The Top 10 Greatest Movie Sequels Of All Time
In today’s film market, it’s all about the sequel. Franchising is such an important part of making a profit that our multiplexes, particularly in the summer, are flooded with second installments of both recent and distant movies past. Most superhero and animated films will inevitably crop up with a big “2” emblazoned on their titles. But even though producing a sequel is now a common decision, the results can be hit or miss. However, there are sequels out there that can not only stand on their own as great films, but improve upon their predecessors. These include the top 10 greatest movie sequels of all time.
#10 – “Mad Max 2” (1981)
Also known as “The Road Warrior,” this sequel to the 1979 low-budget post apocalyptic masterpiece upped the ante and made the franchise a true cult phenomenon. A young Mel Gibson, decades before any infamous anti-Semitic ranting, solidified his status as a burgeoning superstar by once again playing a solitary drifter compelled to become a hero. A highly influential second installment, this was an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride against the breathtaking backdrop of a desert wasteland. How influential was “Mad Max 2”? The equally action-packed reboot just cleaned up at the Oscars more than 35 years later, so that should say something about quality of the franchise.
#9 – “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)
Filmmakers began producing sequels at the very outset of the medium’s history, and the earliest on our list is the follow-up to 1931’s “Frankenstein,” which features perhaps the greatest movie monster ever brought to life. It’s not uncommon in a second installment for a hero to get the girl, and in this instance, she has literally been dug up from the ground in the effort. “Bride of Frankenstein” may pick up right where the original left off, but it is no mere carbon copy. It has been lauded for bringing a combination of gruesomeness, satire and surrealism to masterpiece levels. This is the film that director James Whale is most famous for, and introduced a hairstyle to moviegoers that will live on for centuries.
#8 – “Toy Story 2” (1999)
Separate big screen misfires from Richard Pryor and Robin Williams may have convinced Hollywood that moviegoers were not engaged in the secret life of toys. Then came along an upstart animation studio that, upon the 1995 release of its first full-length feature “Toy Story,” jettisoned that theory to infinity and beyond. The film, with the voice talents of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen leading a stellar cast, also changed the way cartoons were made in the digital age. The 1999 sequel “Toy Story 2” piggybacked on the original’s success, yet confidently stood out as a fantastic film all its own. Great sequel rules applied here too: unique story, amped action and the introduction of solid new characters. It was a future classic all around that everybody seemed to want to have in their toy box.
#7 – “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (2002)
Perhaps the most significant film trilogy in recent history, the “Lord of the Rings” franchise floored moviegoers with its epic tale of persistent light trying to overcome the powerful spread of darkness. It is the most intense recounting of an indecisive jewelry return ever put up on the big screen, hands down. “The Two Towers” faced the challenge of connecting the grandeur of the epic’s beginning depicted in its first installment with the climactic conclusion of its third without possessing a clear-cut, open-and-shut story of its own. But the obstacles thrust in front of the characters and giant scope of its special effects-heavy battles gave it all the fuel it needed to shine on its own. And brightly it did shine, becoming only the fifth sequel in history to win cinema’s highest honor — an Academy Award nomination for “Best Picture.”
#6 – “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)
Surprisingly, yes, this Oscar winner was a sequel to 1986’s taut, yet overly stylized, “Manhunter” starring a pre-“CSI” William Peterson as the original FBI proxy to tangle with Hannibal Lecter in the pursuit of a serial killer. And while its director, Michael Mann, may have predictably drowned in the decade’s gloss, Jonathan Demme brought the steady hand of a true craftsman to his installment of the bestseller-adapted franchise. With the aid of Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins portraying film’s most fascinating frenemies, “Silence of the Lambs” may have quickly grabbed the mantle of that decade’s best. It was here that Lecter joined the ranks of the cinema’s best, baddest villains and, though we probably wouldn’t try his potluck offerings, he’d be one damn interesting dinner guest.
