In 1989, Charles Band and Full Moon released the first part of what was soon to become their most recognized film creation, Puppet Master. Spawning multiple sequels, a comic book series, and plentiful merchandising opportunities, this series became a cornerstone for this direct-to-video company. There's been a steady production of sequels that further flesh out the story of Toulon’s killer puppets — some good and some bad, but most of them fun.
This list explores every film in the franchise, with my attempt at ranking them from worst to best. As a little holiday treat, I’ll also include where you can stream each frightfully fun film.
12. Puppet Master: The Legacy (2003)
Puppets showed: All, in the form of flashbacks
The 8th film in the Puppet Master series, Legacy is the only movie on this list that has very little redeeming factors. If you want to know everything that happens in the previous 7 Puppet Master films without watching any of them, then Legacy is good for that. Outside of that, this movie is a waste of time. It adds nothing to the storyline and is made up of entirely too long clips of each other film before it. The film lacks heart and feels like a cash grab from the start.
Thankfully, this is the only one of the series like this and the only one that’s not a blast to watch in some way. If possible, I would avoid this one at all costs. But if you are a glutton for bad horror like myself, you can find it on Tubi free in the United States.
11. Curse of the Puppet Master (1998)
Puppets showed: Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Jester, Tunneler, Six-Shooter, Matt, Tank, Dummy Torch (only stock footage)
The 6th film in the Puppet Master series tries to reboot the movies after the ending in 5, succeeding in doing so despite its flaws. The ranking of this film so close to Legacy is sure to confuse some people. This standalone sequel does not follow many of the rules set in the prior films and it is the only movie that does not depend on Toulon’s elixir of life to animate the puppets. While being a decent film on its own, it relies on parts of the previous mythos while totally disregarding others. Robert “Tank” (Josh Green, Spiders) is this bumbling country boy with a gift for wood crafting. He is stumbled upon by the evil Dr. Magrew who is our current puppet master (George Peck, Dawn of the Mummy) and his unsuspecting daughter Jane (Emily Harrison, The Bold and the Beautiful). Robert has a chance encounter that leads to him doing what he loves for a living. His only task is building the perfect puppet, one that he must pour his heart and soul into. But neither Robert nor Jane realize just how much of himself will become part of his creation.
There are a few fun kills but an anti-climactic ending just makes the film feel longer. Robert kills Doc, Jane screams, and the curtain falls. The build-up throughout the film is dashed in this rushed ending, earning it a low score on this list. However, Puppet kills make this a fun watch, and you can find it on Tubi in the United States.
10. Puppet Master: Axis of Evil (2010)
Puppets showed: Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Jester, Tunneler, Ninja, Shredder Khan, Gengie
The first of the Axis trilogy and the 9th in the Puppet Master series, Axis of Evil starts strong, placing itself moments before the Nazis arrive for Toulon. The trilogy set out to tell the story of the puppets from Toulon’s suicide up until sometime before the original Puppet Master. A very strong introduction is then quickly sullied with bad acting and strange dialogue. What would be laughed off and accepted as cheesy fun is instead harder to watch, due to the overall increased production quality of this film. Things like the bad acting or choppy puppet movements just seem worse. New puppets are introduced that then are never seen in later films.
Axis of Evil starts out strong but it steadily gets worse as it falls victim to its own film style. It is just good enough production-wise to be held to a higher standard, while not separating itself enough as a direct to home low-quality horror that is the Puppet Master series. The film tried too hard in some areas (such as character design and sets) and not enough in others (acting and plot development), resulting in a movie that is better from a production standpoint than many of the other films yet still feels hollow and lacking the charm of the other entries in the franchise. The care to connect it to the original is a nice touch, but sadly that is all the heart this film seems to have. It's a solid watch simply because of the plot it sets up in the later films. But the bad puppet CGI is laughable — and not in the fun way it was in other movies. This one can also be found on Tubi in the US.
9. Puppet Master X: Axis Rising (2012)
Puppets showed: Blade, Pinhead, Leach Woman, Jester, Tunneler, Six Shooter, Blitzkrieg, Bombshell, Weremacht, Kamikaze
Puppet Master X: Axis Rising is not a good movie, but it is a fun movie. As a direct sequel to Axis of Evil, this film — the 10th in the series — continues on with the storyline from Axis of Evil. The acting is bad, the costuming is bad, the accents are bad, and they use completely different actors and actresses for returning characters. With all that said, Axis Rising does what the Puppet Master series is best at: turning these weaknesses into the very things that make the film fun to watch.
Axis Rising gives us a bad dominatrix moonlighting as a Nazi and a megalomaniac with no real ethos as our main villains. They are fun to watch, but something about them just dispels the feelings of evil that always came with the Nazis. The puppets in this film are remarkable and the film's true saving grace. Their movements are refined and feel similar to how they were in the first two. The creation of the Nazi puppets Blitzkrieg, Bombshell, Weremacht, and Kamikaze are a great addition, giving the Allies and puppets a new type of villain.
