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The 20 Best Movie Sequels of All Time

24 May 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Alex Young

Best Movie Sequels

Sequels must be the most commonly attempted type of films that are scarcely pulled off in the history of cinema. It is hard enough creating a decent movie that is still worth watching a year or two after it is initially released, let alone a classic that is still good after decades or a masterpiece that remains timeless.

Creating a good, or in some cases great, sequel is a rarely seen art form that is often treated as a formula to replicate or exceed its success of the film that preceded it. Sequels are often treated as a gateway to turn one film into a franchise in order to cobble together any money the first movie may have left behind at the box office.

Although they may be few and far between, there are some sequels that pickup where the original movie left off and seamlessly allow the narrative and characters to flow in incredible new directions. Some sequels serve as bookends to the first film, provide rare insight into the character’s past and breathe new life into the direction of the story.

Despite some sequels being regarded as some of the most widely hated films of all time (i.e. Back to the Future Pt. II, The Godfather Pt. III, Escape From LA, Star Wars 1-3 etc.), there are some classic films that were crafted as sequels. Let us take a look at some of the greatest sequels of all time to learn how some stories reached beyond their original ambitions to exceed the audiences expectations.

 

20. The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl Who Played With Fire

This list has a few of the most lethal female action protagonists cinema has ever seen, but Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salanda is definitely one of the most welcome entries from the 21st Century. Here is a complex character that is completely believable that was an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation that rose to greatness to be reborn as the person she was always meant to be.

This sequel is definitely more of an action movie compared to all of the suspense in the original film, but we get to see Lisbeth kick more ass as a one woman army than any other installment in the series. Not only does she take on a villain that can physically feel no pain that’s straight out of a James Bond movie, she can hack her way out of the vault in the Fort Knox.

Lisbeth is also smart enough to survive the corporate baddies at every turn in an espionage that makes the Bourne series seem like a high school writer’s craft project. With enough mental, emotional and physical strength at her disposal, The Girl Who Played With Fire proves that if you play with matches, you’ll get burned.

 

19. The Raid 2

The Raid 2

Gareth Evans has given birth to one of the most exciting action franchises the genre has seen in decades with enough firepower to kick off a riot and a storyline that slices like a guillotine. The true magic of The Raid 2 is that it carries the storyline from pure brute force to a golden thread of deception woven throughout both the underground world of crime surrounding every character into the law enforcement agency sworn to take them down.

Much like LA Confidential and Infernal Affairs, as the story unfolds audiences see that every character realizes that their true enemy lies within themselves and their inner circle. With a climax that will leave viewers scrapping their jaw off the floor and plot twists that will leave them equally in awe, it is not to be missed.

Hollywood should take a cue from The Raid 2 because despite all of the incredible visual action sequences, nothing tops a crisp script containing a side-winding narrative full of mind-bending characters.

 

18. X-Men 2

x-men-2-13

When the X-Men were originally brought to life onscreen Hollywood finally took notice that Sam Raimi’s cinematic vision for Spider Man was no fluke. Filmmakers finally had the technological abilities to merge imaginative ideas with real action in a way audiences had never seen before and X-Men became no exception. Never had casting merged with the clear-cut crystallized creation of the characters on the page than with X-Men.

X2 formed a cinematic coalescence with crystallized fan ideas of who these characters on the page with who they could be onscreen that was pure imagination embodied by movie magic. It turns out having a razor sharp script in tow doesn’t hurt either, and after David Hayter set the bar with what fans expected of comic book films at the time.

With the US government waging a full on war with mutants to defend the idea that mutants wouldn’t exist without humans to diverge from. While civil war emerges Magneto begins forming an army to take control of Earth where Professor X looks to create a balance so there’s still a planet for humans and mutants to live on together.

With Alan Cumming taking the stage as Nightcrawler, X2 successfully allows some of the fan favorites to share the spotlight while being balanced with a story chalked full of death defying action scenes met with a diverse range character development. The X-Men stories have always been about finding a way to adapt, evolve and continue to live in harmony with those that are different than us rather than rely on the evil we know and allowing our fear to prevent change.

