On an airplane bound for Seattle, a man reveals that he has watched Samara Morgan's cursed videotape. Another passenger reveals she has seen the tape too, and asks the man if he made a copy. After learning he did not, Samara causes the airplane to crash. Two years later, college professor Gabriel Brown buys a VCR, discovering the videotape inside. Elsewhere, student Julia sees her boyfriend Holt off to college but grows concerned when he falls out of contact. She is inspired to find him when a panicked girl, Skye, contacts her, asking for Holt's whereabouts. Julia meets Gabriel and finds a group of people known as the Sevens, who are involved in an experiment involving the cursed video. The group film themselves watching the video before passing the footage to another person, called a "tail".
Julia recognizes the panicked girl, Skye, who takes her to her apartment to have her watch the video, but Holt warns her not to. Julia locks herself in the bathroom as Samara kills Skye. Holt reveals that he has watched the tape as well and has twelve hours left. Julia watches this copy and when she picks up the phone, she experiences a vision of a door. The phone burns a mark on her hand. Holt's version of the video cannot be copied and contains additional images of a mysterious woman: she realizes they must cremate Samara's physical remains.
Gabriel sends them to Sacrament Valley, where Samara was given a proper burial after the residents of Moesko Island refused to accept the remains. He realizes the markon Julia's hand is Braille, translates it, and goes to warn them. Julia and Holt find an unmarked tomb, but when they break in, they find it empty. They are caught and taken to a blind man named Galen Burke, who claims Samara's body was entombed by the local priest but a flood came, leading the priest to bury her in a potter's field outside town.
Heading for the field, Julia and Holt are stopped due to a car crash and learn Gabriel was involved. He tries to warn Julia of his discovery but is killed by a falling utility pole. After experiencing a vision of Samara's mother Evelyn, Julia and Holt return to town. Julia goes to the church and discovers a hidden chamber beneath the bell tower, finding evidence that Evelyn was imprisoned there while pregnant, held in captivity by the priest after being raped before she escaped eight months into the pregnancy.
Julia visits Burke and explains her findings. He attacks her, revealing he is the priest as well as Samara's biological father, having blinded himself to escape the reach of her powers. Julia pushes him down the stairs, temporarily incapacitating him. Holt rushes to Burke's house, where he is knocked unconscious. Julia discovers Samara's skeleton behind a wall, and Burke tries to strangle her to prevent her from cremating Samara's remains. He claims the cremation would unleash an unspeakable evil upon the world, and that he has killed several people who previously attempted to do the same. Suddenly, a swarm of cicadas fly in, summoning Samara through Julia's phone. Samara removes Burke's blindness and kills him. Holt recovers and rushes to Julia's aid. That night, he and Julia cremate Samara’s corpse, in an attempt to appease her spirit once and for all, and return home.
While Julia is in the shower, Holt notices a voicemail from Gabriel, who warns him of the Braille, which Holt begins to translate. In the bathroom, Julia peels away the skin where the mark was, revealing grey skin underneath. She begins to cough up black hair, from which a cicada is born. Meanwhile, Julia's copy of the cursed video is sent to everyone on her contact list, which becomes viral, despite Holt's futile attempts to disconnect the computer. As his computer glitches, the Braille translation is revealed to be "rebirth", as Samara is successfully reborn in Julia, seeing Samara's face in her mirror instead of her own.
In 2014, Paramount Pictures announced the initially titled The Ring 3D, with F. Javier Gutiérrez directing. In August 2014, Paramount was in talks with Akiva Goldsman to write a third draft of the screenplay, which had previously been worked on by David Loucka and Jacob Aaron Estes. In November, Gutiérrez posted an Instagram photo that showed that the title of the sequel had been changed to Rings. On January 16, 2015, Matilda Lutz was cast in the lead role. Alex Roe was cast as the male lead on March 20, 2015. Aimee Teegarden joined the cast on March 27, 2015, and Johnny Galecki signed on to star in the film on April 1, 2015, playing Gabriel, a professor who mentors and helps both Holt and Julia.
Principal photography on the film began on March 23, 2015, in Atlanta, and wrapped on May 31, 2015. Reshoots took place in July 2016.
Post-production began in June 2015 at Paramount Studios and was concluded in November 2016.
Paramount Pictures originally set the film for a November 13, 2015, release, but in September 2015, the film was pulled from the schedule, and in October 2015, Paramount rescheduled the release date to April 1, 2016. On February 17, 2016, the film was rescheduled for release on October 28, 2016, to take the place of Paramount's previous October horror release staple, the Paranormal Activity series, which ended in 2015 with Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. On September 22, 2016, the film was delayed to February 3, 2017, most likely to avoid competition with Ouija: Origin of Evil, leaving the latter as the only horror film that debuted around Halloween 2016.
The film's first trailer was released on August 24, 2016. The second trailer was released on January 5, 2017, alongside a new international trailer, containing new footage. In January 2017, Paramount released a prank video where an actress dressed as Samara jumped out of a television to scare unwitting patrons at an electronics store. The video garnered 200 million views in 24 hours on Facebook.
Rings was released on digital HD on April 21 and on Blu-ray and DVD on May 2, 2017. The digital HD and Blu-ray releases include behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast & crew, deleted/extended scenes, and an extended ending.
Nicholas pesce, director of The Grudge (2020) planned to make a crossover film with the american Ring and Grudge series.