Hollywood is addicted to sequels. And while the American film industry gets a hell of a lot of stick for its penchant for milking successful movies for everything their worth, the movie sequel has been around almost as long as cinema itself.
Back in the early 20th century, for example, pioneering French filmmaker, Georges Méliès, decided to build on the success of his 1902 film A Trip To The Moon with a thematically similar offering, The Impossible Voyage – both of which were based on novels by fellow Frenchman Jules Verne.
A little over ten years later, Paul Wegener’s 1915 monster film The Golem was followed by both a sequel and a prequel: The Golem: How He Came Into The World and The Golem And The Dancing Girl. By the 1920s, the blossoming American film industry had caught on and started churning out sequels for many of the day’s hit movies, which included a follow-up to the first ‘talkie’, 1927’s The Jazz Singer – which managed to make even more money than the original.
Then, of course, there’s the golden age of spin-offs, which saw Universal craft increasingly implausible follow-ups for the likes of Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Invisible Man. Indeed, many of these are regarded as classics in their own right, proving that it is indeed possible for a sequel to be better than the original.
Here, we’ve collected ten examples of follow-ups that blow their predecessors out of the water.
10 sequels better than the original:
The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
Following the success of Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan gave us the far more morally complex, The Dark Knight. Built around the central theme of fear, the film takes us on an action-packed journey through some of the grandest ethical questions we as human beings face.
What’s more, the action scenes are tighter, punchier, and even more jaw-dropping than they were in the previous film. Oh, and Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is tantamount to genius.
Paddington 2 (Paul King, 2017)
This slice of heart-warming animation makes even the hardest hearts soften like butter left out in the sun. Combining stunningly emotive CGI characters and live-action surroundings, the original Paddington did a wonderful job at bringing one of the UK’s most beloved children’s stories to life.
With Paddington II, director Paul King delivers something even more endearing. Featuring Hugh Grant giving one of the best performances of his career (take that, Richard Curtis) and a pitch-perfect score, Paddington II is surely one of the most charming films of the 2010s.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
Perhaps the brilliance of The Empire Strikes Back lies in the fact that Geroge Lucas had no idea if he’d ever be given the chance to make a follow up to A New Hope. After the era-defining success of that first instalment, The Empire Strikes Back saw the Star Wars team join together to deliver a sequel that is not only expertly written but also even more mind-boggling to behold.
Of course, many Star Wars fans who watched the original film in the ’70s maintain that it doesn’t get much better than episode IV, but, for me, episode V feels a little more fully formed. Anyway, how could you underestimate a film that contains one of the best plot twists of all time? Yes, Luke, he is your father.
Before Sunset (Richard Linklater, 2004)
Nine years after making a simple film about two people who fall in love in Vienna, Richard Linklater gave his fans the film they’d been hoping for. What makes Before Sunset such a perfect sequel is that it is absolutely necessary. When we left Jesse and Celine, we had no idea if they would ever see each other again.
Now in their 30s, we see them meet once more, in Paris, where they walk the streets and explain how much their lives have changed since they were in their 20s, all while trying to resist the urge to find the nearest hotel room and “make love for days on end”. Through their conversations, we are offered insight into the characters (and, by extension, we the viewer) change with age. In this way, Before Sunset teaches us something Before Sunrise was not yet able to muster.
Shrek 2 (Adamson, Asbury, Vernon, 2004)
Oh come on, it’s a classic, isn’t it? I must have seen this film about a thousand times when I was a kid – and I’m sure it still stands up all these years later. The first Shrek demonstrated that fantasy animation could be, at once, charming, self-effacing, and absolutely hilarious.
Shrek 2 saw Dreamworks take these award-winning ingredients and build on them, introducing a selection of brilliant new characters and a plotline that set even the most apathetic Dads teetering on the edge of their seats.
The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg, 2021)
This exquisitely rendered film (which also happens to be in cinemas at the moment) serves as the final chapter in Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical tale of a young film student trying to find her place in the world. The Souvenir (2019) told the story of Julie, who, in the early 1980s, becomes romantically involved with a charismatic but emotionally unstable addict.
As you would expect, The Souvenir Part II picks up where the last film left off, following Julie as she attempts to pick up the pieces of her relationship with Anthony by throwing herself into her studies. We see her craft her graduate film, which she uses as a way of finding her voice at a time when everyone seems to want to speak for her. It is a poignant and uplifting piece of cinema.
Manon Des Sources (Claude Berri, 1986)
This film serves as the follow-up to Claude Berri’s pearlescent film Jean de Florette, which tells the story of the intertwined fates of two rival families. Filmed on location in Provence, it is of that impressive era of French cinema which also saw the release of the phenomenal Betty Blue (1986).
Manon Des Sources combines bucolic sepia-toned landscapes with a simmering tension that culminates in the titular Manon taking revenge on those responsible for the death of her father.
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (Peter Jackson, 2002)
Everyone knows that the second Lord Of The Rings film is the best. The first one takes too long to get going and the last one gets a bit weird towards the end, but between the two there’s The Two Towers: an undiluted fantasy masterpiece. To be fair to The Fellowship of The Ring, it still manages to be an immensely watchable film despite being made up almost entirely of exposition. I blame Tolkien: there are just too many different characters to meet.
By the second film, however, we’ve been introduced to all the various races – the elves, the hobbits, the dwarves and so on – so we’re able to relax and enjoy the action. And boy of the boy is the action good. Who can forget that scene at the Battle of Helms Deep, when Legolas transforms an Uruk Hai shield into a skateboard and skims down the ramparts, firing arrows into the enemy lines.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989)
Indiana Jones without the Nazis is like Tom without Jerry, Optimus Prime without Megatron, Margret Thatcher without Geoffrey Howe – OK, I’ll stop now. The point is, after issuing the blatantly racist The Temple of Doom in 1984, the minds behind Indiana Jones managed to claw things back by returning to those uber sinister bad guys, the Nazis.
While it’s definitely a toss-up between this final film and Raiders of The Lost Ark, The Last Crusade snatches the top spot for the hilarious father-son interactions between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford. I also love knights, so there.
Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)
How do you make a terrifying monster flick even more terrifying? The answer is simple: add more monsters. And that’s exactly what James Cameron did with his sequel to the classic sci-fi horror Alien in 1986.
The strength of his follow-up, the aptly-titled Aliens, is the sheer depth of the various characters. Only after the Colonial Marines who join Ellen Ripley into the fray have been fully fleshed out do they begin getting picked off one by one. It’s bone-chillingly brilliant.
Three Colours: White (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994)
To those of you who haven’t heard of Kieślowski, the second instalment of his Three Colours Trilogy is a good place to start. Telling the story of Karol, a polish immigrant who finds himself out of a job and marriage after his French wife (Julie Delpy) divorces him, White is by far the most accessible film in the series.
But as well as being suffused with gallows humour and strangely playful tone, Kieślowski’s second offering is also the weightiest of the three films, offering critical insight into the economic disparities between Eastern and Western Europe.