Now Celebrating its 40th season on the air, Saturday Night Live
Every year it seems like Hollywood relies more on sequels, remakes, and prequels to drag people into their seats. Sometimes these sequels work (The Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Star Wars) but most of the time they don’t (Ghostbusters 2, Matrix Reloaded, X-Men The Last Stand). Then there is the rare occasion that a sequel is not only good but it is accepted as better than the original. That is a rare treat, and here are six of the best movie sequels that are much better than their originals.
dir. Sam Raimi
Coming off of the major success of Spider-Man, Sam Raimi wanted to up the ante for his superhero franchise. The origin story was over, and now Raimi could really have some fun in the Spider-Man sandbox. Until The Dark Night took the mantle of the we-finally-got-it-right superhero movie, Spider-Man 2 was the king. Sam Raimi was at the top of his game. The plot and tone were spot on. Peter Parker’s self-doubt, Doc Ock’s perfect villain, and the balance between action and drama make Spider-Man 2 an unquestionably better film than the first.
The Empire Strikes Back
dir. Irvin Kershner
I could explain this one in a few keywords. Yoda. “No, I am your father.” The most exciting, well-directed, and best scripted of the Star Wars films, The Empire Strikes Back is kind of an anomaly. George Lucas directed a great science fiction fairy tale with the original, but the film has plenty of flaws. The oh-golly-attitude can actually be a little grating upon multiple viewings, but Kershner’s sequel is much darker and much more inventive. Between the broken relationships, Yoda, and the most epic twist ending in film, The Empire Strikes Back is simply too good.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
dir. Sergio Leone
Starting with A Fistful of Dollars and continuing with A Few Dollars More, Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name Trilogy, while very good, didn’t become iconic until the excellent The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. This is the film that made Clint Eastwood a household name. I’ll let TIME Critic Richard Schickel say the rest. “Leone’s magnificent style is all contrasts (huge panoramic shots alternating with tight close-ups, very slow build-ups to lightning-fast action). This perfectly matches a narrative that encompasses sadistic brutality, wild humor and, yes, a tragic vision of war and its consequences.”
dir. Guillermo del Toro
The most ignored film on this list is my personal favorite sequel. Blade was a very good superhero movie before superhero movies were en vogue. A dark, stylish thriller about a half-human, half-vampire taking down even darker, evil vampires. It was a lot of fun, but then the sequel came. Visionary director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Pacific Rim) brought his unique sense of biological horror and hyper-stylish sensibilities to Blade 2 along with an incredible cast of characters and a tight, fairy tale-esque plot. Yeah, let’s just say it is so damn good.
Evil Dead 2
dir. Sam Raimi
Twice appearing on this list, Sam Raimi is the loves second chances. His first film The Evil Dead was very successful for a super low budget horror movie. Raimi packed it with loads of gore, practical effects, and a solid performance from soon-to-be B-movie icon Bruce Campbell, but Raimi wanted to give it another go. So, he made Evil Dead 2, but it is less a sequel than a remake. Bruce Campbell’s Ash finds himself in nearly the exact same situation as the first, but this time the film is much funnier. Evil Dead 2 started the horror-comedy genre with Campbell’s gift for slapstick humor and Raimi even more excellent use of practical effects and gore. A cult favorite that also serves as an important American film, Evil Dead 2 is quite great.
Dawn of the Dead
dir. George A. Romero
The ultimate genre sequel is George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. His first film, Night of the Living Dead, broke into American consciousness with its stark, black and white photography and its disregard for racial stereotypes. Night of the Living Dead is a truly great, important film that not only invented the modern zombie film but also served as a commentary on American racial sensibilities. Then came Dawn of the Dead. Dawn of the Dead did all that the original did and layered excellent action, higher stakes, and an even more successful commentary on American consumer society (taking place in a large, suburban shopping mall).