Many of us have experienced a case of severe sequel letdown. You fall in love with a movie because of its great characters, impressive world and engaging plot and, when you hear there will be a sequel, you’re excited. But, as is typically the case, the followup film feels like a shallow imitation of the first one.
Still, while this is typically what happens with a highly anticipated sequel, it’s not always the case. There have been those rare sequels that not only match the quality of the movie that spawned them but even surpass it. Sometimes it’s debatable as to which one is better, but we’ve picked examples where critics and regular viewers both agreed the sequel was better than the original, using scores from Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb.
All of the sequels on this list either matched or surpassed their predecessors in both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb scores and are listed in order of how much they improved upon their combined score.
‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935)
The Original Film: ‘Frankenstein’ (1931)
In terms of monster movies, 1931’s “Frankenstein” might be the all-time classic but its 1935 sequel, “Bride of Frankenstein,” managed to match its power. Both films hold down a flawless, 100% score at Rotten Tomatoes and a stellar score of 7.8 out of 10 from users at IMDb, showing that the debate rages on more than 80 years later as to which movie was better. The performances of star Boris Karloff as the famous monster were hailed in both movies but “Bride of Frankenstein” was seen as an improvement by some because of the additions of romance and further emotional depth.
This was arguably the first great sequel in Hollywood history.
‘From Russia with Love’ (1963)
The Original Film: ‘Dr. No (1962)
Movie audiences were first introduced to suave British spy James Bond in 1962’s “Dr. No” but critics and audiences liked his second onscreen adventure even more. “Dr. No” holds fantastic scores of 95% at Rotten Tomatoes and 7.3 at IMDb but 1964’s “From Russia with Love” bumped that combined score up ever slightly, matching the 95% but earning a 7.4 at IMDb. Critics and audiences also thought the 1965 followup, “Goldfinger,” was better than the first film, showing that this series just kept raising the stakes in its early years.
It wasn’t until the ninth film, 1974’s “The Man with the Golden Gun,” that audiences and critics each thought the series took a major step down in quality.
The Original Film: ‘Alien’ (19790
The debate as to which of the first two movies in the Alien franchise is better is a hot one and will likely depend on the type of movie you enjoy more: horror or action. What can’t be debated is that both “Alien” and “Aliens” are awesome movies in their own ways. “Aliens” came seven years after the original and saw a change in both directors and style, but star Sigourney Weaver was back and so was the relentless tension of the first film. Both movies hold a remarkable IMDb score of 8.4 but, while “Alien” scored a 97% from Rotten Tomatoes critics, “Aliens” scored a 99%!
‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ (2003)
The Original Film: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001)
All three movies in the blockbuster trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, were great but critics and audiences agreed that the trilogy’s final chapter, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” was the best. The first entry, 2001’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” has stellar scores of 91% at Rotten Tomatoes and 8.8 at IMDb but 2003’s “The Return of the King” outdid them both, earning a 93% and an 8.9. Critics also felt the middle chapter, 2002’s “The Two Towers,” was better than the original but IMDb users gave it a slightly lower score.
“The Return of the King” also cleaned up at the Oscars in 2004, winning all 11 awards it was nominated for, tying the record for most wins by any film in history.
‘Spider-Man 2’ (2004)
The Original Film: ‘Spider-Man’ (2002)
Before the Dark Knight series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to define modern superhero movies, the Spider-Man films of the early 2000s set a good bar. The 2002 original, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, earned solid marks from critics and audiences, with a 90% score at Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.3 at IMDb, but the sequel was deemed even better. “Spider-Man 2” got a 93% and a matching 7.3, with critics enjoying the second film more because it had a better villain and fleshed out its lead characters even more. Everyone agreed that 2007’s “Spider-Man 3,” while still a good movie, was a slight step backward.
‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)
The Original Film: ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’ (1977)
A great sequel gives audiences more of what they loved about the first movie, while upping the ante considerably and giving them some memorable new moments and characters, all of which “The Empire Strikes Back” did to perfection. It’s tough to top the scores earned by 1977’s groundbreaking “A New Hope” — 93% at Rotten Tomatoes and 8.6 at IMDb — but the 1980 sequel did just that. “The Empire Strikes Back” gave us beloved characters like Yoda, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett, plus the immortal line, “I am your father,” earning scores of 95% and 8.7.
