It’s so rare for a sequel to be better than the original but it does happen and usually only the most talented directors and writers can pull it off.
While original films tend to be the most beloved amongst fans there are a few that manage to get sequels that blow them out of the water. Most sequels are usually much poorer than the originals due to the fact that they simply rehash the original. Sometimes this is due to the studio demanding a sequel despite creatives having nowhere to go narratively speaking. Sometimes it was just poor decision making that leads to some sequels missing the point of the original.
Given the release of Top Gun: Maverick and the overwhelming reception that film received, it got me thinking what the best sequels were. No, we won’t talk about the Marvel films because while they are sequels, kind of, they’re really their own thing thanks to the establishment of a cinematic universe. However, deliberately titled sequels in the Marvel films will be considered e.g. Guardians of the Galaxy 2.
Good sequels won’t just be present on this list as they have to exceed their originals so don’t expect Aliens or Terminator 2 as they are at least on par with their originals.
I won’t consider reboots as sequels either, so no Mad Max: Fury Road, as good as that movie is.
Also I haven’t seen every movie ever so this is just based on my own knowledge and experience.
Shrek 2. Best Shrek. It builds on the original in funny and interesting ways and actually expands on the story of the first. While the original Shrek established the world and characters we came to love, Shrek 2 expanded the fairy tale world and went deeper into Shrek and Fiona’s relationship while also introducing us to some of the series’ best villains.
Not only is it funnier and more interesting, but the animation is also a huge step up too. It’s not entirely fair to blame the original Shrek’s animation as it was a product of the technology of its time. But just look at Shrek the Third and see that time isn’t a guarantee of improved animation quality.
John Wick: Chapter 2
The first John Wick doesn’t have the strongest start. The first half hour to hour is a bit of a slog, but once it got going, then we saw the real magic happen. It was a stylish action movie that felt visceral and creative.
John Wick: Chapter 2 removes all those issues of the first and adds a ridiculous amount of style into it. Who would’ve thought that was possible? This is easily the best looking and best paced of the films before it starts to feel slightly tired in Chapter 3 (not a bad movie but not as good as 2). Just watch them all back-to-back and you can see what I mean.
High School Musical 2
This one is at least as iconic as the first one and I believe the songs are actually better. Not only are the songs better but the plot is better too as well as the character development. You wouldn’t expect it, but the HSM 2 is a weirdly well written movie. But truly, the High School Musical films are not bad at all and I believe that the sequel is just that tad better than the original.
The Dark Knight
Who wouldn’t put this on their list? Batman Begins is pretty good no doubt about it, but the scope and thematic complexity (for a superhero movie) present in The Dark Knight is unrivalled in the genre. I won’t go too far into this one as everyone has talked to death about this movie but just know that it exceeds the original in every respect: the writing has improved, the cinematography, the special effects, the character work. It’s all there and it’s all good.
Friday the 13th Part IV
Now none of the Friday the 13th films are actually “good.” They won’t (and shouldn’t) win any awards but they are a lot of fun if you’re into 80s slasher schlock. The best in the long running series is easily, Part IV. It manages to distil everything that fans love about the series into one perfect Friday the 13th film. The kills are good, you still get the classic setup of teenagers/twenty-somethings at Crystal Lake, sex, nudity, drugs, and Crispin Glover’s amazing dance moves. Oh, and Jason is actually in it with his iconic hockey mask (something not present in either the original or in Part II) It’s not a good film, but it is better than the original so it’s on this list.
This movie blew all the other Thor films out of the water, and we have director Taika Waititi to thank for it. The first Thor was fine, Thor: The Dark World, while important for the lore, is as close to bad as the Marvel films have gotten so far (though Black Widow is pretty close too).
This film has the benefit of breaking down everything about Thor that came before. It’s funnier than any of the others, it’s colourful, and features great performances from the whole cast. Cate Blanchett is having a blast as the villain. But not only all that, it’s more interesting as they move away from the generic fantasy elements that plagued the first two films and into a fantasy/sci-fi part that takes Thor out of his comfort zone making for interesting character moments.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Chamber of Secrets was good, but was it better than the original? No not really, it’s just as good. It’s more of a victory lap for director Christopher Columbus. Not so in Azkaban with new direction coming in from Alfonso Cuaron. He guides the series into more innovative ventures with his direction, and he introduced the spookier, more mature aspects of the series that would grow throughout. It’s easily, in terms of filmmaking, the best made Harry Potter film and for that alone it’s superior to the original.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
I have softened on the Hobbit films as time has gone on but one thing that hasn’t changed is my opinion that the Desolation of Smaug is the best one. I’m hard pressed to say that this is a good movie, but it does contain the most narrative action and plot so by default it feels more engaging and better paced than An Unexpected Journey which meanders a little. It’s better, but it is still flawed. It also has Smaug in it which is probably one of the best parts of the film barring his overlong chase sequence with Bilbo and the dwarves. Speaking of overlong chase sequences, that barrel scene… oy.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
I know it’s a prequel but it’s a sequel to Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace. A sequel that stands so far above the other two that it has to be included. Granted it still has many of the pitfalls that all the Star Wars prequels do, but within that framework, and for some, outside of it, this is a sequel that delivers on the promise of the first two films (in the prequel trilogy).
You get the great special effects, a great score, better (not great) performances from the actors, and even a better script. Everything is a little more thought out here and doesn’t feel like a first draft. It’s the only film in the prequel trilogy to be able to stand on (almost) even footing with the original trilogy.
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