The common curse of Hollywood is that for every movie that ends up a success, an endless supply of sequels are sure to follow. Though audiences want to spend more time with the characters they love, and production companies want to capitalize on that money-making fandom, it doesn’t always mean that a follow-up is the right move.
Very often, sequels fall short of the original, whether it’s because the element of surprise that catapulted the first film to classic status is now gone, or audience expectation is too high, or the intention isn’t pure and the creative team is lacking.
Yet, every once in a while, one of these installments flies out of leftfield and lights up audiences in ways that equal (or even exceed) that of the original. Rather than transparently existing for the sole purpose of stretching the studio’s profits, these sequels are thoughtfully conceived, often made by the original creative team or by filmmakers who fell in love with the original.
These are the people who understand the original film’s essence, knowing exactly where to take the characters and what situations to engineer in order to spark that familiar feeling of terror in audiences. Below are a collection of those: ten of the best horror movie sequels ever made.
Evil Dead II (1987)
Six years after the shocking and truly scary The Evil Dead (1981) hit the big screen, writer/director Sam Raimi, surprised audiences yet again with his follow-up, Evil Dead II. And the surprise wasn’t because of an elevation of gore or increase in the jump scares, but rather because of its complete change in tone.
Raimi must have been crazy to tinker with the chemistry of his popular original, which was more of a straightlaced horror movie, but Evil Dead II deftly mixes absurdity into the scares. Many filmmakers try and fail to make well-balanced horror comedies, but Raimi and star Bruce Campbell make it look effortless.
Bordering on the surreal, we watch Ash spiral into madness with the evil dead taunting him at every turn. Some of the most memorable moments of the entire franchise stem from this pitch-perfect sequel. If this trilogy is also one of your favorites, put your knowledge to the test with our quiz on the trilogy.
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Of all the movies on this list, Bride of Frankenstein is the most prestigious. Released in 1935, it’s the first sequel that was worthy of its 1931 original, and some would even argue that it surpasses it.
Frankenstein director James Whale resumed directorial duties for Bride and Boris Karloff returned as the sympathetic Monster, which ends up seeing quite a bit more screen time than his titular bride. Because it was written and released during the ‘30s—what I would cite as horror’s most important decade—the plot points seem pretty tame today. But, in the same hand, there’s a cold, gothic characteristic to every scene, with stark black and white atmospheric imagery that couldn’t be replicated in the same way today.
Filled with surreal scenes of a mad scientist and his jar people, a friendly old hermit, and Karloff’s Monster’s perfect interactions with the rest of the cast, Bride of Frankenstein holds up better than any other movie on this list.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George A. Romero made history with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, but his follow-up a decade later, Dawn of the Dead, is the all-time quintessential zombie movie. Much how Romero used Night to speak on the racial tension prevalent at the time, the message in Dawn is similarly loud and clear—society is obsessed with consumerism, so the living dead flock to the mall.
A mall gives us a more expansive map than the house of Night, while still keeping it contained enough for the story to stay personal and confined. This movie could have been a lot messier than the original, with the amped-up gore and body count, but it all works for the better. In fact, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as successful or beloved all these years later if it wasn’t for Tom Savini’s incredible effects.
Night of the Living Dead set the stage for the zombie movie, but Dawn of the Dead set the bar.
Just as we saw with Evil Dead II, Aliens is another sequel that entirely changes the original’s tone—this time, with a directorial change also the mix as well. While Sam Raimi maintained directorial duties and infused his sequel with comedy, James Cameron took the reigns from Ridley Scott and made an entirely different movie. And though this could’ve been disastrous for an audience base who thought that they only wanted more of the same, Aliens turned out to be a hit that no one knew they needed.
James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s quiet original is packed with action. Where Alien (1979) is a quiet, tense, and measured sci-fi story, Aliens is a loud, hard-hitting action movie. The characters are still there—well, the ones that could be—and the threat of the Xenomorph is constant, but the movie clips along at a breakneck pace, offering up intense action sequences that still impress over 30 years later.
Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)
In what is the most meta sequel on this list (and probably of all time), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the seventh (!) installment in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Usually, if the franchise even makes it to this point, the original creative team is long gone and the films have strayed so far from the original that they’re almost unrecognizably related. But leave it to Wes Craven break the norms again. Craven breathed new life into the series by taking the idea of what a sequel could be and flipping it on its head.
The movie features a cast of actors from the original Nightmare (1984), including Wes Craven, who are now playing themselves. Meanwhile, the film character of Freddy Krueger breaks into the “real world” on a killing spree.
