The “It” film franchise based on Stephen King’s celebrated novel of the same name is one of the few that appears to be content settling for two films (for now that is). Previously adapted as a television mini series, the first entry in the cinematic series, released in 2017, was considered one of the best films of the year and one of the best mainstream horror pictures of the decade while the sequel, released this year, was released to less critical acclaim but earned it own support from fans. While critics may have enjoyed the first entry more than the second, I gave both of them four of out five stars when I reviewed them and felt that each had their strengths and weaknesses when compared to the other. So now that fans have had almost two months to see the second film and I’ve had the chance to watch the two movies in succession I thought it would be fun to break down these two horror features and see which of the two “It” movies are the best. This is “It” Versus “It: Chapter Two”
For this battle I’m pitting both entries of the “It” duology against each other to see which half of the whole is superior. Each will be graded based on five specific elements and whichever one I deem superior in each category will earn a point. The film with the most points after five rounds is crowned the winner. For this battle I will be looking at the story, the human characters and performances, the pacing, the fright factor (how scary the movies are) and finally which film features the better presentation of the famous clown Pennywise. So let’s get this battle started and see which of the two movies wins out. Let me know if you agree or disagree with the results and voice your opinion of which “It” film is better in the comments.
ROUND ONE: THE STORY
The “It” movies each represent one half of Stephen King’s book with the first film focusing more on the Losers Club as children and the second exploring their lives and return to Derry, Maine as adults. Both movies see the Losers Club facing off against It, an otherworldly entity mostly taking the form of the clown Pennywise, while being made to face their fears in the process. While the conflict might be similar, the two films each contain their own personalities and stories so let’s see which one has the better tale to tell.
The first “It” movie was celebrated, rightfully so, as an impressive coming-of-age narrative showcasing the origins of the Losers Club and how the young kids faced of against Pennywise for the first time. While we get plenty of moments exploring how the kids interacted with Pennywise as well as an epic finale, most of the core story revolves around how these kids from different walks of life all bond over the course of a single summer. They overcome their individual fears and faults to not only accept each other as friends but survive Pennywise. The first film’s story is among its strongest elements showcasing a heartwarming and relatable narrative that adds genuine context to the conflict and elevates it to more than just a film about kids facing off against a scary clown. Maybe that’s why many felt it was worthy of being considered one of 2017’s best horror movies.
The sequel’s story also has its fair share of emotional character moments, but they’re overshadowed by a muddled screenplay. Seeing the Losers Club grown up just doesn’t seem to have the same impact as watching kids overcome the terror of Pennywise maybe because we’re so used to seeing grownups face their fears in every other horror movie out there. “Chapter 2” lacks a lot of the heart that comes with a coming-of-age narrative and even the character growth it does offer is overshadowed by a need to revisit the younger versions of the characters to provide context. It’s imaginative to an extent I’ll give it that. Taking notes from its source material “Chapter 2” brings Native American magic and added paranormal elements into the mix which results in an often over complicated story layered with side quests and revelations that feel more like they were leftovers from the previous movie rather than genuine attempts for this film to find its own identity.
While the second movie is fun in its own way and we do get to see several characters experience important life-changing revelations, the first “It” film is much deeper, much better written, and much more engaging in terms of its story. Like many Stephen King movies, the coming-of-age narrative works wonders once again giving the first film in the series the first point.
SCORE: “It” – 1 “It: Chapter Two” – 0
ROUND 2: CHARACTERS/PERFORMANCES
The “It” films focus on the same group of characters as children and adults. Talented young actors were brought in to prove themselves in “It” while more experienced performers, even a few huge names, portrayed the adult Losers Club. While the first “It” might have earned the point for having a better story, did the second film’s more experience talent shine more? Let’s find out in Round 2! Also a note this round will not include Pennywise as he will have his own round later on.
