The Best Movie Sequels of All Time
Before I begin, here are a few basic facts about me that you might already know by now:
I love movies.
I love genre movies — thrillers, action, adventure, horror, science fiction.
I love sagas, series, and trilogies. Call them what you want; I love to revisit characters and storylines that captivated my attention in the first film.
Why? If the first movie is great, as a viewer I can’t help but fall in love with the characters. If I’m lucky enough to see a movie and wonder “What happens next?” as the credits roll, I keep an eye on entertainment sites for news of a potential sequel. (It recently just happened with Kenneth Branagh’s MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.) More often than not, it’s a genre or action film like INDIANA JONES or LIVE DIE REPEAT. Sometimes it can even be a film like THREE MEN AND A BABY, which did spawn a half decent sequel which I eagerly anticipated and saw on opening night many, many years ago.
My need to see beloved characters in future storylines is a double-edged sword. Sometimes the sequels are great, other times they are not. In fact, they are frequently disappointing — it’s difficult to recapture the magic of a surprise hit — but I still hold out hope that each sequel I see will not only retain the spirit of the first, but actually outdo it. But then again, we all remember HIGHLANDER 2.
And so comes my next list: THE BEST SEQUELS OF ALL TIME. (Of course a future blog titled THE WORST SEQUELS OF ALL TIME will be coming soon.) But first, before we get to the list, we have to define exactly what I mean by “sequel.”
TSJ’s Sequel Rules:
1. The movie must be Part 2, or the film immediately following the original. Not Part 3 or 4 of 5, which would be a series or saga. This would therefore eliminate a film like STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, a very entertaining movie and a solid entry in the Trek film lexicon. It would also eliminate all franchises like James Bond or Harry Potter or Star Wars, unless of course we are talking about the second film in each series.
2. The movie must feature the same characters and/or continue the storyline that the first started. Would SPLIT, the recent M. Knight Shamylan film be considered a sequel to UNBREAKABLE using these rules? Technically, yes. Especially after viewing the final frames in the film.
3. I’m going to stick to genre movies here (Science Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Action, Fantasy.) Other worthy sequels of a more dramatic nature are in the “Honorable Mentions” below the list.
Here we go!
TSJ’s Top Sequels of All Time
10. THE EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1987)
This one made a big impact on me. It was scary as hell with intentional over-the-top humor and acting by Bruce Campbell. Raimi cranked it to eleven on this one and it really paid off. It guaranteed the careers of Campbell and Raimi, and it arguably launched the franchise (this film more than doubled the box office of Part One) which now includes a TV show, comics and video games.
9. DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)
Talk about cranking it to eleven. The first film in the franchise, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, was extremely low budget and filmed in black and white. It was claustrophobic, intimate and intense. In DAWN, the zombie action shifts from small scale cemetery to a larger apocalyptic catastrophe which takes place in an urban environment, in this case a locked shopping mall with the gore and violence exploding from the screen. I had nightmares watching the zombies eat intestines fresh from a victim’s body — if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the scene. George Romero’s film cost just over a million dollars and it brought in fifty-five million. It was incredibly successful and is one of the best sequels ever.
8. INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)
Following the massive success of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, this sequel featured one of the ultimate alpha males of the time, Harrison Ford, in another edge-of-the-seat archeological/religious hunt, but it is in fact a prequel, taking place two years before RAIDERS! It’s full of action and adventure, humor and thrills. The anticipation following RAIDERS was massive, and this lived up to the excitement. It lacked character development for Indy, which THE LAST CRUSADE made up for by filling in the childhood gaps and a strained father/son relationship, and it escalated the humor to near cartoon levels. That being said, the film was exciting enough to make the list.
7. LETHAL WEAPON 2 (1989)
I wrote about the first film here. After its initial success, the writers continued the focus on character, this time investigating Riggs’ history and his wife’s death. We learn more of his story, including the reason for the death, which was not an accident as he’d believed. It pushes Riggs farther over the edge, after he’d previously regained his balance for a brief respite in the first film during which Riggs bonded with his new partner and surrogate family. With Riggs once again a lethal weapon, he goes on a hunt to make the murderer pay, and nothing can stand in his way. Mel Gibson was born to play this role, and the original made him a superstar in North America. LETHAL WEAPON 2 is a great action film that rides the knife edge of character and action as only character-driven action films can.
6. MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981)
The first MAD MAX was a massive and surprise hit. The second was a more claustrophobic look at a tormented community of survivors. Max (Mel Gibson) stumbles across them and offers help, although more for his own needs than anything else. It was a gory, gruesome and violent action thrill-ride that blew the roof off the franchise. Incredible movie.
5. DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER (1990)
Expectations were extremely high for this film. The director was a relative unknown — Reny Harlin — who had done A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4 before this. But throw in a fantastic story set at an airport under siege, a winter storm and John McClane, and Harlin surpassed all expectations. The character actors were great (“You’re pissing in my pool, McClane!” and “Just like Iwo Jima!”) and the Christmas setting was like putting on a warm pair of slippers and settling in for a comfy movie by a crackling fire. I still remember Roger Ebert’s glowing review. He and Gene Siskel couldn’t believe how entertaining it was.
4. ALIENS (1986)
You can’t outdo ALIEN. It just can’t be done. So James Cameron decided to make a different film entirely. While the first was a claustrophobic and psychological horror, ALIENS was an action extravaganza with hordes of xenomorphs to avoid and/or kill, captured humans to rescue, and a cast of gun-toting heroes desperate to escape from a barren planet. It’s a balls-to-the-wall action film, and Cameron succeeded at every level. The casting, effects, horror, humor, action, score … it was off-the-charts-amazing. This is a fantastic sequel.
3. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982)
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was very much like the TV show: a thinking person’s science fiction movie. It was great to see the cast again on screen (Robert Wise, the director, called them “living legends” while on set) the effects were fantastic, and the score magical. But it was slow. The studio realized this and brought in Harve Bennett to produce the next, and Trek newcomer Nicholas Meyer to write and direct. The result was a character portrait of two Alphas battling against the backdrop of the Federation’s possible destruction concurrent with the rise of a tyrant. Everything about this movie was what TMP lacked. TWOK was an amazing film with an emotional story, fantastic score and wonderful acting.
2. TERMINATOR 2 (1991)
More of everything. I wrote about THE TERMINATOR here. It was a character piece with a wonderful science fiction story. With T2, Cameron amped up the action but maintained a solid character focus. The end of everything was on the horizon, and having Arnold as the hero was a fantastic decision. It switched things up so viewers weren’t watching the same thing again. The effects were of a sort that we hadn’t seen before (while filming, Cameron and crew didn’t even know if the effects department could actually realize his vision!) there was violence and humor and the stakes were enormous. Linda Hamilton threw herself into this role, transformed her body in the year leading up to the production, and audiences totally believed her story and emotion. What an incredible film. I still remember seeing it at the Galleria in 1991. Robert Patrick was a wonderful villain. There had been a lot of doubt in the months leading up to the movie … wondering if this unknown actor could outdo Arnold’s terminator from the first movie. He did a great job, he was intense in his drive to kill Connor, and the multiple decisions to switch up the storyline paid off.
1. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)
I wrote about TESB here. It’s a perfect movie. Following the watershed STAR WARS would have been daunting, and the cast and crew worried about it during the entire shoot. Talk about anxiety. STAR WARS wasn’t just a good movie — it was a watershed, seminal film in the genre, and it transformed the movie industry worldwide. The film made history. But with EMPIRE, few people on set thought Yoda would work. But everything fell together and the film captivated audiences. It’s an intense chase movie with a love story at its core. It’s emotional and thrilling and furthers everyone’s stories. It is a work of art with Harrison Ford at his absolute best. This is the one that people compare all other Star Wars films to. Nothing has come close. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK is the greatest sequel ever made.
NOTE: As I write this, I haven’t yet seen BLADE RUNNER 2.
Honorable Mentions: BLADE 2, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, BATMAN 2: THE DARK KNIGHT, THE GODFATHER PART II, SUPERMAN 2, SPIDERMAN 2.
Enter my contest to win a TSJ mug here.