The ’90s Crime Thriller Classic From A Superhero Icon

By Kevin C. Neece | Updated

Sam Raimi, now known for the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films and the latest Doctor Strange movie, directed a crime Thriller in the ‘90s called A Simple Plan. At the time, Raimi was best known for the Evil Dead movies and was thought of primarily as a horror director. But his foray into the crime thriller genre earned several awards and nominations, including two Oscar nods.

Sam Raimi Takes A Stab At Crime Thrillers With A Simple Plan

That does not mean A Simple Plan was a financial success; it failed to make back its $17 million budget, but only just. Still, it showed that Raimi could move outside of the genre he was known for and meet with critical success. It would be four more years before the release of Spider-Man, a film that arguably defined the modern comic book movie.A Simple Plan was released in 1998 and was based on the 1993 novel of the same title by Scott B. Smith, who wrote the screenplay for the film. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, and Bill Paxton, the film tells the story of two brothers (Paxton and Thornton) and their friend (Brent Briscoe) who discover a crashed plane in rural Minnesota that turns out to contain over $4 million in cash. The three, along with Sarah (Fonda), the wife of one of the brothers, take extraordinary measures to hide their discovery, but their distrust of one another leads to a complex web of trickery, deception, and even a murder.

Development Began Long Before The Film Released

Featuring a score by Danny Elfman, famed composer of Tim Burton films among others, A Simple Plan was produced by Mutual Film Company, Savoy Pictures, and others. It was distributed in the United States by Paramount Pictures and in the UK by Universal Pictures, through United International Pictures. Though ultimately released in 1998, the film began development in 1993, even before the novel was published.The rights to A Simple Plan were originally purchased by Mike Nichols, who left the director’s chair, sending the film into something of a production tailspin as it struggled to find a new director. Ben Stiller and John Dahl both turned down the opportunity to take the helm and eventually, though the company’s name is still a part of the film’s history, Savoy Pictures closed its doors and the film was sold to Paramount. There, it was set to be directed by John Boorman, who also stepped down from the role because of scheduling conflicts.

A Simple Plan Was A Sleeper Hit

This led to Sam Raimi ultimately taking the reins of A Simple Plan, finally getting the film back on track. Though it only made $16.3 million against a $17 million budget, it did come away with an Academy Award nomination for Smith for Best Adapted Screenplay and one for Thornton for Best Supporting Actor. It also made Roger Ebert’s list of the best films of 1998 and won awards from critics’ societies around the country.

A Pivotal Movie In Sam Raimi’s Career

sam raimi magic

The disappointing box office numbers for A Simple Plan seem only to be a matter of exposure. Though some speculated that the film was overshadowed by its contemporary, Fargo, Raimi believed its lack of financial success was due to being a smaller release. Whatever the case, the film received almost universal praise and is still considered a standout in Raimi’s career.

Raimi Was Making Hits Long Before Spider-Man

In addition to Thornton’s Oscar-nominated performance, Bridget Fonda and Bill Paxton both received praise for their work in A Simple Plan, though Paxton did not earn the nominations Fonda did. It should not be surprising that Raimi’s work prior to becoming a comic book film icon is as strong as it is. His directing is compelling no matter the genre and A Simple Plan demonstrates the skills that would continue to make him a success.