The film succeeds in creating a tale strong enough to intrigue long term fans and moviegoers alike while allowing some of the coolest characters in the franchise to have a life on screen.

 

17. Toy Story 3

TOY STORY 3

Say what you want, but the Toy Story trilogy are one of the few film series that bridge the gap between 20th century storytelling and 21st century moviemaking. This film series could not have been more nostalgic for children in the nineties that remember life before the internet exploded into public consciousness that had to use their imaginations to make their own fun. Not to say everything was better “back in the day”, but take a good look at Toy Story 3 and try not to get nostalgic.

Much like the function of the story itself, the film is all about moving on, accepting change and finding a new purpose in life. Although Woody, Buzz and all the other beloved characters within the story have done everything they could to stick together with Andy throughout all the challenges that childhood presented, nothing could prepare them for Andy finally growing up. They try to substitute going to daycare and looking for the cheap thrills of daily playtime with a revolving door of toddlers that will never remember them as they leave their long-lasting relationship with Andy behind.

In the end they see how other toys take out their pain of loss on them because their last owners abandoned them. The gang bands together to find a new place for themselves while coming to terms with Andy going to college by treasuring their memories with him and cherishing their time together while they search for new owners.

Anyone who ever had a favorite action figure, bought accessories for their favorite Barbie or had a toy they couldn’t leave behind will have a hard time not getting nostalgic about this movie. It’s a beautiful love letter to childhood and sentimentality about the fact that we all have to grow up, but that doesn’t mean we have to leave everything behind to move forward.

 

16. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

The Lord of the Rings The Return of the King (2003)

Finally, a Peter Jackson movie that cuts to the chase, gets to the point and delivers the goods. The film does carry certain elements of old school Hollywood epics in the scope of the story that are reminiscent of Ben Hur and Spartacus, albeit infused with massive CGI. The attention to detail within this series of films is on an unparalleled level, but the success of The Return of the King lies in the fact that unlike many sequels, his series acts as a crescendo.

Unlike many trilogies, the action, dynamics and development of the characters grow stronger as the story goes on rather than Tolkien searching to drum up another adventure for his characters, which is the case in many sequels. The film is certainly longwinded when it comes to wrapping up the ending, but the trek into Mordor and the completion of the quest it took two movies to lead up to definitely create a satisfying ending.

It would be great to see Peter Jackson take on a more stripped down approach to storytelling, but that’s like asking George RR Martin to write a romantic comedy. The sheer scope of the vision, the vastness of the world within the story and the amount of characters call for it.

 

15. Desperado

Desperado

If there ever was a King of Mexploitation films, his name is Robert Rodriquez. After his explosive indie debut with the seven thousand dollar gun-play extravaganza El Miriachi, Rodriguez brings audiences back to Mexico for round two of every gunslingers wet dream.

The film acts like a love-letter to John Woo films like Hard-boiled and The Killer, prepare to get in the ring for another swing for the film that defined the trope “cool guys don’t look at explosions”. Essentially the film is treated as a modern Western on steroids as a lone gunman takes on a Mexican drug cartel to save a small town and the woman who saved his life.

Selma Hayek delivers an electrifying performance that is hotter than the heat-waves rippling off the desert highway. This film put Antonio Banderas back on the map as a leading man in action movies and established Rodriguez as one of the new emerging indie directors to watch in the nineties alongside Quentin Tarantino.

 

 

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  • Fuck ya a lot of good sequels: Desperado, T2, X2, Toy story, Empire, Dark Knight! 🙂

    • Vash the Stampede

      Tell me Terminator 2 is here

      • Ya T2 was here.

        • Vash the Stampede

          fabulousz

  • Brian Lussier

    It’s a good list, but the order is totally off! I mean, seriously, come on! Desperado, Die Hard With A Vengeance and Magnum Force are better films than The Return Of The King?! Really?! A little ridiculous, if you ask me. I mean, might as well put in Revenge Of The Fallen while you’re at it…

    • reeceindie

      I always thought The GB&U was a prequel, rather than sequel, set during the civil war while Dollars is after…. or is that just theoretical speculation. But, either way, you’re right, Three Colours White is as much a, tenuous, sequel.

