Greatest movie sequels of all time?

Posted by · 2:12 pm · August 26th, 2008

Elsa Lanchester in Bride of FrankensteinTwo friends of IC, Rope of Silicon and The Movie Blog, have decided this week to chart the greatest movie sequels of all time. Obviously it’s a subjective endeavor, but I thought I’d crank out my list. Pick it apart, praise it and/or add your choices in the comments below!

Before getting to the list, however, I want to note the criteria. For me, I don’t think this is one of those lists where #1 is necessarily a better film than #2, etc. I think judging a list of sequels should entail what a sequel does for the film or films that preceded it and how it fits into that overall landscape.

A fantastic sequel to a terrible film might deserve more credence than a fantastic sequel to a fantastic film, but if the latter happens to add considerably to the overall palette rather than continue down already trailblazing territory, then it should be taken into serious account as well.

The 10 greatest movie sequels of all time:

10. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (Steven Spielberg, 1989)
Before Steven Spielberg and George Lucas raped my childhood earlier this year, they were separately responsible for the greatest trilogy in movie history. While my personal favorite of the set is “Temple of Doom” (a minority opinion I cherish), this late-80s denouement (well, we thought it was a denouement) had all the right ingredients for sending our valiant hero of the decade off into the sunset.

9. “Rocky II” (Sylvester Stallone, 1979)
The tagline really said it all: “The rematch of the century.” Sylvester Stallone took his little hero from two years prior, which unsuspectingly took top honors at the Academy Awards, and turned him into a comeback kid with this perfectly realized follow-up. And when Balboa lays Apollo Creed out in the final moments, I defy you not to feel the surge of excitement.

8. “Aliens” (James Cameron, 1986)
To me, there have always been “Alien” people and “Aliens” people. Not that someone can like both Ridley Scott’s initial effort and James Cameron’s blockbuster follow-up, but speaking personally, I never quite responded to Scott’s work. What Cameron did, however, was craft one of the most successful action horror thrill-rides the cinema had (or has) ever seen.

7. “The Dark Knight” (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
What more can we possibly say about this film? Christopher Nolan and brother Jonathan showed you just what “escalation” could mean, while the director filled the frame with yet another stellar ensemble and one of the year’s most memorable portrayals.

6. “The Bourne Supremacy” (Paul Greengrass, 2004)
Here is one of those instances where the third installment is definitely a better film at the end of the day. However, what Paul Greengrass’s work on “The Bourne Supremacy” did to a franchise in midstream spoke volumes to where it could potentially go. Doug Liman’s initial installment doesn’t play near as well alone, either. But in a back-to-back viewing with this visceral gem, it benefits considerably.

5. “X2 (Bryan Singer, 2003)
Still the greatest comic book film ever made (yes, even after the joygasm we all experienced this summer), Bryan Singer’s work on “X2” was a brilliant amalgamation of various X-Men plotlines into a cohesive unit packed with social philosophy and subtextual brilliance. One of the top five films of 2003, it earned its place alongside the greatest of sequels with style and savvy dedication to source material.

4. “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (James Cameron, 1991)
Still perhaps James Cameron’s greatest film, this follow-up to his groundbreaking 1984 science fiction classic took notions simply bandied about in “The Terminator” and dealt with them in smart, visually stunning and action-packed ways. He spun his tiny idea about a robot sent back in time to destroy the commander of a future resistance into something so much more.

3. “Bride of Frankenstein” (James Whale, 1935)
One of the first sequels of all time remains one of the greatest. Some even place the rare designation of this “Frankenstein” sequel being a better film than the original, and I’m tempted to agree. Boris Karloff continued his landmark work as Frankenstein’s monster while Elsa Lanchester offered up an equally legendary performance as the monster’s mate — no small feat. But the themes also stepped it up a notch.

