As the director of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, now is an excellent time to reflect on Sam Raimi‘s filmography, ranking his feature-length movies from worst to best. It’s easy to overlook just how seismic an impact the works of Sam Raimi have had on modern film. His original low-budget horror titles were considered so shocking, that they were initially banned in the United Kingdom following the Video Nasties scandals. Today, Raimi’s horror films are beloved cult classics.
Sam Raimi can also safely claim to be a pioneer of the modern superhero blockbuster thanks to his work on the original Spider-Man cinematic trilogy. Outside of his own movies, he’s produced various hit TV series such as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess, he’s collaborated frequently with the Coen Brothers, and he helped to make Bruce Campbell a star. His movies have grossed more worldwide than those of Clint Eastwood, M. Night Shyamalan, and Joss Whedon.
It’s been a while since Sam Raimi was in the spotlight. A series of hotly-hyped projects fell through, and he’s mostly stuck to TV, directing and producing Starz’s Ash Vs. Evil Dead. However, he’s returned to the director’s chair, as he replaced Scott Derrickson in Marvel’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. It’s undoubtedly a high-profile comeback for a director who has seen his fair share of multi-million dollar hits, and it’s also a major coup for Marvel Studios, given how much of a debt they owe to Raimi for making their work possible in the first place. Raimi’s decades-long career has certainly had its highs and lows. The following list is Sam Raimi’s movies ranked from worst to best.
Everything about 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful feels like a phenomenal misfire on the part of both Raimi and Disney. L. Frank Baum’s Oz novels are timeless pieces of children’s entertainment, chock full of creativity and quietly subversive ideas, and some exceptional female characters. It makes sense why Disney would want to put their own stamp on the Oz lore (the books are in the public domain, but the iconic 1939 movie from MGM is not), but nothing about this movie feels necessary or particularly interesting.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that Raimi had no investment in the source material, as everything is directed so flatly. The effects look cheap and don’t evoke the vibrancy of Oz, leading man James Franco is practically sleepwalking through his performance, and the new origin story for the Wicked Witch of the West, turning her into a scorned woman, is incredibly insulting. This was a film made for branding reasons, and it reeks of cynicism at every turn. Sam Raimi felt like a great choice for an Oz movie, but it seems as though his own disinterest and the studio’s micromanagement brought any good ideas for an adaptation to a halt.
As Raimi tried to step away from his horror routes, he made some strange career choices. Still, few are as genuinely inexplicable as his decision to make an inspirational sports drama starring Kevin Costner. For Love of the Game feels like a paint-by-numbers movie — one where every moment is highly predictable and derivative of dozens of better movies, like Costner’s own Field of Dreams. The cast is impressive, and this film did introduce Raimi to future J. Jonah Jameson actor J.K. Simmons, but it’s a lifeless and painfully saccharine drama that strives for pathos, but delivers tranquilizers. Worst of all, it’s utterly boring, the worst thing a Sam Raimi movie can be.
Every bright young director has to start somewhere. It’s Murder! is Raimi’s debut, shot on Super 8 while he was still at college and co-starring Bruce Campbell and Raimi’s brother Ted. As the title suggests, the movie centers on a murder and the detective trying to solve the case while avoiding his demise. It’s clearly the work of a first-timer who’s figuring out their style and what to do as they go along, and it’s charming for what it is. You can see how the Sam Raimi of 1977 evolved into the Sam Raimi who made Evil Dead and Spider-Man, but that would take a few years.
Following The Evil Dead and its controversies, Raimi teamed up with his friends, the Coen Brothers for a black comedy B-movie homage about a man on death row who looks back at his life to figure out what went wrong. Crimewave had a disastrous production, with Raimi not allowed to cast Bruce Campbell in the lead, lousy weather and crew issues delaying shooting, and Raimi being banned by the studio from editing his own movie. Raimi cited the experience of making Crimewave as one of his least favorite moments of his career. Nowadays, the little-seen film has some fans and minor cult status, but it’s nowhere near Raimi’s or the Coens’ best work.
