With all of the complicated, moving parts and people involved in making a movie, creating a successful film is an immensely difficult endeavor. Trying to capitalize on a successful film by making a sequel that lives up to the hype is even more challenging. Articles explaining why film sequels suck are a dime a dozen on the internet, and it's easy to understand why: most movie sequels do kinda suck. And even if they don't, it is pretty rare to find a movie that manages to completely improve on what was offered up in the picture that came before it. This can be even harder with sequels to action movies as, by the basic tenets of screenwriting, the major antagonist usually meets their demise at the end of the original film.
However, there have been some moments in time where all the stars aligned and film production teams managed to strike gold two times in a row. Put Speed 2: Cruise Control and Escape from L.A. out of your minds for this one. We're here to celebrate the films that made us excited to return to the theaters to carry on with our favorite action heroes. Movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and The Dark Knight. These movies didn't just live up to the standard set by their predecessors, they exceeded them. In an age of endlessly dull sequels, these movies stand out as paragons of entertainment.
2005's Batman Begins showed the world Christopher Nolan was a name to watch in Hollywood and that Batman could be taken seriously again after 1997's disastrous Batman and Robin tarnished what was left of the character's good name following years of mediocre big-screen sequels. Before 2008's The Dark Knight came out, the hype train was going at full speed, but nothing could've prepared audiences for the pop culture phenomenon it would become.
Nolan and company dialed up the tension when compared to its predecessor and that includes the big set pieces, especially the practical truck flip midway through the picture. NPR's Bob Mondello was effusive with his admiration for The Dark Knight, calling it "an explosively provocative Batman installment in which exhilaratingly straightforward action sequences are matched by moral complexity of a sort not usually associated with comic-book movie franchises."
James Cameron's 1984 sci-fi thriller The Terminator is the film that put both Cameron and star Arnold Schwarzenegger on the map. But when the pair reunited for 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, they created one of the most beloved action films of all time.
The film won four Academy Awards, grossed over $500 million at the worldwide box office (a figure nearly unheard of at the time), and continues to cast a shadow over the Terminator franchise today. In his review of the movie, film critic James Berardinelli stated, "few films have matched it within the science fiction genre for sheer white-knuckle exhilaration."
Hot off the heels of turn-of-the-century comic book adaptations Blade and X-Men, 2002's Spider-Man kicked off the superhero movie craze that we are still in the midst of today. When 2004's Spider-Man 2 was unleashed in cinemas, it had a big superhero suit to fill and it certainly did so.
Sam Raimi's sequel became one of the best-reviewed superhero movies of all time and grossed a monstrous $788 million worldwide. The performances were more assured, the action was tighter, and the spectacle was greater. The BBC's Stella Papamichael ended her review by saying, "Even better than the original, Spider-Man 2 will have you crawling the walls in anticipation of the third."
1979's Mad Max, a little Australian film made for less than $400,000, came out of nowhere to gross over $100 million worldwide and introduced audiences to a little-known actor by the name of Mel Gibson. Such insurmountable odds should've been impossible to recreate, let alone surpass, but the 1981 sequel - known in the United States as The Road Warrior - managed to pull it off.
Before 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road was released and became one of that year's best-reviewed films, The Road Warrior held the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of the franchise at an impressive 95%. Famed film critic Roger Ebert had nothing but effusive acclaim for the film, stating "the filmmakers have imagined a fictional world. It operates according to its special rules and values, and we experience it. The experience is frightening, sometimes disgusting, and (if the truth be told) exhilarating."