There is enough done right in this one to forgive the sloppy aspects. But combined with the weakness of Axis of Evil, it is understandable if viewers are hesitant. This movie is a must-watch if you want to understand what is happening in the far superior final movie Axis Termination, and you can watch it for free on Tubi in the US.
8. Retro Puppet Master (1999)
Puppets showed: Retro Blade, Retro Pinhead, Drill Sergeant, Retro Six- Shooter, Doctor Death, Cyclops (modern versions are shown but not the focus of this film)
Retro Puppet Master may be the slowest of the films, but it creates a wonderfully crafted backstory for Andre Toulon and the puppets. This movie is primarily told as a flashback in which Elder Toulon (Guy Rolfe Mr. Sardonicus) explains where another puppet has gotten off to. This movie alters some of the previous mythos, but this can be forgiven as the mythos Retro Puppet Master creates fits in more with all the other films. The focus of this film is on how Toulon was gifted the secret of life that he uses to animate his puppets and also his meeting of his wife, a crucial character in the series. It also explains why Sutekh considers Toulon and the other masters as an enemy (as shown in 4th and 5th movies).
This is one of the best of the prequels with only Puppet Master III ranking higher. As Puppet Master films go, it has everything needed to be a fun time. It is only its limited puppet interaction that keeps this film from ranking higher on the list. It's a solid prequel that helps to expand the universe while also giving all the main characters and puppets much-needed depth. If interested in watching the films in chronological order, this would be the first. Find it on Tubi in the US.
7. Puppet Master II (1990)
Puppets showed: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Woman, Torch, Mephisto (flashback), Djinn the Homunculus (flashback)
Puppet Master II is the dark sequel to the original Puppet Master. This movie features Toulon, revived by his own puppets, as he tries to create a puppet vessel for himself and a woman he believes to be the reincarnation of his wife. In this movie, Toulon is insane, likely driven mad by being revived countless years after his own suicide. He is a man out of time, with a body that is dying despite the elixir of life running through his veins. He also begins to murder anyone within reach of his puppets to extract their life essence that is needed for the puppets.
This movie is very dark stylistically. There is just enough humor sprinkled throughout to ground the plot against the dreary background. It's an extremely well-done film and a fantastic sequel to Puppet Master. Steve Welles makes Toulon into a menacing monster almost as evil as his puppets.The ending opened up an interesting avenue for a sequel that sadly was never pursued. This movie can be found on Tubi in the US, and I absolutely recommend you watch it.
6. Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017)
Puppets showed: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Six-Shooter, Leech Woman, Bombshell, Weremacht, Blitzkrieg
Axis Termination is the ending of the 3 part story started with Axis of Evil and is the final Puppet Master movie within the timeline before the reboot in 2018. This movie begins with the completely random and desperately needed killing of every single human character left alive from the previous 2. Charles Band must have realized how unbearable they were and how detrimental they would have been to the hilarious and completely Puppet Master–esque storyline this movie adopted. This movie brings back everything that was ridiculous and sacred about the previous films, with the added fun of Nazi puppets. The dialogue is corny, and the film stopped taking itself seriously, which was the major detriment of both Axis of Evil and Axis Rising. It's much more fun as the psychics finally take the center stage again.
Both the Axis and Allies employ a secret group tasked with destroying the other and capturing their puppets. The film doesn’t even try to keep itself limited to the era it takes place in. Character outfits are all over the place, and the architecture is completely out of time. The puppet violence is much higher in this movie, which is very satisfying. And leech girl really shines, which is also great to see.
But where Axis Termination truly shines is in its ability to be funny and corny while having an equal intensity that delivers when needed. This movie also explains why the puppets can rebel against a master that they deem as evil. It's well worth the watch for Puppet Master fans, as long as they can stomach the low-budget aspects of it. Like most of the other films in the series, this one can be found on Tubi in the US.
5. Puppet Master (1989)
Puppets showed: Blade, Jester, Pinhead, Tunneler, Leech Woman, Shredder Khan, Gengie
The original, the one that started it all, is a wild ride that plays out like a fever dream at times. Puppet Master has become a must-own for many horror buffs. This movie follows a group of psychic investigators all hunting for the secrets of Andre Toulon and fellow psychic Neal Gallagher. The viewer soon finds out that it is the psychics who are being hunted as one by one they’re murdered by Toulon’s puppets. Secrets about Toulon and the psychics are revealed as each person tries to uncover some truth to the muddled secrets hidden at the Bodega Bay. It is learned that death is not the end of life, as Gallagher uses Toulon’s magic for his own evil doings.
Known for its dark tones and haunting musical scores, Puppet Master helped create one of the greatest direct-to-video franchises in horror history. Toulon’s puppets have earned their place in the horror hall of fame, as does this movie. Do yourself a favor and buy Puppet Master if you don’t already own it. If that’s out of the question, you can watch it for free on Tubi in the US.
