The 20 best Bruce Campbell roles of all time

Bruce Campbell's big break, and the role for which he is best known, was the lead of Ash in the Evil Dead franchise — but the performer had nearly three dozen acting credits to his name thanks to the short films he'd performed in dating back to his teenage years. The first of these, Oedipus Rex (1972), was a student movie which also featured Evil Dead alumni Scott Spiegel and Josh Becker.

Ash is, of course, Campbell's most iconic role to date thanks to those early Sam Raimi projects that made the actor a household name. But each time he reprised the role, he brought something different to the table for genre fans to happily enjoy, whether it's Evil Dead's naivety, Evil Dead II's undead Ash wielding a chainsaw arm, or an older and (somewhat) wiser Ash in the Ash vs Evil Dead spin-off series. All of these iterations bring us different sides to the malleable character we've all grown to love, making each role a different entry on our list.

However, when Ash wasn't busy tending housewares at S-Mart or battling the undead back in the Middle Ages, Campbell put together an impressive acting resume spanning 50 years. Eclectic is probably the best way to describe his varied roles, playing everyone from President Richard Nixon (18½) to the King of Rock 'n' Roll (Bubba Ho-Tep) and even Santa Claus (The Librarians). There's a Bruce Campbell character out there for everyone, and the following are the crème de la crème of his career.

Now, enjoy EW's list of the 20 best Bruce Campbell roles of all time.

20. Van Helsing, <i>Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat</i> (1989)

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat follows Robert Van Helsing (Campbell),  a descendant of Count Dracula's nemesis, who arrives in Purgatory, Arizona. However, the retirement community for sunscreen-wearing vampires isn't ready for him, and it'll take a lot more than SPF 100 to save these vamps from Bruce Campbell's trademark badassery.

After Campbell wrapped work on Evil Dead II  in 1987, the struggling actor needed moolah in the worst way. "I was completely out of money," Campbell said. "This thing [Sundown] came in like the next day. I didn't even read the script. Are you kidding? Like where do I show up."

You'll also enjoy Horror of Dracula (1958).

SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT
SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT

19. Bill Church Jr., <i>Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman</i> (1993-1997)

Bill Church Jr. (Campbell) was the cold and calculating Lex Luthor-type, wanting to take his father's empire, Intergang, in an even more dangerous direction in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. As a series guest star, Campbell's character famously used Red Kryptonite against the Man of Steel (Dean Cain) because Church realized Green K simply "ticked him off."

And Campbell isn't a fan of the heavy superhero costumes many actors endure today. "Okay, congratulations," Campbell said on his diversion to suiting up. "Here's your costume, and you can't even take a leak in this costume, but we've got a team for that. Don't worry about it, we've got tubes, things like that."

You'll also enjoy Superman: The Movie (1978).

Bruce Campbell as Bill Church Jr., Lois &amp; Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
Bruce Campbell as Bill Church Jr., Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

18. Autolycus, <i>Hercules: The Legendary Journeys</i> (1995-1999) and <i>Xena: Warrior Princess</i> (1995-2001)

"Hail to the king, baby." Those are Ash's delusional words, but in both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-1999) and Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Bruce Campbell actually got to portray a king. Well, the King of Thieves, Autolycus, to be precise, and he was a worthy, Robin Hood-like foil for Xena (Lucy Lawless) and Hercules (Kevin Sorbo).

However, despite the fact that Campbell jokingly claims to have kicked Sorbo's butt on set, Bruce enjoyed guest starring on both series because Lawless and Sorbo were so nice. Campbell's participation on Xena also led to Lawless later appearing on Ash vs Evil Dead as recurring character Ruby Knowby.

You'll also enjoy Hercules and the Amazon Women (1994).

HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, Bruce Campbell
HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, Bruce Campbell

17. Carl Greig, <i>Icebreaker</i> (2000)

Icebreaker might not be the worst movie ever, but it's just a Nakatomi Plaza away from being a bad Die Hard (1988) rip-off. Bruce Campbell is terrific as the over-the-top, shaven-head Carl Greig, and he steals many of the most unwatchable scenes ever captured on celluloid. It's fun to see Bruce be the baddie, though.

The film is so awful that the old crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000 gave Icebreaker the required RiffTrax treatment. The best way to enjoy the film is to check out that comedy commentary version, otherwise, just fast-forward to Bruce's bits — especially his last shot of the movie when he literally blows the roof off.

