Do a Google search for “Sequels that are better than the original,” and you’ll be busy for an afternoon, at least until you get tired of reading the 100th list that points out that “The Empire Strikes Back” is better than “Star Wars.”
Rather than one of those lists, or bizarre hipster-contrarian arguments that “Grease 2” is better than “Grease,” or detail-parsing that strives to point out that one perfect film (“Aliens” or “T2”) is better than another perfect film (“Alien” or “The Terminator”), here we ask a new question:
What sequels are the most better than the original?
For this list, we’re looking for mediocre to bad movies that nonetheless launched a series – a series that at some point produced an outstanding entry. In other words, a sequel that is way better – indisputably, epically, hilariously superior.
Such films are rare, but we tracked some down. These are the top 10 sequels that are the most better than the original:
I am a “House of 1,000 Corpses” apologist. I would never say it’s a good film, but its chintzy, DIY sensibilities appeal to me enough that I revisit it occasionally for a janky good time.
“The Devil’s Rejects,” on the other hand, is dark, atmospheric and disturbing. Rob Zombie again crafts a gonzo sickhouse, but unlike in “Corpses,” he makes it feel real. The result is quite powerful, made all the more so because Zombie puts us in the heads of his trio of psychopaths. “The Devil’s Rejects” is their story. They are, unmistakable from a plot standpoint, the protagonists. Add in an amazing villain in the form of William Forsythe’s Sheriff Wydell and you’ve got a great grindhouse night at the movies.
“Jumanji” is watchable for the time capsule of 1995 computer effects, an early Kirsten Dunst role and a Robin Williams performance (all of which should be cherished now). But it’s irritating that the whole plot hinges on a girl running away in the middle of the game (thus trapping Williams’ character in it). It has a jokey tone but is never funny, and it has perilous moments that lack genuine peril, since it’s a kids’ film.
The sequel is jam-packed with laugh-out-loud moments from a delightful cast, including the Rock being the Rock, Jack Black acting as a girl-in-Jack-Black’s-body, and Karen Gillan revealing her comedic chops. By making fun of video-game cliches and weaving them into the plot, “Welcome to the Jungle” shatters the stereotype that watching a video-game movie is like numbly waiting for your friend to finish his turn and hand over the controller.
The first cinematic adventure of the Enterprise crew is ponderous and long-winded. A few interesting ideas aside, it’s a huge missed opportunity and a massive letdown. It nearly derailed the “Trek” franchise, and maybe that is a good thing.
After the modest performance of the first film, Paramount greenlit a second one at a substantially reduced budget, and in a desperate bid to draw audiences, producers opted to bring back a Big Bad from the original series. The result is a leaner, meaner film dripping with intensity. Ricardo Montalban is an amazing villain, James Horner’s soaring score is a blast, and in revisiting a baddie from the series nearly 15 years later, the film is allowed to thoughtfully explore the youthful folly of Kirk, who suffers for his past naivete.
“Origins: Wolverine” is easily the most flawed “X-Men” film. The movie for some reason retells a story from “X-Men 2” with a new actor as the villain, Logan’s backstory is confusing, and it introduces a Gambit so dull he should be called Bland Git. Most inexcusably in the eyes of comic-book fans, the film not only gets Deadpool wrong, it thinks it’s funny that it gets him wrong, rendering the Merc with a Mouth speechless.
“Logan,” the last of the Wolverine trilogy, is still a superhero movie, but also a post-apocalyptic Western. It’s a beautifully grim encapsulation of the tortured life of Hugh Jackman’s iconic hero that also has sweeping emotion tapping into his roots (via father figure Xavier) and his legacy (via a surrogate daughter).
Don’t get me wrong. I like the first “Mad Max.” I love “The Road Warrior.” I even enjoy “Beyond Thunderdome.”
But “Fury Road” takes the franchise to an entire other level. It plays like the fever dream of a mad man, like we’ve been allowed unfettered access to the most primal nightmares and dreamscapes of writer-director George Miller. Watching “Fury Road,” you get the idea that this is the type of world that Miller had always envisioned when creating the previous entries, and this is the first time he has the technology and the budget to pull it off. That’s not a knock against the previous films, just an acknowledgement of the fact that we are now getting the vision of the auteur completely unfiltered.
“Caravan of Courage” is almost like a nature documentary about Ewoks, complete with Burl Ives narration. That’s fine as far as it goes, especially if you were a kid in 1984, your parents hadn’t taped the trilogy off HBO yet, and this came on TV.
But “Battle for Endor,” to a youngster’s eyes, has forest fight scenes on par with “Return of the Jedi” (well, the sound and laser effects come from the same library, at least). We see the touching formation of a makeshift family featuring Wicket (who refreshingly speaks English now), human girl Cindel, Wilford Brimley at his most curmudgeonly, and Brimley’s cute, fast-moving pet Teek.
The first “Mission: Impossible” is boring. The second is terrible. The third is good, but not overly so. Nothing preceding the fourth film in the franchise gives any indication that something like “Ghost Protocol” is possible.
“Ghost Protocol” is orders of magnitude better than anything before it. All of the covert intrigue stuff is fun. The movie opens with some top-notch action, and then the intrigue and the action dovetail in one of the most entertaining sequences to come along this decade. The entire Dubai sequence is a master class in suspense and action. From Tom Cruise running around the side of the building to the car chase in a dust storm, everything comes together perfectly.
I’m in the tank for the Marvel Cinematic Universe now, so I don’t hate “Thor.” But I find it dull compared to other films in the saga. The opportunities for fish-out-of-water comedy are largely passed over in favor of an uncomfortable standoff where Agent Coulson, normally an MCU hero, makes life difficult for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane.
“Thor: Ragnarok,” the second sequel, has a well-honed sense of what a Thor film should be, starting with our hero breaking out of a trap to the strains of an on-point “Immigrant Song.” It’s colorful, it’s adventurous, it’s silly, it has Jeff Goldblum, and it finds meaty parts for the Hulk and newcomer Valkyrie. While Thor is still delightfully full of himself, he totally fills out his hero’s status even as he takes unusually hard knocks.
I am a huge fan of the first entry in the durable “Fast and Furious” franchise, and enjoyed each entry to some extent up until “Fast Five.”
In its fifth entry, though, the franchise really — pardon the pun — switches gears. What once was fun and slight is now exciting, visceral, imposing and thrilling. Unbelievable action set pieces careen into each other as the testosterone is dialed up to 11 and beyond. Nothing is held back, and the film is better for it. Later installments, which I still enjoy but not as much, see the franchise tilt into unintentional self-parody. This movie strikes a perfect balance.
To say the young trio of actors are just learning their craft in “Sorcerer’s Stone” is an understatement. It often seems they are coached through a scene.
By the sixth film, “Half-Blood Prince,” Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have become skilled actors and the film saga is a well-oiled machine. This is the best book in J.K. Rowling’s saga, and screenwriter David Kloves plays up the humor – often centering on the awkwardness of young love. It’s also poignantly pretty, with sepia-tinted cinematography illustrating that these kids’ school days are soon to be memories.