Best Spinoff Films

Debate Club: The 5 best spinoff films

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Oct 3, 2018, 12:13 PM EDT (Updated)

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this week's installment, we’re ranking the best spinoff films. But first, let's isolate specifically what a spinoff film is. As opposed to a sequel, prequel or reboot, a spinoff essentially takes a supporting character (or a casually mentioned incident) from an existing film and turns it into an entire movie of its own.

When a spinoff is done well, it’s a cool new way into a preexisting cinematic universe — and it can help us see that world with fresh eyes. (Or, in the case of something like Minions, establish that the original films' most popular characters weren't the actual stars.) Our five choices are so strong that they can stand alone from their source material — but knowing their origins only makes these movies more rewarding.

The Wolverine Movie

The Wolverine (2013)

Controversial Hot Take: We are not actually big fans of Logan. (Hugh Jackman is great, as always, but the movie's studied seriousness and proto-Western aspirations can be a bit much.) So we'll show some love to that earlier Logan movie. (No, not X-Men Origins: Wolverine. We're not completely insane.)

The Wolverine was Jackman's first pairing with Logan director James Mangold, and it saw everyone's favorite mutant heading to Japan. The change of scenery suits the story — plus, it provides Wolverine with an opportunity to show off a more introspective, emotional side. (He's stripped bare in several ways: he loses his ability to heal, and he's haunted by the death of his beloved Jean.) Upon the critical and commercial success of Logan, The Wolverine is now a bit forgotten. It's worth a rewatch.

The Lego Batman Movie

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

The original LEGO Movie was funny and clever and sort of revolutionary for what it was trying to do, but the movie's undeniable breakout star was Will Arnett's LEGO Batman. The Batman series has been alternately too intense and too campy for basically its entire lifetime, so it was a joy to see The LEGO Movie finally find a fun, silly Batman who is self-serious – DARKNESS! NO PARENTS! – and still hilarious... and yeah, still heroic. It was a risk to give such an effective supporting character his own movie, but while The LEGO Batman Movie doesn't quite pack the punch of the original, it still extends the joke in all sorts of giddy directions.

And finally, at last, this movie did the impossible: it actually has a fun Robin.

rogue one.jpg

Rogue One (2016)

For Rogue One, Lucasfilm decided to shine a light on a throwaway comment from the original Star Wars — you know, that there were spies who stole the plans to the Death Star and found its weak spot? This movie tells that story in rousing fashion, differing from the traditional Star Wars films by being darker and eschewing some of the franchise's trademarks. (Sorry, kids, no opening crawl here.)

A combination of war film and heist flick, Rogue One also asked us to consider all of the Rebellion's unsung heroes who helped bring down the Empire behind the scenes. And because this was a spinoff that didn't have to worry about spawning sequels, Rogue One is that rare franchise film that has a definitive, crushing ending — and yet, its final moments are incredibly moving and inspiring, reminding us why we fell in love with Star Wars in the first place

Deadpool Ryan Reynolds

Deadpool (2016)

One of the quieter pleasures of Deadpool – and there is not much quiet about Deadpool – is how it is, in fact, a satire of the very thing from which it's a spinoff. The X-Men are famously a tight-knit team of heroes, which, of course, is the opposite of what Deadpool is; he's crude, he's a loner and, oh yeah, he's OK with just wiping people out with a machine gun. The great joke of Deadpool isn't just that he's so different from the group he both despises and also secretly envies … it's that his movies, as it turns out, are even bigger hits than the original franchise. It is rare that the satire outperforms the object of the satire. Maybe we all wanted to make fun of the X-Men all along.


Creed (2015)

What's remarkable about Ryan Coogler’s Creed is that even though it's about the son of one of the most famous characters in any sports movie, and even though it's a traditional sports narrative with the big game/fight at the end, and even though it has freaking Rocky Balboa in it, it still feels new and fresh and original. It's all about Coogler's little details, his new additions, his nods to the initial series while still planting it firmly in the real and the now. Creed is, of course, part of the whole franchise – and seeing Rocky back is an undeniable thrill – but he makes this movie his own story, his own journey… and his own victory.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.