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Movie Sequels That Were Better Than the First Films

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Top Gun: Maverick
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Successful Sequels

"Top Gun: Maverick" hit theaters this Memorial Day weekend. Some reviewers are even saying it's better than the original — a high bar, indeed. Often, when a first movie does well, a sequel is almost bound to disappoint. Topping that first film and meeting audience expectations is a massive challenge, and it’s rare that sequels are nearly as good as the first film — except for these 15 movies, that is. These sequels more than improved on their initial versions, making them favorites among audiences and critics alike.


Related: Movie Remakes That Are Better Than the Originals

Top Gun: Maverick
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'Top Gun: Maverick' (2022)

Original: 'Top Gun' (1986) Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer

Sequel: 'Top Gun: Maverick' (2022) Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly


Reviewers are calling "Top Gun: Maverick" the perfect sequel, despite a decades-long wait for more of the fighter-pilot drama that made Tom Cruise a household name. With spectacular aerial stunts performed by the actors themselves and adrenaline-pumping action scenes, movie critics say you have to see this one on the big screen.

The Dark Knight
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‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)

Original: ‘Batman Begins’ (2005) Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy

Sequel: ‘The Dark Knight’ Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart


Gritty, dark, and elevated by Heath Ledger’s crowning performance, “The Dark Knight” causes you to ponder psychology while taking you along for a wild ride full of action scenes. “‘The Dark Knight,’ director Christopher Nolan’s absolute stunner of a follow-up to 2005’s ‘Batman Begins,’ is a potent provocation decked out as a comic-book movie … There’s something raw and elemental at work in this artfully imagined universe,” says Rolling Stone.


Related: Crazy-Expensive Cars Destroyed by Hollywood

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
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‘Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)

Original: ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’ (1977  Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Sequel: ‘Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’ Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher


The infamous Luke Skywalker-Darth Vader scene set this sequel apart from the original, but Empire also developed the characters and the world that we were already falling in love with, thanks to “A New Hope.” The Washington Post says, “‘Empire’ is a thrilling, witty, inventive continuation of ‘Star Wars’ but it also introduces a more serious approach and springs an astonishing plot twist, which promises to keep audiences buzzing and open up the story for deeper dramatic exploitation. Surprises are in store, perhaps unwelcome if you hoped for a strictly ingratiating reprise of the original movie — but potentially electrifying if you care for a new departure.”

Thor_Ragnarok
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‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (2017)

Original: ‘Thor’ (2011) Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman

Sequel: ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ Chris Hemsworth, Taika Waititi, Cate Blanchett


The original “Thor'' movie was met with subpar reviews and was regarded as a decent but mediocre movie. The sequel depicts Thor as a far more engaging and comedic character and was a bigger hit with audiences. “‘Ragnarok’ gives Hemsworth the chance to showcase his gifts as a physical comedian, making Thor feel more natural and human than he’s been in the past,” says Vox.

Spider-Man 2
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‘Spider-Man 2’ (2004)

Original: ‘Spider-Man’ (2002) Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe, James Franco

Sequel: ‘Spider-Man 2’ Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco


Moving beyond the Spiderman origin story, this sequel delves into the idea of public duty versus personal desire, and the many dynamics that come with being a superhero. The Independent asks, “When was the last time you saw a superhero being fired from his job as a pizza-delivery boy? That is the first of many humiliations to be endured by Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) in Sam Raimi's ‘Spider-Man 2,’ a sequel that not only outstrips its predecessor but has a perversity and quick-wittedness that hardly seem to belong in a comic-book movie.”

The Godfather Part II
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‘The Godfather Part II’ (1974)

Original: ‘The Godfather’ (1972) Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan

Sequel: ‘The Godfather Part II’ Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, DIane Keaton, Robert De Niro


Both “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” won Oscars, but “The Godfather Part II” truly immerses the audience in its world and characters, building on the success of the original. 


Terminator II: Judgment Day
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‘Terminator II: Judgment Day’ (1991)

Original: ‘The Terminator’ (1984) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton

Sequel: ‘Terminator II: Judgment Day’ Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong


Not only is “Terminator II” filled with impressive special effects, but it also sees the Terminator and Sarah Conner undergo significant character development that makes for a captivating storyline.

Logan
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‘Logan’ (2017)

Original: ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ (2009) Hugh Jackman, Troye Sivan, Liev Schreiber

Sequel:Logan’ Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen


The last film in the Wolverine saga, ‘Logan’ finally gets it right. The movie is the most violent, but it’s also the most emotional, thanks to unexpected plot twists and themes that the audience can relate to. “Logan took a hero long familiar to film goers and turned the tropes of a superhero film into a Western that comments on universal themes like aging and the human condition in the process,” says Ars Technica.

