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Sci-Fi Sequels Better Than The Original

It's a difficult challenge to create a sequel. In many cases, audiences have fond memories of the first film, and you have to build upon the pre-established story in a way that feels fresh. There's a far more difficult challenge when the first film wasn't so beloved, but made a good deal of money. In that instance, a sequel needs to let audiences know that there are still worthwhile stories to tell in that universe.

Expanding universes is particularly important when you deal with science fiction. A new technology or species or aliens provides an abundance of unique stories, which is why it's disappointing when so many sci-fi sequels do the bare minimum in continuing a franchise.

And yet, there are those sequels that surpass expectations — the follow-ups where someone takes a concept from the original film and just goes to town on it. From finding a new take on the first film's themes to fleshing out the characters even more, these movies did more than just make money for a studio. They are true works of art that stand up on their own as great pieces of cinema — and they're all sci-fi sequels better than the original.

The Empire Strikes Back created iconic moments

1977's Star Wars changed the cinematic landscape forever. Not only did it revolutionize sound design and new camera technology, but it told a gripping story that borrowed heavily from Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. From that moment on, characters like Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca were household names that anyone would recognize. It wasn't a film that people would only come to appreciate years later, it was a global phenomenon that re-envisioned what you could do with a movie. A sequel was all but guaranteed, but how do you possibly follow up a hit this big?

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is regarded by many as the best Star Wars film ever. The original remains a classic no matter what, but with the sequel, you can really feel the people behind the scenes aiming to expand this universe and challenge its characters. It doesn't merely retread the same ground as the original. It forges its own path. 

Add on top of that one iconic line after the next, including "I know" and "No, I am your father," and you have a recipe for a movie that shocks and delights fans the first time they see it. A New Hope was a hit, but The Empire Strikes Back cemented the franchise's legacy forever. 

Terminator 2: Judgment Day flipped the script

1984's The Terminator is an incredible science fiction/action film that broke new ground, both in terms of storytelling and visual effects. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the titular mechanical assassin who's sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor because she will eventually give birth to humanity's savior. It's a formula the franchise has been trying to recreate ever since through numerous sequels with varying degrees of success. But there's really only been one sequel that has matched, and by some accounts exceeded, the original.

Seven years later, James Cameron returned to the director's chair to give us Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The film flipped the script in several ways, but in each instance, it feels like a natural progression to this story. This time, Schwarzenegger's Terminator is a good guy trying to protect Sarah Connor. Plus, Sarah is more of a full-blown action hero in this film. 

The sequel also broke new ground for visual effects. The T-1000, a new cyborg assassin made out of a kind of fluid metal, still looks great to this day. During a day and age when technology is more prevalent than ever, T2 still feels incredibly relevant.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire expanded the world of Panem

The Hunger Games series of books became a global phenomenon within the young adult genre. It was only a matter of time before the books were adapted to the big screen, and the result was one of the more acclaimed young adult projects of its era, set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future where tributes from 12 different districts are selected to fight to the death in an annual tournament known as the Hunger Games.

The first film is a kinetic ball of energy as you're put in the shoes of Katniss Everdeen trying to stay alive. However, the sequel Catching Fire is a far more intriguing film. It has the same level of action as the first movie as Katniss and her friend Peeta are once again transported into the games. However, the sequel has far more interesting ideas than its predecessor.

Catching Fire explores themes, such as the struggle for control amongst the powerful, that are only hinted at in the first film. Before we head back into the arena, we see the political revolution Katniss has jumpstarted. We also get the sense of what her role will be within the changing landscape of Panem. The first movie set the stage so the sequel could burn it all down and provide a different kind of YA story.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes gave the franchise new gravitas

The Planet of the Apes franchise is tricky to nail down. The films' quality varies significantly over the years, especially within the original series, which ran from 1968 to 1973 over five films. Tim Burton's remake of the original in 2001 failed to reignite any real interest in the series. It wouldn't be for another decade, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, that audiences would really see what kind of stories this franchise would tell. 

While Rise is great in many aspects, its purpose is essentially to show how apes came to gain intelligence and begin their conquest of the planet Earth. It's not until the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, that we really see why these movies deserve to be made. The story of an impending war between the apes and a small faction of humans, as well as their attempts to try to avoid conflict, is spectacular and heartbreaking. After all, you go in knowing war is inevitable. 

But beyond that, the visual effects are outstanding. Andy Serkis brings a great deal of sadness to Caesar, making him one of the most emotionally compelling VFX-created characters in film history. Plus, "Caesar... weak. Koba... weaker" is possibly one of the most awesome action movie lines of all time.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek was a groundbreaking science-fiction television series. It was only a matter of time before the show made the leap to the big screen, and that happened in 1979 with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While the movie isn't without its charms, it failed to really earn critical acclaim.