With the first “It” movie we saw the impressive showing of some truly talented young actors. Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, and Jack Dylan Grazer portray the members of the Losers Club perfectly each bringing their own quirks and personalities to life and every one of them standing out in their own way. While Chosen Jacobs’ Mike Hanlon might fade more into the background in this feature the other Losers Club actors all bring their A games with several even providing breakout performances as a result. The young cast involved in this film is absolutely incredible and everyone is fully on board with bringing their characters to life to the point where after only two years several of these performances have become borderline iconic.
The same can’t be said for the sequel despite its more experienced talent. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransone, and Andy Bean make up the ensemble cast in the sequel as older counterparts to the younger cast of the first movie who are also featured in flashbacks. But most of these characters suffer from the inferior writing and even the younger cast members returning for another go feel much less invested than they were in the previous film. There are some standout performances like James McAvoy and by far the most critically acclaimed performance in the core cast from Bill Hader, but for the most part even the biggest names can’t quite elevate the film or the characters to a higher level or even the same level as the previous movie. Hader might be the only true exception. When it comes to the performances the first “It” movie takes the edge again and jumps to an early lead.
SCORE: “It” – 2 “It: Chapter Two” – 0
ROUND 3: THE FRIGHT FACTOR
Considering that these are horror movies being scary is a must. The very idea of a killer clown is already an uncomfortable possibility for many to have to deal with, but both of these films still had to work to send chills down our spines and create a spooky experience for fans to enjoy. So, which “It” was scarier? Let’s see if “Chapter 2” can earn it’s first point or if the original will earn the win in only three rounds.
The first “It” movie definitely has its moments introducing us to Pennywise and his ability to personify the fears of his victims. But we actually don’t see him kill that much. The death of Georgie is of course an iconic one but considering that many people were already familiar with that very scene from the television miniseries it’s not to much to say that the terror of this moment was spoiled a bit by expectation alone. Much of the fear involving Pennywise in this film comes from jump scares and Bill Skarsgård’s unsettling performance. That’s a word I would actually use to describe this whole movie, unsettling but not really scary. Pennywise is creepy to be sure but most of the fright factor gets watered down by the film’s superior attempt at storytelling. While it does offer plenty to justify itself as a legitimate horror film, I personally find it to be more engaging and engrossing than creepy and unnerving. Looking back on the first “It” movie the film doesn’t really offer a whole lot of new scares and doesn’t quite elevate its familiar frights to a level that leaves a lasting impact. Most of what makes the first film memorable is in the performances and writing.
For all that it lacks in quality storytelling “It: Chapter 2” feels like the more unpredictable and spooky cinematic experience. Right from the get-go we see Pennywise kill a character that immediately tells us he is kicking his murder spree up a notch and as the film rolls on we see him take even more victims, most of which we don’t want to see die which helps elevate the terror to that “look out behind you” level of entertainment. It’s an all around more brutal, bloody and unsettling experience that tries to make up for its more uneven script with a heavier focus on what makes Pennywise so terrifying and the genuine danger that the Losers Club is involved with. If I had to pick which of these films scared me more (well that’s actually what I’m doing isn’t it) the sequel provided much more frights and effective traditional horror movie thrills than the first film and even its clichés feel more entertaining. “It: Chapter 2” avoids the sweep and earns its first point.
SCORE: “It” – 2 “It: Chapter Two” – 1
ROUND 4: PACING
Both “It” movies move at a rather brisk pace compared to other genre pieces. They’re constantly throwing some kind of story element or character moment at the audience along with creepy Pennywise sequences to keep viewers on their toes. But an important part of keeping an audience engaged, especially when it comes to horror, is the pace of the story. If the film moves too fast we don’t have enough time to appreciate the scares and the narrative. If it moves too slow the audience can get impatient and bored. So, which “It” movie found the better balance? Let’s find out.
The first “It” movie clocks in at just under 2.5 hours with credits but it doesn’t feel that long. The story attempts to balance its scares and character development by allowing each member of the Losers Club a chance to shine as they encounter Pennywise on their own. It’s a layered story with a lot to take in and enjoy whether it’s the Pennywise scenes or the moments of maturing youth. But none of these scenes ever seem to overshadow the others. The first “It” movie earned respect for being able to provide more intimate moments while also keeping the tension high. “It” never feels like a two-and-a-half-hour movie because everything is presented so smoothly. Overall, it’s a well-balanced experience in line with many of the better blockbusters we’ve seen in recent years.
