Ranking the ‘American Horror Story’ Seasons So Far — Which Are the Scariest?

American Horror Story Seasons Ranked
Michael Yarish/©FX Networks/courtesy Everett Collection; Ray Mickshaw / © FX Network / Courtesy: Everett Collection; Michele K. Short/©FX Networks/courtesy Everett Collection

Few series have had as long-lasting and as varied a run as FX’s American Horror Story. Across 12 seasons (it’s been renewed through its 13th!), we’ve been everywhere from a haunted murder house to a creepy hotel to the Roanoke colony, with plenty of memorable scares along the way. The anthology show has crossed over so many genres and subgenres of horror that there’s something for everyone, which may be its biggest strength.

And with the spinoff American Horror Stories (featuring a different storyline each episode) now part of the expanding universe (it returned for a second season in July), fans have a lot to enjoy from the franchise.

Now that Season 12 has come to an end, we’re reflecting on the first 11 seasons of AHS. Which are the scariest and which ones missed the mark? Below, we took on the difficult task of ranking them by fear factor as well as the overall quality of each season’s vastly different storyline.

American Horror Story, FX

American Horror Story Double Feature Finn Wittrock
Frank Ockenfels/FX

12. Double Feature (Season 10)

Freak Show, considered by fans and critics alike to be one of the worst seasons of the series thus far, had one bright spot — and that was Finn Wittrock, playing Dandy Mott, a stunted man-child turned mentally deranged serial killer. While Mott has undoubtedly been Wittrock’s most iconic AHS role (and let’s face it, it’s a tough one to beat), he’s showcased his range as an inbred cannibal in Roanoke and a tortured writer in Double Feature.  

Kim Kardashian in 'American Horror Story: Delicate'
Eric Liebowitz/FX

11. Delicate (Season 12)

Delicate, in all its Hollywood glitz, glam, and gory glory did unfortunately not deliver the strongest of the AHS seasons, despite strong performances from AHS veteran Emma Roberts as well as Kim Kardashian and Matt Czuchry –the latest stars inducted into Ryan Murphy‘s horror-verse. Based on Danielle Valentine’s book “Delicate Condition,” this season grapples with the issue of women often not being believed when they feel something feels off – in this case: a pregnancy. While Delicate had every opportunity to encapsulate female rage and the systemically oppressive nature of the world of medicine (and throw in entertainment too, why not), its twists were often too bizarre, unpredictable, or, perhaps worst of all, unanswered.

American Horror Story Hotel Season 1 Episode 2

10. Hotel (Season 5)

The most stylish season is also typically thought of as one of its worst ones. Hotel had a lot of potential when its premise was introduced. A creepy hotel in Hollywood? Lady Gaga in her first big acting role? Serial killers and vampires? It seemed like it had all the makings of a great season. But while Gaga’s performance as The Countess was great and the aesthetic of the season was striking, the rest of it was all over the place. It felt like a weird mashup of an erotic thriller and serial killer horror that never really stuck the landing or gave us any lasting scares. Also, being the first season without the iconic Jessica Lange definitely didn’t help.

American Horror Story Coven Season 3 Episode 1

9. Coven (Season 3)

This is perhaps the most polarizing season of the entire show. Those who love it bring up the fantastic premise of a Hogwarts-like school for young witches and its female-centric storyline. It even features Fleetwood Mac singer and musical legend Stevie Nicks playing herself. But outside of the season’s opening sequence (in black and white with hooded, faceless figures doing cult rituals, which may be the creepiest ever), it’s not really a “horror” story at all, with the focus turning to training to be a witch and learning magic. It marked a huge departure from the overwhelming dread of the first two seasons and while that’s not a bad thing in itself, it left a lot to be desired.

American Horror Story Cult Season 7 Episode 1

8. Cult (Season 7)

Cult was when AHS decided to go political. And as expected, it had some very mixed results. Released in 2017 following Donald Trump winning the presidential election, Cult used an actual cult in the show as an analogy for Trump’s base. It featured Peters turning into a cult leader who emulates basically every famous cult leader. It was a weird season, and a lot of it didn’t quite hit the mark. Still, the writers deserve props for the creativity behind this season. And those creepy clowns.

