Sequels are often seen as mediocre films, conditional on the buying power of their box-office success. There are only a few ways to make a sequel “work.” It either has to be an immediate continuation of the original film or it has to have higher stakes, bigger conflict and it has to introduce characters and catchphrases that will enlighten us.
Here are 17 sequels that not only went above and beyond their expectations but were actually better than their original films.
Set 57 years after its predecessor, the sequel to the 1979 film Alien is still regarded as a point of reference for the all-out, full-fledged blockbuster action and sci-fi genres. Fighting the pesky, gooey, acid-regurgitating insecticides with the bladed scorpion-like barbs, James Cameron’s clang-crash intergalactic caper was a 1986 epic! “It made the first Alien look like a cucumber sandwich,” noted leading lady Sigourney Weaver. The movie was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nomination for Weaver as the post-traumatic paranoid Ellen Ripley, which is considered a landmark in a horror/ science fiction films. Add a few hard-hitting, trash-talking, tough-as-nails space marines and you’ve got one of the best films ever made.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
While the first Terminator film arguably launched bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger into superstardom (evening Best Actor honors at the 1992 MTV Movie Awards, imagine that!), T2 is simply the Magna Carta of popcorn-breathing action flicks. With iconic cheese ball one-liners like “Hasta la vista, baby,” T2 is more so known for its vanguard computer-generated effects, which marked the first use of natural human motion for a CGI liquid metal character.
The Godfather, Part II
To anyone who has seen the riveting sequel to The Godfather, this is a big fat “Duh!” Constantly labeled one of the greatest films ever made—and often criticized as being superior to the original—we see unbelievable Oscar-winning acting by Robert De Niro who plays the up-and-coming Mafia man and an outrageous scene-stealing performance by Al Pacino, who plays one of the greatest roles of his career. His legendary performance as Michael Corleone, the newly-appointed Don should have won him the award for Best Actor. Whether he’s giving the kiss of death to his disloyal brother Fredo or cold-bloodedly slamming door on his wife Kay’s face after she aborted their unborn child without telling him, he was evil at its finest. Premiere.com had it right; he is “American cinema’s prince of darkness.”
Mad Max 2
Simply put, this action-packed, machismo doomsday apocalyptic thriller was a litmus test for the nuclear blow-out genre that spawned hits like Death Race and Resident Evil. We see this non-stop kinetic comic-book rollercoaster ride speed off into the depths of a post-holocaust war zone full of all the ultraviolence, car chases and explosions one could muster! While the plot is thin, it’s still miles ahead of the first road movie installment.
The Dark Knight
Unlike its predecessor or any other superhero film, The Dark Knight redefined the comic-book movie, with A-game performances by the entire cast, and introducing a now primo legendary nemesis. Director Christopher Nolan noted, “We gave a Francis Bacon spin to [his face]. This corruption, this decay in the texture of the look itself. It’s grubby. You can almost imagine what he smells like.” A look inspired by punk rock legends Pete Doherty, Iggy Pop, and Johnny Rotten, the late Heath Ledger noted that his impish anarchist is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.” His best performance to date.
The Empire Strikes Back
One of the greatest sci-fi films of all-time, Empire said has one of the greatest cliffhangers of ever written into a script. The dynamic “No, I am your father!” is still a line for the ages. Yoda’s one-liner isn’t bad either: “Try not! Do, or do not, there is no try.” Spoken like a true Jedi Master.
Iron Man 2
Cue the fog machines, signal those LED lights! This high-octane canon in the Iron Man mythos is one of legends. Robert Downey, Jr. is stunning as an ailing Tony Sparks up against the wall and in need of a sidekick… none of that “two against the world” crap here. And the showdown between an inebriated Sparks and a damage control James Rhodes (played by Don Chedle) is epic.
Try arguing with a hardcore Kevin Smith fanatic and you’ll get the horns! Does this sequel surpass the original black and white indie standard? “It had a bit more heart to it, was significantly more fun to watch, the humor was cleverer yet far dirtier, and in a lot of ways more mature in it’s themes,” one film iconoclast noted. While said snob ignored the holiday getaway irreverence that made the first a classic, Smith’s zero-to-hero pot-smoking, minimum wage, zero-focus white-dude-with-zilch-to-do shtick was defined here.
