These days, it’s easy to grouse over major movie studios’ addiction to franchise sequel-itis. But when you step back and regard just how many times in recent memory a blockbuster film’s second (or even third) chapter actually lived up to the first, it’s a little tougher to criticize the obvious box office play of chasing a new big-screen smash with a sure-fire followup hit.
Looking back over the past decade, in fact, we’ve counted up 20 genre movie sequels that did right by their founding franchise predecessors — and we’ve probably even missed a couple. In a blockbuster age when it’s harder and harder for new film ideas to make box office headway, we’ve actually come away amazed by how many recent followup installments ended up rewarding the price of admission — and, dare we say it, even left us hoping for more.
So check out our chronological list of the 20 best sequels to grace theaters over the past decade and see how it stacks up with your own — all while we keep our fingers crossed that the next ten years on the big screen will be as bountiful as the decade that’s just gone by.
1. Skyfall (2012)
Daniel Craig’s third James Bond movie wasn’t just your typical 007 romp with a tidy, all’s-well ending. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins brought epic stakes and an epic look to Skyfall, tracking James Bond’s ill-fated race to save M (Judy Dench) from the clutches of deliciously demented villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). From the Adele-crooning opening swell to those hard-hitting late-movie moments in Scotland, Craig’s third outing in the role is one of his — and the James Bond series’ — best.
2. Iron Man 3 (2013)
If Avengers: Endgame proved once and for all that Tony Stark has a heart, Iron Man 3 is the movie that gave MCU fans their best early glimpse at the tender spots in the tech magnate’s egocentrically chippy, me-first persona.
Director and co-writer Shane Black brought equal doses of sly humor and sinister scheming to a story that ingeniously gave its main villain — Guy Pearce’s twice-spurned Aldrich Killian (aka Mandarin) — a double motive for seeking to wreak havoc on Stark Industries and society at large. It’s more than enough to make up for the fun-but-fluffier Iron Man 2, and laid a ton of the MCU groundwork for how Robert Downey, Jr. would evolve his iconic role in later Marvel films.
3. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Next to Logan, X-Men: Days of Future Past is as good as the X-Men have been on the big screen — only this time as an oversized mutant ensemble. Bringing together older and younger superhero generations for an extravagant story about heading off the bleakest of futures, Days of Future Past serves up spectacular, stadium-shaking set pieces (thanks, Magneto) and meaningful Marvel character moments in equal measure.
As ever, Sir Patrick Stewart anchors the enlarged X-team’s time-strained emotions — but killer supporting performances from Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and Peter Dinklage (Trask) elevate Days of Future Past far above your typical Charles Xavier ringmaster act.
4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Andy Serkis’ nuanced performance as ape leader Caesar, combined with stellar mocap effects from WETA, make the struggles of simian society seem real and riveting in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the second film in the revived franchise’s 2010s trilogy. With Matt Reeves signing on to direct and co-write Dawn and its 2017 followup, War for the Planet of the Apes, Reeves’ first sequel in the trilogy easily exceeds the already-enticing promise that Rise of the Planet of the Apes offered audiences when it first rebooted the sci-fi series in 2011. We don’t know which is the bigger accomplishment: Making CG effects feel this immersive and photo real, or delivering the tragic emotional stakes and dreadful gravitas that suffuses the inevitable clash between Caesar and his rogue second-in-command and best friend, Koba.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
It’s amazing how much mileage a movie can wrest from a terse screenplay and the austerely beautiful visuals from director George Miller and cinematographer John Seale. Then again, that’s what happens when your decades-in-the-making wasteland sequel casts knockout actors like Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy.
Mad Max: Fury Road brought longtime fans and first-timers along for a post-apocalyptic tour that balanced intense action set pieces with true narrative weight, and gave viewers plenty of desert-dusted reasons to patiently wait out Miller’s plans for the upcoming Furiosa prequel — however long it takes.
6. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Earlier entries in the Tom Cruise-led Mission: Impossible series have sometimes been mired down by exposition. But director Christopher McQuarrie dialed back the dull moments and ramped up the action for Rogue Nation, turning Cruise loose for some of his most thrilling, safety net-free stunt work yet. Anchored by Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, the core members of Ethan Hunt’s crack support squad coalesced terrifically in this fifth franchise installment, and found an easy ensemble rapport that would only get better with age by the time the McQuarrie-helmed followup, 2017’s Mission: Impossible — Fallout, came along.
