Sequels represent the best and worst of Hollywood. The good ones revitalize tired franchises and add new chapters to stories we already love and the bad ones serve no other purpose than to milk a few more cents out of an already dead cow. Good or bad, they’re an inevitability. Hollywood has always been and will always be a business, with sequels being their bread and butter. This list examines both the bread and the butter, or in other words, the follow-ups that put the emphasis on both the former and the latter of the word.
This list is a collaboration between Sailor Monsoon and Kane, with Sailor tackling the good and Kane taking on the ugly. Both of which had to abide by two rules:
1) Only one film per franchise, unless the franchise reboots with a new cast (James Bond, Star Trek, X-Men, Etc.)
2) It has to be an official sequel, so previous adaptations don’t count (this excludes the Silence of the Lambs) nor do “unofficial” sequels (this excludes the Three Colors trilogy, the Cornetto trilogy and the Vengeance trilogy)
This is the 100 Greatest and Worst Sequels of All Time.
10. Staying Alive (1983) | WORST
I don’t care who you are, at some point in everyone’s life, you have imitated something from Saturday Night Fever. Whether it was performing the disco dance moves or mocking Tony’s iconic strut set to the Bee Gees. Saturday Night Fever is the quintessential disco film that helped burst John Travolta into superstardom. One of the greatest soundtracks combined with the gritty realism of Brooklyn made for an absolute hit in 1977. In the original, Tony Manero was your typical New Yorker in a dead-end job just trying to be someone that happened to be one of the best dancers around. Six years later, none other than Sylvester Stallone steps in to direct, write and produce not just one of the worst sequels, but one of the worst movies of all time. The former disco king is now a struggling modern dancer trying to catch his big break on Broadway.
What gave the original it’s personality and heart was completely missing in this sequel. Fun and character-building family fights around the dinner table and gritty realism of the old neighborhood were replaced with slick, short and sweaty MTV style dance scenes. Those dance scenes are laughably bad without any kind of grace to found. Where action sequels usually go for bigger explosion and special effects, I guess the dance equivalent is more smoke, laser beams and spandex. The only redeemable aspect of this film is when Tony finally says, “I want to strut!” and proceeds to do so across Times Square to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees. That was the final scene. This movie was so awful and combined with how bad Travolta’s other movie that year, Two of a Kind, was, effectively derailed his career for a number of years.
09. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) | BEST
We’re still a couple of years off from the Avatar movies (which very well could be career ending mega flops) but as of right now, James Cameron is the undisputed king of the sequel. His approach is simple yet highly effective: keep the toys, change the sandbox. Both Alien and the Terminator were suspense heavy horror thrillers about an unstoppable inhuman force killing all in its way until a badass heroine takes it down in the triumphant third act. Both are perfect films for what they are but Cameron, being the visionary that he is, saw room for improvement. He kept the characters but just moved them into a new genre.
Ripley was no longer all alone in the deep recesses of space with a murderous alien, now she’s surrounded with Marines as well as a shit ton of aliens. She went from horror to action without skipping a beat. And Cameron did the same with Sarah Conner. In the first Terminator, Sarah was constantly on the run from a Michael Myers-esque android and in this one, that death-dealing killbot becomes the second protagonist. She jumped genres and he went from the bad guy to the good guy. It’s one of the most radical changes in any sequel and boy does it payoff. T2 is a sci-fi action extravaganza that only stops injecting adrenaline straight into your eyeballs long enough to tell a legitimately heartwarming story about a boy without a father bonding with his robotic bodyguard. There’s a reason Harlan Ellison sued Cameron over the first movie and not this one–not even he, one of the best sci-fi writers of the 20th century, wrote anything nearly as good and he knew it.
08. Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) | WORST
Who knew a movie about a city bus being rigged with a bomb set to explode if the bus slows down below 50 mph while starring early 90’s Keanu Reeves and not quite superstar Sandra Bullock would be such a smash hit? It was everything a summer popcorn blockbuster is supposed to be. Thrilling, action filled, energetic, heart pounding etc. $350 million off a $30 million budget?! It was a no brainer to make a sequel, right? We got the director back and now breakout superstar “every girl” Sandra Bullock is going to reprise her role. How can we not make all the money? Let’s replace Keanu Reeves with the intense hunk Jason Patric and set the film on a thrilling cruise ship! That’s the ticket!
