This is a list of films I consider to be the greatest ever made. And thus far the two movies I have written about (City Lights and Rear Window) everyone has agreed with me on. But when I told my friends I was going to include this one… Well, it raised a few eyebrows. When The Ring came out in 2002, everyone I knew who saw it agreed it was the scariest movie they had seen in a long time. It was instantly a huge part of our culture, with Samara being the new Bloody Mary. Everyone knew what it meant when you said the phone rang after you watched a movie.
But over the past decade, immediately following the release of The Ring, which was a remake of a Japanese horror film from 1998 called Ringu, a long string of American remakes of Japanese horror films became the new trend. Now those same people who told me The Ring was the scariest movie they’d seen say that The Ring is a terrible, stupid movie that sucks.
To really understand why The Ring is so great, you need to understand the history of the story, and why much of what came afterward soured the film’s reputation.
Rimgu, which The Ring was a remake of, was based on a Japanese novel by the same name, which in turn was inspired by a Japanese ghost story called 番町皿屋敷 (The Dish Mansion at Banchō), written in 1742.
When Ringu/The Ring came out in their respective countries, audiences hadn’t ever seen anything like that. The film was very well thought out and put together perfectly. But with the instant success of the film, the studios pulled a Disney and thought that this must the next thing, remaking Japanese horror movies. So they cranked out The Grudge (a remake of Ju-on), One Missed Call (a remake of One Missed Call, which did so well that it got two hit sequels and a hit tv series), and several others. These post-Ring remakes were so terrible because the filmmakers were sure that this is what audiences wanted to see. They made the mistake Disney made. They adapted their ride Pirates of the Caribbean in the a movie, and when it became a smash hit they assumed people wanted amusement park film adaptations. This was a mistake.
Audiences didn’t like The Ring because it was a Japanese movie first. Audiences liked The Ring because it was a smart horror movie that didn’t have to resort to cheap scares, and that actually saved its biggest scare for the final scene instead of forcing it on us right away, or halfway through. The most famous scene is when Samara crawled out of the tv screen. This wasn’t just a terrifying scene because a dead girl was crawling out of a tv. It was so terrifying because we believed the curse was over, that everyone was safe, and that the credits should have been rolling by now. And any other movie would have done that. They find her corpse in the well, the curse is broken, everyone is happy, roll credits.
Had that happened, The Ring would have still been a scary movie, but it would have been an alright scary movie. But because it had that ending, that scene which gave plenty of us nightmares and changed horror films forever, it was elevated from an ordinary movie to truly great on.
The scene is what I like to call a “Cinematic Moment”. Probably not the most creative name, but it’s a moment in a movie that is very important or very shocking. Like the end of The Graduate, the flying scene from E. T., and the scene with Jim and Nadia on webcam from American Pie. Samara crawling out of the tv a Cinematic Moment. Anyone who has seen it will never forget it. Even if you’ve never seen The Ring, you know the scene.
In 2005, they made The Ring Two. Though it’s nowhere near as scary as the first one, it tells a very interesting story. We find out more about Samara’s history in it, and they do it in a way that keeps your attention while at the same time entertaining you. I’m not adding it to my list of greatest movies, but I am pointing out that even the sequel to this movie, while it came out in the midst of terrible sequels and remakes, was a very well done sequel.
So whether you loved the movie when it came out and now hate it, or always hated the movie, you simply cannot deny the fact that The Ring was a culturally significant film. The final scene still makes people do this: