Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back

10 Sequels Better Than the Original

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight
We live in the Age of the Sequel. Studios want franchises with multiple sequels, and increasingly, shared movie universes copied on the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While sequel fatigue may be creeping into many movie goers minds, the fact is that sequels are here to stay. Sequels do have advantages over original films. They have a built-in audience connection, the opportunity for deep character exploration and the chance to build large and challenging plot lines that wouldn’t be possible in a single installment. When filmmakers take advantage of these unique tools, the sequel can even eclipse the film that inspired it. The best sequels build on and expand great films. Here are 10 films where the sequel managed to top (even by the slimmest of margins) the original.

Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966)
Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is often thought of as one of the greatest westerns of all-time, but it is also a sequel (a second sequel, in fact). The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is the finale to the Man With No Name Trilogy starring Clint Eastwood. A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) were good, but The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is one of the definitive films of the western’s genre and Eastwood’s career.
Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II
2. The Godfather Part II (1974)
Whether The Godfather or The Godfather Part II is the better film is something that could change every time you watch one or the other, but it was the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Part Two is a structurally more complex film than the first installment. Tracing two timelines, The Godfather Part IItells the story of young Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro) and the beginnings of the Corleone empire, while also showing his son, Michael (Al Pacino), build the family business and lose his own family in the process. Whichever is truly better, both are among the best films ever made.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back
3. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The original Star Wars, for all it set in motion, was a fairly simple movie. Good triumphs over evil in a galaxy far, far away. The Empire Strikes Back exploded the boundaries of the Star Wars universe, what we thought we knew about it, and remains the best entry in a franchise that is currently entering a new Golden Age. Yoda, The Battle of Hoth, Boba Fett, Lando, and one of the greatest twists in film history all spring from Empire, and by the end of the film, things aren’t simple any more. The bad guys win! Han is a frozen wall painting! Vader is Luke’s father! The events of Empire are still impacting the current episodes nearly 40 years after its release.
William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in Star Trek II
4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The first Star Trek movie has an intriguing premise, but it’s wrapped in an enormous amount of boring slog surrounded by very, very dated 1970s uniforms. To say Star Trek II is better is probably the safest call on the list. The Wrath of Khan remains the best of the Star Trek films, has the series’ best villain, and the best moment in the history of the franchise. Spock’s sacrifice, giving his life for the needs of the many, is one of the best death scenes ever filmed. Naturally, he got better in the next installment, but they didn’t know that in 1982, and it’s still an immensely powerful moment today.
Sigourney Weaver in Aliens
5. Aliens (1986)
Ridley Scott 1979 Alien was a horror movie. One alien trapped on a ship with a woefully unprepared crew. When James Cameron took over the sequel in 1986, he wisely didn’t try to replicate the horror movie environment. Aliens isn’t a horror movie. Aliens is a war movie. This time Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a band of marines are knowingly going into a nest of the xenomorphs. This allowed Cameron to expand the mythology of the creature, introduce the Alien Queen, and set up one of the best fights of all-time, when Ripley gets into a cargo loader to take on the ugliest bug of them all.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Another James Cameron sequel and, this time, he topped himself. The Terminator in 1984 introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to a mass audience. In the first film, Arnold’s Terminator is a monster. Cameron again turned things on their head for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, by making Arnold a reprogrammed protector of John Connor against a much more highly advanced liquid metal Terminator (Robert Patrick). Cameron invents technology for his films. It’s one of the reasons they’re so long in development.  For T2, he and his F/X team took morphing technology first used in the film Willow, then combined it with the malleable metallic effect that was used in Cameron’s own The Abyss to create the effect that allowed the liquid metal terminator to emulate any object it touched. Within two years, the technology was so commonplace it was in shaving cream commercials, but it never looked better than when the T-1000 walked out of the fire at the end of the aqueduct chase.
Elijah Wood in The Return of the King
7. The Return of the King (2003)
The Lord of the Rings is really one, 12-hour film broken into three parts. However, since they were released that way, and since the finale, The Return of the King, put on the biggest Oscar sweep in Academy history, winning every one of the 11 Oscars for which it was nominated including Best Picture, it’s safe to count that finale as the best of the three parts of the whole. The number of plot threads that The Return of the King is asked to wrap up is astronomical, plus it has to top the moments that have already transfixed us earlier in the trilogy. The Return of the King is a catalog of amazing scenes, jaw-dropping battles, emotional moments, and several well-deserved curtain calls, laying down its claim as one of the greatest films (or trilogies) of all-time.
Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy
8. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
The Bourne Identity was a different kind of spy thriller. It was believable, practical, grounded. Matt Damon doesn’t look like an action star, which is why he’s so effective as Bourne: an everyman who can do anything. The first film was about discovery and sending a message that he wanted to be left alone. They really should have listened. The Bourne Supremacy is a tale of vengeance and atonement. The upgrade in director from Doug Liman to Paul Greengrass brought together one of the best action films of the last 25 years and the most insane, plot-driven car chase of all-time.
Heath Ledger and Christian Bale in The Dark Knight
9. The Dark Knight (2008)
The middle installment of The Dark Knight Trilogy is widely considered to be the greatest comic book film of all-time. Drawing inspiration from crime epics like Michael Mann’s Heat, Christopher Nolan delivered the ultimate Batman movie. Heath Ledger’s spellbinding take on Batman’s greatest foe astounded audiences and critics alike. and Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his performance as The Joker. From the incredible bank robbery to begin the film, the iconic interrogation scene, the Batpod chase, all the way to the film’s bittersweet ending, The Dark Knight is the standard by which all comic book films are measured.
Toy Story 3
10. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Toy Story 3 is a perfect example of how sequels can use multiple installments to build characters. All of the Toy Story films are perfect, but by the third film, we’ve spent a lot of time with Woody and Buzz and the gang. We’ve also watched Andy grow from a little boy to a young man leaving for college. That building of character and the passage of time hit like a sledgehammer when Andy decides to give his toys away. That scene, the giving up your childhood friends for an adulthood, resonated so much with movie goers, especially grown men, that newspapers were writing articles on the phenomenon of adult men breaking down in tears watching the film. That’s a moment that was paid for with three films of perfection, and shows how good sequels can be at their best.
Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Honorable Mentions: Superman II (1980), Spider-Man 2 (2004), X-Men 2: X-Men United (2003), Captain America: Winter Solider (2014) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
In 2017, we’ve certainly had our fair share of sequel busts, but we’ve already had some great sequels like John Wick Chapter 2, Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Nothing is truly new in Hollywood, and the proliferation of sequels could be likened to the serials of the 1930s and 1940s. While they might not have had the polish of today’s franchises, those old film serials like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon inspired a generation of filmmakers like George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg. Who knows what the generation of directors raised on the new Star Wars films and the MCU could go on to create?