You'll enjoy Die Hard (1988) a lot more. Too bad Bruce wasn't in it…

Bruce Campbell in Icebreaker
Bruce Campbell in Icebreaker

16. Smitty, <i>The Hudsucker Proxy</i> (1994)

When Bruce Campbell starts stealing the spotlight from talents like Paul Newman, Tim Robbins, and Steve Buscemi, cinephiles know they're in the presence of greatness. Imagine a Daily Planet with a hard-boiled, chain-smoking Clark Kent, and that's basically the Argus' reporter, Smitty (Campbell) in The Hudsucker Proxy.

Smitty's Lois Lane is none other than Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and they share some of the most captivating scenes in this must-see screwball comedy. And Campbell was thrilled to work with Leigh. "She's a really, incredibly, scarily good actress," Campbell said. "I've only been nervous around a few actors, and she was one of them."

You'll also enjoy Broadcast News (1987).

Bruce Campbell in The Hudsucker Proxy
Bruce Campbell in The Hudsucker Proxy

15. Snooty Usher, <i>Spider-Man 2</i> (2004)

A whole new generation of fans were introduced to the incomparable Bruce Campbell when his buddy Sam Raimi hired him to play a trio of unforgettable character cameos in the original Spider-Man trilogy. And the Snooty Usher (yes, that's his actual film credit) is just the worst of the bunch in Spider-Man 2, but it's classic, irreverent Campbell at his very best — even though he only appears on screen for less than a minute.

Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) was already in the doghouse with Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but things got even worse when he ran late to see her perform in The Importance of Being Earnest. Unfortunately for Peter, the usher doesn't have any intention of letting him enter the theater since the show's already in progress.

You'll also enjoy Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008).

Spider-Man 2 (2004)Bruce Campbell (L) and Tobey Maguire
Spider-Man 2 (2004)Bruce Campbell (L) and Tobey Maguire

14. Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, <i>Escape from L.A.</i> (1996)

Escape from L.A. is one of the most disappointing sequels of all time, but, to be fair, it had a lot to live up to in the dystopian masterpiece of John Carpenter's Escape from New York (1981). Fortunately, one good thing does survive the cinematic trainwreck: Bruce Campbell's haunting performance as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills.

Campbell's surgical failures are on full, gory display courtesy of special effects artist Rick Baker, and Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is restrained for the surgeon general's morbid pleasure. But before things can go all Frankenstein's monster, Snake uses the surgeon general as a shield to escape. "This role needed somebody to play it in a real way yet be completely tweaked," Carpenter said in an interview. "And Bruce Campbell can play tweaked like nobody's business."

You'll also enjoy Demolition Man (1993).

ESCAPE FROM L.A., Kurt Russell, Bruce Campbell
ESCAPE FROM L.A., Kurt Russell, Bruce Campbell

13. Pizza Poppa, <i>Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness</i> (2022)

Yes, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marked the return of Sam Raimi to Marvel after helming the original Spider-Man trilogy for Sony Pictures, and the director didn't pack lightly. That's right, Raimi brought along old friend Campbell for the ride.

Unlike Peter Parker, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) doesn't have any intention of putting up with the crap Campbell's Pizza Poppa is dishing out, putting a spell on him to repeatedly hit himself until the post-credits scene. But if fans think they've seen the last of the mustard-wielding, pizza vendor, think again. "I got a mortgage, you know," Campbell said. "So, yeah, he better come back."

You'll also enjoy Darkman (1990).

Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness
Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa in Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

12. Mayor Shelbourne, <i>Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs</i> (2009)

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) struggles to find his place in the world, but the wannabe inventor has a breakthrough when he discovers he can convert water into food, and the unscrupulous Mayor Shelbourne (Campbell) sets his sights on the new invention.

Campbell never shies away from playing a bad guy, and his summary of both Mayor Shelbourne and the movie are right on the money. "I would call [him] the opportunistic, weaselly mayor," Campbell said. "There's a wonderful theme about excess." This animated triumph succeeds in part because of its stellar voice performances, and Campbell is a wonderful piece of the ensemble puzzle.

You'll also enjoy The Lego Movie (2014).

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, Mayor Shelbourne (voice: Bruce Campbell)
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, Mayor Shelbourne (voice: Bruce Campbell)

11. The Maître d', <i>Spider-Man 3</i> (2007)

The second moviegoers spotted Bruce Campbell's maître d' working the restaurant in Spider-Man 3, they just knew he was going to somehow ruin Peter Parker's marriage proposal to long-time love interest, Mary Jane Watson . Shockingly, director Sam Raimi pulls the rug out from everyone, and the maître d' goes out of his way to assist Peter — unlike Campbell's characters in the previous installments.

