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Movies whose sequels are better than the originals

Sharon Hahn Darlin
Laken Kincaid describes which movie sequels are better than their originals.

Sequels are commonly known in the cinema world as the place where franchises go to die, limiting themselves to nothing more than a drained cash cow; once great movies suddenly become shells of their former selves for a quick buck. 

For example, although everyone knew of and was terrified of Bruce in Steven Spielberg’s original film “Jaws” which hit theaters in 1975, no one quite needed a bigger boat when it came to consuming the movie’s lesser-known successor “Jaws 2” less than three years later. The same can go for even the largest of sagas with the once towering “Avatar” from James Cameron, a project that obliterated box office records, falling relatively flat with their sequels even when they are more than a decade removed.

However, these numerous examples do not account for the few gems visible in the rubble of the sequel graveyard. Despite the bad reputation that spin-offs and continuations receive, there are movies where the sequel not only rivals the original, but in all actuality is better than it. Below is a non-comprehensive and decently biased list of movies where the second iteration surpasses its former counterpart, marking a semblance of hope for all cinematics who want to relive their favorite stories.

“Thor: Ragnarok” compared to both “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World”

This segment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe illustrates what putting the proper director behind the right story can create. Originally premiering in 2011, “Thor” introduces the God of Thunder and soon-to-be Avenger to the big screen. While his naivety towards human nature and slight humor are entertaining, audiences gave this movie a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes. Likewise, its direct sequel, “Thor: The Dark World” got a 67% due to its dreary and relatively boring storyline. Just when it seemed “Thor” would be nothing more than a quick cameo in Avengers movies, Taika Waititi took the reins for the third addition to the series, “Thor: Ragnarok.” This new unfiltered and quirky take on the story caused the critic’s score to increase by more than 20%, earning it an admirable spot on this list. 

“Shrek 2” compared to “Shrek”

“Shrek” is by no means a bad movie, unlike some of the others mentioned on this list. In 2001, DreamWorks took a risk by parodying classic tales of fairy princesses made popular by rival Disney at the time. Luckily for the struggling studio, it paid off and “Shrek” was a hit, earning an 88% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. While “Shrek 2” barely edges out the original with an 89% score, its audience score is relatively abysmal compared to the first. Yet, that is only when you consider the initial reactions to the blockbuster. Nowadays, 20 years later, “Shrek 2” has a cult following with contributors on FandomWire calling it “the best sequel of our time” and ScreenRant writers saying it is “inarguably one of the funniest animated movies of all time.” If “Shrek” broke glass ceilings, “Shrek 2” shattered them; this cultural impact proves that it is a superior sequel and should be recognized as such.

“Spider-Man 2” compared to “Spider-Man”

This is yet another example of a pretty good original movie followed by an out of the park sequel. Undoubtedly, “Spider-Man” was revolutionary for its time and frankly saved Sony from bankruptcy. Critics seemed to view this film the same way, giving it a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet, the 2002 Sam Raimi flick didn’t seem to stick with audiences, earning only a 67% score. Nevertheless, this all turned around with the release of “Spider-Man 2.” Not only did the critic score for this sequel improve to 93%, but audiences gave it an 82%, a 15% increase from the original. It shouldn’t be a surprise that esteemed movie reviewer, Roger Ebert, gives “Spider-Man 2” high praise, stating that it is “the best superhero movie since the modern genre was launched with ‘Superman.’”

“Toy Story 2” compared to “Toy Story”

This dichotomy is the paradigm for films where the sequel is better than the original; when you think of this argument, the relationship between these two movies is usually top of mind. It is hard to compare two films when both of their critic scores stand at a staggering 100%, even more so when their audience rankings are competitively high. The juxtaposition comes when looking at two factors: the design and the plot. The technical aspects are easy to pick on as “Toy Story” was revolutionary as it was the first feature length film to use digital animation rather than the traditional hand drawn style. Of course “Toy Story 2” is going to look better, it was made after four years of technological improvements in a rapidly evolving industry! So, if you don’t buy that argument, consider the differences in the stories. “Toy Story” did tackle the idea of growing up, but also focused on internal dilemmas like jealousy and self-authorship. “Toy Story 2” perfectly paints a picture of the pains of coming-of-age and conceptualizes the hardships of losing loved ones for the masses. This maturity has it edging out its roots if anything by pure emotional appeal.

“Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back” compared to Every. Other. Star. Wars. Movie.

Although plenty of fans of this franchise have diverse opinions, overwhelmingly, “Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back” tops the charts as the best “Star Wars” movie. Rotten Tomatoes ranks “The Empire Strikes Back” as the best based on its high critic score of 95% and even higher audience score of 97%.  Entertainment Weekly supports this ranking as well, saying “every scene is a classic, every location an eye-popping one.” Of course, it is easy for this movie to surpass the somewhat despised prequels and rather detested 2010 sequels, but it revolutionized the “Star Wars” universe at the time. Not to mention, “The Empire Strikes Back” provided so many classic cinema tropes like spine-chilling scores from John Williams and the biggest plot twist in all of Hollywood. Not only does this movie rank above all others in its sequence, but The Standard Magazine says that it is “arguably the greatest sci-fi movie ever made.”

There you have it! While there are still many more sequels that deserve the spotlight, this short list shows that you cannot judge a book by its cover, or rather a movie by its predecessor. The next time you find yourself scoffing at a sequel, remember the potential that it has to rewrite stories and break down barriers. 

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About the Contributor
Laken Kincaid
Laken Kincaid, Editor-in-Chief
Laken Kincaid is the Editor-in-Chief for The Carroll News from Beckley, West Virginia. They are a senior at John Carroll University who is double majoring in political science and communications (digital media) and minoring in leadership development. Laken has written for The Carroll News since the start of their freshman year and has previously served as a staff reporter, campus section editor and managing editor of the paper. They have received 18 Best of SNO awards, a Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for Region 4 and two honorable mentions from the College Media Association. They have also been recognized by universities like Georgetown for their investigative reports. Additionally, they also write political satire for The Hilltop Show and feature stories on global poverty for The Borgen Project. In addition to their involvement with The Carroll News, Laken is involved with the Kappa Delta sorority, the speech and debate team, the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, the Improv club and other organizations. They also serve as the news director for WJCU 88.7, John Carroll's own radio station, and as the president for John Carroll's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.  Laken also started their own national nonprofit organization known as Art with the Elderly which they have won the President's Volunteer Service Award and the Humanity Rising Award for. When not writing, Laken can be found doing graphic design for their internship with Union Home Mortgage or working as a resident assistant and peer learning facilitator on campus. Laken also enjoys skiing and watching true crime documentaries. In the future, Laken hopes to become a political journalist for a national news organization or to be a campaign commercial editor for politicians. To contact Laken, email them at [email protected].

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