Sequels can be very tricky things. When they work, which isn't very often, they are like a gift from the heavens. If they don't, they remind us why the original film is so much better. And that the filmmakers should have never tempted fate by trying t recapture lightning in a bottle.
Years ago, before straight-to-video (DVD, Blu-ray, Streaming, etc.), only very successful movies got the sequel treatment. Nowadays, if a movie is a moderate success, it can be spun-off into sequel-ville and land in straight-to-DVD land forever. Again, all this does is make us appreciate just how good the sequels we got so long ago actually were.
So it is with this reverence that we created this list with the help of IMDB. It features some of the films you might expect. At the same time, it showcases others that have proven themselves to be success d'estimes. Those films that maybe didn't catch fire upon their initial release, but proved themselves to have greater staying power than anyone thought.
The big problem with making a classic sequel is living up to the original. Some of the films on this list surpass the films they came after. Others, the truly bold ones, don't even try and yet somehow have become memorable parts of our movie watching lexicon.
So sit back, prepare your clicking finger, and get ready to discover 'The 15 Best Movie Sequels Ever.' You may not agree with all of them, however they will certainly get you thinking. And in today's uber-disconnected world, that is a feat unto itself.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
I could be wrong but this popcorn fest might be the first film of it's ilk that ends so sadly. Coming out in the shadow of Star Wars, a ground breaking film that changed the movie industry over night, Empire Strikes Back seemed poised for greatness. Sure, the film went over budget, but the storytelling from Star Wars was so strong that Empire seemed destined to at least be very good. That this sequel met and then exceeded that level is why many call it the best of the Star Wars films. Picking up where Star Wars left off we see the rebels constantly behind the eight ball. Just when it seems like they might over take the evil empire, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader do battle in the most epically filmed clash of father and son in history. In the end, Luke's earnestness just isn't enough, and this film's ability to reconcile that is what truly makes Empire Strikes Back the great sequel that it is.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Had Batman Begins not had people like my parents and their friends talking about what a good film it was, The Dark Knight wouldn't have had the anticipation that it did. Sure, it had the sad demise of Heath Ledger hanging over it, but his performance as the Joker wasn't great because of that. It's a great performance in a great movie. Period. Clocking in at 2 hours and 32 minutes, this story of Batman battling The Joker (and others) is relentless in its storytelling. It takes the promise of Batman Begins and elevates it so high that The Dark Knight Rises couldn't help but be something of a letdown.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead established him as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. However, within that film was a truly kick-ass political statement about the futility of war, people's wars within themselves, and America's involvement in Vietnam. Dawn of the Dead begins amidst the chaos of a zombie invasion. It simply drops the viewer in and lets them figure out what is happening. However, it eventually centers itself in a strip mall, and it is here that the brilliance of Dawn of the Dead takes shape. Sure, the effects are firing on all cylinders. Gore filled visuals were presented on screen that heretofore had never been witnessed. However, amidst this, Romero again makes a statement about our culture and American consumerism. Dawn of the Dead is a lot of fun, but it is very much its own film, and that is why is one of the best sequels ever.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
The first Godfather is a masterpiece. So to try and follow it up seemed like career suicide for a young Frances Ford Coppola. However, after Warner Bros. gave him a grip of money he followed Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) through his descent into darkness magnificently. So perfect is the tone and pitch of this movie, so incredibly crafted is the storytelling, that Coppola was able to give the world a big budget art film and everyone loved him for it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
After the first Nightmare on Elm Street film established Freddy Krueger as one of the baddest, supernatural killers ever, there was a bit of the let down with Freddy's Revenge. However, literally everything was redeemed with Dream Warriors. What made Freddy so cool was that he was able to haunt people in their dreams. Everybody needs to sleep, dreams and fear are what kept Freddy alive, so Dream Warriors expanded on this by putting together a group of teens who could control their sleep habits. Add to this that the visuals in this film expanded on Wes Craven's work in the original, the FX were top notch and the acting was solid without falling into camp. Dream Warriors is a great sequel that managed rise above the very genre from whence it came.
