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The 10 best movie sequels ever made

Making a sequel is not easy. Generally, it means that the movie you’re expanding on was a success, at least with some people, and it also means that expectations are even higher for following installments.

Sometimes, though, it’s possible for filmmakers to defy gravity and come back with a sequel that’s every bit as great, or even better than the first installment. These sequels accomplished that feat, and that’s what earned them their spot on this list.

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
The Empire Strikes Back
82 %
Genre Adventure, Action, Science Fiction
Stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
Directed by Irvin Kershner

Star Wars wasn’t fully Star Warsuntil The Empire Strikes Back. The first movie was a genuine phenomenon, and deservedly so, but The Empire Strikes Back introduces a grayer, more complicated version of the story’s mythology. It also features several truly brilliant design elements, chief among them Cloud City.

Learning that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is thrilling in its own right, but equally thrilling is getting the chance to meet Yoda, and understanding that destroying the Death Star was not the end of the Empire, as nice as that might have been.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back - Trailer
Aliens (1986)
84 %
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen
Directed by James Cameron

James Cameron is the king of sequels, and Aliens was the first time he showed us what he was capable of. Picking up decades after the end of Alien, this movie explores the trauma that Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley would undeniably be dealing with following the events of the first film.

When Ripley escorts a group of soldiers to the planet where the aliens come from, she realizes that she’s the only one who really understands what they’re up against. Aliens is much more an action movie than a horror movie, and it’s every bit as great as its predecessor.

Aliens (1986) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
The Godfather Part II (1974)
The Godfather Part II
90 %
Genre Drama, Crime
Stars Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

The first Godfather won Best Picture, but what’s even more remarkable is that this movie did too. This sequel may be even better than the first film, in part because of the way it splits its narrative between a continuation of the first film’s story and a chronicling of how Vito Corleone arrived in America and became a Don.

Robert De Niro gives a startlingly great performance as young Vito, and Al Pacino is even better here than he is in the first installment. Francis Ford Coppola is one of the best directors of his or any other era, and The Godfather: Part II cemented that legacy.

The Godfather Part II - Trailer
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight
84 %
Genre Drama, Action, Crime, Thriller
Stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine
Directed by Christopher Nolan

Not much more needs to be said about The Dark Knight, which was a phenomenon the second it hit theaters. Heath Ledger’s villainous performance as The Joker is startlingly brilliant, and director Christopher Nolan’s decision to make the movie feel as much like Heat as it does a superhero movie paid off in spades.

Nevermind the fact that much of the plotting doesn’t totally add up. From moment to moment, The Dark Knight feels like it’s reinventing what superhero movies are capable of being, even if many of the movies that came after it fall short of that legacy.

The Dark Knight (2008) Official Trailer #1 - Christopher Nolan Movie HD
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
75 %
Genre Action, Thriller, Science Fiction
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Directed by James Cameron

The original Terminator was proof that James Cameron had the skill to be an all-time great director, and its sequel was even better. While the first movie feels like a cross between science fiction and horror, Judgment Day turns the franchise hard toward action and is all the better for it.

Linda Hamilton is genuinely great as a totally different version of Sarah Connor than the one we met in Terminator, and Arnold Schwarzenegger took the years between the first movie and its sequel to refine his terminator until he became the beating heart of the entire franchise.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Trailer #1 | Movieclips Classic Trailers
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Mad Max: Fury Road
90 %
Genre Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Stars Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by George Miller

George Miller’s sojourn into the desert could have, and probably should have, ended in disaster. Instead, though, Fury Road is an unmitigated triumph. The movie is basically a reset of the franchise, shifting focus away from Max himself and toward Imperator Furiosa.

Thanks to some of the most kinetic, original action sequences in movie history, and a compelling narrative about the importance of fixing the places we come from, Fury Road is an action movie that means something.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Official Main Trailer [HD]
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
76 %
Genre Adventure, Action, Science Fiction
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Directed by Francis Lawrence

Catching Fire was a bit of a shock when it was first released. The movie, which sends almost all of the franchise’s characters back into the Hunger Games, was a major step up from the first installment, and it eventually became the highest-grossing movie of 2013.

Jennifer Lawrence gives the kind of central performance that we rarely see in major blockbusters, and the clean, crisp action ultimately makes Catching Fire much better than it had any right to be.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Official Theatrical Trailer (2013) HD
Creed (2015)
82 %
Genre Drama, Action
Stars Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Most people were content to let the Rocky franchise die with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa, a send-off of sorts that improbably sent Rocky back into the ring. With Creed, though, Ryan Coogler proved that the world of Rocky still had plenty of life left.

Michael B. Jordan’s central performance is crucial to this movie working, as is Sylvester Stallone’s willingness to show Rocky as a vulnerable human being. Creed is every bit as great as the original Rocky, and you wouldn’t be crazy for thinking it might even be better.

Creed - Official Trailer [HD]
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spider-Man 2
83 %
Genre Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Stars Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco
Directed by Sam Raimi

The first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie helped kick off the modern era of superhero insanity, but Spider-Man 2 may still be the genre at its finest. The movie follows Peter Parker as he tries to navigate his life as Spider-Man, and the costs that it exacts on his personal life.

Thanks to a Shakespearean performance from Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, and some truly innovative action filmmaking, Spider-Man 2 soars, and it’s also shorter than almost every Marvel movie.

Spider-Man 2 (2004) Official Trailer 1 - Tobey Maguire Movie
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
60 %
Genre Comedy, Romance
Stars Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Andy García
Directed by Ol Parker

An entry that may seem unexpected to those who haven’t experienced this movie’s many joys, Here We Go Again features one of the great jumps in quality of any sequel ever. The movie’s plot is utter nonsense, but that’s not really the point.

What Here We Go Again has in spades is beautiful Greek coasts, charming and committed performances, and dazzling musical number after dazzling musical number. There are some deeper themes working under the surface of the film that can be delved into if you want, but really, Here We Go Again is a sheer joy to watch, and that’s exactly why you should.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - Final Trailer

Editors' Recommendations

Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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