The superhero genre has never been more popular, with Avengers: Infinity War becoming the fourth highest grossing movie of all time in 2018. The Marvel movie machine has helped to elevate the genre to new heights, which means that even obscure superheroes and supervillains have a chance at hitting the silver screen.
The attitude towards superhero movies hasn't always been so positive, however. The current crop of superhero movies has the benefit of amazing visual effects technology and a vocal Internet fanbase that will promote them to the ends of the Earth with free advertising on social media, which was something that didn't exist before the '00s.
The question now is how long will this love of superhero movies last? The serialized nature of comic books has ensured that DC and Marvel have enough material to make hundreds of movies using their most popular characters, but there is always the risk of diminishing returns with sequels, especially when there are only so many iconic storylines and villains to go around. There might be hundreds of villains in the Batman canon, but most people will only pay to see a few of them in a movie.
There have been plenty of times when a superhero sequel has excelled and brought their franchise to new levels of fame, while others have tanked so horribly that they have forced a character into cinematic hibernation.
We are here today to see which superhero sequels managed to exceed the expectations laid down by their predecessors and which ones dropped the ball at the box office - from the Dark Horse character that became a breakout star to the superhero movie that tanked the genre for several years.
Here are the 10 Superhero Sequels That Became Massive Hits (And 10 That Completely Flopped).
20 Hit: Hellboy II: The Golden Army > Hellboy
The Hellboy name may not hold as much value as a Batman or an Iron Man, but the first Hellboy managed to be a surprise success with both critics and the mainstream audience. The original Hellboy movie brought in $99 million at the box office, which was impressive for a film based on a relatively unknown license. Hellboy II: The Golden Army managed to be even more impressive, as it brought in $160 million at the box office and was even more of a hit with the critics. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup, though it lost to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
The impressive take of Hellboy II: The Golden Army didn't help the franchise earn funding for a third movie, which was something that languished for years, as Guillermo Del Toro was busy with other projects and there always seemed to be trouble acquiring cash to fund the production.
19 Flop: Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice > Justice League
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a polarizing movie to be sure, but if you look at it from a cynical point of view, then it never needed to be good in the first place. The negative critical reception to Dawn of Justice didn't stop it from bringing in $873 million dollars at the box office, which just proves how much marquee value the Batman and Superman names hold when paired up together.
You can only make bad movies for so long before there is a backlash, which turned out to be the fate of Justice League. Justice League brought in $657 million at the box office, which was a step down from Dawn of Justice and likely didn't bring in much profit, considering the costly reshoots that the movie underwent. It was also embarrassing for the DCEU that their equivalent to The Avengers couldn't even beat Thor: Ragnarok in ticket sales.
18 Hit: Captain America: The Winter Soldier > Captain America: The First Avenger
Those who saw Captian America: The First Avenger in 2011 would never have guessed how amazing the sequels would be. Captain America: The First Avenger was considered to be the blandest of the first phase of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, even if it wasn't as outright terrible as Iron Man 2. The movie would earn a respectable $370 million at the box office.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a massive step up in quality from the original and managed to turn Captain America into one of the most interesting members of the Avengers. The audience reacted to this improvement bu turning out in droves, which helped The Winter Soldier earn $714 million at the box office.
17 Flop: Superman II > Superman III
Superman and Superman II were shot almost simultaneously, but the latter movie suffered a lot of setbacks due to the success of the former, as a multitude of lawsuits and a studio trying to exert greater control led to Superman II being less than what it could have been.
Superman II may have had a lot of issues, but it still managed to bring in $190 million at the box office, which was still an amazing number, even though it was less than the $300 million brought in by Superman. Superman III saw a far bigger drop-off in numbers, as it only brought in $80 million at the box office, which was less than half of what Superman II brought in.
16 Hit: Thor: The Dark World > Thor
Thor was the fourth movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it was the first one to take the story beyond the boundaries of Earth. The success of Thor was an important moment for the MCU, as it proved that they could turn bizarre concepts into money-making movies. Thor brought in $449 million at the box office, which was seen as a huge win for the MCU and made The Avengers seem like a safe bet, as the audience was clearly hungry to see more of the God of Thunder.
Thor: The Dark World isn't as highly regarded as the original and is seen as one of the blandest MCU movies in terms of its characters and story, but that didn't stop it from exceeding the expectations laid down by its predecessor and bringing in $644 million at the box office.
15 Flop: Kick-Ass > Kick-Ass 2
The success of the superhero genre in recent years led to some studios seeking out more low-fi superhero comics to adapt, which had their own built-in cult audiences and could be made for less money than a famous DC/Marvel character. Kick-Ass was a surprise hit in 2010 when it brought a black comedy edge and new levels of violence to the superhero genre, as it earned $96 million at the box office.
