X2 (2003): With the first X-Men and the first Spider-Man (2002) a solid hit and a blockbuster respectively, superhero/comic book movies were officially on the map. So, when it came time for the X-Men sequel, returning director Bryan Singer was given more money, more creative freedom and more resources to create what many feel is not just the best X-Men movie, but one of the best comic book films ever. Singer is clearly more confident, his cast is more assured and comfortable, his new characters are richly conceived, and the movie's action sequences and plot both crackle with more energy and benefit from the bigger canvas.
This time around, the movie also plays as much more of an ensemble, and all the main mutants get their own individual character moments. This leads us to care even more about their various plights and crises even if they don't necessarily connect to the main storyline, which involves William Stryker's (Brian Cox) plot to wipe out mutantkind. There are flaws, such as Professor X being sidelined halfway through the film as he was in the first one, but they are offset by some truly thrilling set pieces, such as Magneto's prison break, Nightcrawler's (Alan Cumming) raid on the White House and Stryker's incursion into the mansion, which allows Jackman to cut loose with a truly Wolverine-like counterattack. As for the ending, Jean Grey's self-sacrifice carries both real emotional weight and a shiver of fan anticipation as the film all but announces that the "Dark Phoenix Saga" will be coming next. Sadly, that didn't turn out as hoped, but X2 remains the definitive X-Men movie to date.