Most sequels don’t end up being as good as the original movie. It’s hard for lightning to strike twice, and many parts 2 and 3 and so on just end up rehashing the first film. But every now and then, Hollywood produces a sequel so great that it’s actually better than the original movie.
How many of these are in your Netflix queue?
Friday The 13th Part III (And Beyond)
There’s no denying that the first Friday The 13th is a classic piece of slasher horror, and certainly the most superior of the series in terms of technical filmmaking and actual horror. Unfortunately, Friday The 13th isn’t a horror franchise… but rather the heroic and comedic tale of a zombified man-bull using his automaton strength to impale aroused 22-year olds.
When you look at the series from this lens you begin to realize that the most memorable kills and moments come from the later films. Even Jason’s mask doesn’t originate until the third installment. Yes, those first few movies are iconic in the slasher genre, but it’s only once our behemoth protagonist begins launching speargun attacks and hacking Crispin Glover faces does this series hit its full potential.
The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear
A lot of modern comedy sequels fall into the trap of repeating the same jokes from the original, but The Naked Gun series almost seems to have too many jokes to cram into the three films. Are they all good jokes? Oh goodness no. But the highest “good to bad” radio has to be the second film.
For starters, the movie opens with a pretty great sequence of one clueless man repeatedly assaulting Barbara Bush — something you just don’t see in many movies these days. Also, the villains in this movie are the coal and oil industries attempting to stop renewable energy, making this film depressingly ahead of its time.
Planes: Fire & Rescue
While neither of them are very good movies, the first Planes is pretty much a reverse rip-off of the first Cars — featuring a small town cropduster who dreams of becoming a big-time racer. So at least Planes: Fire & Rescue attempts to try something new, essentially existing as a forest fire disaster film.
Also, Ed Harris plays an old grumpy helicopter in it, which counts for something. So considering that it is a pretty entertaining and original premise, this terrible movie is still the second or third best of the entire Cars franchise — which probably says more about the other films than it does this.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (And Beyond)
On first glance, the casual Fast and/or Furious fan might say that the Fast and Furenaissance starts closer to Fast Five than Tokyo Drift. Those people would be wrong — as the third film in the series, while seemingly unrelated to the main story, really sets the standard for how grandiosity crazy these films can be.
Crazy car stunts aside, this movie establishes a world where complex organized crime disputes are settled with car races. The larger implications being that this is some kind of alternate reality where your ability to drive vehicles is directly tied to your status as a human, completely transcending all other aspects of society.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
It’s weird to think that director Guillermo del Toro had a career before he made Pan’s Labyrinth, and that career included Blade II and Hellboy. Both of these films were fantastic, but it was only after Pan’s Labyrinth did the director become equally notable as the brands he was adapting.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is his immediate follow up to this newfound Tim Burton-esque fame, and boy can you tell that the leash is off. Using a beautiful combination of practical effects and CGI, the visuals alone far surpass the first film — which is also slightly hurt from having to establish the universe.
Toy Story 3
The original Toy Story benefited from being unlike anything we’d ever seen before, but from a narrative perspective is pretty basic in the message it was trying to portray. That message obviously being: inanimate objects are secretly conspiring against you and you should destroy them at all costs.
The third film, however, takes us far down the nostalgia rabbit hole — showing the existential pain of outgrowing the tools of our childhood. Only in this case, those tools are toys that can think and feel abandoned — and no doubt eventually conspire against us unless we strike first against them. #ToyWar
The first Thor is a delightful introduction and fish-out-of-water story, the second Thor: The Dark World is definitely a movie. Thor: Ragnarok is when we finally feel like we’ve met this character and his world, which until then was far too regal to be much fun. Most importantly: it gave Chris Hemsworth the opportunity to be funny and have depth.
Ragnarok is what happens when you take the James Gunn-established world of Guardians of the Galaxy and let director Taika Waititi add his two cents — the results being both completely unhinged and more delightful than anything we had seen from the God of Thunder (until Endgame, that is).