Kick-Ass 2 was considered to be a step down from the original movie, with the Hit-Girl storyline seen by many as the only redeeming aspect of the movie. The polarizing critical reception may have been responsible for the film only taking in $60 million at the box office. The reception to Kick-Ass 2 may be why we never saw a Hit-Girl solo movie or a proper sequel, as the franchise looks like it's going to be rebooted.
14 Hit: X-Men: The Last Stand > X2
The X-Men movie series has survived more terrible entries than any other superhero movie franchise around. It looks like the only thing that can take down the X-Men is the Disney/Fox merger, even if it's only for a short period of time. X2 was a huge step up over the original in terms of quality and is still regarded as one of the high points of the series. X2 also improved upon the original's box office take of $296 million by bringing in $407 million.
X-Men: The Last Stand was considered to be a huge step down from X2 and disposed of several beloved characters in pointless ways. The iconic Dark Phoenix Saga was totally botched and wouldn't be touched again for years. The harsh critical response to X-Men: The Last Stand didn't stop it from improving on the box office take of its predecessor, however, as it brought in $459 million.
13 Flop: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze > Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie managed to mix elements from the popular cartoon series with the darker comic book that it was based on. It seems that there was a backlash against the darker moments in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, as the sequel was considerably lighter in tone.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze was closer to the TMNT cartoon series in terms of content, but it still brought in $78 million at the box office. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III had nothing to do with the TMNT cartoon, the original comics, or even the other movies. The movie had a time travel plot that involved the turtles traveling to ancient Japan and fighting an English trader. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III only brought in $42 million at the box office and its release was seen by many as the official end of Turtlemania.
12 Hit: Logan > The Wolverine
Wolverine starred in three solo movies throughout the run of the X-Men movies. The first of these was X-Men Origins: Wolverine and is considered to be utter garbage, The Wolverine was the second film and it was considered to be average, if forgettable. The last solo Wolverine movie was Logan, which was the most highly regarded of the three movies and gave Hugh Jackman a chance to send-off the character that had defined his career in a satisfying way.
The love for Logan could be seen in its box office take, as it made $619 million at the box, even though it was an R-rated film. This was a huge step up from The Wolverine, which was a PG-13 movie that brought in $414 million at the box office.
11 Flop: Ghost Rider > Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance
Marvel had been trying to make a Ghost Rider movie for years, but the logistics of a main character whose head was a flaming skull meant that any Ghost Rider film was going to be expensive. We didn't see a Ghost Rider movie until 2007, with Nicolas Cage starring in the lead role. Ghost Rider received terrible reviews, but it still managed to bring in $228 million at the box office, seemingly based on the cool design of the character alone.
Ghost Rider's awesome appearance could only keep the franchise running for so long, as Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance only brought in $132 million at the box office. The reviews for the sequel were even worse than those of the original Ghost Rider, with many criticizing Nicolas Cage's performance as one of the worst aspects of the movie.
10 Hit: Batman Forever > Batman Returns
The Superman movies became less serious over time, which was one of the main reasons why the series kept making less money. The same wasn't true for the Batman movies that came later... at least not until the final installment. Batman Returns was criticized for its dark tone, which was considered by many to be too much for a PG-13 movie. These criticisms didn't stop it from earning $266 million at the box office, though, but this was a step down from the box office take of the original Batman, which brought in $411 million.
Batman Forever shifted focus to a more family-friendly tone and was more colorful than its predecessors. The critics weren't fans of this new direction, but that didn't stop Batman Forever from bringing in $336 million at the box office, which was an improvement on the money brought in by Batman Returns.
9 Flop: The Crow > The Crow: City Of Angels
There are likely many fans of The Crow who aren't aware that it was based on a comic book. The Crow made $50 million at the box office, which was a huge hit relative to its budget, but it found a lot more success on home media and would earn a huge cult following. The Crow starred Brandon Lee, who sadly succumbed to a gunshot wound that was accidentally inflicted on the set.
You would think that the passing of Lee would ensure that no sequels to The Crow would ever be produced. However, the movie was successful enough for an attempt to be made. The Crow: City of Angels was savaged by critics and only brought in $17 million at the box office.
8 Hit: Thor: Ragnarok > Thor: The Dark World
Thor: The Dark World brought in an impressive $644 million at the box office, but it didn't leave much of an impression on the fans. The events of The Dark World almost feel like an afterthought in the grand scheme of things and it's hard to consider the movie as anything other than filler.
Thor: Ragnarok was a huge step up from its predecessor in terms of its quality and relevance to the overall MCU. Thor may have had a little help from the Hulk for his third movie, but that doesn't diminish the fact that Thor: Ragnarok brought in $854 million at the box office, which is an impressive number and likely exceeded Disney's expectations.
