Best Movie Sequels: Top 5 Follow-Up Films Most Recommended By Fans

When you think of the best movie sequels, what do you think about? There have been countless fights on family movie night on what “Toy Story” to put on. Or a first date ending prematurely because one of you prefers “Grease 2″ over the original. Or maybe someone spoiled “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” for you. We all have our opinions when it comes to movie sequels; love them or hate them. But what are some of the best movie sequels out there? What films rose to the success of its original, or even surpassed it?

Take the year 2022, for example. With nearly 500 films released that year a OnePoll survey found that the majority selected “Top Gun: Maverick” as one of their favorites for the year, making it the most popular choice among those polled. To think that of every movie made that year, the hands-down favorite was a sequel. Furthermore, fans of the original “Top Gun” had to wait 36 years to see its follow-up story, and with all that time passed, it still managed to become a fan favorite.

Why are making sequels, prequels, and trilogies so popular, though? Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics asked a group of participants which movies are prototypical examples of a feel-good film, as well as which factors ultimately make them so uplifting. Study leader Keyvan Sarkhosh noted in a university release, “In addition to an element of humor and the classic happy ending, feel-good films can be identified by certain recurring plot patterns and characters.” While feel-good films are generally happy in tone, the appeal to audiences is being able to follow specific characters through their journey, and getting multiple films to do so is satisfying. Expanding on a story or a character’s life makes it more relatable to viewers and makes you feel good, hence the need for sequels.

Though sequels sometimes have a reputation for not living up to their original counterparts, StudyFinds set out to research the top titles when it comes to follow-ups. Whether it be a cult classic or a blockbuster phenomenon, we have searched high and low to bring you our findings across the board of the best movie sequels of all time. And, just in case you don’t see your favorite on the list, comment below to share your go-to favorite picks.

2 people sitting in a movie theater
Couple at the movie theater (Photo by Felipe Bustillo on Unsplash)

The List: Best Movie Sequels, According to Film Experts


1. “The Godfather Part II” (1974)

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” famous words spoken by famed mafia boss Michael Corleone in the sequel to “The Godfather”. With a cast including greats like Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, and Diane Keaton, to name a few, it’s no shock that this film has made it to the top three of almost every list we could find. 

"The Godfather Part 2"
“The Godfather Part II” (1974)

“Following the steps of what is now highly regarded as one of the greatest films ever made must have been a daunting task, but Francis Ford Coppola delivered—and as some would argue, probably even better than he did the first time,” says The Mary Sue, pointing out especially the pressure this film had to live up to the original. Marlon Brando garnered a quick fan base as well as many accolades including Best Picture at the Academy Awards

“The film’s pacing and editing are impeccable, creating a mesmerizing cinematic experience that builds to a shattering climax. The Godfather Part II is not just a great sequel, but a towering achievement in the art of cinema, standing as a testament to the power of storytelling and the human condition,” Filmmaking Lifestyle stated. Clocking in at 3 hours and 20 minutes, we are given a deep dive into the life of the Corleone family, showing us the juxtaposition between Vito growing up in Sicily and his son Michael as an Italian American in the ’50s carrying on his father’s legacy. 

“The Godfather Part II” also elevated the genre of “mafia films”: “Under immense pressure, he (Coppola) delivered an all-time classic, a movie that sparked once more Hollywood’s infatuation with gangsters,” explains The Short List. If “The Godfather” trilogy didn’t set the tone, we might not have been as receptive to films such as “Goodfellas” or “Once Upon A Time in America”. Furthermore, what movies would Robert DeNiro have starred in? 

2. “Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

Okay, so yes, “Empire Strikes Back” is technically the fifth installment of theStar Wars” saga, but back in 1980, it was just a sequel to what was known as “Star Wars” before becoming “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.” The film follows our beloved trio once again working with the Rebel Alliance to take down the Galactic Empire. This also marks the introduction to special characters such as Yoda and Lando Calrissian while also containing one of the most shocking twists in film history

“If there is one thing most Star Wars fans can agree on — and at this point, there may only be one thing — it’s that The Empire Strikes Back is the strongest film in the entire franchise and one that set a gold standard for how a sequel can and should build upon the foundation established by its predecessor,” writes Vulture

Iconic moments like Luke escaping the wampa, his Jedi training with Yoda, and Han Solo getting frozen in carbonite will live on in the ‘Star Wars’ mythos forever. This middle chapter of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy built tension leading up to the finale and proved at the time that it’s possible to go bigger and better in a sequel,” describes Variety

Collider similarly stated, “There are several iconic moments from the highest-rated Star Wars film that explain why it’s still a beloved entry in the franchise. It further fueled the cultural phenomenon that would stick around long after the 80s, as it continues to inspire fan clubs, spinoffs, parodies, merchandise, and more.” With quotes such as “I am your father,” and “I love you”, and “I know” living in infamy, it’s no wonder this beloved sequel made our best of the best.