That all changed with arguably the best Star Trek movie ever made, The Wrath of Khan. The biggest improvement between the two films is the villain. The first movie features a forgettable cloud as the antagonist, but Khan is one of the all-time great movie bad guys. Although he tortures our heroes, he has sympathetic motivations, and you understand where he's coming from at all times.

The film works because they found a way to take the best parts of the original television series and make them work within the context of a feature-length film. There's a reason Khan was chosen to return in the Kelvin timeline series of Star Trek films. 

Bride of Frankenstein humanized a monster

Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is considered by many to be the first prime example of science fiction. In 1931, the story's monster, played perfectly by Boris Karloff, received his own film as part of the Universal monster series. The film follows closely to the source material with a few deviations here and there, forging a film that defined Frankenstein's monster for generations. 

With the sequel, Bride of Frankenstein, the filmmakers had a chance to forge their own path by following a subplot from the original source material where the monster wants a partner. In the film, Frankenstein obliges and creates the Bride of Frankenstein. It's a philosophically rich story that argues there's a great difference between creating life and creating humanity. 

With such a potent horror film that still stands up to this day, it makes sense that a reboot has been tried more than once over the years. But if we never get a remake, we still have the original to show us that even monsters want love.

Mad Max: The Road Warrior made the apocalypse fun

Mad Max is an excellent action thriller. Set against the backdrop of an apocalyptic landscape, the film follows Max as he becomes part of a bitter feud with a bloodthirsty motorcycle gang. Two years after Mad Max came out, Miller dropped the mic again with the superb follow-up The Road Warrior. The movie has everything you want in an action sequel: The action is bigger, the cars are louder, and the world is more thoroughly explored, proving you can tell an infinite number of stories with Max as he wanders through this hellscape helping people in need.

It set the template for what audiences would come to expect out of the Mad Max sequels. Hopefully, we'll see more of Max after the raging success of Fury Road, but even if we don't, at least we have The Road Warrior to look back fondly on.

28 Weeks Later provided visceral horror

By the early 2000s, the zombie genre had kind of worn out its welcome; it seemed as though filmmakers had already told every story you could possibly tell with these monsters. That all changed with 2002's 28 Days Later, which reinvigorated a stagnant genre. The horror is on point, and the characters feel real. It also made the idea of fast-moving zombies more mainstream.

28 Days Later is already a fairly dark story, so it's pretty incredible that the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, managed to be even grimmer. Depraved depths of humanity are reached as characters question whether someone is infected by the virus, and one by one, people are picked off in spectacularly bloody fashion.

28 Weeks Later also has a spectacular cast of actors who would go on to amazing things, such as Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Idris Elba, and Imogen Poots. Director Danny Boyle has suggested there could be one more film to round out the trilogy, appropriately titled 28 Months Later. If that ever comes to pass, you can be certain it will be one of the darkest zombie movies ever made.

The Purge: Anarchy further explored politics

The premise of The Purge is intriguing. For one 12-hour period every year, all crime is legal, including murder. There were a ton of interesting ideas the film could have explored in great depth, such as the political landscape that would have led to such a world and what it says about human nature that people would agree to kill one another for a single night annually. While The Purge functions as a perfectly satisfying home invasion thriller, it doesn't really explore the universe, in part because most of the action is confined to a single house.

The Purge: Anarchy is a marked improvement over the first film. Now the action is on the streets as we see a greater disparity in how the poor versus the wealthy view the Purge. Since now we're on the streets, the action is also ramped up to 11. The set pieces are greater and more engaging. Honestly, it's the kind of film The Purge should have been in the first place. Subsequent sequels, as well as the Purge television series, have gone on to replicate the formula of Anarchy.

Spider-Man 2 is a perfect superhero movie

There were superhero movies before 2002's Spider-Man, but this particular film really captured the general public's attention. People who weren't ordinarily comic book fans came out in droves to see it, and flaws aside, it's a pretty great adaptation of the comic books. It's bright, colorful, and features quippy dialogue. But once the origin story was out of the way, the filmmakers could finally delve into what truly makes Spider-Man a hero.

There are plenty of superhero sequels that top the original (i.e. The Dark Knight and Thor: Ragnarok), but there's just something special about Spider-Man 2. It features one of the best superhero movie villains of all time with Alfred Molina's Doc Ock. Just as much attention goes toward Peter Parker's everyman struggles — we see him try to juggle all of his responsibilities, from paying rent and keeping a job to maintaining some kind of relationship with Mary Jane. He's flawed and human, which has always made Spider-Man one of the most relatable superheroes ever created.

Plus, the train scene remains one of the all-time great action set pieces in any film. Spider-Man 2 showed what a superhero movie could do, and few since have reached such heights.