Before I begin with this list of our favorite movie sequels, I want to stress this is strictly opinion and not fact. I hope the following will incite discussion and debate, but let it be known that no list is definitive. Having said that, let's get it on!
While the top three picks on our list seemed obvious, setting even them in order was a tough task. More difficult was rounding out a top ten. So, instead of just going with the standard ten, we've extended our list to 12. Included are four costumed heroes, a couple evil empires and some computer-generated classics.
There is a little bit of a difference between a sequel that tops its predecessor in terms of quality, and one that is a self-contained stroke of genius. These twelve films on our list fit both qualifications. While we'd love to explore what made every fun sequel a hit - like Wayne's World 2 and its Jurassic Park spoof - it seemed more efficient to stick to the sequels that may have come second in order, but are first in our hearts.
A dilemma cropped up in creating this list. Silence of the Lambs is a cherished masterpiece of cinema, yet many don't realize the story is technically a sequel. Michael Mann's underrated film Manhunter, starring Brian Cox as the infamous Hannibal Lecter, tells the tale you may recall from Brett Ratner's Red Dragon. Silence of the Lambs explores the events that follow Manhunter, but it is generally considered the original of its own trilogy. So does it belong on this list? Instead of letting that debate take over, it takes an honorable mention spot.
Also on the honorable mention list is Desperado, the quasi-sequel to El Mariachi. Both films, created by Robert Rodriguez, follow the same character (El Mariachi), but also overlap in story. With only $6,000, Rodriguez made the legendary El Mariachi and eventually acquired a budget to shoot his concept with Antonio Banderas as the lead in a wide-release film. So, Desperado both is and isn't a sequel. For that we'll keep it off the main list, but it has earned the right to be mentioned.
Ironically, all but the top two picks on our list are still running franchises or properties in the midst of a reboot. That just goes to show you the creativity and lasting effect the following narratives have had, and the captivating stories they tell.
"My life fades. The vision dims. All that remains are memories. I remember a time of chaos. Ruined dreams. This wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called "Max". To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time..."
The first lines of Mad Max 2 give me chills every time. The first Mad Max was enjoyable enough, but it seemed to leave a young Mel Gibson in over his head. Only two years later, the Australian star showed up brilliantly in the sequel. The film felt more like the apocalyptic madness the first one missed at times. Don't get me wrong, the first film has some great moments and feels like a revenge flick more than a Western, neither of which it claimed to be directly.
Maybe the first suffered from a limited release, while the second got wider exposure. Yet, when you watch the movies back-to-back there is a sensation that the first one can only prepare you for the sequel. The entire Mad Max franchise is a bit too B-movie to find its way higher on the list, but the second film deserves recognition as a vast improvement over the first.
#11) Toy Story 2
It is extremely difficult to convince yourself the second Toy Story is better than the original, but sometimes you just need to bite the bullet. Alone, the first is one of the best animated films ever, and was pivotal in ushering in the era of CGI animated features. Toy Story 2 improves upon the first in a number of ways, most impressively the animation. In only four years, from 1995 to 1999, the abilities of the Pixar artists to create their unique look while maintaining a level of total realism improved vastly.
More importantly, the story of the sequel deepens our relationship with the oddly relatable toys. The first shows how great life as a toy can be in a world where humans have a blind love of their toys, despite destructive lunatics like Sid. But in Toy Story 2, we get a sense of the uncontrollable lives of toys, which are so dependent upon people. What happens when maturing interests leave our toys helpless? It is more a second chapter than an extension of the first, which makes it a brilliant film in its own right.
With the quickly approaching Toy Story 3, the second film may not even end up being the best. But Toy Story 2 was evidence of an animation studio hitting its stride as one of the most formidable and dominating in its field. Thanks to the glory of the Toy Story franchise, Pixar has become as legendary as any studio in Hollywood.