It's been 30 years since "Lethal Weapon 2" opened in theaters on July 7, 1989. In honor of the Mel Gibson- and Danny Glover-led action film's big anniversary, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at some of the all-time greatest movie sequels, starting with the second installment in this thrilling cop franchise. Mel first teamed up with Danny in 1987's "Lethal Weapon." Two years later, they got together again for the creatively titled "Lethal Weapon 2" — which wasn't necessarily better than its predecessor but certainly delivered on the things that made the original a success: explosive action, lots of laughs and great chemistry between the two leads. Clearly, things went well enough to warrant two more installments in the four-film franchise, which also spawned a TV series. Now keep reading for more of the best movie sequels…
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"Kill Bill: Volume 2" actually scored higher with audiences on Rotten Tomatoes than its predecessor. Where 2003's "Kill Bill: Volume 1" kicked off with an explosion of violence that didn't slow until the end credits rolled, "Volume 2" was slower and more heartfelt, elevating the previous chapter in the saga by providing the exposition and character development needed to flesh out the story — while also dishing up a healthy serving of action, of course. Uma Thurman — who stars as a retired assassin with a vendetta against her former mentor and lover, the titular Bill — earned separate Golden Globe nominations for her work in Quentin Tarantino-directed movie.
"The Godfather: Part II" debuted in 1974, two years after its Oscar-winning predecessor first opened in theaters. Like "The Godfather," "Part II" went on to win the Academy Award for best picture and best adapted screenplay. Where Marlon Brando won the Oscar for best lead actor for his work as mob boss Don Vito Corleone in "The Godfather," Robert De Niro took home the award for best supporting actor for his performance as a younger version of the same character in "Part II," which chronicles both Vito's rise in organized crime and that of his son, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), in two different timelines. The second installment in the trilogy about the Corleone crime family also doubled its predecessor's Oscar count, claiming awards for directing, art direction and original score.
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Ask any diehard "Star Wars" fan and you'll likely hear the same thing: The best installment in the franchise is "Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back," which landed in theaters in 1980, three years after "Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope" first introduced Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, et al. With its epic scale, world building, themes of identity and heightened emotional stakes, the second film in the original trilogy is also the highest ranked live-action installment in the expansive "Star Wars" franchise on Rotten Tomatoes.
It's often cited as the best superhero movie ever: 2008's "The Dark Knight." The direct sequel to 2005's "Batman Begins" scored a fresher rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes by a whole 10 percent. Christian Bale returned to the role of the Caped Crusader in the crime-drama, but the true star of the show is Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his performance as The Joker. "The Dark Knight" also took home the Academy Award for best sound editing and earned six more nominations.
The second installment in the "The Lord of the Rings" franchise, 2002's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," may not have won as many Oscars as its predecessor — 2001's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" — or the film that came after it — 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which is tied for the record for the most Academy Awards won by a film (11) with "Titanic" and "Ben-Hur." But it scored the highest rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes (95 percent fresh) — and for good reason! The Battle of Helm's Deep is considered one of the greatest onscreen battles in cinema history.
A decade after the original "Star Trek" series came to an end, the crew of the USS Enterprise arrived on the big screen with 1979's poorly received "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." (It scored a 42 percent rotten rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.) They gave it another go in 1982 with "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," which turned out to be a major hit with critics and audiences alike.
In 2017, Denis Villeneuve delivered "Blade Runner 2049," the stylish and heart-wrenching sequel to 1982's "Blade Runner." Though the second installment in the series based on Philip K. Dick's book "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" fared slightly worse with critics than its predecessor, a cult classic that's earned a legion of devoted fans over the years, "2049" fared extremely well with Academy voters, earning five Oscar nominations and ultimately claiming two awards: best cinematography and best visual effects. In comparison, the original earned just two nominations: best art direction and best effects. Both films center around police officers tasked with hunting down and retiring "replicants" — genetically engineered humanoid robots.
It took 14 long years for Disney to deliver "Incredibles 2," the follow-up to 2004's "The Incredibles," but the animated sequel was well worth the wait! Only two other movies ("Avengers: Infinity War" and "Black Panther") made more money at the global box office than the family-friendly cartoon, which was also a hit with critics and earned an Oscar nomination for best animated feature film.
