While it might appear that the idea of a movie sequel is a relatively modern one, as there are seemingly more than you can wag your finger at nowadays, the concept of a full-length feature follow-up actually dates back, according to some, as far back as 1908. That being the case, there are probably a lot more movie sequels around than you might have previously considered.
There is one pretty major issue with a sequel, however. That is, even when they’re done well, film follow-ups often have a hard time capturing the same magic as the original. The potential pitfalls — including things like lackluster storytelling, contract disputes, scheduling conflicts, changes in crew and leadership, etc. — are so numerous that it seems like the deck is stacked against them from the start. However, every so often, a movie sequel emerges that’s not just good, it’s even better than the original flick. And we’ve rounded up 20 of them on our list of the best movie sequels.
Ridley Scott’s Alien, which debuted back in 1979, is widely considered a masterpiece of cinema and is largely credited for setting the standard the horror sci-fi genre. But the slow-burn space terror’s follow-up in 1986, Aliens, took everything that was great about the original — the tension, uniquely creepy atmosphere, and intrigue — and doubled-down while adding plenty of big-budget action. In retrospect, that’s something we’ve come to expect from director James Cameron, but audiences of the 1980s were perhaps not prepared for just how good it truly was. To this day, Aliens is considered one of the most exceptional science-fiction movies of all time and will definitely go down in the annals of history as being a near-perfect film with unmistakable iconography.
Director: James Cameron
Length: 2h 34m
Prior to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, starring Michael Keaton as the titular black-clad hero, the World’s Greatest Detective had only appeared in comic books and Adam West’s goofy television serial. And while we’d never deny the impact of the original, especially due to Jack Nicholson’s iconic take on the Joker, the 1992 sequel was bigger, bolder, and jam-packed with more baddies and bat-themed gadgets than its predecessor. There’s an argument to be made that Tim Burton maybe went too far into the deep end, but Danny DeVito’s ultra-creepy Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s leather-clad Catwoman are remembered fondly by comic book fans both old and young around the world.
Director: Tim Burton
Length: 2h 6m
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
With last year’s Avengers: Endgame, Marvel has wrapped-up a decade-long film series that has dominated at the box office and established the superhero genre as legitimate even amongst Hollywood’s elite. And while much of the series’ success is owed to exceptional establishing storytelling, if there’s anything we’ve learned from the Infinity Saga, it’s that sequels and follow-ups often far outshine their predecessors. Such is the case with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While the first Captain American movie was a solid entry, it just didn’t have the same action, intrigue, and (perhaps most importantly) dilemmas of its sequel. And while the Steve Rogers-Bucky Barnes connection certainly marks the core of the story, it helps that this film also introduced Black Panther into the MCU and paved the way for the Civil War story arc.
Director: Joe Russo
Length: 2h 16m
The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy might just be the most solid argument for sequels better than the original, especially in the case of The Dark Knight. In fact, this movie isn’t just regarded as an excellent comic book movie; it’s one of the best action movies of all time. And while you have to credit Nolan, his staff, and the flick’s superb cast for its many successes, it simply cannot be ignored that Heath Ledger’s take on The Joker will go down in cinematic history as one of the best performances of any actor period, supervillain or otherwise. In fact, it was so impactful that Joaquin Phoenix credits Ledger as his inspiration for his own take on the iconic Clown Prince of Crime. If any film deserves credit for fully legitimizing comic book movies in Hollywood, this might just be it.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Length: 2h 32m
What you’ll likely come to realize in reading this article is that you maybe were not aware that some of these movies were sequels in the first place. A good contender as the catalyst for that realization might be Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado. The second in his El Mariachi trilogy, this movie stars Antonio Banderas as the unnamed hero, the titular Mariachi, alongside Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, and even has appearances by Quentin Tarantino, Steve Buscemi, and Cheech Marin. And while the story isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the over-the-top action and inventiveness found throughout the film, as well as its connection to Mexican culture and folklore, more than makes up for it. Best of all, you don’t even have to know the original film in order to enjoy this follow-up.
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Length: 1h 47m
Evil Dead II
The second entry in one of the most iconic horror trilogies ever projected on the big screen, Evil Dead II isn’t quite a traditional sequel. Rather, it sort of takes place halfway through the first film and acts almost like an ad-hoc reboot. And that makes it one of the more peculiar flicks on our list, but it no less deserves its spot here. The cult classic follows Ash — Bruce Campbell’s most iconic role — as the lone survivor in a forest cabin after he and his friends seemingly open a pathway for demons to invade our plane of existence. Of course, it’s not a straightforward horror film either, as it also incorporates comedic elements that serve both to lighten the mood as well as illustrate Ash’s spiral into insanity. It’s a bloody and violent romp that capitalizes on the originality of its predecessor but also delivers a more well-rounded experience overall.
