Top 20 Movie Sequels That Were Better Than The Original
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Top 20 Movie Sequels That Were Better Than The Original

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Timothy MacAusland & Fred Humphries
Second time was the charm for these movie franchises! For this list, we'll be looking at the second entries of various franchises that surpassed their original films in quality. Our countdown includes “Evil Dead II”, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, “The Godfather Part II”, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”, and more!
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Top 20 Movie Sequels That Were Better Than the Original


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 20 movie sequels that were better than the original.

For this list, we’ll be looking at the second entries of various franchises that surpassed their original films in quality. The bigger the disparity between the installments, the higher the ranking. Since we're only looking at direct sequels, reboots and “revisitings” like “Mad Max Fury Road” won't be considered. We also won't be looking at any animated movies because they deserve a list of their own.

What are some of your favorite movie sequels? Let us know in the comments below.

#20: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014)

Although “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was a surprisingly decent reboot of the classic sci-fi series, its origin story plot left something to be desired. Incoming director Matt Reeves brought that something with “Dawn” in 2014. He created a bleak post-apocalyptic world in which the surviving members of the human race clash with the burgeoning ape society. By placing more emphasis on the apes, the film offered a compellingly nuanced contrast between apes and humans. The movie also had a political storyline worthy of the lead ape Caesar’s name. And it was absolutely thrilling to boot. We mean, come on, apes on horses, anyone? Keeping the momentum, the series would only get better again with 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.

#19: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013)

There wasn’t much to complain about when “The Hunger Games” was adapted in 2012― especially since they nailed the casting of Katniss Everdeen with Jennifer Lawrence. But Gary Ross’s guerilla-esque direction to the action sequences was somewhat frustrating. Another sequel to be improved by a new director, “Catching Fire” benefitted hugely from the addition of Francis Lawrence, who, by the way, is not related to Jennifer. His brisk, crisp visuals gave the games the cinematic treatment they so rightly deserved. In addition, this is where the series started to see big-picture and incorporated a slew of fresh faces to make the rebellion subplot that much more dynamic. It’s just a shame the bar wouldn’t continue to rise in the other sequels.

#18: “22 Jump Street” (2014)

“21 Jump Street” was the comedic reboot we never knew we needed back in 2012. The unexpectedly hilarious pairing of Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum made for a kinetic film. Since the high school setting was subversive and fun, the idea of taking the pair to college didn’t seem too avant-garde. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller injected the sequel with the same levels of comedic freshness. They also poked fun at the process of sequel-making in a similarly shrewd, wink-wink kind of way. Even if the movies remain tied in those estimations, the end-credit sequence at the end of “22 Jump Street” breaks it with the hilariously endless slew of fake sequels.

#17: “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990)

This one might be a little controversial, as the first film is an esteemed classic, but hear us out. The first “Gremlins” proved to be a solid introduction to the title creatures with a relatively simple plot and execution. But “Gremlins 2” saw the full realization of the concept. Unencumbered by origin story dynamics, the sequel devoted its attention to poking fun at consumerism and corporate culture. Allegories aside, the film is also simply more enjoyable. The meta commentary alone reaches “Deadpool” levels of self-awareness. It unfortunately floundered at the box office, so the prospects of a third film have remained in our hopes and dreams for three decades and counting.

#16: “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008)

How did this not get another sequel? Though 2004’s “Hellboy” wasn’t the most faithful comic book adaptation, it was wholly Guillermo del Toro’s creative vision come to life. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” took his vibrant vision even further. Del Toro’s signature dark fantasy stylings become more dynamic and pronounced. Furthermore, the interpersonal relationships felt much more relatable and endearing. The prospect of Hellboy and Liz starting a family, or the adorable courtship between Abe Sapien and the princess Nuala, were particular standouts. The sequel also planted the seeds of a fascinating conclusion to the would-be trilogy, that as we mentioned, never came to fruition. Instead we were treated to a lifeless reboot.