The 1984 sci-fi film "The Terminator" left some pretty big shoes to fill. (It has a 100 percent fresh rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes.) Fortunately, 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was up to the task. The James Cameron-directed sequel, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger's titular robot switches teams to fight for the good guys, won four Oscars and earned two more nominations.
The "X-Men" franchise kicked off in 2000. Three years later, the well-reviewed sequel "X2" arrived in theaters. It was considered the highlight in the franchise for nearly a decade — until the 2011 prequel "X-Men: First Class" landed.
The slow-paced but incredibly intense Ridley Scott-directed sci-fi film "Alien" won raves (and an Oscar for visual effects) when it debuted in 1979. Seven years later, Sigourney Weaver returned to the role of Ellen Ripley in the James Cameron-directed sequel "Aliens," which won two Oscars and earned five more Academy Award nominations. The 1986 sequel, which felt more like an action flick than a thriller, scored even better with critics than its predecessor, earning a 99 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Miraculously, 2014's "22 Jump Street" is just as laugh-out-loud funny as its predecessor, 2012's "21 Jump Street" — a rarity when it comes to comedies! For their second stint as trouble-prone undercover police officers, Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum were joined by an all-star ensemble of hilarious individuals, most notably scene-stealing "Workaholics" actress Jillian Bell.
The 1995 romantic drama "Before Sunrise" — in which Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke star as a French woman and an American tourist who bond during a single night while exploring Vienna together — is beloved by critics and audiences alike. (It even scored a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes!) So who could've guessed that a sequel could possibly live up to the original? Somehow, 2004's "Before Sunset," which is set nearly a decade later, did just that, picking up an Oscar nomination for best adapted screenplay in the process.
Though it was set within the world of male exotic dancing, 2012's "Magic Mike" was actually kind of a bummer. The Steven Soderbergh-directed dramedy featured plenty of impressive dance numbers — but also a buzzkill central storyline about drug addiction and broken dreams. Thank goodness the sequel, "Magic Mike XXL," took everything we liked about the original (Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello and more hot men dancing) and turned it into a super-fun road-trip movie. While it's not technically a great film, we love it all the same!
Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson's Peeta Mellark arrived on the big screen in 2012's "The Hunger Games." The following year, they returned in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" — by far the best installment in the four-part film franchise. Critics and audiences agreed: The first sequel is the highest rated on Rotten Tomatoes thanks to its fast pace and the fact that it's not as devastatingly dark as the next two chapters in the series.
Two years after "The Addams Family" got its first big-screen adaptation, the 1993 sequel "Addams Family Values" opened in theaters. Though it failed to perform quite as well at the box office as its predecessor, "Family Values" was a huge hit with the critics and has become a bit of a cult classic over the years thanks to its hysterical juxtaposing of the macabre with the overly cheerful. For example, We'll always love watching Christina Ricci's Wednesday Addams stage a coup while portraying Pocahontas in a Thanksgiving play at camp.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has spun a complicated web of interconnected storylines since "Iron Man" debuted in 2008. But of the films with direct sequels, there's only one that's been trumped by what came after: 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger" pales in comparison to 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." (The other MCU direct sequels — "Ant-Man and the Wasp," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Thor: The Dark World" and "Iron Man 2" — are less beloved than their predecessors, while in some cases, the third installment is actually the most popular — see "Thor: Ragnarok.")
The 2008 found-footage monster movie "Cloverfield" was a huge hit at the box office — even if it wasn't necessarily a great film. Eight years later, "10 Cloverfield Lane" opened in theaters. In the 2016 film, which didn't at first appear to have a connection to its predecessor, John Goodman portrays a doomsday prepper holding a young woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) captive — allegedly for her own protection. The second installment in the "Cloverfield" franchise — a tense, slow-burning mystery-thriller — earned a 90 percent fresh rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes.
Did you know that "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" — the 2008 sequel to 2004's "Hellboy" — is an Oscar-nominated film? That's right! The supernatural-superhero movie, which is based on a comic book, earned an Academy Award nomination for best achievement in makeup. The ridiculously underrated Guillermo del Toro-directed action film, in which Ron Perlman stars as the titular half-demon hero, was also a hit with critics, earning an 86 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.