Okay, as much as people like to think that I like to say outrageous things just to get a reaction, one thing I will not say is that Aliens is better than the original Alien. That first film, about an alien that stalks a group of people on a ship, is a masterwork on the level of high art. Which is why Aliens is such an amazing sequel. First off, as the title suggests, it literally takes the horror of the first film and multiplies it several times over. Secondly, this film about a moon that is now colonized, is really just a glorified action shoot em up. And thirdly, amidst all the carnage and dialogue, a truly visceral visual experience manages to emerge. If that doesn't make this a great sequel, I don't know what does.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)
This tale of a professor who unwittingly releases evil demons upon the cabin he is residing in is a classic. In fact, when people talk about this series, the original Evil Dead seems to often get the short shrift. Many consider Evil Dead 2 nothing more than a remake of the first film. Whatever you may think there's no denying that once Ash (Bruce Campbell) realizes he's going to have to fight all night for his life, this movie never lets up. Filled with scenes of gore, violence and humor (merged in a way that heretofore had never been seen on screen before), Evil Dead 2 is the horror sequel by which all others should be measured.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
This is film is great for all the reasons sequels are great. Are the FX better than in the first film? Check. Does it elevate the first film? Check. Does it expand on the mythology? Check. So well done is James Cameron's modern day futuristic tale, that even the cheesy moments (yes, there are some) can be forgiven. This tale of the Terminator siding with John Connor and battling other Terminators, not only manages to tell a great story, it also makes a statement. The depth of storytelling in the first two films is so strong, when we watch the sequels we come to realize there is no way they can measure up.
Superman 2 (1980)
Aside from the first Superman movie, this sequel didn't have a lot going for it. However, it did a few things that made it not only stand out but also overshadow it's predecessor. Lets talk turkey, these superhero movies follow a pretty solid formula. Essentially, bad people threaten the world and the star superhero of the film saves it. However, with General Zod and Co. returning for another go round, that made this film different by not trying to top it's previous villain. The other thing this film did was go really dark. When Superman gives up his powers we see just how vulnerable Clark Kent is. Eventually, Supes would get his powers back and that is where this movie enters epic sequel status. Why? Because ultimately we see how humanity is going to have to believe in something bigger than itself in order to be saved.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)
With the exception of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, George Miller's collection of films are nearly flawless. That this erstwhile director has not only directed every film in the franchise (that we haven't seen it spun off on home video!), is just another layer in this franchise of films. And as much as Mad Max: Fury Road took these films (and filmmaking) to whole other level, The Road Warrior is still as groundbreaking and shocking as it was in 1981. The first film established this character. The sequel made him, and the world he lives in, the stuff of legend.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Back to the Future is a perfect film. Back to the Future Part 2 isn't perfect but it's so fun, clever and engrossing that you really don't care. In the first film Marty went back in time to save his parents and his future. This film sees him going forward (to a little later than the time we're currently in) to try and save his family again. However, all the problems from the past are still very much alive and well in the future. And this might be what makes this film one of the best sequels ever. Through director Robert Zemeckis's ace storytelling, we truly see that no matter where you go or what you do, there you are. Only you have the ability to change your lot in life. So... you better make the most of it!
Predator 2 (1990)
You may scoff at this entry but Predator 2 is as solid a sequel as any other on this list. Not only does it tell a solid story, but mixing the mythology of Predator with LA gangs was a stroke of genius. With a cast that includes Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Ruben Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, Bill Paxton and Adam Baldwin, the creators of this film got the sequel right because they played it straight. They respected the original story, they expanded on it and they took the Predator itself (the real star of this film) in a whole different direction. Lastly, throwing in "cameo" by the Alien didn't hurt!
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
The first Lethal Weapon was a true kick in the ass. It took the tale of two police officers, Martin Riggs (Danny Glover) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), and quite possibly gave audiences the first poetic, police procedural. There was a rawness and naked look at man's animalistic nature, that was further expanded upon in this terrific sequel. At the same there it managed to find levity with smart jokes, all while giving us a psychotic police officer (Riggs) who was every bit as bad as the people he and his partner (Murtaugh) were trying to take down. And yet, the respect that this high octane sequel pays to its predecessor is always lingering.
Halloween 3 (1982)
The first Halloween is a great, great film. The second Halloween is almost just a good. However, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch takes things to an even greater place. You have to give Halloween creator John Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace credit. They could have easily made the third installment of this franchise another Michael Myers fest. Instead, during the height of their success, they attempted to expand their own genre and make films that explored Halloween. They had a great idea, a great title, but sadly audiences (yes, I must admit this) were confused and didn't accept that they were doing. However, this isn't what makes this movie so great. The story of Silver Shamrock masks and an evil toymakers plot to take over the world, mixed with John Carpenter's groundbreaking soundtrack, is what ultimately puts Halloween 3 on this list.
The Color of Money (1986)
Probably the best part about The Color of Money is that you could watch this film (as I did) without seeing its predecessor, The Hustler, and you would never be lost. Leave it to the great director Martin Scorsese to make sequel to a classic film, and he in turn creates another classic. Yes, the pairing of Paul Newman and Tom Cruise was a solid bit of casting. However, the story this movie tells is both rich, poignant and inspiring. At the same time, Scorsese draws on the sad, wasted chances of Newman's Fast Eddie Felson character, to remind us that in order to truly appreciate this movie we need to revisit the first one. Lastly, the cherry on top of all of this is that now iconic poster. Tom Cruise is in the forefront but Newman looms very, very large.