Throughout the history of cinema, the sources of inspiration for the best films have varied greatly. Some are based on real-life occurrences, such as documentaries or dramatizations. Others have been inspired by graphic novels, epics, and other written works. They can also be wholly original, products of the writer’s personal experiences and their unique take on life.
When a great film is created, especially if it becomes well-known across the globe, the characters and story will begin to seep into other areas of life. It might take the form of merchandizing — such as with many Disney films. Other films have become so ingrained in modern culture that phrases from them are even used in day-to-day interactions. For example, Bill Murray was the first person to use the word “toast” to refer to something that is ‘done for’ in his famous film, Ghostbusters.
However, the most obvious and prominent products of the love of a popular film are sequels. Oftentimes, they are not quite up to scratch with the original, especially when one considers the widespread nostalgia associated with these initial entries in a series. However, a few sequels out there are just as good as — or sometimes even better than — the initial films. In this article, we will introduce the Twenty Greatest Movie Sequels in History, and what it was that made them so awesome.
The sequel to director Robert Rodriguez’ debut film, El Mariachi, this film sees the return of Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi — a gun-slinging guitarist who is bent on revenge. Desperado is a great mix of legendary music, flawless acting, and phenomenal storytelling. This film has become a cult classic, alongside the other two entries in the franchise. Though this film ended up getting mixed reviews, many critics praised its stunning visuals and novel themes. The most notable aspect of this film is the music, however. Mostly performed by Los Lobos, a Los Angeles-based rock band, the score also includes music from Dire Straits and Carlos Santana (among other artists). In fact, the rendition of ‘Mariachi Suite’ by Los Lobos ended up winning the Grammy for the Best Pop Instrumental Performance at the 1995 awards.
Toy Story 3
The third entry in the famous Toy Story franchise was quite well-received. Critics mentioned stellar performances by the voice actors and great writing in many of their reviews. It also grossed over $1 billion at the box office — making it the highest-grossing film of 2010. It also was nominated for five Oscars and ended up winning Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Toy Story 3 saw the return of fan favorites Buzz Lightyear, Sheriff Woody, and the rest of the crew of toys. This film also had a marked thematic departure from the fare that had made up the previous entries in the series, focusing on more mature themes. It was a perfect and honest blend of humor and emotion. Critics all across the globe praised the way that it portrayed impermanence, friendship, and love in a way that was easily-accessible to the younger generation.
Lethal Weapon 2
Follow-up to the Shane Black classic Lethal Weapon, this sequel was the second installment in a four-film series. It stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as Los Angeles police officers Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. In this adventure, the pair takes on a South African cartel — leading to the explosive action and laughs that Lethal Weapon is known for. This film grossed highly — about $227 million in 1989 — and was critically-acclaimed. Director Richard Donner, alongside Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, has stated that this film was their favorite in the entire series. With great writing and an excellent soundtrack, Lethal Weapon 2 was a legendary addition to its genre. Plus, it was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
While this film isn’t strictly a sequel — it actually takes place before the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark — it is still a great and successful second entry in the Indiana Jones series. In this film, Indiana Jones teams up with Short Round and Willie Scott to search for a mystical stone. They must also take on a cult whose main religious practice is human sacrifice. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom met with a lot of success. It made more than ten times what was put into its budget and was an intense, imaginative Indiana Jones film. In fact, the violence was so over-the-top for the time that it met with criticism. Despite many reviewers calling the film overly ‘dark’, it will be remembered fondly by all Indiana Jones fans. It was even ranked 71st on a list of the top action films by British travel magazine Time Out.
The second film in the Shrek series is one of the best animated films ever made. It follows the fan favorite cast from the first film as they team up with a new character — Puss in Boots — to stop an evil Fairy God Mother. Shrek 2 was incredibly successful right off the bat, as it had the largest opening for an animated film of the time (it was later passed up by its own sequel, Shrek the Third). The second Shrek movie was marked by a good sense of humor, a clever story, and a fantastic soundtrack. In fact, the music from Shrek 2 made it to the Top 10 of the US Billboard 200, including hit songs like “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows. It was also nominated for a few Oscars, including Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. It ended up winning five People’s Choice Awards in 2004.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
When you think of swashbuckling films from the 21st century, the first series to come to mind will undoubtedly be Pirates of the Caribbean. Starring Johnny Depp as the usually-drunk, always-comedic pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, the series has received a lot of positive reviews over its years of existence. The second film in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, was no exception. It followed Jack Sparrow, alongside Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) as they attempt to find the chest that contains the heart of Davy Jones, terror of the seas. The record-setting film was (at the time) the fastest film to gross $1 billion worldwide. It also received several Oscar nominations — including Best Art Direction, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. It ended up winning one Academy Award for the Best Visual Effects.
