Five Essential… Movie Sequels That Improve on the Original

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, Gary Collinson selects his five essential movie sequels that improve on the original…

These days if a film isn’t a remake, then there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a sequel. In fact, it seems to have become customary to follow a decent opening with an announcement of the follow-up (A Nightmare on Elm Street, anyone?) and all a movie has to do is pull in a few punters and the word ‘franchise’ gets the studio hearts pounding.

Now we all know it’s about the bottom line at the end of the day and sure, many of these hastily-produced sequels will see a nice return that often exceeds the original, but in terms of quality it really is a rare occasion that a second movie will add to – or god forbid, improve on – its predecessor. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred this won’t be the case, making it all the sweeter on those rare occasions when a sequel actually manages to pull it off…

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan5. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, dir. Nicholas Meyer)

Despite strong box office success the first feature incarnation of Gene Roddenberry’s groundbreaking sci-fi franchise is a dull and instantly forgettable affair that stumbles through a paper-thin plot at a snail’s pace. Three years later Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise returned to do battle with one of the greatest villains ever to grace the screen – the genetically-engineered superhuman Khan Noonien Singh (a fantastically over-the-top Ricardo Montalban) – in a sequel that outdoes the original in every way imaginable. In terms of sheer improvement, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is head and shoulders ahead of the field. Read our review here.

The Dark Knight4. The Dark Knight (2008, dir. Christopher Nolan)

Rebooting the exhausted franchise to great effect with 2005’s Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan laid to rest the ghost of Batman & Robin and set anticipation for a follow-up into overdrive by teasing the introduction of the Caped Crusader’s arch-nemesis, The Joker. Three years later fans got what they wanted and more as The Dark Knight transcended the typical comic book movie to deliver a sprawling crime epic that immediately cemented its place among the best of both genres. Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning turn as The Joker stands as a highlight but the film really is exceptional through-out from start to finish. Nolan will attempt the impossible and look to continue the trend when the third instalment hits cinemas in July 2012.

Aliens3. Aliens (1986, dir. James Cameron)

Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 sci-fi horror Alien is certainly one of the best in its genre, although the ante was raised considerably with this first sequel from director James Cameron. Lead star Sigourney Weaver – who returns as heroine Ellen Ripley – once described the follow-up as having made “Alien look like a cucumber sandwich”, and whereas the crew of the Nostromo had to contend with a single Xenomorph, Aliens makes fantastic use of the plural to deliver an action tour de force with a group of battle-hardened marines squaring off against a legion of the H.R. Giger-inspired creatures. Enjoying four weeks at the top of the US box office, Aliens remains the highest grossing instalment in the series (although that could change with the release of Ridley Scott’s planned 3D prequels) and is one of the greatest sci-fi action films ever to grace the screen.

The Godfather Part II2. The Godfather: Part II (1974, dir. Francis Ford Coppola)

Serving as both a prequel and sequel to his 1972 mafia classic, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II is an epic tale presenting two parallel storylines – the founding of the Corleone crime family by a young Vito Corleone (Best Supporting Actor recipient Robert De Niro) during the 1920s and the rise to power of his son Michael (Al Pacino, with arguably his greatest performance) a generation later. Much like its predecessor, The Godfather: Part II is often referred to as one of the greatest films of all-time and was the first sequel to receive the Academy Award for Best Picture. Coppola became only the second director in history to face competition from himself in that category (with his thriller The Conversation also nominated), while he was also named Best Director after being overlooked for the original.

Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, dir. Irvin Kershner)

In this day and age the formula for a ‘successful’ sequel seems to be little more than a retread of the original, albeit with bigger bangs and better special effects. Not so when you’re following up a pop culture phenomenon unlike anything the world had ever seen. The mastery of The Empire Strikes Back is the way it takes everything that made Star Wars so successful and turns it upside down; the big battle sequence is over in the first act and from the very beginning the Rebels are on the back foot to an enraged Sith Lord, who of course makes a startling revelation to our hero that has gone down as one of – if not the – most celebrated plot twists in history. The Empire Strikes Back is the essential sequel, and in my opinion, the greatest movie of all time.

Honourable Mentions…

Bride of Frankenstein (1935, dir. James Whale)
Dawn of the Dead (1978, dir. George A. Romero)
Evil Dead II (1987, dir. Sam Raimi)
For a Few Dollars More (1965, dir. Sergio Leone)
From Russia with Love (1963, dir. Terence Young)

And yes… I may be the only person in the world who thinks The Terminator is a better film than its 1991 follow-up, hence the reason Terminator 2: Judgement Day is absent here…

Agree? Disagree? We’d love to hear your comments on the list…

Gary Collinson

Essentials Archive

Around the Web

  • This list is just about spot on except I can't agree that Aliens is better than Alien. It's not even like you can really compare the two because they are both so different but Alien will always win every time for me.

  • Sister Act 2, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, both better than the first IMHO 🙂

  • Dawn of the Dead is my favorite of the series.<br /><br />The bes sequel of all time though is Spiderman 2. It may be the best superhero movie of all time. <br /><br /><a href="; rel="nofollow"> Scifi Media</a>

  • Hi guys, thanks for the comments, some worthy sequels there. Spiderman 2 and X-Men 2 were both on my list of considerations but in the end just missed out.<br /><br />Mike – I have to go for the sequel, probably because I was such a fan when I was younger and thought the first one seemed a bit slow in comparison (no guns!). But of course you&#39;re right, they are so different and hard to compare

  • Anonymous

    this list is not complete without TERMINATOR2.

  • Totally agree with this list. Especially number 2, which is a sequel that could have worked even without the first one. Nice List!

  • Anonymous – I can see your point, but have already stated my reason for omitting T2 – I prefer the first. If it was solely &#39;Five Essential Sequels&#39; then I would have included it.

  • Terminator was superior to T2. T2 had cutting edge CG but the original terminator was awesome. I think it is about time for my 9yo to see aliens. <a href="; rel="nofollow">SciFi Media</a>

  • Anonymous

    Mad Max 2 should be up there or mentioned, it is an epic film.

  • Anonymous, fair comment. I much prefer Mad Max 2 and it had slipped my mind when I wrote this. Saying that, I&#39;m not sure I could swap it for any of those mentioned, certainly none of the top five.

  • Dawn of the Dead is my favorite of the series.<br><br>The bes sequel of all time though is Spiderman 2. It may be the best superhero movie of all time. <br><br><a href="; rel="nofollow"> Scifi Media</a>

  • Anonymous – I can see your point, but have already stated my reason for omitting T2 – I prefer the first. If it was solely &#39;Five Essential Sequels&#39; then I would have included it.