But still the night ends in ruins when Peter's classmate, Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), stops by their dinner table. Mary Jane is out of her mind with jealousy, so even though the kind-hearted maître d' tried to help, Watson walks out on her superhero beau.

You'll also enjoy Venom (2018).

Bruce Campbell cameo Spider-man 3
Bruce Campbell cameo Spider-man 3

10. William Cole, <i>Man with the Screaming Brain</i> (2005)

Tatoya (Tamara Gorski) has an aversion to being rejected by men, and she kills both William Cole (Campbell) and Yegor Stragov (Vladimir Kolev) in the Man with the Screaming Brain. Fortunately, Dr. Ivanov (Stacy Keach) is there to pick up the pieces — of brain — and put things back together again in the most Frankenstein-like way.

The victims, who share Campbell's body, now have a common goal: revenge against the woman who betrayed them. The film gives Campbell room to show off his vast acting range, portraying two different men sharing the same mind and body, but the movie itself isn't even one of Campbell's faves despite him having been the writer, director, and star.

You'll also enjoy The Man with Two Brains (1983).

MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN, Bruce Campbell
MAN WITH THE SCREAMING BRAIN, Bruce Campbell

9. Ash Williams, <i>The Evil Dead</i> (1981)

Clearly, Sam Raimi's original venture in The Evil Dead realm was a horror film, which was more about the Book of the Dead and the infamous "tree scene" than Ash (Campbell). However, even though Ashley "Ash" Williams is more akin to the stereotypical slasher characters of the 1980s, Campbell still shines in a more sedated version of the eventual wielder of the boomstick.

The Evil Dead remains a benchmark of '80s horror, but the commitment to the level of grassroots filmmaking took a toll on the cast. "Yeah, there were injuries, you got that right," actress Betsy Baker said, and Campbell couldn't help but laugh during their interview. "How about the time you took my ankles and just dragged me through the cabin? And there was real blood, it wasn't Karo syrup on the white nightgown."

You'll also enjoy The Return of the Living Dead (1985).

THE EVIL DEAD, Bruce Campbell, 1981
THE EVIL DEAD, Bruce Campbell, 1981

8. Bruce Campbell, <i>My Name is Bruce</i> (2007)

With a personality as big as his, fans knew Bruce Campbell would have to play himself sooner or later. In My Name is Bruce, the line between real life and fandom is blurred even further when a teenage boy (Taylor Sharpe) seeks the help of the actor when he confuses Bruce with his on-screen persona. This is the last directing credit for Campbell, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the project, which is a really fun popcorn film.

My Name is Bruce evokes Three Amigos! vibes as Campbell is mistaken to be a hero because of his fame, but the actor didn't seem too fond of the picture when he spoke with a fan at a screening. "What was my inspiration for making this movie?" Campbell laughed. "Ah, cause I had to do something for a couple of months."

You'll also enjoy This is the End (2013).

My Name Is Bruce - 2007
My Name Is Bruce - 2007

7. Ring Announcer, <i>Spider-Man</i> (2002)

Fans didn't know what to expect when Bruce Campbell's character suddenly showed up in Spider-Man, but his over-the-top performance as the Michael Buffer-wannabe Ring Announcer gave fans someone to cheer on and Peter Parker someone to fear.

Honestly, fans knew Peter's powers were brand new, but his Spidey-Sense should have been tingling: This guy was going to be a problem. Yes, the Ring Announcer dismisses Peter's stage name, the Human Spider. Still, if it wasn't for Campbell, who knows what Parker's crime-fighting alias would have been if not for Bruce swapping it out on the spot, announcing Peter to the ruckus crowd as "the Amazing Spider-Man!"

You'll also enjoy Shazam! (2019).

Bruce Campbell cameo Spider-man
Bruce Campbell cameo Spider-man

6. Wise Ash, <i>Ash vs Evil Dead</i> (2015-2018)

Life takes you strange places, and Ash (Bruce Campbell) hasn't come in contact with anything supernatural in over 30 years. Unfortunately, the middle-aged Value Stop employee doesn't start off the Ash vs Evil Dead series in the best way. He desperately wants to impress a woman with poetry, but all he has is —wait for it — the Book of the Dead to read from.

Ah, there's nothing more romantic than reciting some sonnets from the Necronomicon, and, yep, cue the evil dead! Ash may be older, but he sure isn't wiser (at first), although fans wouldn't want him to be all Obi-Wan Kenobi-like with his new friends at the show's onset. However, Ash quickly wises up, and it only takes him one episode to realize he must strap on the ol' chainsaw again.

You'll also enjoy Chucky (2021-present).

