The increase in remakes and sequels in Hollywood is an interesting pattern, especially as few of them measure up to the original, understandably so. After creating such a well-loved story and movie, hitting a home run a second time can be incredibly difficult and many sequels fail to recapture the magic of the first movie. However, some not only match the quality of the original but also far exceed it.
What’s interesting is that the sequels that have been able to match up to its predecessor’s quality, and even succeed it, are recognised as some of the best movies ever made. This is largely because they added to their movies’ lore and improved on the original stories, rather than being a thinly veiled cash grab. This list will dive into some of the most iconic sequels of all time that are better than the original movies.
10. Before Sunset
Before Sunset takes place 9 years after the first movie’s events when Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) first met. Despite being released 9 years after Before Sunrise, it feels like no time has passed at all. Before Sunset is a much more mature film and handles the emotions of love in a more complex way when compared to Before Sunrise. If you’re into romantic dramas, this trilogy of movies, which also includes 2013’s Before Midnight, is a must-watch.
9. Top Gun: Maverick
Despite the 1986 movie not being received too well by critics, the original Top Gun is seen by many as being one of the most iconic movies of all time, and it would be very surprising if you’ve never heard of it, even if you’ve never watched it. So, when it was announced that a new movie would be released over 35 years after its release, there was understandably little expectations regarding its quality. It seemed very likely this was a modern cash grab using the iconic name to generate some easy revenue with a mediocre movie.
However, nothing could be further from the truth as Top Gun: Maverick was released to universal critical acclaim, with an impressive 96% aggregated score on Rotten Tomatoes. Top Gun: Maverick grossed over $1.4 billion, making it one of the highest-grossing movies of all time. Top Gun: Maverick is one of the must-see movies of 2022 and one of the best of Tom Cruise‘s career. Without a doubts, this is a notable sequel that is better than the original movie.
The first Alien movie is incredibly slow-paced, and it spends a lot of time building up to the reveal of the Xenomorph; when it comes to the sequel, the writers turned the volume up to 11. Aliens is one of the most masterfully chaotic movies ever created. There are some plot holes from the first movie, but they don’t take away from the overall experience, and it is a must-watch for fans of the Alien franchise.
7. Shrek 2
If you’re looking for a great family-friendly animated movie, Shrek 2 could be the best of the best, and earns its place on this list of sequels better than original movies. Shrek 2 expands upon the world much more than the first movie while introducing many iconic characters, such as Puss In Boots (Antonio Banderas). Along with the likes of Toy Story and The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Shrek franchise has firmly cemented its place in the history books of the greatest animated movies of all time.
6. Evil Dead II
Bruce Campbell returned for the second installment in the comedy horror franchise that is still going today. Evil Dead II builds upon the first movie and improves upon it in every way, with funnier slapstick comedy and scarier moments making it a must-see cult horror classic. When it comes to creating a sequel, it doesn’t get much better than Evil Dead II. Some movies on this list completely overhaul everything that made the first movie great and flip the script. When it comes to Evil Dead II, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel; it simply just makes it better.
5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
The Return of the King is the third and final entry in the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the movie still holds up by today’s standards. When it comes to the visual effects, especially during the epic final battle, Peter Jackson set the benchmark that future movies would be compared to. At the time, Return of the King became the second movie in history to gross over $1 billion, with Titanic being the first to do it six years earlier.
4. Toy Story 2
Even though the first movie will always be my personal favorite, the Toy Story franchise has gone from strength to strength with every iteration, although that could change with the upcoming Toy Story 5 as the previous movie concluded the story in a perfect way. Toy Story 2 didn’t just take the easy road and rehash many of the themes found in the first movie and called it a day. Instead, the movie dove further into the characters and their background and introduced numerous new characters and story arcs that became key parts of the franchise going forward.
3. The Godfather II
While the initial reception for The Godfather II was mixed, its legacy has helped cement it as one of the most beloved movies ever. Depending on who you ask, some might say the first movie is superior, and it can be argued both ways due to the contrasts in the styles. The first movie is more story-orientated, whereas the second is more focused on the downfall of Michael (Al Pacino) from a personal standpoint, with some considering him losing his soul as he becomes a worse human being than his father ever was. Regardless of whether you prefer The Godfather or The Godfather II, we recommend watching them both back to back.
2. The Dark Knight
Today, superhero movies are among the biggest blockbusters of the year, with many ranking as the highest-grossing movies of all time, but in 2008 it was a different story. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was just beginning, and although they had been regularly producing movies prior to the MCU, the same couldn’t be said for DC. The Dark Knight is the second movie in the Dark Knight Trilogy, but prior to this trilogy, there had been a lack of movies from DC Comics in the years prior.
That all changed with the success of The Dark Knight, which became an unexpected mega-hit and made the general public start to take notice of superhero movies more and helped pave the way for both comic franchises. Unfortunately, Heath Ledger never got to see his excellent portrayal of the Joker on the big screen, as he passed away shortly before the film’s release. Even if you don’t typically enjoy superhero movies, this is still a must-watch.
1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
The first Star Wars movie was very much a generic action movie, which saw a young orphan discover he has a special power before going on to thwart the bad guys and save the universe. When it came to making the sequel, George Lucas flipped the script and created an incredibly dark tale that saw the Rebellion on the receiving end of a beat down from the Empire.
By the time the movie ended, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) was frozen in carbonite, breaking up a core part of the rebel alliance. Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) had bested Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in a lightsaber duel, culminating in one of the biggest plot twists in movie history. Empire Strikes Back is not only one of the greatest movies ever made, but it is also the gold standard on how to create a perfect sequel.
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