Movie sequels are often nothing more than an overt attempt by Hollywood executives to make a shit-load of money. And when intentions are actually directed at producing a great follow-up to a successful movie, many utterly fail to capture the magic of the original. No matter how bad these second and third and fourth (and fifth?) films are, Hollywood keeps churning them out as long as they continue to make studios money. Actors begin to phone in their roles. The great directors and writers from the first film are mysteriously absent. And we the viewers have no choice but to suck it up. There is, however, hope. Not all sequels suck! In fact, there are some that are so spectacular they outshine their predecessor. Believe it or not, here are 12 sequels that are better than the original.
12) X2: X-Men United
The sequel to the original X-Men movie followed a pattern that’s become increasing popular, and is rarely done well. It built and expanded upon the original premise – adding characters, plots, and storylines to make every aspect of this movie bigger and better. While this tactic often backfires, in this instance it was exactly what the X-Men franchise needed at the time. The addition of new mutant bad-guys really added an additional layer of danger to the franchise. The biggest selling points were the sharp storylines and interpersonal conflict between the X-Men themselves. It created a tense and thrilling sequel that was better than the original. Then they went and made X3…
11) The Devil’s Rejects
Rob Zombie’s follow-up to the House of 1,000 Corpses was decidedly better – even if the original was pretty well-done to begin with. It’s not for the squeamish, but this movie does expand on what we already know about the terrible Firefly family introduced in Zombie’s first film. The Devil’s Rejects delves a bit deeper into the psychosis of what these horrible people are already capable of doing – we find it utterly horrifying and still we can’t turn away.
10) Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Peter Jackson’s final instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy highlights everything that was good about the series and Tolkien’s original work. True, the Return of the King won numerous awards, but the thing this movie does well is that it provides closure for a series of complex story lines, and it does so with amazing special effects and fantastic filmography. Many fans will cry foul at the never-ending series of endings that could have easily been used to halt this three-hour marathon, but the extended scenes give us a sense of closure and wraps up the series nicely. There are no shortcuts taken and the battle scenes are well-done and engaging.
9) Spider-Man 2
Origin stories can be interesting when told in unique ways. By the time Sam Raimi‘s first Spider-Man film rolled around we were all aware of Spider-Man’s beginnings and how he became a web slinging superhero. The first film did an admirable job of explaining these origins, but the fact was there was little new information there. The second film wasn’t restricted to explaining how, but could instead focus on the inner turmoil of Spider-Man as he managed his day-to-day life while combatting a superior villain in Doctor Octopus. Not only is Doctor Octopus well-cast with Alfred Molina, but he’s portrayed in a sensible and realistic (for a superhero movie) manner. All told this makes for a better story and more entertaining tale than the original while doing justice to one of the most popular villains Spider-Man does battle against.
8) Evil Dead 2
In 1981 Sam Rami created the Evil Dead. It was a low-low-budget horror film that incorporated a hefty dose of comedy, and did fairly well all-things considered. It drew something of a cult following. Rami eventually followed it up with the Evil Dead 2. Armed with a better budget he managed to beef up the horror and comedy and create something quite spectacular – even if you might not have heard of it. Sure Evil Dead 2 might not have aged well, but it did provide us with a ton of laughs and jarring moments of spookiness, Bruce Campbell, and an eventually third installment that was just as entertaining.
It must be tough to take over a franchise from a successful director and not only succeed but better the original, but that’s exactly what happened with Aliens. Even more shocking, this movie was still in production a week before being released to audiences. James Cameron managed to take Ridley Scott’s original and add in enough action to accompany the terrifying horror scenes. Sigorney Weaver is amazing and the rest of the cast fills out the movie nicely. The final product is a film that betters the original – as impossible as that sounds.
6) The Godfather II
Argue all you want, but as good as The Godfather was, we think The Godfather II was its equal, and in many ways even better than the original. Continuing the rise of Michael Corleone, The Godfather II also introduces us to Vito Corleone as a young man in Italy. The dual storylines of Vito’s arrival in America and rise as a mob leader is mirrored in Michael’s trials and tribulations and his time in Cuba. It’s an amazing story, extremely well-written and directed, and cast to perfection. Everything is handled gracefully and seamlessly and the transitions from The Godfather to The Godfather II are perfect.
5) Toy Story 2
Pixar isn’t known for their sequels – but the follow-up to the highly successful Toy Story somehow managed to surpass the original in nearly every way. Woody’s mid-life crisis creates an interesting story and introduces us to more new characters and locales in Pixar’s world. The recurring jokes work, the new characters are interesting and fun, and the humor is deep enough to entertain both adults and kids alike. Believe it, Toy Story 2 is funnier than the original.
4) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
We’re just going to say it; the first Star Trek movie was rather dull. It was high on technology and exploration of themes popular in science fiction. Sure Star Trek the Motion Picture was generally considered a success on many levels – but the truth is The Wrath of Khan was the better picture, and it’s not even close. Ricardo Montalban fills the role of Khan with vigor, the original cast remains in place – older and wiser and ready to sacrifice whatever is required to take down a nearly impossible villain.
3) Terminator 2: Judgment Day
James Cameron piloted this long-awaited sequel to rousing success. Great leaps in movie-making technology allowed for an amazing array of never-before-seen special effects. Combined with Arnold (at the height of his popularity) and a great story built on the perceived madness of Sarah Connor, we get one of the best sequels ever made. The surprise of the terminator robot as a protector instead of a killer works, as does the interaction of the Terminator and John Connor as a teenager. The state-of-the-art action scenes and big-budget special effects hold up well even today.
2) The Empire Strikes Back
At the time of its release few one could have predicted the success of Star Wars. Three years later the sequel would emerge and expectations would be extremely high – to say the least. In many ways this should have been one of the most disappointing sequels ever made. Instead it remains one of the best. The darker storyline, the deepening of the characters, and the surprise twist of Vader being Luke’s father make it a fan favorite. While there is less action than in the first Star Wars, the dialog is better, the story more interesting, and the introduction of the popular bounty hunter Boba Fett ensures fans will forever treasure the second part of this trilogy over the rest
1) The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan followed up Batman Begins with one of the best sequels ever made. Casting Heath Ledger as the Joker was a stroke of brilliance, but there are so many other reasons this movie is the best of Nolan’s trilogy. Sure, it does suffer from some problems – like that fact that the Joker would practically need to predict the future to pull-off some of his schemes, but those are minor quibbles. The supporting cast is underappreciated, there’s a bit of dark humor, the action scenes are well-done, the filmography is amazing, and the emergence of Two-Face as a secondary villain is handled well. Nolan even managed to correct one of the biggest errors from the first film by re-casting the role of Rachael Dawes.