Let Samara be your guide through the full history of The Ring franchise!
Everyone knows that The Ring is based on a Japanese film called Ringu. But the history of The Ring franchise is a lot deeper and more complex than most American filmgoers realize.
The Ring follows the urban legend of a VHS tape, containing grainy, troubling footage. Most disturbing and memorable is a girl, with long black hair obscuring her face, climbing out of a well. After you watch the video, you will receive a phone call, with a whisper that says “Seven days.” According to the legend, you will die exactly one week later. The legend, of course, turns out to be true, originating from a girl who was abused and murdered by her parents.
In honor of the upcoming Rings, the third American entry into the franchise, here is a look back at the history of The Ring franchise. Catch Rings on the big screen February 3!
Ring (Novel, 1991)
In 1991, Koji Suzuki published a novel, Ring, which was the basis for the Japanese film. This was the first book in what is known as The Ring Trilogy; the other books being Spiral in 1995 and Loop in 1998. In 1999, Suzuki published Birthday, a collection of short stories set in the Ring universe. Two more Ring novels came in 2012 (S) and in 2013 (Tide).
The ghost story is a little different, but the story itself is pretty much the same. The young woman in the video is Sadako Yamamura, a technopath (she can project mental images onto televisions and video tapes). She visits her father in a tuberculosis ward, where a doctor rapes her and unknowingly passes smallpox to her. To keep her quiet, the doctor throws Sadako into a well and crushes her with rocks. It later turns out that viewers are being infected by what is called Ring Virus, which infects people through the TV screen. A tumor, similar to those found in smallpox patients, grows in the throat, eventually suffocating the victim if the video is not copied and passed within the week.
Ring: Kanzenban (TV Movie, 1995)
Directed by Chisui Takigawa, the first filmed adaptation of the novel is also considered the most accurate. It premiered on Japanese television and was subsequently released on home video, but has been out of print since its initial release.
Ringu (Film, 1998)
The first theatrical Ring film was a blockbuster in Japan. Directed by Hideo Nakata, it was Japan’s highest-grossing horror film. A year later, after its release in Hong Kong, it became Hong Kong’s highest-grossing Japanese language film, an honor it retained until 2015. Sadako inherited psychic powers from her mother, and her father killed her for it.
Rasen (Film, 1998)
In an unusual move, Ringu‘s sequel, Rasen, was released to theaters at the same time as the original. Joji Iida directed the film, with many of the same actors, but a whole different crew. Rasen, which was based on the second book in the trilogy, Spiral, was far more complicated than its predecessors. Sadako is “reborn” and using a pathologist to kill with a journal write-up instead of a video. The movie was a spectacular failure, and was dropped from The Ring canon.
Ring: Final Chapter (TV Series, 1999)
Following up on the success of Ringu, Final Chapter consisted of 12 episodes, and was less horror, more mystery than its source material. Viewers of the video were given 13 days to show it to two other people, as opposed to seven days and one other person, as seen in the original film. Also, instead of the grainy snuff-ish video, Final Chapter‘s killer video is a pop music video with subliminal cursed images. A second “season” of the TV series followed later in the year. Called Rasen, this show wasn’t based on source material and offered a new cast of characters.
Ringu 2 (Film, 1999)
Hideo Nakata returned to direct this film, which is now considered the official sequel to Ringu. It is discovered that Sadako survived in that well for the last 30 years, and a dangerous experiment is set up to sap Sadako’s evil energy off an infected soul. Ringu 2 lived up to Ringu’s standards: it was a box office hit and one of the highest-grossing Japanese films of the year.
The Ring Virus (Film, 1999)
The Ring Virus was Korea’s version of Ringu, directed by Kim Dong-bin. The Ring Virus is quite a departure from the traditional story. Park Eun-seo (this version’s Sadako) is the illegitimate hermaphroditic daughter of a psychic who is romantically involved with her half-brother. When her secrets are discovered, she withdraws and uses video tapes and her own psychic abilities to infect society. The well, which is where the title Ring comes from (the thin ring of light slipping in between the cracks of the well cover, the only thing the child trapped within can see) is noticeably absent from the Korean version of the film.
The Ring: Terror’s Realm (Video Game, 2000)
Released for the Sega Dreamcast, this survival horror game in the style of Resident Evil was set in the Centers for Disease Control. The center is on lockdown after several researchers die on the same day and a program called “RING” is found on their computers. The game was universally panned.
Ring 0: Birthday (Film, 2000)
A prequel to Ringu, based on the short story “Lemonheart” in Birthday, Ring 0 was directed by Norio Tsuruta, set 30 years before the events of Ringu and shows the events leading up to Sadako’s murder. After her mother’s suicide, Sadako finds refuge in the theater, but the odd psychic occurrences that lead to deaths that follow her and cause her to splinter into two different selves.
The Ring (Film, 2002)
A decade after Ring took Japan by storm, we finally got our American version in the states. Directed by Gore Verbinski and released by DreamWorks Pictures, it stars Naomi Watts as Rachel Keller who gets drawn into the urban legend after her niece Samara’s sudden death. Sadako becomes Samara in the American version, and the psychic aspects of the plot are downplayed significantly. Both a critical and commercial success, The Ring outgrossed Ringu in Japan after only two weeks.
Rings (Short Film, 2005)
The upcoming Rings isn’t the first film to bear the name. Just prior to the release of the film’s sequel, the American The Ring was re-released on DVD with a 15-minute short that serves as a prequel to The Ring Two. The short can now be found as one of the extra features on the Ring Two DVD.
The Ring Two (Film, 2005)
The sequel to the American The Ring was directed by original Ringu director Hideo Nakata. Picking up the psychic elements that were largely left out of the first The Ring, this one features Rachel’s son, Aidan, being possessed by Samara. The sequel was critically panned, and though it had a strong opening weekend, it ultimately made only slightly more than half of what The Ring made domestically.
Sadako 3D (Film, 2012)
This entry into the Ring franchise is the first one that moves beyond VHS tapes. Directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa, it is based on Suzuki’s novel S, one of the later novels in his Ring series. In Sadako 3D, a man named Kashiwada releases a new video, featuring his suicide, to bring the Sadako Virus back into the world. Canonically, Sadako 3D would follow the since-disowned sequel Rasen.
Sadako 2 3D (Film, 2013)
Hanabusa returns to direct this sequel, which focuses around Nagi, a four-year old whom death and accidents seem to follow. Nagi may be possessed by Sadako, much like how Aidan was possessed by Samara in The Ring Two.
Sadako vs. Kayako (Film, 2016)
The most anticipated horror movie meet-up since Freddy vs. Jason, Sadako vs. Kayako may as well be called The Ring vs. The Grudge. A second-hand VCR purchased at a thrift store contains the infamous “Ring” video, while a girl moves next door to the home Kayako haunts. The two storylines collide and the two most famous J-horror ghosts rage in a battle supreme.
Rings (Film, 2017)
The third American Ring film, Rings has gone through a title change (originally it was to be called The Ring 3D) and a number of release dates (four at last count). Set 13 years after the first American The Ring, one of the new viewers of the video discover there is a “movie within a movie” that no one has seen before.