7 Flop: The Mask > Son Of The Mask
The Mask is similar to The Crow in that most people aren't aware of the fact that it's adapted from a comic book. It certainly wasn't advertised as such when it was first released. The Mask was a comedic take on the superhero genre, with a main character who had the powers of a living cartoon character. The Mask helped Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz become huge stars and brought in $351 million at the box office.
The success of The Mask made a sequel seem inevitable, yet it never got off the ground. Jim Carrey had no interest in reprising the role. In 2005, a sequel to The Mask was finally released, even though it had almost nothing to do with the original. Son of the Mask was savaged by critics upon release and it only managed to bring in $59 million at the box office, which meant that it didn't even recoup its production budget.
6 Hit: Captain America: Civil War > Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a huge step up from the original, but no one could have anticipated how it was setting up a movie that was going to be even better. Captain America: Civil War is best described as the movie that Age of Ultron should have been. It finally gave fans the chance to see two teams of superheroes fighting each other in what is still the most impressive sequence in the MCU.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier brought in an impressive $714 million at the box office, but Captain America: Civil War brought in $1.153 billion dollars, making it the highest grossing movie of 2016.
5 Flop: X-Men: Days Of Future Past > X-Men: Apocalypse
X-Men: Days of Future Past was the long-awaited adaptation of one of the most popular X-Men storylines of all time. The details were changed in the transition (most notably with Wolverine being the one sent into the past instead of Kitty Pryde), but the idea of a member of the X-Men going back in time to prevent a future where mutants are almost wiped out remains the same. X-Men: Apocalypse botched the arrival of one of the most popular villains in the franchise, with the grandiose Apocalypse replaced with a boring man in blue.
X-Men: Days of Future Past brought in $747 million at the box office, while X-Men: Apocalypse only brought in $543 million. The smaller take of X-Men: Apocalypse compared to its budget and advertising cost led many to wonder if the movie had even brought in a profit and whether it should be called a flop.
4 Hit: The Dark Knight > Batman Begins
Batman Begins was a serviceable movie that helped to distinguish Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale's new take on the character. The purpose of the film was to distance this new Batman from both the campy Adam West version of the character and the cartoonish farce that the previous Batman movie series had descended into. Batman Begins succeeded in establishing a new Batman, but it only brought in $375 million at the box office.
The Dark Knight is still one of the most highly-regarded superhero movies of all time and it helped to establish Heath Ledger as the new face of the Joker, even if he would only ever be given one chance to play him in a movie. The Dark Knight would bring in $1.005 billion at the box office and would ensure that you would see a Joker in a nurse outfit at every Halloween party for the foreseeable future.
3 Flop: Superman III > Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
The Christopher Reeve Superman movies are matched only by the original four Batman movies in terms of a downward spiral of quality. The original Superman is still an amazing movie to behold and the sequel had moments of greatness in-between all of the studio mandated bad ideas.
Superman III had some terrible ideas, but it still managed to bring in $80 million at the box office, which meant that it was still a hit, despite the critical reception. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace managed to somehow be even worse than its predecessor and is still regarded as one of the worst superhero movies of all time. It was a sad end to what started out as the most promising superhero movie series of all time, as The Quest for Peace only brought in $36 million at the box office.
2 Hit: Iron Man 3 > Iron Man 2
There are some Marvel movies that are considered to be less interesting than others, but the only outright blemish on the MCU's record (if you ignore the TV shows) is Iron Man 2, which is widely regarded as the worst movie in the franchise.
Iron Man 3 managed to redeem the solo Iron Man movies with a surprising twist involving the villain who managed to somehow avoid being spoiled before the release of the movie and by actually developing the character of Tony Stark in interesting ways. The improvements to the Iron Man movies can be seen in the numbers, as Iron Man 2 brought in $623 million at the box office, while Iron Man 3 brought in $1.215 billion.
1 Flop: Batman Forever > Batman And Robin
Batman Begins may not be as highly regarded as its successors, but it should be commended for helping to establish Batman as a box office draw again after he starred in a movie that almost tanked the genre. Batman Forever may have had a lighter tone than Batman Returns, but it was still recognizable as a Batman movie.
The campiness of the characters and story in Batman & Robin could have given the Adam West Batman show a run for its money and it seemed a million miles away from the world established in the original Tim Burton Batman movie. Batman Forever brought in $336 million at the box office, while Batman & Robin only brought in $238 million. These numbers were decent for the time, but the movie managed to drag down the entire genre for several years and kept Batman out of the movies for almost a decade.
Are there any other superhero sequels that became massive hits or complete flops? Let us know in the comments!