#10) X2: X-Men United
Right off the bat, fans knew they were in for something special. The White House assassination attempt was a brilliant start to a sequel many believe was one of the first to introduce the notion that superhero films can be serious. No, it’s not quite as moody as The Dark Knight, but there’s no question the second X-Men film touches upon some deeper emotions from the colorful characters. For instance, the scene where Nightcrawler explains his difficult life gave these mutants a heart the filmmakers didn’t necessarily have to expand upon.
The first film introduced a world with mutants as a minority, but focused more on the individuals and the origin of the team. The sequel goes explores the way those same mutants interact with the world of prejudice they must overcome. It was a fascinating change of pace, taking the X-Men’s enemy (Magneto) and forcing them to join forces against a common threat. The entire film is a commentary on a number of issues and achieves its goal without pushing its agendas in your face.
There is a fascinating parallel to another member of this list, Terminator 2, as the female villain Lady Deathstrike is eerily similar to the T-1000. This connection is twofold. She mirrors the heroic Wolverine in ability and even dies in a pretty close way to the T-1000. But this just begins a trend shared by many of the sequels on our list: new characters helping to expand upon and enhance an already established story.
The James Cameron sequel to Alien is one of the most beloved sci-fi films out there. But is it better than the original? You can argue this from a number of angles. It is definitely different from the first; the second installment is an action-packed revenge flick with big sets and big scenes.
While the first is a suspenseful mystery, seemingly pitting the bad guy in a dangerous environment, the second is a testosterone-filled (even with the femme fatale) adrenaline rush, hellbent on giving the alien what it had coming.
In continuing the comparison of Alien to Aliens, it is important to recognize one is a futuristic film and the other is a hyper-realistic one. Alien follows the fear rushing through the human characters, who have an unwelcome visitor aboard. Aliens looks at how the destructive nature of mankind would respond to a dangerous and uncompromising villain.
But if anything puts Aliens on this list, it is the last line of the film: “Get away from her, you bitch.” One of the best action one-liners ever.
Following the snooze-fest that was Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Trek fans went NUTS when the follow-up turned out to be Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Director Nicholas Meyer (who knew almost nothing about Star Trek when he signed on to direct the film) tossed out the pastel blue uniforms and brought in a look more in line with that of Classic Trek.
Meyer decided to approach the sequel as if it were a futuristic Naval submarine film, and it worked beautifully. It had great space battle action and insight into Captain Kirk via his grappling with middle age and the discovery that he had a son he never knew about. Combine that with Ricardo Montalban’s royally over-the-top performance and bulging pecs, and you have what many Trekkers consider to be the best Star Trek movie ever made.
#7) Superman II
Choose your favorite version, the Richard Donner cut or the Richard Lester version, and either way you’ll get one of the best sequels in film. It all comes down to General Zod, really. One of the most enjoyable villains in superhero history even gets the Man of Steel to bow at his feet. The debate on this film ranges between the two cuts; Lester’s brings the humor, Donner’s brings the character and it is difficult to find a happy balance. Most fans seem to prefer the Donner cut (as I do).
It really doesn’t matter which cut you prefer, the true essence for why this may be the best Superman film to this day is the focus on the mythos and levels of power Superman must deal with. And as the old saying goes, “A movie is only as good as its villain.” This couldn’t be more true than in Superman 2. Is Terence Stamp’s performance as General Zod better than Heath Ledger as The Joker? Not at all. But the character of Zod still puts Superman II right at #7 and deservedly so.
One of the most cherished trilogies of all time puts The Two Towers in prime position for this list. As a standalone feature, Two Towers is as epic as they come. Of course, it is near impossible to think of any one of the Lord of the Rings films without thinking of the other two. But sticking to the second installment, the key factor to Two Towers‘ greatness is the brilliant performance of Gollum.
Similar to the effect of General Zod in Superman 2, this one character elevates the second film beyond the first. The look inside the life of this deeply troubled and mesmerizing character is so engaging you forget he is computer generated.
The Battle of Helms Deep is truly one of the shining moments of Two Towers, the LOTR trilogy and even film in general. But the climactic battle of Two Towers is also accompanied by the epic Last March of the Ents, which should be in a top 10 list of greatest battle scenes.
In addition, you get the extension of Gandalf’s great fall from the end of The Fellowship of the Rings, showing you just how powerful the great wizard can be. Where some sequels fail in their attempt to get bigger and crazier, The Two Towers does just that in a way that still enhances the story and characters involved, setting the stage for arguably the best third chapter of all time.