Hollywood loves to revisit beloved (and successful) characters and franchises, but is it really worth getting excited for sequels? After all, they’re never as good as the original, right? Wrong! Discover 20 of the best follow ups (either second or third instalments, no spin-offs) that were better than the films they followed, and why they are so superior.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)
How do you follow up a genre-defining film? Make a masterpiece! The Terminator was brilliant, but it was a straightforward chase film that begged for expansion. T2 had a complex plot, a badass heroine in Sarah Connor, and the perfect villain in the T-1000 – all combining to make this one of the best sequels ever made. Plus, we could now cheer Arnie, returning to protect instead of murder. Let’s agree to forget about the films that came after, though, shall we?
DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)
If one considers Rise of The Planet of The Apes the ‘original’ in this prequel trilogy, then Matt Reeves’ second movie is a huge leap forward. Rise concentrated on the apes’ origins, but Dawn pitted Humans Vs Apes in a brutal, post-apocalyptic stand-off. Essentially a war movie with some deep questions about the burdens of leadership, it took the 50-year-old franchise into new territory and proved motion capture was no obstacle to a great performance.
BEFORE SUNSET (2004)
In 1995’s Before Sunrise, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy spend a night walking and talking in Vienna, thinking they may never meet again. This second film sees them do just that, in Paris, having moved on with their lives but with that night still haunting them. Superb dialogue underpins a story that subverts the dreamy nature of the predecessor. If Before Sunrise was a celebration of youthful exuberance, this looks at the realities of growing up. And is all the better for it.
LETHAL WEAPON 2 (1989)
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover reached their peak in this action comedy, taking on South African drug smugglers. Despite some of the worst South African accents in film history, this sequel is much more buoyant than its predecessor, as it builds on our heroes’ friendship. The action is bigger, with stakes driven much higher than last time out. The jokes are also funnier, thanks largely to the debut of franchise staple Leo Getz (Joe Pesci). What’s not to love?
MAGNUM FORCE (1973)
The writers of Apocalypse Now and The Deer Hunter worked on Clint Eastwood’s return as Harry Callahan, and flipped the script on the character’s image. He comes up against a murder squad of corrupt policemen who seek vigilante justice, and puts the archetypal rogue cop on the side of The Establishment. Where most sequels simply rehash the first film, Magnum Force puts the character in a new, thought-provoking situation that speaks as much to ‘70s politics as it does to the development of Eastwood’s detective.
THE GODFATHER: PART 2 (1974)
Any sequel that’s considered one of the best films of all time more than earns its place on the list. Following parallel timelines, we see the young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) establish a crime empire, while his adult son Michael (Al Pacino) slowly loses his former self trying to maintain it. A cinematic work of art, the flawless direction and incredible acting from both stars edge it ahead of even Part One, itself a classic in its own right.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
Yes, you read that right. Jonathan Demme’s thriller is technically a sequel to Michael Mann’s Manhunter, albeit with the psychotic Hannibal Lecter played by different actors. Winning the 5 ‘big’ Oscars, it’s a master class in restrained horror, drawing you to the very edge of your seat. Anthony Hopkins’ Lecter is a performance that etched itself into history, and Jodie Foster established herself as an acting great and the calm foil to Hopkins’ storm. Some say Mann’s dated cult flop is superior. We respectfully disagree.
BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
Tim Burton’s Batman reinvented the superhero movie, but Batman Returns is the blockbuster at its most interesting. Burton would only direct a sequel if he had complete creative control, and so crafted a dark-as-night political satire where The Penguin (Danny DeVito) runs for office. The jewel in the crown is Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, a captivating portrayal of a mental breakdown. It’s as daring as you can get for a big-budget summer movie, and has fared far better than most Dark Knight instalments.
22 JUMP STREET (2014)
It’s incredibly hard to make a comedy sequel that comes even close to the original, let alone better. Kudos, then, to Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who take all the best parts of 21 Jump Street and improve on them in this college-based follow up. More comfortable in a comedic role, Tatum often steals the show (all together now: “My Name Is JEEEFF!”) and is bolstered by the self-referential nature of the plot, poking fun at needless sequels.
AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999)
Mike Myers owned the turn of the century with his madcap spoof franchise, and while the original kicked off the universe, it was the follow-up that introduced us to its most memorable characters and catchphrases. New additions Mini Me and Fat Bastard became instant favourites, being quoted by movie fans for years after. Heather Graham was also much more fun than Liz Hurley in the romantic role, and let’s not forget the soundtrack featuring Madonna. Shagadelic, indeed.
STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
The most beloved of the whole saga, it would take a very persuasive argument to say this darker, more swashbuckling sequel didn’t top A New Hope. Containing one of cinema’s biggest plot twists, it features a world of cool characters and impossible decisions, plus an ending that leaves you begging for more. So revered is the movie that the film’s writer, Lawrence Kasdan, was brought back to work on The Force Awakens and 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story.
ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN (2010)
Forget Avatar and Star Wars – the number one film of all time in Brazil is also one of the best examples of improving on an original film. Following an anti-drug squad within Rio de Janeiro’s Military Police, it explores the corruption from within the established that helps criminals thrive and makes the poorest suffer. The record-breaking follow-up takes the first film’s reliance on violence and balances it out with questions that strike at the heart of a country’s problems.
The ‘best’ Bond film is something you could debate for hours. Whether the suaveness of Moore or the ruggedness of Craig, it’s all a matter of taste. Goldfinger is always near the top of any list, however, because it set the standard for what a 007 adventure should be. It had the most memorable villains – who had the very cool plan to rob Fort Knox – and the sleek ‘60s elegance. Aside from Ursula Andress, there’s little that original film Dr. No can do to compete.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III (2006)
The first Tom Cruise spy adventure was stylish but too complicated. M:I 2 was a messy, prolonged music video. This third part revived the entire franchise. Philip Seymour Hoffman was perfect as dastardly Owen Davian, and J.J. Abrams brought something essential to Cruise’s Ethan Hunt: risk. Giving him a wife (Michelle Monaghan) – and therefore something to lose – added peril to his adventure. We also get the debut of Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn, bringing comedy to the normally serious IMF.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
After the ponderous Star Trek: The Motion Picture sank like a stone, Kirk and Co. went back to basics. Wrath of Khan borrows from old naval adventures, most notably Moby Dick, taking themes of revenge, age and death, then throwing them into familiar territories like the deck of the Enterprise. What makes this the best Star Trek film, however, is Kirk’s journey – an invisible hero forced to face both his past and his mortality in one mission.
THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)
Even in a career as illustrious as Christopher Nolan’s, the second film in The Dark Knight trilogy takes some beating. He followed Batman Begins with a taut detective story, which took as much inspiration from cinematic gems like Heat as it did anything from the comic world. Heath Ledger would become a pop culture icon with his scary, chaotic take on The Joker. It’s the definitive cinematic take on the Batman world, and one filmmakers have struggled to match ever since.
REC 2 (2009)
The found footage horror genre has thrown up few classics (even The Blair Witch Project has not fared well with age). However, Spanish film REC went beyond gimmicks to deliver truly inventive scares. REC 2 follows a SWAT team and some interested observers into the scene of the first film, just where REC left off. The film adds dimensions both on screen and in the story; we get more viewpoints, and a suggestion that there may be more to the zombie-like outbreak than we thought.
THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (2014)
Having had Hollywood rip off the premise of his 2011 hit The Raid: Redemption (2012’s Dredd is startlingly similar), Indonesia-based director Gareth Evans inverted everything for the sequel, where the survivor of the first film’s tower block raid goes undercover in a years-long operation to take down Jakarta’s crime bosses. Balletic fight scenes punctuate an intricate plot, resulting in one of the finest films of this decade. It was hard to improve on a near-perfect action movie, but Evans succeeded.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES (1993)
The key to sequels is putting interesting characters in new situations, and that’s what Barry Sonnenfeld does beautifully with The Addams Family Values. Putting the children in a bright and happy summer camp led to some delightfully dark humour (culminating in an ‘alternative’ Thanksgiving celebration). Leads Anjelica Huston and Raúl Juliá improve on the brilliance of their original performances, but it’s Joan Cusack’s fabulously vampy gold digger Debbie that pushes the story past the first outing in terms of quality.
A contentious choice, given Ridley Scott’s Alien was such a landmark. However, James Cameron took a hard right with the next film and made it a brawnier affair featuring tough marines and excellent catchphrases (“Game over, man!”). Adding young Newt to the mix gave Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley a tender side, and a reason to fight her way through another planet besieged by Xenomorphs. They may be ultimately too different to compare, but Cameron’s film is surely the more memorable, as well as the last truly great Alien film. #staysafe #stayathome #selfisolation
Which famous movie ranks as your greatest ever sequel?