By Danilo Castro
There’s nobody like Sam Raimi. His films are kitschy and cool. They’re hilarious and heartbreaking. They contain so much giddy energy that they infuse even the most cliched stories with the spirit of reinvention. Nobody can replicate Raimi’s tone, and now, after nearly a decade away from the big screen, he’s back with a new film: “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness.”
In yet another surprising career move, the filmmaker known for his eccentricity has linked up with the studio most accused of taking an assembly line approach to filmmaking. You can check out our full review of Raimi’s latest here, but if you want to see where the Marvel sequel ranks in Raimi’s storied career, then strap in and scroll down. It’s going to be a wild ride, baby.
From worst to best, here’s our definitive ranking of Sam Raimi’s films.
16. “Oz The Great And Powerful” (2013)
Raimi seemed like a decent choice to direct “Oz the Great and Powerful” (2013). The film tried to capitalize on the fantasy reboot/retelling craze that had kicked off with “Alice In Wonderland” (2010), and the premise was catnip for Raimi stans: an outsider is forced to rely on his wits to get out of a dangerous situation.
Unfortunately, the narrative similarity is where things diverge. “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a blockbuster that’s so light on memorability you’ll forget you even saw it. There are a few stylish moments when Theodora (Mila Kunis) becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, but even that gets erased by the lackadaisical performances. We’re glad this wasn’t Raimi’s last film.
15. “For Love Of The Game” (1999)
“For Love of the Game” has a great premise: a pitcher goes out to the mound for his last game and proceeds to throw a perfect game. As each batter steps up to the plate, the pitcher reflects on the people in his life and the decisions that got him to where he is today. Throw in Kevin Costner as the pitcher (and John C. Reilly as the catcher!), and you’ve got a recipe for a classic sports movie.
Sadly, Raimi didn’t show up to play. The film is surprisingly bland, with the novel’s meditative structure being relegated to a series of long-winded flashbacks involving Costner’s love interest (Kelly Preston). There’s too much slack on what should be a tense watch, and “For the Love of the Game” never fully recovers.
14. “It’s Murder!” (1977)
“It’s Murder!” (1977) was Raimi’s self-funded debut, and it revolves around a dead uncle and a will that has some suspicious strings attached to it. There are a lot of fun ideas flying around here, and longtime Raimi fans will get a kick out of seeing the director be the star of his own film (he plays the son who receives the inheritance). We also get the first appearance of Raimi staples like Bruce Campbell and his brother Ted.
Taken on its own, “It’s Murder!” has some pacing issues, and with its measly 77-minute runtime, it still feels light on content. Raimi would clearly learn from his mistakes and improve for his next film, “The Evil Dead” (1981), which many see as his “true” debut. “It’s Murder!” is consequently looked at like a footnote, but it’s a relatively charming one.
13. “Crimewave” (1985)
“Crimewave” (1985) is nothing if not energetic. The film throws film noir, science fiction, horror, and slapstick comedy into a blender and forgets to attach the lid, resulting in a messy splatter pattern of a story. There are traces of brilliance scattered throughout, like the inventive staging of violence (Three Stooges vibes) or the supremely game performance by Campbell as Renaldo “The Heel.”
When compared to the film before it, though, “Crimewave” does feel like a step backward for the director. It lacks the concentration of “The Evil Dead,” which is doubly confusing when you consider that Raimi co-wrote the screenplay with Joel and Ethan Coen. A rare miss from all three parties.
12. “Spider-Man 3” (2007)
“Spider-Man 3” is a glorious mishmash of things Raimi wanted (the Sandman subplot) and things the studio enforced (the Venom subplot). It doesn’t work as a whole, and Raimi has since admitted to behind-the-scenes difficulty, but you’ve got to admit that it’s entertaining from scene to scene.
The Sandman transformation is one of the best scenes in all three films, and the action is inventive as ever. Then there’s “Emo Peter” and everything James Franco does, which has been responsible for some choice memes over the years. The good with the bad blurred to the point of non-recognition.
11. “The Gift” (2000)
Raimi made a sharp left turn when he made this supernatural thriller. “The Gift” (2000) has none of the gallows humor that the director had come to be known for and instead sees him take a sobering, melodramatic approach. The casting of Keanu Reeves as an abusive husband is a good indicator of the tone here. The star power of the rest of the ensemble is immense (Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank, Giovanni Ribisi, and J.K. Simmons), and the central performance by Cate Blanchett is predictably strong.
Unfortunately, the tunnel vision tone eventually wears thin, and by the film’s end, the director’s attempts to communicate the weight of every moment feel more exhausting than engaging. It’s a solid film that would have benefited from a more nuanced approach.
10. “The Quick And The Dead” (1995)
“The Quick and the Dead” flopped with audiences and critics alike in 1995, but the film has aged surprisingly well. It may have to do with the star-studded cast, which includes peak Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman, as well as pre-fame Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. It may also have something to do with Raimi’s approach to the western genre, which saw less of an emphasis on shootouts and more on the manic energy that preceded them.
Raimi’s eye for inventive camerawork is on full display here, and while the performances mostly adhere to western tropes, it’s evident that the director is having a fun time exaggerating the iconography. It’s no masterpiece, but “The Quick and the Dead” is definitely worth the cult reputation it’s accumulated.
9. “Darkman” (1990)
There’s no “Spider-Man” without “Darkman.” It’s kind of astonishing to look back at the 1990 film and see how much Raimi recycled for his web-slinger trilogy a decade later. That being said, “Darkman” still holds up on its own as a supremely weird and stylized nod to the action serials of the 1930s and 40s.
