Sequels, by their very nature, are rarely better than the original. When an original movie is great, it’s because of some kind of lightning in a bottle. It’s not just about a good script or a director who’s on the ball or a cast of good actors. It’s always a special, unique thing.
So, when a movie earns large financial success, studios commission a sequel, asking the creative team to catch the same unique lightning, which is nearly impossible. That’s why most sequels are dreadful. They flood our multiplexes across the world, killing us bit by bit inside and tarnishing the good name of their predecessors.
However, sometimes geniuses like Coppola or Cameron come along, making sequels that manage to not just match the original, but top them. Here are 15 such sequels to feast your eyes on.
15. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
It’s a shame we’ll never get to see a third Hellboy movie from Guillermo del Toro, because he’s a great director, who makes rich, dark movies and totally got the Hellboy character. He made a surprisingly great movie about him — so great a sequel was greenlit, and he made that even better.
Ron Perlman was perfect for the part of Hellboy and he got the centerstage he deserved in The Golden Army. Perlman had fantastic lines and set pieces to work with, and Hellboy had a great emotional arc. Though it’s exciting that David Harbour — Hopper from Stranger Things — will take on the role of Hellboy in a new movie called Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen directed by the brilliant Neil Marshall, it would’ve been great to see del Toro do another movie with Ron Perlman in the title role.
14. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Okay, Raiders of the Lost Ark is pretty much the perfect movie and one might think it’d be impossible to top it. That was certainly the case for the disturbing and weird — but still great — Temple of Doom, but Last Crusade redeemed the franchise and ended the trilogy with its finest entry.
It has the greatest sequences — the boat chase, the room burning down while Indy and his dad are tied up; the dogfight after the zeppelin escape; Indy hanging off the side of a tank heading off a cliff. And it has Sean Connery as Indy’s father, which was quite possibly the most ingenious casting decision ever made. Indy even meets Adolf Hitler.
Having Indy, Sallah, Henry, and Brody ride off into the sunset was the perfect way for Steven Spielberg to cap off a perfect trilogy — until Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came along and ruined everything. It was Indy and his buddies — now joined by his previously estranged father — heading out to chase adventure wherever they could find it.
13. Fast Five
The Fast and the Furious franchise didn’t have a promising start. But Vin Diesel and Paul Walker had something. It’s just a shame that we wouldn’t see it come shining through for another ten years. The second and third were Diesel-free and racing-heavy and they weren’t good. The back-to-basics fourth movie, simply titled Fast & Furious, finally got onto something that could work.
They brought back Diesel, paired him up with Walker, and upped the action factor. But the franchise didn’t really get on track to busting Star Wars’ box office records this year until they went to Rio and drove a giant safe around town in police pursuit. Completely over-the-top, insane action sequences are now the cornerstone of the franchise, and some might say excessively so.
But Fast Five was when they found the sweet spot between crazy and stupid, while maintaining good quality. It was also the first one with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Luke Hobbs.
12. Blade II
If Blade ever makes it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he has to be played by Wesley Snipes. The role fits Snipes like a glove and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else at the helm. However, Snipes and stylish action were pretty much the only good things about the first Blade.
For the sequel, the studio brought in the master of dark comic book fantasy, Mr. Guillermo del Toro, to inject more creativity into the Blade franchise. And David S. Goyer, who co-wrote The Dark Knight trilogy with Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan, provided the script. It was better than its predecessor. Oh, and also, Norman Reedus aka Daryl Dixon plays Blade’s friend.
11. John Wick: Chapter 2
The makers of John Wick drove into multiplexes in a Mustang GT and knew exactly what was going to happen next. The first movie was about a master assassin avenging the death of his dog — and, vicariously, the death of his wife, taken by forces of nature. But John Wick 2 was about its repercussions on the wider assassins world,
John’s in a lot of trouble for what he did in the first film and the filmmakers didn’t just ignore that. They upped the ante and the stakes and really put John through the ringer. If the trajectory continues, we’ll have Chapter 3 in a few years. There is nowhere to hide and John is fighting off every undercover assassin on the face of the Earth. Won’t that be awesome!
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Directed by Arrested Development and Community’s the Russo brothers, The Winter Soldier got a healthy dose of humor. The brothers mined comedy gold out of Steve Rogers adjusting to life in the 21st century. If the first movie was lacking in laughs, The Winter Soldier certainly made up for it.
The sequel was also more visually interesting, calling back to paranoid political thrillers of the 70s. There was also a better villain: Cap’s brainwashed best friend Bucky, presumed dead in the first movie, got some physical enhancements to rival with the first Avenger. It was an all-round great movie, and at its time of release in 2014, it was the best entry in the MCU.