4. Puppet Master 4 (1993)
Puppets showed: Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Tunneler, Six Shooter, Decapitron, Totem
Puppet Master 4 combines science, magic, and the underworld in this 2-movie storyline. Sutekh, the evil god that Toulon’s secret of life formula comes from, sends totems to dispatch all those who possess the secret of animation. This includes a research team using AI that is coming close to recreating Toulon’s formula. It is by chance that one of these researchers is also the caretaker at the now rundown Bodega Bay inn. The puppets and Toulon himself come to his aid as the totems begin killing all those around him. The puppet/totem fights are a blast to watch, and this is the viewer’s first time seeing the puppets fight a similar enemy.
The melding of the sci-fi and occult in this film goes over well, with just the right amount of cheesiness expected from a Puppet Master film. The acting in this one is a high point, and the characters are given enough backstory for the viewer to feel for them. While Puppet Master 4 may seem like a strange direction for the series to take, the film helps to build what is one of the biggest showdowns in the entire series. Puppet Master 4 sets up for the far crazier and intended final film of the Puppet Master series, The Final Chapter. It can be found on Tubi for those interested in seeing how the filmmakers originally planned on ending this series.
3. Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994)
Puppets showed: Blade, Pinhead, Jester, Tunneler, Torch, Six Shooter, Decapitron, Dark Totem
The Final Chapter is the often underappreciated gem in the Puppet Master series. Following directly after Puppet Master 4, this movie keeps all the same actors and actresses, making the transition between films the most fluid of them all. The Final Chapter has it all: love, death, sorrow, happiness, puppets, and even demons. The dark and dreary settings that Puppet Master is known for make another grand appearance as the puppet master and his puppets must do battle with Sutekh himself. This time it isn’t just the puppets who are in danger, it’s the entire world.
The effects are surprisingly well done and, while cheesy, do stand up to the passing of time. The use of puppets and practical effects in this film are key to its success. The plot lands and the ending wraps up enough to be seen as a successful close-out for the series (although that isn’t how things worked out). Many of the films following this one were lesser in quality, which was a shame. This is another one that can be watched for free on Tubi.
2. Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)
Puppets showed: Blade, Pinhead, Tunneler, Kaiser, Happy Amphibian, Mechaniker, Grasshupfer, Mr. Pumper, Junior Fuhrer, Autogyro, Money Lender
The Littlest Reich is the movie that throws most everything from any of the other films right out the window. If the viewer can look past the entire mythos being changed, they can see that The Littlest Reich is an insane movie. This film is a fantastic and over the top ride that proudly stands side by side with the best Puppet Master movies. For best enjoyment, go into the film with open thoughts. Do not try to compare it to the previous films. Instead treat it like the opposite side of a coin, one where Toulon’s alliance is on either side. The Littlest Reich gives viewers the most truly evil villain seen in the Puppet Master series. The puppets are not playthings in any sense, built by Toulon for the purpose of finding and killing those hidden during the Holocaust.
There is a darkness to this film that few others even come close to in this series. The brutality and gore are top-notch, and the practical effects are all incredibly well done. The Littlest Reich is not devoid of humor, which is best used in a direct offset to the film’s most serious moments. “I got 6 million reasons why,” is one of the heaviest hitting lines ever uttered in this series and is a direct reference to the evils committed by the Nazis. While many of the Puppet Master movies addressed the Nazis, only one other confronts the issue with such severity. The potential for a sequel to this story gives me a rush. It can currently be found on Shudder.
2. Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge (1991)
Puppets showed: Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Jester, Tunneler, Six Shooter
Toulon’s Revenge is the crowned jewel of the Puppet Master series. One of the most driving and relatable plots within the Puppet Master series, Toulon’s Revenge is a riveting story filled with love and revenge. This film gives us our first real look into Toulon’s past and his true relationship with the puppets. Toulon lives a life full of love from his wife, his puppets, and his audience. This is all ripped away by the Nazis who are trying to create their own reanimation elixir. What follows is a blood-soaked path of revenge, as Toulon cuts his way through the Nazi soldiers responsible for his deep misfortune. This is the film that explains Toulon’s deep hatred for the Nazis while also providing a much-needed background on his puppets.
The acting in Toulon’s Revenge is some of the best in the original series. The viewer feels Toulon’s drive gets darker and darker as the Nazis continually destroy his life. Guy Rolfe instills Toulon with such deep emotion with each seething glare and biting remark. Next to The Littlest Reich, there is not a Puppet Master movie that reaches Toulon’s Revenge’s level of intensity. While the puppets are responsible for much of the carnage, Toulon himself inflects the cruelest and most satisfying punishment.
The movie is quite old, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending of this one for those who have yet to watch it. Puppet Master III is a must watch not only for Puppet Master fans but all fans of the horror genre. This movie can be found on Tubi, but I recommend buying the multi-disc set so you can own most of these phenomenal films in your personal collection.
Written by Dylan Russ, morbidlybeautiful.com