conceal the damaged, entitled baby underneath.

Captain Spaulding (House of 1000 Corpses)

"House of 1000 Corpses" might have taught musician/filmmaker Rob Zombie the art of directing, but that doesn't mean it's a movie that the audience will immediately love. Sure, Zombie has his fans, and in recent years, his horror offerings have undergone a necessary, worthwhile reappraisal. But there's a distinct taste to his style of hillbilly horror, and it's certainly not for everyone. "House of 1000 Corpses" antagonist Captain Spaulding (the late Sid Haig) perhaps best conceptualizes Zombie's unique brand of terror.

Spaulding is more vocal than the preceding clowns. He's loud, boorish, and, yes, homicidal. Yet, by positively dripping with personality, Spaulding immediately distinguishes himself from other killer clowns. He exhibits the comically exaggerated behavior audiences have come to expect from a killer clown. Still, the clown isn't exactly pleasant. While upon first meeting Captain Spaulding, he might deserve a hug or two, the moment he introduces audiences to the rest of his family, that clownish luster is lost. No hugs for you, Captain Spaulding.

Horny the Clown (Drive-Thru)

There was a time when the "Gossip Girl" cast didn't know what to do with themselves. Given the show's remarkable success, distributors rushed to release side projects to augment their success. But Leighton Meester and the titular Gossip Girl, Penn Badgley, first met while filming Shane Kuhn and Brendan Cowles' "Drive-Thru." Here, a bullied fast-food mascot seeks revenge on the now-high schoolers who tormented him, donning the Horny the Clown costume for some good old-fashioned slasher carnage.

Horny, like Captain Spaulding, is considerably more playful (and vocal) than some other entries on this list. His malice is more gallows, and his kills are more elaborate. Like Art the Clown, he's more violent and strangely modern. While he looks like an old Jester, he also feels like a "Twisted Metal" villain brought into the real world. He's got food, though, and is resultantly more accessible. Homicidal or not, a hug or two might go a long way toward securing a greasy, tasty drive-thru burger.

The Laugh (Amusement)

"Amusement" is a weird, largely forgotten slasher anthology from 2007. Once poised to be released theatrically (with an admittedly effective trailer to boot), the film faced release delays, unceremoniously arriving on home video in 2009 — years after anyone who might have remembered it would have any interest in seeing it. It's a shame, too! While John Simpson's anthology of three childhood friends stalked by an unknown killer in adulthood doesn't break any significant slasher molds, it's considerably more stylish and effective than most of its ilk.

The second vignette, detailing Tabitha's (Katheryn Winnick) abduction, plays on the old urban legend of the life-size clown doll. As Tabitha babysits for cousins, she is frequently frightened by the human-sized Harlequin clown doll in her aunt's (inexplicable) room of dolls. As she becomes increasingly freaked out, she finally asks her aunt if it's okay to remove the doll for the night. Of course, her aunt responds by noting they don't own such a doll. Soon after, The Laugh, a manic killer, chases Tabitha. The Laugh wins hug points for being played by Keir O'Donnell, though he loses just as much for his macabre interest in dissecting rats.

Kent McCoy (Clown)

Before Jon Watts made "Spider-Man" universes collide, he worked alongside Eli Roth at the now-defunct Dimension Films. Watts' "Clown" stars Andy Powers as Kent McCoy, a real estate agent who has to fill in when a clown hired for his son's birthday party fails to show. Kent borrows a costume from a house he's selling, and while the party goes off without a hitch, Kent finds himself unable to remove the costume.

Watts and producer Roth relish in the film's body horror, striking a delicate balance between absurd comedy (such as when Kent must don the costume to work) and bonafide possession horror. This isn't any old clown costume — an ancient Icelandic demon possesses it. Resultantly, McCoy remains as huggable as ever. He's just a poor sap who tried to do something nice for his kid! If that doesn't inspire empathy, I don't know what will. The ancient Icelandic Clöyne is another matter entirely. (Probably, no hugs for him.)

Richard Grindle (Stitches)

Whereas Kent McCoy wanted to be a clown (insofar as it would have made his son happy), Richard Grindle (Ross Noble) had no such illusions. Being a clown sucked, and that was true even before he met his untimely end at a birthday party gone awry. After some awkward camper sex, Grindle, dressed as Stitches the clown, arrives late at Tommy's (Ryan Burke, Tommy Knight older) birthday party. Tommy screws around, kicking a soccer ball into Stitches' face, causing him to fall backward onto a dishwasher kitchen knife.

Years later, Tommy has ostensibly moved on (despite witnessing Stitches' clown cult resurrection as a child). However, Stitches returns to carve his way through Tommy's new friends during his sixteenth birthday. While Stitches may not be innately huggable, performer Ross Noble certainly is. Famous for his stand-up comedy, he's got a smooth accent and a penchant for the absurd. Sure, as Stitches, he might kill you — but at least you'd get a solid laugh before he finishes the deed. Given the grim canon of killer movie clowns, that's worth more than most might realize.

