A great original movie is something that just can’t be beat. The feeling, the experience of seeing a new world. There’s nothing quite like it. Few movies have been able to properly capitalize on that feeling while bringing something new to the table in a sequel. We all know how great Empire Strikes Back is but what about other sequels? In honor of Empire’s 35th anniversary, I’ve got a list of 10 sequels (in no particular order) that are better than the original:
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
The first Mad Max is an expertly directed revenge thriller which turns a man of the law into a wild beast just as savage as the criminals he fights. The Road Warrior is what lies beyond the breaking point (not Thunderdome). What’s left to discover about yourself when you and everyone else has gone out of their minds? The true Max comes out. Even in the darkest corners of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, there’s a flicker of hope.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
WAIT. Let me explain. Gremlins is a loose horror comedy playing with traditional movie beats. As an audience member, you and I can still recognize we’re watching a movie. Gremlins 2 becomes its own entity. It’s funnier, bigger, and the product of an insane man’s vision for a movie that would never be made today. Joe Dante isn’t actually insane, but his mind races at 4000 miles an hour to make a movie as kinetically flabbergasting as this – and I mean it in the best way possible. You need to see it to believe it. These are in no particular order, but Gremlins 2 will always be near the top.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero will always be noted for helping to popularize zombies for American audiences. He was once pretty good at incorporating actual characters and themes into a movie too (don’t watch his latest works). While the scope of this sequel is larger than anything in the first movie, Dawn decides to focus on only four primary characters. Sequels don’t always need to be bigger to be better. They need to get more personal. Dawn did just that.
22 Jump Street
How do you top a successful comedic reboot of a once overly melodramatic crime drama? Like this. Take everything that worked in the first one, give less attention to plot (because plot does not a movie make) and focus on critiquing all sequels while embracing everything that makes them entertaining. We all love getting to know characters like Schmidt and Jenko. So now we get a movie of them with their roles reversed, more Ice Cube (Schmidt fucked the captain’s daughter), and a movie that didn’t let me stop laughing for more than five minutes. Bonus: Marvel post-credit scenes are great, but 22 Jump Street has the best credits to a movie. Possibly ever.
I promised myself I would only list one superhero movie on this list, or else you’d see me explaining in 5000 words why Avengers: Age of Ultron is infinitely more worthy of praise than almost any other Marvel movie. Alas, I will take this time to remind you all the best superhero movie is still Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. The origin story has been told, and now we can take a look at what Spider-Man means to the people of New York and whether or not Peter Parker can have a normal life. There’s much more going on beneath the surface of this movie beyond a simple tale of super heroics. It’s taking the characters we fell in love with to a place where they discover who they are in their own unique fashion. It also has the best villain cliffhanger this side of Empire Strikes Back.
The Dark Knight
If you want to get technical about this, The Dark Knight is a crime epic that stars Batman and the Joker. Following a Michael Mann inspired opening, Christopher Nolan’s thrilling middle-chapter in his Bat trilogy looks at the escalation of Gotham crime as the caped crusader takes on cinema’s greatest villain in The Joker. Gotham is constantly on the verge of total anarchy as Joker convolutedly maneuvers his way to the soul of the justice system and pushes the Batman character to places unseen in any medium.
Toy Story 2
Toy Story is one of the prime jewels in Pixar’s treasure chest. I think the sequels might rank a little bit higher, if ever so slightly. It takes the new friendships the toys have made in the first film, a movie entirely about Woody’s insecurity in himself and Andy, and makes the rest of the movie a journey for the other toys to save their beloved friend. It ponders questions about what toys mean to us as children, do they wear out their welcome, is their life beyond being a plaything? I’m not sure when little heaps of plastic decided to get existential but here we are. I love them for it.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Just to be clear, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one giant epic split into smaller movies. Now that we have that out of the way, say hello to arguably the greatest entry in the series – I personally wouldn’t argue that but some might! The Battle of Helm’s Deep to this day remains a standout battle sequence in the history of cinema. Aragorn’s journey to a champion of men hits the ground running. Most importantly, Frodo’s journey to Mordor gets sidetracked into the world of men, leaving him physically lost as the ring tightens its grip…
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
I KHAAAAAAAAN’t believe you didn’t see this coming (there’s like a 100% chance I used that joke before). When Khan Noonien Singh sets his sights on destroying Kirk, the crew of the Enterprise enters a battle of tactics, intellect, and drama that would turn Shakespeare green. Sequels don’t get much better than this one. I only hate Star Trek Into Darkness when I remember how fantastic Wrath of Khan is. From hell’s heart I stab at thee.
The Godfather Part 2
It’s probably the best movie ever made. I feel like I don’t even need to add any more praise to The Godfather Part 2. *checks with editors* Okay, fine.
Now that Michael Corleone has taken up the mantle of Godfather, his journey into isolation continues as a parallel story in the past details the life of Vito from a young boy to his rise as Godfather. Michael’s business impedes his ability to keep his family close to him, while the Vito story chronicles how beloved he became by the same crowd. If there’s any single movie detailing what a true “crime epic” is, it’s The Godfather Part 2.