- LucasFilm via YouTube
Sequels are taking over Hollywood. But that’s nothing new.
If a movie does well, or if it’s based on an existing property, the likelihood that it will get a sequel is very high. Some sequels are simply pale imitations of their predecessors.
Then there are some sequels that take their source material and bring it to another level entirely. They expand the universes they are a part of, and make us all glad we got to spend more time with the characters.
From James Bond to “Star Wars,” here are some sequels that outdid their predecessors:
“Toy Story 2” (1999)
The original was cute and innovative, but “Toy Story 2” exposes mature emotional themes like mortality and friendship hiding behind the computer imagery in a way only Pixar can.
“Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004)
- Warner Bros.
Arguably the best book in the “Harry Potter” series also got the best director of the films, Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity,” “Y Tu Mamá También”), who delivers the frenetic rhythm and off-the-wall art direction the fantasy needs.
“Mad Max 2” (1981)
- Warner Bros.
Sure, the original is appreciated for its “stripped-down” vision of a post-apocalyptic world, but the sequel, known as “The Road Warrior,” ups the thrills and gear in all the right ways, putting Mel Gibson’s no-nonsense nomad in the middle of a Rube Goldberg machine of death and destruction. It’s no surprise director George Miller essentially reimagined the material for the latest installment in the franchise, “Fury Road.”
“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” (1991)
The most unlikely sequel ever, to Keanu Reeves’ breakout so-dumb-it’s-brilliant comedy, takes the sci-fi premise to its hilarious logical conclusion: The two chill dudes confront not just historical figures, but Heaven and Hell. Bonus point for the Ingmar Bergman joke and the scene in which an evil Reeves robot plays basketball with his own head. Most excellent.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
- Warner Bros./”Nation Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”
Honestly, it’s a miracle the first “Vacation” got a sequel at all, considering how the now-classic “Christmas Vacation” stretches the setup as far as it will go, from laugh-every-half-second jokes about a daughter literally freezing for the sake of the perfect pine tree to a family cat killed by the holiday cheer. Chevy Chase was at the height of his comedic powers, if only briefly.
“Blade II” (2002)
- New Line
Guillermo del Toro’s gothic sensibilities were a perfect match for the “Blade” sequel. He gave the bloody vampire fun the macabre edge it needed.
“22 Jump Street” (2014)
A sequel to “21 Jump Street” was a bad idea, given that “21 Jump Street” itself was a bad idea to begin with. But like the original, “22 Jump Street” shatters all expectations, creating a meta sequel that is somehow funnier and more self-aware than the original. That is all thanks to Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the creative duo that turned a lot of “bad” ideas (like “The Lego Movie”) into something great.
“Army of Darkness” (1992)
- Universal via YouTube
The “Evil Dead” series is so consistently good that even the remake,”Evil Dead,” is solid. It is hard to pick a favorite, but “Army of Darkness” might be the most wildly imaginative and funny. The stop motion skeleton army has only become more endearing with time.
Soon, we will be getting a TV spinoff called “Ash vs. Evil Dead.” As Ash (Bruce Campbell) would say, “groovy.”
“The Bride of Frankenstein” (1931)
- Universal via YouTube
The original “Frankenstein” is filled with iconic images, but it strips out a lot of the brilliance of Mary Shelley’s novel. A sequel was certainly not necessary, but “The Bride of Frankenstein” justifies its existence.
“The Bride of Frankenstein” is a horror movie that won’t necessarily scare you, and that is fine. Stick around instead for a hilarious and moving scene where the Monster becomes friends with a blind hermit who teaches him how to smoke and drink.
Nearly 75 years later, and there still hasn’t been a monster movie quite like “The Bride of Frankenstein.”
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
- Warner Bros.
By far the most memorable part of “The Dark Knight” is the late Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as The Joker which is equal parts funny, terrifying, and unpredictable. Not to say that “The Dark Knight” isn’t great on its own, but it shows how great acting can elevate a movie.
“The Dark Knight” is far and away one of the best comic book adaptations of all time. It also helped that it had Christopher Nolan at the helm, who somehow pulled off a hospital explosion in a single take.
“The Dark Knight” has had a huge influence on pop culture, and it led to a lot of dark, gritty imitators who couldn’t come close to pulling off the magic that Nolan and his cast and crew did here.
