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Horror, comic books, cowboys and even baseball: Sam Raimi’s movie catalog is deep and diverse, and that’s factoring in the nearly 10-year break between the new, Raimi-helmed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and 2013’s Oz the Great and Powerful — the Disney fantasy that last had the Evil Dead creator seated in the director’s chair.
Raimi’s career is a pastiche of every fun big-screen thing that makes kids want to go to the movies, from gory gruesomeness and horror jump-scares to superheroes and villains who push the imaginative allure of movie storytelling to the limit. But among all the Ash Williams and Spider-Man fanfare he’s known for, Raimi has also directed a generous handful of standalone movie treasures that venture far and wide from the big-budget genre formula.
How do they all stack up — and where does the new Doctor Strange movie, Raimi’s long-awaited return to superhero spectacle, fit in? It’s time to dive in and see.
15. Crimewave (1985)
A lot of the early ingredients that would eventually come to define a signature Raimi tour through slapstick horror first came together in Crimewave. Even in the wake of The Evil Dead’s then-recent success, though, the finished product came out half-baked. Helming a ridiculously low-rent movie about a death row inmate whose fate pivots from the electric chair to wedding bells, Raimi had to make compromises (like acquiescing to studio demands for a lead actor who wasn’t Bruce Campbell) that deny the movie a chance at making the most of its silly premise. Now a minor cult classic, it’s at least a rewarding history lesson for horror fans enticed by Raimi’s squalidly silly side.
14. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Disney might not be the first thing you think of when Sam Raimi comes to mind, but Oz the Great and Powerful, a fantastical prequel story to The Wizard of Oz, deftly melds mainstream family-friendly appeal with some cleverly mature thematic nods to his darker, more adult side. A confidently audacious performance from James Franco as Oscar Diggs (aka Oz) in his earlier carnival con-man days goes a long way toward pulling off that balancing act, and Raimi checks off all the big-budget fantasy boxes to ensure there’s no shortage of spectacular visuals. As Disney movies go, though, Oz the Great and Powerful feels like a slightly quirky outlier in Disney’s live-action catalog… but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
13. It's Murder! (1977)
Clocking in at just over one hour, It’s Murder! was Raimi’s first film, a self-produced project he created and starred in (alongside Bruce Campbell in the first of his many Raimi team-ups). Made on an absolute shoestring budget while Raimi was still in college, it follows a family’s bizarre attempts to kill a detective (played by longtime Raimi collaborator Scott Spiegel) who shows up to investigate the death of an uncle. These days, It’s Murder! is nearly impossible to find (at least legally), but for die-hard fans, it delivers valuable early insight into the go-for-broke screen gags and exaggerated silliness that became horror hallmarks in later Raimi successes in the vein of Army of Darkness.
12. For Love of the Game (1999)
A lot of Raimi’s not-bad-but not-great movies have gone on to garner cult followings for one reason or another. Kevin Costner’s oft-derided performance in For Love of the Game, which earned him a Worst Actor Razzie, comes off somnolently sentimental in an otherwise pretty decent sports movie about an aging baseball pitcher named Billy Chapel who’s got a serious case of the romantic blues (opposite love interest Kelly Preston). Absorbed in a solopsistic on-field trance about the what-ifs that have marked his relationship and career, Chapel somehow finds himself dialed into an athlete’s zone, inching ever closer to recapturing one last moment of magnificence as he pitches a perfect game. If it all sounds mawkish and maudlin, well, it is. But then again, most happy-ending sports movies are.
11. Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Well, we might as well get this one out of the way. Raimi’s final Spider-Man movie will forever be known as the black sheep of his 2000s web-sling trilogy starring Tobey Maguire. Messier and less coherent than the first two films, Spider-Man 3 is crammed with bad guys, yanks viewers through an oddly-curated emotional roller coaster (Gwen Stacy dying and Peter Parker Venom-dancing in the same movie?!), and ultimately asks way more of fans than its pair of well-paced predecessors. Even though Raimi himself would eventually acknowledge its shortcomings, Spider-Man 3 isn’t a terrible superhero movie: Thanks to the franchise-making movies that laid the groundwork, it just had a lot to live up to in the first place.
10. The Gift (2000)
The cast alone is reason enough to rewatch The Gift, Raimi’s low-key thriller about a Deep South psychic (Cate Blanchett) whose abilities can’t quite keep up with reality in a backtracking quest to find a murderer. Despite its supernatural theme, the story itself serves up few surprises and plays out more like a police procedural than a rug-pulling mystery. But so long as you approach it that way, The Gift still manages to put a bow on things with an absorbing step-by-step story that finds its way to a darkly fitting payoff. The best perk by far is the unbelievable cast, which featured Blanchett alongside Katie Holmes, Greg Kinnear, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K. Simmons, and Hillary Swank. How’s that for an A-list lineup?
9. The Evil Dead (1981)
Movies like The Evil Dead are how budding directors win the trust of major studios with much bigger and costlier projects. Shot with almost no budget and forging creative ways to build tension without expensive effects, The Evil Dead put Raimi on the map with both critics and fans, introducing the now-iconic Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) while paving the way for future evolutions of Raimi’s horror auteur style. Gory, gripping, and generally regarded as one of horror’s history-making movie treasures, it launched an entire lore-verse that only grew more entertaining — and more humorous — with every new installment.