There are innumerable Spider-Man 3 memes and arguments about it being one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Indeed, the film isn’t perfect, but it’s not bereft of value or attractive qualities. Raimi still manages to make room for his trademark humor in Spider-Man 3, and some highly satisfying slapstick moments. Plus he’s always known how to execute a successful action scene. Spider-Man 3 mostly suffers from a case of too many cooks, with Raimi being forced to include Venom as a critical villain against his wishes, and the need to go bigger than the previous film leading to a severe case of bloat. Peter Parker becoming insufferable is nowhere near as awful as audiences have said it is in hindsight. It makes sense in context, and Tobey Maguire makes for an excellent mean-spirited Spidey — but it still feels like a case of too much plot and development into an unstable structure.
Co-written by Billy Bob Thornton, inspired by stories of his own mother, The Gift sees Raimi taking on the supernatural thriller genre with good-to-mixed results. In one of her more underrated performances, Cate Blanchett plays a psychic who is called in to help with a local disappearance involving the fiancée of a local school teacher. The plotting and performances are tight, featuring an all-star cast that includes Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, and Katie Holmes. Everyone is working overtime to overcome the trite clichés of the genre. However, The Gift is ultimately a tad too by-the-numbers for its own good.
In A Simple Plan, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, and Bill Paxton play a trio of rural Minnesota residents who discover a crashed plane with a bag containing millions of dollars on board. They decide to keep the money and not tell anyone what they uncovered, but deceit and paranoia elicit their ultimate undoing. Combining Fargo with a dash of Shallow Grave and some Southern Gothic transported to the Midwest, this intense and often elegantly-done noir-style thriller contains some of the best Raimi film traits.
Raimi took one hell of a risk in making The Quick and the Dead in 1995. While the Western wasn’t entirely dead by this point in time, thanks to works like Unforgiven, it wasn’t exactly something that younger audiences were desperate to see, even with a hot young rising star by the name of Leonardo DiCaprio among the cast. This proud homage to Sergio Leone is probably the most un-Raimi film in his back-catalog — it is a fast-moving and highly watchable drama, that delves into pure showboating with its direction and gorgeous cinematography. It’s not dazzlingly original, and its initial release was probably hurt by the fact that it came out when the Western was waning in popularity. However, The Quick and the Dead certainly deserves a revisit.
Spider-Man may have been a breakthrough for superhero movies, but 1990’s Darkman was a serious risk, with Raimi directing a film in the genre that wasn’t based on a pre-existing property. Liam Neeson plays a scientist who, after being disfigured by a ruthless gangster, tries to cure himself and develops superhuman abilities that he uses to fight crime. A greater Dick Tracy homage than the live-action movie that also came out in 1990, Darkman is a no-holds-barred action thriller that beautifully captures the style and graphic feel of the comic book and pulp fiction worlds. The movie did pretty well at the box office, but sadly never got a sequel — this was one story audiences happily would have watched play out in an entire franchise.
Director of Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson, stepped down from Doctor Strange 2 in 2020, leaving the door open for superhero veteran Sam Raimi to step in and take over – and take over he did. Written by Michael Waldron and produced by Kevin Feige, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has been in the works since 2016. Benedict Cumberbatch signed on to reprise his role in 2018, and the film was a go. This Sam Raimi movie did face some setbacks, however. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, filming was delayed to 2021. After a three-month hiatus, the movie resumed its production schedule in March 2021, and Doctor Strange 2 was released to mixed reviews (but an 8th-highest of all time opening weekend) on May 6th, 2022.
Despite critics’ lukewarm reception, audiences lapped up the second chapter of the Doctor Strange franchise, mainly due to Sam Raimi’s surprisingly disturbing direction. The franchise is, as its protagonist suggests, exceedingly strange, and there was arguably no one better to provide a unique lens for the superhero story than Spider-Man director Sam Raimi. While many lamented the pacing of the movie, which is why it’s not higher on the list, Raimi’s intriguing style of direction saved the film from a more subpar reception. The director was able to take on, and explain, the MCU’s confusing Multiverse to first-time viewers in a digestible way. The spell that Raimi cast on people through Doctor Strange 2 worked incredibly well for the hero’s confusing story while adding his trademark twisted humor to the mix, even making a hilarious onscreen cameo.