It honestly might be the best sequel in the history of blockbusters.
‘X2: X-Men United’ (2003)
The Original Film: ‘X-Men’ (2000)
Similar to the Spider-Man films, the X-Men series was the benchmark for superhero cinema in the early 2000s. The original film, “X-Men,” earned marks of 81% at Rotten Tomatoes and 7.4 from IMDb users, making it plenty respectable. But the 2003 followup, “X2: X-Men United,” was seen as a slight improvement, earning marks of 85% and a matching 7.4. The movie was praised as having bigger action scenes and looking better than the first one, as well as adding new characters like Nightcrawler to the already stellar lineup of X-Men favorites. Everyone agreed that 2006’s “The Last Stand” was much worse than either of the first two entries.
‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ (2013)
The Original Film: ‘The Hunger Games’ (2012)
The first two movies in the thrilling Hunger Games series, based on the series of best-selling novels by Suzanne Collins, were acclaimed by critics and audiences. In 2012, the first film introduced Jennifer Lawrence as a major new Hollywood star and was able to convey the grim world and intense storyline of the books, which involve a dystopian future where children compete for food in a televised fight to the death. The sequel, 2013’s “Catching Fire,” had a bigger budget and introduced interesting new characters and a seemingly insurmountable challenge for Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen.
“The Hunger Games” earned an 84% at Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.3 out of 10 at IMDb, while “Catching Fire” drew an 89% to go with its own 7.3. Nobody liked the final two chapters quite as much.
‘Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn’ (1987)
The Original Film: ‘The Evil Dead’ (1981)
Horror buffs love 1981’s “The Evil Dead,” for being a low-budget groundbreaker that earned tons of money and packed plenty of scares. What’s extremely rare in the horror genre is that 1987’s “Evil Dead 2” was even more beloved. It was made with a much bigger budget and took the series in a more lighthearted direction, opting for laughs and camp to go with its terror. The recipe worked, with the sequel earning a phenomenal 98% mark at Rotten Tomatoes and 7.8 at IMDb compared to the 95% and 7.5 for the original.
Fun fact: Both of these movies were directed by Sam Raimi, who also did “Spider-Man” and its sequel, showing he clearly has a knack for making satisfying followups.
‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’ (2008)
The Original Film: ‘Hellboy’ (2004)
Based on the comic series of the same name, 2004’s “Hellboy” earned solid marks from critics and audiences, holding an 81% grade at Rotten Tomatoes to go with a 6.8 score at IMDb. The 2008 sequel was seen as an improvement by both groups, taking an 86% and 7.0 score. Guillermo del Toro’s direction was heavily praised in both films but people seemed to think “Hellboy II” had even better visuals. However, nobody seemed to enjoy the 2019 reboot of the franchise, which earned poor marks across the board.
‘A Shot in the Dark’ (1964)
The Original Film: ‘The Pink Panther’ (1963)
Like James Bond, the Pink Panther series of comedies is a rare movie franchise that boasts solid ratings for most of its entries. The original, 1963 film, “The Pink Panther,” drew scores of 90% at Rotten Tomatoes and 7.1 out of 10 at IMDb, standing as a classic from the era. But the 1964 followup, “A Shot in the Dark,” commanded even better marks, earning a 93% from professional critics and a 7.5 from amateur ones. Both movies starred Peter Sellers as French detective Jacques Clouseau and were directed by Blake Edwards, with each drawing plenty of acclaim for their work.
‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (2014)
The Original Film: ‘X-Men: First Class’ (2011)
Just as in the case with the X-Men films of the early 2000s, the new series that kicked off in the early 2010s was praised for having a sequel that surpassed its predecessor. The first movie in the new series, which actually acted as prequels to the older series, was 2011’s “First Class,” which got scores of 86% and 7.7 at Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb, respectively. Those are pretty high scores but 2014’s “Days of Future Past” outdid them, earning a 90% and 8.0, thanks partly to its ambitious storyline and the inclusion of long-time franchise favorite Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
Meanwhile, the two sequels that directly followed these entries, “Apocalypse” and “Dark Phoenix,” have been seen as vastly inferior.
