10 Sequels That Are Better Than the Original
The greatest movie sequels take the original story in exciting directions while breathing new life into the characters we love. From unforgettable blockbusters to little-seen romantic fare, here are 10 of the very best.
Sequels Better Than the Original
Aliens is James Cameron at his glorious best: a badass heroine, groundbreaking special effects, virtuoso action sequences and enough heart to make you forget you’re watching a movie. It may have seemed impossible to top Ridley Scott’s 1979 original—a brutal, restrained sci-fi take on the “haunted house” genre—but Aliens is so effortlessly inventive that it feels like the story of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, in an Academy Award-nominated performance) truly began here. What’s more, Cameron populates his world with an abundance of memorable supporting players, including Bill Paxton’s blowhard Hudson and Carrie Henn as the young Newt, the sole survivor of an alien-infested off-world colony.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Al Pacino gives the performance of his life as the increasingly paranoid Mafia boss Michael Corleone in this creative highpoint of the New Hollywood era. A blacker-than-black tale of institutional corruption and personal decay, The Godfather Part II follows Michael as he inadvertently chooses his business—and dreams of becoming “legitimate”—over his family.
What truly elevates Part II above the original, however, are the vivid flashbacks of a young Vito Corleone, played by Robert De Niro, making his bones in 1910s New York City. These sequences, at once naturalistic and wholly artificial, give this chapter an emotional backbone that the original sometimes lacked. Arguably the finest sequel ever made, so naturally, it deserves a prime spot in this round-up of sequels that are better than the original.
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With Creed, filmmakers Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) and Aaron Covington bring the Rocky franchise back to its gritty roots and give deeper meaning to the original’s ludicrous sequels. Set nearly 40 years after the events of Rocky, the Italian Stallion (Sylvester Stallone), now a humble restaurant owner, comes out of retirement to train Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the illegitimate son of his late best friend and one-time rival. This is a movie about overcoming deep loss and crushing self-doubt—after all, the Rocky franchise’s best moments are not about life’s big victories, but about its small ones. The result is a stunning piece of work—a how-to guide on crafting a masterful spin-off.
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The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
After the unfettered imagination displayed in 1977’s Star Wars, one might have feared that a sequel would see creator George Lucas rest on his laurels and rehash the same tale. The Empire Strikes Back, however, is not your average follow-up. With screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and director Irvin Kershner at the helm, Empire trades in the original’s wide-eyed optimism for decidedly adult emotions. It’s a testament to the film’s command of drama that its most moving—and famous—moments have little to do with lightsabers or spaceships: Yoda teaching Luke the ways of The Force, Han Solo’s pitch-perfect final line and, of course, a devastating revelation that instantly became one of cinema’s great twists. More than 40 years later, Empire is still the most powerful two-hour ride in the Star Wars canon.
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Before Sunset (2004)
In 1995, writer-director Richard Linklater staged the perfect hopeless romantic fantasy, in which the American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy) met in Vienna, fell in love over the course of 24 hours, and promised to reunite at the local train station in six months. In 2004, we learn that the would-be lovers were unable to get together again all those years ago, but a chance encounter—this time in Paris—gives the pair enough time to relive and re-examine that fateful day. Life-affirming and heartbreaking in equal measure, Before Sunset has more to say about love, adulthood and missed opportunities than a dozen romantic movies combined. (It also boasts one of the best endings in movie history.)
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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
For two hours, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road grabs hold of audiences and doesn’t let go. This is a movie where everything—from John Seale’s wonderfully saturated cinematography and Tom Holkenborg’s propulsive score to Charlize Theron’s heroic leading role and those oh-so beautiful vehicles—is firing on all cylinders (pun intended). Whereas the first three Mad Max films boasted their share of impressive car chases, Fury Road is essentially a feature-length pursuit. More sequels should aspire to be this ambitious, and yes, this unhinged.
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Spider-Man 2 (2002)
Released three years before Christopher Nolan’s take on the Caped Crusader and long before Marvel decided to release 30 films (and counting) as part of its Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man 2 stood as the most fully-realized comic book adaptation yet. Twenty years later, that declaration may very well hold true. Tobey Maguire’s second—and best—outing as New York City’s unwitting saviour sees him do battle with Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) while his private life crumbles. This time around, director Sam Raimi balances jaw-dropping action sequences, high-stakes moments and unabashed campiness to perfection, making this a clear contender for sequels that are better than the original.
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Three Colors: Red (1994)
The final film by the late Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski is not only one of cinema’s greatest sequels, but one of the greatest movies ever made. The last entry into his Three Colors trilogy (each work is named after a colour of the French flag and is loosely based on one of the ideals of France’s national motto: “liberty, equality and fraternity”), Red takes on that third principle in the most inventive of ways. When a Swiss model (Irene Jacob) learns that a sullen retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) has secretly been listening in on his neighbours’ telephone conversations, her discovery kickstarts a mysterious rumination on fate and connection. Its justifiably famous ending, which ties both Red and the trilogy together, is a miracle.
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Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Though Top Gun: Maverick is the sequel that few truly clamored for, it’s the most satisfying second-act in recent memory. Tom Cruise’s first-ever billion-dollar movie wears its vanity and patriotism like awards of valour—much has been written about how Maverick’s “last-of-his-kind” story arc mirrors Cruise’s own outsized career, while its overt militarism has provided plenty of fodder for pundits. There’s no denying, however, that its characters and depth far exceeds that of the original, while its fighter sequences are some of the most exhilarating ever committed to film. (A pivotal test flight at the film’s midway point—you’ll know which one—will have you believing that movie theatres were invented just for Maverick.)
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Toy Story 3 (2010)
Who would have thought that a saga about sentient toys would stand among cinema’s most emotionally-shattering movies? While the first two films are masterpieces in their own right, Toy Story 3 is in a class of its own as the characters we’ve come to know feel more vulnerable than ever before. Take your pick of highlights: the extended “prison break,” the arrival of Spanish Buzz, a terrifying trip to the local incinerator, that tearjerker of an ending. A funny, thrilling and melancholic look at friendship, loyalty and the big sleep, this Academy Award-winning sequel is a shining example of what animated films can—and should—be.
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