House Party 2
For good reason, House Party part deux is on this list because it surpassed its predecessor—one of the greatest party films of all-time—on several levels. Wit, plot (this time, they conduct an impromptu pajama party), celebrity cameos (hip-hop sovereign Queen Latifah, New Edition’s Ralph Tresvant, fashion icon Iman, comedy legend Whoopi Goldberg, Louie Louie and Young Black Teenagers), and dare we say it, better acting from a grieving college bound Kid and a skirt-chasing, record label obsessed Play. Not to mention, the soundtrack is bananas and still makes us go ape!
Bride of Frankenstein
Time magazine noted in their list of greatest films ever made that “this is one of those rare sequels that is infinitely superior to its source.” Ideally, it is. In fact, The Bride’s (played by Elsa Lanchester) conical hairstyle, with its ashen lightning bolt sketch streaks on each side, has become an emblem of Gothic horror. And its plot—with the modern Prometheus coercing its creator into creating a mate for it is bone-chilling.
Dawn of the Dead
While some would not say its better than the original Night of the Living Dead, its unanimous: it’s just as good, if not equal to it. Barricaded inside of a suburban shopping mall amidst mass hysteria, the gore fest has become an instant cinematic classic. With a nexus to assessments of American megacoroporations decadence and commercial consumerism excess, film critics and historians have called this a triumph in the horror genre.
Replacing actor Carlos Gallardo in favor of movie icon and Broadway star Antonio Banderas, Robert Rodriguez kicked-off a jamboree of kinetic explosive energy and sultry, white hot sexual healing with the second part of his critically-acclaimed Mexico/Mariachi Trilogy. With deeper emotion, and more action, this film put Banderas over the top and made him a household name.
The Two Towers
Some moviegoers hated the film because they were thinking logically: “Why don’t they just teleport or fly or take a boat to destroy the One Ring in Mordor?” But, its simply about the journey. And the really spaced-out characters. In the film we see Gollum come back more maleficent than ever and one of the best (if not the best) conflicts of all time, The Battle of Helm’s Deep.
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan
The first film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was an effort that tried to be an larger than life epic was a critical word-of-mouth failure. Simply put, this movie single-handedly saved the Star Trek franchise and turned a fleeting TV pastime into an iconic influential sci-fi work of art. Don’t believe us, check out how many times Spock’s dramatic death and its following funeral proceedings have been parodied.
Toy Story 3
What happens to a toy after the kids have grown up and left the house? That’s the idea that Pixar had when they finally settled on weeding out a variety of stories and finally settled on a singular, intricate idea. Known as the film series that made Pixar famous, the epic following our favorite plastic playthings, shows toy aficionado Andy going to college. Showing a rumination of loss of childhood pastime, ephermerality and love (organic or synthetic), Toy Story 3 delivers, in essence, the perfect trilogy.
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Splatterpunk Quentin Tarantino opted for blood-thirsty, samurai slaughterhouse chic in the film’s predecessor. Techincally not a sequel (because it’s actually one 6-hour film), Volume 2 shows audiences the bride’s origins—even unveiling her real name, shows antagonist Bill as a scorned lover and not a sadistic mass murdering killer, coughs up a delicious soundtrack by the RZA and others, introduces far more complex characters and most importantly, delivers jaw-dropping monologues and dialogue, which were missing in the first film.
The Silence of the Lambs
Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning epic left the LGBT community and feminist outraged by the transsexual who skinned overweight women alive in order to design a woman suit for himself (err, herself) because he was “too disturbed” to get gender reassignment surgery. No doubt, this was a cinematic triumph, but this not-technically-a-sequel to 1986’s Manhunter challenged conventions by casting its leading lady (Jodie Foster) and male protagonist (Anthony Hopkins). Foster’s intelligent approach to Clarice Starling and Hopkins’ brilliant portrayal as the primeval psychiatrist and cunning cannibal Hannibal Lecter is a dish best served cold.