The sequel however fails to replicate this same presentation. The story is all over the place and often feels like its trying to convey too much too often bouncing back and forth between the lore of the story, the admittedly more frightening Pennywise scares, flashbacks to the young Losers Club and character moments for the adult versions of the Club. It’s definitely an uneven presentation that clocks in at almost three hours and FEELS like a nearly three-hour movie. Because the screenplay and acting are far less interesting than its predecessor the final product is much less engaging making it much more of a chore to appreciate what it’s trying to present. While it’s far from a slog “It: Chapter Two” has a hard time finding its footing from the beginning and spends most of the film chaotically working through its multi-layered narrative where the original was able to juggle multiple stories and ideas with much better results. With that “It” takes the game-winning third point, but the battle is not over yet. The biggest fight is still to come.
SCORE: “It” – 3 “It: Chapter 2” – 1
ROUND 5: PENNYWISE
The war might be wrapped up but there’s still one more battle to go: which film features the best take on Pennywise? In both films the shape shifting clown is played expertly by Bill Skarsgård who earned critical praise for both performances. But it’s not just the performance that makes Pennywise special, it’s also how he’s used and how effectively the clown accomplishes his purpose of taking advantage of the fear of his victims to feed. Was his appearance in “It” more memorable and effective or did the sequel offer the better presentation? Let’s take a look in the final face off.
The first “It” movie might have been less frightening but there’s no denying that Pennywise still gets some fun scares in. As Bill Skarsgård’s debut performance of the clown it’s easy to call this the more standout performance based on principal, but it’s important to realize that Pennywise is not just the clown. He takes many shapes over the course of the film and all of them are sufficiently unsettling. While the first film doesn’t quite offer the scares it promised Skarsgård’s performance and the little details he incorporates into Pennywise’s character helped set the standard the second movie would need to live up to and, in some respects, even outshines Tim Curry’s iconic original portrayal in the television miniseries. What’s more Pennywise feels like a much more present character in the first film and plays a more consistent role as a shadow always bearing down on the Losers Club around every corner.
Bill Skarsgård is just as good in the sequel, but it’s not his performance that makes “Chapter Two” and inferior film in how it handles Pennywise. Rather it’s the fact that at times it seems like the filmmakers didn’t really know what to do with the clown. He pops up in several moments in scenes that, while admittedly more terrifying and gruesome than the first movie, feel like they’re there just to remind us that Pennywise is a thing. Even the alternate forms he takes throughout the film feel less threatening. To the sequel’s credit it does attempt to delve into the history of It and how it can be defeated, but unfortunately what could have been a fun examination of the monster’s origins is overshadowed by lesser subplots and the buildup to an eventual finale that turns Pennywise into more of a generic movie monster than the ever-present shadow of danger he is in the original film.
Pennywise is the most memorable part of both “It” movies and Bill Skarsgård has been rightfully commended for his take on the evil clown. But when comparing the two films he’s appeared in so far the first movie did the character more justice even if the second allowed for a much more realized source of scares. “It” not only wins the war but takes all but one round of this battle.
SCORE: “It” – 4 “It: Chapter 2” – 1
Both “It” movies have their merit and create a fun duology of horror features that have effectively introduced a new generation to the terror within one of Stephen King’s most popular novels. What started as an iconic book and then became a TV miniseries has evolved into a pair of films that could become legendary in due time. But when you examine each one, I believe the original film released in 2017 is the better entry. It’s more layered with a better story, better pacing, better acting and features the superior presentation and incorporation of Pennywise. The sequel is more uneven with less impressive performances even from its more experienced leads and a pace that’s all over the place. But it was the scarier film in my opinion taking more chances with its jump scares and character deaths to help the viewer understand the true terror Pennywise could pose, even if the clown isn’t featured quite as effectively in the follow-up. In the end both films are worth watching to judge for yourself.