7 Superior Sequels (And Some Runners-Up)

Associate Editor, Features; Rotterdam, The Netherlands (@ardvark23)
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Sequels are generally maligned, and most of the time rightly so. If a movie has been financially successful you can count on the fact someone will want to start a franchise out of it, raking in more money out of the same concept. It seems like an easy win: you've already got the first movie to provide word-of-mouth for the second.

There are lots of pitfalls to avoid when making a sequel though: sequels may lack the spark of inspiration and enthusiasm which made the original so good in the first place; stories often suffer as they grow pretty convoluted, to allow the same leads having another adventure like the first one; and realism goes out of the window to get more spectacular visuals.

But the biggest problem remains that when you succeed in creating something exactly as before, the audience has already seen it! Sure, you can blow more things up (or blow things more up) but that only works sometimes. So movie-sequel-history is peppered with bombed groan-fests, artistically hollow successes, moderate failures and all-out embarrassments. 

And, of course, there are exceptions. Here comes my list of sequels which, against age-old tradition, are actually considered to be BETTER than the movie which preceded it...

So how did this happen? The Godfather is generally known and loved as one of the best movies ever made. Wanting to make a sequel, you take the leftovers you didn't film, some flashbacks, you create a new storyline on top of this, which is a VERY convoluted one and seemingly unrelated. And you assemble the same cast, well... except the most famous member of it, who refuses to return even for a cameo.

Doesn't really sound like a recipe for success, does it?

But The Godfather: Part 2 does the unthinkable and succeeds in every way possible. Knowledge of the first movie is an absolute necessity, you need to know, love, hate, dislike these characters before you start with part 2. But as the main storyline shows the moral downfall of Michael Corleone from bad to evil, the flashbacks show how the family got to be this way. The killer acting of everyone involved is a thing to behold. Add that brilliant ending, with its final shattering flashback, and this movie just delivers an emotional hit with the force of a jackhammer.

It even pulls off the remarkable feat of making the first film even better, by explaining things which didn't need to be explained but enrich it nevertheless. A stunning achievement.

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  • J Hurtado

    Gremlins 2, for SURE

  • Got Luger'd

    A glaring error here is the claim that Aliens was critically-panned when it was released. Quite the contrary, it was well-received and went on to get nominated for 7 Oscars, winning two of them. A movie doesn't get critically-panned and get multiple Oscar nominations. A look at IMDB also shows it received several other nominations at the time, even a best foreign film nomination at the Awards of the Japanese Academy.

  • Ard Vijn

    "A movie doesn't get critically-panned and get multiple Oscar nominations."

    Over here, in Europe, it was. I'm from the Netherlands and the press was near-unanimous in condemning this film. One newspaper even called it "that horrible piece of garbage by the makers of Rambo".
    Of all the serious newspapers we had here at the time, only one gave ALIENS the benefit of the doubt.

    When Sigourney Weaver got nominated for best actress, several Dutch newspapers even gave the film the wrong name, calling it ALIENS-X (attaching the UK rating by mistake).

    It got funny even, when one of the most renowned movie critics was
    quoted in the television guide, using a five star system. Upon release
    in the cinemas, it got zero stars in the guide. In the years after, you
    could see it creep up, star by star, settling eventually on 4 and being
    hailed as a horror classic by the exact same critic!

    In the UK, FILMS & FILMING magazine hailed ALIENS as a classic upon release, and got chided for inconsistency by other press, as previously they had panned ALIEN.

    So yeah, the press which reached me at the time was pretty damn hostile.

  • gogilesgo

    You have a picture from Sanjuro in your banner but you don't mention THAT movie? A near prefect film that probably defines 'sequels that are better than the original' for me. Some nice choices in the list - Max was always much more fun in his second outing - and some nice crossovers with a very similar list I wrote a while back:

    http://bit.ly/XxSFtl

  • weaselflakes

    Good list. I especially agree with the inclusions of "The Godfather Part II" and "Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior." For me, "The Godfather Part II" enhances "The Godfather" significantly, and "Mad Max 2" can more than stand on its own (it is the only member of the "Mad Max" trilogy to get any repeat playtime here). "Dawn of the Dead" was one of my childhood favorites. It is no longer one of my favorites, but I still admire the film, especially for how effectively it suggests a large-scale apocalypse on its miniscule budget. I disagree with the inclusion of "Blade II" (but hey, the ability to reasonably disagree is the beauty of being human, right?).

    Other sequels worth considering for inclusion on such a list:

    "Bride of Frankenstein,"

    "For a Few Dollars More" (and of course "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"),

    "Sanjuro" (arguably superior to "Yojimbo"),

    "Evil Dead II" and "Gremlins 2" (one could make the argument, but both are a bit goofy for my tastes, and are intended as send-ups of sequels),

    "Playtime" and "Oldboy" (though these are "thematic sequels" and probably do not belong in this discussion),

    "The Rescuers Down Under" (I'm not ashamed to admit that this was one of the truly thrilling movie-going experiences of my youth),

    "Back to the Future Part II" (I'm probably in the minority in preferring this to the original, but I think its method of returning to scenes inside the original is ingenious),

    "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (I'm one of those people in the minority that finds this film to be more engaging, organic, and fun than its predecessor--perhaps because it was not storyboarded to death? In any event, the racism and darkness do not bother me. To me, this is the ultimate tribute to the serial adventure pictures),

    "Babe: Pig in the City" (I'm one of those people in the minority that finds this film to be more creative and witty and "grown-up" than the original "Babe"),

    "Batman Returns" (I am not a fan of Burton's vision of Batman, but I do consider this film to be superior to its predecessor. I think it occupies Burton's Gotham world more fully than "Batman" did).