9. The Raid 2
The Raid was a hardcore action flick packed with intense hand-to-hand combat sequences and gut-wrenching graphic violence. But if The Raid was Indonesia’s answer to Die Hard, then The Raid 2 is Indonesia’s answer to The Godfather or Heat or something. It’s epic! It’s like two and a half hours long, and yet it doesn’t let the pace and tension of the first one slow down for a second.
There are still fast-paced and violent action sequences. But, it has a much more intricate story. The direction is great, the writing, the cinematography, the performances from the cast — everything comes together perfectly.
The first Raid was so action-packed there were few subtitles to read. There’s a lot to read in the sequel, but you forget you’re reading it, because you’re mesmerized by the story and visuals playing out before your eyes.
8. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
To many critics, the original sucked pretty hard. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is slow, boring, uninspired, and — as Time magazine’s Harold Livingston put it in his review of the movie — “nothing of dramatic or human interest happens” in it. It didn’t even manage to grab the attention of fictional uber-trekkie Sheldon Cooper, who hates it just as much as Livingston.
But in all fairness, it had to live up to a legacy of classic science fiction from the TV show. And the crew were used to making hour-long episodes on a weekly basis. There’s more pressure with a movie, and more to live up to. But the second one, The Wrath of Khan, did that and more as it took an emotional turn.
Khan is a classic villain, much more compelling and sinister than the cloud that is the villain of the first movie — yeah, seriously, the villain is a cloud. And Wrath of Khan has the emotional gut punch to end on with (SPOILER!) the death of Spock. “KHAAAAN!!!” right? The final scene of Spock’s funeral always leaves a lump in your throat, a testament to the endearing nature of the logical Vulcan, the actor Leonard Nimoy, and the superior sequel that is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
7. Spider-Man 2
This summer has faced moviegoers with a very difficult question: which Spider-Man movie is the best? It’s a toughie. Ever since 2004, the answer has unequivocally been Spider-Man 2. Thirteen years and three Spider-Man movies later, nothing could hold a candle to Sam Raimi’s first, perfect sequel.
However, we’re now faced with Spider-Man: Homecoming, which might just have bested it. It was funny, exciting, heart-warming, terrifying at times, and kept you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. It was great. But is that really enough to beat Spider-Man 2? Let’s review.
In Spider-Man 2, Tobey Maguire shines even brighter in the role of Peter Parker. He loses his powers and goes back to being a nerd. He develops a personal connection to Alfred Molina’s villain, Dr. Otto Octavius. He puts off taking him down until he threatens those close to him: Aunt May and Mary Jane. Spider-Man 2 isn’t just funny and exciting and action-packed – it’s dramatic.
When Dr. Octavius first becomes Dr. Octopus, he sheers a nurse’s face clean off with a tidal wave of broken glass shards. When Peter first starts to lose his powers, it’s tragic. Raimi resisted the urge to try to do too much with the sequel by adding multiple villains and storylines — an urge he failed to resist for Spider-Man 3.
Instead, he focused on more important elements: Peter’s romance with MJ, Aunt May’s situation after the death of her husband, Peter’s busy life balancing school, work, web-slinging. That’s the truly important stuff, and Raimi recognized that. It’s just sad that he forgot about it by the time he made the third one.
Making a sequel to Alien couldn’t have been an easy task, but James Cameron took it on confidently. Now, the debate of which is the better movie – Alien or Aliens – is a hot one.
I’m on the side that Aliens is the better picture. There’s no denying that Alien is a brilliantly-crafted movie that deftly blends the wonders of science fiction with the shocks and frights of the horror genre.
But Aliens took that blend of sci-fi and horror and added action into the mix. Cameron pretty much made the first — and still best — action-horror-sci-fi movie. They’re the three most exciting genres all wrapped up in one.
Cameron took the mythology of the world Ridley Scott created with the first Alien and gave it a big, fat injection of adrenaline. If you haven’t seen it, check it out right away — even if you haven’t seen the original Alien.
5. Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
George Miller rewrote the rules of how action movies are made when he directed Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, the sequel to his earlier Mad Max.
The first movie launched the career of Mel Gibson, one of the biggest movie stars of all time. It also became one of the most profitable movies ever made. Mad Max takes place in a pre-apocalyptic world — a commentary on how rapidly we’re using up the Earth’s natural resources.
