The comic book movie has grown into a seemingly unstoppable force, and, at least for the foreseeable future, a handful of Hollywood studios expect you to continue pouring your hard-earned money into their costumed coffers.
However, the only thing more difficult to pull off than a good original entry in the subgenre is a solid sequel. For every “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” or “The Dark Knight,” there’s an “X-Men: The Last Stand” or – cringe! – a “Batman & Robin.”
With Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” poised to become one of the biggest threequels ever, here’s our ranking of best comic book movie sequels of all time. (Sorry not sorry, “Blade: Trinity.”)
11. “Blade II” (2002)
Blade is forced to team up with the very vampires he hunts in this gory, action-packed sequel from Guillermo del Toro. Sure, the script lacks the emotional resonance that dominates modern comic book movies, but the film makes up for it with several tense (and scary) set pieces and a lots of Blade-vs.-vampire action.
10. “The Wolverine” (2013)
What could have been the “Spider-Man 2” of Wolverine movies is frustratingly knee-capped by a sloppy third act that hinges on drilling into Logan’s claws to extract his healing factor because reasons. But for two-thirds of the run time, minus Jean Grey’s “Force ghost,” “The Wolverine” is the gritty and brooding blockbuster the hirsute mutant deserves.
9. “Batman Returns” (1992)
Tim Burton‘s sequel to his 1989 blockbuster is a beautiful mess. The Christmas-set, psychoanalysis of its hero is heavy in theme, light on audience-friendly set pieces, but it delivers a weirdly satisfying mix of spectacle and pathos. The final product is less narratively satisfying than its 1989 predecessor, but it’s interesting to watch. We’ll take its brazen, non-cookie cutter approach over certain comic book movies’ assembly-line feel any day.
8. “Superman II” (1980)
“Kneel before Zod!” is just one of many memorable moments in this engaging (albeit, at times, cheesy) sequel to Richard Donner‘s 1978 original. Superman struggles with the cost of loving a mortal as villains led by the Kryptonian General Zod use the very thing the Man of Steel cares about against him. From Gene Hackman’s love-to-hate Lex Luthor to the film’s climatic Metropolis showdown, “Superman II” still delivers more than three decades later.
7. “Iron Man 3” (2013) / “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) – TIE
“Age of Ultron” is a noble misfire, an intermittently entertaining blockbuster that never quite matches the epic highs of its predecessor. But it does feature one of Marvel’s better villains in the morally complex Ultron, a murder bot hellbent on saving humanity from itself by destroying it. If you like lots of thematic discussions about what it means to be a hero mixed in with Hulkbuster fights, then this movie is for you.
“Iron Man 3” is one of Marvel’s most clever and witty films. The script by Shane Black and Drew Pearce is full of laugh-out-loud one-liners and inventive set pieces dictated by character-first storytelling. One of the MCU’s biggest hits is arguably also one its most underrated films; it’s definitely one of the best threequels the genre’s ever made.
6. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)
The X-Men take a page out of “The Avengers” playbook with this epic team-up that literally breaks the laws of physics to bring the “First Class” mutants together with their original X-Men counterparts. The result is a dark and engaging trip through time, with standout performances from Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy.
5. “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)
“Civil War” has moments of greatness- several, in fact – but not enough to qualify it as a great film. It falls short of the high bar Marvel set with “Winter Soldier,” but it does provide Robert Downey Jr. with his meatiest role yet as Tony Stark, as the once and future Iron Man dukes it out with Cap and half the Avengers roster. “Civil War” is a really good movie that suffers from a third-act revelation that lacks the plotting necessary to make it truly pay off. The crazy-good action scenes – holy crap, that airport fight! – are perfect summer eye candy, though, easily ranking Cap’s third film as one of the season’s all-time best.
4. “X2” (2003)
Bryan Singer achieves “Wrath of Khan”-level highs with his second trip to Xavier’s school, which finds Wolverine and company forced to team up with Magneto’s Brotherhood to stop the villainous Stryker’s genocidal vendetta against mutantkind. “X2” continues the series’ thematic explorations of prejudice and fear by weaving the emotional storyline through exciting, edge-of-your-seat scenes like a mid-air battle involving the X-Jet and lots of tornadoes, courtesy of Storm.
Nightcrawler’s introduction, teleporting through the White House to assassinate the president, is still one of the best scenes the series (or genre) has ever pulled off. And “X2” is definitely Singer’s best X-film.
3. “Spider-Man 2” (2004)
This sequel is relentless when it comes to not giving Peter Parker a break, as Sam Raimi executes an exceptional piece of blockbuster entertainment that perfectly balances his playful, “Evil Dead” sensibilities with the Marvel brand. For a time, this was considered the best comic book movie ever made. For some fans, it still is.
2. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
The MCU leveled up in a big way with Cap’s second film, a spy thriller that just happens to be a comic book film. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo effortlessly give the action a Bourne-esque quality, taking an approach with the material that provides Chris Evans with truly meaty and nuanced scenes. It also leaves plenty for audiences to chew on other than just CG eye candy, as the film tackles the consequences of living in a post-Snowden world — albeit one populated by super-powered heroes and villains.
It’s one of the genre’s few titles where you could strip away all the inventive action scenes (and there are a lot of great ones here) but still be left with the reason audiences can’t get enough of this film: the characters. Their dynamic is just as rich and exciting as the explosions around them – something few Hollywood movies, comic book or otherwise, can pull off.
1. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
You were expecting something else? Christopher Nolan‘s blockbuster changed things, to quote the Joker. It raised the bar for what filmmaking in this space can, and must do, elevating the comic book movie to “Take Us Seriously” status – thanks in large part to the late Heath Ledger‘s Oscar-winning turn as the Clown Prince of Crime.
This is the sequel we need and deserve.
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