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Remember in Scream 2 when Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) discusses the rules of sequels and how very few are better than their originals? He was right. At this very moment, the third Transformers movie is wracking up dollar after dollar, even as it's panned by critics. But while sequels are usually rushed in order to capitalize on audience interest -- losing subtle points like story and logic -- occasionally the stars align, and the sequel is actually better than the original. In fact, a sequel actually has one advantage: it's freed from the shackles of exposition. Believe it or not, the realm of action movies is where sequel excellence happens most often. Were Randy Meeks alive (and real), he'd be proud to see these ten action sequels that are better than their originals.
The Dark Knight
Hey, don't underrate Batman Begins. The two Christopher Nolan Bat flicks are closer than you think. But you simply can't deny the success of Nolan's epic sequel: The Dark Knight is layered, brilliantly crafted, and wild -- in a good way. There's a ton going on: quotable monologues, incredible action scenes, emotional deaths, emotional resurrections, Heath Ledger, the Bat cycle. And that ending? Holy sequel, Batman!
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Identity was good, The Bourne Supremacy was great, and many think The Bourne Ultimatum is the best of the three. As good as the original is, Supremacy's improvement upon the first is staggering, particularly with the introduction of handheld camerawork into a frenetic run-for-your-life environment. This style fits Bourne's journey to a T. The movie also scores points for killing a major character early and Matt Damon winning a fight using only a magazine as a weapon. That's just cool.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2
The two tales of the Bride are two distinct films with unique styles, each awesome in itself. Vol. 1 is unadulterated ultraviolence, in the style of a Japanese sword-fest. Vol. 2 has less action but allows the Bride to wreak her vengeance slowly, paying homage to the spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone. And it works even better than the first, building to a climax that is truly amazing. Hey, this is Quentin Tarantino. What do you expect?
Sam Raimi's second go-round with your friendly neighborhood web slinger is universally regarded as the best of his three efforts. First one? Good. Third one? Silly. Second one? Awesome. Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and James Franco are on the top of their games, and Alfred Molina is the perfect villain, as Doc Ock. This entry offers up enough to satisfy the difficult-to-please comic crowd and action-movie fans alike. Its showdown between Spidey and Doc on the train is the series's best sequence, and the villain's tragic fall offers an emotional center that most action movies lack.
Bryan Singer's first X-Men movie is the classic case of a good first entry that doesn't achieve greatness because of expositional requirements. There are just too many characters to introduce and backstories to explain. But the second time around, Singer gets to have at it with his mutated buddies, and the result is fantastic. Fanboys finally get what they waited a full movie and a half for: the unleashing of Wolverine. The scene in the X house, with him against the army? That's in the film dictionary, under "Utter Badass."
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
James Cameron has a daunting task ahead of him with his planned Avatar trilogy. But if anyone can make a sequel that surpasses the original, Cameron is the guy, as he has two entries on this list, the first being Terminator 2. Why? The Terminator is one of the greatest action flicks ever, but its sequel might be the best. Budget, effects, and scope are part of that, but mostly it comes down to the evolution of the characters, especially Arnold's move from villain to hero and Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) taking the responsibility of saving mankind onto her muscular shoulders.
This gets my vote for the greatest sequel of all time. And what's unique here is that James Cameron does a 180-degree turn from what works in Alien, Ridley Scott's original deep-space fright-fest. And while the fact that the first is a pure horror film and the second is an action movie prevents much direct comparison, Cameron, chicks with guns, and stuff being blown up are preferable to even the most terrifying horror every time.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The franchise was rather lucky that the first film wasn't pop culture's introduction to the Enterprise and its crew because, if so, we wouldn't have seen them go anywhere boldly except the unemployment line. Star Trek: The Motion Picture is boring. Wrath of Khan, however, is a glorious mix of sci-fi, revenge, action, and drama. High drama. Come on: it's Shatner versus Montalban in outer space.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Mad Max is romanticized for being the birth of Mel Gibson's career, introducing the leather-clad Max, and making postapocalyptic action sexy. But, honestly, the movie itself is kind of slow. The Road Warrior suffers from no such ailment. This sequel is dynamite in the desert, like a postapocalyptic Western with Mad Max as the gunslinger who ambles into town to help dusty survivors defend themselves against the Humungus, in this case. Now that's action packed.
For a Few Dollars More
While some believe The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the best of Sergio Leone's trilogy (even if just for the theme song), For a Few Dollars More definitely exceeds its predecessor, A Fistful of Dollars. The second entry features Eastwood's Man With No Name teaming up with his eventual nemesis, Lee Van Cleef's Man in Black, to hunt a common foe. This is Western shoot-'em-up fun at its best and clocks in at a mercifully short two hours and ten minutes, no small task for a Leone pic.
Nick Stevens tries to make funny about movies, pop culture, and sports as often as possible. He lists John McClane, Batman, and Tom Brady as the people with whom he'd most like to have beers. For more of his grown-up nonsense, visit his Tumblr page or follow him on Twitter.