The clown doll (Poltergeist)

Tobe Hooper gave Anton Chekhov a run for his money with the infamous clown doll in "Poltergeist." The film teases the clown's awakening through the first two acts — making audiences wait with bated breath for the damned thing to come alive and attack poor Robbie Freeling (Oliver Robins). Sure, on account of how much Robbie hates the thing, it's a wonder why it's in his bedroom in the first place. But the doll finally comes alive, with Hooper teasing the tension out for as long as possible.

However, the doll's hug factor remains unclear. Looking frame by frame at "Poltergeist," it seems like the clown doll wanted a hug. Sure, it laughs menacingly and drags Robbie under the bed, wrapping its extended, jingly arms around his throat. But maybe that's how things work in the clown world. Of course, it's as likely that the doll wanted to murder Robbie. The call is yours! But if it's any comfort, it is handled pretty efficiently in Hooper's original and Gil Kenan's remake, so the threat is marginal at best. Get these clown dolls some hugs!

Rocco the Clown (The Funhouse Massacre)

Andy Palmer's "The Funhouse Massacre" is a more accomplished eighties slasher riff than most. Writer Ben Begley innately understood the beats of antecedent carnage fests. Resultantly, "The Funhouse Massacre" works as an homage to the killers of yesteryear while feeling distinctly and entertainingly modern. On Halloween night, several infamous serial killers successfully escape their asylum. The killers make their way toward the Land of Illusions Haunted Scream Park, supplanting themselves among the scare actors to avoid detection. But they can't stop killing for long! Soon it's an absolute bloodbath as law enforcement endeavors to stop these killers for good.

Among the killers is Rocco the Clown (Mars Crain), a hulking behemoth of a man whose stature would be intimidating enough — even without the clown makeup. Rocco is known for killing his wrestling opponents in the ring. Yet, he's curiously loyal (and possibly immortal). Get on his good side, and Rocco would wrap you in his massive arms, carrying you through life's hardest moments. Of course, he'll pulverize anyone antagonizing you. But it's a small sacrifice to be made. In truth, Rocco probably needs a genuinely caring friend.

Clown Mannequins (Hell House LLC)

Some clown mannequins get a bad rep. Case in point? Stephen Cognetti's "Hell House LLC" and its sequels. The first entry is arguably one of the better-found footage horror movies of the century, a low-budget affair that mines the suggestion of terror over explicit scares. In "Hell House LLC," a group of scare actors endeavors to transform a haunted hotel into a haunted house for Halloween. While the film opens with the inevitable tragedy, "Hell House LLC" explores what led to the terror.

The film's most effective scene is undoubtedly the film's moving clown mannequins. Throughout the film, several players spot the clown mannequins — props for the house — moving off-camera. They're one place, and then suddenly, they've disappeared entirely, often reappearing for a good old-fashioned jump scare. While most might be too afraid to lean in for a hug, it's not the mannequins' fault! A demonic, otherworldly force is controlling them. Outside the hotel, they're likely as plush and huggable as ever.

The Klowns (Killer Klowns from Outer Space)

The Chiodo Brothers' "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" is having something of a modern resurgence. Grossing a respectable $43 million upon release in 1988, it's not that the movie flopped in any regard. But it is remarkable to see it enduring so decades later. Spirit Halloween stores are overflowing with merch, and there's even an asymmetrical multiplayer game based on the film in development. While there isn't a Killer Klowns sequel (yet), audiences still have the original to revisit for gore, scares, and huggable clowns.

While the titular Klowns might initially seem unapproachable, they're remarkably playful. Sure, they might devour you with shadow puppets or run you down with balloon dogs, but they're just so big and squishy. They're also aliens, and who can pass up the opportunity (and inevitable clout) to hug an alien? The Klowns are back in a big way, and a hug or two would go a long way in honoring their resurgence.

Pennywise (It)

Ben Mendelsohn, Will Poulter, and Mark Rylance (terrifying in this year's "Bone's and All") were actors attached to portray Pennywise in the recent "It" remake. But when directorial duties shifted to Andy Muschietti, Bill Skarsgård landed the lead role. Skarsgård turned in a remarkable, terrifying performance, no doubt accounting for "It Chapter One's" status as one of the highest-grossing horror movies of all time. Yes, Skarsgård and Pennywise are terrifying. But it's also Skarsgård, and no one is going to pass that opportunity up!

Upon release, the internet fell in love with him, with several online users letting their intrusive (though no less compelling) thoughts win out: Pennywise is hot. Sure, he might devour little children and take the form of a leper in clown form. But look at that smile, that softly tousled orange hair, and the Tyra Banks-approved smize. Buzzfeed News perhaps said it best with their headline, "Bill Skarsgård Is So Hot He's Making People Want To Bang A Murderous Clown." There really isn't much else to say. (Though if you need additional support, here's Cosmopolitan saying the same thing). Clown or not, the internet will want to hug him (and, yes, probably, a lot more).