“Everyone knows the third movie is always the worst.” This one sentence uttered by X-Men psychic Jean Grey seems to echo the feelings of movie fans everywhere. It always seems like when the first film is decent (or worse, excellent), the second film just isn’t able to match up. It’s hard to capture that same energy from the first film. The reasons for this can vary — sometimes the studio tries to rush the sequel out, and that results in a rushed creative process. Or maybe the writer/director isn’t ready when the studio wants to start filming, so they go with a different team that doesn’t quite understand what made the first film work. A lot of times, it’s as simple as the sequel trying to do “bigger” instead of being “better”, so we end up with an overcrowded film.
But that’s not always the case. Occasionally, the first film isn’t all that great, and the second or third film blows it out of the water, excelling far beyond everyone’s expectations. It’s not common, but it’s happened often enough for CBR to take note of both cases. So get ready, because here are 8 Superhero Sequels Worse than the Original (and 7 that are Better)!
15. WORSE: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Regardless of how you might feel about The Dark Knight in relation to Batman Begins, there’s no denying that The Dark Knight Rises is the worst of the three films. It runs too long and yet still feels like it’s not long enough to accomplish all it tries to do. It introduces Catwoman, Bane, and even sneaks in Ra’s daughter Talia by the end of the story. There’s also a wink and a nod towards Robin taking over for Batman that makes absolutely zero sense.
And that’s before you get to this Batman going on approximately three noteworthy adventures before retiring for good and moving on. Ultimately the Nolan films were a great look at Batman through the lens of a thriller, but the franchise went out with far more of a whimper than a bang.
14. BETTER: SPIDER-MAN 2
In a lot of ways, Spider-Man 2 was the first legitimately good superhero film of the post-2000 superhero era. The original Spidey film was painfully average, shooting for a relatively weak, truncated adaptation of the Green Goblin story from the comics. Meanwhile, Spider-Man 3 has dancing Peter Parker. The less said about that, the better.
But the story for Spider-Man 2 is a pitch-perfect story for the Wall Crawler: a Peter caught between his own wants and what’s best for the city. He’s the ultimate hard luck character, constantly being punished for doing the right thing while the audience wants nothing more than for him to get that one key win. It’s also got one of the most sympathetic villains in superhero film history, and some heroic action scenes that don’t involve tearing half the city apart.
13. WORSE: AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Age of Ultron actually isn’t all that bad of a film. The banter back and forth between characters we as an audience have come to know and love is great, and several of the fight scenes are fantastic. Specifically, the fight between Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor and an enraged, out of control Hulk is a standout. It’s also an incredibly important film to the MCU as a whole, as the events that occurred within resonate even to this day.
But at the same time? It’s hard to live up to the original Avengers, which is one of the single best superhero films ever created. Very little could ever match the level of excitement that was generated leading up to that film, and that’s before we acknowledge that it delivered on everything that was promised.
12. BETTER: IRON MAN 3
This can be a controversial opinion to some, but Iron Man 3 feels like the best film of the Iron Man trilogy. Being fair, that’s saying a lot as Iron Man is to many people one of the only legitimately fantastic films of the MCU franchise. However, the fact that 3 builds on the story not only of the Iron Man films, but what’s happened to the character as a whole since his adventure with the Avengers helps it stand out. It’s a deep look into the psyche of a shaken man.
…But at the same time, it’s not afraid to bring on the comic book ridiculousness. The last fight scene between Tony and Killian involves some pretty excellent choreography, giving awesome action moments to Tony, Rhodey, and even Pepper gets in a few key hits.
11. WORSE: BATMAN AND ROBIN
To this day, Batman and Robin stands as an example of what happens when the studio system gets hold of a passion project. Admittedly, the Burton Bat-films were already going in a weird direction when Joel Schumacher got a hold of things with the third film in Batman Forever. That film looked a lot less like the gothic superhero film that the first two were and a lot more like a McDonald’s toy advertisement — but things went completely off the rails with Batman and Robin.
Gone is the dark atmosphere of the first film, and in comes something that looks like a cross between a musical and the Adam West series set in the ’90s. Introducing no less than three new villains and sneaking in Batgirl, this film’s true sin is the trap of most bad sequels: trying to do too much in the runtime of a blockbuster film.
10. BETTER: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS
There’s no comparison. X-Men: First Class is easily one of the best superhero films ever made, and it spanks the original X-Men movie so bad it probably ran crying home to its mommy. What’s insane about it is how they manage to pull it off. Set in the early ’60s, the film sees a young Charles Xavier and a young Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) bond over their mutations. Despite differing in their opinions, both of them work together in order to stop long time X-Villain Sebastian Shaw from trying to wipe out the human race.
This film is absent nearly all of the major X-Characters we’d expect from a film that cost over $100 million to make. The film works entirely off the strength of a young cast and the star power of Jennifer Lawrence, but it still manages to be the best X-film of all time.
9. WORSE: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2
To be fair, the first Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a perfect film, but it’s much better than a reboot like that had any right to be. In this new Spider-Man series, Andrew Garfield portrayal of a relatable loner makes one of the most well-worn origin stories in superheroes feel fresh again. And the love story between Peter and Gwen in this universe is sweet, and arguably just as touching as the relationship shared between Peter and MJ in the original film.
But AMS2 throws away that aspect of the first film just after it starts to bloom, and in the most predictable way possible. Worse still, it’s not even necessary — they rush through a conflict with Electro to shove in a last-second inclusion of Harry Osborn as the Black Goblin to ruin Peter’s life. It could’ve easily been saved until the third film, or discarded altogether to do something new.
