The 21 best movie sequels of the last 10 years

The 21 best movie sequels of the last 10 years

From Fast 6 to The Way of Water, and with several MCU and M:I titles in between, here are the must-see sequels from the last decade

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Clockwork from bottom left: Logan (Screenshot: 20th Century Studios/YouTube); Mad Max: Fury Road (Screenshot: Warner Bros./YouTube); Avengers: Endgame (Screenshot: Marvel Studios/YouTube); Top Gun: Maverick (Photo: Paramount Pictures)
Clockwork from bottom left: Logan (Screenshot: 20th Century Studios/YouTube); Mad Max: Fury Road (Screenshot: Warner Bros./YouTube); Avengers: Endgame (Screenshot: Marvel Studios/YouTube); Top Gun: Maverick (Photo: Paramount Pictures)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

The only thing harder to make than a good original movie is its sequel. Some directors take the one-and-done approach when it comes to franchise followups (think Steven Spielberg with the Jaws series, or George Lucas with the original Star Wars trilogy). Others stick around for all future installments (Mad Max’s George Miller) or make some of them (see J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek and Star Wars movies). But all of them would likely agree that making a sequel (or several of them) is a daunting task that comes with great risk (what if the fans don’t like it?), but potentially even greater reward at the box office.

As the King of Sequels, James Cameron, watches his Avatar: The Way Of Water break box office records, The A.V. Club has revisited (in order of release) the best sequels of the last 10 years. These must-see movies either surpassed the original films or were just as effective in making their mark on pop culture. Here are our picks:

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Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6 - Final Trailer

Fast & Furious 6 features an exploding plane that sneezes a car out from its nose cone. Iconic. No notes. Director Justin Lin’s big-budget car porn epic is arguably Peak Fast & Furious-ing, taking all of the things audiences loved about Fast Five and going bigger and bolder with both the stunts and the “family” drama, especially with the return of the presumed dead Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). Lin and the franchise’s go-to screenwriter, Chris Morgan, saddle the character’s resurrection with some soap opera-grade amnesia that complicates the hell out of the already twisted, highly improbable plot involving shadowy government types that employ Dom (Vin Diesel) and his car-obsessed crew to save the day. They do so with the help of some of the series’ flashiest and most jaw-dropping stunts—like when Letty steals a tank at high-speeds. This Fast is a convoluted ride, sure, but it’s one worth taking.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Trailer 2 (OFFICIAL)

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directors Joe and Anthony Russo set a new benchmark for all future MCU movies. From their approach to the endlessly inventive action scenes to the quieter moments between Steve Rogers and Natasha, as they go on the run from the very agency they fought beside, the Russos elevated both the action movie genre and Marvel’s A-game. Winter Soldier also solidified Cap’s franchise as the home for major plot turns that would ripple throughout the rest of the MCU. And Winter Soldier achieved it it all by using a comic book movie as a way to deliver Marvel’s take on a political thriller. The Hydra conspiracy makes for a compelling narrative throughline, as the dynamic between Chris Evans’ Cap and Sebastian Stan’s corrupted Bucky Barnes gives this sequel all the emotional weight fans could ask for.

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X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST - Official Trailer (2014)

X-Men: Days Of Future Past serves as both a sequel (ish) to X-Men: First Class and a ret-con of the original X-Men films, as the laws of physics are literally broken via time travel to bridge the First Class cast with their OG counterparts. Director Bryan Singer’s first X-Men film since 2003 is one of the series’ best; an assured, Terminator-influenced adventure with the blockbuster budget necessary to compete in a post-Avengers 2012 world where epic crossover team-ups equal box office gold.

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Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (2014)

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes Official Trailer #1 (2014) - Gary Oldman Movie HD

The only problem with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is that it ends. Director Matt Reeves effortlessly lets his thematically complex, post-apocalyptic blockbuster unspool in ways that turn CG creations into flesh-and-blood characters—grounding a movie about gun-wielding apes on horseback in a world as complicated and tangible as our own. Dawn is so firmly driven by character-first stakes that it truly makes you feel something at the movies—and talk about that feeling long after the credits roll.

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road - Official Main Trailer [HD]

Seven years since its release, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road’s “shiny and chrome” thrill ride through the Wasteland still reverberates in our guts like the sound of war rigs tearing across its post-apocalyptic landscape. A master class in pure visual cinema, it’s ironic that such an inventive and unique world as Fury Road was a summer release, as it aggressively over-commits to being an “eff you” to the sameness of what passes for entertainment at that time of year.