#5 – “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982)
Some fans advise that when watching the “Star Trek” movie series, you should skip the original entirely due to its plodding pace and infamous decision to feature too much dialogue over action. For that reason, any positive response to a sequel would be considered an achievement. But great pains were taken to right the wrongs brought on by the first film. Out of that perseverance, “Wrath of Khan” — like a terraforming shot to a lifeless moon — was born. A total of six films populate the original “Star Trek” film franchise, but it is this 1982 sequel that is regarded as the favorite. Here, the filmmakers returned to what made the television series so great — character relationships, action and moral philosophy — and enlarged it to fit the big screen. “Khan” is credited with reinvigorating not only the film franchise, but the entire “Star Trek” universe that still lives on today. We remember two other contributions as well — the boldly inspired selection and casting of its titular villain, and the inclusion of Captain Kirk’s greatest scream ever.
#4 – “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991)
The original was a low-budget sci-fi gem that launched Arnold Schwarzenegger to action hero superstardom and gave us the catchphrase, “I’ll be back.” In “Terminator 2,” he was back in a big way, this time playing the protagonist out to stop a more advanced and agile cyborg bent on changing the course of history. Legendary director James Cameron was back at the helm again with a record-breaking $102 million budget at his disposal — 15 times the size of the original’s. The result was another smart, edge-of-your-seat roller coaster ride, but this time as giant as a nefarious corporation capable of eradicating all human life from the planet. Influential and engaging, “Terminator 2” is another shining example of a sequel done right.
#3 – “Aliens” (1986)
Ridley Scott is a hard act to follow. “Alien,” his sci-fi horror masterpiece, was a cinematic breakthrough and throttled audiences with the unexpected convergence of two standard film genres. With its success, a sequel was decided upon almost immediately, but it would take several years for all the elements to come together. The most important of those elements was James Cameron, a young director recognized for his script for a new sci-fi thriller called “The Terminator,” which was still in pre-production. Cameron, promised the director slot if his new film did well at the box office, wound up working on the script for “Aliens” and “Terminator” simultaneously. Continuing the story of Ellen Ripley, the franchise’s renegade warrior, the second installment ditched the original’s horror movie elements, remaking it as a war movie. Like Vietnam (fresh in that generation’s minds), the film featured an army dressed in the most powerful weaponry of the time, which nonetheless turned out to be useless against the unpredictable nature of its foreign enemy. Fast and ferocious, “Aliens” spun off from a masterpiece to become another all its own.
#2 – “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)
It is truly amazing the impact the “Star Wars” saga has had on the world and the lives of its legion of fans. For them, each character, each sequence, is beheld as specially as a personal memento. Yet at the same time, each film’s shortcomings have also been magnified over and over under the harsh microscope of decades-long scrutiny. The “Empire Strikes Back,” however separates itself as being immune from all of that. It is a perfect movie showcasing beloved characters — joined by a few new ones — caught up in a solid, unpredictable, crowd-pleasing narrative culminating in some shocking galactic twists. “Empire” is not just the very best sequel the series had to offer, but perhaps the best Hollywood has ever produced, as well.
#1 – “The Godfather: Part II” (1974)
There are few films that have raised the bar so high that they are often considered the best that have ever been made. The 1972 film “The Godfather” is one of those — an epic tale of a ruthless and cunning Italian-American crime family. Its pace, style and score were immensely influential, and its narrative contains one iconic film moment after the next. It would be hard to imagine that any attempt to make a sequel could reach the heights of such a significant original. But in 1974, writer/director/producer Francis Ford Coppola did just that, defying expectations with a second installment as engaging and illustrious as the first. “The Godfather: Part II” is simultaneously a prequel and a sequel, following the story of Don Vito Corleone’s early rise to power and his son Michael’s ascension as crime family ruler. Some argue that “Part II” — the first film to designate a sequel in such a way and the first to win a “Best Picture” Oscar — is superior to the original. We’ll decline to weigh in on that argument now, acknowledging instead that it is indeed the best movie sequel ever made.