8. BETTER: LOGAN
Is there any doubt that this belongs on the list? If it were ranked, this would be at the top. Wolverine: Origins was so terrible it killed Fox’s hopes for a line of solo X-Men films detailing the origins of several fan favorite characters. Even Wolverine just barely made it to the mountain of “mediocre”, and the character was about to be relegated to being another member of the X-Men, Marvel gives him one more chance.
Needless to say, it worked. Displaying Hugh Jackman as a grizzled old man in a gory superhero flick with a distinct Western twist to it was apparently everything viewers ever wanted in the character. In the film, Logan travels with Xavier and gets back in touch with his humanity as he protects a young girl that’s a clone of him while going on one last adventure.
7. WORSE: TURBO: A POWER RANGERS MOVIE
It’s not that the original Power Rangers film is an untouchable classic. There are a lot of weird moments to it, not the least of which being the garbage version of the Ninja Megazord they created in terrible ’90s CGI.
But beneath it all, the original Power Rangers film had some cool points to it. Like those sweet new Ninja outfits. The sense of danger the team felt when they were suddenly overcome by the new threat Ivan Ooze, and the journey they had to take to gain new powers to battle him. But Turbo? It turns two beloved members of the original team into villainous lackeys (and near sacrifices), and introduces Justin, Worst of the Power Rangers to the team. At least it’s actually canon so we didn’t have to see the origin of the Turbo powers twice like we did the Ninja Stuff.
6. BETTER: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR
Honestly, of all the heroes with completed trilogies, Cap absolutely has the most consistent of them all. When the actions of Age of Ultron come back to bite the Avengers in the butt in the form of some draconian laws called the Sokovia Accords, the normally united Avengers wind up…disassembled.
Worse still, they wind up in combat with one another. Civil War manages to excite and break fans’ hearts all at once, as our favorite heroes go at it over their beliefs. And by the end, thanks to the return of one Bucky Barnes, the Avengers wind up broken in very permanent way. At least until Thanos comes back and threatens to wipe out half of existence.
5. WORSE: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST
This one’s more of an argument if you define “the original” as the first X-Men movie. To most people, Days of Future Past is better than the first X-Men film by leaps and bounds. But if Days of Future Past is meant to be a sequel to X-Men: First Class, it simply doesn’t match up.
Certainly it’s a good movie, as the X-Men franchise continues its traversal through the decades with a period piece set in the ’70s that’s also contrasted with a grim future world where the mutant race has been almost wiped out. But while it’s still a good movie, there are still times where it gets lost in its own spectacle. An unfortunate precursor to the third film, X-Men: Apocalypse, where the battle for “bigger” over “better” went to the wrong victor.
4. BETTER: THOR: RAGNAROK
While Thor 2: The Dark World was mostly garbage, the series itself bounced back strong with a film better than both its predecessors combined. It took all the elements people loved about the Thor films and amplified them: the beautiful fantasy world of Asgard is supplemented with the strange, sci-fi world of Sakaar.
The natural comedic relationship of Thor and Loki is key throughout the film. Even the new additions like Hulk and Valkyrie fit perfectly, making the film feel connected to the MCU as a whole even if it’s still very much a Thor film. And the tail of Thor: Ragnarok manages to have a sense of finality to it while also balancing with the sense that the series could continue if Marvel chose to.
3. WORSE: BATMAN V. SUPERMAN
Man of Steel came out to mixed reactions, but nothing nearly as bad as Batman v. Superman. Easily the greatest tragedy on this list, Batman v. Superman has nearly every problem you can think of. It tries to do too much, introducing Wonder Woman (though she’s the best part of the film), setting up the Justice League movie, and while it only has two major villains, it loses too much time setting up the fight scene between Bruce and Clark. A fight that easily has one of the dumbest endings in film history.
And all that is before getting to the film’s structural problems, because it’s a confusing mess. Or its tone problems, as somehow the fantastical DC Universe has become grim and gritty in Zack Snyder’s hands. Not even the four hour Ultimate Cut helps this movie rise above its predecessor.
2. BETTER: CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER
The Winter Soldier just might be the best Marvel film ever made. It manages to find its own, unique flavor that’s distinctly different from everything else we were used to at that point. After learning that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by HYDRA, Captain America and Black Widow are forced to go on the run in order to shut down Hydra’s plan before they attain total control of the world.
With no Iron Man, no Hulk, and few little in the way of superpowers other than Cap’s enhanced human abilities, the series shifts from the usual superhero fare into a spy-thriller. There’s double agents, brainwashing, and everything you’d expect from a Bourne or a Bond film. But most importantly, we get the start of the greatest bromance in superheroes, as Bucky Barnes re-debuts as the Winter Soldier.
1. WORSE: THOR: THE DARK WORLD
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an absolute miracle amongst blockbuster film franchises. More than a couple of their films are legitimately great to amazing, and most of the rest are at the least decent to good. Only one of the MCU films has the dubious honor of being legitimately bad is Thor: The Dark World.
There are certainly some things to like about it: the continued exploration of the relationship between Thor and his brother Loki, the beauty of Asgard, and the sweet action scenes. But most of the film is dragged down by an unfortunately boring version of Malekith, a character who’s motives you barely understand and who lacks the emotional depth necessary to pull off the story they wanted to tell with him.
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