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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Official Trailer #1 (2015) - Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg Spy Movie HD

In his fifth Mission: Impossible movie, star and producer Tom Cruise proves he is pathologically incapable of not giving it all to entertain audiences. Here, he hangs from a plane, taps his knee on the pavement in a high-speed motorcycle chase, and drowns. The first Mission directed by Cruise’s go-to collaborator, Oscar-winner Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation finds a scary-good balance between humor and action—with tonal nods to old-school spy movies and ’70s paranoia thrillers like The Parallax View—as Ethan Hunt and his intrepid team take on their version of James Bond’s Blofeld, the crazy-but-not-stupid Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The movie is also the first to introduce audiences to the newest member of Hunt’s team, British operative Ilsa Faust, played by the scene-stealing Rebecca Furguson.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Teaser Trailer #1 (2015) - J.J. Abrams Movie HD

J.J. Abrams directed and co-wrote the first of the post-George Lucas trilogy films, using The Force Awakens to pass the torch from Han Solo, Leia, and Luke to new heroes Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe (Oscar Issac). This likable and fascinating trio arrive on the scene almost as fully formed as the characters from the 1977 film, which Abrams often uses as a structural carbon copy to tell a stirring, four-quadrant crowdpleaser that mines Star Wars’ past to help chart its future lightsaber battles between good and evil.

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Logan (2017)

Logan (2017)

Logan Trailer #2 (2017) | Movieclips Trailers

With the Academy Award-nominated Logan, director and co-writer James Mangold set out to deliver a definitive, R-rated comic book movie for adults. One that explores the cost of being an aging superhero full of bone-deep regret. The end result is a violent, and, at times, tear-jerking affair, with a gut punch of an ending that makes it very hard to let go of Hugh Jackman’s take on the iconic X-Man.

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War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)

War For The Planet Of The Apes (2017)

War for the Planet of the Apes | Final Trailer | 20th Century FOX

Matt Reeves’ War For The Planet Of The Apes, his last film in the reboot trilogy, picks up almost immediately from where Dawn ended, with Caesar (Andy Serkis) living in the woods, fearful of human soldiers and the apes that have joined them. Early sequences brim with a kind of anxious intensity, which eventually gives way to a lengthy midsection inspired more by classic revenge Westerns than science-fiction spectacles. By the time the third act comes around, culminating in a confrontation with Woody Harrelson’s power-mad colonel, it feels like not only a culmination of the three newer films but a heartbreaking conclusion to the entire saga. (Keep in mind the cyclical nature of the series.) Not only does this timely film return Planet Of The Apes to its gorgeous widescreen glory, but it also, in a more pointed way, regains its allegorical power. This is an Apes movie for the here and now, one that holds up a mirror to contemporary issues and succeeds admirably with its thrilling exploration of them.

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

BLADE RUNNER 2049 - Official Trailer

Blade Runner 2049 is arguably the best movie based on a Philip K. Dick story. It’s also, for most of its two-and-a-half-hour run time, better than the 1982 original. (Sorry, not sorry.) In a few years, this will be one of those movies, just like its 1982 predecessor, that we’ll regret sleeping on its theatrical release. Ryan Gosling gives an internalized (and tricky) performance as K, an advanced Replicant charged with retiring his own kind—machines more human in spirit than the actual humans that issue their kill orders. Soon, K’s past becomes violently intertwined with that of Rick Deckard’s (a never-better Harrison Ford), as the two are forced to team up to solve a future-set mystery plot that feels right at home in dime-store detective fiction. Director Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival) and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins achieve a visual palette that’s both vivid and stark. 2049’s production design rivals the verisimilitude of Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic, and the performances—especially Ford’s raw and vulnerable Deckard—make you feel like you’ve done more than merely experienced this movie. You’ve lived it.

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

“Thor: Ragnarok” Official Trailer

Marvel’s Thor franchise was the weakest link in the MCU until Thor: Ragnarok came along. Thanks to co-writer and director Taika Waititi, Ragnarok reinvigorated the Thor series with Waititi’s witty and off-kilter sense of humor as the filmmaker put Thor on a technicolor-y, cosmic road trip. This highly rewatchable threequel is the movie equivalent of an ’80s rock album cover or painted van mural come to life. At times the rampant silliness risks undercutting the more dramatic elements of the story, but as a whole Waititi’s take on the God of Thunder is the definitive one.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer (Official)

The most controversial Star Wars movie is also one of its most inventive and inspired. Rian Johnson’s polarizing The Last Jedi takes several pages from The Empire Strikes Back playbook and one-ups them by boldly shattering expectations while expanding the nuances of Rey and Kylo Ren’s complicated dyad. With Last Jedi, Johnson takes the unenviable corner that Abrams’ Force Awakens backed him into and literally burns it all down with a story fueled by the thematic belief that a hero’s destiny is more rewarding when they (and not some ancient Jedi texts or rigid fan base) get to make it themselves. Despite some bumpy pacing issues, mostly confined to the “love-it-or-hate-it” detour to casino world Canto Bight, The Last Jedi is an ambitious piece of franchise filmmaking—one that thrives on finding its own identity despite Hollywood’s “play-it-safe” blockbuster climate.

