Here are the best Bruce Campbell movies and shows, ranked

Having Bruce Campbell on hand will always be a good thing.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

“Trust me, you’ll love it. It’s slapstick with a soul. It’s Bruce Campbell!”

Is there any better way to describe the work of the powerhouse actor, writer, director, and producer? It’s how the legendary Evil Dead star was introduced to a certain author I might mention just before Army of Darkness pulled him out of his first teenage heartbreak.

If you’re not a Bruce Campbell fan yet, you definitely should be. From The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Campbell has made some of the most memorable movie and TV appearances of our time, especially in the world of horror. When considering his body of work, it’s hard not to point out every appearance as the best ⏤ tempting as it may be ⏤ but in doing so, we’re not going to just retread here, or stick Evil Dead at the top, or list all his cameos.

What we are going to do is dive into the tale of why Bruce is the best, and yes, especially so when his partner-in-kooky-crime Sam Raimi is involved. (But in case you want to see all of the Campbell cameos in Raimi flicks, we’ve got you covered!)

Why Bruce Campbell keeps our chin up

Why has Bruce Campbell struck such a chord with so many, and continues to do so to this day?

“I love how Bruce steers into his B status,” a friend of mine recently said. “Even Bruce makes fun of most of his movies and how crappy they are.” It’s true, and I’ve seen and heard it firsthand.  

In the early 2000’s, we went to a showing of Evil Dead 2 at the (original) Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Austin, where Campbell was on hand promoting the release of his autobiography, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor. As part of the tour, he was also hosting the showing of Evil Dead 2 along with a presentation of his documentary, Fanalysis ⏤ a Bruce bonanza, if you will, and we scored tickets to the sold-out experience.

At the screening, he took questions, and fans started asking him about his various roles, and why he would take them on. After a barrage of awful movies, my buddy thrust his hand up and asked about a recent bomb, 1999’s From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money. Campbell didn’t skip a beat with his answer. “Three words — Tiffany. Amber. Thiessen!”

What about (fill in just about any other of his films)? Another answer: “One word — mortgage!”

To fans, it felt that Bruce was a hilarious secret that belonged to us, my friend said. “It’s like, if I met someone who knew who Bruce Campbell was and was a fan, I automatically knew that I could get along with them,” he added.

I decided to take this deeper, knowing my bias toward Army of Darkness as Bruce’s best, so I asked another friend of mine who reviews movies for to weigh in on the topic and his answer was quick and direct.

Bubba Ho-Tep!”

How come, I asked.

“(It’s) so great. Real showcase for him and quirky tale to boot,” he answered.

Just like in Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, Campbell’s recent cameo in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (directed by “long lost brother” Sam Raimi) has him at the chin ⏤ er top ⏤ of our minds once more. His cameo there (kinda-not-really spoilers) is definitely a nod to his role as Ash in the original Raimi-Campbell trio that ended with Army of Darkness. When Stephen Strange puts a spell on Campbell’s character that has his hand go “bad” just like the evil that got into Ash’s hand, all the Campbell fans gave a nod and laugh in acceptance.

Tell me this scene doesn’t remind you of Campbell’s Pizza Poppa in Multiverse of Madness:

Except in Multiverse of Madness, he doesn’t take a chainsaw to said hand and amputate it himself, because luckily the spell in MoM wears off eventually, leading to his wonderful line while looking straight into the camera at us, the adoring (or willing to wait) fans: “It’s finally over!”

Speaking of Strange and strange things, the performance from Benedict Cumberbatch conjures the thought of another quote from Army of Darkness, asked by one of the medieval folks waiting to fight by Ash’s side against the Deadites.

The medieval man asks Ash, “Are all men from the future loud-mouthed braggarts?

“Nope,” Ash responds. “Just me baby, just me.”

With that, onto the list of Bruce Campbell’s best movies and TV shows ever made. Let’s go ahead and start with the best, since we all know which one takes first place.

