Sequels can be a slippery slope for movie studios to traverse. Generally, film follow-ups don’t do as well at the box office, in terms of revenue, and the storylines aren't quite as refreshing the second time through the sprinkler. Sequels have been around since the Silent Film era with The Fall of a Nation (1916) being the first such motion picture, which is a continuation of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915).
Like sequels, superhero movies have been a part of the filmmaking industry since the earliest days of cinema. The Mark of Zorro (1920), starring Douglas Fairbanks, marked the dawn of the superhero genre. And it wasted no time introducing the superhero sequel that fans have come to know and love today: Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925) paired Fairbanks’ Zorro with Silver Screen ingenue Mary Astor.
In the modern era, a sequel is more or less expected. But now the follow-up has built a reputation for sometimes surpassing the brilliance of the original film. It’s still often a rarity, but there are some cinematic masterpieces in modern-day sequels.
Here are 10 Superhero Sequels BETTER Than The Original Movies (And 10 That Are WORSE)!
Sam Raimi’s second installment in the Spider-Man saga not only pit the webslinger against Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), but it also saw Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) closest relationships with family and friends further alienated. The mixture of superhero elements and a well-written screenplay helped Spider-Man 2 (2004) achieve both financial and critical success.
Spider-Man 2 topped the box office for three-consecutive weeks, as the film grossed over $783 million worldwide. Both Spider-Man 3 ($890 million) and Spider-Man ($821 million) made more money than Spidey 2 with domestic and foreign numbers combined. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) is also taking aim with $726.6 million after seven weeks in theaters.
The late movie critic Roger Ebert put this superhero film in rare company, though. “Spider-Man 2 is the best superhero movie since the modern genre was launched with Superman (1978),” Ebert wrote. “It succeeds by being true to the insight that allowed Marvel Comics to upturn decades of comic-book tradition: Readers could identify more completely with heroes like themselves than with remote godlike paragons.”
No amount of Kryptonite could hurt the Man of Steel’s film franchise like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace did in 1987. And that's saying something because Superman III (1983) was a real clunker. Actor Christopher Reeve came up with a lucid and hopeful story concept, which saw the Last Son of Krypton trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Budget constraints and a questionable screenplay thwarted good intentions and made sure The Quest for Peace died on arrival.
Superman IV stunned the filmmakers and producers, as the picture opened in fifth place its first weekend with only $8.3 million domestically. In fact, the movie’s box office performance was so unsightly that The Quest for Peace didn’t even recover its $17 million budget.
After only three weeks, and a domestic gross of only $15.6 million, Part IV was yanked from theaters. The Quest for Peace didn’t resonate much with future audiences either. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film only garners a rotten rating of 12%.
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy surprised and delighted audiences in the summer of 2014. With its colorful team of anti-heroes, who became much more than friends, Guardians introduced a lovable family of misfits for audiences to rally around.
While the origin story was intriguing, Guardians Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) pushed the envelope of character development. Star-Lord aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was reunited with his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell). Ego was a living planet – a god – who had his own ideas about what was best for the galaxy. The father/son relationship catapulted Vol. 2 just past the original film, particularly when the man who practically raised Quill - Yondu (Michael Rooker) – made the ultimate sacrifice at the film’s conclusion.
Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) went through some serious growing pains in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014). Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) met her demise at the hands of the Green Goblin/Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), which somewhat mirrored the events of The Amazing Spider-Man #121 (1973), but the stark ending did not resonate with moviegoers.
Amazing Spider-Man 2 was somewhat of an enigma when it came to box office and critical response. Financially, the film was a hit as it took in almost $709 million worldwide. In fact, Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($506 million) made more money overseas than any of the other Spider-Man films, including Homecoming ($411 million), with the exception of Spider-Man 3 ($554 million).
Critical response was quite another matter. The film had two sequels in the works, plus Venom and Sinister Six spin-offs, which never happened. In fact, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is the only Spider-Man movie to have a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes: 52%.
Adapted from the stories appearing in The Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142 (1981), X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) sees the Earth’s mightiest mutants facing annihilation at the hands of Dr. Trask’s (Peter Dinklage) Sentinels. Without any chance of defeating Trask’s creations in the future, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her powers to send the Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to set things right. This superhero jaunt is grounded in deep emotions, with the gimmick of uniting both the original series' and reboot's casts. This helps DOFP rise far beyond X-Men: First Class (2011).
Days of Future Past ($747 million) also has the distinction of being the highest-grossing X-Men film worldwide, with the exception of Deadpool (2016). The “Merc with a Mouth” retains the top spot with $783 million.
Days of Future Past also takes the silver medal on Rotten Tomatoes just behind Logan (2017). The third Wolverine film has a certified-fresh rating of 93%, while DOFP holds second place with 90%.
Harry Osborn’s (James Franco) grief and anger, over the death of his father, finally culminated in Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) best friend using the Green Goblin serum to exact revenge in Spider-Man 3 (2007). What should have been a satisfying conclusion to Sam Raimi’s trilogy self-destructed thanks to a script convoluted by too many villains, including the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace).