American Horror Story Apocalypse Season 1 Episode 1 Nuke

7. Apocalypse (Season 8)

The All Stars season of AHS looked back to some of the more popular ones to create what was basically a season-long crossover between Murder House, Coven, and others — and it kind of worked. Initially beginning with the premise of a nuclear apocalypse leaving few people alive, soon the survivors were joined by the witches of Coven and a return to the Murder House itself ensued. It was a lot, and some of it genuinely worked. There were some real scares even, from the return of Rubber Man to the mass murder with poisoned fruits. Unfortunately, the season was so cluttered and tonally confused that no storyline really got a chance to shine and it never truly reached its potential. Still, seeing old characters interact was definitely worthwhile.

'American Horror Story: NYC'

6. NYC (Season 11)

The 11th season of the eerie series was similar to Cult and Freak Show in that it had fewer supernatural elements, allowing real-life circumstances to provide the fear instead. The one ghostly figure of the season was the masked Big Daddy, who we learned in the end was effectively a spectral manifestation of AIDS. Those who contracted the illness would be haunted by Big Daddy’s presence. His ominous appearances were a deadly foreshadowing. NYC captured the impending doom of the AIDS epidemic, plus the crushing reality of seeing the masses ignore your cries for help. The Sentinel and its serial-killer creator also provided unsettling and frightful moments throughout the season. Ryan Murphy‘s connection to the LGBTQ+ community, plus the timing of NYC‘s release following another deadly pandemic and amid increasingly alarming anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the U.S., makes Season 11 a perfect fit for the franchise. And it certainly packs some of the biggest emotional punches.

American Horror Story Freak Show Season 4 Episode 1

5. Freak Show (Season 4)

The peak of the series in terms of ratings, Freak Show took a turn towards body horror. More surprisingly, it also had a focus on heartwarming characters and emotional moments as it followed a travelling “freak show” in the 1950s. This season had great style like Hotel, but unlike Hotel, it also had a great storyline that had fans invested. A special mention goes out to Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch) who was insanely terrifying for how little screen time he had in the season.

American Horror Story Season 6 Episode 1

4. Roanoke (Season 6)

This was AHS at its most meta and in some ways most daring. Roanoke followed a couple living in a haunted house, who then became involved with a show-within-a-show documentary retelling of the haunting that also dealt with the historical disappearance of the Roanoke Colony in the 1500s. It’s very twisty, very layered and often very spooky (such as the Piggy Man’s murders). Roanoke felt like the shot-in-the-arm the series needed after Hotel.

American Horror Story 1984 Season 1 Episode 1

3. 1984 (Season 9)

The ninth season was definitely a return to form. 1984 went back to basics, focusing on the classic slasher trope of a serial killer at a summer camp à la Friday the 13th. Emma Roberts played a girl who escaped a serial killer, only to have to face more trauma as a killer emerged at the summer camp where she was a counselor. This season was AHS at its best, blending the style and camp of the ‘80s with some actually chilling moments. It felt like a love letter to the genre itself and a reminder that AHS can still hit high points almost a decade later.

American Horror Story Murder House Season 1 Episode 1

2. Murder House (Season 1)

The one that started it all, Murder House is often looked back fondly as the series’ high point in scares — and for good reason. From the disturbing Rubber Man to ghosts to the literal Antichrist, Murder House was much more than a typical haunted house story. It was a breath of fresh air with a new style and approach to horror that TV had been lacking. Plus, it was just plain entertaining. While it definitely hadn’t solidified its voice or identity as a series yet, Murder House remains one of the high points of American Horror Story.

American Horror Story Asylum Season 2 Episode 1

1. Asylum (Season 2)

The absolute best season in terms of scares and, for many, in terms of everything else, too. It followed a couple in the present day hoping to renovate an old mental hospital while also flashing back to the ‘60s when it was still open. Horrible things — like human experimentation and a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus — ensued. Asylum introduced the anthology format and showed how familiar faces could turn into someone else completely. It has what is possibly Lange’s best performance as Sister Jude. And it’s just plain terrifying, using its setting to great effect. Years later, Asylum remains the cream of the crop for the series and it’s hard to imagine anything topping it.