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3
Ash vs Evil Dead Season 3

5. Brisco County, <i>The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.</i> (1993)

The life of a lawyer wasn't working for Brisco County (Campbell), so of course the natural pivot is to become a wild-west bounty hunter. Listen, it only sounds weird because it is, and subsequently, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. lasted only one season. However, it is arguably one of the most well-written series in television history, but that doesn't guarantee longevity. But the character of Brisco seemed tailormade for Campbell.

Nonetheless, success and notoriety as Ash were all well and good, but the part of the Harvard lawyer-turned-bounty hunter wasn't going to be a given for the up-and-coming actor, quite the contrary. "You have to work your way up the totem pole," Campbell explained. "I did five auditions to get this part."

You'll also enjoy Justified (2010-2015).

THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR., Bruce Campbell
THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR., Bruce Campbell

4. Sam Axe, <i>Burn Notice</i> (2007-2013)

Burn Notice became one of the must-sees on 2000s television thanks to the trinity of lead characters portrayed by Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar and Bruce Campbell. While Michael Weston (Donovan) plays the game of espionage and tries to discover who burned him, Sam Axe (Campbell) is the Doc Holliday to his buddy's Wyatt Earp.

Outside of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Burn Notice is arguably Campbell's best television work, and he even got a 2011 made-for-TV-movie out of the series titled Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe.

You'll also enjoy White Collar (2009-2014).

BURN NOTICE, Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Brian Van Holt, Gabrielle Amwar
BURN NOTICE, Jeffrey Donovan, Bruce Campbell, Brian Van Holt, Gabrielle Amwar

3. "Groovy" Ash, <i>Evil Dead II</i> (1987)

Evil Dead II (1987) not only resurrected Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell), but The Evil Dead sequel sent the character on a whole new trajectory. While slasher films had their vaunted Final Girls, the more fun and whimsical Evil Dead series offered fans a first glimpse of the chainsaw-armed, boomstick wielding hero. Ash became the Bellerophon to the evil dead's Chimera.

The biggest hurdle to clear when it came time to do a sequel was the fact Sam Raimi and company killed Ash in the original. "We didn't know we were going to do another Evil Dead," Campbell discussed on how they brought Ash back from the dead. "He's clearly, he's killed in the first Evil Dead. He's dead, the evil entity got him, so we decided he'd just beat him up a little bit."

You'll also enjoy Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Evil Dead Ii (Evil Dead 2), Bruce Campbell
Evil Dead Ii (Evil Dead 2), Bruce Campbell

2. Elvis Presley, <i>Bubba Ho-Tep</i> (2002)

If not for a certain character's unexpected excursion to the Middle Ages, Bubba Ho-Tep's Elvis Presley would likely be at the top of this list. However, Elvis ( Campbell) takes the silver medal, and the aging rock 'n' roll star must team up with JFK (Ossie Davis) to stop a mummy, Bubba Ho-Tep (Bob Ivy), from terrorizing the Shady Rest Retirement Home.

The film makes many outrageous choices, most of which land despite some controversial but comical choices. The biggest gamble is arguably the fact that Jack Kennedy claims his skin color was dyed after the assassination attempt "to hide the truth." And with classic lines like "He was after my soul, now you can get that out of any major orifice," one wonders how much improvisation happened on set. "It wasn't an ad lib fest like some projects can be either," Campbell explained.

You'll also enjoy John Dies at the End (2012).

BUBBA HO-TEP, Bruce Campbell, 2003
BUBBA HO-TEP, Bruce Campbell, 2003

1. Middle Ages Ash, <i>Army of Darkness</i> (1992)

Army of Darkness (1992) is the conclusive installment of The Evil Dead franchise with the ultimate version of Campbell's Ash. The heroic S-Mart employee is in his prime and out of time, literally. Stranded in the Middle Ages, following the conclusion of Evil Dead II in 1987, he's armed with not only his boomstick, but with some of the wittiest, Monty Python-esque dialogue written for the silver screen.

In addition to the zenith of Ash's evolution, Campbell's best role owes a lot to his acting abilities, which are elevated to a whole new level thanks to his on-screen chemistry with co-star Embeth Davidtz, who plays Ash's love interest, Sheila. And the actress soon skyrocketed to stardom (appearing in Schindler's List, Matilda, and Bridget Jones's Diary), but she still had to screen test several times before producer Dino De Laurentiis would even consider hiring her.

You'll also enjoy Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

ARMY OF DARKNESS, Bruce Campbell, 1993
ARMY OF DARKNESS, Bruce Campbell, 1993

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