Evil Dead 2
Evil Dead 2 pretty much re-tells the Evil Dead story all over again: Bruce Campbell and a bunch of disposable other people ward off nasty spirits in a secluded cabin. Only this time it's nastier, goofier (not a bad thing), and far more memorable. When a dude chops of his possessed hand, straps a chainsaw to his stump, then goes after said hand? That's a SEQUEL, baby!
The Godfather Part 2
Upon its release, The Godfather was hailed as one of the greatest films ever, making the idea of a follow-up complete and utter insanity. Especially when the sequel is actually part sequel and part prequel (are you following?). Oh, and there's no Marlon Brando. Yet somehow, virtuoso acting, directing and storytelling prevail, and the rest is history.
The French Connection 2
Sure, the first French Connection movie got mad kudos for its gritty portrayal of Popeye Doyle -- the tough-as-nails cop who intercepts a heroin shipment from France. But its sequel actual sees Doyle kidnapped by the French baddies and forced to become a junkie. Crazy genius character-driven acting by Gene Hackman.
As you may recall, the original 1978 Superman movie takes about 2436 minutes before anything happens. Fortunately, the sequel isn't burdened with an obligatory origins story, so it cuts right to the action. General Zod and his Krypton minions want to take over the Earth and they're just as super-powerful as our man in red and blue. Plus there's freakin' three of them! Is it any wonder the recent Man of Steel reboot lifted heavily from this story?
Ridley Scott directed Alien, and you can bet the creature living in your chest cavity it remains one of the great sci-fi films. But then James Cameron came along for the sequel. And as we're well aware, Jim doesn't like to be outdone. You know, because he's a hardcore perfectionist demi-god. These things serve you well as a Hollywood director. Go Aliens!
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Sure, it helps when the original film in your franchise is a bit of a snoozefest (apologies, Star Trek: The Motion Picture). But let's not minimize the fact that 180-degree course correction taken for its sequel is sheer brilliance. The Wrath of Khan plays like an extended episode of the original series (this is a compliment), foregoing Kubrickian panoramic space shots for a taut chess-like battle of wits. Bonus: Ricardo Montalban's eye-popping six-pack? Totes real!
The Silence Of The Lambs
"The Silence of the Lambs was a SEQUEL?" we hear you saying. You bet your arse! It's the follow-up to Michael Mann's 1986 flick Manhunter, which starred Brian Cox as the infamous Hannibal Lecter. Naturally, it wasn't until Anthony Hopkins took over the role -- and went mano y girlo with Jodie Foster -- that the franchise really took off.
The Road Warrior
I've always suspected writer/director George Miller used the money he made from Mad Max and spent it on film school. Whereas the first flick was decent b-level fare, The Road Warrior kicks it up a serious notch. It's a brilliantly written and directed flick about a dystopian world where gasoline is more precious than gold. Cinematic classic, baby! And Tina Turner stunt-casting aside, Beyond Thunderdome wasn't bad either.
The Dark Knight
Batman Begins was no slouch of a movie, doing quite well with critics and moviegoers, thank you very much. In fact, it was pretty much the best Batman film ever made. That is, untilThe Dark Knight came along. Bigger, bleaker, with higher stakes; plus Heath Ledger in one of the greatest villain roles of all time. Hey, wasn't Jack Nicholson the Joker once? Who can remember?
The Empire Strikes Back
A handful of folks (myself included) think nothing can beat the original 1977 Star Wars. But we're squarely in the minority, because love for The Empire Strikes Back knows no bounds. Easy to see why: the Imperial Walker scenes on Hoth are riveting. And the twin-track narrative that follows (the gang has a Vader-inspired dust-up in Cloud City while Luke gets his Jedi on with everyone's favourite Muppet) keeps the suspense at an all-time high. Sure, the ending's kinda depressing, but that just adds to the mystique.