Every Starship Troopers Movie Ranked

For a film that didn't attract a lot of attention when released in 1997, Starship Troopers has demonstrated remarkable staying power as an object of pop culture interest. Despite flaming out at the box office and failing to impress critics, the film earned its place at the table as a 90s movie that took years to understand. Decades after the fact, critics from Slant and The AV Club have even named it one of the best films of 1997. For casual fans of Starship Troopers, the movie's universe stops and starts with the first film, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Caspar Van Dien as Johnny Rico. There is, of course, the 1959 book of the same name that serves as the basis of the film, but Robert Heinlein's original focuses more on the power armor not seen in the film and lacks the subversive satire that defines the first Starship Troopers flick. 

In actuality, however, there are a total of five films in the Starship Troopers franchise, including two live-action sequels and two animated spin-offs. While none of the films after the original were high-budget affairs, there is some reliable fan service and world-building in some of these direct-to-video sequels. Here is every Starship Troopers movie ranked from worst to best.

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation crashed and burned direct to video

The second film in the series, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, didn't exactly make a strong case for future entries in the franchise. The film arrived in 2004, seven years after the original, and featured zero returning cast members; it also didn't receive a theatrical release, never a good sign in the era before streaming services normalized quality movies skipping theaters. The franchise's second entry pares back the original storyline that takes its heroes from one end of the universe to the other to fight the arachnid menace. Instead, Starship Troopers 2 focuses on a group of soldiers who must fight to survive, trapped on a world overrun by bugs. The film adopts a horror-oriented vibe as the arachnids begin to take over soldiers' bodies and minds, eventually resulting in gory transformations. The shift gave the entire movie a low-budget quality reminiscent of The Thing, the effect of which was ultimately undermined by subpar acting and a confusing plot.

The critics who did take the time to review the film were not kind. IGN said in their withering assessment, "Movies like this are why direct-to-video has yet to earn any respectability and is viewed as the home for bad movies." Fans of the franchise weren't much more forgiving – Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation currently holds a 12% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Johnny Rico returns in Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

Undeterred by the mediocre reception of the second film in the series, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder made its way directly to home media in 2008. The franchise's third installment, however, received a stronger reception for delivering a film that was tonally more in line with the original, largely thanks to the return of Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico and the involvement of Edward Neumeier — who wrote the original Starship Troopers — as director.

Starship Troopers 3 places Johnny Rico (Van Dien) front and center, as the trooper defends Roku San, a farm planet that has caught the arachnids' attention. The film explores the consequences of some of the first film's main plot points, such as the deployment of psychic powers in the military and communication with the Brain Bug captured in the original. The third entry in the series also reestablishes the satirical tone that made the first film so memorable, while drawing a more vital link to the source material with the inclusion of the power suits from the 1959 novel.

The critics were also notably kinder to Marauders than they were to the second film. Variety's review said the "second made-for-vid sequel gamely attempts to replicate the original pic's over-the-top style and self-satirical tone." However, die-hard Starship Troopers fans still felt there was room for improvement, and the film sits at a 19% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars shows that sometimes animation is better

After two low-budget live-action sequels, the franchise switched gears and began producing animated films, such as the most recent entry in the series, 2017's Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars. Both it and its predecessor, Starship Troopers: Invasion, received a decent reception from fans and are generally higher-quality efforts than the two live-action sequels. Traitor of Mars was planned for the 20th anniversary of Starship Troopers' original run and featured two returning cast members, Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico and Dina Meyer as Dizzy Flores. The plot sends Rico to the red planet to train recruits before an arachnid invasion engulfs the world in chaos. Dizzy returns as a telegraphic projection from Carl Jenkins, played by Neil Patrick Harris in the original and voiced by Justin Doran in Traitor of Mars.

Critics praised the serviceable visuals, returning cast members, and frequent callbacks to the original. The Hollywood News said, "Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars is a nostalgic throwback that will keep avid fans of the original entertained." Fans were slightly kinder to Traitor of Mars than the two live-action sequels, with Rotten Tomatoes audiences ranking the film at 31%.

Starship Troopers: Invasion is the best film in the series outside of the original

Starship Troopers' live-action sequels may have hurt the franchise more than they helped, so, when looking for ways to produce a fourth film, the producers began exploring other options. Starship Troopers: Invasion managed to revitalize the series by bringing back some of the most important characters from the first film, albeit with different voice actors and a new look, thanks to an all-animated approach. Invasion was produced by Sola Digital Arts, a Japanese animation studio, and directed by Shinja Aramaki. The film takes advantage of Arakami's anime experience and its new aesthetic to include a heavy focus on interstellar conflict. In the fourth installment, arachnids pour into battle sequences in overwhelming numbers that the live-action sequels' tight budgets could not accommodate. The plot, which sees Carmen Ibanez teaming back up with her old flame, Johnny Rico, to survive manipulations by Minister of Paranormal Warfare Carl Jenkins, puts Starship Troopers' heroes in plenty of situations to face off with the arachnids. 

While Invasion received criticism for borrowing too many elements from the video games it closely resembled, critics were kinder to this follow-up than any of the others. According to one review from Film School Rejects, "All in all, if you are a fan of the series, or even just Verhoeven's original film, Starship Troopers: Invasion will easily sate your marine-on-bug appetite." Audiences seemed to agree, giving it the highest Rotten Tomatoes audience score of any film besides the original: 49%.

Nothing tops the original Starship Troopers

While the four movies that came after the initial Starship Troopers did their best to follow its vision — while restrained by much smaller budgets and limited releases — nothing comes close to the original. Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film was designed to be a blockbuster, and, while the film ultimately was a box office bust, it established a compelling world filled with meaningful ideas and entertaining characters. The first film tells the story of four high school friends who all enlist in different branches of a futuristic military established to fight off the hyper-aggressive alien arachnids. Central characters Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) and Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) enlist in the Mobile Infantry while Rico's love interest Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) joins the Fleet, and his best friend Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) puts his abilities as a psychic to use in military intelligence. All four characters travel across the galaxy to fight against the bugs in a campy, satirical film that pokes holes in the fascistic society it seems to celebrate.

While Starship Troopers took a creative approach to its surprisingly complex look at militant fascism, the film's nuance was unappreciated upon its release and it did not receive a favorable reception. However, history has been kind to the film, with one retrospective by The Atlantic even labeling it one of the most misunderstood films ever. As a result, Starship Troopers holds a middling critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, but the film has by far the best audience score for the series at 74%.