This is your guide to watching the Saw franchise, fit for those who want to watch the movies in order of release, and fans who want to enjoy the twisted, gory story in chronological order.
Saw carved its way onto the horror scene in 2004 with a lean, nasty, psychological shocker directed by James Wan – who’d later make Insidious and The Conjuring – and Upgrade’s Leigh Whannell.
The franchise’s debut made it an instant household name, grossing nearly $104 million from a $1.2 million budget, and acting as the harbinger for the mid-noughties torture porn boom.
It spawned six direct sequels – of varying quality and ridiculous bloodshed – as well as two further installments, one of which is a spinoff. But what are the Saw movies in order, do you have to watch the Saw movies in chronological order, and… do you want to play a game?
Spoiler warning for the Saw franchise… obviously.
Saw movies in release order
We’ll start with the easy option. If you’re planning to binge the Saw franchise, it’s pretty straightforward – with the exception of a few titles:
- Saw II
- Saw III
- Saw IV
- Saw V
- Saw VI
- Saw 3D (also known as Saw: The Final Chapter)
- Spiral: From the Book of Saw
Jigsaw was released in 2017 and is a direct continuation of the Saw canon, after 2010’s not-so-final chapter. Spiral is a spinoff following a detective (Chris Rock) looking for a Jigsaw copycat killer targeting corrupt cops.
Saw movies in chronological order
Okay, this is where things are going to get a bit complicated. Let it be said: watching the Saw movies in chronological order isn’t advised, as it requires a lot of stop-start viewing and flicking between each one.
Nevertheless – for the moviegoing sadists out there – here’s the barebones order, before we dig into the specifics:
- Saw II
- Saw III/Saw IV
- Saw V
- Saw VI
- Saw 3D
- Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
For reference, our breakdown of the Saw movies in chronological order focuses on the present-day segments of each movie, rather than trying to collate and order every snippet of backstory. However, we will detail each significant flashback.
Jigsaw… well, one part of it
While Jigsaw is the eighth chapter in the Saw franchise, it explores the origin of Tobin Bell’s murderous, justice-seeking John Kramer, better known as Jigsaw.
Like all Saw movies, Jigsaw features a test: five people wake up in a barn with buckets on their heads. They’re forced to sacrifice some blood for their sins before chains pull them into buzzsaws in the wall. Four of them manage to get out, but an unnamed, unconscious man is killed.
This is later revealed to be Kramer’s first-ever game. Oh, and remember that poor sod who died… or did he?
Two men, Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam Stanheight, awake in a grimy bathroom, each with one leg chained to a pipe and only a saw to set them free. A man is lying on the floor between them, with his brains spilling out of his skull.
Meanwhile, Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) is hot on Jigsaw’s trail. Also, Saw takes place one day before the 9/11 attacks, so there’s that.
This may be the first movie in the series, but it’s far from the beginning. By this point, Kramer has become pretty nifty with his diabolical games, to the point he’s at the center of the film’s greatest twist: he’s the dead body, and leaves Adam to die after Gordon escapes – with a foot missing, of course.
Flashbacks: We learn that Tapp has been chasing Jigsaw for years, and is haunted by losing his partner to one of his traps.
He became convinced Gordon is the real killer, so he hired Adam to spy on him. Kramer then tasked his apprentice Amanda (whom we saw escape the reverse bear trap) to kidnap them both.
Saw II takes place one year after the events of the first film, with Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) managing to apprehend Kramer. However, another game is afoot: his son, Amanda, and several others are locked in an unknown building full of traps.
Matthews and other officers desperately try to track down their location – but the penny drops: the “live” feed they were watching was actually filmed days before Kramer’s arrest, and his son was kept alive with an oxygen mask inside a safe.
Shortly after, he’s abducted by a pig-masked figure and wakes up shackled in the same bathroom from the first film, with Amanda then revealing how she became Jigsaw’s apprentice after her experience, and sealing the door shut.
Flashbacks: Shaken by his wife Jill (Betsy Russell) leaving him and his cancer diagnosis – delivered by Gordon – Kramer tried to take his own life. His failure led to a newfound appreciation for life, wishing to teach others about “instant rehabilitation” and leading him to become Jigsaw.
Saw III and Saw IV… at the same time, if you can
The events of Saw III and IV take place around six months after Saw II… and they both unfold concurrently. So, if you want to give the franchise the true chronological treatment, you better set up two screens.
In Saw III, Jigsaw is dying, so Amanda kidnaps Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) and orders her to keep him alive, or her head will be blown to bits by shotgun shells.
The film immediately picks up where Saw II left off, with Matthews breaking his own foot with a toilet lid to escape the bathroom. We also see Detective Allison Kerry abducted and placed in the infamous Angel Trap, forced to dip her hand into a beaker of acid to retrieve a key, only to be ripped apart anyway.
