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So You Want To Watch The “Ring” Movies (Part One, 1995-2000)

I watch a lot of movies. On average, about 400 a year. That makes it very easy to just say, okay, I’ll watch all 20 movies in this franchise. I am, of course, aware of two things. One, most people are simply not like this. And two, I have a tactical advantage over those people which they can benefit from.

Whether you go in chronological or release order — maybe you do Machete Order, you do you — everyone knows about the various ways in which to watch Star Wars. We all understand that if you really wanna keep up with the MCU you should probably just watch it all, but if you just wanna watch what you need for the next movie, you’re probably good with three movies and three Disney+ shows, all of which have their own prerequisites and– Okay, yeah, cripes, that’s a mess. But most movie franchises are not that complicated.

Which brings me to the Ring movies. At 26 movies — including Ju-On, which I don’t even get into here yet, and the various international versions, but not even counting the short films or the weird Chinese crossovers, unofficial sequels, Bunshinsaba… — I can imagine “most people” who might want to watch these will want to know what chaff to cut.

This is part one, covering the six Ring films released in the 1995-2000 period. Ju-On also starts in 2000, but I think this is a clean enough block to write up on its own. Part two, when I get there.

Here are the six films I’ll be covering below the fold:

  • The 1995 Ring TV movie, also known by its home video title Ring: Kanzenban (or, Ring: The Complete Edition.)
  • The 1998 Ring film, its original sequel Spiral (or, Rasen,) its replacement sequel Ring 2, and the prequel film Ring 0: Birthday.
  • The 1999 South Korean film The Ring Virus.

The assumed audience for this post is people who want to watch the Ring movies. Obviously. Please understand that inherent to this kind of guide is that it’s rooted in opinion. If we know each other, you should be able to estimate how well our opinions typically line up — if we don’t, you use this guide at your own risk.

Must Watch

Whatever you do, you should start with 1998’s Ring.

Trust me — I stubbornly started with the 1995 TV film, and the 1998 film is just a strictly better version of the exact same story, and it does all the bits you already know about very well. You may be surprised to find it’s much more of an investigative drama than a real horror film, but it’s iconic for a reason.

It’s: Really Good, and super worth watching just on its own, even if you don’t wanna go down the road of the rest of the franchise.

And Then

After that, there’s two paths you can walk.

The first is the 1998 sequel Spiral, (or Rasen,) released not just the same year but, because they assumed many viewers would already know the story from either the novel or the 1995 film, the very same day, this is an adaptation of the second novel in the series. Everyone hates it and future films, including Ring 2, totally ignore it,1As far as I can tell, even later films that are ostensibly adaptations of further novels stretch the connection so thin that Spiral might as well not exist. and for good reason — in between dull personal drama, this one takes the mythology to bizarre and hard to follow places that… you have to imagine worked better on the page.2Sadako is books now? How does THAT work! I would recommend skipping this one.

Your second option is 1999’s Ring 2, a direct sequel to 1998’s Ring. This one just follows up on the loose ends of the 1998 film and takes them in interesting new directions. If you want more Ring after the 1998 film, this is where to go.

To complete the “original trilogy,” watch 2000’s Ring 0: Birthday, which fills in some of Sadako’s backstory. If you’re familiar with American franchises like Halloween and Friday the 13th, the idea of “filling in some of the monster’s backstory” might make you go, uhh, no thank you, but Sadako isn’t a monster, she’s always been a person, and by this point you should have quite a lot of space for feeling sympathetic towards her. And it’s an interesting spooky drama just on its own, anyway.

Additional adaptations

If you’re interested in what different adaptations do with the same source material and want to see a different version of the 1998 film, you could do worse than the 1995 film, both versions of which — the original TV broadcast and the home media version — are easily available on YouTube as of this writing. This one is a little sleazier and grittier, and retains some of the elements from the novel the 1998 film wisely loses or changes, but the bones of the story are identical. A key iconic moment is executed with a flash of light instead of the special effect you want to see.

Along the same lines there’s the 1999 South Korean film, The Ring Virus. This one exists because after WW2 South Korea had a fairly strict ban on Japanese cultural imports… which was lifted between when it started production and when it came out, making it fairly superfluous — the audience it was meant for would have been able to access the original just fine. On top of that, it does nothing new or differently enough to be interesting, because, well, it wasn’t meant to. It exists to communicate the Ring story to South Korean viewers.

These two versions are each interesting footnotes, but I wouldn’t say they’re both worth spending three hours on if you don’t watch 400 movies a year.

Additional continuities
  • The two 1999 TV miniseries Ring: The Final Chapter and Spiral (or, Rasen,) both apparently relatively loosely based on the first two novels. I haven’t seen these.
  • The seven Koji Suzuki novels RingSpiralLoopSTide, and the anthology Birthday. I haven’t read these, because English-language audiobooks don’t appear to exist of them.
Content notes (SPOILERS)

Personally, I don’t find these particularly scary. They’re more investigative dramas with a science-fantasy horror angle than horror films, and the tone is tense, uneasy, atmospheric dread more than anything. There are a few spooky jump scares here and there, though, and the iconic scene of Sadako crawling out of the TV is considered one of the scariest ever.

On top of that, Sadako’s backstory involves some pretty extreme violent abuse from parents, and also from coworkers, after which she is left to die in a small, claustrophobic space. Children both die and are subjected to life-threatening situations. Characters who are parents, both of young children and adults, die.

The novels depict Sadako as an intersex person in a way that, as described online, sounds like I’d probably find it insensitive by modern standards — the 1995 TV and 1999 South Korean adaptations retain this element, the other films do not. The novels also have multiple key scenes of violent sexual assault which are not adapted.

If you’re used to modern American horror films, there shouldn’t be anything here super out of the ordinary, but if any of this could be potentially unpleasantly upsetting to you, or if you have more specific concerns, I’d always recommend checking the IMDb Parents’ Guide sections or sites like DoesTheDogDie.com before starting these.

  • 1
    As far as I can tell, even later films that are ostensibly adaptations of further novels stretch the connection so thin that Spiral might as well not exist.
  • 2
    Sadako is books now? How does THAT work!
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