Let's Remember The Many Times Sam Raimi And Coen Brothers Teamed Up

As we prepare to bear witness to "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," let's take a look back through director Sam Raimi's career to see where it intersects with two recurring partners of his, Joel and Ethan Coen. This can seem an odd pairing — the Coens are cynics with as many comedies to their name as crime thrillers, while Raimi's a schlockmeister with a love of horror and comic books. However, the friendship between the three very different filmmakers goes back decades. Without their mutual support, neither Raimi's nor the Coens' careers may have turned out as they did.

Evil Dead brought them together

"The Evil Dead" wasn't just Sam Raimi's breakthrough hit as a director, it also introduced him to Joel Coen. Born in Minnesota, Coen moved to Michigan — Raimi's home state — and worked as an assistant editor to Edna Ruth Paul. When Paul was hired to edit "The Evil Dead," Coen assisted her and met Raimi. The pair became friends, so when Coen and his younger brother were trying to get a film of their own funded, Raimi was on hand to offer advice.

Raimi, who'd gotten "The Evil Dead" made in parts thanks to a proof-of-concept short "Within the Woods," suggested the Coens do the same. The teaser trailer for what became the brothers' debut, "Blood Simple," even features Raimi's go-to star, Bruce Campbell.

In an interview for the Criterion Collection release of "Blood Simple," Coen recounts:

"Sam taught us that if you call on the phone and ask people to invest in a movie they'll tell you to go hell. But if you tell them 'I have a piece of film to show you,' then some of them would let you come into their living room and set up your little projector and show it to them."

With the releases of "The Evil Dead" and "Blood Simple," Raimi and the Coens had proven themselves as filmmakers to audiences (and, even more vitally, investors). However, their collaborations didn't end even as their careers took off.


While Sam Raimi and Joel and Ethan Coen now had directorial experience under their belts, they couldn't stay in the Midwest forever if they wanted to make it big. The three moved to Los Angeles at the same time, living under the same roof in the neighborhood of Silver Lake. Other roommates included "Blood Simple" star and Joel's wife, Frances McDormand; Holly Hunter, star of the Coens' sophomore film "Raising Arizona"; and Kathy Bates. Living under the same roof left them plenty of time to write together.

One of the scripts the three wrote together became "Crimewave," Raimi's next film in 1985. A murder plot gone awry is more the Coens' territory, but the aesthetic is unquestionably Raimi, from the manic camerawork to the sound design right out of "Looney Tunes." It's not considered a high point for neither Raimi nor the Coens, and with good reason. To be blunt, "Crimewave" is an unfunny mess, and the mashup of styles is so sloppy it's hard to care.

Another of their scripts, "The Hudsucker Proxy," took a decade to make it to the silver screen in 1994. This one, the Coens directed, though Raimi got screenwriter and second unit director credits. "Hudsucker" is one of the Coens' sillier films; like "Crimewave," it's set in a cartoon version of mid-20th century New York. However, it's much more successful than "Crimewave." It helps that "Hudsucker" is actually funny, with the stand-out being Jennifer Jason Leigh doing Rosalind Russell. The film's initial middling reviews do it a disservice.

The Coens are not among the five credited writers on Raimi's "Darkman," a 1990 film mixing his fondness of superheroes and Universal horror into a single package. However, according to a Hollywood Reporter retrospective, the Coens did uncredited work on the film. Producer Robert Tapert said the brothers were "instrumental early on with building the structure."

Exchanging cameos

Sam Raimi and the Coens' collaborations don't end behind the camera. They've appeared in each other's films as well.

One of the motifs of a Raimi film is the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. First driven by Ash Williams in the first two "Evil Dead" films, it also appears during a chase sequence in "Darkman." The driver and passenger are none other than an uncredited Joel and Ethan Coen. As a final mark of the Coens' influence on the film, Frances McDormand plays the female lead and Darkman's lover, Julie Hastings. McDormand called Julie "the first bimbo I've ever played" to Starlog Magazine.

The same year as "Darkman," the Coens directed "Miller's Crossing," which for this writer's money is one of their very best films. To repay the brothers for a cameo in his film, Raimi appeared in theirs. He plays an unnamed policeman gunned down during a raid on the local Irish mob. Raimi's "Miller's Crossing" appearance is more memorable than the Coens' in "Darkman" (you can clearly see his face!), even if he only has a minute of screen time.

Raimi likewise cameos in "Hudsucker Proxy," as does Bruce Campbell. While Raimi had no involvement, Campbell also shows up for cameos in "Intolerable Cruelty" and "The Ladykillers," not to mention a memorable turn as Ronald Reagan in season 2 of "Fargo."

Raimi and the Coens are also some of the many directors who cameo in John Landis' "Spies Like Us," a project they otherwise had no involvement in.

A Simple Plan

"A Simple Plan" is a neo-noir set in Minnesota. Adapted from Scott B. Smith's novel, the story focuses on three men (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Brent Briscoe) who come across a crashed plane and find $4.4 million dollars inside. Them keeping the money a secret turns into a web of lies and murder. Based on the premise alone, the movie seems much more like a Coen brothers joint. Yet it was Raimi who directed. One can even see it as the director giving it a go at making the type of movie his friends usually do.

"A Simple Plan" was released a mere two years after the Coens' own Minnesota noir, "Fargo." The Coens didn't have any official role in the production of "A Simple Plan," but they gave Raimi advice on shooting in the snow.

Despite the abundant similarities, the outlooks of "Fargo" and "A Simple Plan" are quite different. "Fargo" is one of the Coens' most optimistic movies. Even if there are innocent casualties, the criminals are all punished and as Marge (Francis McDormand) notes, it's a beautiful day. "A Simple Plan" is bleak as the frozen tundra it's set in; Hank (Paxton) discovers the money contains marked bills, meaning the murders were all for nothing.

Since the turn of the century, there haven't been official collaborations between Raimi and the Coens; their careers just took different paths. The Coens have become prestige filmmakers, especially after "No Country For Old Men," while Raimi was scooped up by the blockbuster machine in 2002 with his "Spider-Man" trilogy. They never would've gotten there without each other; even the greatest artists need support and friends to best realize their potential.