However, Spidey 3 excelled at the box office. Despite a mediocre narrative, the film took in a staggering $890 million worldwide, which ranks it No. 1 among all the other Spider-Man movies. But this incarnation of the webslinger failed to impress critics and most fans.
New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis said: “Aesthetically and conceptually wrung out, fizzled rather than fizzy, this latest installment in the spider-bites-boy adventure story shoots high, swings low and every so often hits the sweet spot, but mostly just plods and plods along, as if its heart were pumping tired radioactive blood.”
General Zod (Terence Stamp) and his two cronies try to take over the Earth, but are no match for the son of Jor-El in Superman II (1980). Three super-villains and Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) are just four reasons the sequel surpasses the original here.
Superman II didn’t quite make the same impression as Superman: The Movie (1978), in terms of box office, but the sequel still brought in $108 million domestically. That is good enough to rank it No. 2 in the original Man of Steel movie series. And Part 2 continues to enthrall audiences, as reflected in its certified-fresh ranking of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The late Roger Ebert saw in Superman II the unique and carefully-woven character development that made Clark Kent/Kal-El so relatable to audiences.
Fans were probably prepared for X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) to pale in comparison to X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), but they had to be disappointed when the sequel didn’t even live up to the original X-Men: First Class (2011).
While X-Men: Apocalypse didn’t achieve the same level of storytelling as First Class, it did surpass the original film at the box office by nearly $200 million. Apocalypse took in almost $544 million worldwide in the summer of 2016.
Critically, the third installment of the X-reboot series garnered mixed reactions. On Rotten Tomatoes, Apocalypse has the second-worst rating among the X-Men films at 48%. Only the dreaded X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) was dissed more, at 38%. But movie critic Richard Roeper declared himself a fan of the film, giving it three and ½ stars.
Guillermo del Toro is nothing short of a visionary filmmaker, and his creativity is present in his Hellboy feature films. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) provides a uniqueness in its storytelling that truly sets it apart from Hellboy (2004).
Hellboy II is one of those rare films that exceeds the expectations already established by a fantastic first movie. Both installments are wonderful superhero movies, but while they're both certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Part 2 comes in with a slightly higher rating at 85%.
Hellboy’s sequel also made more money at the box office than the original film. Hellboy II took in $160 million worldwide compared to only $99 million by Hellboy. With two hits in the franchise already, it’s truly a surprise that Hellboy III: Dark Worlds never made it to cinemas.
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola did announce a reboot, which should hit theaters in 2018. Neil Marshall is currently attached to direct, with David Harbour cast as Hellboy.
Robert Downey Jr. and Tony Stark are the quintessential actor/superhero for our modern era of movies. And even though Iron Man 3 failed miserably to live up to the narrative presented in Iron Man (2008), the sequel was the blockbuster of 2013.
Iron Man 3 crushed box office numbers by becoming Marvel’s first standalone film in the MCU to surpass the $1 billion mark. The Avengers (2012) took in $1.5 billion the summer before, while the third installment of Iron Man grossed $1.2 billion worldwide.
Clearly, Iron Man 3 didn’t have the same panache of the original film, but it still resonated with fans. Despite its lackluster story, Part 3 was certified fresh with a rating of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes.
X2: X-Men United (2003) both commercially and critically crushed the original X-Men (2000) at the box office. Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine was the new poster boy for the super anti-hero, and mutants were the comic book mainstays of cinema alongside Sam Raimi’s emerging Spider-Man franchise.
X2 was the top movie at the box office for two consecutive weeks in May of 2003. The film brought in over $407 million worldwide, during its theatrical run, which surpassed X-Men’s $296 million three years before.
With a certified-fresh rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, only Logan (2017) and X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) rate higher in the franchise. Not even the “Merc with a Mouth” has a better number on RT. The late film critic Roger Ebert even gave X2 a positive review, albeit with a backhanded delivery. “The fact is, I had a good time,” Ebert explained.” Dumb, but good.”
In fairness to filmmaker Joss Whedon, his Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) sequel was at a disadvantage before cameras even started rolling. It’s a daunting task to follow up one of the best superhero movies of all time -- The Avengers (2012), which teamed up Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans).
Age of Ultron was another bona fide billion-dollar blockbuster for the MCU, taking in $1.4 billion worldwide. The sequel nearly took in $200 million on its opening weekend alone. But while the box office was healthy, fans were a bit disappointed especially with the film’s conclusion.
The popular new character Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) sacrificed his life to save Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and the Hulk went into exile, leaving the team disjointed. The somber ending was reflected in its 75% ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, it was still certified fresh, but certainly came up short in relation to the original film’s whopping 92%.
Part of the fun of seeing Split (2017) was in not realizing it was a sequel or superhero film. The standalone horror flick also served as a follow-up to M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable (2000), starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. A couple of hints are dropped along the way to connect the two films, but Willis’ character David Dunn pops up in the last scene to solidify the matter.