Liam Neeson plays the titular “Darkman,” who’s more akin to the Phantom of the Opera than he is a masked hero, and Raimi has fun blurring the lines between these disparate archetypes. The effects have since become dated, but the insistence on treating an absurd situation with deadly seriousness is a directorial hallmark that gets solidified here. Another film worthy of cult status.
8. “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” (2022)
“Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” (2022) is Raimi’s highly-anticipated return to the big screen, and true to the hype, it results in the MCU’s most horror-inspired film. There are visual delights to be unraveled here, and Raimi’s knack for inventive staging is given free rein (and then some) once he’s allowed to play with the titular character’s powers. It’s a Raimi film first and foremost, and die-hard fans will be relieved to affirm this on their own.
That said, for all of its excitement and energy, “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” fails to conjure up the magic of some of the earlier Raimi superhero films. It’s forced to incorporate so much and serve as a springboard for so many future installments (like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” before it) that it fails to congeal as a fully satisfying sequel. Entertaining and flawed all at once.
7. “Drag Me To Hell” (2009)
Raimi spent most of the 2000s tethered to the “Spider-Man” franchise, so it was nice to see him return to his horror roots with “Drag Me to Hell” (2009). The film proved that he still had the goods when it came to absolutely bonkers concepts, as the story focused on a loan officer (Alison Lohman) and her encroaching fear that she’s going to hell in three days’ time.
We won’t spoil what happens, but suffice to say, things go poorly. It’s fascinating to see Raimi’s eye for practical horror effects acclimate to CGI, and while some have aged poorly, the campy application still makes them enjoyable. “Drag Me to Hell” was a critical success upon release, but it hasn’t quite gotten the push that some of Raimi’s other horror films have. Hopefully, time will correct that.
6. “Army Of Darkness” (1992)
Only one man could have made “Army of Darkness” (1992), and his name is Raimi. It’s a ridiculous mashup of medieval action and lowbrow comedy that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. The consensus is that the film, the third in the “Evil Dead” trilogy, lacks the spark of the first two, and while true, it brings its own fun attributes to the table.
The emphasis on the medieval setting, and the clashing ideologies of hero Ash Williams (Campbell) and the rest of the kingdom, are two elements that can only be found here. The same goes for the action scenes, which manage the rare feat of being both thrilling and funny. When a film pauses to sing the praises of an S-Mart shotgun, it’s doing something right.
5. “Spider-Man” (2002)
“X-Men” (2000) may have gotten there first, but Raimi’s “Spider-Man” (2002) proved that superhero movies were a viable genre. Most of what we see today is either inspired by or a self-conscious riff on what Raimi established here: alternating origin stories for the hero and villain, a doomed love story, and a protagonist who turned their despair into strength.
Two decades and several reboots later, the most thrilling aspect of “Spider-Man” is how much Raimi was allowed to put his stamp on the material. There’s a specificity to the storytelling choices lacking in the modern-day, and while dated, they still delight. Plus, who doesn’t love J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson?
4. “A Simple Plan” (1998)
The dark horse in Raimi’s catalog is also one of his best. He brandishes his film noir skills with “A Simple Plan” (1998), which details the fallout of two Minnesota brothers (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thorton) who discover a plan wreck with $4.4 million. In classic genre fashion, the brothers fear that the other is screwing them over, leading to a devastating series of bad breaks and darkly comedic twists.
On the surface, “A Simple Plan” has more in common with Raimi’s forgettable releases, but the director is able to bring his devil-may-care attitude to the screenplay and give it a propulsive rhythm. The actors chew their respective scenery, the double-crosses never let up, and the 121-minute runtime winds up feeling like a breezy 71. Raimi has a keen eye for noir, and we hope he churns out another one someday.
3. “The Evil Dead” (1981)
The film that started it all. “The Evil Dead” (1981) was a passion project for Raimi, a culmination of everything he had learned and loved about horror flicks growing up, and the passion is infectious. It’s an absolute thrill to watch the film today, whether you love the shocking character deaths or the absurd touches of slapstick comedy.
It’s one of the most tactile viewing experiences you could ask for, especially when how much time and effort went into the creation of the makeup and the general atmosphere. I’ve seen slashers budgeted at ten times “The Evil Dead,” and they can’t evoke the visceral reaction I get when that pencil gets jabbed into that ankle. Raimi’s intuition is invaluable, and there’s no better testament than this film.
2. “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
“Spider-Man 2” (2004) does what so many sequels fail to do: dispense with the first film’s flaws and enhance the parts that worked. The film makes Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) more human and more flawed while at the same proving that his resolve is what truly makes him heroic. There’s a lot that’s structurally sound about the screenplay, and it keeps fans coming back despite some of the dated CGI or period-specific patriotism.
There’s also the excellent turn by Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, who manages to flesh out different parts of Peter’s character while differing himself from the iconic villain performance that preceded him. “Spider-Man 2” walked (or swung?) so classics like “The Dark Knight” (2008) and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) could run.
1. “Evil Dead II” (1987)
Raimi is pretty good at sequels. “Spider-Man 2” proved that he could deliver the goods in a blockbuster format, but “Evil Dead II” (1987) proved that he was one of the looniest and singular voices to come along in American cinema in the 1980s. The horror sequel is pure, uninhibited creativity from front to back. Nothing feels like an attempt at pandering, or amusing anyone besides himself, Campbell, and the rest of the crew.
The result is a film so insane and so nakedly comfortable with its own insanity that it simply can’t be topped. Raimi has had a spectacular career over the last few decades, but high points like this rarely ever happen. We tip our hat to you, sir. The world is a brighter, weirder place because of you.
Have you seen “Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness” yet? If so, what did you think? Where does it rank in Sam Raimi’s filmography for you? What do you think of our overall order? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Danilo and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @DaniloSCastro