2. “The Godfather Part II” (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
For some, this is probably the obvious #1 call, but it comes up just short for me. Nothing can be written in this space that hasn’t already been chewed on for 34 years, but suffice it to say Coppola’s brilliant incorporation of Mario Puzo’s original novel into his screenplay here made for an epic undertaking. But it doesn’t best the initial installment in my book, despite the majority opinion to the contrary.

1. “French Connection II” (John Frankenheimer, 1975)
For my money, it contains Gene Hackman’s greatest performance to date and is a stellar, slightly askew follow-up to William Friedkin’s original groundbreaking film. An out-of-the-box choice to be sure, but it’s a film that always stuck with me and became something of a personal favorite. The cold turkey sequence is one of my favorite sequences in motion picture history.

Honorable mentions: “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Die Hard 2,“Die Hard with a Vengeance,” “Ghostbusters 2,“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” “Spider-Man 2,“Superman II,” “Toy Story 2

(That’s right, no “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Trek” or “Star Wars.” Not my thing, kids.)

Have your say! What are the greatest movie sequels of all time?

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30 responses so far

  • 1 8-26-2008 at 2:28 pm

    Cinematically Correct said...

    I dig “The French Connection 2” as well…but…dude…better than “The Godfather, Part 2”? No way.

  • 2 8-26-2008 at 2:29 pm

    Brad said...

    You did 10 films and John did 20 and neither one of you even mention Before Sunset, which makes me oh so sad. I guess I am all alone on that one.

  • 3 8-26-2008 at 2:29 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Read the criteria again…it’s not a “what film is better than the next” type of list to me.

  • 4 8-26-2008 at 2:30 pm

    Markku said...

    Kris, I love your number one, even if I disagree.

    While I wouldn’t go so far as to call it the Best of all time, FCII is a great left-field choice. Hackman’s performance is leagues above his fine work in the original and he should at the very least have been nominated again for it. While inferior to the original, it shows once again how Frankenheimer could deliver the goods blindfolded and with one hand tied behind his back.

  • 5 8-26-2008 at 2:30 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    No I think you’ll find MANY people agree with you, actually. I personally don’t like “Before Sunset” or “Before Sunrise,” but that’s me. Never really clicked. But I respect the choice.

  • 6 8-26-2008 at 2:31 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    That was to Brad, sorry…

  • 7 8-26-2008 at 2:34 pm

    Speaking English said...

    In terms of the sequel bettering the original, “Aliens” is the best sequel ever.

    In terms of a sequel being just a generally GREAT movie, “The Godfather: Part II” is the greatest sequel of all time.

    I also adore “Spider-Man 2,” “X2: X-Men United,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Toy Story 2,” both “Matrix” sequels, both “Lord of the Rings” sequels, both “Star Wars” sequels, both “Bourne” sequels, both “Pirates” sequels, and probably something else slipping my mind right now.

  • 8 8-26-2008 at 2:48 pm

    Rob said...

    X2 higher than the Dark Knight? Uh, what??? Based on everything you’ve written and said about Batman AND the Dark Knight…you must have really, really, really, really liked X2.

  • 9 8-26-2008 at 2:52 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I liked it quite a bit and consider it a better film than “The Dark Knight,” yes…by a hair.

  • 10 8-26-2008 at 2:56 pm

    Agent69 said...

    Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
    The Godfather: Part II
    From Russia with Love
    Terminator 2: Judgment Day
    For a Few More Dollars
    Lord of the Rings sequels

  • 11 8-26-2008 at 2:57 pm

    Chad said...

    Totally agree with your approach to the list Kris.

    My unpopular opinions on this subject would be that X2 and Aliens are not good and all Bourne movies are totally interchangable. As for my top 10-

    10. The Empire Strikes Back
    9. Die Hard With a Vengeance
    8. The Dark Knight
    7. Jackass Number Two
    6. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
    5. The Godfather Part II
    4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
    2. Toy Story 2
    1. Before Sunset

  • 12 8-26-2008 at 3:08 pm

    Martin Edwards said...