While Jeff Denlon (Angus Macfadyen) completes his game, Lynn performs surgery on John. When it’s successful, she asks to be released – but Amanda refuses. She shoots her, before Jeff comes in and shoots Amanda. At this point, Kramer reveals the whole ordeal was a test for Amanda, who he’d suspected of rigging the games so they were impossible to beat – directly contradicting his instructions and the whole point of his modus operandi.
Saw IV – where the story started to fall apart a bit – follows Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), a detective who works with FBI Agents Strahm and Perez (Scott Patterson and Athena Karkanis) to hunt down Jigsaw’s second secret apprentice, all while Matthews and his partner Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) are being tested.
Dun dun dun: Hoffman was the apprentice all along, and he seals Strahm and Rigg in a warehouse. The film ends with Hoffman finding a cassette inside Jigsaw’s body during an autopsy – imminently after Saw III – with a recording from Kramer telling him the games will continue.
Flashbacks: While Kramer’s failed suicide attempt played a role in him becoming Jigsaw, we also learn about his first victim: Cecil Adams (Billy Otis), a drug addict who caused his wife to miscarry. He carved a piece of Cecil’s skin into the shape of a jigsaw piece, giving him his nickname.
Saw V is a simpler continuation of the story, picking up after Kramer’s death and directly following the events of Saw III and IV. Mercifully, Hoffman saves Jeff’s daughter, who’d previously been doomed to die in a locked room.
Hoffman then carries out a new series of games with Strahm, who manages to escape the box trap, and a group of strangers with ropes around their necks.
Strahm eventually deduces that Hoffman is Jigsaw’s second apprentice. Ignoring his advice to go inside a box in a room, he instead shoves Hoffman in the box, at which point the hidden game is revealed: if Strahm went in the box, he would have been fine. Instead, the walls close in, and he’s framed as Jigsaw’s apprentice, with Hoffman’s reign of terror set to continue.
Jill also receives instructions from Kramer, which will play a major role in a later film.
Flashbacks: The film opens with a pendulum trap, believed to be the handiwork of the original Jigsaw. It was actually put together by Hoffman in his earlier years, inspired by stories of the Jigsaw killer and wishing to imitate him. Kramer later recruited him.
The sixth film picks up a few days after Saw V. With Strahm pulverized and Hoffman clear, he picks up where Jigsaw left off; more specifically, he goes after health insurance executive William Easton (Peter Outerbridge), who denied Kramer coverage which could have saved his life.
After William meets his grisly end with hydrofluoric acid, Hoffman is jumped by Jill, who puts a modified reverse bear trap on his head, as per Kramer’s instructions. He manages to escape, albeit his right cheek is mutilated in the process.
Flashbacks: As well as learning about how William denied Kramer life-saving coverage, we also find out that Amanda indirectly instigated the robbery which led to Jill’s miscarriage.
Saw 3D (also known as Saw: The Final Chapter)
The final chapter, which isn’t actually the final chapter, focuses on a battle between Jill and Hoffman for Jigsaw’s legacy. Jill attempts to offer Hoffman up to the police in exchange for immunity, but Hoffman ends up killing her with the original reverse bear trap. There’s a lot of other riffraff between those two plot points, but they’re all that actually matters.
Hoffman goes on to destroy his workshop, but he’s kidnapped by three figures wearing pig masks – one of whom is Dr. Lawrence Gordon, from the very first film. Flashbacks: It’s revealed that Gordon managed to survive sawing his own leg off by cauterizing his stump with a steam pipe. Kramer found him and decided to spare his life, in exchange for Gordon becoming one of his apprentices.
Kramer’s final request was Gordon’s responsibility: he had to protect Jill. So, he shackles Hoffman in the bathroom where it all started, throws away the hacksaw, and seals the door shut, leaving him to die. Game over, indeed.
Jigsaw… the rest of it, anyway
So, now we’re back in Jigsaw – taking place a decade after Saw III and IV – with detectives trying to hunt down a new killer. Brad Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie) and pathologist Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore) eventually find themselves in a laser neck trap, where they need to confess their sins to survive.
Brad forces Logan to go first, but dies anyway. There’s still room for one last twist: Logan gets up off the floor, resets his trap, and reveals himself to be the true killer. He kills Brad and seals the room shut.
Flashbacks: We learn that Logan was the unconscious man who seemingly died at the beginning of the film; remember, the people with buckets over their heads being pulled towards buzzsaws?
Logan had been chosen for the trap because his medical negligence meant Kramer’s diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumor was delayed beyond the point where he could have been saved. However, because of Kramer’s own miscalculation leading to Logan remaining unconscious during the game, he saved his life – at which point Logan became his first-ever disciple, not Amanda.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw
We’re finally into spinoff territory. Spiral takes place several years after the events of all the Saw movies, although the specific timeframe is unclear. Chronologically, all of its grisly deaths and twists are right at the end, so you can watch it yourself to find out.
All of the Saw movies are available to stream on-demand from major platforms.