22 Jump Street
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‘22 Jump Street’ (2014)

Original: ‘21 Jump Street’ (2012) Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Brie Larson, Dave Franco

Sequel: 22 Jump Street, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube, Amber Stevens West


Even funnier than the original, 22 Jump Street also boasts top-quality performances by Hill and Tatum, who seem to hit their stride and play off of each other even better than they did in the original. “This sequel to the hit action comedy ‘21 Jump Street’ is better all around: the pacing is more consistent, the sight gags more imaginative, the self-referential jokes sharper,” says the Chicago Reader.

Toy Story 3
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‘Toy Story 3’

Original: Toy Story (1995) Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Sequel: Toy Story 3 Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack


It’s hard to beat the classics that “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” became, but “Toy Story 3” wins out for the sheer poignancy that it evokes in its viewers, many of whom grew up with the franchise. The idea of moving on from childhood is a universal theme that any viewer can connect with, making this movie the best of the trilogy. “It takes a kind of genius to combine a children's movie for grown-ups and a grown-up's movie for children in one glittering digimated package, yet the folks at Pixar have done it time and again,” says The Independent.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
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‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ (2004)

Original: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint

Sequel: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint


The Harry Potter films take a darker, more mature turn with the “Prisoner of Azkaban,” ultimately setting Potter and his friends on their path to the dramatic climax in the final film. This movie delves deeper into character backstories and development, making for powerful dynamics and plot twists.: “[The film], while a touch less faithful to the details of Rowling's oeuvre, captures far better its mood, the constant sense of wondrous discovery and lurking danger,” says The New Republic.


Captain America: The Winter Soldier
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‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014)

Original: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (2011) Chris Evans, Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell

Sequel: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ Chris Evans, Anthony Mackie, Scarlett Johansson


While “Captain America: The First Avenger” was a great superhero film, “The Winter Soldier” adds complexity and interest when it forces Captain America to fight against the government he so loyally served. “By far the best thing about ‘The Winter Soldier’ is that it knocks down a lot of the infrastructure the previous films had created, and it does so in a way that feels organic and refreshing for the Marvel world at large. Essentially, the twist makes sense both for a Captain America movie and for everyone else, and it leaves the right threads dangling to actually whet the appetite for future projects,” says The Atlantic.

Mad Max: Fury Road
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‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)

Original: ‘Mad Max’ (1979)  Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Hugh Keays-Byrne

Sequel: ’Mad Max: Fury Road’ Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult


“Fury Road” elevated the original “Mad Max,” carrying the audience into a post-apocalyptic world filled with dramatic action sequences and helmed by Charlize Theron’s dynamic female lead. “The first two Max features ran barely 90 minutes, and it takes guts and real confidence to dare push a straight chase film with very little dialogue to two hours. But Miller has pulled it off by coming up with innumerable new elements to keep the action compelling,” says The Hollywood Reporter.


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Bride of Frankenstein
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‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935)

Original: ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff

Sequel: ‘Bride of Frankenstein Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff


It’s campy, it’s eccentric, and it’s just the right amount of frightening. It’s no wonder that Bride of Frankenstein solidified itself as a horror classic, and is even more beloved than the original. “[Director James] Whale added an element of playful sexuality to this version, casting the proceedings in a bizarre visual framework that makes this film a good deal more surreal than the original,” says the Chicago Reader.


Dawn of the Dead
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‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1978)

Original: ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968) Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman

Sequel: Dawn of the Dead David Egme, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger


Regarded as one of the best zombie films ever, “Dawn of the Dead” is a movie that really gets you thinking, using the apocalypse as a point of intriguing social commentary. “Dawn of the Dead" is one of the best horror films ever made — and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying. It is gruesome, sickening, disgusting, violent, brutal, and appalling. It is also (excuse me for a second while I find my other list) brilliantly crafted, funny, droll, and savagely merciless in its satiric view of the American consumer society,” writes Roger Ebert.


Related: This Was the Scariest Movie the Year You Were Born

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
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‘The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ (2003)

Original: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001) Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

Sequel: ‘The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen


The task of making the first two “Lord of the Rings” movies bigger and better might seem impossible, but “Return of the King” accomplished the task through powerful storytelling, intricate makeup, and impressive special effects. “‘The Return Of The King’ ultimately proves up to the series' increasingly difficult task: making movies that echo legends, making legends that reflect life, and reconciling it all with the fact that both legends and lives all eventually meet their ends,” says AV Club.