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is such a bad movie that it almost spoils its much better sequels. It plants the entire human apocalypse on a few dumb people who have no idea how to take care of an ape. Caesar’s (Andy Serkis) tragic origin stems from a primate shelter run by people who inexplicably hate the animals they care for.
We haven’t even mentioned James Franco, who spends the entire film not telling anyone what kind of mad science he is toying with. It’s an absolute clown show, one that results in two extremely good sequels taking place long after mankind has nearly wiped itself out — all thanks to a handful of paramount jackasses.
X2: X-Men United
The first X-Men movie was nearly historic as it marked the beginning of a very long era in which superhero films were both a) mainstream and b) good. That said, it still suffered all the problems of a franchise just getting its footing — dealing with various character origins and introductions along the way.
X2, on the other hand, threw us right into that mutant pool — opening with what is still one of the best CGI superpower sequences ever made. Along with Nightcrawler’s (Alan Cumming) entrance, we also get several occasions where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) just straight up kabobs dudes… a ghastly spectacle we don’t see again until Logan.
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
The first Alien vs Predator thought it would be super neat to take their film about a swole space crab fighting the physical manifestation of sex crime and make it PG-13 so the kids could enjoy it. Because you know how much pre-teens love movies based on comics from before their birth, right?
The R-rated sequel Requiem wasn’t perfect… but at least it immediately killed a child. Also, there was gore — lots and lots of gore. And it actually marks the only time we’ve seen aliens active on a modern earth setting, so there’s also that. It checks off a lot of interesting boxes, even though sadly none of them were “be a good film”.
Punisher: War Zone
The charisma deck is always stacked against the character of Frank Castle, whose only superpower is having guns and dressing like a goth club bouncer. Trying to make him sympathetic requires well… several seasons of a TV show. And so it’s much easier to simply lean into the silliness of it all, something that Punisher: War Zone does perfectly.
Take, just as one example, the villain of Jigsaw — played by Dominic West doing an almost cartoonish performance. It’s ridiculous enough that his origin is being thrown in a glass crushing machine, let alone the fact that the machine is located inside his villain lair for some reason. How much recycling does one mobster need to do?
Hot Shots! Part Deux
Anyone can parody the already silly Top Gun. But Apocalypse Now? Well that takes some guts… especially when you manage to convince Martin Sheen to reprise his character for the gag… which exists within a movie where Saddam Hussein turns into a dog-man and has a sword fight.
Look, it’s not perfect… and maybe it depends on your age… but the sequel to Hot Shots contains far more quotable and memorable jokes than the first one (War! It’s fantastic!). The only major counterpoint to this being a notable and upsetting lack of Cary Elwes in this, and really most films.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
As you’ll later see in this list, Hasbro has a keen talent for realizing when they’ve made a top-notch boner and then immediately course-correcting. The G.I. Joe sequel is one said boner — as the series went from half-hearted toy propaganda to an action free-for-all so confident that it kills Channing Tatum in the first act.
And of course, there’s a baseline level of quality when you have The Rock in your cast. Not to mention The Rock acting against a somewhat-caring Bruce Willis, who legitimately seems to be enjoying himself (or was at least paid enough to seem that way). File this under “surprisingly fun trash”!
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
This movie that is either the 3rd or 4th of the Universal Soldier series (it’s not even worth looking up) is way better than it has any business being. Not only are the action scenes The Raid-level brutal, but many sequences in this movie can only be described as “Lynchian” in style.
It’s weird to even fathom a reality where this is being said, but Jean-Claude Van Damme gives us a performance akin to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. Everyone is great in this, including Dolph Lundgren. If you’re a fan of bizarre action movies, this one is a Holy Grail.
Found footage movies are such a bane in the horror community that it’s actually delightful when one is actually good. V/H/S’s anthology-style honed in on the rather big problem that by the one hour mark, audiences are usually wondering why the main characters are still holding the camera in the first place.
But while the first film established the style and included many great shorts, V/H/S/2 undoubtedly hit that sweet spot before the series turned sour with Viral. Specifically… it included a sequence co-shot by Apostle and The Raid director Gareth Evans. If you can’t remember which one that is… perhaps the word “papa” will jog you.
