Making a sequel is like being a professional gambler. You've got a specific set of odds and statistics that dictate whether it's a good idea or not, people supporting you on either side, and right down the middle of it all is a lonely path that you, the hypothetical creator, must walk. Sometimes, that walk is one of shame, causing a franchise to wither and die after its successful origins. But in the case of the following list of films, the bet paid off, and all were rewarded with a film that was so good, it made that older, well-respected film look inferior in comparison.
Here are 14 movies that we think are better than their predecessor. Agree? Disagree? Hit the comments with your thoughts.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
While Star Trek: The Motion Picture's merits as a film are still, to this day hotly debated, the fandom just as equally defends Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as one of the series' incontrovertable high-water marks. Resurrecting Ricardo Montalban's legendary baddy, Khan Noonian Singh and Captain James T. Kirk face off in a showdown of bioethics, military strength, and ultimate sacrifice. What was once kitschy and lighthearted became gravely serious, and that transformation became a legendary success.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
What happens when you take a classic superhero, bring him into the modern world of espionage, and crossbreed the results with a 70's political thriller? You get a film that rocks the comic movie world to its core like Captain America: The Winter Solider did upon its release. On top of drawing more nuance into the character of Chris Evans' Steve Rogers, the game changing HYDRA twist that rewrote the Marvel Cinematic Universe provided a blank check for the Russo Brothers to become the men who would determine the MCU's fate to this very day. And above all else, it's a really slick follow-up to the perfect throwback origin story.
The Dark Knight
Escalation is the word that sums up why The Dark Knight is the better film when compared to the also outstanding Batman Begins. While Christopher Nolan's initial foray into the world of Batman was truly a work of art, bringing the character and his world back from the edge of camp, it was the second film that really showed what Nolan could do with the material. The Dark Knight is morality play, a romantic tragedy, and an action masterpiece all rolled into one. And Christian Bale and Heath Ledger's performances as Batman and The Joker anchor the most grounded, yet most spectacular, DC story ever committed to film.
The Godfather Part II
If Francis Ford Coppola really wanted to, he could have stopped at The Godfather, considering there's only one book's worth of material. However, with the material that wasn't covered in that original novel, as well as some new work that author Mario Puzo helped throw into the universe he created, The Godfather Part II was born. That film would not only go on to be successful, but it would also outdo the original's dramatic chops, by far. Acting as a prototype for the perfect sequel, we saw Vito Corleone's origins parallel Michael's ascension to the man he'd eventually become, and neither side of the equation was left wanting.
The first two Thor movies were, in a word, lame. Taking themselves too seriously, and wasting their villains' potential, both films managed to set a horrible precedent for the Odinson's theatrical solo efforts. All of that changed once Taika Waititi jumped aboard Thor: Ragnarok, and turned in a film that had as much color on the screen as it did within its dialogue. It also helped further the characters of Thor and Loki, while introducing new favorites like Korg and Valkyrie, all the while pushing along a cohesive story on the back of relentless excitement. Sometimes, the right person can undo the wrongs of two films all by themselves.
Some see Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man as a stack of pancakes with as much butter and syrup as possible. That is to say, they think it's a very emotional and earnest depiction of a hero who's too good to be true. Spider-Man 2 somehow found a way to not only lean into such a criticism with tremendous effect, but it also allowed itself to question such feedback in an honest and dramatic fashion. With Peter Parker always being a character that questioned his place in the world, and whether his superhero antics made any effect in the world, Spider-Man 2 gave us more of the same, but with higher stakes and a more introspective eye - and it worked. Also: Alfred Molina's Doc Ock was perfection!
X2: X-Men United
Considering how X-Men revitalized the world of comic book films after Batman & Robin put the genre into a coma, the possibility of a sequel was a frightening prospect. What if the real world issues that were so brilliantly examined in Bryan Singer's first film didn't translate as well in the first follow-up? Thankfully, that was a problem that wouldn't rear its head until the third film, as X2: X-Men United saw those same themes repeated throughout the film. Even better, the setup and evolution of Nightcrawler as a character, and the deeper dive into Wolverine's origins, helped make things bigger, while keeping them extremely personal, in a film that committed one of the most legendary X-Men moments onto film in its third act. This movie's success only makes X-Men: The Last Stand's final results all the more upsetting.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Episodic series are the easiest sequels to make, as they practically advance the story of the entire franchise by existing. Though the easiest sequels aren't always the best, as some series find themselves collapsing, even with a solid framework laid down, faster than you can say "Ascendant." So when Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban started production with a new director, and source material that marked a crucial shift in tone and story for the boy who lived's life story, there was a lot of apprehension in the air. Of course, we know better now, as director Alfonso Cuaron's entry into the Harry Potter series kickstarted the end game of the series without sacrificing the maturity or spectacle present in the book.
