Ah, sequels. That old story where a movie becomes popular enough that it warrants another adventure with the same characters. Sometimes they’re intended to follow through from the beginning, other times they’re just simple cash grabs. But, hey, who can blame the studios if they make billions of dollars off of one movie? It would seem to be common sense to have another go-round at it.
Because movies have been around for quite some time, a large chunk of what we see now are sequels. Often these sequels are a terrible experience and should never have happened. However, this isn’t always the case. There are many examples of a follow-up to a great movie being really good, sometimes even better than the original. That’s never an easy thing to do.
Some even say there aren’t many original ideas anymore. And the ones that are original aren’t bad necessarily, but they’re nowhere near a cinematic masterpiece like Jaws. Certainly Jaws 2 wasn’t! So whether we like it or not, sequels are the large majority of what we’re going to be seeing for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, there is little to no heart put into most of them and they just become vehicles for the studio to make some extra cash.
However, there is hope! Here are 20 Movie Sequels That Were Better Than The Original.
20. Despicable Me 2
Despicable Me, despite its seemingly childish marketing, turned out to be one of the most unique and clever animated films to come from Illumination. Naturally, they immediately began work on a sequel, and much to everyone’s pleasure, it was a big hit. It took everything that made the first one good and amped it up, while at the same time introducing new aspects to keep things fresh. It’s simple, poignant, and effective. Unfortunately, it spawned a reason to make the Minions movie, and that was a disaster.
19. Captain America: Winter Soldier
I know a lot of people have lukewarm feelings about Captain America: The First Avenger, but it was actually my favorite movie of Marvel’s Phase 1. That being said, I undoubtedly agree that Captain America: Winter Soldier blew it out of the water. I was curious to see what kind of story they were going to give Cap in the modern age, and the Russo Brothers really knocked it out of the park. Learning that Hydra was still functioning was a great gamechanger, the action was top-notch, and the level of espionage just made the whole experience amazing.
18. Die Hard With a Vengeance
The original Die Hard with Bruce Willis is easily the best Christmas movie out there (and I’m using the term “Christmas movie” very lightly). For a while, it was also the best action movie out there, until Die Hard With a Vengeance came out. After Die Hard 2 dropped, it wasn’t received as well as filmmakers hoped, so they upped the ante the third time around. Die Hard With a Vengeance features superb dialogue and a stellar villain performance by none other than Alan Rickman. Die Hard was difficult to top, but they definitely pulled it off.
17. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The first Hunger Games film wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. It suffered from a poor representation of characters as well as the overuse of shaky cam. Thankfully, those flaws were left in the dust when Catching Fire came around. There was time spent fleshing characters out, using better special effects, and exploring life in the Capital. It was full of tension and weight from start to finish, as the Victors found themselves ready to wage war on President Snow. The climactic Quarter Quell was also much more enjoyable to watch than the 74th Hunger Games.
16. Jurassic World
Jurassic Park is a phenomenal film, don’t get me wrong. However, it suffers from some weak characters, as well as effects that you can easily tell are fake. Many years later, we finally got a follow up to the somewhat-beloved trilogy in the form of Jurassic World. Featuring a dinosaur known as Indominus Rex as well as an exceptional cast, it nearly outdoes its predecessor in all the right places. It was also the highest grossing film of last year. Until The Force Awakens came out, that is.
15. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors, and that’s because he has consistently delivered great movies for decades. The Indiana Jones trilogy (the fourth one is dead to me) is an example of his best work. Raiders of the Lost Ark did a great job at opening our minds to the swashbuckling adventures of a suave explorer, but Temple of Doom is really where the franchise hit its high point. We see Jones trying to escape a flying airplane, and venturing into Pankot Palace. It’s much more sinister adventure, but that’s why it’s so good.
14. X2: X-Men United
The first X-Men film was a revelation, in that it proved you could have multiple superheroes on the screen, develop each of them properly, and still deliver a cohesive experience. However, it doesn’t quite hold up as well today as it did back then. When it was time for X2 to come around, though, it left its granddad in the dust. The opening takes us to Nightcrawler penetrating the White House, and that makes the film worth a watch on its own. Better yet, it gives us the classic roster of X-Men in comic book fashion while still maintaining a serious tone.
13. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Think of every classic Star Trek line you can, and the majority of them are probably from this movie. The first Star Trek movie, while culturally loved, is weird, oddly paced, and I still can’t make sense of it in my mind. It seems as if the directors knew this and fixed every problem with the sequel. The crew of the USS Enterprise now finds themselves face to face with one of the best villains of all time: Khan. Add to that an impressive plot, stellar effects for their time, and plenty of screen time for all of the characters, and you’ve got yourself a sequel worth owning.
12. Toy Story 2
Toy Story is heralded as the greatest Pixar film ever made (I personally think that spot belongs to Wall-E), so many were worried that, when Disney announced a sequel, it wouldn’t be able to live up to the original. Everyone was surprised when it turned out that Toy Story 2 ended up being more impactful, gorgeous, and memorable than the first. From Jesse’s flashback to the confrontation with Zerg, it’s just an all around better movie. Apparently even the animators liked it so much that they recycled the plot for Toy Story 3.
