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7 best sci-fi sequels ever, ranked

Darth Vader reaches for Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.
Disney / 20th Century Fox

Sequels have a bad reputation for being less than impressive. On the plus side, you have franchises like the new Star Trek movies and Guardians of the Galaxy, where the sequels aren’t necessarily bad, they’re just more of the same. On the bad end, you’re left with what most sequels become: desperate attempts from studios to make more money by churning out absolute garbage, like Son of the Mask, Basic Instinct 2, Sex and the City 2, and Legally Blonde 2: Red, White, and Blonde.

Luckily, sci-fi is a genre that’s largely been spared from horrific theatrically released sequels (the straight-to-DVD ones are another story). In fact, there are quite a few heavily praised sci-fi sequels out there … some of which have even won Oscars. If you want to watch some great sci-fi sequels, check out the list below to discover the seven best.

7. Jurassic World (2015)

A dinosaur eats a shark in Jurassic World
Universal Pictures

After 1997’s The Lost World, which wasn’t bad, and 2001’s Jurassic Park III, which was just OK, the Jurassic Park franchise took a hiatus that lasted well over a decade. It returned in 2015 with Jurassic World, which picks up decades after the original movie. In the film, the park is now open and has become a raging success. But it all comes crashing down due to a genetically engineered dinosaur that no human can tame.

Jurassic World followed a pretty standard sequel formula where you take what works in the original and make it bigger. The result was a surprisingly entertaining movie. The scenario of dinosaurs attacking a functional theme park filled with guests was a lot of fun, and the inclusion of things like the gyrosphere was a smart way to both pay homage to the original and create a new and exciting adventure. And while some JP fans have belligerently hated everything that came after the first movie, Jurassic World was incredibly successful, earning $1.67 billion at the box office and even scoring a respectable 71% on Rotten Tomatoes.

6. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

A Na'vi flies over the ocean in The Way of Water
20th Century Studios

The 2009 film Avatar was a key moment in cinematic history. Somehow, despite premiering at the height of a global recession, it became the highest-grossing film of all time and the first movie to make more than $2 billion at the box office. Avatar was a visual spectacle thanks to its groundbreaking use of motion-capture technology. And the movie’s plot was enjoyable, despite being cliché. And by cliché, I mean it was basically the plot of Disney’s Pocahontas, but on a different planet.

Its sequel, The Way of Water, was released in 2022, and when compared side by side, the visual effects far outshine the original. Bright, colorful, and lifelike, The Way of Water is truly one of the most gorgeous movies ever made. It also took a deeper dive into the lore of Pandora, the conflicts between the Na’vi, and the backgrounds of the characters  – all of which made the movie feel more fresh, compelling, and gripping than the original. The Way of Water also crossed the $2 billion mark, paving the way for more sequels, the first of which is expected in 2025.

5. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049
Columbia Pictures

Taking place 30 years after the original film, Blade Runner 2049 introduced Ryan Gosling as the replicant K, who believes he is the son of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. K also discovers a secret that could destabilize society and prompt a replicant uprising. The movie asks what makes someone human and who does (and doesn’t) deserve to be treated as one.

Blade Runner 2049 received rave reviews from critics, with Digital Trends saying in 2017, “From its stellar cast to its phenomenal ’80s future aesthetic and its clever expansion of the material, Blade Runner 2049 is a worthy sequel that has the legs to become a classic unto itself.” The film was also praised for its stunning visual effects, which eventually won the movie one of two Oscars.

4. Dune: Part 2 (2024)

The cast of Dune 2 on the movie poster
Warner Bros.

In the 2024 sequel Dune: Part Two, Paul Atreides teams up with Chani and the Fremen clan to get revenge on the Harkonnens. The film has received immense praise from critics and audiences. At a press conference, director Denis Villeneuve even said that he thinks the movie is better than the first, saying, “For me, this film is much better than Part One. There’s something more alive in it. There’s a relationship to the characters …”

Those characters have received the most praise and have been cited as a critical component of Dune: Part Two‘s success. In particular, Austin Butler’s portrayal of Feyd-Rautha has received wide acclaim thanks to his genuinely haunting and sinister on-screen presence. Other new cast members who did a fantastic job in the sequel include Florence Pugh and Christopher Walken. Fans have a lot to look forward to as well, with the upcoming series Dune: Prophecy in development and another sequel, Dune: Messiah, coming at some point.

3. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

John Connor touches the Terminator in T2
Carolco Pictures

In James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator, a cyborg from the future (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill a woman (Linda Hamilton) whose son will one day lead the human resistance against the ALI known as Skynet. The movie was a hit and is undeniably enjoyable, but when compared to its sequel, it feels incredibly inferior.

Cameron came back in 1991 with T2, and just like The Way of Water, he built upon the original story and added more layers of depth, ultimately creating a vastly superior movie. Judgment Day went deeper into the characters of John and Sarah Connor, and also gave audiences more insight into the impending robot uprising. Plus, it utilized some of L.A.’s dynamic settings, like its cemented riverways, to create some truly iconic scenes. While The Terminator is good, T2 is great. It holds an impressive 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and an even more impressive audience score of 95%.

2. Aliens (1986)

An alien rises behind Newt in Aliens
20th Century Fox

In 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien scared the heck out of audiences. In the film, a xenomorphic alien hatches aboard a spaceship and begins picking off the crew one by one. The movie was dark, claustrophobic, and full of suspense. Plus, Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of the strong and brave Lt. Ellen Ripley was fantastic and one of the best female performances in a sci-fi film.

Then, in 1986, Cameron came along with the sequel Aliens. This time around, the film transitioned away from horror and became more action-packed, while still keeping a good dose of suspense throughout. In the movie, Ripley returns to LV-426 (where they originally found the alien eggs) after hearing it had been turned into a terraforming colony. Naturally, by the time she arrives, aliens have already killed everyone, and it’s up to Ripley to kick some ass once again.

Aliens is an incredibly unique and enjoyable sequel because it masterfully switched genres while still very much feeling like an Alien movie. It took a story audiences loved and reworked it with more action, more aliens, bigger sets, and bigger stakes. Sigourney Weaver even received a Best Actress nomination for her role in the film, which was complete deserved.

1. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

AT AT walkers begin the battle of Hoth
Lucasfilm

The Empire Strikes Back isn’t just the best sci-fi sequel ever, it’s one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s so iconic that when most people think of Star Wars, they’re thinking of scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. From the epic battle on Hoth with the AT-AT Walkers, to Lando in Cloud City, Han Solo trapped in carbonite, and Luke discovering that Darth Vader is his father, the list of memorable moments is virtually endless.

The Empire Strikes Back did everything right. From its smooth tonal shifts from adventure to action to romance and back to adventure again to its furthering of the Star Wars saga to its perfect pacing and its campy charms that have only gotten sweeter with age, everything about it works flawlessly. It’s just a downright enjoyable classic that never gets old. In fact, in 2014, Empire magazine conducted a poll and The Empire Strikes Back was voted as the greatest movie of all time per The Wrap. Who can argue with that?