    I think any number of the "Lone Wolf and Cub" sequels are also worth considering (I could not narrow it down to one).

    A decent list could be made of films that could in no way live up to the standards set by their predecessors but which are not bad films by any means. I'm looking at you, "The Two Jakes," "2010," and "Rocky II."

    A decent list could also be made of unfairly-maligned sequels, movies that are not great, but which are also not THAT bad (for example, "Jaws 2," "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" (yes, I have a soft spot for that one), "Day of the Dead," "The Lost World").

  • weaselflakes

    I know, I'm replying to my own post. Shame on me. I just wanted to add a couple other titles I had forgotten:

    "A Better Tomorrow 2" (not a fan of either "A Better Tomorrow" outing, and the plot in this one is somewhat strained/convoluted, but the action scenes are vintage John Woo brilliance),

    "Police Story II,"

    "Drunken Master II,"

    "Phantasm II,"
    and I think that's enough for now. These are titles at least worth considering. And I'm certain "Machete Kills" will be better than "Machete." . . . Maybe. :)

  • Ard Vijn

    All your choices and opinions are valid, and even when they're not mine at least I had to have a good think about them.

  • CJ

    THE KARATE KID PART II

    I'm serious. It's still corny as fuck but the enhanced emotional weight and effortless chemistry between Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita make is the best in the series.

  • Dave Baxter

    I'm with you on this one, personally, but I think this would be like calling Rocky IV the best in the series. It really, really doesn't hold a flame to the craft, emotional heartfeltness, grit, and artisanship of the first Rocky. It's just louder, dumber, more colorful, more effortless (which is also more by-the-numbers) and much more memorable to those of us who grew up with it. But looking back, these entries are not qualitatively "better" than the originals. I think that winds up being too difficult to back up, without resorting to the popularity = quality argument.

  • inorog

    Titanic 2 at first place ofc

  • Gopal Natarajan

    Dude, "Blade 2" was terrible. Crappy CGI, amateurish acting and an unfocused story. The Reaver effect was nifty, but nothing beyond cheap shocks after the first appearance.

  • Ard Vijn

    Well, I like BLADE II better. So there. ;-)
    I agree it's a close call though, and I really like both films.

  • Mangkone

    Yet there was Donnie Yen !

  • Guest

    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Empire Strikes Back are the only ones that belong on this list. None of the others come close to the original, not even The Godfather Part II

  • Big George

    What about Superman II?

  • CannibalFerox

    No doubt. It was the best of the bunch.

  • Snoop Lion

    Toy Story 2.

  • i'm with you in this one simon

  • Ard Vijn

    Agreed! Good call...

  • Ken

    I think Night of the Living Dead, Star Wars (A New Hope) and Blade are still better than their (very good) sequels.

  • John Hudson

    I'm gonna be a bit contrary here, T2 is, imo a souless shadow of the first film, with the action ramped up.

  • Ard Vijn

    But... that means we agree right?

  • Kurt

    I like the first Terminator film much better as well, I like it rougher around the edges, and more "R" rated than the sequel.

  • Kurt

    28 Weeks Later.

  • Juan AndrĂ©s Valencia

    I can agree with you. Not that 28 Days Later was bad (On the contrary, it was fucking great) but good lord 28 Weeks Later is incredible.

  • Kurt

    There are so few us that feel this way Juan, that I think we should have a secret handshake. Welcome to our little "Weeks" appreciation society!

  • Wintle

    I want in on this handshake action. Days is great, but Weeks is sublime.

  • John Hudson

    Brilliant opening 10 minutes but man did it fall away after that.

  • Dave Baxter

    I've yet to meet anyone who has verbally admitted to being able to finish Weeks without wanting to turn it off/walk out of the theater. I personally squirmed in my chair trying to make it to the end. No doubt it has its fans, but probably doesn't have the kind of cultural consensus to allow it on a list like this.

  • vsoe

    not hollywood, but Infernal Affairs 2 kicks ass

  • scors54

    I agree fully on all counts.Nicely done.

  • Ard Vijn

    Thanks!

  • billydaking

    I would add either of the two 1990 Gamera sequels to the list. Gamera: Guardian of the Universe pretty much redefined the kaiju film for a modern audience, but Attack of Legion is generally regarded as the perfect example of its genre, upping the production design and special effects greatly just one year later. And while kaiju fans seem divided over Revenge of Isis, I adore that film for how it pushes the genre envelope, its storytelling, and its emotional ending.

  • Ard Vijn

    Funny enough I just saw those films last week. And they rock!

  • Those 90s Gamera movies are AWESOME. Some of the best kaiju films ever made.

  • J Hurtado
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