One of cinema’s more unexpected hits, the G.I. Joe franchise is still pumping out fresh entries.
After stumbling onto the scene with 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the lukewarm franchise has been putting out new films on an inconsistent schedule. The franchise appeared to stagnate for several years between 2013 and 2021, but it seems G.I. Joe may be back on the rise, with several films and a potential crossover in the works.
The inconsistent release schedule, paired with the decision to reboot and lean on prequels, leaves many viewers confused as to the order in which the films are best enjoyed. While some franchises require a mix-up to properly comprehend their timelines, the G.I. Joe franchise is a bit more straightforward.
How to watch the god-awful G.I. Joe films in order
There are a few different ways to enjoy the G.I. Joe films, but the easiest and best is sorted by release date. While Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins is technically a prequel of sorts, providing the backstory for a character that’s appeared in three out of four live-action G.I. Joe films, it is still best enjoyed after the first two franchise films.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Any viewing of the live-action G.I. Joe films should start at the beginning, with 2009’s Rise of Cobra. Don’t expect much — the film was roundly shredded by critics, earning it a measly 32 on Metacritic — but these action films are plenty entertaining for viewers who go in with the right expectations.
Personally, I’m a big fan of trash action films, so this movie is a home run for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s atrocious, but it marries over-the-top action with bad acting and a stuttering storyline in just the right ways. It’s generally considered the worst of the franchise so far — somehow — but that doesn’t stop this film from being thoroughly watchable garbage.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
The only other G.I. Joe entry starring the same general cast, Retaliation dropped in 2013 to a largely uninterested audience. It’s fared slightly better over the years — thanks in large part to the addition of action heavy-hitters Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson — but still barely qualifies as watchable.
With a slightly more impressive 41 on Metacritic, critics largely see little difference between Retaliation and the plastic figurines that inspired the franchise. Given the generally blank performances from most of the cast, this assessment is utterly on-point. That doesn’t make this weird film any less enjoyable, however, so long as you’ve got a drink in your hand before you settle in.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
A somewhat confusing and entirely unneeded return to the franchise was released in 2021, largely baffling its viewer base. People still went to watch this weirdly misplaced film, but that didn’t stop it from flopping at the box office.
An origin story for one of the franchise’s most popular characters, Snake Eyes is thus far the highest-rated G.I. Joe film on Metacritic, with a score of 43. Channing Tatum didn’t return for the third G.I. Joe movie — nor did Willis, Johnson, or first film favorite Joseph Gordon-Levitt — but the movie did introduce Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding in the titular role, so that’s something, at least.
G.I Joe: Ever Vigilant
The upcoming fourth entry in the G.I. Joe franchise has yet to get a release date, but G.I. Joe: Ever Vigilant has been in the works since 2013. The film will eventually hit theaters — as will a G.I. Joe/Transformers crossover, apparently — but few details are currently known about it.