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The Best Sequels of All Time: These Franchises Saved the Best for Second

Darth Vader uses the force in Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back

Sequels always have their work cut out for them, so it doesn’t really come as a surprise when they don’t quite hit the mark like their predecessors. Countless beloved movies have tried following up their narratives only for fans to either pretend that the sequels never happened or just downright hate them.

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That said, lists focusing on excellent movie sequels that manage to both regain their original fans’ attention as well as garner stellar reviews don’t often contain a lot of titles. This article contains our favorite movie sequels of all time, ranked and ready for everyone to go, “Oh yeah, that one was better than the original!” or, at the very least, agree that they did come head-to-head with their first installments. Here are the best sequels of all time, ranked.

15) Evil Dead 2

Ash Williams covered in blood in Evil Dead 2
(Rosebud Releasing Corporation)

Evil Dead franchise is best known for its a wonderful mix of horror and camp and Evil Dead 2 is the best example of that. Army of Darkness is hilarious but veers a little too much into humor. Evil Dead 2 balanced the grotesque and the humorous. It’s also the first film with the chainsaw and shotgun wielding Ash Williams that we’ve come to know and love.

14) Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead zombies
(universal pictures)

Ever wonder why so many zombie films have scenes where the characters go shopping? That’s mostly due to this film. After barely surviving the initial zombie apocalypse, the characters take shelter in a mall, only to find out the zombies are also there, apparently maintaining faint memories of their time spent before. This film was the first zombie movie that use zombies as a metaphor for how capitalism turns workers into mindless drones, a metaphor that was expanded on in films like Shaun of the Dead.

13) Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Crowd cheering on Puss in Boots.

Shrek 2 is often cited as the best-animated sequel of all time, and a few years ago, I probably would have agreed with you. However, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is an incredible film that improves upon the first in any way; the animation, the action, the character development, the themes. This film has multiple antagonists and still manages to balance them all amazingly. It’s a shame it came out in the same year as Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinnochio because if it hadn’t, it would have had a major chance for the best animated feature Academy Award.

12) Terminator 2

(Tri-Star Pictures)

In my mind, the series ends with Terminator 2. It is an amazing sequel, showing the long term effects that Sarah Connor’s trauma has left on both her and her son. I also appreciate that John never uses a weapon as a child. John doesn’t save the world because he can fight. He and his mother save the world by teaching a machine the value of human life. It’s honestly tragic the way that the franchise keeps trying to continue despite the fact that we already have the perfect ending with the deleted scene.

11) Mad Max: Fury Road

Furiosa and Max drive in Mad Max: Fury Road.
(Warner Bros)

Fury Road is arguably more of a “requel” (reboot in the same timeline) than a sequel. However, every part of the film is immaculate. The worldbuilding is top-notch, trusting the audience to understand things by showing rather than telling. That’s not even getting into the breathtaking action scenes that used practical effects, a wonderful break from the CGI of modern blockbusters.

10) Toy Story 2 (1999)

Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye in Toy Story 2

Pixar’s Toy Story was a staple in every ‘90s kid’s childhood and, to this day, remains the studio’s strongest nostalgia bait because, yes, I will still watch a movie about toys in my twenties, and yes, I will still cry when it gets emotional. Toy Story 2 follows Buzz Lightyear and the rest of Andy’s gang of toys go on a mission to save everyone’s favorite cowboy, Woody, who is stolen by a collector. The film contains one of the most satisfying (but at the same time, creepy?) scenes in Pixar history: the scene with The Cleaner. 

It also contains one of my all-time favorite final exchanges in a movie: it ends with the toys reunited and welcoming Andy home from summer camp. As Andy leaves to go play with his sister, Woody and Buzz watch him from his bedroom window as the sun is setting. The space toy looks to the cowboy and asks if he’s still worried about Andy outgrowing him and all that and Woody smiles and tells his friend, “About Andy? Nah, it will be fun while it lasts.” Buzz then tells him that he’s proud of Woody, to which the latter replies, “Besides, when it all ends I’ll have old Buzz Lightyear to keep me company—for infinity and beyond.”

The second one was the best of all of them, okay. And I am willing to DIE on this hill.

9) Paddington 2 (2017)

Paddington bear.

Paddington 2 probably holds the honor of being the internet’s most-beloved movie sequel. It is also regarded by none other than Hugh Grant himself as his greatest film and I think that speaks for itself. The follow-up to 2014’s Paddington sees everyone’s cuddly raincoat-wearing bear in prison. I realize I could have worded that better so as not to make the transition from cuteness to the slammer so abrupt, but I’m keeping it that way. Anyway, lovely color palettes that are somehow constantly tinged with pink to compositions that would probably make even auteur director Wes Anderson smile, Paddington 2 feels like a warm hug that meets—if not surpasses—its first film. 

8) 2046 (2004)

The world of cinema has seen the bright burning of numerous collaborations that have spawned many great films. Among these partnerships are, of course, Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung. Although only considered a loosely-based sequel, 2046 follows Leung’s Chow Mo-wan navigating his grief and loneliness after the events of In the Mood For Love. Unlike its predecessor, 2046 touches on hints of sci-fi and features a mysterious room numbered 2046 where nothing ever really changes—hence, no loss or sadness. 

7) Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

Church scene between Amanda Seyfried and Meryl Streep in 'Mamma Mia Here We Go Again'
(Legendary Pictures)

Where do I begin with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again? Weaving in and out of the past and the present, the sequel to 2008’s highly successful and acclaimed Mamma Mia! brings audiences back to the fictional Greek island Kalokairi and features an outrageous ensemble cast that includes, of course, Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Cher, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, and Stellan Skarsgård who all sing AND dance to the music of ABBA. It’s yet another film on this list that just feels like a warm hug and leaves you wanting to go to the beach with some of your oldest friends. 

6) Spider-Man 2 (2004) 

(Columbia Pictures)

The middle child of Sam Raimi’s iconic Spider-Man Trilogy will always have a slot in lists containing the greatest superhero flicks of all time and in catalogs like this one. From its ominous and legendary antagonist, Doc Ock (played by none other than Alfred Molina), and Peter’s struggles with both as everyone’s favorite web-slinger and as his regular alter ego Peter Parker, Spider-Man 2 had all the makings of a great follow-up and absolutely delivered. Tobey Maguire excellently encapsulates the confidence and charisma that comes with being Spidey, all while easily slipping into Peter Parker’s shy demeanor and awkward tendencies. 

5) Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

It’s been over two decades since The Two Towers came out, and it still holds up as a masterpiece. As many other writers have pointed out over the years, the biggest advantage the LOTR films had was that they were filmed back-to-back. This allowed for a more cohesive approach that ensured the quality spread across all three movies. It’s always a challenge having to pick which among the three could be deemed best, but for purposes of both argument and this list, the case can (and should) be made for The Two Towers. The film contains the hands-down best battle of all time: Helm’s Deep. Regarded as the longest on-screen battle in cinematic history, the Battle of Helm’s Deep ran for over 40 minutes and took 120 days to film. It remains the standard for fantasy battles and may never be exceeded. 

4) Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Football scene in Top Gun Maverick

With over three decades since its original film’s release, Top Gun: Maverick was set up as a legacy sequel that would probably just bank on all of our parents’ collective nostalgia for the ‘80s only for it to prove us all wrong in the best way possible. The film opens with an almost exact recreation of the original’s sequence, complete with “Danger Zone” and the Top Gun theme playing in the background. We also see Maverick cruising with his old motorcycle, jacket, and aviator sunglasses—still as reckless and restless as ever, even all these years later. We follow him on his return to the military’s Top Gun program as an instructor after a botched test run, where he is expected to train a team of pilots for a highly classified mission. Among his would-be students is the son of his late friend, Rooster (Miles Teller). 

The film borrows many elements from the original but takes a heart and life of its own. Unlike its predecessor, its plot feels more fully formed, and on top of all the records it has set for itself, I think it’s probably safe to say that it’s a blockbuster like no other. 

3) The Dark Knight (2008)

Many have had a go at attempting to adapt Bruce Wayne’s life as Gotham’s resident mysterious billionaire who, secretly on the side, dresses up as a bat and fights crime. Some attempts have been funny and border on charming, while the others, well, not so much. There’s also been the gritty and “noir” approach, but out of all of them, none have done it quite like Christopher Nolan—although I loved Matt Reeves’ The Batman and can’t wait to see more of his story.

Nolan’s epic trilogy hit its peak with The Dark Knight, which was nominated for eight Academy Awards and managed to bring home two. The film is, of course, marked by an outstanding performance from Heath Ledger as Batman’s greatest foe, The Joker. Who could ever forget him sticking his head out of a police car and that euphoric look on his face as around him, Gotham is falling apart at the seams? 

The Dark Knight was proof that comic book movies can contain the level of seriousness and politics their source material have and excellently translate it on screen. Many have tried to capture the same effect in the years since but none have executed it as flawlessly as Nolan and his team did on The Dark Knight

2) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The infighting in the Star Wars fandom is a decades-long conflict by this point whose end appears to be nowhere in sight. But if you had to make the entirety of the fanbase agree on just one thing otherwise the world would end, a thousand voices will most likely answer back in one solid voice: The Empire Strikes Back is the best.

Released in 1980, Empire is hands-down the most quoted and recognizable film out of all the Star Wars films. From Jedi Master Yoda to the then shocking reveal that Vader is in fact, Luke’s father, Empire established better the main conflicts of the trilogy, the varying sides of the Force, and gave us Han and Leia. It was and still is the quintessential Star Wars film.  

1) The Godfather II (1974)

Following the steps of what is now highly regarded as one of the greatest films ever made must have been a daunting task but Francis Ford Coppola delivered—and as some would argue, probably even better than he did the first time, with The Godfather II. Continuing the growing legacy of the Corleone Crime Family, The Godfather II sees Michael now helming the Corleones’ operations.

It follows his descent into the underground, all while interweaving the family’s origins via flashbacks that show his father Vito’s humble beginnings, from Sicily all the way to his immigration to Little Italy in New York. The movie makes use of the unadapted chapters from Mario Puzo’s book, from which the first film was based, making it both a sequel and a prequel. It features stellar performances not only from Al Pacino but also the late John Cazale (“I know it was you, Fredo.”), Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton.  

(featured image: Disney/Lucasfilm)

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Danielle Baranda
Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.

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