10 Movie Series Where the First Movie Isn’t the Best

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Sequels can make or break a series, but there are plenty of times when, no matter how good the sequel is, it is true that the sequel never beats the original. As accurate as that may be in most cases, there are also many times when a sequel has come out to beat the original. Whether it be in the story, the plot twist, or how the audience has responded to the film as it solidifies the franchise’s place in pop culture history, sequels can outdo the original material. Series like Star Wars have an epic introduction, quickly immersing the viewers in its brand-new setting, the universe, world-building, characters, and plot. But, while the original film may have set the tone, it is Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back that turned the Star Wars series into what it is today.

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While The Hunger Games may have created a great initial film, it was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire that really showed what this film series was capable of providing for the audience. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a little too kid-friendly to really grasp what the series and characters would grow into later on, which is where films like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 really shine.

10 Toy Story

toy story
Toy Story

Release Date
October 30, 1995

Rating
G

Runtime
81

Toy Story became a massive sensation for Pixar as fans eagerly fell in love with Woody, Buzz, and the rest of Andy’s toys. As much as Woody and Buzz’s journey into friends as they strive to return to Andy makes the original Toy Story one of the best Pixar films, it is not the best of the series.

Toy Story 2 And 3 Increase the Emotional Connection

With four films released to the public and a fifth on the way, there is plenty of content to take in from this universe. But, the film’s first two sequels lean more into emotional connections to the toys than the original. Although Toy Story and Toy Story 2 share a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes while Toy Story 3 is slightly behind with 93%, these two films still show what this series is capable of when it wears its heart on its sleeve and works to connect emotionally with the audience. Toy Story is a fun movie about friendship, but Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 are about family, abandonment, growing up, and trying to find a true sense of identity and belonging.

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9 Shrek

Shrek
Shrek

Release Date
May 18, 2001

Rating
PG

Runtime
90

Shrek just wants to be left alone in his Swamp. Admittedly, he does not want much, and is the bare minimum really that hard to achieve? His entire desire in this movie is to get all the fairy tale creatures away from his home. But, when he falls in love with Fiona and makes a friend in Donkey along the way, that is not part of the plan.

Shrek 2 Challenges the Characters in New Ways

While Shrek The Third and Shrek Forever After do not show the best of this series, Shrek 2 does a good job of growing out the characters and expanding on the parody humor. Shrek and Donkey’s transformations into more traditionally attractive characters and how they need to find their way back to their loved ones, undergo a journey of self-discovery, and meet Puss-In-Boots, all culminated into a sequel that brought out the best in the Shrek world-building. Shrek was forced to come through for Fiona and himself in different ways, while showing his new in-laws that he was the perfect partner for Fiona. Critics agreed that Shrek 2 was a step up from the original, with it gaining a higher score on Rotten Tomatoes. Shrek 2 was a quick fan-favorite, making the most money of all the Shrek movies.

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8 Captain America

Captain America: The First Avenger was a fantastic showing of Marvel’s capabilities to introduce an origin story. The film introduces Steve Rogers when he was a simple man wishing to join the army to fight against the Nazis. When he is given his acceptance, it is due to the Super Soldier program, which is how Steve begins his road as Captain America.

The Winter Soldier Answers The First Avenger’s Cliffhangers

Steve’s plot-twisting shock at the end of the first movie, that he had been unconscious for seventy years, leaves off fairly abruptly and then picks up with him again in The Avengers. There is no real discussion of everything he has gone through or his work to better understand this new world. He is simply a soldier trying to save New York again. But Captain America: The Winter Soldier is all about Steve trying to adjust to the present day, what it means to be a war veteran, how his friendships with Natasha and Sam help him move forward, and revealing the truth about what really happened when Bucky Barnes fell from the train. The Winter Soldier places best friends on opposing sides of enemy lines, as Steve wants his best friend to remember him, while Bucky’s inability to remember his life has him being an unstoppable killing machine.

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RELATED: 10 Movie Franchises with too Many Films

7 Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone does a solid job at world-building, introducing the characters, and giving a tease of the dangers to come. But, there is not much that it can really do when Harry and his friends are eleven years old. Over time, the following movies embrace the darkening path the story leads them down as Harry and Voldemort’s final battle grows closer.

Prisoner of Azkaban, Order of The Phoenix, and Deathly Hallows Highlight Wizarding World Dangers

Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell, and David Yates took the reins from Chris Columbus, who directed the first two movies. The other three directors leaned into the growing darkness of the franchise and the developed histories of new characters. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was darker from the beginning, but given the dangers of what lurks behind introducing Dementors, there needed to be a real sense of fear toward what the wizarding world was capable of. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was a real game-changer for the franchise, as its biggest story element was the return of Voldemort. David Yates took on the last group of movies, tackling the political upheaval and panic surrounding Voldemort’s return, preparation for war, and designing the overall large-scale final battle at Hogwarts.

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6 The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen, who, after volunteering for her sister Prim, who is randomly chosen as a Tribute, ends up becoming the face of a revolution against the Capitol. Together with Peeta, Haymitch, and Gale, Katniss helps fight against President Snow and the dangers he represents.

