The Best and Worst Sci-Fi Sequels of All Time
We had our doubts about whether Jurassic World could do the original justice, but the efforts to reboot the franchise paid off in spades. Although it doesn't quite live up to the original, it's a fun, wonder-filled summer blockbuster that's getting the thumbs-up from fans and critics alike.
And in honor of this rare successful sci-fi sequel, we're counting down the best and worst sci-fi sequels of all time, from "Luke, I am your father" to Bat Nipples:
(Note how many of the best and worst sequels are from the same franchise.)
Best: 28 Weeks Later
28 Weeks Later didn't quite reach the dizzying heights of the original, but it did what all great sequels do: it expanded on the premise. By including the military's response to the pandemic, it provided a whole new avenue of social commentary that rivaled the philosophical ambition of the original.
Best: 28 Weeks Later
Worst: The Matrix: Revolutions
Either of the Matrix sequels could have been here, really, as they were both unnecessarily convoluted, muddled, and often just plain dumb. But Revolutions added insult to injury, as it concluded the trilogy and therefore did more damage to The Matrix's legacy.
Best: Superman II
There's not much between Superman and Superman II in terms of quality; they were both great films that succeeded in blending comic book humor with some artful character development. But it was the introduction of General Zod and his Krypton cronies in Superman II that elevated the level of action and tension seen in the original, and made this one of the most-memorable sci-fi sequels of all time. The same cannot be said for the disaster that was Superman III.
Best: Captain America: Winter Soldier
I was not at all a fan of Captain America: The First Avenger. Steve Rogers was written as incredibly insipid, and the character seemed too earnest to tackle anything even remotely serious. But then Winter Soldier came along, and Marvel proved that they could maintain their signature goofy humor while also commenting thoughtfully on social issues like drone warfare and government surveillance.
Worst: Jurassic Park III
The Lost World wasn't bad, necessarily, just disappointing. Jurassic Park III was legitimately bad. The plot was even more nonsensical than usual, the action was exhausting and empty, the sense of wonder was completely gone, and Robert T. Bakker, who discovered the connection between dinosaurs and birds, joked that the feathers added to the Velociraptor for Jurassic Park III "looked like a roadrunner's toupee." Ouch.
Best: Spider-Man II
Widely regarded as one of the best superhero movies of all time, Spider-Man II combined crowd-pleasing action with human heart and nuanced character development, especially when it came to Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus. It was universally beloved by critics, and even won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Worst: Spider-Man III
And then there was Spider-Man III. Sam Raimi was forced by the studio to put in Venom and Gwen Stacy, and his anger at the creative interference shows. Both of these characters are given the most perfunctory of treatments, and between the emo haircut and that ridiculous dance scene, we can only assume that this entire movie was Raimi giving the studio the finger.
Best: T2: Judgment Day
The Terminator was a simple, elegant action movie, but T2 became something else entirely. Sarah Connor was transformed into an iconic action hero, the T-1000 was a perfectly terrifying villain, and the overarching plotline made some thoughtful comments about nuclear warfare. Plus, the relationship between John Connor and the reprogrammed Terminator previewed the franchise's fascinating exploration of the definition of humanity in Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Worst: Terminator Salvation
Even Christian Bale's infamous method acting couldn't save this one. The fourth film in any action series is probably going to be terrible, and Salvation was no exception, as it was a cynical enough effort to kill the franchise for many years, until this summer's Terminator: Genisys. Unfortunately, we have a sneaking suspicion that Genisys will do nothing to convince us that the Terminator series shouldn't have stopped after two movies.
Best: Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Every Star Wars fan knows that Empire Strikes Back was the best of the six films (so far). The second (slash fifth) film in the series had all the most classic moments, from "I love you," "I know," to "Luke, I am your father." What could beat that?
Certainly not any of the truly awful prequels…
Worst: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
I know, I know, most people would put Phantom Menace in this slot. Phantom Menace has the distinction of introducing Jar Jar to the world, and it was the biggest disappointment, as Star Wars fans had such high hopes for the prequels before they actually came out. But I didn't mind Jake Lloyd as much as everyone else, and at least Phantom Menace had Liam Neeson and Darth Maul going for it. Attack of the Clones replaced these two boons with mind-numbingly boring talk about intergalactic trade laws and the horribly painful love story between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Both of them are talented, but you would never know it from those cringe-inducing love scenes, featuring some of the worst dialogue ever put on film.
Some say that Aliens is the rare sequel that surpasses the original, and I would not agree. I would, however, say that Aliens comes close to equalling its classic predecessor, if only because it's an entirely different animal. James Cameron was shrewd enough not to try to replicate Alien's unique claustrophobic terror and instead expanded on the idea to make an entirely satisfying shoot-em-up that managed to hit every emotional beat along the way. And although its "feminism" is overall a little dubious, Aliens also has the bonus of making Ripley into the bad-ass action here that women deserve.
Worst: Alien 3
And then Alien 3 ruined all of that. First, it unceremoniously killed off all of the significant returning supporting characters within the first few minutes. This could have been a gutsy move, but it was handled terribly and resulted in the absence of Ripley's surrogate daughter Newt, who provided all of the emotional heft of the first sequel.
Then, after a dumb and perfunctory hour and a half, they (spoiler!) kill off Ripley too, because why not. (Because there is no franchise without Ripley, that's why not.) So then they were forced to bring Ripley back in Alien: Resurrection in a ridiculously convoluted and unsatisfying way, resulting in an equally idiotic film that even Joss Whedon couldn't save.
Worst: Batman and Robin
Batman and Robin is not only one of the worst sci-fi sequels of all time, but one of the worst superhero movies of all time in general, right up there with Daredevil and Catwoman (*shudder*). Between the Bat Nipples, the "enlarged codpieces," Mr. Freeze's terrible puns, and everything about Alicia Silverstone's Catwoman, this abomination proved once and for all that making a "family-friendly" Batman movie is a bad idea (for everyone who didn't know that already, I guess?). Batman and Robin crashed and burned so hard, Warner Bros. lost faith in the Batman franchise for a while, until Christopher Nolan came along...
Best: The Dark Knight
Batman Begins (which celebrated its tenth anniversary this week) was a great film in its own right, as it saw Christopher Nolan revolutionize the superhero movie genre and demonstrate that comic book films can be dark, gritty, and even philosophical. So it's a testament to The Dark Knight's greatness that no one ever questions its superiority. The script deftly handled the ethical concerns surrounding vigiliantism, Christian Bale's Batman got to the heart of the classic character, but most of all, Heath Ledger's Joker gave us an iconic villain, possibly the best movie villain in recent memory.