In today's world of studio movie making, let's face it, it's all about franchising. It's all about the sequels. In fact, this weekend we have two sequels hitting theaters in 22 Jump Street and How to Train Your Dragon 2. The first is a comedy sequel and it's receiving great reviews, despite the fact comedies rarely have good sequels. The second has the potential to be one of the biggest movies of the summer and perhaps the biggest animated movie of 2014. Why? Sequels sell and if they're good they sell even more.
That said, last week I started considering the sequels that were actually better than the original film in any given franchise. This isn't a question of what are the best sequels? (I've already made that list.) Instead, what sequels managed to exceed the quality and entertainment of the film(s) that came before them.
In this sense I have a hard time including films from the James Bond franchise, which don't really seem to feel like sequels as much as they are installments, but feel free to disagree and include them in your lists in the comments. I also think a film like Kill Bill: Volume 2 or the films in the Lord of the Rings, Three Colours and The Hobbit trilogies aren't sequels, at least not in the traditional sense. It's sort of like saying Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a sequel to Part 1 or the same for Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2. Then again, this is just a matter of opinion, feel free to disagree.
My personal little "rules" considered, here are 15 I consider better than the originals in their franchise. The list is in alphabetical order...
THE MOVIE(S): Before Sunset (2004) & Before Midnight (2013)
THE ORIGINAL: Before Sunrise (1995)
Anyone that reads this site knows how much I love Richard Linklater's Before trilogy of films, which makes it a great starting point so I can emphasize this doesn't mean you dislike the first movie in any of the franchises we're discussing here, but simply the sequels out did the first film. In the case of this franchise, both Before Sunset and Before Midnight improved on the original, though if you were to twist my arm, forcing me to pick the one of the three that was undoubtedly my favorite I would have to go with Sunset. That movie came along at a time that just fit right in with my life at that moment. The first two films in this franchise are fantasies of a sort whereas Midnight is more the reality of the situation Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) found themselves in and I love escaping into that fantasy every time I watch these movies.
THE MOVIE: Blade II (2002)
THE ORIGINAL: Blade (1998)
The first Blade is a fun film, but I think Guillermo del Toro knocked it out of the park with the sequel. It still had a little bit of an issue with CGI, just as the first film did, but the practical effects of the Reapers was great in my opinion. Not to mention the story itself found such a comfortable sweet spot in the narrative from the first film and found a way to continue without treading the same territory. For my money this is far and away del Toro's best studio feature, much better than either of the Hellboy movies and certainly better than Pacific Rim.
THE MOVIE: The Bourne Supremacy (2004) & The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
THE ORIGINAL: The Bourne Identity (2002)
I keep on thinking there will come a day when I no longer considering The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum better than Doug Liman's The Bourne Identity, but I don't think that day will come until I step reveling in the fact Marie (Franka Pontente) was killed at the beginning of Supremacy. That single moment, along with Karl Urban as the silent assassin and Paul Greengrass' kinetic, first-person approach to the action that would inspire filmmakers still to this day, including reshaping the James Bond franchise makes the first two Bourne sequels something to behold.
THE MOVIE: The Dark Knight (2005)
THE ORIGINAL: Batman Begins (2008)
If I have anything to be thankful to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for it's the fact they have been successful enough to tone down the "It's not better than The Dark Knight" audience. Yes, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight is quite possibly the best superhero movie ever, but as we've seen with Marvel's films and the recent X-Men: Days of Future Past there are other ways to approach a superhero story, something many superhero movies forgot in the wake of The Dark Knight.
I love The Dark Knight, primarily for Heath Ledger's The Joker. This is also the film that took the IMAX cameras and showed filmmakers it wasn't a medium meant only for documentary filmmakers, though I think Brad Bird's use of the format with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is still the only instance where it has been used to similarly great effect.
THE MOVIE: The Godfather, Part II (1974)
THE ORIGINAL: The Godfather (1972)
I think The Godfather, Part II is better than The Godfather, largely because I see it as having all the elements that make The Godfather great plus a whole new layer of excellence. The way Francis Ford Coppola so effortlessly told both the story of a young Vito Corleone as well as the continued rise of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) is filmmaking at its finest.
THE MOVIE: Infernal Affairs 2 (2003)
THE ORIGINAL: Infernal Affairs (2002)
There's a reason screenwriter William Monahan largely mined Infernal Affairs 2 when he adapted Alan Mak and Felix Chong's franchise into The Departed... it's quite simply a much better film. In fact, this is the Godfather 2 of the Infernal Affairs franchise, though this is entirely a prequel story, but a great one in a way that doesn't simply tell a story the audience already knows as much as it creates a narrative that's both intriguing and fresh for audiences that enjoyed the original film.
THE MOVIE: Magnum Force (1973)
THE ORIGINAL: Dirty Harry (1971)
Without a doubt, Magnum Force is my favorite film in the Dirty Harry franchise. However, like most of the films on this list, Magnum Force follows a great first film. The difference here is Dirty Harry creates a great character while Magnum Force creates a great villain and, in many sequences, it's a faceless villain as motorcycle police cops become the target of Harry's rage. You could argue Harry's nature and ideals changes from one film in this franchise to the next and that's part of my problem with latter films in the franchise, but as far as this film is concerned it doesn't have many missteps.