Split was the No. 1 movie in the U.S., for three-consecutive weeks, as the picture grossed almost $277 million worldwide. Unbreakable was an enigma at the time, as it opened in 7th place at the box office. But word of mouth helped the film jump 131% in revenue from its first to second weekend, which ultimately led it to reach No. 2 at the box office.
Split received a certified-fresh score of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, while Unbreakable had 68%. Look for the third installment, titled Glass, in 2019, which will star Willis and Jackson alongside Split actors James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy.
Thor: The Dark World (2013) is arguably the weakest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The story is ill-conceived, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) spends the first act locked in a prison cell, and the villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) is about as threatening as Bizarro in the proximity of Blue Kryptonite.
Fortunately, despite the final product, The Dark World grossed $644.5 million worldwide. The original Thor (2011) only managed to pull in a domestic and overseas total of $449 million. Thor: The Dark World also has the dubious honor of having received the lowest ranking (66%) on Rotten Tomatoes out of all the MCU movies, but it still managed a 7.0 out of 10 score on IMDb.
Look for Thor: Ragnarok (2017) to hopefully emerge as the best of the Thor standalone films when it opens this November.
The Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) swansong Logan (2017) sees the grizzled anti-hero die heroically and his cloned daughter Laura (Dafne Keen), aka X-23, ride off into the sunset. Many have compared the film to The Dark Knight (2008), which is absolutely deserved. Logan is arguably the best film of 2017 -- though we haven't hit Oscar season yet.
20th Century Fox and Marvel missed a real opportunity with Logan when they chose to open the film in March rather in the summer. The final installment of the Wolverine saga could have been a bona fide box office blockbuster, but it still managed to gross $616 million worldwide.
Logan also received a staggering score of 92% (certified fresh) on Rotten Tomatoes, dazzling most of the critics.
Marvel’s Fantastic Four (2005), much like Daredevil (2003), gets a bum rap. In fact, 20th Century Fox believed in the original FF so much that the studio greenlit the justifiably horrible sequel Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007). The movie is laden with problems, but the biggest came at the conclusion, when the mighty Galactus appeared as an ominous-looking cloud in space. Ridiculous!
Rise of the Silver Surfer made a lot of coin for 20th Century, as the film grossed over $289 million worldwide, which is over $120 million more than the Fantastic Four (2015) reboot brought in. Sadly, this 2007 sequel only managed a 37% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But hey - at least it's not even close to being the worst Fantastic Four movie ever made!
Captain America: Civil War (2016) is one of the best superhero sequels ever. It’s the Empire Strikes Back (1980) of the Captain America (Chris Evans) series of standalone films.
Not only does almost every one of the Avengers show up, minus Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), but Spider-Man (Tom Holland) makes his MCU debut. Meanwhile, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Cap throw down over the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).
Civil War joined Marvel’s illustrious billion-dollar club, as the film grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide. Here’s a fun fact that will certainly put the box office success of Civil War in perspective: the sequel made more money than Captain America: The First Avenger ($371 million) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($714 million) combined.
Rotten Tomatoes score: a whopping 90%!
Technically, Bryan Singer ruined two movies when he decided to direct Superman Returns (2006) rather than taking the helm on X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Arguably the worst X-Men ever, this film gets everyone’s hopes up in the first five minutes, as Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Storm (Halle Berry) lead the team against the Sentinels. But surprise: the X-Men are only fighting in a simulation that appears to be in the Holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).
Then, the filmmakers decide to kill off three of the biggest members of the squad: Cyclops (James Marsden), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). Short of offing Hugh Jackman, the movie did everything it possibly could to get its low rating of 58% on Rotten Tomatoes.
At the box office, The Last Stand had an impressive run grossing over $459 million. Until X-Men: Days of Future Past opened in 2014, X-Men 3 was unbelievably the highest-grossing film in the franchise.
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is the Holy Grail of superhero cinema. But despite all three films being works of art, there is a still a standout: The Dark Knight. Few would argue that TDK is, in fact, the best superhero sequel of all time, and the late Heath Ledger’s virtuoso performance as the Joker is one for the ages.
The Dark Knight owned the box office in 2008, which was no small task, considering that Marvel’s Cinematic Universe launched that summer with both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. TDK was the No. 1 movie at cinemas four consecutive weeks, and it became the first superhero motion picture to break the billion-dollar mark.
Rotten Tomatoes score: an earth-shaking 94%!
It’s not that Batman Returns (1992) and Batman Forever (1995) didn’t have their problems, but Batman & Robin (1997) almost ruined the superhero genre for an entire generation of fans. Not only is it the worst sequel of the Batman (1989) series, it really can rival just about any other clunker you want to throw at it. That includes Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005).
Batman & Robin garnered a score of 10% via Rotten Tomatoes, which is generous to a fault. Somehow, the sequel still made its $125 million budget back, as it grossed $238 million worldwide. However, that is the lowest take of any of the Warner Bros. Batman live-action films.
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film their traditional “Two Thumbs Down".
Which superhero sequels are your favorites and which ones do you love to hate? Let us know by sounding off in the comments!