What makes a great movie sequel? Well, the answer is obvious. It’s got to expand on its predecessor, taking what was originally done. In most cases, the movie sequel is better than the original in almost every way. Now, granted, if ‘the original’ in question is already a killer film (which it often is), improving upon it is no easy task. This makes movies like The Godfather Part II and Empire Strikes Back miraculous.
So, in celebration of Tom Cruise’s Box-Office smash sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, let’s look at the best sequels to grace Hollywood!
10) Terminator 2: Judgment Day
It’s a classic for a reason. T2: Judgment Day only further cemented Arnold Schwarzenegger’s place as a Hollywood action hero. And while doing so, it expands on the mythology kicked off by its predecessor and adds some heart to proceedings.
While The Terminator was revolutionary for its AI-time-travel plot, T2 exhibits a lot more heart. Much of the film’s emotional core emanates from the surrogate-father-son relationship between Arnie’s T-800 and Edward Furlong’s John Connor. And when it isn’t pulling your heartstrings, the film is pulling out all the thrills thanks to Robert Patrick’s emotionless villain and Cameron’s penchant for intense action set pieces.
9) Blade Runner 2049 (2019)
As far as movies go, Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic, Blade Runner, never needed a sequel. Its examination of the line between humanity and cyborgs is neatly tied up by the end of the movie. However, it got one anyway – but, luckily, Blade Runner 2049 turned out brilliant despite its unnecessary existence.
The magic of BR2049 lies in how it further explores its predecessor’s dystopian world. Instead of merely being The Further Adventures of Rick Deckard and having an aging Harrison Ford take center stage, the main protagonist is Ryan Gosling’s K (Or ‘Joe’). Indeed, much of the movie follows the mystery of just where Deckard is – as well as the manipulative nature of Joe’s authoritarian employers.
8) 22 Jump Street (2014)
In Hollywood, it’s remarkably hard to find comedy sequels that are better than their predecessor. The original American Pie is often considered a ground-breaking teen comedy, but its sequels fall flat under its shadow. 22 Jump Street, the sequel to 21 Jump Street, breaks the trend.
And it’s hard to pin down where 22 Jump Street succeeds. It could be the bolstered confidence of its cast, its skewering of modern action conventions, or just lucky that its gags landed. Whatever the reason, 22 Jump Street expands on what came before and then some.
7) X2: X-Men United (2003)
2000s X-Men was a powerful superhero blockbuster that tackled the themes of the comics. In its follow-up, X2 took those themes – of discrimination, subjugation, and bigotry – and tuned them up to eleven. Here, the X-Men’s foe wasn’t Magneto. Instead, it was humanity itself.
Despite its impressive roster of characters, X2 manages to tell its story unhindered. Hugh Jackman is as iconic as ever as Wolverine and Patrick Stewart proves perfect as Professor Xavier. It’s just a shame its follow-up was more convoluted than smart. That said, X2 remains a solid example of a movie sequel that is better than the original film that spawned it.
6) The Dark Knight (2008)
Batman Begins is an awesome film. It did what it needed to do – to save the ailing franchise after the disaster that was Batman & Robin. Darker and more grounded than previous on-screen iterations, it would quickly become overshadowed by The Dark Knight three years later.
Christopher Nolan’s second foray into Gotham is often heralded as the movie that put superhero movies back in the spotlight. No longer the stuff of kids, TDK explored themes such as anarchy, terrorism, and symbolism. The story was further amplified by the impeccable performances of Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as Joker.
5) Toy Story 2
Pixar has always led the way in computer animation, starting with Toy Story in 1995. However, the company is one led by principle, not by technology. The company’s movies’ heart lies in the story – the animation is just a visual aid.
Toy Story 2 is a perfect example of this, taking the cast of the first film and improving upon everything its predecessor did. Not only is the animation sharper, but the emotional stakes are greater. You’ll be hooked watching Buzz and co. endeavor to save Woody from a greedy toy collector, in a movie sequel far better than the original.
4) Aliens (1986)
Before James Cameron broke our hearts with Titanic and wowed us with Avatar, he was shot into relevance via Aliens. The creatively-titled sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror Alien succeeded by trying a new tact instead of closely following its predecessor. It upped the action, set-piece experimentation, fleshed out its lead heroine, Ripley, and gave us the timeless line “Get away from her, you bitch!”
Aliens proved one thing – you don’t need to nervously stick to the predecessor’s conventions to create a good sequel. We saw this happen with Jeannot Szwarc’s 1978 movie Jaws II, which recreated the original almost it-for-that. Aliens is different to the point that it changes genre from horror to action – while being all the better for it.
3) Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Sam Raimi’s first turn directing the web-slinger in 2001’s Spider-Man was already an impressive feat. But when Spider-Man 2 swung into theaters in 2004, it was even better. Raimi further explored the humanity behind the Spider-Man mask in a way no superhero film had done until then.
Whereas the first film has Peter embrace his new identity, the second has him realize the consequences it has on his life. His struggle is made central to the plot – and ties into the villain’s story of Doc Ock. SM2 takes the laughing, crying, action, and rollercoaster that was Spider-Man, and takes it to even more impressive heights.
2) The Godfather Part II (1974)
Even 50 years after its initial release, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather remains an offer no serious moviegoer can refuse. However, the same can be said of its brilliant sequel, The Godfather Part II, which partly adapts unused material from Mario Puzo’s original novel while adding some blemishes of its own.
The most notable stylistic change from its 1972 predecessor is the movie’s structure. The movie tackles the ‘Present-Day’ storyline of Michael Corleone continuing to helm his late father’s mafia empire. Meanwhile, the other story takes us back to the early 1900s, following the trials and tribulations of a young Vito Corleone, played by Robert De Niro. On paper, the switching of narratives seems like a recipe for failure, but its execution ensures that Godfather Part II comes out on top of the original.
1) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
You’ll find George Lucas’s sci-fi continuation topmost ‘best Star Wars movie’ lists. And, I assure you, it’s no accident. The Empire Strikes Back takes everything about its iconic predecessor – and dials it up to eleven.
From the epic set pieces like the Battle of Hoth, the Asteroid Belt, and, of course, the epic duel between Luke and Darth Vader, Empire didn’t stall on the action. And when it wasn’t exciting us, it was compelling us with its drama – Han and Leia’s budding romance, Luke struggling under Yoda’s tutelage, and that dramatic (and iconic) plot twist fleshed out the cast that made us fall further in love with them. Star Wars has never been better in what is arguably the best movie sequel of all time.
But that’s just our take. What do you think are the best movie sequels of all time? Which movie sequels are better than the original?