5. Captain America: Winter Soldier
This might be controversial, but it may be easier to just say that almost everything after the MCU’s “phase one” was an improvement. People still cherish The Avengers and Iron Man, but a lot of the franchise giants didn’t hit their stride until much later. This is definitely true of the Captain America movie series.
Similar to Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger was a serviceable origin story that failed to break new ground. Joe Johnston gave us a movie that was fun but forgettable. Meanwhile, the Russo brothers gave us a politically charged superhero drama with some of the best choreographed fight scenes in the genre. It was a step forward for a shared universe that consistently focused on all-ages fun. This was one of the first Marvel Cinematic Universe films to really show maturity and depth, but it never alienated the original audience.
The Russo Brothers have gone on to basically take over the cinematic universe, which is honestly something that shouldn’t be complained about. They understand how to appeal to a wide variety of viewers, and they know how to set themselves apart from everyone else. Putting them in charge of Captain America’s first sequel clearly benefited all of us.
4. Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve may have been the perfect choice to take the Blade Runner series from Ridley Scott. Honestly, when his name was announced, most of the people who had reservations immediately changed their perspectives. It’s really hard to expect a bad movie from Villeneuve. After all, it’s hard to expect something that hasn’t happened before. It’s definitely unfortunate that Scott didn’t return to the franchise, but Villeneuve’s masterful work here shows why he’s one of the best directors working right now.
This is one of two long overdue sequels featured on the list. The wait felt like forever, which is probably why it did so poorly at the box office, but don’t let those numbers fool you. Box office numbers have never been indicative of quality. If that were the case, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would be considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Luckily, we don’t live in that backwards kind of world.
Blade Runner 2049 was a financial failure, but it was one hell of a critical success. It ended up on countless top 10 lists by the end of the year because, as its placement on the list implies, it’s an incredible movie. While it’s hard to top the original, 2049 comes as close as possible. It really feels like a natural step forward after so much time had passed. It feels like the sequel everyone had been waiting for, and that’s high praise.
For those of you that somehow skipped over the Blade Runner series, shame on you. Both of the movies are excellent, and watching them back-to-back shows just how much cinema has evolved. It also shows how much Villeneuve respected the original movie.
3. Superman II
This is an interesting one to talk about because the director of the original Superman, Richard Donner, was the director Superman II until he was canned and replaced by Richard Lester due to “rising tensions.” Lester released his version of the movie and people ended up loving it despite the controversy surrounding it. Things got even more interesting when the Richard Donner cut was release and people also happened to love that one. In fact, people loved that one so much that some fans have sworn an allegiance to which has resulted in some Lester backlash.
That’s not entirely fair. Both versions of Superman II are excellent in their own right. That’s exactly why Lester’s version is included in this list. Some of the comedy may be cringeworthy, but the overall movie felt so focused compared to both the original movie and Donner’s cut of the sequel. The story was well-written and the characters never felt flat. Basically, there are few fundamental flaws to be found. The only disadvantage seems to be that, to some people, it can’t compete with an alternate version.
Superman fans should be happy that two wildly entertaining interpretations of a similar story exist. We shouldn’t be complaining about more Superman, especially when it’s well-done. Now, if there were two versions of Superman III and they were of the same quality, we could probably argue, but Lester and Donner have just given us more to love.
2. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
Yes, the opening of this list took a jab at Kershner and his poor attempt at directing Robocop 2. That wasn’t his finest hour, but it’s still really hard to look back on Kershner’s career negatively. The man was responsible for Never Say Never Again, The Hoodlum Priest, and most importantly, The Empire Strikes Back.
The ironic part is that he didn’t originally want to direct the movie since he believed nobody could top the original. At this point, Star Wars was still sort of an unexpected phenomenon compared to the cultural landmark it is today. He didn’t want to taint franchise’s legacy so early, so he was reluctant to take on such an enormous project. This is especially true because he had very little experience when it came to large budgets.
Thankfully, he eventually agreed to direct what is largely considered the best movie in the series. Of course, with a series like this it’s hard to pick one overwhelming favorite, but people really seem to enjoy this one. A lot of the quality may have come from an excellent script, but his direction is nothing scoff at. He helped make a stylish, heartwarming mix of science fiction and fantasy.
This heartwarming mix of science fiction and fantasy continues to earn nothing but praise today. Frankly, Disney’s crack at the franchise is pretty polarizing compared to the overwhelming love directed at the original trilogy. In particular, The Empire Strikes Back is almost never criticized because it does everything it can to be the quintessential Star Wars movie. Kershner made the right choice.
Way back in 1979, Ridley Scott brought us arguably the greatest sci-fi horror movie of all time. Seven years later, James Cameron brought us one of the best sci-fi action movies of all time. Cameron departed from the tension filled, tight-corridor horror found in the original but somehow the more action-oriented approach worked. James Cameron offered up a very different movie, but it’s a movie that still feels right at home in the Alien universe. Fans of the original may have a debate claiming that it’s the better movie, but very few people outright dislike Aliens. It’s just too well-made.
Of course it’s well-made. It’s directed by James Cameron. Say what you will about Cameron’s recent tendency to ship out lackluster screenplays. He more than makes up for it because he’s really damn good at making movies. Luckily, Aliens is both well-directed and well-written. It’s also one of the most genuinely enjoyable movies to ever exist, so there’s that.
Of course, the original movie is seriously entertaining, but it’s a different kind of entertaining. Aliens is balls-to-the-walls badassery with a game-changing performance from Sigourney Weaver. It’s not a brain-dead movie by any means, but a lot of the fun comes from the over-the-top action sequences.
Overall though, Aliens is more than just an entertaining action flick. It’s a phenomenal blockbuster with depth and style. There’s a reason people continue to talk about it like it just came out. This movie is a cultural landmark that deserves every ounce of attention it has received.