We live in the age of franchises and returning movies and spin-offs and prequels. So much so that roughly one in every twenty movies released in a standard Hollywood year is linked to a prior success. Well, we acknowledge that it is not at all easy to repeat the same formula with more success in terms of storytelling. But despite the challenge there have been few filmmakers who have achieved the rare feat where sequels were better or at least at par with the original, establishing a legacy in the process for future films to live up to. These films were received by the audience with an equal amount of love and proved to be major successes at the ticket windows as well, nostalgia being only part of the reason why these films continue to run well into the 21st century and the audience too, turning up time and again to catch even the most minute connections to their favourite film.
While some filmmakers or film lovers may claim that the dearth of quality movies today can be attributed to the ‘franchise’ phenomenon, this article doesn’t intend to do that. Instead, we celebrate the art of continued or revived legacies and storytelling, gathering a list of the sequels that lived up to the premise of the original. Without further ado, here goes the list of the best movie sequels/installments ever. You can watch several of these best movie sequels on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime.
20. Batman Returns (1992)
‘Batman Returns’ is Tim Burton’s second outing with the caped crusader following ‘Batman’ released in 1989, with Michael Keaton donning the cape and cowl one last time before being replaced by Val Kilmer in the next film. The film has some great production design at display, and Burton’s signature style of storytelling. It is, for the most part, a visual treat and a fun film to watch, before the franchise completely derailed into the unintentionally funny category with ‘Forever’.
There are, however, two things for which I am most grateful to this movie: Michelle Pfeiffer as the femme fatale Catwoman, and Danny DeVito as The Penguin, giving us two of the most deliciously twisted portrayals of characters from the Bat’s rogue gallery. ‘Returns’ felt like a more complete film, and close to a complete realisation of Burton’s vision of Gotham. Despite Nicholson’s terrific turn as the Joker in the previous installment, I was completely sold on the way this film tried to establish a universe of sorts.
19. X2: X-Men United (2003)
Apart from being the best film in the temporally muddled ‘X-Men’ franchise, apart from ‘First Class’, of course, ‘X-Men II’ also holds the rare distinction of being better than the original in almost every aspect imaginable. ‘X-Men II’ steered away from overpopulating its already brimming scenery with more mutants, something that can be termed responsible for the fate of ‘The Last Stand’, and yet shines on its merit of enough screen time and shining moments for all its players, with one of the best finales for a superhero film and a great comic book villain in William Stryker. X2 proudly holds its head high even today with the right kind of balance between the fun and the serious bits, something that modern superhero films should aspire to.
18. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Technically speaking, sequels don’t come in better sizes or scopes than this one. The sequel of sequels, the release of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ became a global event, more so than merely marking Marvel’s ambitious tentpole culmination. The film brought together virtually every Marvel hero introduced over a course of eighteen movies over ten years and pitted them against an all-powerful titan of a villain, Thanos, whose overarching presence was only hinted at in numerous post credits scenes. The film does demand a sense of appreciation at all the setting up that took years and farsightedness in the business, and the story of Thanos, his motivations as a villain and his menacing resolve to balance the universe add a lot of emotional weight to the story that I earlier found missing from most Marvel outings, and frequently lamented over.
The cinematography and special effects were a huge step up from previous Marvel movies, and even the score was considerably better. It might feel overstuffed to a certain amount of viewers, but if one manages to squeeze in at least one badass scene for every hero, and absolutely killer entries for Cap, Iron Man and Thor, that alone deserves commendation.
17. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Unpopular opinion: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is undisputedly the best Marvel movie till date, for me, duping even ‘Infinity War’ in my opinion. The most “serious” Marvel film too, it is often layered and socially aware in a manner that is rare for superhero films in general, and plain surprising for MCU films. A tightly bound script, some sharp dialogue, and action sequences that can easily match the ‘Raid’ films during their well-choreographed and executed highs drive it miles ahead of its predecessor that was little more than a universe building exercise and a by the books origin story. ‘The Winter Soldier’ could have been less, with the MCU riding on a high wave after the worldwide success of its ambitious team-up ‘Avengers’ in 2012, but instead it strives for more and succeeds, giving us a well-made film that is more an espionage thriller with a dated super human at the centre of it, trying to come to terms with a whole new world.
