We’re all used to sequels that merely try to financially capitalize on a hit original film – From Dusk Til Dawn 2 anyone? Typically, the best you can expect is a passable, but inferior, imitation of the original. But there are those exceptional cases where a sequel hits heights the original failed to.
Here are the top five arguably great sequels that are better than the first movie in the series.
5. The Godfather Part II
Francis Ford Coppola directed a trilogy of Godfather films. While the original is regarded as a classic in its own right, part II is the one which garners the most critical acclaim and attention.
The Godfather introduced the Corleone crime family, led by Don Vito Corleone in New York in the 1940s, while the sequel picks up the story in the 1950s as well as presenting a plotline from Italy in the early 1900s exploring the family’s roots. Not only is the follow up more gripping than the original – as Michael undergoes multiple assassination attempts as part of a riveting gang war – its exploration of Vito Corleone’s early life in Italy adds depth to the original movie. As film critic Roger Ebert notes, The Godfather Part II “enhances our understanding and appreciation of the legendary characters presented in the original film. It surpasses it, in part, because it manages to make its predecessor even better.”
How about that for a successful sequel?
4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979, was Paramount’s way of trying to capitalize on the success of Star Wars. The film got mixed reviews. Fans were not excited about the movie’s changes from the beloved television series.
However, with the release in 1982 of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with Ricardo Montalbán brilliantly playing the character of the evil Khan, the audience loved the film. The film explores human frailties, along with intense action, a suspenseful plot, and a bit of comedy. The tone more closely matches what made the television series so popular. Kirk must defeat his nemesis Khan, even though we learn that our hero, Captain Kirk, is a flawed person with fathership issues.
3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd created The Terminator franchise. The first film was released in 1984. The reception was decent, and the global box office was $78 million.
Due to disputes between the stars and the producer, it took seven years before Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released in 1991. The film is by far the best in the franchise. An evil artificial intelligence sends the Terminator robot back in time to kill the leader of the human resistance while he is still a child. The special effects are awesome. The second film did much better numbers, earning $515 million.
2. The Dark Knight
Director Christopher Nolan made The Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films, which are Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), with a much darker portrayal of Batman and Gotham City than was previously seen on the silver screen. The second installment already has the makings of an enduring classic, which built off the character development and world-building of the original to create a gripping movie with serious philosophical undertones – so much so that noted philosopher Slavoj Zizek has produced numerous commentaries on the film.
Also notable is Heath Ledger’s classic portrayal of the Joker, which was much lauded – and perhaps made more poignant and arreseting by his death shortly after filming. The late actor won an Oscar for his performance, and is regarded as having significantly upstaged previous actors who took on the role, including legendary actor Jack Nicholson.
1. Top Gun: Maverick
The original Top Gun movie was released in 1986. It made $357 million worldwide. It took until 2022 for the sequel to be released. This new film exceeds expectations. It was the first film to pack movie theaters after they reopened from being closed for so long during the pandemic. It made $1.14+ billion globally. Once again, the story is the kind of high quality action-packed thriller that pleases everyone, even if some would regard it as a guilty pleasure.