Contrary to popular belief, film sequels are not always a cash-in on a franchise. For every Police Academy 6, you have a sequel that is the pet project of its filmmaker and his time and attention pays off. In one case, a filmmaker came back 20 years after the release of a movie to recut it and show what he claimed was his original vision.
The Best Movie Sequels
To whittle down a list of movie sequels to the ten best is not an easy task. The movies on this list are the best according to audience ratings from sites such as IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. They may not suit everyone's tastes, but the choices are broad enough to cover a wide range of opinions.
Terminator II (1991)
In Terminator II the bad robot from the first film (played by Arnold Schwartzenegger) comes back as the good robot to protect John O'Connor - the world's future savior. That may sound confusing, even a little contrived, but Terminator II did better than its predecessor in every conceivable way. First, it was the biggest box office hit of 1991. Second, it won four Oscars for sound effects, makeup, visual effects and sound. Finally, it was universally loved. Writing in the Washington Post Joe Brown said it was "brutally beautiful, darkly comic sci fi... guaranteed to conquer the world."
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Many a true Star Wars fan would claim the Empire Strikes Back is the best film of the series. It may not have taken in as much at the box office, but as the highly-regarded film critic Roger Ebert stated "It is because of the emotions stirred in the Empire that the entire series takes on a mythic quality." For example, it is in the Empire that Luke learns the secrets of the Jedi and that Darth Vader is his father.
Toy Story II (1999)
That Toy Story II did as well as its predecessor - the first feature-length, computer-generated, animated film - shows just just how good it is. Like in the first film, Woody disappears, and like in the first film, the other toys have to save him not just from his enemies, but also from himself. This populist story, coupled with Pixar's fine animation, won it a bucketful of awards, including seven Annies (the main animation awards) and an Oscar for Randy Newman's song, You've Got a Friend in Me.
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Critics and audiences rank The Godfather Part II, usually alongside its predecessor, among the best films ever made. It won six Oscars, including best director, best writing and best supporting actor (for Robert de Niro's portrayal of a young Vito Corleone) and was nominated for five others, including three more in the best supporting actor category. The biggest surprise was that Al Pacino was again ignored for a best actor Oscar in his role as Michael Corleone. Perhaps his portrayal of a once good college boy gone bad was, for the 70s, a little too close to home.
Superman II (1980, 2006)
There are two versions of Superman II. The first one (1980) takes a lighter, more comedic approach. The original director for this film was Richard Donner, but Donner was replaced by Richard Lester after much of the film had already been shot. Lester's vision for the movie was drastically different than Donner's resulting in a much different atmosphere for the movie. The second film (2006) was recut by Richard Donner, and takes the more serious approach that Donner had attempted 20 years earlier, extracting all the evil it can from Terrance Stamp's General Zod. Both movies were highly popular with comic book fans. Richard Lester's version won a Saturn award for best science fiction film. The Richard Donner cut won a Saturn award for best DVD Special Edition release.
Batman: the Dark Knight (2008)
Critics had been buzzing about Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker long before he won his posthumous Oscar. He won for good reason - Ledger's Joker was genuinely psychopathic. For example, during the film, he makes up two different stories about why he is always smiling. While both stories are horrific, Ledger's manic performance makes you feel the truth is far worse. If he had been alive, Ledger would have also picked up best supporting actor awards at the Bafta and the Golden Globes. The film also won an Oscar for its editing.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
In his review of the Temple of Doom, Roger Ebert calls the film a 'bruised forearm' film. In other words, it is so exciting, your date will not stop squeezing your forearm from the first minute to the last. It starts with a fight in a restaurant that includes Indy using a rolling gong as a shield, and ends with him cutting a rope bridge he is standing in the middle of in half. In between, he refuses monkey brain, drinks blood, saves his girl from being lowered into a hell-like fire pit and chases bad guys on a mining carriage. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it won an Oscar for its visual effects.
Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
On its release, Babe: Pig in the City received mixed reviews. For example, while Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, Janet Maslin from the New York Times stated that had Pig in the City "been made first, it by no means could have prompted a sequel of its own." However, despite the lukewarm reception by critics, Babe: Pig in the City was nominated for a bevy of awards including an Oscar, a Golden Reel award, a BAFTA and a few others for stellar young talent, special effects, and cinematography. Fast forward fifteen years, and this slight tale of a pig who travels into the city has developed a cult following. In an interview with the Guardian, for example, the musician Tom Waites called it one of his favorite films.
Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (2002)
The Lord of the Rings is not short of accolades. Roger Ebert called the story about Frodo's journey to destroy the one Ring as "one of the most spectacular swashbucklers ever made." The good people at the Oscars agreed enough to reward it Academy Awards for best sound editing and best visual effects. Gollum's mantra of "my precious" was included on AFI's 100 Movie Quotes list.
Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982)
Unlike the hugely disappointing first movie, Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan has action, fun and humor. The fact that Nicolas Meyer had never seen a Star Trek episode before directing the film seemed to help rather than hinder it. Unlike Robert Wise, the director in the first film, he focused on the story - about a dangerous device getting into the hands of Captain Kirk's nemesis - rather than the special effects. In a year that included science fiction classics such as ET and Blade Runner, Wrath of Khan won a Saturn award for best director (Nicolas Meyer) and best actor (Willaim Shatner), but just missed out on best film.
Worthy of a Mention
Some films missed the final cut by a whisker and are a worthy of quick mention. The hardest film to leave out was X-Men II. Directed by Bryan Singer, it was a big improvement on the first installment. In comparison, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was not a patch on the first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. For many, including the Guardian's Mark Kermode, it was at least 30 minutes too long. Nevertheless it is highly rated on IMDB. The final film to mention is French Connection II. The first film was a great movie, worthy of its five Oscars, but in terms of action-packed entertainment, it does not quite match up to its sequel. At the end of the day, the majority of film goers seek entertainment and not hardcore reality.