June 11, 2023

Encompassing both Sam Raimi’s classic trilogy and two different sequels, the Evil Dead movies is a major franchise in horror. The Evil Dead is a rarity for a horror franchise, in that the more comedic and less horrific it got, the more people seemed to like it. This can be chalked up mainly to the fact that star Bruce Campbell is a fountain of charisma, and the more he was allowed to let loose as Ash Williams, the more entertaining he became. That’s not to say that Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness are devoid of horror, or even that the first Evil Dead is entirely humorless. However, there is definitely a best Evil Dead movie in the franchise.

However, Army of Darkness clearly saw Raimi stop setting out to scare people, seemingly more interested in getting laughs. This made the 2013 Evil Dead remake all the more interesting, focusing as it did on scaring its audience, and playing itself seriously for almost all of its running time. That then led to the 2023 movie Evil Dead Rise, which might be the most graphically terrifying and hardcore movie in the entire series, almost completely devoid of all humor. Remakes are so often the target of ridicule, but Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead was almost more of a companion piece to Raimi’s Evil Dead movies and Evil Dead Rise revealed that all five movies exist in the same universe.

5 Evil Dead (2013)

Unlike most horror series, which tend to have a clear dividing line between the beloved entries and the disappointing ones, fans mostly like all Evil Dead movies to varying degrees. The fact that Evil Dead 2013 is the one that fewer fans champion does not mean it isn’t worth watching, but it is definitely the lowest of the Evil Dead movies ranked. Fede Alvarez’s remake reinvents some of the original’s ideas in fun new ways, pulls a clever lead character swap partway through the plot, is impeccably directed, and features a great performance from Jane Levy as Mia. This Evil Dead sequel also sports more blood and gore than even Evil Dead 2 and mostly does it all with practical effects, helping its critical and audience appreciation.

4 Army of Darkness (1992)

Ash holding up a shotgun in Army of Darkness

Far and away the least horror-toned of the Evil Dead movies, Army of Darkness is still a classic on its own merits and has become one of the most commonly quoted movies in the franchise. It’s so distinct that, to its fans, it’s the best Evil Dead movie, and has caused some confusion about the franchise’s identity at point. Bruce Campbell is at his best as Ash, who by Army of Darkness is in full-on macho mode, albeit one who invariably ends up trying to do the right thing. While a box office flop, Army of Darkness has since gotten its due and plays host to iconic lines like “Hail to the King, baby,” “This is my Boomstick!” and “Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.” While some fans hate the overwhelming humor and lack of horror, it remains a cult classic.

3 Evil Dead Rise (2023)

Deadite Jessica in the lake in Evil Dead Rise's opening scene

In 2023, Lee Cronin brought the franchise roaring back with Evil Dead Rise. The director wanted to ensure that his movie fit into the entire franchise and even said that he used a line from Army of Darkness to show that there were three Necromincons, one in the 2013 Evil Dead, one in Raimi’s Evil Dead movies, and the third in Evil Dead Rise. He then transplanted the horrors to a city setting and that made it just different enough to please most fans and critics. The movie ended up certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, was a critical success, and doubled its budget in one weekend. However, it was also very hardcore and fully leaned into its horror elements, which might be a bit much for some returning viewers expecting an Evil Dead movie more in line with Army of Darkness.

2 The Evil Dead (1981)

evil dead 1981 ash

Some fans consider Sam Raimi’s original Evil Dead as the best in the franchise, but when it comes to the mass appeal of the series, it is the second one that ranks higher. However, The Evil Dead is a relentless horror movie in which demons possess and pick off a group of friends one by one, while Evil Dead 2 is a masterful combination of gory kills, great monster effects, and Bruce Campbell’s tour-de-force physical performance as Ash. The first movie was one of the most famous additions to the “Video Nasties” craze in the 1980s and proved that Raimi was a director to keep an eye on, with all the effects done practically and with almost no budget. Every film student should study this movie.

1 Evil Dead 2 (1987)

Ash with the chainsaw in Evil Dead II

While the original introduced the franchise to the world, Evil Dead 2 is the best Evil Dead movie. What really sets Evil Dead 2 apart from the other Evil Dead movies is the formation of Ash into the iconic horror hero that millions of fans know and love, cementing Bruce Campbell as a genre sensation along the way. In many ways, Evil Dead 2 is almost a remake of the first, as it’s set in the same location, and again features Kandarian Deadites possessing and killing the living. What it adds to the mix are absolutely hilarious bits of physical comedy from Campbell, Ash’s chainsaw hand, and more blood than several horror movies combined. The special effects are also that much better, and Raimi had gotten even more talented behind the camera with more experience under his belt.

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