This movie is low-key one of the best CGI masterpieces of the 21st century. We don’t regard it as such because of the overreach that went into de-aging Jeff Bridges into a Gumby abomination. However every other visuals are downright breathtaking — making it a worthy successor to the effects-driven original.
What sends it past the 1982 film is that Tron: Legacy not only deals with various compelling themes concerning fatherhood and human rights, but does it with a way-sicker version of all the cool games we saw in the original. Every day that a third film isn’t being greenlit is a crime against humanity.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
The quality of the individual Mission: Impossible movies undoubtedly vary from person to person. If you’re in the mood for a dark spy thriller you might crave the Brian De Palma original. If you’re looking for a more hilarious product of its time you might even enjoy the second John Woo one. It’s hard to name a victor in this battle of equals.
Or maybe, for the fun of it, we can say that the later films — starting with Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol — are when the series went above and beyond as action/stunt spectacles. As a general rule, if your movie features a skydiving Henry Cavill getting Falcon Punched by God’s electric wrath then you’re heading in the right direction.
Mad Max: Fury Road
It feels weird to admit it, but none of the previous Mad Max films hold a single candle to Fury Road. Like, it’s not even close. For starters — the originals are retrospectively harder to watch thanks to a certain leading man. But while the previous ones have plenty of amazing post-apocalyptic car stunts, Fury Road fully realizes the ludicrous action that comes from this premise.
And what’s more — it’s brilliantly simple, the story being a quaint “there and back again” plot that turns around exactly mid-way through. In fact, do yourself a favor and watch this movie to a timer. You’ll see just how efficient director George Miller uses the 120 minutes of unfathomable automobile carnage. This is a symphony of awesome.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
One of the biggest pieces of evidence that time travel exists is that somehow a studio allowed Peter Jackson, the director of Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles to make one of the biggest stories of all time. That director would then go on to make King Kong and a WWI documentary. This is clearly a Biff Tannen scenario gone surprisingly right.,
While it’s obviously fantastic, The Fellowship of the Ring is almost entirely setup with very little catharsis. The Two Towers, on the other hand, gave us the Battle of Helm’s Deep — a sequence that could have been an entire movie by itself. It’s not controversial to call it the best of the series.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
It took way too long for someone to put Nicolas Cage in the same room as the directors of Crank… but when it happened it was pure magic. According to some accounts, the set to Spirit Of Vengeance was so freaking pumped that they didn’t even need to use CG to turn Cage’s head into a flaming skull.
Seriously, this movie looked at the Ghost Rider character and brought him to the appropriate level of insanity — at one point even letting him pilot a massive mining trencher before pissing fire. What an amazing improvement from the first film. Why there isn’t 10 more of these is a mystery.
Cinderella III: A Twist in Time
It could seem downright sacrilegious to consider the straight-to-DVD Cinderella III as a superior film to the Disney original, but that’s only because you probably haven’t seen it yet. For starters, it uses time travel to reset the romantic timeline, giving our lead characters way more agency in their decision to get married.
Also, it’s just a super cool temporal romp where Cinderella has to throw down for what’s hers in several action sequences. And yet it also blurs the lines of “good” and “evil” by giving one of her stepsisters an arc that elevates her from simply being a strawman villain. This movie has a lot going on, you guys.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Out Of The Shadows didn’t gloriously exceed the first Michael Bay reboot so much as it simply met what should be considered the bare-minimum requirement for a Ninja Turtles movie. Yes, they were still horrifying muscle goblins — but at least we got the over-the-top villains we all know and love from the cartoon series.
More specifically: this movie gives us Bebop and Rocksteady… something that, until this point, no other live-action version had done. When you think about how it took until 2016 for that to happen, you really have to wonder who is in charge of this franchise. Like seriously, not even the 90s film was bold enough to showcase these glorious animal thugs.
Avengers: Infinity War
If you were to watch all of the Avengers films (not the MCU sequels around it) you’d probably be shocked at how much Age Of Ultron sticks out as a bland placeholder story. And ultimately, the Infinity War/Endgame films absolutely blow it out of the water. It might possibly even be better than the first film, but that’s up for debate.
