Any successful horror movie will never remain just one movie. Dating back to the days of the Universal Monsters, one successful scary film always deserves another in the eyes of studio executives. So it is with The Purge, a microbudget 2013 film starring Ethan Hawke from Blumhouse Productions that had a killer (no pun intended) concept: what if for one night of the year, all crime (including murder) was legal? The notion, as well as all those creepy and increasingly elaborate masks worn by Purge participants, captured the imagination of moviegoers worldwide.
Once it became clear that The Purge was a hit with legs, it wasn’t long before this single movie became a sprawling franchise encompassing multiple movies and even a TV show that ran for two seasons. The possibilities of what could happen over a single night where all rules were gone were endless. They were so expansive that each new installment of this Purge franchise kept bringing in new lead characters. While recurring figures played by the likes of Frank Grillo were present in the saga, the Purge movies generally opted to explore the franchise’s dense universe through a rotating door of protagonists.
Given the complicated web of characters that have been spotlighted in these movies, it can be easy to get lost in the dense lore of the Purge series. That’s where this article comes into play. Below, we’ve broken down how to watch the Purge movies and TV show in chronological order as well as how to consume them in release date order. If the whole series seems too intimidating to get into for newbies, hopefully this breakdown can help make one of the most popular modern horror franchises more digestible, especially with the new installment The Forever Purge on the horizon.
First up, here’s a quick look at The Purge movies and the TV show in order of when they were each released.
The Purge Movies in Order of Release Date
The Purge – June 7, 2013
The Purge: Anarchy – July 18, 2014
The Purge: Election Year – July 1, 2016
The First Purge – July 4, 2018
The Purge (TV series) – September 4, 2018 through December 17, 2019
The Forever Purge – July 2, 2021
The Purge Movies and TV Show in Chronological Order
The First Purge
For the fourth movie in the series, the creators of The Purge took things back to the beginning to explore the very first instance of The Purge taking place in America. Set in an alternate version of 2017, The First Purge sees The New Founding Fathers of America (the dominant political party in this universe) have announced plans to do a test trial of the Purge in Staten Island. The lead characters of this outing are activist Nya Charms (Lex Scott Davis) and drug dealer Dmitri Cimber (Y’lan Noel), who, like many Staten Island residents, have no choice but to wait out this Purge in their homes.
By going back to the very first night of this event, The First Purge explores the seedy political machinations behind the creation of this event, which are made apparent when, early on into this inaugural Purge, it’s shown that most citizens are merely partying louder rather than engaging in acts of brutal violence. This leads to the NFFA higher-ups hiring figures ranging from mercenaries to Klansmen to show up and instigate violence, thus establishing how the Purge is meant to curtail the poor for the benefit of the wealthy.
Viewers are also privy to the existence of Dr. May Updale (Marisa Tomei), the sociologist behind The Purge. Like J. Robert Oppenheimer and Richard John Gatling before her, Updale’s hopes of using a creation to minimize bloodshed inevitably result in some of the most horrific acts against humanity imaginable.
Though our lead characters do manage to survive the night and kill many of the attackers that pursue them throughout The First Purge, the film ends on an ominous note. The NFFA makes a public announcement that this initial run of the Purge was so successful that it will be implemented nationwide immediately. This sets up the events of all future Purge projects on the big and small screen.
The Purge (TV Series)
A horror franchise as enduringly popular as The Purge couldn’t be contained just in movie theaters for long. The series leaped to the small screen in September 2018 through a USA Network TV show titled The Purge. Running for two seasons, each season of The Purge TV show focused on material that couldn’t be covered in a 90-minute movie and needed multiple hours of storytelling to properly develop.
For instance, the second season largely concentrated on the interim period between two annual Purges, with the principal characters all being unable to just forget the event once all crime is illegal again. The principal connection between the movies and the TV show emerged in the season two finale, “7:01 AM.” Here, the fact that this TV show is a prequel to the majority of the Purge movies allows The Purge protagonist James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) to return for a brief appearance. The show was cancelled after two seasons, however the presence of Sandin solidifies both its place in the timeline and that this is very much set in the same universe as the features.
The first Purge movie eve rmade takes viewers into the then-future of 2022 (my how time flies) to look at the wealthy Sandin family, whose primary breadwinner is security system mastermind James Sandin. The Sandins have enough security to keep them safe for the entire night but things are thrown into chaos when son Charlie (Max Burkholder) lets in a figure only known as Bloody Stranger (Edwin Hodge). A group of Purgers wants Bloody Stranger back so that they can murder him and will now do anything, include kill this family, to get back their target.
Being the first installment released into this franchise, this initial Purge movie barely scratches the surface of the franchise’s dense mythos. However, it is established from the get-go that the NFFA are the ones in charge and that the Purge has already become a routine part of most upper-class people’s lives. Through telling this story through the eyes of the Sandin family, viewers are taken through the process of initially seeing the Purge as a grotesque but unalterable part of life to seeing the human cost of this practice through both the suffering of Bloody Stranger and the demise of other characters. The gnarly consequences of The Purge will only grow more pronounced as the saga goes on.
The Purge: Anarchy
It’s been one year since the events of the first Purge movie when The Purge: Anarchy begins. The focus pulls away from the Sandin family and onto a character here called Sergeant (Frank Grillo). Sergeant is using the Purge as an excuse to go after the men responsible for the death of his son. As this is going on, we’re also introduced to other primary characters of this installment, like Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), a couple who were trapped in a stalled car when the Purge began.
These various plotlines intersect as the film goes on, forcing Sergeant to use his weapons to help defend others rather than just exact his vengeance. This story also reveals that the rebellion against the Purge from The First Purge has not vanished. In 2023, a rebellion group has formed, led by the first movie’s Bloody Stranger character, all against the core foundations of the NFFA.
This is also the first title in the series, in release order, to explicitly state that the violence in The Purge is being manipulated by the NFFA, with the same tactics seen in The First Purge still being employed throughout The Purge: Anarchy.
The Purge: Election Year
To date, The Purge: Election Year is the only instance of this franchise bringing back a lead character from a previous installment. This time Sergeant, now revealed to be named Leo Barnes, serves as the Security Chief for Charlene “Charlie” Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), who is running for the position of President of the United States in 2040. She’s running on a platform that’s staunchly anti-Purge, which, of course, doesn’t sit well with many Americans. On the night of a Purge, Roan is pursued by a slew of NFFA loyalists in her own home. Now, she and Leo are going to try to survive the night against a never-ending sea of people who want the Purge to continue forever.
The rebellion group against the Purge is more pronounced in presence than ever before, with the Bloody Stranger even returning from prior entries and getting a name. While most of The Purge: Election Year takes place in 2040, the film does contain an opening flashback to show a young Roan’s traumatic experiences during a Purge, with the scene being set in 2022, the same year the first Purge movie took place.
Save for The First Purge, all the Purge movies follow a linear pattern of storytelling while the TV show, like that fourth movie, is a prequel taking place before most of the movies. How The Forever Purge fits in is a mystery that will be solved when the film hits theaters this summer.
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Please, for the love of God, no one say the word “break.”
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