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2 wasn't pre-destined to succeed, as one would think. After originally being drafted as a direct-to-video sequel, and with its finished theatrical product almost wiped out during production, you wouldn't have been wrong to think that Fate somehow had it out for Woody and Buzz's continued adventures. But if the second Toy Story film could surpass the hurdle of coming up with a new, more in-depth story for a franchise that could have stuck to simple comedy, then there was truly nothing that could stop it. The world of the toys became much richer when Toy Story 2 took its bow, and Toy Story 3 might even better than 2. What a trilogy...
Want to know what's harder than making a sequel to an existing franchise? Crafting a finale to a series that spun off from said franchise, shat the bed with its origin, yet rose from the ashes and handed in two solid successes. Behold, the arc of The Wolverine! While James Mangold course corrected this saga with his efforts on The Wolverine, he truly stuck the landing with Logan, which did what no other Hugh Jackman superhero film could do before: it went to R-rated extremes. Staying true to the character, Logan made a huge jump in tone, anchoring itself in deadly serious mutant drama, but still packed quite a punch. It's the most raw and honest depiction of Wolverine's character we've ever seen, and it serves as a definitive work that's hard to top.
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol / Rogue Nation
It is too damned hard to choose which Mission: Impossible sequel is better: Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol or Christopher McQuarrie's Rogue Nation. So for the sake of our list, we're putting them at a dead even tie. To be fair, both films feel like the cementing of the same Mission: Impossible formula that started with Bird's film, and continues in McQuarrie's film. Shifting from The Ethan Hunt Show approach and back to a more crew-minded mentality that was exhibited in the original series, Mission: Impossible became an action ensemble series that survived over two decades. All it took was increasingly impressive action, and the ability to change the team to keep things fresh - the latter of which is jettisoned in the latest sequel, Mission: Impossible - Fallout. Let's see how changing things up, by being more consistent, works for this rolling stone of a franchise.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Why the hell would you make a sequel where you not only retell the story you told in the first film, but you also follow pretty much every plot beat that first films had to offer? For Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the answer was simple: the second time was to tell the story seriously. The Terminator still works in the wake of its sequel, as the action / sci-fi hybrid is still a landmark in concept and execution. But when you really watch Terminator 2, you see not only a storyline where the villain is re-skinned as a hero, you also see a parallel that shows our hero, Sarah Conner, following a path as dark and ruthless as the creature she grew to hate. If you're going to tell a similar story a second time, it's a good idea to be able to enrich that tale to a point where it's a brand new story.
Wes Craven's New Nightmare
Wes Craven energized the horror genre not once, but twice, as A Nightmare On Elm Street helped foster the slasher subgenre and Scream began the post-modern deconstruction of said sect of films. As if that wasn't enough, there's a film that bridges the two concepts, and does so by flipping the biggest, baddest middle finger to its predecessors: Wes Craven's New Nightmare. Fed up with what he saw as sub-par sequels, and newly reconciled with former producing partner / New Line Cinema bigwig Robert Shaye, Craven returned to the series he birthed and threw out all continuity past the origin. In its place, he rooted a story where Freddy Kruger was crossing over into our world, allowing himself to play with the story he created while getting in some fun shots about the world of horror films in general. As a first draft for Scream, it's a pretty decent run, but as a sequel to A Nightmare On Elm Street, Wes Craven managed to make Freddy scary again, closing out the series proper with a bang.
James Cameron has always been the type to tempt fate with his work. We'd see him do it countless times with films like Titanic, Avatar, and as previously mentioned, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. However, you can truly trace that rebellious streak to the moment the man decided to step in and direct the sequel to Ridley Scott's classic Alien, simply titled Aliens. Writing the script while also working on Rambo: First Blood Part II, some of John Rambo's gusto must have crossed over into Aliens, as that property went from a haunted house movie into a full-blown action packed war epic. Taking the horrific nature of the Xenomorph, and multiplying its numbers exponentially, was just the first step, as there were more human meatbags to help fight the alien hordes. If you look past the humor and the set-pieces though, you see a story of Ellen Ripley as hero with PTSD, facing her fears through one massive battle against the Xenomorph Queen. Yeah... definitely like Rambo.