‘The Bourne Ultimatum’ (2007)
The Original Film: ‘The Bourne Identity’ (2002)
Another hotly debated movie series in terms of which one is the best is the original trilogy of Jason Bourne movies from the 2000s. The 2002 original, “The Bourne Identity,” was hailed as an instant classic and it revolutionized the action and spy thriller genres. The 2004 follow-up, “The Bourne Supremacy,” was also acclaimed, but the 2007 capper, “The Bourne Ultimatum,” was viewed as the masterpiece of the entire series. The first film earned marks of 83% at Rotten Tomatoes and 7.9 at IMDb, while the third film earned scores of 92% and 8.0.
The two ill-fated sequels that would follow weren’t nearly as beloved.
‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ (2013)
The Original Film: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012)
While not nearly as acclaimed overall as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this prequel series boasted a second chapter that critics and audiences loved. The first entry into The Hobbit trilogy, 2012’s “An Unexpected Journey,” didn’t exactly light critics on fire, earning a middling 64% grade at Rotten Tomatoes to go with a much more positive 7.8 score from IMDb users. However, the scribes felt 2013’s “The Desolation of Smaug” ratcheted up the excitement and wonder plenty, giving it a 74% to go with another 7.8 at IMDb.
Both groups thought 2014’s “The Battle of the Five Armies” was a step down in quality.
‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’ (1982)
The Original Film: ‘Mad Max’ (1979)
The Mad Max franchise is truly remarkable for the fact that every movie in it — four as of 2019 — is “Certified Fresh” by critics at Rotten Tomatoes. The 1979 original earned grades of 90% at that website and 6.9 from IMDb users, which makes it a solid piece of action cinema. But the second film saw the budget get about 10 times bigger and the quality of the film gets even better as a result. “Mad Max 2” boasts scores of 95% and 7.6 out of 10, making it a marked improvement on the first film.
‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
The Original Film: ‘Batman Begins’ (2005)
When you think of great sequels from the past 20 years, 2008’s “The Dark Knight” has to immediately come to mind. This was the Oscar-winning followup to 2005’s “Batman Begins,” which itself reinvented the superhero genre, transforming it into something more mature. “Batman Begins” was already more acclaimed than most superhero movies that had come before, earning scores of 84% at Rotten Tomatoes and 8.2 at IMDb, but “The Dark Knight” took it to another level completely. The blockbuster sequel earned incredible scores of 94% and 9.0, the latter score making it the fourth highest-rated movie of all time at IMDb.
There’s a reason this eventual trilogy would become known as the Dark Knight Trilogy and not the Batman Begins Trilogy.
‘Jackass Number Two’ (2006)
The Original Film: ‘Jackass – The Movie’ (2002)
When you think of great cinema, your mind may not go right to the Jackass movies, but this trilogy did have a track record of improving on its original entry. The first movie, a continuation of MTV’s controversial reality series that saw a group of friends performing risky stunts and pranks for laughs, earned low marks of 49% at Rotten Tomatoes and 6.6 out of 10 at IMDb. However, the 2006 followup, “Jackass Number Two,” saw much better reviews, racking up grades of 63% and 7.0. Critics and audiences also liked 2010’s “Jackass 3” better than the first film.
‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014)
The Original Film: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (2011)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is known for its seemingly endless list of hit movies, nearly all of which have earned positive reviews. Within that franchise, the trilogy of Captain America movies has earned the best marks of any single hero’s journey. The character’s introduction, 2011’s “The First Avenger,” got respectable scores of 80% at Rotten Tomatoes and 6.9 at IMDb, but people were really blown away by 2014’s followup, “The Winter Soldier.” Seen as smarter, more action-packed and featuring a memorable plot twist, the sequel holds noticeably improved grades of 90% and 7.8.
Proving itself as the ultra-rare trilogy that gets better with every chapter, 2016’s “Civil War” earned a combined score that was even a bit higher.
‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ (2018)
The Original Film: ‘Mamma Mia!’ (2008)
It took 10 years for a sequel to “Mamma Mia!” to hit theaters but it was apparently worth the wait. That 2008 musical, which featured the hit songs of Abba, earned pitiful grades of 54% at Rotten Tomatoes and 6.4 at IMDb. But when the sequel, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” was released in 2018, it got much more love. The sequel boasts scores of 80% and 6.7, showing that critics especially loved the new entry. Consensus as to what made the second film better than the first was that everything was bigger and more fun and that it featured Cher to go along with Meryl Streep.
