With his signature wacky camera movements and mean spirited sensibilities, Sam Raimi is a director whose style is so distinctive and noticeable that when you walk into one his movies, you can tell who made it almost immediately. And while super stylistic filmmaking can tend to put some people off, Raimi’s sincerity and tongue-in-cheek attitude towards filmmaking makes his work beloved by a large chunk of critics.
Over the course of his career, Raimi has had numerous highs and lows, with those highs being classics in genres and others being mostly forgotten pieces of B-movie media. Whatever the case is though, his work has garnered much attention over the years.
It’s important to note that Metacritic, and by extension other review aggregates like Rotten Tomatoes, only really have reviews from when they were initially released, and so The Quick and the Dead‘s low score is likely surprising to many Raimi fans who regard the film as among his best. The classic Western setup, which is involves revenge and duels, is seen through Raimi’s lens, and it’s a delightfully twisted time.
Though it’s likely not surprising why the film received mixed reception when it first came out. The film was released during something of a brief western renaissance in the 90s, and its madcap tone and more tongue-in-cheek wasn’t exactly what people were looking for in the genre at the time when more serious, grounded westerns likeUnforgiven were populating the box office.
The third film in Raimi’s second most popular trilogy, the film continues the adventures of Ash Williams as he gets transported to the Middle Ages in an attempt to rid the world of the Necronomicon once and for all. The most overtly comedic of the bunch as well, Army of Darkness is mainly a fun time with a guy blowing up demons with a boomstick.
By leaning more into the comedic and wacky, Raimi probably ensured Army of Darkness would be forever more popular with audiences than critics. While critics never disliked it, and has been re-appraised over the years as a solid, even great film, it’s still seen as the weakest of the three Evil Dead films by most academia.
The amount of pressure that Raimi and Sony had to deliver on Spider-Man 3 must have been enormous. The first two films were critical successes and box office juggernauts, so the amount of anticipation for the third film was sky-high. But numerous behind-the-scenes trouble, including studio interference, would ultimately prove to be the killer.
Spider-Man 3 has it’s dedicated fans, but for a while and still to an extent now is widely seen as a weak superhero film. The film still has some greatness to be found, particularly in how it handles Sandman, and it’s action scenes – it’s clear that it’s the weakest of an otherwise fantastic series.
Mystical arts, horror elements, and weird multiverse shenanigans meant that Raimi could play around and do literally whatever he desired, and to Multiverse of Madness‘ credit it might be one of the most “Raimi” films ever made. The camera twists and turns, there are so many zoom-ins, and it’s delightfully spooky.
Some criticized its reliance on prior MCU films for its story as well as finding much of its character work weak, while other critics thought the film pushed the MCU forward in new, surprising ways and praised its willingness to do unexpected things with its narrative. Whatever your opinion, it’s clear we are going to talking about Multiverse of Madness for a while.
‘Darkman’ – 65
Raimi’s prototype for all his superhero films going forward, Darkman is a rarity in the superhero genre – an original film with an original hero. Darkman, a scientist left for dead who for gain superhuman strength at the cost of his sanity, is an ingenious creation, and allows Liam Neeson to shine in one of his earliest action roles.
And while Darkman’s reception was generally positive, it’s notably less than Raimi’s other more acclaimed films, which is a shame because it might be one of his most wild and out there. It’s a must-watch for superhero fans, and it’s one film in his lineup that is begging for a sequel or some kind of franchise based on it.
‘The Evil Dead’ – 71
Raimi’s debut feature The Evil Dead is still one of the all-time greats when it comes to debuts. What it lacks in budget or studio help it has in creativity, fun, and a sheer disregard for standard film conventions. It’s brazenly against everything that makes cinema what it is and that makes it wholly unique in the pantheon of horror.
And while it certainly isn’t for everybody, critics agreed that it was a solid debut. Outside a couple of vocal detractors, the film remains a seminal classic of the genre and one of the most influential horror films of all time.
‘Evil Dead II’ – 72
Making a sequel to a classic like The Evil Dead is already a risky move, but making one that doubles up the camp and comedy should be a death sentence. Sam Raimi is a great filmmaker though, and Evil Dead II is not only regarded as better than it’s predecessor but, to some fans, Raimi’s best film across the board.
While it functions as mainly a sequel, the true beauty of Evil Dead II is that it’s also partially a remake of the first film, giving Raimi a chance to redo that first film with his new experience at making movies. It’s hilarious, madcap, delightfully gory, and a blast from start to finish, and that makes it one of Raimi’s best.
‘Spider-Man’ – 73
Nobody really knew whether a Spider-Man movie was going to work. Superhero films were in a bizarre period prior to this, with only a select few being good and the ones that were good made major deviations from their source material. A comic accurate Spider-Man movie was a large risk, and yet it paid off in spades with Sam Raimi at the helm.
Being a fan of the character himself likely helped in this regard, as Raimi’s film oozes love for the source material both front and back. While it falls back to origin story conventions one too many times, and it’s CGI was dated even for the time, its script is so pitch perfect that it remains one of the best examples of a crowd-pleasing blockbuster in recent memory.
‘Drag Me to Hell’ – 83
After nearly a decade of Spider-Man films, Raimi returned to the genre that made him famous – low budget horror. This time though, he had the backing of a major studio who was willing to financed whatever he so desired, and he delivered on that promise wholeheartedly.
Drag Me to Hell is so twisted, so wild, and so out there that it’s hard to put into words. It might be the most mean-spirited film he’s ever made, but that’s part of the reason it’s so good and memorable. Critics seemed to agree, as it was lauded as a return to form for the director after Spider-Man 3’s mixed reception.
‘Spider-Man 2’ – 83
Spider-Man 2 had a ton to prove. Sequels are hard enough to do, but a sequel to one of the most successful movies of all time was even more monumental. And not only is Spider-Man 2 even better than the original by a significant margin, it’s widely seen as one of the best superhero movies ever made.
Sam Raimi’s magnum opus, critics agreed that this was probably the best film he had ever made, and the high critical praise extended to audiences who also adored the film. It’s still a popular entry for the majority of Spidey fans, and remains a template for other superhero films in the MCU, DCEU, and beyond.