You could argue that the first Avengers, being a lead up to Endgame, was an amazing introduction to these characters’ interactions and was narratively superior due to its tight focus. But what makes Infinity War especially impressive is how many balls it manages to juggle while still being a surprisingly well-paced film.
Bad Boys II
There was once a time in our history where Michael Bay was praised for making elaborate but coherent action movies that sometimes featured Will Smith, an actor who — at the time — was known for making good decisions. This is all now very foreign of a concept, Bad Boys II being one of the final films of this era.
Yes, it’s better than the first film. It’s 200x more movie than any movie before it. There’s an entire sequence where someone uses corpses as projectiles. There are two third acts and everyone is fine with that. A remote control car explodes a crowd of henchmen into pinwheeling chaos. This movie is bliss.
10 Cloverfield Lane
The biggest problem with this Cloverfield sequel is that it’s too good to be a Cloverfield sequel. Originally conceived as a standalone film, 10 Cloverfield Lane was assimilated into the mediocre franchise instead of getting the chance to exist on its own. It’s so good that it’s ruined by the movies around it.
Imagine how much better this film would be with an ambiguous disaster and a main story primarily surrounding the psychological struggle between the people inside of the bunker. Whether or not John Goodman’s character is right about the outside would almost be moot compared to the claustrophobic terror on the inside.
The first Spider-Man is great, but Spider-Man 2 is literally one of the best superhero films of all time. Surprisingly puny in context, it perfectly hits all the standard tropes we’ve grown to love from the genre: including a secret identity crisis and a villain with a change of heart.
And by some grace of the universe, we were given a Dr. Otto Octavius played by Alfred Molina. This movie gave us so much, including the hilarious face on Tobey Maguire when he is forced to stop a train using his organically-produced man-web. Where was his tired body storing all of that gross thread?
The Dark Knight
Some might find the first Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins a little too clogged up with origin story bits. Others would say that The Dark Knight Rises goes in the other direction, being bloated with an epic plot that fails to balance too many new characters. The Dark Knight is that Goldilocks film existing right in the middle.
It is, without a doubt, the best of the three — if only for Heath Ledger. But it doesn’t hurt to also have a great plot, terrific lead actors, and a cameo from Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister — an actor who, statistically-speaking from his IMDb credits, seems to improve any film he is in.
The Devil’s Rejects
House of 1000 Corpses was exactly the kind of horror shlock you’d expect from Rob Zombie, the guy who made a career from gravelly singing about Monster Mash nonsense. This is probably why no one expected anything much from the follow up The Devil’s Rejects. Out of all the surprises in this movie, the biggest has to be Rob Zombie’s undeniable talent.
Besides the usual shocks of a story about three murderous anti-heroes on the Dahmer of all road trips, Devil’s Rejects subverts all expectations by transforming into a Natural Born Killers style attempt to make us connect with these monsters. This is done mainly through fantastic performances by all three. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, Zombie ends by somehow making “Free Bird” a cool song.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
It might be a controversial pick, but while the first two Harry Potter films were very good children’s movies, Prisoner Of Azkaban was a surprisingly artful film by a highly skilled director. The subject matter was still PG, but Alfonso Cuarón treated the tale of child wizards with the same attention and respect as he would with Children Of Men or Roma.
The result is a precedent confirming that movies aimed at younger audiences can still have an adult-level of artistic care… something we would see influence the rest of the series to come. Also, he got rid of those friggin robes and let the characters dress like normal people, which was a big plus.
Ouija: Origin of Evil
Made by the abominable Hasbro Films, the first Ouija film was a tragic piece of brand pandering that literally zero people were fooled by. It has a 6% on Rotten Tomatoes. Clearly the studio understood what had gone wrong, and co-producer Jason Blum flat out gave complete control to director Mike Flanagan for the sequel.
We’re talking about the showrunner and director of The Haunting of Hill House and Oculus — and so this sequel ended up receiving an 82% from critics, quite possibly the biggest spike in quality between a film and its sequel. And boy, it actually deserves it… if only because it doesn’t require you to watch the first film to follow.