      • Brian Lussier

        Three Colors is wonderful, but I’m not sure it’s really a series. It’s a thematic trilogy, not a narrative one where the stories are linked to one another. Just the very last scene of Red reveals some links, and to be honest, even if it’s a masterpiece, I always found that bit forced and unconvincing. But that’s just me… As for your first comment, I think you’re right about it actually being a prequel.

  • Die Hard and others are better than LotR…LOL

    • Brian Lussier

      Haha! I know, right? Ridiculous! I mean, he’s calling mindless action flicks like Die Hard and Desperado better than a masterpiece like LOTR. Something is amiss here…

      • asalways

        I guess if you strip the CGI off LOTR, there won’t be much left, right?

        • Brian Lussier

          Really? I’d agree with that with The Hobbit, but LOTR has plenty of compelling drama to me, and I see the CGI as being in service of the story, not the other way around, like in Transformers or Avatar for instance.

  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Much more realized and more fun than the original.

    • Brian Lussier

      Very true.

    • Kriss_Kringle

      I hated Hellboy II when it came out because it was too much Del Toro and not so much Hellboy.The humor felt forced and there wasn’t much atmosphere.I would gladly bring more constructive criticism after a rewatch,but it’s not on my to do list for the time being.

      • marcel

        Don’t be so critic…do you know why critics just ‘bark’ instead of making movies? They are born poor, they live cheap and lack imagination.

        • Kriss_Kringle

          Constructive criticism is always a good way of pointing out flaws in something.Criticism for the sake of criticism is something else entirely.And we’re all critics,even if we dont want to admit it.

        • Gary

          Why so critical?

      • Brian Lussier

        I admired how he managed to make it a personal film that didn’t feel like a cash grab. You felt his passion for filmmaking in every shot, and it feels like almost as personal a film to him as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. It reminded me of what Tim Burton managed to do with Batman Returns, which is my favorite superhero film thus far, and whose absence from this list I mourn.

  • Brandon Thompson

    The top 2 were going to be pretty obvious, it was just a matter of which one to put first.

  • Sean Sweeney

    Dawn of the Dead, Rocky III, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Addams Family Values, The French Connection II, Superman II and if you are going to count The Good, The Bad And The Ugly then I will add From Russia With Love.

    • Brian Lussier

      Rocky III? Haha! How about On Stranger Tides while you’re at it?!

  • Bryton Cherrier

    The Godfather Part II is really overrated.
    I barely was engaged with Michael’s story
    Vito’s on the other hand, was alright, nothing amazing though.

    • Brian Lussier

      Funny, I think the opposite, that it was the first film that was overrated. A wedding that takes forever and which, apart from the scenes with Vito in his office, is boring beyond belief, and the whole section in Sicily feels like they just didn’t know where the hell to take the story. And then we see Michael in New York meeting Kay, and she says “How long have you been back?”, and he’s, like, “I’ve been back a year. More than a year.” And we didn’t even get an inkling that he was returning home. Lazy screenwriting to me. Love the hospital scene however, and the suspense during all of it. And the credit doesn’t even come back to Coppola but to George Lucas, who did the editing of that scene with him and found the way to make it suspenseful. Part II, on the other hand, I think is one of the best films ever made.

      • Bryton Cherrier

        It’s more the fact Michael is on a trip to Cuba to talk about finalizing a drug trade deal is really boring…

        • Brian Lussier

          Yeah, I could see why someone would be bored by that section. That’s how I feel about the Sicily section of Part I. Just get it fucking over with and move along! You know?

  • Konstantin Belyshev

    This is literally one of the worst lists with the best premise I’ve ever seen. The movies themselves are alright but not particularly cinematic. Take it as prevention, but too many of the items on the list are similar or just boring in the way they are done. Also, if the list is about the sequences…describe the sequences and why they are so cool to watch, not about the movie in general. Sorry, I usually don’t get this nasty. For some reason I kind of lost it on this one.

