Best Movie Sequels of All Time

Sequels can be very tricky things. When they work, they are a gift that not only enhances the original film but can actually be better than the previous entries. If they don’t, they remind the viewer why the original film is so much better and that the filmmakers should have never tempted fate by asking lightning to strike twice. While the cliche used to be the sequel was always a letdown there is a whole recurring joke in Scream 2 about this, that just isn’t the case anymore.

Updated May 25, 2023: This article has been updated to include more entries and to reflect the recent slate of releases in 2023.

More often than not, there have been many great modern sequels that are made by talented filmmakers who want to make an installment that is just as good if not better than the original. Just recently, a sequel to a popular movie got nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in the form of Top Gun: Maverick. 2023 is already shaping up to be a great year for sequels, as John Wick: Chapter 4 and Creed 3 were well-regarded entries in their franchise. Audiences are eagerly awaiting the release of sequels like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and Dune Part II, all of which carry high expectations. With that in mind, take a look at the best sequels of all time.



18 A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Dream Warriors
New Line Cinema

After the first Nightmare on Elm Street film established Freddy Krueger as one of the baddest supernatural killers ever, there was a bit of a letdownwith Freddy’s Revenge. However, literally, everything was redeemed with Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. What made Freddy so cool was that he was able to haunt people in their dreams. Everybody needs to sleep, and dreams and fear are what kept Freddy alive.

Dream Warriors expanded on this by putting together a group of teens who could control their sleep habits. Add to this that the visuals in this film expanded on Wes Craven’s work in the original, the horror makeup is top-notch, and the acting was solid without falling into camp. Dream Warriors is a great sequel that managed to rise above the very genre from whence it came.

17 X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

The mutants of X Men Days of Future Past
20th Century Studios

The X-Men film series has a number of high-profile sequels to choose from, both good and bad. X-Men: Days of Future Past pulls off the impressive task of being a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class and uniting the two timelines into a cohesive whole. With a time travel plot that cuts back and forth between the future and past, this movie could have easily been a confusing misfire, but the movie perfectly captures the spirit of what audiences loved about the X-Men movie while raising the stakes to compete with many of the recent MCU entries.

16 T2: Trainspotting (2017)

T2 Trainspotting
TriStar Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing

The first of two T2s on this list, T2: Trainspotting, was the long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting. While Trainspotting does not feel like the movie that would generate a sequel, they weave that unnecessary nature into the plot of the movie. Whereas the first movie has a shot of fun and youthful energy, this sequel acknowledges the march of time and how all the main characters have aged.

Related: 10 Movie Sequels Fans Have Been Asking For for Years

They long for the youth they have lost, of a simpler time, much like the audience who craves nostalgic sequels. This is a sad movie, filled with regret, and makes for a nice contrast to the original. It inverts the formula of the original, and the two films make for an interesting thematic examination.

15 The Color of Money (1986)

The Color of Money
Buena Vista Distribution

Probably the best part about The Color of Money is that you could watch this film without seeing its predecessor, The Hustler, and you would never be lost. Leave it to the great director Martin Scorsese to make a sequel to a classic film and turn it into yet another classic. Yes, the pairing of Paul Newman and Tom Cruise was a solid bit of casting.

However, the story this movie tells is both rich, poignant, and inspiring. At the same time, Scorsese draws on the sad, wasted chances of Newman’s Fast Eddie Felson character to remind the viewer that in order to truly appreciate this movie, we need to revisit the first one. Lastly, the cherry on top of all of this is that now iconic poster. Tom Cruise is at the forefront, but Newman looms very, very large.

14 Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the dead 1978 Feature Photo 1200 x 630
United Film Distribution Company

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead established him as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. However, within that film was a truly kick-ass political statement about the futility of war, people’s wars within themselves, and America’s involvement in Vietnam. Dawn of the Dead begins amidst the chaos of a zombie invasion. It simply drops the viewer in and lets them figure out what is happening.