    I won’t argue that these two belong on a “greatest of all-time” list, but I figured it’d be fun to throw these into the mix.
    This is a sentimental choice, for sure, and it’s not nearly as good as the first, but using the criteria of “what a sequel does for the film or films that preceded it and how it fits into that overall landscape” I have to include Back to the Future 2. The attention to detail in both 1 and 2 is stunning and equally charming, and though Crispin Glover doesn’t return to reprise my favorite character in the series, going to the future in 2 was just as fun, if not more so, as going to the past in 1.
    I also personally love Batman Returns much more than I do the original Batman. My love for DeVito has been stated before in these comment sections, but he’s only part of the larger scheme of just a flat out, high-flying comic book put to screen. The one-liners, the setting, the action, it’s all so ridiculously “comicy” that I can’t not give it some love.

    And Speaking English, I don’t at all mean this to come out harshly so I preface this with the utmost respect; to each his own, obviously. But can you please explain to me what happened in Pirates 3? To me, that’s the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life. It was an absolute train wreck and none of it seemed to make any sort of coherent sense. Pirates 2, while I dislike it intensely as well, I can understand because that at least had some semblance of a plot. I’ve been asking friends who say they love 3 since they came out and I’ve never once gotten ANY kind of real answer: What the heck happened in that movie? Please, help me out here, man.

  • 13 8-26-2008 at 3:19 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Here’s company for you on Before Sunset, Brad – that rare sequel that actually deepens and enriches the original.

    Is Stolen Kisses a sequel to The 400 Blows? If so, it’s right up there.

  • 14 8-26-2008 at 3:27 pm

    Josh said...

    1. The Godfather Part II
    2. The Dark Knight
    3. Before Sunset
    4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
    5. Spider-Man 2
    6. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
    7. The Bourne Ultimatum
    8. Superman II
    9. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
    10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  • 15 8-26-2008 at 4:16 pm

    tony rock said...

    wow, Kris…didnt expect you to put X2 on there. Good choice, though. I take it you were as disappointed and pissed off as I was when you saw the third installment?

  • 16 8-26-2008 at 4:27 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ohh, you betcha…I haven’t even bought it. I have the nice deluxe Singer edition, the X-Men Collection thing. I like to pretend it ended at #2…

  • 17 8-26-2008 at 4:27 pm

    Jack said...

    1. The Dark Knight
    2. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
    3. The Empire Strikes Back
    4. The Bourne Ultimatum
    5. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
    6. Batman Returns
    7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
    8. Spider-Man 2
    9. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
    10. X2

  • 18 8-26-2008 at 5:54 pm

    entertainmenttoday... said...

    I hate the Bourne sequels! I love Rocky 2 but think Rocky Balboa was even better and a perfect bookend to the original.
    I would put Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Lethal Weapon 2- A great buddy cop action film on my list!.
    Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom also makes my list!

  • 19 8-26-2008 at 9:56 pm

    Casey said...

    I think I need an explanation on x2. I like both of the XMEN films, (XMEN being my favorite comic) but I like them for what they are. I think that in no way did they meet, certainly not surpass the source material; as I believe both of Nolan’s Batman films did. Spiderman met the source.
    I think some things we’re done quite well on Singer’s XMEN films, namely some casting:
    Jackman- Perfect
    McKellen, Stewart, Cumming, a few others were well thought out.
    I thought the scripts were good as far as capturing the characters’ personailties.
    But there was a lot gone wrong imo.
    Paquin- terrible
    Janssen- not great.
    I hate, hate, hate, the cop-out black swat team uniforms.
    I don’t like the way they stuck some really good characters (Cyclops, the leader of the XMEN) in the back seat.
    I disliked some storyline decisions, making Iceman a student and Storm an original basically.
    I like the movies but consider them quite flawed because the liberties taken from the source do not improve or do justice to the characters or story

  • 20 8-26-2008 at 10:09 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Nolan and company have taken their fair share of liberties on the latest Batman series……

    In any case, I can’t give an explanation becauase I basically disagree with everything you say — at least as far as X2 is concerned (I don’t like the first film). X2 took off from “God Loves, Man Kills” in a special way that allowed it to marry with the realistic aspects inherent in Marvel’s universe and mixed some great minority subtext in to boot.