Catching Fire Ups the Stakes

The first film does a solid job of setting up the tone, the dangers of Panem, and the horrors of the Arena. It creates empathy for Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of District 12 while going beyond the novel’s first-person narrative to show how the rest of the Districts respond to the events unfolding in the Arena. But, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is really a movie that packs a punch. Bringing back previous Victors from other years, the traumatized Victors are forced back into the Arena, where they portray a sense of unity and anger toward having to undergo their worst nightmare a second time. All the while, secret alliances towards a greater purpose are hidden in the background, much to Katniss’ obliviousness. The big cliffhanger at the film’s conclusion, that District 12 is gone, ends the movie on a greater scale of how far President Snow is willing to go, and the dangers that could arise from whatever comes next.

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5 Spider-Man

Spider-Man 2
Spider-Man 2

Release Date
June 25, 2004

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
127

Tobey Maguire’s trilogy follows Peter Parker’s origin story. During a field trip, Peter is bitten by a radioactive spider and wakes up the following day with unusual abilities. He can shoot webs out of his hands, climb walls, and has strength he has never had before. Throughout the first installment, Peter Parker learns what it means to be Spider-Man, and how to defeat the dangerous Green Goblin.

Spider-Man 2 Is a Crisis Of Identity

Although the first film is about Peter coming into himself and understanding who he is with his new powers, Spider-Man 2 introduces an identity crisis for Peter as he tries to balance being Spider-Man with the ordinary lifestyle of Peter Parker. Doc Ock enters the fold as the new villain, whose role as an antagonist is purely accidental following a technology malfunction. Peter briefly loses his powers in his stress to do everything at once, and even briefly enjoys the lack of pressure that comes with being an ordinary member of society instead of the neighborhood-saving Spider-Man. However, Peter eventually regains his powers when he can recover a semblance of balance to his life and accept the changes that have followed it, including the implications surrounding his relationship with MJ.

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4 High School Musical

Troy never anticipated that singing at a New Year’s party with a random girl would end up changing his life forever. But, when Gabriella ends up attending East High also, Troy can not escape their mutual pull towards each other and the possibility of joining the school musical. High School Musical is about trying new things, self-realization, and friendship.

The Two Sequels Talk About the Future

For as fun and iconic as the original film was, High School Musical 2 and High School Musical 3: Senior Year expand beyond whether singing or not singing is the better decision. Character and relationship development sticks, for the most part, as entering senior year of high school becomes all about planning for college and the future. Each of the two sequels portrays Troy’s uncertainty towards what he wants for his future, and how his excitement for what comes next has transformed from excitement to nervousness as it comes closer. Everyone’s future beyond high school is growing nearer, and while music still plays an integral role in both sequels, each of the movies makes the smart decision to make the storyline about more than putting on a show.

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RELATED: 15 Best Superhero Sequels of All Time, Ranked

3 Star Wars

Star Wars surrounds Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia in the goal of destroying the Death Star and stopping Darth Vader’s power stride across a galaxy far, far away. The franchise would not be what it was without a thrilling opening. But, it was not the best movie.

The Empire Strikes Back Defined the Franchise

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was the best Star Wars movie because it introduced one of the biggest plot twists in any significant film franchise. The revelation that Darth Vader was Luke’s father shocked the audience and became one of the most significant plot lines in the series. The idea that the beloved protagonist and thrilling villain were actually related introduced new layers to the story and opened the door for various prequels surrounding Anakin Skywalker’s journey into Darth Vader. “I am your father” has become one of the most-known lines of dialogue in any film.

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2 Jumanji

Jumanji
Jumanji

Release Date
December 15, 1995

Rating
PG

Runtime
104

The original Jumanji followed an adult, Alan Parrish, after being swept away by the board he was playing with his friend, Sarah, as a child. Being returned years after disappearing due to Judy and Peter continuing Sarah and Alan’s game, the group of four must finish Jumanji in order for their world to go back to normal as events from the game overrun the world they live in.

The Sequels Contain the Insanity to the Jungle

Unlike the original story, in the reboot, the players are physically brought into the game and take on the roles of the video game characters. Therefore, the chaotic animals and dangerous antagonists are contained in the world of the game, rather than walking down the street and bringing harm to innocent people. The layers of comedy that come from inhibiting bodies so unlike their natural ones allow Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle and Jumanji: The Next Level to expand on the world and lore of Jumanji that the original film could not. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle did leave an Easter egg reference to the original film by revealing Alan Parrish’s treehouse.

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1 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a breakout Spider-Man movie in a world of three Peter Parker-centric iterations. Instead, the beautifully animated film follows Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man after Peter Parker is tragically killed. Miles, with the help of Multiversal Spider-Man variants, learns to embrace his new powers and discover what he is truly capable of.

Across the Spider-Verse Has Major Revelations

In Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Miles is taken on a brand-new ride and is introduced to many other Spider-Man counterparts. But, what makes this movie better is how it explains the unexpected anomaly that is Miles Morales being Spider-Man, and how the radioactive spider that bit him was meant for an entirely different universe. Miles comes to understand the tragic reality of what it means to be Spider-Man and how the Multiverse is reliant on certain events in order to keep the alternate universes in place, rather than them disappearing forever. In the final minutes of the movie, he even comes to understand the ramifications of a world without Spider-Man, and what that means for his alternate self.

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