Nothing beats the original. We have come to recognize quality in the innovators in every area from food to arts and entertainment. One of the worst things that can happen to a film is a sequel that will forever be draped around its neck like an albatross. Some sequels are absolute disasters. The Hangover is a great buddy comedy. The second installment is a huge drop in quality and part three is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Caddyshack II was missing two large forces from the original and lacks everything that made the first one so great. The Godfather Part III is a blemish on what is often considered the best 1-2 punch in cinematic history. However, not all movie sequels are horrible embarrassments. In fact, some even surpass the quality of the original film. This is my list of five films that are better than the original.
Friday the 13th Part II
Okay, not only does the sequel amp up everything from the first film, but it gives the series its entire identity. Part one does lay the groundwork, but part two gives you Jason as the menacing killer of Camp Crystal Lake. Sure, none of the films are exactly going to make the criterion film collection, but this sequel amps up the violence and gives us the iconic hockey mask-wearing slasher. It lacks Kevin Bacon, but we will give it a pass for that.
Batman Returns/The Dark Knight
Okay, I know they are two separate films in two different Batman film series, but both deserve mention without hogging two spots. Batman Returns is darker, has a more interesting storyline, and has double the great villains of the first film. Jack Nicholson’s Joker is fantastic, but I felt at ease in comparison to the downright disturbing Penguin played by Danny DeVito. Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman was a great balance of sympathetic and femme fatale. The Dark Knight is the centerpiece of Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise. Christian Bale is the best Batman since Keaton, and in some ways fits the role even better. Heath Ledger gives the greatest performance in a superhero movie of all time. Aaron Eckhart is underrated as Harvey Dent, and Gotham is beautifully presented in its way that is much more David Fincher’s Se7en than Tim Burton’s dark but often cartoonish staging. It’s also important to note that Batman and Batman Begins are fantastic films, yet both were topped by their legendary directors.
Evil Dead II
Some people will dispute this listing because it is often cited as a remake. However, the film is gorier that the original, it is much better conceptualized and now Bruce Campbell’s comedy is now being brought to the surface. The film is funnier than the original and doesn’t quite go to the record levels of the absurdity of Army of Darkness. Well, okay maybe it does. Whatever, Sam Raimi did a great job.
Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban
This is the perfect Harry Potter film. It begins the transition to a darker film series from the Chris Columbus-helmed two installments of the series to the Newell and Yates films later in the series. Alfonso Cuarón is a brilliant director, and the beautifully shot film is an improvement on the original films in almost every way. It even holds up against the universally respected conclusion Deathly Hallows Part II. I say it’s the better film because it does everything well without the luxury of the epic showdown at the end of the series.
The Empire Strikes Back
I know, duh? The Empire Strikes Back is the reason Star Wars wasn’t just another superb film. The characters in the first film were cool; the story was a little hokey, but there was a lot of promise on where it was going to go. The film introduced us to Yoda, it produced a twist that could be the greatest in history, and it leaves our heroes looking completely doomed. Character building, better plot, and a conclusion that makes the third film appear to be can’t miss makes this sequel perhaps the greatest in film history. Jar-Jar Binks is likely never created without it. Regardless of that, it’s still a landmark film.
I realize there is a lot of easy ones I left off of this list. Where is Godfather Part II? The first one and second may share the best film ever honors, and it’s on every list. Terminator 2: Judgment Day is fantastic, but I’m in the minority when I believe it’s not as good as the original. These examples should show that a proper and sometimes superior sequel is very possible.