But in The Road Warrior, everything kicked into top gear and the franchise started to run on sheer adrenaline. Miller made the Australian outback his barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland, and let stuntmen run wild with practical special effects.
It gives a raw feel to the action sequences. Doing it for real is the best way to make an authentic movie, and Miller is one of the few directors with the balls to do it.
4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Who would’ve thought that a movie about a killer robot from the future could also be beautifully shot, emotionally captivating, technically brilliant, and smart as the day is long? Those movies are supposed to be dumb, brainless B-movies. The smarts are usually reserved for arthouse dramas.
But James Cameron swooped in armed with genius storytelling. A visceral nightmare he once had blossomed into The Terminator. It told the story of a soldier who traveled back in time to save the life of a woman destined to become the mother of the leader of a resistance against a cyborg uprising. Turns out, one of those cyborgs — a Terminator — had also gone back in time to kill her to prevent the birth of her son and thwart the revolution.
It was a truly original and fantastic movie, only to be topped by its somehow superior sequel. Bigger and better are usually two words that don’t go well together. One might expect that a Terminator 2 with a much bigger budget would go with larger scale, flashier action and lose all of its story smarts. But that’s not true at all.
If anything, Cameron crafted an even greater story with his sequel. It opens with Sarah Connor in a mental institution and her son a teenage delinquent. The stakes are raised when an advanced killer robot is sent back in time to terminate the Connors. Meanwhile the resistance sends a refurbished version of the old model from the first movie — a badass Arnold Schwarzenegger — to protect John.
Everything comes full circle — it’s brilliant. Terminator 2 poses more intriguing moral questions than its predecessor. Sarah is intent on killing the inventor of Skynet — an artificial intelligence that tears the world apart. So many real world questions are raised by this science fiction story. Can an assassination ever be justified by a means to an end? Is the increasingly technological world really a good thing? Should we ever attempt to play God by creating artificial intelligence? Not bad for a movie about killer robots.
3. The Dark Knight
Batman Begins was a decent reboot of the Batman franchise. But the sequel was a masterpiece. For starters, there’s the story, which takes on the vast political landscape of Gotham City as if it was a real place. Its production design and cinematography is so slick and clean.
That’s the effect you get when you shoot a sequence like an explosive bank heist or a rooftop fight in IMAX with the vision of director Christopher Nolan. And don’t even get me started on Heath Ledger’s iconic, mesmerizing Joker. It’s an action-packed superhero movie that’s, in equal parts, beautiful, disturbing, thrilling, and emotionally engaging.
2. The Empire Strikes Back
Darker doesn’t always mean better. I’m looking at you, Man of Steel. In fact, even Steven Spielberg himself failed to go better by going darker with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
However, in the case of Star Wars, it definitely is better. The Empire Strikes Back had a tall order to fill as the sequel to a worldwide cultural phenomenon. The first Star Wars was a huge critical and commercial hit, becoming the highest grossing movie of all time and almost winning the Academy Award for Best Picture (only just losing to Woody Allen’s masterpiece Annie Hall).
But Empire was up to the task, topping its predecessor in scope, emotional depth, humor, thrills, terror, and pretty much everything else that makes an enjoyable popcorn movie. Rotten Tomatoes summed it up nicely: “dark, sinister, but ultimately even more involving than A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back defies viewer expectations and takes the series to heightened emotional levels.” Oh, and it also introduced us to Boba Fett.
1. The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part II makes a good case for itself as the greatest movie sequel of all time, simply because it also makes a good case for itself as the greatest movie of all time. And so does the first Godfather, which makes Part II all the more impressive.
The first movie is a powerful, poignant, and tragic portrayal of the dangers of power, fortune, and a criminal life. It tells the story of mob boss Vito Corleone, who will stop at nothing to make sure that his son Michael doesn’t go into the same business as him. The movie ends with (SPOILER!) Vito dying and Michael taking over his business, sending him on a dark path.
It’s a perfect movie with the perfect ending, with the dark, “don’t ask me about my business, Kay,” moment capping it off brilliantly. But the thing about Coppola’s genius is that his ending to The Godfather didn’t just end his movie perfectly — it set up his sequel perfectly, too. See, the first movie was all about an aging Vito trying to keep Michael from making the same mistakes that he did.
So, as the most natural and organic progression of that story, the sequel tells two stories. It shows the parallel stories of Michael going down the dark path that Vito did while we go back to see a young Vito, played by Robert De Niro, as he himself went down that same dark path. Simply put, The Godfather Part II is a brilliant movie that achieved the nearly impossible feat of bettering The Godfather.