7. Creed (2015)
Creed found Ryan Coogler in full directing stride well before Black Panther arrived in 2018 to make him a household name among MCU fans. Sylvester Stallone’s 7th bout in the ring of Rocky movies came with a knockout performance from Michael B. Jordan as Adonis “Donnie” Creed, scion of old-school sparring competitor Apollo Creed from the 1980s classics. With Adonis walking in similar bootstrapped footsteps that earned Stallone’s Italian Stallion a place in the big-screen boxing pantheon, Creed didn’t need to shake up the retro Rocky blueprint to tell an inspiring new story: It just updated a durable winning formula for a 21st-Century audience.
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
J.J. Abrams jump-started the final trilogy in the Skywalker saga with a fun and gripping first story that introduced new characters who felt at home in George Lucas’ epic galaxy far, far away. More than that, though, The Force Awakens didn’t shy away from the powerful, jaw-dropping moments that raised the Star Wars stakes in classic old-school fashion, and it introduced us to Adam Driver’s perfectly-acted first turn as Kylo Ren — an aptly villainous heir to the good-versus-evil struggles that boiled within the Force-sensitive Skywalker family line.
9. Star Trek Beyond (2016)
The most recent entries in the hallowed Star Trek film franchise have boldly gone into action-heavy territory in ways that Gene Roddenberry’s original series never attempted, and they’ve mostly made the leap unscathed. Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the debut of the original TV series, Star Trek Beyond is the best film yet from the newer Trek cast’s take on revered classic characters. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban bring a fresh spark to the inimitable roles of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, flanked by a talent-rich cast that includes Idris Elba, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, and the late Anton Yelchin.
10. Logan (2017)
Hugh Jackman helped deliver a gripping sendoff for his iconic X-Man, playing an older, wiser, and more haunted Wolverine in Logan. Director James Mangold’s incredible genre balancing act of weighty moviemaking gives the X-Men icon something worth fighting for, even after the younger Wolverine’s superhero idealism has long since slipped away. Logan’s Oscar-nominated screenplay (a first for a comic book movie) delivers the rare Marvel blockbuster that all but drops the genre asterisk. And, in the process, the R-rated hit convinces viewers that they are getting more than just a tentpole execution of the venerable franchise, they’re getting an emotionally resonate, thematic and character-driven drama that happens to be about a guy with fists full of retractable knives. It’s easily the best of the Fox-owned era of X-Men films.
11. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)
Call it a war of brutal attrition as much as a screen-filling spectacle, but the Matt Reeves-directed War for the Planet of the Apes is blockbuster sci-fi social commentary that even the late Charlton Heston could be proud of.
The final film in the three-movie reboot of the classic Apes franchise, War’s landmark visual effects rate among the most deft uses of digital technology — not only to amp up the considerable on-screen action, but to bring its 1960s-era premise to persuasive life. And never in monkey-movie history has an actor brought such believably anguished and poignant nuance to an ape-playing role the way Andy Serkis does as Caesar.
12. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Thanks to flawless cinematography from Oscar-winner Roger Deakins, nearly every moment of Blade Runner 2049 could be frozen and hung on the wall as frameable art. But in director Denis Villeneuve’s hands, the long-awaited followup to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic brought beauty that was more than skin deep, weaving a noir mystery tale that even Scott’s iconic first film can’t match.
The original also doesn’t hold a candle to the stellar performances here, especially Ryan Gosling’s turn opposite Harrison Ford as the replicant Agent K. Gosling invests his “more human than human” detective with layers of nuance and identity struggles as K embarks on one of the great sacrifice narratives in any film of any genre — sequel or not. Yes, Luv: We’re thoroughly satisfied with your product.
13. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Marvel already nailed the winning mix of comedy, sci-fi fantasy, and endless action in James Gunn’s 2014 smash Guardians of the Galaxy. But co-writer and director Taika Waititi brought out Thor’s true MCU comic potential in Thor: Ragnarok, trading the previous Thor films’ lean toward serious action for a blend of fast-paced and funny — a formula that’s only whetted our appetite all the more for the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder.
Bonus points to Ragnarok, too, for introducing us to Korg — the Waititi-voiced sidekick who’d go on to get royally, hilariously owned by Noobmaster69 in Avengers: Endgame.
14. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
Though this is the movie that polarized the Star Wars fandom over the final trilogy’s ultimate direction, Rian Johnson is a consummate filmmaker, and it shows in nearly every frame of the The Last Jedi. Johnson brought an assured director’s audacity to the story, taking off the timid kid gloves many fans assume would go with the territory when you’re handed the keys to the Star Wars lore-verse.