1. Army of Darkness

Taking parts from both the Evil Dead films, Army of Darkness picks up where the sequel leaves off (sort of) as we race through the horror in the cabin, Ash losing his girl, his arm going “bad” after evil infects it, and the book of the dead — The Necronomicon — before Ash is transported via the vortex portal to his new medieval home, where he and his car are plopped down in what appears to be the middle of nowhere.

This is where the setup changes from Evil Dead 2, as from there on, much more comedy and slapstick-ery ensues than in its predecessors. Here, we get Campbell’s full range of acting abilities. Confusion, fear, bewilderment, confidence, humor, and bravado all shine through within the first few scenes of the film. Yet still, my mood was not improving as the (kinda) slow juxtaposition and setup rolled along.

After Ash is enslaved by one kingdom for being one of “Henry’s men,” meaning a soldier in the competing army of the kingdom that captured him, he tries to talk his way out of things before a most iconic scene of blood that ever gushed came forth.

This was blood out of one unfortunate soul pushed into the pit, and it was the scene that did it for me. My heart and spirit were at once lifted as high as the blood spewed, as I fell off the couch doubled over laughing my guts out, damn near literally.

Ash is then thrown into the pit despite his protestations, where he fights a demon before a mage (wizard?) throws him his chainsaw down into the pit, where we gloriously see his stump of an arm click and lock into the chainsaw in a perfect slow frame shot by Raimi.

“Yes! That was glorious!” I yelled and laughed all at once.

He revs it up, slices down the monster, and away we go.

From winning over the maiden, to losing her, to tracking down the boom, to fighting miniature versions of himself, then an evil version of himself who he shoots in the face, to mispronouncing the words which raises the army of the dead led by the evil version of himself, the not-so-montage of awesome Ash goes through in the next phase of the movie cements this role as Campbell’s best.

He then plays hero by leading the people to fight the army of darkness, which are a ragtag group of scary and hilarity themselves.

And we must mention, this was so beloved that it became a TV show nearly two decades later, Ash vs. Evil Dead, which ran for three seasons and, though not as good as the film, still features Campbell chinny-chin-chinning through evil all while wearing a smirk and spouting sarcasm and one-liners.

Go rewatch Army of Darkness (and Ash vs. Evil Dead), thank me, then rewatch Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, and you’ll notice allllll sorts of similarities (I would go on, but I really don’t want to put a spoilers tag at the top of this story).

2. Bubba Ho-Tep

Playing Elvis Presley, Campbell might do one of the best jobs of portraying the iconic singer and actor than anyone else (in an Elvis movie that includes a mummy).

He leans into the hokey nature of Elvis, as portrayed in all the films The King of Rock and Roll ever made.

This checks all the boxes for what we want, nay what we need, from Campbell at his most endearing, engaging, and enthralling self.

Absurdity and apparitions, contemplation, and confidence, it’s all there.

Campbell embodies Elvis as an old man with no friends, well one friend — a fellow resident of their retirement home who claims to be JFK even though he is black — who is contemplating his life but at peace with where he is.

The storyline is a bit bonkers to write out, but here goes. Campbell’s Elvis claims to be the real deal, and that an actual Elvis impersonator was the person who died, not Elvis himself. In the home, Campbell’s character goes about the rest of his days being an Elvis impersonator himself until he gets injured and falls into a coma.

We rejoin him 20 years later in the nursing home, where everyone knows him as Sebastian Haff, the supposed impersonator Elvis switched places with who actually died.

His friend is named Jack and goes even further with his story and claim to fame, saying that after the assassination attempt on his (read: JFK’s) life, his skin was dyed black, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who in real life became president after JFK died, dropped him off at the nursing home and abandoned him.

As Rotten Tomatoes said in their review, it’s “the best movie to star both the King and JFK.”

So, from there, a mummy comes to the East Texas town where Haff and Jack, er Elvis and JFK, now live, by way of a heist and bus crash. Donning cowboy clothing, the mummy starts stealing the souls of the residents of their nursing home, spurring the duo into action.

Except, they’re old, and nearly immobile, and a bit deranged (if you couldn’t tell).