#15: “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)

It’s difficult to make a case for a sequel to one of the landmark horror movies in cinema history, but we’re gonna give it a shot anyway. Before further sequels ran the team up concept into the ground by pairing the green meanie with the Wolf Man or Abbott and Costello, there was “Bride of Frankenstein”. This sequel delved further into the fractured psyche of the Monster to tremendous effect. Taking place immediately after the events of the first, the Monster desperately seeks companionship now that he’s been villainized by society. This ushers in the advent of the Bride, an equally iconic creature with fabulous hair. Her presence further fleshes out the first film’s themes and provides a cathartic resolution to the saga.

#14: “Superman II” (1980)

Before “Spider-Man 2” or “X2”,” the superhero sequel to end all superhero sequels was “Superman II.” Granted, the first film did make us believe that a man could fly, but this one made us believe that and then some. While the film was essentially the second half of one film rather than a direct sequel, “Superman II” still stands out in terms of excitement and character development. Superman is given more of a physical match than a 70s-era Lex Luthor could ever dream of when Zod and his Kryptonian followers return. At one point, we even feared for Superman’s life. There’s also more of an interesting relationship between Lois and Clark as the former discovers the latter’s alter ego.

#13: “Blade II” (2002)

Another Guillermo del Toro feature, “Blade II” proved to be a sharper and more agile adventure for the daywalker. The best thing about the trilogy will always be Wesley Snipes as Blade. Fortunately, the second installment seemed to nail his characterization more than the first. The film also brought back Kris Kristopherson as Abraham Whistler while adding Donnie Yen, del Toro mainstay Ron Perlman, and Daryl Dixon himself, Norman Reedus. In typical sequel fashion, the film also ups the ante in terms of plot. As the Reaper virus threatens to upend both the vampire and human societies, enemies are forced to work together to quash it. It’s a bucketful of bloody fun.

#12: “Evil Dead II” (1987)

The first two entries in the “Evil Dead” franchise are both cult hits, but the second was lucky enough to get a much larger budget. This allowed for even more campiness, better gore, and enhanced special effects. The sequel further transcends the original by adding in a ton of horror comedy that cemented Bruce Campbell’s legendary B-Movie status. Of course, its budget was still small in comparison to other mainstream films, so it manages to retain the sense of a gritty and twisted reality that only low budget movies can achieve.

#11: “X2: X-Men United” (2003)

An already large cast of superheroes gets even bigger, and this sequel has the plot to go with it. “X2” deals with issues that resonate in real life, and that - combined with the refined action and improved performances - makes for a surprisingly grounded comic bookmovie. It never gets bogged down by the serious points it addresses, however, as the fight scenes are exceptionally choreographed. And we simply can’t talk about the excellence of this sequel without mentioning the White House Night Crawler scene – which is easily one of the best sequences in the entire “X-Men” franchise.

#10: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)

So many superhero films sacrifice intimate action for sweeping scenes of mass destruction, but that is not the case in Cap’s second solo film. This movie’s been compared to a Bourne-style thriller where the hero gradually unravels a mystery, filled with a building intensity all along the way. Unlike the first film, there’s a greater emphasis on tight hand-to-hand combat that feels like a much better fit for the leader of the Avengers. There’s also far more personal conflict than in most other Marvel movies as Cap faces off against his best friend, Bucky Barnes.

#9: “Paddington 2” (2017)

How do you follow up what is essentially a perfect film? Simple, with a MORE perfect film. All kidding aside, “Paddington 2” cleared the already extremely high bar set by the original by being more enjoyable and delightful. The prison sequence alone is already one of the funniest and most endearing parts of any movie in the last decade. And though Nicole Kidman proved to be a fantastic villain in the first film, Hugh Grant absolutely steals the show here, to the point that he had many people calling for awards consideration. Not convinced? The film holds the rare distinction of earning a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

#8: “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (1981)

The “Mad Max” series has a pretty simple list of features that make it so good: crazy action, gorgeous cinematography, and a hero anyone can get behind. The sequel to the first movie has all of those elements in abundance, and takes the story beyond the simple detailing of the apocalypse. It is an exciting ride with action that keeps up its intensity for so long it leaves moviegoers satisfyingly exhausted. Plus, it has one of the most exhilarating climaxes ever put on screen.