8. Spider-Man (2002)
Comic book movies were still more of a box office sideshow in the early 2000s than the main blockbuster events they are now, but Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie predates even Iron Man and other early MCU films in doing a huge share of the early heavy lifting to change all that. Everything about Spider-Man played right to the strengths of one of the few comics superheroes that the general moviegoing public already understood, creating a perfect storm of star power, effects-driven action, and lighthearted, humorous heroics that reaffirmed on the big screen that Peter Parker’s alter-ego was indeed one of the most likable characters in all of fandom. Viewers embraced Tobey Maguire as the definitive movie Spider-Man in much the same way they’d later embrace Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man role, buoyed by Raimi’s well-honed knack for blending a suspenseful origin story with just the right amount of humor and heart.
7. Army of Darkness (1992)
Gimme some sugar, baby! Bruce Campbell already had this Ash Williams thing down pat by the time Army of Darkness came along, but he showed up for the third movie in Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise with an Elvis-like swagger that made reveling in demon-slaying confidence feel like a superpower. Raimi, Campbell, and longtime producing collaborator Robert Tapert struck movie gold with a story that transports Ash to the Middle Ages, a setting where he struts along like an expected VIP rather than a timid, fish-out-of-water intruder. Army of Darkness is Raimi and Campbell at their most delightfully, destructively silly, and — in that popcorn-munching kind of way — one of Raimi’s most entertaining movies, period.
6. The Quick and the Dead (1995)
Not that anyone needed proof of his directing versatility by the mid-1990s — but a Raimi western anchored by an entire posse of Hollywood A-listers? Giddyup. The Quick and the Dead stars Sharon Stone as “The Lady,” a mysterious gunslinger with a tragic past whose mercenary coolness gives way to her innate moral code when circumstance compel her to do the right thing. Surrounding Stone is a crazy cast of talent including Russell Crowe, Leonardo DiCaprio, Gene Hackman, Pat Hingle, and Gary Sinise, all of which deepens the mystery as to why The Quick and the Dead — one of Raimi’s most underrated films — ended up tanking at the box office.
5. Evil Dead II (1987)
This is where Raimi’s demon-destroying franchise really started to take off. Upping the fun factor from its 1981 predecessor with a modestly bigger budget, gobs of gory prosthetics, and one gnarly chainsaw, Evil Dead II infused the director's already solid horror formula with the kind of offbeat humor lurking in earlier Raimi projects like It’s Murder! Swashbuckling fun in a horror movie pretty much became synonymous with Raimi’s (and Bruce Campbell’s) name after this, setting up even more ambitious storylines Raimi was itching to introduce as Ash brought his boom stick back to medieval times — and closer to the movie mainstream — with followup hit Army of Darkness.
4. Darkman (1990)
Raimi had been wanting to direct a proper comic book hero movie all through his early career, so after failing to get his hands on Batman and The Shadow, he rolled up his sleeves and created one from whole cloth. A visually vivid blend of scares and dark sci-fi, Darkman follows the superhero beginnings of researcher Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson), who resorts to using his own pioneering skin technology after emerging from an acid burn operation with strange new abilities.
In addition to awesome performances from both Neeson and costar Frances McDormand, Darkman does two things well that seldom go together: It’s a gothic comic book blast just to look at — but it’s also a thoughtful peek behind the mask at how an ordinary guy rises to the occasion, when circumstance ask him to do extraordinary things.
3. Drag Me to Hell (2009)
By the late 2000s, Raimi had more than enough studio clout to make a good old-fashioned horror movie with a little more big-budget polish than he’d been able to apply in his earlier Evil Dead days. The result was Drag Me to Hell, a stylish supernatural torture-fest that lived up to its name, putting a cursed bank staffer played by Alison Lohman through a gauntlet of gory torments that only tease at what awaits in the underworld if she can’t dispel the hex — which, as the movie’s closing moments make vividly clear, she can’t.
Clocking in at just under 100 minutes and paced to keep the blood (and the occasional laughs) pumping, Drag Me to Hell is one of Raimi’s most efficient films, gliding from one fright to the next on the way toward its unsettlingly sinister, but horrifically satisfying, conclusion.
2. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spider-Man 2 is the kind of sequel every studio hopes to make, taking what made its predecessor a box office and critical hit while refining the package with a compelling villain, even more relatable struggles for Tobey Maguire’s web-slinging hero, and a barrage of action and effects that serve, rather than distract from, the elegantly crafted story Raimi and screenwriterAlvin Sargent wanted to tell.
Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock nearly stole the show as Peter Parker’s plausibly-motivated nemesis, while Peter and Mary Jane (Kirstin Dunst) wrestled with compelling romantic tensions that tugged at the emotions of every fan swept up and invested in these characters, thanks in large part to the previous film’s iconic upside-down kiss. Few Raimi movies in any genre have ever nailed every angle so completely and seemingly effortlessly as Spider-Man 2, which only serves to highlight the contrast between this film and its disheveled, kind of bloated sequel.
1. A Simple Plan (1998)
A Simple Plan draws occasional comparisons to the Coen brothers’ midwestern noir masterpiece Fargo, and for good reason: Both films follow an incredible descent into human greed and depravity, all concealed by the common, almost timid reluctance of ordinary people to admit just how far down the rabbit hole of despicable acts they’ve truly fallen.
A middle-class couple from Minnesota, Hank and Sarah Mitchell (the late Bill Paxton and Bridget Fonda), strike a pact with Hank’s brother (Billy Bob Thornton) and a longtime friend after the four of them stumble upon a huge stash of cash in a downed airplane. Their ill-gotten discovery sparks a series of noir thriller mistakes, betrayals, and bitterly-tragic consequences that leave the few survivors, by the end of it all, wishing they weren't left alive to deal with all the sadness. Killer performances from Paxton and Fonda, alongside Thornton (who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as brother Jacob Mitchell), elevate Raimi’s restrained, sparse direction with an airtight screenplay adaptation from Oscar-nominated writer Scott B. Smith — the author whose eponymous 1993 novel also inspired the film.