- Warner Bros.
“The Dark Knight” wasn’t the only Batman movie to improve upon its predecessor. Tim Burton increased his art-direction budget to go wild with his vision of Gotham, a color-streaked nightmare with lost sons looking to find their way. And Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is the best performance in any superhero movie ever, period.
“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
Yeah, this one was a given.
With a different director at the helm, the “Star Wars” franchise went in dark new directions. Plus, it includes what is possibly the greatest twist in cinematic history. Sorry, “Citizen Kane” and Rosebud.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966)
- United Artists via YouTube
One of the most iconic films about the American West is actually from Italy.
People might not realize that Sergio Leone’s epic masterpiece is actually the third chapter in the fantastic Man with no Name Trilogy. That is because “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” stands so well on its own. The only thing really linking the three films is the setting and the nameless cowboy (Clint Eastwood) in the lead.
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is often best remembered for its iconic score by Ennio Morricone as well as the long, haunting silences that eventually lead to the greatest standoff in cinematic history.
- United Artists via YouTube
“Goldfinger” was the first Bond movie to start incorporating gadgets into the plot. You could say that this movie is ultimately to blame for the technological mess that was “Die Another Day,” but that wouldn’t be fair.
And yet, “Goldfinger” still manages to be a low key Bond film. It doesn’t focus on a diabolical plot to destroy the world but rather, a high stakes bank robbery. Usually, sequels like to go bigger. “Goldfinger” is the perfect example of what James Bond looked like before he went into outer space.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013)
Some people complain that “Catching Fire” took too long to get to the actual games, but they spent that time wisely. Since the first movie got all of the exposition out of the way, “Catching Fire” gets to focus on world building. It proves that this young adult series has an even darker view on the media and the future than anybody gives it credit for.
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989)
- Paramount via YouTube
Up until 2008, there was never a bad Indiana Jones movie. Even “Temple of Doom” doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
But “The Last Crusade” is a truly fine piece of entertainment. It made the right choice of bringing back Nazi bad guys and recruiting Sean Connery to play Jones’ father.
The opening of “The Last Crusade,” which portrays a young Indiana Jones (played by the late River Phoenix), plays like a standalone short film. If they had just done that, and not even made the rest of the movie, this would still be the best Indiana Jones movie out there.
“Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004)
- Miramax via Netflix
“Kill Bill” was originally supposed to be one film, but Quentin Tarantino had to slice it in half. It surprisingly benefits from it. While “Vol. 2” doesn’t contain anything nearly as impressive as the climatic battle for “Vol. 1,” it is a lot more intimate and character driven.
Bill’s (David Carradine) monologue about Superman is about as good as any dialogue ever put onscreen. However, if it is action you are looking for, the much anticipated dual between The Bride (Uma Thurman) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) does not disappoint.
“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)
- New Line Cinema via YouTube
Middle chapters of trilogies are typically the darkest. “The Two Towers” is no exception. It is just a little more epic than “The Fellowship of the Ring” without suffering from some of the Oscar winning “The Return of the King.”
“Spider-Man 2” (2004)
- Columbia via YouTube
Instead of being an amped-up version of the original, “Spider-Man 2” is the rare sequel that tones down the action for what could be described as an existential super hero film. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) spends most of the film wondering why he even wants to be Spider-Man.
Superhero movies have transformed and evolved in recent years, but “Spider-Man 2” still remains at the top of the pack. However, it is also a sad reminder of the potential of this series that was sadly squandered.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
- Terminator 2 / TriStar
The first “Terminator” is a masterpiece in low-budget filmmaking. It plays less like the kind of blockbusters we are all used to and more like a horror film.
The sequel, meanwhile, steps it up to 11 with eye-popping special effects which were groundbreaking during their time. Plus, it presented a unique acting challenge for star Arnold Schwarzenegger: he had to play the same character, but as the good guy instead of the bad guy. It is truly the heart of this film, and maybe the best performance he has ever given.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014)
“Days of Future Past” is a sequel to a mediocre reboot, but it also might be the X-Men installment ever. It combines time travel that is more fun than convoluted with a story that is surprisingly filled with heart. Come for the amazing Quicksilver scene, stay for the lessons on Civil Rights.