It eventually centers itself in a strip mall, and it is here that the brilliance of Dawn of the Dead takes shape. Sure, the effects are firing on all cylinders. Gore-filled visuals were presented on screen that heretofore had never been witnessed. Romero again makes a statement about our culture and American consumerism. Dawn of the Dead set a template for the zombie genre that is still being followed today.

13 Spider-Man 2 (2004)

spiderman2 (1)
Columbia Pictures

While Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy started off strong, the sequel, Spider-Man 2, is a fan favorite. It may be one of the best superhero movies out there, and it certainly feels very unique. The antagonist is unexpectedly the most lovable character in the film, and not because he is so bad that he’s good. Peter Parker’s (Toby Maguire) arc is only able to be completed because Doctor Octavius (Alfred Molina) redeems himself, showing Peter what being a hero really means.

The updated effects are part of what makes this movie shine compared to its predecessor, but the complexity of the characters is what makes it stand above the rest. Spider-Man 2 was very much inspired by Superman II, and in many regards, Spider-Man 2 has been the superhero sequel for which all others have since been judged.

12 Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

blade_runner_2049_ryan_gosling_harrison_ford (1)
Warner Bros. Pictures

Making a sequel to Blade Runner should not have worked, but Blade Runner 2049 was able to live up to the hype and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its predecessor. Brilliantly directed by Denis Villeneuve and featuring breathtaking cinematography from Roger Deakins, Blade Runner 2049 captures a sense of scale and mood that is awe-inspiring. With incredible performances throughout, particularly led by Ryan Gosling, Blade Runner 2049 does the impossible and makes an incredible sequel to a film classic.

11 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

The Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The MCU is filled with great sequels, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to Avengers: Endgame. Yet Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 might be their best sequel to date. Recency bias aside, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 delivers an emotionally powerful conclusion to this story. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 perfectly captures the humor and team dynamics of the first film with the raw emotional sincerity of Vol. 2 to make a perfect mix that makes it not only the best Guardians of the Galaxy film but one of the best films in the MCU period. It is hard to imagine that these characters were once unknown, and now the audience can’t imagine a cinematic world without them.

10 Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens
20th Century Fox

James Cameron is the king of sequels, and two of his three sequels are on here (Avatar: The Way of Water just barely missed out). Aliens is a masterclass in making a sequel, flipping the original film’s horror elements and putting it into an action movie but still featuring plenty of scares. With memorable characters, iconic dialogue, and embracing the theme of motherhood being brought to a literal head with Ripley and the Alien Queen, Aliens is a sequel that is both incredibly smart and an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride.

9 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Tri-Star Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is great for all the reasons sequels should be made. Are the FX better than in the first film? Check. Does it elevate the first film? Check. Does it expand on the mythology? Check. James Cameron’s sequel is just better in every way. Terminator 2: Judgement Day features some of the greatest action scenes of all time. It features rich, dynamic characters that are memorable and offers a satisfying ending that the franchise sadly can’t seem to let go of.

8 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The 2015 post-apocalyptic action film Mad Max Fury Road
Warner Bros.

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the rare sequels to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, so that alone earns it a spot on this list. Mad Max: Fury Road seemed to come out of nowhere. The franchise was popular, but nobody could have anticipated this film to be not only one of the best movies of 2015 but also one of the best action movies ever made. With incredible cinematography and jaw-dropping action, Mad Max: Fury Road also features a simple but smart story. Mad Max: Fury Road proves that sometimes sequels can be better than the originals.

7 Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Top Gun Maverick 2022
Paramount Pictures

Another late sequel that earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Top Gun: Maverick, is one of the greatest sequels of all time without question. The movie was a box office sensation, grossing over $700 million domestically, and is one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

Top Gun: Maverick builds on the predecessor and improves it in every way, from state of art aerial combat sequences that were breathtaking in a theater to well-developed character dynamics. By the end of the movie, one can’t help but cheer. Top Gun: Maverick is also a rare sequel that can be enjoyed by an audience member who has never seen the original.