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War Official Trailer

Avengers: Infinity War centers its sprawling story on baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his Infinity Stone heist, with our favorite Avengers caught in the middle of this intergalactic caper that puts Earth (especially Wakanda) in the Mad Titan’s crosshairs. This bold narrative choice makes the villain the main character of the movie, which leads to some of the MCU’s most powerful dramatic scenes as our favorite heroes are forced to confront their limitations by suffering significant loss. That’s the genius of the Russo Brothers and their deft handling of the dense screenplay from Civil War scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. They have every major MCU hero at their disposal and they don’t shy away from making sure the characters and the audience have real stakes to grapple with—alongside the many GIF-able fight scenes and one-liners, of course. Infinity War is top-tier blockbuster filmmaking, a thrilling collection of set pieces and emotional beats that culminate in a cinematic cliffhanger that is an all-timer.

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Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 Official Trailer

The 14-year gap between Brad Bird’s blockbuster sequel and his 2004 hit The Incredibles seemed to be just what fans needed, as the continued adventures of the Parr family (especially Jack Jack) scored an Oscar nomination for Best Animated feature and minted $1.2 billion worldwide. Bird’s original animated adventure came out when superhero movies were nowhere near the industry that they are today; essentially, Incredibles had to walk (in part) so that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could run. And Incredibles 2 at times plays even better than the best of the MCU, with bigger stakes and more dynamic action as the Parr family’s struggles at home challenge and enrich their efforts to save the world.

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Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures

In any other movie, watching Tom Cruise perform a HALO jump at 20,000 feet, all in one take, before he gets into an all-out brawl in a Parisian restroom, would be the set piece. But in Mission: Impossible - Fallout, this impressive feat is merely an appetizer in the first act to whet audiences’ appetites for some of the biggest and best action ever filmed. Fallout writer and director Christopher McQuarrie, the first director to helm two movies in the franchise, returns with a new visual style (a goal of his from jump street) that plays like a big-budget version of an Alan J. Pakula ’70s thriller, but with IMAX-shit helicopter chases and Ethan Hunt trading punches with a bad guy on a precarious cliff. McQuarrie grounds the considerable action on Hunt’s substantial shoulders, giving the action hero his most nuanced storyline. The emotional toll of being a spy who cares about saving one life as much he does saving a million of them is, for the first time, explored here—giving Cruise more to do than just run a lot. And, boy, does he run.

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Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Avengers: Endgame Trailer #2 (2019) | Movieclips Trailers

The Russo Brothers conclude over a decade of movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Avengers: Endgame, a fitting, near-perfect three-hour epic conclusion. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes pull a Back To The Future, reaching back in time to key moments in the MCU to undo Thanos’ snap and bring back the friends they lost. Endgame unfolds with big emotional stakes and some of the best character moments and performances in the entire MCU—especially from Robert Downey, Jr. Iron Man’s death sees the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” goes from selfish to selfless, paying off a character arc that was set up more than a decade ago. Despite all the complex, time-travel narrative spins, and the dozens of characters it must service, Endgame’s three-hour run time is a breeze. The capper to this landmark phase of the MCU delivers one of the most entertaining theatrical experiences in movie history.

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Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Spider-Man: No Way Home Movie Clip - Catch (2022) | Movieclips Trailers