#7: “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)

One of the greatest challenges any “Star Trek” filmmaker will face is pleasing the devoted followers of the franchise. While the first film adaptation received mixed reviews, it was enough of a hit to warrant a sequel, restoring the faith of the fans with a successful film that pretty much saved the series. The story in “Wrath of Khan” is incredibly strong, epic even, as it brilliantly brings back the iconic characters and a memorable foe from the original TV series. There was a lot of pressure to right the wrongs of the previous attempt, but it does that and much more.

#6: “Spider-Man 2” (2004)

This acclaimed superhero film isn’t burdened by the need to tell an origin story, allowing it the opportunity to delve further into the characters we met in the first film. What’s more, we’re introduced to Doctor Octopus, a wonderfully insane evil genius who is brought to life by a fantastic Alfred Molina performance and Oscar-winning special effects. With a more sinister and captivating villain, better cinematography, and more compelling action sequences overall, it’s clear that this sequel greatly improves upon the original. It’s a trend that the third film couldn’t live up to - we’re looking at you Emo Peter Parker - making the middle film the best in the trilogy.

#5: “The Godfather Part II” (1974)

How do you follow in the footsteps of a cinematic masterpiece? Sure, the first “Godfather” is a landmark achievement, and no one is taking that away from it. But “The Godfather Part II” is simply superb storytelling. The film juxtaposes the present-day evolution of now-don Michael Corleone with the origin of his father Vito in the early 1900s. At the same time, the story is layered with familial themes that feel all the more potent and reflective. As Vito’s rise in power mirrors Michael’s descent into corruption, we’re left wholly satisfied by the film’s conclusion. On an awards standpoint alone, “Part II” won a whopping six Oscars compared to the first film’s three while becoming the first sequel to win Best Picture.

#4: “The Dark Knight” (2008)

“Batman Begins” establishes the dark tone that defined Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, but its sequel perfects the recipe. Add in a legendary performance by Heath Ledger, and you have the makings of one of the best comic book films of all-time. “TDK” even transcends the superhero genre and is considered a magnificent crime thriller in its own right. The action sequences are mostly created with practical effects, making for a sense of realism that no other movie of its kind has yet been able to emulate.

#3: “Aliens” (1986)

The unlucky Ripley has to fight the Xenomorphs once more in this action heavy follow-up to Ridley Scott’s acclaimed sci-fi horror flick. There are more aliens, more guns, more classic one-liners, and somehow, even more intense scares than the first film. It must have been incredibly difficult to improve upon a movie that’s considered a cinematic masterpiece; yet James Cameron manages to take the greatest elements from the first film, enhances them and turns the result into one of the best action movie of the 1980s.

#2: “Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

Even though “A New Hope” received higher praise upon initial release, the second film in the original space opera trilogy has come to be accepted as the best in the series. Its aesthetics, complex characters, and iconic dialogue set the standard for an entire generation of filmmakers, and the story is more intriguing than almost any other movie at the time. It’s one of the highest-grossing films ever, and is a memorable picture for many reasons, including the unforgettable twist in its final act. We’re pretty sure you know what we’re talking about, and that’s because this film is simply inescapable.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Annabelle: Creation” (2017)
Much Scarier Than Its Inanimate Predecessor

“Hot Shots! Part Deux” (1993)
The Title Alone Is Hysterical

“The Wolverine” (2013)
A Big Improvement on His “Origins” Film

“Rush Hour 2” (2001)
The Concept Works Better as a Globetrotting Adventure

#1: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)

Once again, James Cameron manages to take an already phenomenal picture and improve upon it. The first “Terminator” is essentially a stalking horror flick, but the second becomes more or less a definitive action film. The T-1000 is one of the most menacing villains ever and the CGI that created the character revolutionized the special effects industry. The film took home four Academy Awards, which was fitting recognition for a movie that managed to expand upon its predecessor’s story, while also being a triumph in filmmaking. Plus, what other franchise could turn the original villain into the hero, and do it so convincingly? We rest our case.
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Do Animated Movies Please! Thanks!
I agreed with this list except for Gremlins 2.