Top 5: Improved Sequels

Editor’s Note: The criteria for this list is slightly specific. 1) It must be the first sequel in a franchise. Reboots and remakes also don’t count. 2) The sequel must be better than the original. Temple of Doom is a great movie, but not as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark.

5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Chamber of SecretsWithin the first film of the series Harry, and thus the audience, is constantly enamored with the magical world he has discovered but he actually doesn’t do anything. He is the everyman protagonist thrust into a world he doesn’t understand and basically spends the entire film walking around with his mouth agape at how awesome everything is. The sequel offers Harry his first challenge to overcome and true chance for character growth now that the introductions are out of the way. Though we don’t know it at the time, this is the first horcrux that Harry destroys and Chamber of Secrets offers valuable insight in the origins of Tom Riddle and his special connection to Mr. Potter.

4. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers

The Two TowersThe Fellowship of the Ring spent the first half of the film setting up the premise for the next two and a half movies, then it spent its second half seeing our heroes fall very short of their original goal. Two Towers opens up with action, ends with action and has plenty of character growth, comedic moments and adventure along the way. It is within this sequel that the Fellowship feels like a family instead of a ragtag team of misfits thrown together for no other reason than being diverse. Two Towers put the talented Andy Serkis on the map with his expert performance of Gollum/Smeagol and made audiences believe in the magic of motion capture. Two Towers benefits from having a defined goal and path for our heroes to travel and clear obstacles to overcome, plus unlike other LofR films it only has one ending.
3. Captain America: Winter Soldier

captain-america-winter-soldier-posterFirst Avenger did an amazing job of introducing Steve Rogers, Avengers (not a sequel) showed that he was a hero in the modern day world but Winter Soldier highlighted that he was a true superhero and man of the people. The sequel ups the action but still retains the heart of the character, every scene within this 2-hour-plus adventure is necessary and builds momentum in the film. This isn’t just a non-stop action sequence, but wisely intertwines character moments between well choreographed sequences. Winter Soldier stays true to its comic book origins and isn’t afraid to dash in some social commentary regarding the usage of government surveillance and corruption hidden within the pretense of protection.
2. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Empire Strikes BackNo contest the best Star Wars film and pivotal to the mythology of the franchise. The sequel introduced telekinesis, force ghosts, Yoda, Boba Fett, Lando, the Skywalker family-tree and many iconic moments in cinema. Darth Vader is in the pursuit of the rebels and no longer the lackey of Grand Moff Tarkin but is instead a force of nature that chews through the galaxy with his singular goal. The heroes grow from the archetype characters they were in A New Hope into complex personalities with multifaceted goals and dreams that are hinted at but never outright stated. There is a sense within Empire that the galaxy is large and this war has been fought for years since the Battle of Yavin and the audience is being brought right into the action at the most important point. Empire manages to hold true to the mantra of ‘show don’t tell’ as character’s actions and mannerisms bring their personality to life instead of monologues and narration disguised as conversation. Plus, how badass is it when the doors open and Han immediately starts shooting at Vader (…obviously Han shot first, that’s who he is).


1. The Dark Knight

Dark KnightWhen Batman: Begins came out the general feeling from the audience was “it’s good…for a comic book movie.” When The Dark Knight released the verdict was “It’s great.” No modifier. The Dark Knight was an amazing action-thriller that just happened to be based upon comic books and much of that is due to the stunning work of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Nolan and Ledger remain true to the Clown Prince of Crime’s comic book personality and at the same time make him believable in the Nolan-universe (or our universe) and creepier than ever before. This is Joker’s story and we are just all wrapped up in the madness. The unpredictable nature of the character comes across in the film and leaves viewers on the edge of their seats trying to figure out who is outsmarting who.The supporting cast each play their roles perfectly as if they were the leading man within the story and this is one of the most impressive ensemble casts assembled. The Dark Knight fits perfectly within the Nolan-trilogy or as a standalone adventure for viewers, making it a near-flawless sequel. Bale became the most iconic Batman due to his tenure as Bruce Wayne during The Dark Knight and left a large cowl for future actors to don…