Director Jon Watts delivers the best of his Spider-Man movies with the nostalgia-powered Spider-Man: No Way Home. This entertaining threequel reaches back into past live-action Spider-Man movies and plucks some of their iconic characters to play in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The end result is one of the most crowd-pleasing blockbusters Marvel Studios has ever produced, a movie whose beating heart is less reliant on show-stopping set pieces (though there are many) and more on the relatable relationship between Peter Parker (Tom Holland), MJ (Zendaya). and Ned (Jacob Batalon). Peter’s attempt to get Doctor Strange to cast a complicated spell goes sideways, causing tears in the multiverse that leak into the MCU timeline. Soon, Holland’s overwhelmed underdog must team up with other Peter Parkers (Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire) to battle a select group of foes from Sam Raimi’s previous live-action Spidey movies. The best of the bunch is Willem DeFoe’s Norman Osborne, who once again flicks between tragic figure and demented Green Goblin. The former questions his place in a world where his son doesn’t exist, while the latter wants to drop pumpkin bombs and take control of this corner of the mulitverse. No Way Home wisely wears its heart on its sleeve as the emotional stakes of all the Peter Parkers’ worlds couldn’t be higher. All three of them need each other’s respective skillsets, and emotional baggage, to find both solace and success by using their combined life experience in their respective worlds to save this one. In between fist-pumping set pieces and poignant (and hilarious) interactions between the Spideys, No Way Home delivers an Avengers: Endgame-level good time at the movies.

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Scream (2022)

Scream (2022)

SCREAM 5 Trailer (2022)

Scream, the fifth movie in the franchise and the first without Wes Craven directing, is just as worthy an entry as Craven’s original. The very meta rebootquel combines legacy characters with newcomers, as well as using tried-and-true horror tropes to weave new and terrifying narrative threads for the venerable slasher franchise. Once again, there are two Ghostface killers racking up a bloody body count, and it’s up to 1996’s Scream final girl Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) and Officer Dewey (the scene-stealing David Arquette) and the new cast to stop them. Just as Scream 4 was interested in the idea of final girls and the consequences their traumatic victories have on those in their orbit, Scream 2022 doubles-down on that storyline with one of the most self-referential horror sequels ever.

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Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Top Gun: Maverick NEW Trailer (2022) | Movieclips Trailers

A monument to old-school, in-camera vistas and emotionally charged stakes, Top Gun: Maverick surpasses Tony Scott’s original 1986 hit in every possible metric. Directed by the visually gifted Joseph Kosinski (and narratively shaped in large part by Chris McQuarrie), Tom Cruise’s nearly four-decades-in-the-making hit nostalgia play is essentially a father-and-son drama hiding out in a billion-dollar blockbuster. Where the original Top Gun found the cocky Maverick struggling to find himself outside the considerable shadow cast by his deceased dad, Maverick finds the ace pilot navigating tricky surrogate daddy issues between him and his dead friend Goose’s son, Brad “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller). The gulf between any hope of resolution between the two is as vast and potentially treacherous as the mountain valley Maverick and his untested squadron of Top Gun pilots must fly through in the most harrowing and exciting third act of a movie since 1977’s Star Wars. And like that sci-fi classic, Top Gun: Maverick is another landmark movie that only gets better with repeat viewings.

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Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery | Official Teaser Trailer | Netflix

Knives Out is the better movie, but Glass Onion is the better Benoit Blanc. Rian Johnson’s highly entertaining (and rewatchable) sequel to his 2019 sleeper hit delivers another riveting, hilarious caper. This time, Daniel Craig’s clever sleuth is in the middle of a murder mystery set on a private island owned by tech bro Miles Bron (Edward Norton), and populated with all of his frenemies-turned-prime suspects. Audiences love the puzzle-plotting in movies like this, and Johnson knows the exact amount of clues to keep audiences gleefully guessing as the clutch-the-pearls twists and turns pile up.

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Avatar: The Way Of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way Of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water | Official Trailer

Thirteen years after his first Avatar broke records and forever changed moviemaking, James Cameron returned to Pandora with Avatar: The Way Of Water—another stunning, emotionally charged visual feast from the guy who gave us such intimate epics as Aliens and Terminator 2. While The Way Of Water doesn’t quite reach the same all-timer status of those sequels, it does match them in terms of rewarding audiences with a deeper emotional relationship with the characters—heroes and villains whose inner lives prove to be as rich and compelling as the beautiful alien planet that surrounds them. This time, Cameron explores the oceanic side of that planet, mixing his three passions—the sea, conservationism and filmmaking—in ways that deepens our investment in this world comprised of one’s and zeroes that feels as real (if not more so) than our own. A tense family drama full of almost Shakespearean undertones, The Way Of Water clears the considerable bar set by its predecessor while simultaneously raising it. It’s unparalleled blockbuster storytelling, bolstered by impressive landscapes and an edge-of-your-seat third act that plays out like a collection of Cameron’s greatest action movie hits (fans of The Abyss will especially flip for it). But the key to the film’s considerable success—the reason why audiences can’t get enough of this movie at the box office (so far)—is what Cameron does best: A love story. Whether it’s romantic or paternal, love is at the core of everything Cameron has done—and The Way Of Water is a strong reminder to never bet against the guy when he does it.

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