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Arguably the best high fantasy film ever created, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was the third and final installment in the trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. The film was based on the second half of the original novel by J.R.R. Tolkien (that is, the second and third volumes). It boasted stunning visual effects, perfect casting, and stayed quite faithful to the source material. This film was incredibly popular when it was released. In fact, it remains the 17th highest-grossing film, even fifteen years after it first came out. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is most famous for winning every Academy Award it was nominated for — including Best Picture, which was the only time a fantasy film has won this award. It also won ten other awards, making it one of the three films tied for winning the most Oscars (including Ben-Hur and Titanic).
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The first time that Star Trek came to the silver screen, it was not very popular. In fact, the film performed so poorly that they completely reorganized the team at the executive level. With the new writer in place, they proceeded to create Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The film followed the crew of the USS Enterprise as they fight the genetically-engineered Khan Noonien Singh, stopping him from obtaining a powerful device. This entry in the Star Trek franchise was the very first film to contain a section that was entirely created by CGI, an astounding technological achievement for 1982. In addition, it was a huge success at the box office — way more so than Star Trek: The Motion Picture — grossing $97 million and setting a world record for the first-day box office gross. This film received a lot of positive publicity and is considered by many to be the best in the series.
The Bells of St. Mary’s
This film is an old one, having first been released in 1945. It stars some of the biggest names of Classic Hollywood — Bing Crosby and Ingrid Berman. The Bells of St. Mary’s follows Crosby’s reprisal of the character Father O’Malley (he first played him in Going My Way — even winning an Academy Award for Best Actor). The film is a tale of a school that is due to close as it is rather dilapidated and old. There are strong Christian themes in the film, and it is usually associated with Christmas due to the setting and story.
The Bells of St. Mary’s was incredibly popular. It grossed about $8 million at the box office, and thus was the highest-earning film released in 1945. Notably, the dollar had more value over 70 years ago, so the inflation-adjusted earnings make this film the 50th highest-grossing film ever. It is also the most profitable film in the history of RKO Pictures. It also won the Academy Award for Best Sound, Recording and was nominated for several more. Bing Crosby was the first actor in history to be nominated twice for portraying the same character, as well.
1992 film Batman Returns was a Tim Burton-directed classic that was the second entry in the first Batman series by the Warner Bros. It starred a lot of big names — including Michael Keaton as Batman, Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as The Penguin, and Christopher Walken as a corrupt tycoon called Max Shreck. It was significantly darker than the first entry — making it one of the most memorable films in the first Batman series. Batman Returns opened to the highest opening weekend of any film ever released at the time, and still holds the record for the most-profitable opening of 1992. It was also nominated for a couple of Academy Awards — Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup. Overall, critics praised the acting, effects, and villains, as well as the well-planned action sequences.
Back to the Future Part II
The time-traveling comedy Back to the Future was a great film that will always be a part of American culture. Whether it is the DMC-12, the jokes, or the wonderful actors and actresses, there is always something to be had from this series. While the first film saw main character Marty McFly go to 1955, the sequel (Back to the Future Part II) picked up right where the first left off. Marty, Doc Brown, and Marty’s girl Jennifer Parker travel to 2015. A legendary adventure ensues in this memorable sequel. This movie had incredible visual effects and was a project that brought Industrial Light & Magic (an effects company founded by George Lucas) to a new level. It grossed over $331 million, making it the third-highest-grossing film of 1989. It ended up receiving a Saturn and a BAFTA for Visual Effects and was nominated for the Academy Award for the same category. Back to the Future Part II also ranked on Empire magazine’s list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The sequel to the boundary-breaking The Terminator follows Sarah Connor and her son as they face off against the new Terminator — a shapeshifting T-1000. They are also backed up by a less-advanced version, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though the pre-production of the film was fraught with legal disputes, the sequel was eventually created and released in 1991. Terminator 2: Judgement Day marked, above all, many breakthroughs in computer-generated imagery (CGI). It was even the first time that natural human motion was captured to create a CGI character. Therefore, it is not surprising that it won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects (alongside three more). It was also the highest-grossing film of 1991 — and of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s career. The movie has been honored by several publications as one of the greatest films of all time.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Though the original Mad Max film came out in 1979, and had sequels in 1981 and 1985, the 2015 reboot Mad Max: Fury Road just might be the best in the series. Though this film was stuck in pre-production for many years — beginning in 1997— it was finally released after numerous delays to astounding critical acclaim. It is often considered one of the best action films ever created. This film tells the tale of Mad Max Rockatansky as he faces off against Immortan Joe, a cult leader with an army who drives an armored tanker truck. Mad Max: Fury Road is the highest-grossing film in the franchise, and even won a few awards. The movie was nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won six of them — Costume Design, Production Design, Makeup and Hairstyling, Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
This movie was a loose reproduction of the novel The Lost World by Michael Crichton. It was a follow-up to the 1993 film, Jurassic Park and was also directed by Steven Spielberg. Though most of the cast was changed after the first film, Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as chaos-theorist Ian Malcolm. The story of the film is set four years after the first and focuses on a second island where dinosaurs have established their own ecosystem. The second Jurassic Park film used computer-generated imagery primarily, alongside life-sized animatronics to depict the fearsome dinosaurs. It was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for this creative direction. It grossed over half a billion worldwide — about $618 million — and received decent reviews that praised the special effects and character development of the dinosaurs themselves.