21 thoughts on “10 Sequels Better Than the Original”

  1. I’m reaching really far back, but Bride of Frankenstein is an all -time great sequel. Also A Shot in the Dark is much better than the original Pink Panther, and Hellboy 2 is mind blowing in comparison to the first one. It happens, just not often.

    Godfather II’s only sin is not being perfect. That is what gives Godfather I the edge. But I can certainly understand other points of view, and have had many long conversations.

    Aliens is not better than Alien, just different. Different usually contributes to a winning sequel.

    Cameron and Company did not invent the morphing technology used in T2, BTW, it was specifically developed to be used in Willow, and say what you will about that movie, the morphing scene blew theatergoers out of thier seats (I was one of them).

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      1. Even when the craft on display is mostly subpar, if Lucas is involved in a production, the technological magic will be there. When the sorceress in Willow morphed from animal to animal, that was one of the great jaw-drop moments of my moviegoing life. It does not hold up so great today, but back then I was a lot younger, and of coarse I had never seen anything like it before.

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      2. Ok so I re-researched and revised and the constant here is Dennis Muren. He developed the initial morphing for Willow, then the liquid metal effect for The Abyss, then combined the two to create the T-1000 for which he won a well-deserved Oscar. Good catch.

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      3. Also it’s occurred to me that Mad Martigan is a lot like Han Solo. Willow has a lot going for it, not the least James Horner’s ridiculously good score, but I have been thinking about that film with Howard and Lucasfilm teaming again.

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      4. Willow was fraught with too many expectations when it first came out. It was the Next Big Lucasfilm Thing. And the coming attractions made it look like the second coming. It turned out to be a retelling of SW, set in a Tolkenesque fantasy world that somehow lacked mystery and grandeur. I don’t hate it, I love how everything from Moses to Gulliver’s Travels to Circe the witch from the Odyssey is refereced, and that it all comes together, along with Lucas’s own mythological like Han Solo, which you mentioned. But there is way too much humor, it is way too corny, Warwick Davis is a very limited actor, it all makes you roll your eyes instead of laugh, and that takes you out of the world painstakingly created by the SFX artists, and the atmosphere set by the wonderful music.

        It will not happen again with Han Solo. “Lucasfilm” now means something different than it did in the late 80’s. Whatever was wrong with what Lord and Miller shot, it wasn’t that the footage was bad, I can tell you that.

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      5. Really? I am amazed that I did not know that. These guys knew EXACTLY what they were doing then. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall (or not) because they must really hate Kasdan, and the feeling must be mutual. If Disney is compelled to put out a ditector’s cut that creates a breach in thier Great Corporate Wall of Togetherness and Groupthink, it’s going to force them to REALLY rethink how they do things, and I do not know if that is good or bad.

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      6. Seriously, I do not know what really happened any more than anyone, I just suspect that they quit, that it was not an out and out firing. They waited until the very last minute, as a final insult. If they get a directors cut now, that reinforces what I’m saying.

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      7. Sigh. When you’re right, you’re right. In reality, that battle down on the surface of Endor almost never swings the way you want it to.

        Do you think Lucas was wise to sell his creation? He says “white slavers” and everyone denounces him, but the fact is, he clearly thought his input would be accepted in some capacity, and instead he was just cast aside. I think his comments, and his general attitude, reflect his face to face interactions with people who lied to him. And whether he should have beeen more on his guard is another subject.

        I’m not sure we are ever getting KOTOR. I’m not sure Disney ever lets a unique voice in. I’m worried the life gets sucked out, just like the life got sucked out of Walt’s own creations. Mickey had a personality once. Walt was a genuine auteur. No one remembers.

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      8. I see the same greatness you do. I love TFA and R1 beyond love. And yet, there is this great, yawning chasm between the quality of the product so far, and the way Disney/Lucasfilm is running itself, which seems like fairly typical underhanded Hollywood chaos. On steroids.

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      9. I was not thinking this way before, but the Lordand Miller thing is kind of a catastrophe, even if it works out in the end.

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  2. Dark Knight is not only the best superhero movie ever made, nothing else even touches it. The Bourne Trilogy and the Toy Story trilogies are on the short list of the most consistently excellent trilogies in film history, outranking even SW OT (dammed Ewoks!). So it’s not surprising each of those trilogies contain an all-time great sequel. I’m not saying I cried at the end of TS3…I’m just saying those little guys got to me. OK?

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