11. Spider-Man 2
There was something about the early 2000s that spawned a number of fantastic sequels, and this one is no different. To say I’m not a fan of the Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man trilogy would be an understatement, but there’s no denying that this movie is much better than the first. Alfred Molina was practically made to be Doc Ock and adapting the “Spider-Man No More” story line to the big screen worked incredibly well. And who could forget that scene with the train? Unfortunately, the climax was structurally the same as the first Spider-Man.
10. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
After seeing Madagascar 2, I was slightly worried about the third entry in the franchise. The second one, while not terrible, didn’t really entice me like the first one did, and I was sure that it was only going to get worse from there. You could imagine my surprise then to figure out that Madagascar 3 was not only good, but better than the original. It features some of the most impressive animation for its time, a cast of new and lovable characters, and it gives Alex and his friends’ journey true meaning as everything comes full circle.
9. Kung Fu Panda 2
Kung Fu Panda kind of came out of nowhere. While it’s intended for kids, it has a lot of depth and layers within it that make it enjoyable by adult standards. Kung Fu Panda 2 built upon everything the first movie laid out.. Lord Shen is a much more delightful villain to watch than Tai Lung (believe it or not), and having Po deal with his past allowed for some truly emotional moments.
8. The Dark Knight
No good sequel list would be complete without the king of all superhero movies. Batman Begins was a great and fresh take on Bruce Wayne, but everything that it does right, the sequel does even better. The Dark Knight gave us an established Batman who fought the best iteration of the Joker to have ever been placed on the big screen. Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Harvey “Two Face” Dent was memorable, and seeing Bruce actually fail to save someone leaves a heavy impact in the minds of the audience. It’s powerful and has yet to be dethroned.
Ridley Scott’s movie Alien really defined the horror genre, giving us a terrifying look at what extraterrestrials could really do. Despite being a great film, it leaves something to be desired as the entire thing is slightly claustrophobic and doesn’t give the viewers much breathing room. The follow up Aliens does it all right as our heroine is accompanied by a team of space marines and they have to take down more of the Xenomorphs we all know and fear. Perhaps its success was due to James Cameron taking over the reigns.
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Harry Potter movies are truly magical (no pun intended) and we’ll probably never see another franchise like it. While the first two were enjoyable at best, it’s The Prisoner of Azkaban that really starts to get the ball rolling. Then when The Goblet of Fire came out, it took the story and propelled it forward to greater heights. Showcasing many things of the Wizarding World including dragons, ghosts, and seaweed that lets you breathe underwater, it ends up being one of our best looks at the home of Harry Potter. Did I mention it’s the first time we see Lord Voldemort?
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rise of the Planet of the Apes served its purpose well as a revival to the long dead franchise. Unfortunately, it lacked some of the political controversy that made the originals so great. Much to everyone’s benefit, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes remembers its roots. Chock full of thought-provoking themes, and much controversy, the sequel really outdoes the first in every way. The movie also has some of the best CGI work in any film ever. Caesar doesn’t say a whole lot, but you can still feel the weight of the world on his shoulders.
4. How to Train Your Dragon 2
How to Train Your Dragon was so new and unique that some even called it the best movie Dreamworks had ever made. When the sequel came out, the company outdid themselves in spades. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was more spectacular, made Hiccup’s world bigger, and has some of the best animation ever seen in a film. Seeing the bond between Hiccup and Toothless grow was a pure delight, and the villain Drago was terrifying to say the least.
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Technically all of The Lord of the Rings movies count as one story, but since they were split up into the three segments, I’m going to classify them as individual films. The Fellowship of the Ring was glorious and brought us to a new world full of strange and mysterious creatures as the nine companions set off on their journey to destroy the One Ring. The Two Towers trumps it. Featuring three different stories as the companions are split up, there is never a dull moment. Then there’s the battle of Helm’s Deep which is the best war scene in the whole trilogy.
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
You didn’t know Mad Max was a sequel did you? As a matter of fact, it’s a follow up to an entire trilogy of Mad Max films starring Mel Gibson from the 1980s. They were all received pretty well, so it was going to be hard to top it. George Miller was more than up to the challenge though, as he opted for practical effects, bright environments, and some of the best cinematography work seen on the big screen. It was received well across the board, and critics couldn’t recommend it enough.
1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The original Star Wars is a near perfect masterpiece. There a few hiccups here and there, but it’s still fantastic. Then somehow, George Lucas outdid himself and made an even better sequel. Sure it’s not perfect, but man, it gets pretty darn close. The Empire Strikes Back features the intense Battle of Hoth, Luke’s training as a Jedi, deeper character development, better action, and the greatest plot twist in cinematic history – Darth Vader being revealed as Luke Skywalker’s father.