Evil Dead (1981) was the start of the entire Evil Dead franchise, which has had a long and iconic run that helped not only create great horror entries but also helped redefine the entire horror genre, including inspiring the original Doom game. Sam Raimi is the main driving creative force behind the project, and he has either directed or produced every entry thus far. At the very least, his creativity and vision has stayed consistent throughout the years. His choices have been questioned in the past, but his style and passion are visible in every single project that he works on. Raimi is notorious for his campy mix between horror and dark comedy. With the constant use of fast zoom-ins and Dutch angles, his shot design is so stylistic and iconic; it makes watching any of his films a unique experience.
Update May 4, 2023: With the release of Evil Dead Rise, this list has been updated to include it. Find out where the latest entry in the franchise stacks up compared to its predecessors.
The film franchise remained dormant for over twenty years, although it did continue with the television series Ash vs. Evil Dead which received critical acclaim and ran for three seasons. The movies roared back with Evil Dead (2013) and Evil Dead Rise (2023). Raimi has stepped back from the director of the franchise and trusted the franchise to new filmmakers. While the more recent films may lack the original’s wacky low-budget tone, audiences get an inherently scarier take on the material thanks to advancements in visual fx. All of the Evil Dead movies are fantastic, offering a unique experience while retaining that Evil Dead feeling. With that said, here is our official ranking for the Evil Dead feature films.
5 Evil Dead (2013)
Released in 2013 and directed by Fede Álvarez, a relative newcomer to the industry, Evil Dead was an attempt to jumpstart the franchise after years of lying dormant. It follows a similar trajectory to the first film but offers new characters and motivations. There is already an underlying darkness to the film, as the friends are not at the cabin to have fun – they are at the cabin to help Mia (Jane Levy) detox from her addiction. That layer of tenseness from the start is a stark contrast to the first film, but it works well to establish a unique identity.
In fact – it is very different from the others in its entire tone. Gone is the blend of camp and horror; instead, we have a film that takes itself very seriously. It’s darker and gorier, and aside from some iconography from the first film, one might be hard-pressed to see this as an Evil Dead movie. The pieces are there – but they are put together differently. This is not a bad thing – as the film works fine on its own. It’s scarier and faster-paced, and it introduced a new generation to the world of Evil Dead. If it works as a gateway movie to others, it deserves props.
4 Evil Dead Rise (2023)
Evil Dead Rise is the latest installment in the Evil Dead universe, and it’s about time! While there was Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015), it had been ten years since the last feature film. Evil Dead Rise is a breath of fresh, cold, spine-chilling air. The narrative has all the familiar archetypal plot points as most other Evil Dead films, the Deadites are on the loose, wreaking havoc, except this time, it takes place in a cramped, dark apartment complex and revolves around two estranged sisters trying to save their children.
Much like the 2013 reboot, Evil Dead Rise doesn’t have the classic campy Sam Raimi feel and frequent dark comedy elements. It also sets itself apart regarding the fear factor with much more genuine gore and horror; it feels like a distant relative of the originals but still does a fantastic job preserving the franchise. With great critical and audience reception alike, if you are a fan of The Evil Dead and were not sold on the 2013 reboot’s more straightforward horror approach, Evil Dead Rise is a step in the right direction toward the original films.
3 The Evil Dead (1981)
Made on a shoestring budget of $375,000, The Evil Dead wasn’t just a success financially – it was a cultural landmark. Its impact on the horror industry is palpable, and its impact on modern pop culture is vital too. While it did spearhead these things – it would be tackled and done better by a sequel that’s coming up on this list. Even knowing it was outdone, it is still a great movie that works on its own.
The character of Ash (Bruce Campbell) is the heart of the franchise. His journey, although often painted as ridiculous, is also the story of trauma. This first film, more than any of the others, showcases this perfectly. His journey out of normality, on paper, is tragic. It speaks to the talent of Bruce Campbell that he’s able to play this journey in a multifaceted and often entertaining way. The Evil Dead is Ash at his most grounded, and it’s fascinating to go back and watch this one, knowing what terror this character would go through in the subsequent sequels.
2 Army of Darkness (1992)
Army of Darkness is markedly different from the other films in this franchise in almost every way. Yet, thanks to brilliant writing and direction, it feels like it belongs side-by-side with the rest and would be the best in the franchise if not for the film that preceded it. Army of Darkness takes Ash on the biggest journey yet, both literally and metaphorically. His branding as an action star is perfectly solidified in this film. Ash is killing more Deadites than ever and doing it in a completely different style. It’s still an Evil Dead movie – but the genre has been flipped on its head from horror to fantasy.
In this film, Ash finds himself transported back in time to the medieval ages, where a group of people are struggling to fight against the Deadites. The concept alone makes this film far sillier than the last, but the progression tracks and feels right at home with the rest of the films. It’s simply a movie that believes in itself and its premise. It proved that you can shake the foundation of a franchise and still stick true to the heart of it all. If you can only watch one version – watch the cut of the film that has the original ending. The original ending was considered too grim by the studio, and they were forced to shoot another ending altogether. Elements of the original ending would later be reused in Ash vs The Evil Dead.
1 Evil Dead II (1987)
Evil Dead II is one of the greatest horror films of all time and has some of the most iconic and adrenaline-infused pacing of any film in its genre. Incidentally, it’s also the greatest Bruce Campbell performance of all time. There’s no one on earth who could have played Ash as Bruce Campbell did. Heavily inspired by aspects of The Three Stooges, Campbell is the perfect blend of comedy and horror. You never doubt that Ash is suffering, but you can laugh at the absurdity of it all thanks to his performance.
Co-written by Scott Spiegel and Sam Raimi, Evil Dead II had some initial trouble getting off the ground. It was initially pitched to resemble the plot of what would become Army of Darkness and would have a lot of doors closed on it before it would take off. It would eventually become a soft reboot of the first film, as well as a sequel. This was due to some unfortunate licensing rights, and there were some questions as to why the character of Ash would return to the cabin with different characters. Once one is able to get over that initial confusing 15 minutes, what audiences find is a more sure-handed film than the first. This is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to do and how it wants to engage with the audience. Evil Dead II is the platonic ideal of what audiences expect from an Evil Dead movie.