Evil Dead II ends with one hell of a cliffhanger, and Army of Darkness offers a rollicking story of what to do when you’re a humble zombie hunter stuck in the Middle Ages. Bruce Campbell has the absolute time of his life playing the iconic Ash, who is somehow believable both as a macho hero and a ridiculous goofball parody of one. Raimi does seem to get overwhelmed by his own ambition. Still, an increased budget and a few more years in the game mean that Army of Darkness is easily one of his most esthetically fascinating films and one of the most enjoyable midnight movie experiences one could hope to ask for.
2002’s Spider-Man remains one of the most beloved superhero films of all time, and with good reason. In many ways, this film shouldn’t have worked. After all, superhero movies were only just finding their footing in modern blockbuster cinema, the studio was unsure that anyone could believably make a man swing through the streets of New York City, and Tobey Maguire wasn’t an A-Lister and was mostly known for being Leonardo DiCaprio’s BFF. Yet, Sam Raimi pulled it off and then some. The prototype for the modern superhero movie can be found here, from the dynamic action set-pieces, to the swells of Danny Elfman’s score, to the iconic upside-down kiss in the rain. The public knows all these tropes so well now, but at the time, this was all new. Spider-Man still has a remarkable freshness to it today because Raimi respects the source material, while still having enough irreverence to put his own stamp on it. Spider-Man became the first film to pass the $100,000,000 mark in a single weekend, and soon a new era of cinema was born.
It’s hard to believe that 1981’s The Evil Dead is only Raimi’s second movie as a director. It’s a sharply confident piece of work that uses its scant budget to the best of its abilities and remains timeless in its ability to scare the hell out of its audiences. Almost 40 years later, The Evil Dead is still gross, strange, exciting, and sharply shocking. Its simple story opens the doors to an unnerving mood that’s hard to shake, even as the action gets ridiculous. Generations of horror filmmakers owe everything to The Evil Dead.
After the critical disappointment of Spider-Man 3, and all the fatigue caused by studio squabbling, Raimi decided to return to his roots for his next movie, Drag Me To Hell. Raimi has never gotten enough credit for how good he is at old-school horror camp, and Drag Me to Hell sees him turning up the volume to delightfully deafening peaks. Alison Lohman, always a criminally underrated actress who never got the credit she deserved, excels in playing a an ambitious bank loan officer whose choice to deny a mortgage extension to a strange old woman sees her cursed by a dark spirit. Making a truly scary movie is tough enough, but doing so while keeping it genuinely funny is a whole other feat of skill, and Raimi at his peak does it better than anyone else working. This is a simple movie that wants to make you jump then laugh. Drag Me To Hell is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be, and it does that with aplomb.
Spider-Man may have changed the game for superhero movies, but the sequel is the real pinnacle of Raimi’s comic book adaptation prowess. Everything is so fine-tuned here, and Raimi is firing on all cylinders as a director, having built on the first film and become confident enough to make the sequel a more Raimi-esque feature. The effects are better, Peter’s arc is more satisfying, Alfred Molina as Doc Ock is easily one of the greatest comic book villains in film from the past 30 years, and the emotional beats are just incredible here, as evidenced in the scene where Spidey is carried through the train carriage by proud New Yorkers who have claimed him as one of their own. In Spider-Man 2, the fantastical and the deeply human combine with perfect balance. Dozens of superhero movies have been made since this one, but the bar was still set insanely high for a long time, thanks to Raimi, Spidey, and company.
When people think of Raimi and what he does best, it’s Evil Dead 2 that first comes to mind, and for good reason. This blood-soaked horror with a blackly comedic heart manages to be a glorious bad taste experience while subtly satirizing the entire concept of bad taste. The best parodies come from people who love the thing they’re mocking, and nobody loves this brand of horror more than Sam Raimi. While one could easily call this a remake of the first movie, it’s also definitely one of the great movie sequels, thanks to Bruce Campbell’s endless charisma, the ceaseless splattering gore, and the uproarious combination of blood and slapstick. Groovy.
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