Sequels can sometimes surpass the original, as seen in franchises like Harry Potter and John Wick, where the stories grew darker and the action improved.
Franchises like Captain America and Wolverine had rocky starts, but later films in the series, like The Winter Soldier and Logan, brought significant improvements and received widespread acclaim.
The Avengers and Toy Story franchises reached their peak with later installments, with Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame becoming widely celebrated superhero films, and Toy Story 3 exploring bittersweet themes about growing up and leaving home.

While sequels have a reputation for failing to live up to an original, many huge movie franchises have actually improved after their first installment. There are plenty of instances of the opposite, like The Matrix or Jaws, where the first film was lightning in a bottle, and later installments felt like they couldn’t live up to them. In other cases, it takes more time for a film franchise to find its footing before it can live up to its full potential.

To qualify, the franchise doesn’t need to continuously get better with every single film. Speed bumps happen. However, it should generally be considered to have improved from the first installment. For example, The Avengers was met with acclaim, Age of Ultron was an alright follow-up, then Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame became two of the most widely celebrated superhero films ever. On the other hand, Star Wars arguably reached its peak with The Empire Strikes Back, but the films following it have never been met with the same regard. With that considered, here are 10 franchises that got better after the first entry, from the Harry Potter movies to recent sagas.

10 Harry Potter

Every Harry Potter film was well-made, and they’re all excellent adaptations of the book series. Like Mission: Impossible, the Harry Potter films had to grow over time for the audiences watching them. As the students of Hogwarts grew, the stories grew darker and the stakes got higher. While many consider The Prisoner of Azkaban to be the best, due to the directing style of Alfonso Cuar?n, the follow-ups are all fantastic as well, greatly bringing the rise and fall of Voldemort to life on the big screen.

9 Captain America

Captain America got off to a rocky start in the MCU, with The First Avenger being met with mixed reviews. While the film has some sweet moments, it paled in comparison to the two great superhero movies that would follow it. Following it up, The Winter Soldier is considered one of the best Marvel movies, bringing Bucky back, and starting an arc that would carry on through several MCU projects. Captain America: Civil War has the advantage of being a team-up film, but still was an awesome continuation of Steve Rodgers’ story. The franchise now continues with Sam Wilson in Captain America: Brave New World.

8 Wolverine

Following the original X-Men movies, Wolverine follow-ups were high in demand, making it all the more disappointing when X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a major failure. The film was torn apart by critics and fans. The follow-up film, The Wolverine, was an improvement, being met with mixed reviews. Finally, Logan wasreleased in 2017, offering Hugh Jackman’s run as the character a perfect conclusion. Logan is widely regarded as one of the best superhero films to date. While this trilogy isn’t exactly told seamlessly, and requires some X-Men film viewing in between, Logan is a massive improvement for Wolverine films.

7 The Avengers

The Avengers, was a massive success, making over $1 billion and essentially solidifying the MCU as a film franchise. Followed by Age of Ultron, the sequel essentially saw the same team, with the addition of Wanda being introduced. While Age of Ultron isn’t necessarily a bad Marvel film, it definitely didn’t exceed its high expectations. Infinity War and Endgame, however, proved to be the perfect culmination of the first saga of the MCU, fully utilizing Thanos and allowing for the biggest superhero team-ups on the screen to date. These two films far surpassed the original Avengers, leaving massive expectations for the next two Avengers movies.

6 Dollars Trilogy

Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is such an iconic and successful film that many don’t even realize it’s the third installment that follows the Man with No Name. Releasing two years prior, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, also explore Clint Eastwood’s starring character. While they were not exactly made to be watched as a trilogy, they’re commonly grouped together by modern audiences. The first two films are very good westerns, but there’s no question why The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the most well-known.

5 The Lord Of The Rings

Only including the original three Lord of the Rings films by Peter Jackson, the series arguably improves with each film. Fellowship of the Ring has many beautiful moments but is sometimes considered to have a slow start. The Two Towers and Return of the King impressed mainstream audiences more with their epic-scale battles, with many even considering the second film to be the best installment. Return of the King, however, has many of the film’s most emotional moments and serves as the perfect resolution to one of the best movie trilogies of all time.

4 Mission: Impossible

The first Mission: Impossible film, directed by the great Brian De Palma, is a masterpiece of an espionage thriller. However, the franchise truly found its footing in modern pop culture as the high stakes, action franchise where Tom Cruise continuously tries to top himself off with insane stunts. In that sense, Mission: Impossible has reached its height in the age of Christopher McQuarrie-directed sequels. Aside from the off-putting Mission: Impossible 2, the franchise was never bad, it just managed to successfully evolve into what was in demand as a Hollywood blockbuster.

3 Batman

Batman has had a number of adaptions, with the first being the 1966 live-action film, starring Adam West. The stories of the caped crusader have continuously evolved in comics to adjust to the world surrounding them, and films have followed the same path. The Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman saga of the ’90s saw the early stages of the transition to modern superhero films, despite some campy elements. The Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan examined a more grounded approach to the genre, and now The Batman films take on a more detective-focused method of adapting the caped crusader.

2 Toy Story

The first Toy Story film was massively important for its time, but the franchise really finds its footing with the next installments. As Pixar and computer animation grew, the look of the Toy Story franchise vastly improved. Of course, the films’ stories remained fun and light-hearted, but the sequels also explored bittersweet ideas about growing out of childhood. The third film, knowing that part of its audience would be those who watched the original Toy Story as kids, utilized that nostalgia to tell a heart-warming story about growing up and leaving home. Four years after the fourth film, Toy Story 5 is happening.

1 John Wick

While John Wick was a fun action film, it’s one of the few cases where every sequel surpassed the original in quality. The first film primarily establishes the absurd, assassin-filled world of the John Wick franchise, leaving its future installments something to expand upon. Each chapter takes this action movie franchise to new heights, constantly outdoing itself with action and new assassins. John Wick: Chapter 4 was the perfect ending to the saga and one of the best Keanu Reeves sequels to date.

 The first film isn’t always the best.  Read More