Director: Sam Rami
Length: 1h 24m
From Russia With Love
The first entry in the now-legendary James Bond series, Dr. No introduced us to the world of this British super spy and was Sean Connery’s first appearance in the role. And while its no doubt one of the most iconic and important films of all time, its sequel — From Russia With Love — is undoubtedly a better movie overall. Of course, much of that can be credited to the fact that it had literally double the budget of the original, which helped reduce a bit of the campiness found in Dr. No. Furthermore, FRWL is also cited as being a much better representation of Ian Fleming’s source material and was vastly more successful at the box office — pulling in over $78 million (more than $660 million when adjusted for inflation) on a meager $2 million budget. While it wasn’t the first Bond flick, this was most certainly the film that vaulted the series into the international spotlight.
Director: Terence Young
Length: 1h 58m
The Godfather Part II
It’s entirely likely that this pick will be one of, if not the most contentious one on our list, as the first Godfather film is often cited as a near-perfect work of cinema. However, despite the fact that Part II is missing Marlon Brando in his career-defining role as Vito Corleone, we’re still willing to take the risk and say it’s deserving of a spot on our list. And while there are numerous reasons we think Part II is better than the original, the highlights include the more-unique storytelling — which bounces back and forth between Vito Corleone’s origins and Michael Corleone’s rise to power — bang-up performances by the entire cast (especially Al Pacino and Robert De Niro), and visionary storytelling on the part of Francis Ford Coppola. There are a lot of great gangster movies out there, but this one might just be the best ever made.
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Length: 3h 22m
With eight movies spanning an entire decade, Harry Potter isn’t just a film series; it’s a movement that helped establish the careers of numerous up-and-coming actors, resulted in a duo of theme park locales, and earned the J.K. Rowling-created brand a $25 billion valuation. Obviously, the books started it all, but the legacy was undoubtedly solidified by the movies. And while we wouldn’t go so far as to say that each subsequent entry was better than its direct predecessor, there’s no denying that all seven of the sequels are better overall than the first entry, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It could be said that this is because of the increased maturity of the cast, bigger budgets, better special effects, and more. We’re pretty sure, however, that its a combination of all those things.
Director: Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, & David Yates
Rating: PG, PG-13
Lethal Weapon 2
This is another one that might end up craning some heads, as the first Lethal Weapon is a pretty great film overall — aided both by the fact that it introduced the world to Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs and Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh and because it balanced its often-opposing Vietnam veteran detectives against a group of villains cut from the same cloth (led by Gary Bussey). However, the follow-up was a much lighter, more comical take that would go on to define the vibe of the rest of the series. It also boasted some of the most iconic moments of any entry, including the often-quoted “dip-lo-ma-tic im-mun-i-ty” scene. All told, we think that the second entry in this beloved series is more well-rounded overall but still manages to capture the spark that made its predecessor view-worthy
Director: Richard Donner
Length: 1h 58m
Lord of the Rings
2002 & 2003
The very first LotR film was a groundbreaking work that brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary fantasy series to life on the big screen for the first time. Even if you account for the animated rotoscope version from 1978, Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring was an exceptional start to the live-action trilogy. However, even at almost three hours in length, it was marred by rushed storytelling and just a bit too much world-building. The trilogy really hit its stride in the second entry, The Two Towers, which had the benefit of being able to concentrate more on action than explanation and allowed the interpersonal relationships of the characters to shine through. Of course, everything built in the first two films culminated in their epic Oscar-winning (11 Academy Awards in total) conclusion, Return of the King. This trilogy will likely set the standard in the fantasy film genre for generations to come.
Director: Peter Jackson
Length: 3h 55m, 3h 20m
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Like Desperado, it’s fairly likely that most folks don’t realize that The Road Warrior is actually a sequel — the second in the Mad Max trilogy, which culminates with the least-well-received Beyond Thunderdome. Of the three, the second is undoubtedly the most well-executed, memorable, and iconic. That’s likely due to a multitude of reasons including a bigger budget of $4 million AUD (up from just $400,000), a more fully-realized universe, more/better vehicles, bigger stunts, etc. It seems to us that The Road Warrior was what George Miller — the creator-director of the series — always wanted these films to be, whereas the original was perhaps more akin to a student film or proof-of-concept screentest.
Director: George Miller
Length: 1h 36m
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
With almost forty years separating us from the start of the series, it might not be directly apparent that National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is actually the third in the quartet of Chevy Chase-led comedy-of-errors family films — which is likely not helped by revolving door of actors that played his fictional children. Nonetheless, we think there are few who would argue against Christmas Vacation as the best of the quartet. It helps, too, that it is widely considered one of the best Christmas movies of all time, due in equal parts to its timeless slapstick hijinks, bevy of quotable lines, and just enough feel-good warmth to help smooth out its rough edges. Of course, that is also aided by the performances of series mainstays Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid, and more.
Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
Length: 1h 37m
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series was one of the first examples of the potential of superhero films. Granted, it wasn’t all great — we’re looking at you, Spider-Man 3 — but there was no doubting the spark of the trilogy. At its brightest point, we had Spider-Man 2, which benefitted from an already-established universe and continued story arc. One of the biggest highlights of this sequel, however, came in the form of its villain, Doctor Octopus. Alfred Molina was a brilliant casting choice for Dr. Otto Octavius and played perfectly as Peter Parker’s mentor-turned-foil, which also helped to add some emotional turmoil to this action-packed entry. Unfortunately, Raimi couldn’t continue at full steam with his flop of a third entry, making Spider-Man 2 the unchallenged bright spot of this pre-Infinity Saga series.
Director: Sam Raimi
Length: 2h 15m
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek, especially the original television series, is one of the most beloved works of science-fiction on both the big and small screen. In regards to movies, the first film in the franchise was a bit of a flop — serving less like a big-screen adaptation and more like a middling extended episode of the TV show. However, its follow-up — The Wrath of Khan — was everything the first movie was and much more. Of course, that wouldn’t matter much if the cast wasn’t entirely intact, which it was. Yet while series fans were undoubtedly thrilled to see William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and company all together once again, we also can’t discount the introduction of Ricardo Montalban at the titular villain, Khan, who might just be the greatest villain in the history of Star Trek.
Director: Nicholas Meyer
Length: 1h 53m
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Nobody, not even George Lucas himself, was certain that Star Wars was going to be a hit. Needless to say, it surprised everyone when it became one of the most profitable and beloved franchises in film history. And while A New Hope certainly got the ball rolling, The Empire Strikes Back, by all accounts, is a better journey. Minus the world building, this intense space opera definitely kicked the story up a notch — including, most spectacularly, revealing that Darth Vader was, in fact, Luke Skywalker’s father. That moment alone is one of the most iconic and quoted scenes in movie history, yet it is only a piece of what makes ESB so impactful and legendary. In fact, this might just be the best example of a sequel better than the original of this entire list.
Director: Irvin Kershner
Length: 2h 7m
There’s an issue with the character of Superman that, while present in the comics, was perhaps best highlighted by the first appearance of Christopher Reeve. That is to say, this nigh-invincible hero can topple human villains with relative ease. It’s this simple fact alone that, we believe, makes Superman II a far superior film to its predecessor. That’s because, where the first flick had the Man of Steel knocking out baddies like so many flies, the second one introduced a formidable force in General Zod and his Kryptonian cronies. You see, in order for the unstoppable Superman to truly experience growth and struggle, he had to be pitted against rivals capable of actually defeating him. Of course, Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor also makes a return in this film, which certainly helps matters, as he was one of the few things about the first movie that worked.
Director: Richard Donner & Richard Lester
Length: 2h 7m
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Like the Alien franchise, Terminator 2 took all the excellent concepts set up in the first movie and capitalized on them tenfold for the follow-up — resulting in one of the most beloved sci-fi action films of all time. What’s even more interesting is that the same director responsible for Aliens, James Cameron, was also responsible for this series, which says a lot about his ability to pump out quality sequels. Of course, that was also helped by the return of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the titular killer robot, his somehow-heartwarming relationship with Edward Furlong’s John Connor, Linda Hamilton’s stronger take on Sarah Connor, Robert Patrick’s iconic performance as the T-1000, and more.
Director: James Cameron
Length: 2h 36m
Most of the titles on our list are direct sequels to an original entry, but Thor: Ragnarok is actually the third in its series and is considered by many to be the best of the three — an exceptionally rare feat. However, thanks to the directing prowess of Taika Waititi, the support of Marvel and Disney, an absolutely stellar cast (including Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, and Cate Blanchett), this wild semi-psychedelic superhero ride was managed majestically. And it wasn’t just fun, it was heartwarming, funny, heartbreaking, and so much more. It just goes to show you, just because a movie is about literal gods, that doesn’t mean it can’t also be exceedingly human.
Director: Taika Waititi
Length: 2h 10m
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Like Spider-Man, the original X-Men series of films existed in a world before Marvel’s Infinity Saga. And while that wasn’t necessarily a death sentence, the world was a much more difficult place for comic book movies back then, as studios didn’t really know how to handle them — which was evidenced perfectly by the utter failure of the third film in the trilogy. Thankfully, these mutant crime fighters were given a second chance in the pseudo-reboot that was X-Men: First Class. And while it was a vast improvement, it wasn’t until its sequel, Days of Future Past, that audiences were shown just how much potential there was to these films. Including high-octane action, enough comedy intertwined to help lighten up an otherwise dark storyline, a clear respect and love for the source material, and even the introduction of time travel, this movie was an all-around success that, in our opinion, paved the way for the masterpiece that was Logan. It’s just a shame that Apocalypse was such an utter failure.
Director: Bryan Singer
Length: 2h 31m
30 Best Summer Blockbuster Movies Of All Time
If you haven’t had your cinematic desires quenched just yet, we’ve got a surefire cure to your film woes. All you have to do is pick any of the best summer blockbusters on our list, sit back, relax, and enjoy.
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