While film sequels often reveal diminishing returns, with comics (and their big budget adaptations), the fans will always crave more. But as Marvel Studios’ CEO boldly staked that he wanted Marvel films to continue for 80 years, their already 15-year conquest of cinema has brought with it both a new reconstructing of how sequels arrive and a homogenization of them. The term barely means anything in a time of cinematic universes; is every movie in the MCU a sequel except iron man?
Whereas a seemingly unrelated Thor movie can also act as a quasi Hulk sequel, does it add to the general buffet that is this universe or detract from a truly good sequel? How much do these films benefit from simply being associated with older movies, and how Much derives from its own artistry? Notice how even non-related Marvel pieces are following suit too. M. Night Shyamalan’s proper return to storytelling with split in 2016 revealed in its final scene Bruce Willis’ character from the superhero flick Unbreakable (released all the way back in 2000), and that all the movie’s hard work was now piggybacking off 15-year-old nostalgia.
Whatever a sequel means, it turns out they don’t all suck, and don’t all depend on previous installments for their success. Below, we rank some of our favorite superhero sequels.
9 Blade II (2002)
Bringing in director Guillermo Del Toro for Blade II was a masterstroke for the franchise, creating the little vampire movie that could. A new threat has arisen in the Reapers, a larger, more animalistic version of a vampire, meaning that Blade must team up with his enemies to find strength in numbers. With A scope that feels bigger and better than the original and a brand of fantasy that’s uniquely Del Toro, the movie feels like dynamite to watch.
Del Toro regular Ron Perlman obligatorily features, and Wesley Snipes is super cool, of course. The film is a feast for the eyes, filling the screen with all manner of horrible looking things.
8 Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Making his second contribution to this list, Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army continues the franchise with pure confidence after the first outing. With no need to establish the characters, powers and quirks are on full show amidst a world of ballsy fantasy creatures that makes this feel like a feature long Cantina scene.
Check out the imaginative attention to detail, the (thankfully) practical effects and costumes, as Big Red battles an elf vying for control of humanity. After the shockingly weak Hellboy reboot from 2019, another version has just been announced from Crank‘s Doug Taylor.
7 Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Marvel’s grand plan, a building up of stories across multiple films and planets, and with literally hundreds of characters involved, was marketed as the event of the decade in terms of cinema. And, boy oh boy, was Avengers: Infinity War worth the wait. Super fans could watch, mouth agape, as their almost homework-like diligence in following all the previously connected films finally paid off as the Big Bad, Thanos (Josh Brolin in mocap), asked big genocidal questions and threatened all of humanity.
Following the water at best Avengers: Age of Ultronthis brought the heroes back to form, but they certainly weren’t all going to make it to the end, as “the snap” became one of the biggest pop culture moments in recent film history. The follow-up, Avengers: Endgame would arguably undo all the good work of this film, but it is what it is.
6 Logan (2017)
Reserved and reflective (for a superhero movie, anyway), an aged Wolverine cares for an increasingly senior senile and now dangerous Professor X (an excellent Patrick Stewart). It’s actually in Logan‘s quieter moments where the film shines, and you really wish there could have been even more time dedicated to it.
However respectful of its own X-Men roots and the comic book origins it may be, Logan is surprisingly measured and moving as a stand-alone film. Logan is a meditation on all things eventually getting old and dying, and a send-off to a character that we’ve had on our screens for the past 20 years. As the old adage goes, though, no one in comic books really dies forever , and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine is promised to return in the upcoming Deadpool 3.
5 Superman II (1980)
From one of the most varied and brilliant directors of all time, Richard Donner (The Omen, Lethal Weapon), comes Superman 2Has Superman met his match when faced with three new Kryptonians, formerly banished from home, and now out to conquer?
The out-there goofy comedy has always felt sort of out of place (check out the reason exactly why in Nerdwriter’s video below), but when the film shines — as in Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor and the General Zod clashes — it really is a lot of fun to watch. You’ll believe a man can fly (again).
4 Batman Returns (1992)
Do you like Christmas movies dark? Say no more. Far too often overlooked, Batman Returns is a comic caper in every sense of the word. With a cast that zips and appears to electrically charge their counterparts whenever they are acting against each other, the film is a truly Gothic outing from Tim Burton with a capital G.
Continuing on from what had been established with Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne in the previous film, this outing attempts to up the ante with another classic villain in The Penguin (Danny DeVito, who is made for the role) and even throws in a heartbreaking love story between Batman and Catwoman. Oh, and Danny Elfman’s score is one of his finest too.
3 Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The fact that Tobey Maquire recently reappeared in the latest Spider-Man iteration is a testament to how deep the love for this particular superhero movie is. Expanding on the already very confident first film, Spider-Man 2 introduces Doc Ock with typical Sam Raimi flair.
With the origin story out of the way, the human element shines for literally all the characters here, with Peter, Mary-Jane, and Harry having moved on in their lives by this point. Maguire absolutely nails the dorky uncertainty in his own identity ( in between clashes with a mad man with metallic tentacles).
2 X2: X-Men United (2003)
Just missing out on our top spot, X2: X-Men United showed exactly how a movie should bring in new characters without bloating the piece. From that blistering opener with Nightcrawler in the White House and on, this movie does not stop.
Before Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine became the be all and end all of every single x–Men movie, X2 pushed his character’s backstory just enough to stay intriguing without going over the deep end. And the results are impeccable, with a movie that features some of the best scenes in the entire (long-running and confusingly spaced out) series. The cast is pitch perfect and the man v mutant drama feels spot on.
1 The Dark Knight (2008)
Pitching a more realistic and gritty take on the superhero film and Batman mythology long before it was in vogue, Christopher Nolan gave us this iconic take on the caped crusader. After proving that Batman was back and the fans were here with him in the previous Batman Begins, The Dark Knight upped the ante in every way it could, as it gave Batman his greatest rival with an otherwise worldly performance from Heath Ledger for the ages.
The Dark Knight really was an event that very few movies (superhero or otherwise) have surprised. Heath Ledger’s Joker performance would posthumously win the Oscar, and, for some, Nolan has not bettered himself since.