It’s not the easiest thing in the world, for a sequel to be better than the original film that it follows. Ideally, they should always be bigger and better than the original, but more often than not that’s not the case. Every now and again, a sequel comes along that bucks that trend.
There is one rule to our list; The sequel HAS to be the direct follow up to the first film in the saga, so that rules out masterpieces such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban, unfortunately.
Sequels and film franchises are becoming more and more common these days, so we have decided to put our money where our mouth is and rank these in what WE think the order should be. Get your feet up and enjoy…
10 - Evil Dead 2
All three of Sam Raimi‘s entries into the Evil Dead franchise are classics. Evil Dead is a straight up horror. Army of Darkness is slapstick comedy gold with flat-out horror. But Evil Dead II is where Raimi struck his pitch-perfect balance between the two leanings and established his directorial voice. Evil Dead II is a lunatic demon possession tale that’s constantly bursting at the seams with moments of unhinged violence and comedy, alternating at rapid fire, keeping the audience off balance with a tonal tilt-a-whirl.
But if there’s chaos on screen, Raimi always feels in absolute control behind the scenes, and his skill is matched by Bruce Campbell, an actor with an uncommon set of performance tools at his disposal who can fluctuate between the role of leading man and comedic relief so casually and with such confidence. For another Bruce Campbell master class make sure you check out Bubba Ho-Tep.
9 - 22 Jump Street
21 Jump Street had no right to be as good as it was. Fully aware of just how ridiculous it is to have a sequel to a remake of a TV show about undercover cops in schools, it didn’t take itself too seriously, and the result was amazing. 22 Jump Street was even better: bigger, bolder and more bonkers than the original. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill's chemistry again lit up the screen, with directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller also deserving much of the praise. I often think a good comedy stands the test of time based on the ability to quote lines to your pals, and there are one-liners aplenty. These are the guys who managed to sneak in a Benny Hill gag to the middle of a big summer blockbuster, remember. Well worth 112 minutes of your time.
8 - X-Men: X2
In 2000, Bryan Singer introduced his version of Marvel’s comic book heroes the X-Men to audiences everywhere to much hype and a good amount of critical acclaim. The follow up built on that and then some. X-Men: X2 introduced more of Wolverine’s origin and backstory, something that has continued to be a touchstone throughout the X-Men franchise. X2 also capitalized on the benefits of a sequel, like deepening established character relationships and exploring existing mythology the Dark Phoenix saga, while committing few sequel sins. The villains' hatred and bias is defeated by cooperation, teamwork and sacrifice eventually, making X2’s story as relevant today as it was in 2003, and will continue to be so for a long, long time.
7 - Toy Story 2
The Original Toy Story was a groundbreaking movie and in terms of animation at the time, and just an all-around great movie to boot. It made Pixar THE company to watch, so Toy Story 2 had pretty big boots to fill. And yet it surpasses the original in every way. It’s better animated, it expands the world, builds upon the characters, and hits some serious emotional gut-punches. It’s one of the best films the studio has ever done, which is saying something when you look at all of the classics they’ve made over the years. And yet Toy Story 2 holds up beautifully, and I’m not sure if anything in the franchise will ever top it.
6 - Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers
The Two Towers marked a watershed moment from Lord of the Rings being a pretty faithful book adaption, to a mind-blowing cinematic experience of its own right. The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the series, introduced us to these characters, set up stories and let you know roughly where the story was going to go, but, at times, it felt a little flat and laborious, especially in the middle third. No such problems for the sequel. The Battle of Helm’s deep is still one of the most mind-blowing things I have ever seen in a cinema. How could a battle involving Dwarves, Elves, Orks, and even the odd giant walking, talking, tree not be! The series as a whole is absolutely superb, but it has to be said that the middle part of the trilogy was the best of the lot.
5 - The Dark Knight
For the purpose of this list, I am basing this purely on the Christopher Nolan Trilogy. There is no doubt that The Dark Knight is superior to every story of the caped crusader made for the big screen. The film was revolutionary for the comic book genre as Nolan expertly blended a real-world crime drama with superhero characters. Before The Dark Knight, comic book movies were relegated to light-hearted, comic book entertainment. Even something as bizarrely gothic as Tim Burton’s Batman movies were still in the realm of escapist viewing. By comparison, The Dark Knight is about the War on Terror, and while it’s still an incredibly entertaining movie, it’s also one that continues to resonate. And even if it weren’t a thoughtful, engaging film, which it is, it would still have one of the greatest performances in modern cinema with Heath Ledger’s Joker.
4 - Aliens
Some may see this as the most controversial pick on this list. There are very passionate fans out there claiming Ridley Scott's subtler first film is better James Cameron's bigger second film, and vice versa. Both are, of course, utterly brilliant, but for us, Scott's slow-building, tense atmosphere is narrowly pipped at the post by Cameron's action-oriented thriller, displaying the very best of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley as she takes down the Alien Queen in the Power Loader. Weaver is ably supported by an amazing cast such as Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and the late, great Bill Paxton. Even if this wasn’t part of a series of films, and stood alone, it would still be a hell of an action film. Plus, it spawned the forever iconic “Get away from her, you BITCH” line!
3 - The Godfather part 2
While The Godfather is one of the greatest films of all time, so is its sequel, The Godfather Part II. And given the success of the first film, writer/director Francis Ford Coppola could expand the scope of his dynastic gangster drama to immensely rich results. The dual time periods is executed perfectly, giving us two incredible protagonists for the price of one. And the darkening arc of Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone is a sight to behold. The Film also helped Robert De Niro score an Oscar, although to this day it is still a tragedy that Pacino didn’t also get to take one of the little gold chaps home with him.
2 - Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
No matter what people think, when George Lucas sat down to make Star Wars: A New Hope he didn’t have the full arc of this saga laid out. In fact, early drafts of The Empire Strikes Back are wildly different from the finished version of the film, which was given a significant assist by screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan. But this is one of the cornerstones of modern cinema; a dark, tragic, ambitious sequel that doubles down on the characters of A New Hope and expands their horizons in interesting, surprising ways. This is also the most visually impressive film in the Lucas-controlled saga. And it’s endured, not just as a great sci-fi movie, but as a template for sequels that raise the stakes and take the characters in different, sometimes more dangerous directions. Still the greatest of any Star Wars movies made in our humble opinion.
1 - Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The greatest sequel ever made. And, one of the greatest action films ever made. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is further proof that James Cameron is kind of unbeatable. No matter how silly or pig-headed his ideas may seem, we’ve learned to more often that not trust his judgment, pun intended. Terminator 2 turns Cameron’s contained sci-fi thriller The Terminator on its head, not only making Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bad guy the hero this time around, but exploding the mythology of the story in compelling ways. But it’s the characters of Terminator 2 that endure, as the film is really the story of a boy in search of a father, with Schwarzenegger serving that surrogate role to a tragic end. It’s moving, thrilling, and ambitious, and while The Terminator is a very good film, T2 is an amazing one.