‘The Angry Birds Movie 2’ (2019)
The Original Film: ‘The Angry Birds Movie’ (2016)
When “The Angry Birds Movie” was released in 2016, nobody was too kind to it, with 43% of Rotten Tomatoes critics liking it and IMDb users giving it a 6.3 out of 10. The 2019 sequel to this animated comedy, based on the hit video game series, was seen as an improvement by everyone. “The Angry Birds Movie 2” was called funnier and faster-paced than the original, earning grades of 72% and 6.5. So, neither had incredible reviews but that’s a definite upgrade!
‘Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol’ (2011)
The Original Film: ‘Mission: Impossible’ (1996)
Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible franchise has been going strong since 1996, with six films in the can so far, and the movies have honestly gotten better as it has continued. The original film earned soft marks of 63% at Rotten Tomatoes and 7.1 at IMDb and the sequel, “Mission: Impossible 2,” was seen as a step backward. But since that point, things have only improved. The 2006 entry, “Mission: Impossible III,” was mostly viewed as an improvement on the original but it was the fourth film, 2011’s “Ghost Protocol,” where the series really became acclaimed. That film holds scores of 93% and 7.4 out of 10, making it clearly the highest-rated entry to that point.
‘The Wolverine’ (2013)
The Original Film: ‘X-Men Origins – Wolverine’ (2009)
Yet another instance of the X-Men franchise getting it right with a sequel was 2013’s “The Wolverine.” This was the second part of a stand-alone trilogy of movies starring Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. The first entry, 2009’s “X-Men Origins – Wolverine,” was viewed basically as trash, earning a hideous grade of 37% at Rotten Tomatoes and a more generous 6.6 out of 10 at IMDb. Four years later, the followup film got much more respect, especially from critics, picking up scores of 71% and 6.7. In another rare instance of a further sequel improving again, 2017’s capper, “Logan,” was hugely acclaimed by everyone.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Jackman is the undisputed king of sequels.
‘Annabelle: Creation’ (2017)
The Original Film: ‘Annabelle’ (2014)
In case you haven’t noticed, sequels that follow awful movies have a much better likelihood of getting high marks. Such was the case with 2017’s “Annabelle: Creation,” which followed the universally panned “Annabelle.” That 2014 movie revolved around a creepy doll and earned dismal grades of 29% at Rotten Tomatoes and 5.4 at IMDb. So expectations were low for the followup, which was actually a prequel. However, “Annabelle: Creation” shocked many with its elevation in quality and storytelling, earning much-improved grades of 71% and 6.5.
For the record, critics and audiences also liked the 2019 sequel, “Annabelle Comes Home,” more than the original but not quite as much as the second film.
‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ (1982)
The Original Film: ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ (1979)
The general rule with the Star Trek movies is that if it’s an even-numbered movie it’s awesome, but you’re better off staying away from the odd-numbered ones. This rule was first proven by 1982’s “The Wrath of Khan,” which was a huge improvement over 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” That first entry, which followed up on the beloved TV series with the same cast, has scores of 42% at Rotten Tomatoes and 6.4 at IMDb. “The Wrath of Khan” was much more intense and thrilling, earning grades of 87% and 7.7 and becoming known as a high mark in the history of sci-fi/action cinema.
It represents one of the biggest jumps in quality from one film to its sequel — but not the most drastic …
‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ (2016)
The Original Film: ‘Ouija’ (2014)
No sequel in history has ever improved more on its predecessor than 2016’s “Ouija: Origin of Evil,” according to grades at Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. The original entry in this horror series, 2014’s “Ouija,” was viewed as a crime against cinema, earning grades of 6% and 4.5 out of 10, by far the two lowest marks of any movie on this list. When a sequel hit theaters in 2016, nobody expected anything and both critics and audiences were shocked by how much they enjoyed “Origin of Evil.” The followup earned a grade of 82% at Rotten Tomatoes, qualifying it as a borderline great movie. IMDb users were less generous, giving the sequel a 6.1 score, but still seeing it as an obvious improvement.