Approached as its own movie, it’s one giant slab of gripping science fiction filmmaking; one whose biggest set pieces and tense Kylo/Rey moments will forever stand out as Skywalker saga highlights.
15. Incredibles II (2018)
Pixar proved that the family that fights crime together can stay together and then some with the uproariously entertaining Incredibles II, raiding the pop culture toybox to throw a cleverly comedic confetti of fun at the screen in the followup to its 2004 predecessor.
Writer and director Brad Bird took everything that made his first Incredibles movie such a day-one Pixar and then amplified it for the sequel — all with a big assist from 14 years’ worth of CG animation refinement and a stellar voice cast featuring mainstays Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Craig T. Nelson, and Sarah Vowell — not to mention fun new turns from Breaking Bad alumni Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks.
16. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
We’ll entertain dissenting opinions, but Mission: Impossible — Fallout may just mark the pinnacle of Tom Cruise’s time in Ethan Hunt’s globetrotting spy shoes.
It’s the most efficiently paced M:I movie to date, with writer-director Christopher McQuarrie swinging from one eye-popping action bonanza to the next while threading in a bittersweet personal story of Ethan’s lost past. Cruise somehow managed to top his spectacular stunt work from the previous films in the series, punctuated by an amazing HALO (high-altitude, low-open) airplane jump that brought the camera along for the hair-raising ride. In an espionage franchise not exactly known for its moments of comedic relief, Fallout also served up lighter moments that tempered the nail-biting stakes with endearing performances from Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and more.
17. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
There are some of us who think that Avengers: Infinity War rates as one of the very best films in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even at two and-a-half hours, there’s an impeccable efficiency of storytelling and pacing holding together Infinity War’s lengthy runtime. The Russo brothers accomplish the near-impossible feat of weaving Marvel’s enormous superhero ensemble into meaningful scenes (not just set pieces) that pack some of the MCU’s most hard-hitting emotional punches. From Kenneth Branagh’s opening stranded-vessel voiceover, to the final violin notes that put a muted punctuation mark on Thanos’ dastardly act, there’s never a dull moment in a movie that gives Marvel’s biggest heroes the chance to reveal the best side of their inner character.
18. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Stupendously long and essentially two movies in one, Avengers: Endgame tells an epically scaled, time-changing story that doesn’t flow quite as effortlessly as its Infinity War predecessor. But, then again, wrangling story was only part of the Russo brothers’ gigantic task in putting a tidy bow on the MCU’s boundlessly large Phase Three. An homage to all that had come before, and a genuinely heartfelt walk down the long lane of Marvel memories that brought fans to this culture-defining moment, Endgame served up fitting sendoffs for Natasha Romanoff, Steve Rogers, and, of course, Tony Stark — and it did it all with an emotional grace that befits their enduring MCU legacy.
19. No Time to Die (2021)
If James Cameron’s True Lies could put on a sleekly tailored suit and adopt a British accent, it might look a whole lot like No Time to Die.
Sure, James Bond fans will likely point to Casino Royale or Skyfall as Daniel Craig’s most solid 007 field work. But his jam-packed series farewell sends the retired MI6 anti-hero into the sunset with grace, in the funniest and most emotional blending of fun action and clever comedy in the history of the 60-year-old franchise. With a very game Craig showing off flourishes neither he nor the character have ever had a chance to display, No Time to Die blends its considerable moments of levity with earned, heavy-hearted sadness in a way few film franchises manage to match. The cast probably hasn’t been this strong across the board in any of Craig’s previous Bond films, with pitch-perfect performances all around from Ana de Armas, Ralph Fiennes, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Naomi Harris, Ben Whishaw, and Jeffrey Wright.
20. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
It’s impossible to succinctly summarize everything that makes Spider-Man: No Way Home such a special movie — but even if its only achievement had been teaming Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, and Tobey Maguire in one big generation-spanning Spidey surprise, it would have been, well, amazing.
As pretty much everyone knows, though, the most recent web-slinging sequel ended up being so much more than the sum of its impressive parts. No Way Home struck a pop culture nerve in a way that no MCU movie had managed to do since Avengers: Endgame, uniting Spideys past and present in a story that, even for savvy Marvel fans, managed to transcend what they thought they’d be getting from Sony’s post-blip drop-in on Peter Parker’s friendly neighborhood.