Nothing like this—outside of a Mel Brooks film or a Bugs Bunny cartoon, maybe—had been done before. Even if the franchise was feeling stale at this point, this concept recaptured old eyes and drew in new ones with its creativity and execution.
Craven was just on the cusp of creating the most meta work of his career with Scream (1996), but New Nightmare would be a taste of great things to come.
Halloween has the unique (dis)honor of being the only franchise that has had many sequels, and then a sequel that wiped away most of the those sequels, and then a remake with its own sequel, and, finally, a sequel that wiped away every single franchise installment except for the original. While we may never figure out who went back in time and created all of these alternate timelines, it’s obvious which Halloween sequel deserves the most praise.
It could be argued that 1981’s Halloween II or even 1998’s H2O are the best extra story of the series, but 2018’s Halloween gets back to the basics in a way that we haven’t seen since John Carpenter’s iconic original. All of the mythology that cheapened the character of Michael Myers is gone. He’s not fueled by a familial blood lust or some crazy cult. Instead, Myers has no motivation other than the unnatural urges of a psychopathic murderous monster.
Jamie Lee Curtis also returns, but as a believably different Laurie than we last left her 30 years before. She has planned for Michael’s return, and Halloween delivers in every way we’ve missed since the original.
Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
The Friday the 13th franchise boasts some of the most sequels of any horror franchise to date. Unfortunately, they’re all pretty bad. Friday the 13th Part II is a solid second effort, but Friday the 13th Part III will always get my vote for the top spot. I would go so far as to say that it’s my favorite of the franchise, or at least tied for first.
The tone needs to be spot-on for a slasher movie to be really scary, and if you’re going to miss the mark (as most do), you need to make up for it with fun. You’d be hard-pressed to find a slasher movie that’s as much fun as Part III.
What makes the movie really stand out is the filmmakers’ use of the then-advanced 3D tech. That’s right: Friday the 13th Part III is in glorious, early 1980s 3D. You get the typical, dumb 3D gimmicks like juggling, yo-yos and broom handles coming at you, but because it’s a horror movie, there’s an extra layer. On top of all the 3D, Jason’s iconic hockey mask is introduced into the franchise. Iconic moments and fun 3D kills make Friday the 13th Part III a classic sequel.
The Exorcist III (1990)
I’ve said before that The Exorcist never needed a sequel, prequel, or franchise. The original story is tight and leaves no room for more story—at least, not a good story. Having said that, we got several sequels anyway, including 1990’s The Exorcist III. Thankfully the movie is more of a story that takes place within the world of The Exorcist—and, surprisingly, it’s pretty good.
There are some haunting moments and a decent plot, but the success of the movie sits on the shoulders of its two stars, George C. Scott and Brad Dourif. Both men are among the best Hollywood has ever seen and can, as is the case with The Exorcist III, elevate any material to make each moment they are on screen captivating. Now, is the movie as good as the original? Not by a long shot, but it is a worthy successor.
Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)
The wildcard on the list, Prom Night II is not a great movie, it’s barely a good movie, but it’s a damn fun movie. It boasts some weird character beats and its charming ‘80s brand of kills make Prom Night II not only a worthy sequel, but one that surpasses its (not great) original. The original Prom Night (1980) is a slow, boring, uneventful movie, and at the very least, Prom Night II is a watchable mess.
Where things get a little messy is in its loose connection to the original. Originally intended to be a standalone movie, Prom Night II later underwent a few reshoots to shoehorn it into the franchise, so you have to look deeply to find a connection. But that’s honestly besides the point. All you need to know is that a girl who was killed on prom night in the ‘50s has returned to take revenge on her old school. Don’t worry about the plot or the characters, just enjoy the wild ride.
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
Sequels often try to repurpose the plot of the original movie in hopes of reigniting the fans’ interest in the same way, but, unfortunately, that’s usually near-impossible to get right. The more effective route is to take some of the original characters and give them a whole new story with a new set of challenges. Rob Zombie did exactly that with The Devil’s Rejects, a sequel to his 2003 film, House of 1000 Corpses.
Fans of Zombie knew what to expect from his film style—a dirty, bloody mess—and The Devil’s Rejects did not disappoint. In fact, many people consider this to be Zombie’s masterpiece, with any of the fat from 1000 Corpses trimmed away here. Everyone is having fun, but the standout is horror veteran Sid Haig who gives one of his greatest performances.
As with all of Zombie’s films, it’s not for the squeamish. But for fans of his debut film, The Devil’s Rejects shows a young director coming into his own.