From good to great: 6 film sequels that surpassed expectation

News // 11.09.2023

Things always seem to be more difficult on the second time of asking: difficult second albums; nailing the bullseye after a successful practice round; getting married…

It’s exactly the same with film sequels. After releasing a movie which audiences love, the expectation of creating a follow-up which is better than the first is a mammoth undertaking.

It doesn’t always work out. If ‘Pacific Rim Uprising’, ‘Thor: Love And Thunder’ and ‘Grease 2’ (hang on, there was a second one?!) are anything to go by, it’s that the overwhelming pressure of delivering on fans’ expectations can often end in crushing disappointment.

However, every so often, a sequel will be released which takes everyone by surprise, building on what everyone loved about the original and actually improving on it.

Here is our Whistle Punks-accredited list of some of the top movie sequels that absolutely nailed the assignment.

John Wick: Chapter 2

When the first John Wick film was released in 2014, it managed to stand out in a world saturated with action films.

It’s a non-stop adrenaline rush with heart, which almost single-handedly karate-kicked Keanu Reeves back into the limelight. For that alone, we thank it.

It also turned its back on the heavy use of CGI and shaky-cam which had been removing audiences from the real action (as well as making us feel a bit sick) of the vast majority of action films.

With a stuntman as a director and Keanu doing most of his own stunts, John Wick was a roaring success.

The problem with a lot of film sequels is that they forget what made the original so popular. Thankfully, in John Wick: Chapter 2, they took the fast-paced and creative stunts of the original and said: ‘let’s do that again, but more’.

It’s just what we wanted. It’s slick, loud, clever, impressive and captivating, with truly breathtaking fight sequences and some rather creative uses for an axe, so it has our vote.

The Dark Knight

For 8 sorry years of our lives between 1997 and 2005, the only Batman film to be released was memorable only for how bad it was, including batsuit nipples and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s awful puns – but more on those later.

It took a film making maverick like Christopher Nolan to come along and reboot one of the most popular superhero franchises of all time, which he did with devastating effectiveness in ‘Batman Begins’, drawing on graphic novels for source materia and bringing the gothic back to Gotham.

However, that wasn’t technically a sequel; it was more of a kiss of life.

When Nolan followed it up with ‘The Dark Knight’ in 2008, it wasn’t just one of the best film sequels, but one of the greatest movies of all time.

‘The Dark Knight’ is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece. Including the Oscar-winning performance of Heath Ledger as Joker, breathtaking setpieces and an enthralling story from start to finish, it was an undeniably defining moment in modern cinema.

The perfect movie night spread

Toy Story 2

For a film that’s coming up to its 30th birthday (best not dwell on that for too long), Pixar’s ‘Toy Story’ was a hugely successful movie for all ages, and arguably the springboard for the success of animated films in the modern era.

Then came the sequel, where they did what no one dreamed they could do: they created one of those rare film sequels which was received even better than the first, but they did so by adding even more narrative depth and, dare we say, made us think. We normally run away from that!

Amongst the clever gags and lovable characters, we are given a story of emotional pull regarding acceptance, loneliness and friendship. It’s enough to make you forget that you’re watching a film which was made on a computer.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Anyway, enough with the emotion. Here’s a film about a robot from the future played by Arnold Schwarzenegger with loads of explosions.

James Cameron broke new ground with the original Terminator film, and its sequel is categorically even better.

All the classic Terminator quotes you say to each other are probably from this movie: ‘hasta la vista, baby’, ‘come with me if you want to live’, ‘I need your clothes, your boots, and your motorcycle’… it’s a character that Arnie was born to play.

You know when we said ‘enough with the emotion’ just now? We lied. The ending to this film made us all wonder how they managed to make a killer robot from the future so lovable, and we dare anyone not to shed a dramatic singular tear.

Mad Max: Fury Road

The jury’s out as to whether this counts as a sequel or a reboot, but it’s too much of a kickass film for us to worry too much about that.

Following on from the post-apocalyptic fever-dream of the original Mad Max movies, ‘Fury Road’ joined the franchise with a full frontal assault to the senses – and we mean that in the best possible way.

Tom Hardy stars in one of his grunt-iest roles yet, alongside Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, arguably the main character in the film despite the title. There’s chase sequences, crazy stunts, and a rock guitarist riding on the roof of a car, because reasons.

It’s exactly the kind of cinema we love, and one of those film sequels that can stand alone whilst paying its respects to the original.

Interestingly enough, despite its heavy use of action tropes, this film passes the Bechdel Test. All the more reason to love it!

Star Wars: Episode 5 – The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode 5 marks the second film in a franchise of 9 parts. They were released in an order which makes sense to no one, with episodes 4, 5 and 6 coming before 1, 2 and 3.

7, 8 and 9 came along to try and undo the damage that 1, 2 and 3 had, though everyone seems to be in mutual agreement that 4, 5 and 6 were the best.

As far as sequels and prequels go, Star Wars is an absolute mess. However, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is undeniably one of the best film sequels ever released.

Building on what was to become one of the most lucrative franchises to ever exist, Episode 5 took the Star Wars saga to cinematic heights which became quite a hard act to follow, including excellent character arcs, fantastical lore, and one of the most unexpected twists in cinematic history.

Though, thanks to its impact on popular culture, there probably isn’t anyone in the world who doesn’t know who Luke’s father is.

film sequels - an audience enjoying popcorn

Let’s be honest, we could probably natter on forever about our favourite sequels. Honourable mentions have to go to Paddington 2, The Godfather Part II, Creed, The Winter Soldier, The Two Towers… the list goes on.

Now is the perfect time to grab some popcorn, bring your duvet into the living room, and sit down with one of your favourite franchises for an epic movie marathon!

Words: Alex Pardey