6 The Dark Knight (2008)

Ledger as The Joker
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Dark Knight is very much the modern-day version of The Empire Strikes Back, the sequel that had a lot to live up and not only delivered but became seen as the gold standard ever since. The Dark Knight features a massive scope as it was the first movie Nolan decided to shoot implementing IMAX cameras. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is nothing short of iconic.

The Dark Knight was a box office smash, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 2008, and was one of the best-reviewed films that year. Many believe it being snubbed at the Academy Awards led to the Oscars expanding their Best Picture nominees from five films to ten films.

5 Before Sunset (2004)

Before Sunset movie with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy
Warner Independent

Released and set nine years after its predecessor, Before Sunset is a beautifully poignant movie about love and the second chance to be with the one who got away. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy have great chemistry, as always, and the fact that they worked with director Richard Linklater on the script only enhances the authentic nature of the film.

Related: These Are the Best Legacy Sequels, Ranked

Before Sunset has a warm summer glow to it, and the audience can’t get caught up in this love story. The movie opened on July 2, 2004, which was also the same week that Spider-Man 2 opened. So Fourth of July weekend 2004 saw the release of two of the greatest sequels of all time.

4 Paddington 2 (2017)

Studio Canal

Paddington 2 is a movie that almost instantly overnight became known as a modern masterpiece. The film was beloved by all, notably taking the best-reviewed title from Citizen Kane on Rotten Tomatoes. Paddington 2 is everything that is great about the first one but to an even greater degree. Without needing to set up Paddington and allowing him to just hit the ground running, Paddington 2 shows how enduring, sweet, and impactful this polite bear can be.

With an incredible performance by Hugh Grant in a villain role, it is no wonder that Paddington 2 is cited among many as a great film. It’s so notable that a major joke in the movie The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talentis how Paddington 2 can win anyone over.

3 The Godfather Part II (1974)

Pacino in The Godfather Part 2
Paramount Pictures

The first Godfather was a masterpiece, so to try and follow it up seemed like career suicide for a young Frances Ford Coppola. However, after Warner Bros. gave him the funds for a second Godfather film, he decided to follow Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) through his descent into darkness, doing so magnificently with The Godfather Part II.

The tone and pitch of this movie are perfect. The storytelling is incredibly well crafted, and its structure of flashback structure intercut with the present-day storyline can be felt in movies as tonally different as Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. While The Godfather is far more iconic, The Godfather Part II might actually be the better movie.

2 Toy Story 2 (1999)

Toy Story 2 Jessie and Woody
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

After the hit animated movie Toy Story, Pixar became a big part of the film industry. No one knew how a sequel to this story of toys that come to life would go, but Toy Story 2 proved how great and fun this concept is. Instead of redoing the same story as they explored before, Pixar asked the question of what the purpose of a toy is. Woody (Tom Hanks) had always been his kid’s favorite toy, but after being stolen by a toy salesman, he finds out that he is also a collectible worthy of being placed in a museum.

It is a very abstract way of exploring the concept of choosing what path you want to take in life, but it gives the sequel a message that stands apart from the original. While Toy Story 3 managed to be another great sequel, Toy Story 2 is the one formally on this list because it set the template for not only the franchise but the goal of every Pixar sequel since.

1 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back
20th Century Fox

Really what else could it be? Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is a groundbreaking film that changed the movie industry overnight and is often cited among filmmakers when they are crafting their own sequel. Following a movie as successful and influential as Star Wars was a daunting task, but the filmmakers and actors involved rose to the occasion, telling a different story that also dove deeper into the characters’ personal drama.

At the time of its release Empire Strikes Back was seen as a disappointment by many, but years later, its reputation has grown, and is now regarded as the best Star Wars movie. There is no denying when people are asked to name the greatest sequel of all time, Empire Strikes Back is likely the first one that comes to mind.