3. “The Dark Knight” (2008)

Following the success of Christian Bale’s turn as the caped crusader in “Batman Begins”, Christopher Nolan delivered a sequel held in such high regard not only for its story but for its incredible performances by its actors. Specifically Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker

"The Dark Knight" (2008)
“The Dark Knight” (2008)

“Ledger’s performance as the Joker is considered one of the greatest performances in cinematic history, and rightfully so. He brings a level of chaos and unpredictability to the character that is both terrifying and mesmerizing.” Filmmaking Lifestyle states. Bales performance is also described as a “vulnerable ” take on the beloved vigilante, separating him from his predecessors. 

TIME also praised the film, stating it as the “best superhero movie ever made” as well as commending director Christopher Nolan for “effectively setting up an appropriate backdrop for the Joker’s terror. Gotham feels legitimately grimy and chaotic, a perfect setting for a laughing lunatic.”

Insider also commends the two male leads saying, “Along with the greatness of Nolan at the helm; there’s also the Oscar-winning performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker. With a talent like Christian Bale as Batman, putting him up against an equal talent like Ledger resulted in one of the best-acted comic-book movies ever.

4. “Aliens” (1986)

You may not be able to hear screams in space, but that doesn’t mean James Cameron’s sequel to “Alien” won’t make you squeal, nevertheless. “Aliens” once again follows Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, as she faces off against not one, not two, but more Xenomorphs than you can count in this terrifying sequel. 

"Aliens" (1986)
“Aliens” (1986)

Screen Rant particularly praises Weaver’s performance as the Lieutenant saying, Aliens sees a Ripley who understands the aliens that the rest of her crew is so ready to face, but despite her knowledge, Ripley is largely powerless. The character is an icon of female heroism, and her characterization in Aliens is at least part of the reason. Ripley is capable, motherly, and kind, but she is never superhuman. She is a traumatized character, someone who has experienced the worst things a person can and survived them. Aliens puts her through more trials and reveals her incredible resilience.” 

With a supporting cast of actors such as Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, and Bill Paxton, “the movie’s perfectly realized ragtag bunch of space marines, lead by Ripley, are endlessly watchable, and while the sheer terror of the first film isn’t present, it’s replaced with one of the cinema’s biggest adrenaline rushes.” Short List describes

Similarly, Vulture commended Cameron’s take on the second film in this beloved franchise saying, “Cameron might have done away with the first film’s brooding patience and subtlety but not with its themes or its gnawing, spiritus mundi terrors. By multiplying the monsters and then smashing a group of wise-cracking, uber-macho space marines against them, he actually made the subtext text, creating a breathless action movie about motherhood, compassion, and species survival.”

5. “Paddington 2” (2018)

I know what you’re thinking, the movie about the bear who eats marmalade sandwiches? Yes, that one. Based on the “Paddington Bear” stories by Michael Bond, this sequel to the 2015 film follows the Brown family once more as their adopted son (who just so happens to be a bear) finds himself in yet another sticky situation, and no it’s not just jam on his paw.

"Paddington 2" (2018)
“Paddington 2” (2018)

“The first ‘Paddington’ film was gentle family fare, but the sequel felt engineered to equally fill hearts and break them. The titular bear just wants to buy a nice book about London for his aunt’s 100th birthday, but gets wrapped up in a complex scheme orchestrated by the diabolical Phoenix Buchanan (an endlessly charming Hugh Grant),” writes Vulture. Hugh Grant who steps into the role of the film’s villain also regards this “as his greatest film” writes The Mary Sue. Also stating it as being “the internets most-beloved movie sequel.”

That being said it should come as no shock that it has a 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and scored as #1 out of 100 of the best sequels of all time, according to the site. Rotten Tomatoes also describes “Paddington 2″ as honoring “its star’s rich legacy with a sweet-natured sequel whose adorable visuals are matched by a story perfectly balanced between heartwarming family fare and purely enjoyable all-ages adventure.” 

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Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

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About the Author

Jilly Hite

New York raised and Florida-based Jilly Hite studied screenwriting and theatre at The Lee Strasberg Institute before becoming a full time content creator and podcaster. She loves old movies, musical theatre, and her pup Ted.

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  1. Paddington 2 as one of the best sequels are you kidding..where the hell is terminator 2???????.

  2. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan not being on this list is a travesty. Paddington? Really?

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