They craft a plan, which goes awry, but in the end, they get their mummy. Jack sadly dies of a heart attack, with Campbell’s Elvis getting the last laugh and line as he dies by way of the King’s famous line, “Thank you, thank you very much.”

Going into more detail here won’t give you the thrills that await with watching (or rewatching it) yourself.

It’s at its essence, Ash vs. the Cowboy Mummy, and it should get its share of the cult classic fanfare.

3. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

The movie that really put Raimi and Campbell on the map.

Sure, Evil Dead the original caught plenty of people’s attention, but given the chance to up the ante (and the gore, and the histrionics, and the campy scare tactics) the duo shine so bright it ignites the wick on the catapult of the rest of their careers.

There really isn’t a lot to say about Evil Dead 2 here because if you’re into it, you’ve seen it, and if it’s not for you, well, then check out the Evil Dead reboot! It’s a great and more modern-day horror flick.

Billed as a horror film, there are some laughs here — such as Ash interacting with his dismembered hand — which fuels the storyline and setup for the third installment.

This one ends almost where Army of Darkness begins, but in Evil Dead 2 the happenings after the vortex opens up and transports him to the Middle Ages are bit different. Here, Ash uses his shotgun to demolish a deadite and save the knights, whereas in AoD he saves nothing before being captured.

(We’ll also go ahead and put Evil Dead here as 3A.)

4. The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.

This is the show that I believe has netted Campbell his wide, wide array of side characters and minor — but big on presence — roles throughout the next decades of his career.

He showcases his smooth-talking side, the rugged side, the heroic side, all while conveying the body and soul humor he’s known for.

From Hercules and Xena, to Spider-Man and The Hudsucker Proxy, Burn Notice (coming soon to a list near you!) and even Charmed, he’s the “that guy” who (almost) everyone actually knows.

It was written by Carlton Cuse and Jeffrey Boam, who penned Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and were asked to write a series based on the same themes.

And they nailed it.

For a western on Fox in the ’90s with not a big budget (just look at some of those sets).

Let’s see how close to Indy we get here.

A Harvard-educated lawyer becomes a bounty hunter (super smart dude starts chasing after something or someone of value) and has technologies and methodologies — an airship, for one — that seem to always keep them ahead of the pack.

There are supernatural elements — The Orb — and a famous dad — Brisco County, Sr. is a U.S. Marshal who captures and is subsequently killed by a notorious outlaw and his bandits.

The themes track, and the witty humor combined with cool action was present throughout the show.

However, back in those days, if a show didn’t takeoff or had waning ratings, it didn’t find another life on Netflix or Hulu (see: Arrested Development, among many others).

So, after one 27-episode season, Brisco was sent down the ol’ dusty trail, never to be seen from again.

Critically acclaimed, and full of episode-ending cliff-hangers, those who loved it kept coming back the next week (or so) to see what happened.

Brisco and Bowler were, and are, innocent.

5. Burn Notice

Perhaps the role that made Campbell a bit more well known in regular households. Burn Notice ran for seven seasons on USA Network. Back in the day, all sorts of shows ran on USA, but usually there was at least one on that you would currently watch, and it wasn’t always the same as everyone else.

Anyway, in Burn Notice Campbell gets a steady, consistent, well fleshed-out character that isn’t based on fighting demons or set in some medieval time or full of lore.

It was a real show, with real people, figuring out real stuff. Not Campbell’s usual, but hell, it ran for seven seasons! With 111 episodes!

It even got its own spinoff TV-based movie, Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe (featuring a young Pedro Pascal to boot!) in 2011.

Even though I wasn’t a big fan of the show, I checked it out and checked in from time to time, only because Campbell.

It was the same for the many movies he’s put out. Even if it wasn’t great, we’d give it a go, because Bruce was there to make our day better.

And everything he touches tends to be just that, better, including the most recent thing to have his presence, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.

When people talk about Bruce being the boss, we know they don’t mean that singer from New Jersey.

Hail to the king, baby.