Alien was a revolutionary film in the monster-movie genre. The follow-up, Aliens, follows Ellen Ripley (the main character of the first film) as she goes back to where she originally encountered the deadly creature. Though she is accompanied by a unit of marines, it isn’t too long before things went south again. This film was a commercial success and grossed about $180 million. The sequel was well-received by critics as well. In fact, it even won eight Saturn Awards, including the coveted Best Science Fiction Film and Best Actress awards. It was also nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects. This sequel is quite respected and was even called the greatest film sequel of all time by Empire magazine.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Based J.K. Rowling’s famous series, the second installment in the Harry Potter film franchise focuses on how Harry, Ron, and Hermione battle the Heir of Slytherin and his monster. The film was quite faithful to the book. Notably, it was the last film in which Albert Dumbledore was played by Richard Harris, as he died later in 2002. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was successful in many ways. First off, it was the second-highest-grossing film released in 2002, bringing in nearly one billion dollars ($879 million). It was also nominated for several awards, including the BAFTA awards for Best Sound and Best Special Visual Effects. In addition, the film boasts six Saturn Award nominations and a great review from Roger Ebert.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
In 2008, Hellboy II: The Golden Army was released as a follow-up for the superhero film Hellboy. In this film, there was a bit of a departure from the gothic feel of the first, as it instead embraced a fantasy atmosphere. However, the main character was played again by Ron Perlman — and he did an excellent job. The second Hellboy film was moderately successful, grossing $160 million. It also received a lot of shining reviews from movie critics, praising the new atmosphere and wonderful acting. In addition, this movie took home a Saturn Award for the Best Horror Film and was nominated for many other awards. Despite the positive reviews, Hellboy II: The Golden Army might have been the last film in the series. No plans for Hellboy III are in the works at the moment.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
The original Star Wars trilogy will always be fondly remembered by science fiction fans. The second film, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, follows the events of the Galactic Civil War. Many characters from the first film are seen again — Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, and Princess Leia, among others. It had a difficult production but grossed highly (though it received mixed reviews at first). Despite the initial mixed reviews that critics were giving to this entry in the franchise, public opinion has shifted over the years. Now, it is often considered one of the best films ever made — and even ranked 3rd on Empire magazines list of the 500 greatest movies of all time. It has even been preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress due to being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”.
The first Rocky film is often considered one of the best sports dramas ever written. The sequel is also right up there, seeing Rocky’s return to the ring to face off against Apollo Creed yet again. Rocky II, starring Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, came out in 1979 and had a lot of success, commercially and critically. This film made about $200 million at the box office, which isn’t surprising considering how popular the first entry in the franchise was. This brought it into the top three of the highest-grossing films released that year, and it grossed $6.3 million on its opening weekend alone. The film also received Best Picture from the American Movie Awards and won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture.
The Godfather: Part II
The final entry on our list is The Godfather: Part II. It serves as both a sequel and a prequel to the original film, following the story of Michael Corleone in 1958, as well as the life of Vito Corleone before he became a mob boss. While this film wasn’t a huge commercial success — though it did find moderate success — it was widely critically-acclaimed. In fact, this sequel/prequel was the very first to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. It also won Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, alongside a few more Oscars. The film has also been preserved in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The Godfather: Part II is a legendary movie that still has a huge influence on the gangster genre — and really all crime films — to this day.