    It doesn’t feel indulgent, whereas “The Dark Knight” is certainly guilty of as much in certain stretches, and it’s a stellar ensemble through and through.

  • 21 8-27-2008 at 1:15 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Notice how much of that on anyone’s list are fantasy films ;)

  • 22 8-27-2008 at 3:51 am

    Nigel said...

    What, no love for Conan the Destroyer? That was my favourite film when I was a kid, and I still dig it after all these years.

  • 23 8-27-2008 at 4:14 am

    John Foote said...

    Wow Kris, you have earned forever my admiration and respect. “French Conection II” is a friggin’ masterpiece and I think better than the first, and I totally agree about Hackman, he was never better and was not even nominated. For me though the best sequel of all time is “The Godfather Part II”

    1. “The Godfather Part II”
    2.”LOTR: Return of the King”
    3. “The Dark Knight”
    4. “French Connection II”
    5. “The Empire Strikes Back”
    6. “Aliens”
    7. “Spiderman 2”
    8. “Superman II”
    9. “The Color of Money”
    10. “Rocky Balboa”

  • 24 8-27-2008 at 3:35 pm

    Matt said...

    Spiderman 2 & Prisoner of Azkaban

  • 25 8-27-2008 at 4:04 pm

    Earl said...

    I agree with Cinematically Correct…
    Clearly it is GF II ….
    Dark Knight
    Spider-Man 2
    I also like the Harry Potter films and I think they get far less respect than they deserve.. The sequels have mattered a lot because the characters are aging and the films are getting darker.
    I would also throw in The Two Jakes which everyone hated and I have never figured out why…

  • 26 9-05-2008 at 9:15 pm

    Sam Juliano said...

    All great choices of course, although of the ones in your top ten, I would give pre-eminence to your number 2 and 3 above all.

    Although a case could be made that it isn’t completely a sequel (but I would still argue it is) Terrence Davies’ THE LONG DAY CLOSES (after DISTANT VOICES STILL LIVES) would rank among the best for me.

    And THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S (after GOING MY WAY) is a most accomplished work.

    I am on your team regarding BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE SUNRISE. I like neither.

  • 27 9-06-2008 at 8:53 am

    Sam Juliano said...

    The very greatest sequel ever though: Ray’s APARAJITO after PATHER PANCHALI.

  • 28 9-06-2008 at 10:06 am

    Roman said...

    Well for my money, Before Sunset is the greatest Romance of all time. Absolutely perfect.

    Forget Cassablanca, this is an adult realistic movie, with all the unnecessary parts cut out. Put it simply, I never cared about two characters getting together that much before.

    Also, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom… is a masterpiece. And yes, it’s better than Last Crusade (which I also adore but don’t think comes close).

  • 29 1-07-2009 at 12:35 pm

    Big Braveheart said...

    Die Hard With A Vengeance a good shout,
    Empire Strikes Back not on list is a mystery
    and gotta say although French Connection is on
    there it’s a gruelling watch and the first film is
    way better. Pusher II is a great sequel that
    some night know of but worth checking for.
    Yo where’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again?
    The Dark Knight an epic sequel!

  • 30 6-18-2009 at 6:43 pm

    Luke said...

    This is a fine list. I also think anyone who picks The Dark Knight or French Connection 2 over Aliens should be discredited. Aliens and T2 may have been created by James Cameron, but that doesn’t make them any less great. They are technically two of the greatest sequels ever made… because they stand up so well on their own.