  • Kim

    List is fine, but stating that the second installment of Back to the Future is among the most widely hated films of all time is ridiculous and flat-out incorrect. The movie that gave us hoverboards does justice to the first BTTF and actually should have been ON this list. I can respect its exclusion from the list, but if you think it is ”widely hated” you just don’t have your facts straight (7.8 on IMDb even says it all). Next to that Part III was obviously the worst of the trilogy and that movie still rocks hard enough to never be considered ”widely hated”.

  • Benas Bačanskas

    What about Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible: Part 2? And of course, this is not a place for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.. but since you included it then what about Roberto Rossellini’s war trilogy? or Luchino Visconti’s german trilogy?….

  • asalways

    I vote Despicable Me 2!

  • scream 2

  • Nathan Judy

    Love the list! Found some movies I forgot about that I need to re-watch. But The Dark Knight is definitely not PG it was PG-13 and some people were worried at the beginning that it was pretty close to being R, though I don’t quite think it was.

  • Abdeldjalil E.

    Great list , and to be fair , Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest wasn’t that bad either.

    • Brian Lussier

      Really?

  • Ted Wolf

    Okay too title this the best all time is wrong. Best od the last 30 years perhaps. Otherwise we’re missing bride of Frankenstein adventures of Sherlock Holmes and goldfinger to name a few.

  • Caio Bogoni

    Since when Back to the Future II is regarded as one of the most hated sequels of all time?

  • Caio Bogoni

    Also, Frank PentanAlso, Frank Pentangeli is mispelled. You wrote Frank Pentangali in the fourth paragraph.

  • “Superman: The Movie II”, ” The Muppets (2012)”, “28 Weeks Later”.

  • José Abel Salazar Lizárraga

    No love for Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, ¿Uh?. For me, they both are great sequels, in my opinion, of course.

  • Ian Paul

    Not to be rude, but I would appreciate this list more if it had more unconventional choices.

  • Klaus Dannick

    The Bride of Frankenstein.

  • Dayakar Padayachee

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

  • Allister Cooper

    The Bourne Supremacy! Also, Superman 2 and Matrix: Reloaded. Also… Well, it’s my guilty pleasure, but… hell with it, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Well, I liked it!

  • Leonardo Borba

    No Up Series? Really?

  • John W. Thackery

    Film lists with definitive titles (i.e. including the words “OF ALL TIME”) should have more credibility. Listing “Die Hard 3” as one of the best sequels ever destroys that credibility. This list should be entitled “20 Movie Sequels That Are Worth Your Time” — that way readers will know going in that this will be a list of the author’s preferential favorites rather than a credible list of sequels that are actually considered great (which this list isn’t).

    There should also be more set parameters on what is considered a sequel, because many on this list are not actual sequels. Examples, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” is not a sequel. “Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2” was actually one film production, it was only in the editing process that QT realized that it was too long to be released as a single feature, so it was broken up into 2 films so it’s not a sequel. The LOTR movies were planned from the start (since the book trilogy was conceived as one singular story broken into 3 parts) and filmed back-to-back so again, it’s basically one production.

    Now, Indiana Jones is a bit iffy. If the events of any particular film within a franchise don’t have any effect on the events in the subsequent films, does it really count? Like the James Bond movies, they’re not really linked by any tangible plot, they’re self-contained stories that function much like TV episodes of old sitcoms. So, labeling “Temple of Doom” as a prequel and “Last Crusade” as a sequel is rather arbitrary, since they’re not connected by plot anyway. That applies to “The Road Warrior” as well.

    “Wrath of Khan” certainly can feel like a great sequel especially when the first movie is considered total dogsh-t. And “Die Hard 3”, “Desperado” and the “Dragon Tattoo” sequels all have a very mixed reception so how can they be considered some of the greatest sequels ever? And does anyone remember “Magnum Force”? These previous picks are particularly glaring given that “Bride of Frankenstein”, “Dawn of the Dead”, “Spider-Man 2” and “Superman II” are widely regarded as some of the best sequels ever but were left off this “best of all time ” list.