First off, let’s start with one of the worst movie titles ever in Cruise Control. Nothing elicits excitement and danger like a nice relaxing adventure set to cruise control. All thrill and excitement were long gone by slow moving scenes in between overly frantic action with laughable dialogue and familiar plot devices that most children could see coming a mile away. Absolutely forgettable with Bullock and Patric both criticizing director Jan de Bont’s directing and knowing the film was going to be a flop during production. Keanu Reeve’s has to be thanking his luck stars he was wise enough to avoid this catastrophe.
07. The Dark Knight (2008) | BEST
Star Wars, along with Jaws, created the summer blockbuster, and while there’s been literally hundreds of them released since then, few have had that same aura of importance, that event like quality to their release quite like the Dark Knight. Dubbed by critics as the “21st century Empire Strikes Back” and hailed as a masterpiece by everyone who saw it, The Dark Knight is the only comic book movie to transcend the genre. Batman Begins is a terrific origin story and is arguably better in some regards to its sequel due to it focusing more on Batman but the Dark Knight has more on its mind. A crime thriller at its heart, the film feels like an amalgamation of Michael Mann’s Heat and the Conversation but with with themes such as the importance of privacy over safety and chance vs chaos; it’s exactly the kind of superhero film a director like Nolan would make.
But neither it’s themes or influences are the reason behind its enduring legacy, that honor belongs to Heath Ledger’s Joker, a performance so perfect, it rivals the best of the best. His presence is so magnetic, so captivating, so delightfully unhinged, that every time he’s on screen, the film immediately becomes one of the best films of all time. It’s not a coincidence that the year after its release, the Academy changed the number of best film nominees from five to upwards of ten. They knew they fucked up not nominating it because if they had, it easily would’ve won. Which would’ve made it one of the few winners that actually deserved the award.
06. The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) | WORST
1973’s The Exorcist set a standard for all horror movies that followed it to live up to, and that is to be described as the “scariest movie since The Exorcist!” It was critically acclaimed, and people flocked to it’s limited theater release forcing the studios to send it to more theaters. It is at the top of pretty much every best horror movie list, and arguably the scariest movie of all time. Sadly, much like numerous entries on this list, the follow up could not match high bar that the original set.
One thing I will give director John Boorman and writer William Goodhart (his script was heavily rewritten after production was underway because that’s ever a good thing) is that they tried. They had a vision that overflowed with some batshit crazy ideas one after another. However, they were not able to capitalize on some of these intriguing ideas because they were smashed together without allowing any of them time to breathe. We got a tonally inconsistent film that eventually goes off the rails into ineptitude. Bad acting from generally solid actors like Richard Burton. Random swarm of locust attacking (James Earl Jones in a locust head dress anyone?), synced brain waves, hearts being ripped out of chests and other crazy happenings that are seemingly just happening. None of which are the least bit scary and most of the movie just being incomprehensible to the point it’s humorous. That’s not what you want in a follow up to “the scariest movie ever”.
05. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) | BEST
Redefining the term “epic”, Fury Road is George Miller’s third sequel in his Mad Max series and boy howdy is it a doozy. Mirroring Max’s slow decent into madness in the first one, the series gets progressively more out there with each installment until it hit its autogeddon apex with this movie. As close as any film as come to non-stop action; it’s essentially a two hour car chase but bigger and more bombastic than any before or since. In addition to the balls to the wall excitement, there’s the cast that’s as hot as the desert they’re filming in. Tom Hardy does a magnificent job of replacing Mel Gibson and Hugh Keays-Byrne is fucking great as the villain but the real MVP is Charlize Theron. With just one movie, she made Furiosa a character as iconic as Max himself. You immediately understand her motivations and without knowing anything about her, you root for her to succeed. Unlike Max who’s character arc ended after the first movie, Furiosa has an actual goal you care about. She’s a badass warrior who’s fighting for more than just revenge or survival, she’s a savior who’ll risk her life to save others. In addition to being the best thing in the movie (which is saying a lot), she’s the best character in the franchise.
A rarity in Hollywood in that it’s a dream project with a a blank check that doesn’t suffer from producer meddling and isn’t a colossal misfire (See: Lady in the Water, Jupiter Ascending, The Razor’s Edge, Toys, Etc.), Fury Road is 100% Miller’s vision, which is both great due to the movie being an absolute astonishing piece of art but depressing because there will never be another film like it. There’s no other director like Miller and a studio will never bankroll something this audacious ever again. Fury Road is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can never be duplicated and I doubt any action film will ever come close to topping.
04. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) | WORST
Simply one of the cheesiest movies ever made with some of the worst special effects in the history of special effects. Never a good thing when executives are constantly fighting about cutting the special effects budget cuts. I mean we got the same exact shot of Superman flying for every scene when Superman is flying. Even as a wee lad, little Vinny Kane knew this was a disaster of a film. This entry was so bad that it effectively derailed the series from the big screen for nearly two decades. Extremely poor acting with corny comedy while also failing at the ham-fisted anti-nuclear and anti-war social commentary. Plot holes galore. How does Lenny Luthor cut Superman’s “indestructible hair” with ordinary bolt cutters? How about Superman rebuilding the Great Wall of China with his rebuild-o-vision? Also, this movie proved humans can in fact breathe in outer space.
The issues with this sequel are pretty much endless including perhaps the worst villains in the history of villains in the goofy and unintimidating Nuclear Man. He is a solar-powered nuclear man whose sole weakness is not being in direct sunlight which is how Superman defeats him by trapping him in an elevator and dumping him on the moon. However, there are numerous scenes where Nuclear Man is not in direct sunlight and is just fine. The only redeemable thing from this film is the John Williams theme.
03. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) | BEST
A New Hope was Lucas’ attempt at reimagining the sci-fi serials he loved as a kid. He couldn’t get the rights to remake Flash Gordon, so he created his own Flash Gordon. With a dash of the Hidden Fortress and with a little bit of Buck Rodgers and Metropolis thrown in, Lucas crafted the single most important work of art released since the Lord of the Rings. And yet, I’d argue the sequel, is even more important. Because if it sucked, no one would’ve given a shit about the low budget space opera that proceeded it. It would’ve become another Planet of the Apes; a great film sci-fi nerds love that was somewhat tainted by a subpar follow up. But as you know, the Empire Strikes Back didn’t suck nor did it flop. This is the point where Star Wars went from fun, popcorn entertainment to a mainstream hit that appealed to everyone. Kids weren’t the only ones dying to see this anymore. Now, it was the entire world. Star Wars created nerd culture but Empire made it almost acceptable to admit to liking nerd shit. Nerds wouldn’t take over the world for another thirty years but without this movie, they never would have.
02. Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) | WORST
“There can be only one!” worst sequel of all the times. (I’ve waited this entire list to use that.) The original was appropriately dubbed by Ricky Bobby as the “best movie ever made.” Highlander wasn’t a smash hit right away like most of the originals to a lot of these entries. Even with numerous unfavorable reviews, it would garner a strong cult following with most loving it for because of it’s cheesiness and absurdity. It just had a certain charm that people could attach to and enjoy. The sequel is a different story altogether.
First off, in the original the Immortals were people with magical powers and good origins and turned them into aliens sent from another world. We get a character who had been beheaded in the previous film back from the dead with absolutely no explanation whatsoever. Just a dull and bland story with countless plot holes. It retconned the original so bad that this may have well have just been a reboot, except reboots weren’t really a thing back in 1991. One thing you can’t blame this for, unlike most entries on this list, is that it didn’t go down the typical rehash the previous film device. The problem is that nothing makes sense. None of it. This film was heavily edited from its original version so much so that the director Russell Mulcahy and star Christopher Lambert asked to have their name removed from the film. If that doesn’t scream one of the worst sequels of all time, then I don’t know what does.
01. The Godfather: Part II (1974) | BEST
Two years after The Godfather redefined the mobster movie and in doing so, became what many critics agree is the single best film ever made (unless they’re one of those wackos that loves Vertigo), Coppolla was back and with a sequel that somehow blows the best movie ever made out of the water. The story expands upon the first without ever retreading old ground by simultaneously exploring the rise of Michael Corleone through the criminal empire— which slowly chips away at his humanity, until he’s almost entirely devoid of emotion, leaving just a shell of a man consumed by the lust for power and respect— and the rise of his father, Vito Corleone.
By alternating between the past and the present, the film works as both a sequel and a prequel, with both stories being individually compelling but taken together, weave an epic tale about the birth of the la casa nostra and how two different Corleone’s handed the same throne. It’s an impeccably acted, perfectly constructed work of art that leap frogs over the being the best sequel into being the best film period.
Now that the list is over, how do you feel about the order? Comment down below and let us know how right/wrong we are.