16. The Raid 2 (2014)
The original ‘Raid’ was in itself a brutal kick to the gut, something that would make even hardcore action film lovers squirm with delight or with resentment at the amount of relentless violence and intense kills, and a sequel that tops it is quite definitely to be hailed as a lethal film. ‘The Raid 2’ raises the bar in almost every aspect that the first one scored immensely well on and became a fan favourite, including the story and performances, but that is not what we watch the ‘Raid’ films for. Foremost, the action is a huge step up from the previous one despite being excellent already. The hand to hand is absolutely brutally bone cracking and the kills are bloodier, gorier and I daresay, more innovative. Raid 2’ corrects the longstanding notion that action movies have to be devoid of art, and is quite deservingly credited with being one of the best action films ever made.
15. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is the rare sequel that improved upon the first one in terms of sheer filmmaking craft, and much of that may be credited to Matt Reeves who delivers a well-rounded ‘studio’ film, one that is almost too well made to be clubbed in the Blockbuster category. Easily the best film in the new trilogy too, the film is an exemplar in how CGI is effectively rendered as a storytelling tool too, with Andy Serkis proving time and again why he is the best motion capture artist out there for live action animations. Unmistakably imbued with political and philosophical undertones that are also characteristic of this franchise, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is as close as summer blockbusters come to being masterful cinematic works, in fact also being the gold standard.
14. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
The sequel to the original ‘Lethal Weapon’ takes everything that made the first one such a hit and pumps it up a notch. Ofcourse, with the improved budget, the crashes and bangs and shots are louder and edgier, but luckily for us, the stylistic storytelling and the tongue in cheek repartee of our excellent lead actors isn’t lost one bit. Quite frankly, the only way to improve a Mel Gibson–Danny Glover team up was to add a Joe Pesci in the mix, and boy does this insanely enjoyable film make full use of the trio. Textbook material in buddy cop filmmaking, ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ is what good ‘commercial’ cinema looks like.
13. Toy Story 2 (1999)
‘Toy Story 2’ wasn’t just a remake of ‘Toy Story’, with some extra bits thrown in for good measure. It delved deeper into the characters – Woody, Buzz, Mr. Potatohead, Rex, introducing new ones in the process, while maintaining the light hearted and fun spirit of the original. Pixar kicked up the animation quite a notch here, and gave us a wholesome, memorable movie.
12. The Bourne Supremacy (2004)
In the spy movie genre, what Bourne Identity accomplished has yet to be surpassed. A slick action flick, smartly paced and deftly plotted, ‘The Bourne Identity’ was universally praised. And with this masterful sequel, the series went full throttle. It explores more of Bourne’s character and the plot is denser than its predecessor. Directed by Paul Greengrass, this film features perhaps one of the best shaky-cam executions in cinema.
11. Spiderman-2 (2004)
To date, Spiderman-2 remains the best Spiderman movie ever, and perhaps one of the best superhero films too. It hits all the right buttons, right from Peter Parker doubting himself as a hero, to Harry Osborn’s jealousy and of course, Alfred Molina’s on point portrayal of Dr. Octopus. That train stunt still remains etched in our minds as one of the coolest stunts to be presented on-screen.
10. The Color of Money (1986)
A sequel 25 years in the making and a rarity by Martin Scorsese, ‘The Color of Money’ continued the story of Fast Eddie Felson from ‘The Hustler’ that released back in 1961. It is an absolute delight to see Paul Newman return to the role more than 2 decades later, joined by a cocky as ever Tom Cruise in the role of a talented but haughty pool hustler.
Watching ‘The Color of Money’ even today, I can say two things with a lot of surety. The first, Paul Newman should have won the Oscar for his performance in ‘The Hustler’, but ended up winning for this one nonetheless, settling all accounts in the end. Second, I can completely agree that while this may not be Scorsese’s best work, especially considering he was fresh off the success of ‘Raging Bull’, I still believe that this is too finely made a film to be merely dismissed as a weaker entry in an already golden filmography. One of the better character driven films of the 80s, ‘The Color of Money’ is yet to receive its fair share of credit for continuing a now iconic story with renewed fervour.
9. Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Long before Sam Raimi helmed the Spiderman franchise, he was responsible for delivering another trilogy of films that would establish his uniquely twisted directorial style. One of the very few American directors I can fairly credit with the creation and propagation of the horror-comedy genre, ‘Evil Dead 2’ is wackier, bloodier and scarier. Unapologetically over the top, even more so than the first ‘Evil Dead’ that has also spawned a remake, ‘Evil Dead 2’ is a thrilling ride that stays true to its master’s vision, one that is to ensure you have a hell of a ride without diving too deep into logic, given of course that you have the stomach for it since there is hardly a scene without mutilated heads, hands, corpses, and an unsettlingly disturbing amount of blood.
8. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
The only other reputable space opera that comes to mind other than the ‘Star Wars’ series of films to have made such a significant impact on pop culture that has effectively spanned generations now is ‘Star Trek’, the TV show more than the series of films, continually experiencing upheavals. In those, ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ would be the crowning jewel of the ‘Star Trek’ films. Endlessly more adventurous and fun than its predecessor and even its successor, the film introduces one of the best villains from the TV series, effectively transitioning him to the big screen in a fully realised arc amidst themes of family, friendship, loyalty and vengeance. Watching it even today makes me reminisce of the olden days of meaningful sci-fi, when wonder and spectacle drove the vehicle rather than special effects. An absolute treasure for geeks and film lovers alike.
7. Aliens (1986)
There was a time when Ridley Scott was at the peak of his directorial prowess display. ‘Alien’ came out in 1979 and gave us horrors beyond measure; the horrors of space and of course, whatever came with it. Everyone was sufficiently impressed, and the original cemented its name in the gallery of classics. However, James Cameron followed it up with ‘Aliens’ on the footsteps of its predecessor. With a better story, better shocks and better effects, ‘Aliens’ made its way into cinematic history, and is now often counted among the best science fiction movies of all time.
6. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
So much has already been said about the LOTR trilogy. Although ‘Return of the King’ gobbled up all the Oscars, its predecessor ‘The Two Towers’ effectively paved the way for it. Often forgotten in appreciation of the trilogy as a whole, ‘The Two Towers’ expands on the already established story in ‘Fellowship’ and gives us more fleshed out characters. The tension is palpable and it gears us up for the epic finale.
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5. The Terminator: Judgment Day (1991)
“I’ll be back.” Admit it: While growing up as a 90s kid, this was the movie to go back to, again and again, just for the thrills, the pulse-pounding action and the dialogue. Upon a re-watch now, multiple other qualities of the film surface: the story, the characters and of course, Arnold, which is why this movie deserves this spot on the list.
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4. Star Wars – Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
“No, I’m your father.” Although this is 4th on our list, this is the sequel against which all the sequels are inevitably compared. ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is the reason Star Wars is so loved. With an unforgettable score by John Williams, impeccable world building and characterization and memorable dialogue, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ ranks very high on almost every movie list in the world. This film is iconic and historically significant. So much so, that the Empire magazine listed it as #1 in their poll of ‘Best Movies of All Time’.
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3. The Dark Knight (2009)
Christopher Nolan absolutely knocked it out of the park with this sequel to ‘Batman Begins’. Redefining the superhero movie genre not too long ago with ‘Begins’, Nolan surpassed all expectations and benchmarks, establishing new ones in the process, and delivered an amazing film. A film, that will in my opinion be, for a long time, the best live action superhero movie to have been made, unless something truly ground-breaking comes along. Not really much to say that hasn’t been said about this phenomenon of a film; Nolan’s genius, Action sequences, great dialogues, amazing performances, and HEATH LEDGER, that great, great performer who breathed new life into an already iconic supervillain. Onwards now to #2.
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2. Before Sunset (2004)
The Before Series will hold up for decades to come. A series of films that are about two people engaged in real conversation are a rarity even for this generation. In future, such films won’t get made at all. That’s why future generations are going to look back at the Before trilogy in awe and wonder. And I won’t be surprised if the trilogy finds its deserved place in not just film history but also every film school’s library.
Among the three Before films, ‘Before Sunset’ stands out because it is the most heartbreakingly beautiful. A film that is inherently about the strongest human desire: the desire to be with someone you could spend rest of your life with. If you look closely, ‘Before Sunset’, ultimately, becomes a mirror, by looking into which, you can judge your own relationships: Where you went wrong? Who was actually “the one” for you ? What opportunities did you miss? What could have been? It’s one of the rarest of rare films where your own experience in life will enrich and nourish your experience with the film.
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1. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Living up to the legacy of the first was a mammoth task in itself, but this continuation of ‘The Godfather’ saga not only succeeded in that, it also expanded its legacy to become a part of the greatest American story about organised crime ever told. The film presents two parallel narratives; one dealing with Michael Corleone as the new head of the Corleone ‘family business’, the second showcasing an excellent Robert De Niro as a young Vito Corleone, and his rise to power. The two stories are skillfully woven, providing an enticing narrative that doesn’t loosen its grip on the viewer once.
Al Pacino does some of his best work here, his newfound gaze virtually chewing up the scenery every time he makes an appearance on screen. One of those near perfect films which can be watched irrespective of time, place and your last viewing, and you still end up in total submission and awe of it. Francis Ford Coppola’s magnum opus, ‘The Godfather: Part II’ remains the definitive sequel, a study in film-making, acting, composition and possibly everything else even remotely linked to filmmaking.
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