Movie sequels are tricky things to get right. If you stick to the same formula as the predecessor, it becomes boring, but if you come up with something completely different, it could ruin the legacy of the original. While most sequels turn out to be weak follow-ups, some films, such as the recent Marvel movie Thor: Ragnarok, starring Chris Hemsworth as the golden-locked God of Thunder, buck the trend.

Many even say that the funny and light-hearted film, which is directed by New Zealand indie film-maker Taika Waititi, who is known for his quirky films, is a lot better than the two much more serious and dreary films that came before it. Which other movies have managed to beat the sequel curse and edge out even the originals? Here’s a look.

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

Director: George Lucas
Stars: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher

Why it is better: Many Star Wars fans say this is the best film in the entire franchise (which continues to churn out new instalments every other year). While the original film, A New Hope (1977), introduced audiences to the colourful characters and worlds of the Star Wars universe for the first time, this one upped the ante by daring to go darker – hero Han Solo is captured at the end in a major cliffhanger. Also, who can forget that shocking twist that Darth Vader is, in fact, Luke Skywalker’s father? The iconic scene is so intensely referenced and parodied even to this day, for good reason.

Toy Story 2

Toy Story 2 (1999); Toy Story 3 (2010)

Directors: John Lasseter (Toy Story 2); Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3)
Stars: Voices of Tim Allen, Tom Hanks

Why they are better: The original Toy Story (1995) was sweet and heartwarming – with all the right elements for a successful Pixar animation film. The computer graphics employed in the film were also considered revolutionary at the time. So, while the original was a tall order to beat, Pixar managed to make not just one, but two, more superior films after it. Both sequels are moving because they are more than just about the adventures of a bunch of cute toys. They captured the bittersweet feelings of having to grow up and leave behind the innocence of childhood.

The films sealed the trilogy’s position as a series not just for young kids, but also for the entire family.

Before Sunset

Before Sunset (2004)

Director: Richard Linklater
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Why it is better: If you have the patience for it, all three films in Linklater’s very talky and intimate Before Sunrise trilogy are pretty fantastic. But this one raises the stakes from Before Sunrise (1995) because of the emotional maturity in the budding romance here, compared with the light-hearted vibe of the first film when they just knew each other. They are finally married in the third film, Before Midnight (2013), but there is something sweeter and more romantic about the second film that makes this one feel the most special of the lot.

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Alfred Molina

Why it is better: The first Spider-Man movie (2002) was one of the first blockbuster comic book movies in recent times and is widely credited for kick-starting the ongoing craze with the genre. It served as a good introduction to the franchise, but was hindered somewhat as it had to go through the mandatory origins story backgrounding.

Now that all of that is out of the way, Spider-Man in the second film could be seen in full webbed glory and dealing with a more well-rounded and complex villain in Doc Ock (played by Molina). It is too bad that the good run was ruined by the third film, whose messy script was overrun with too many sub-plots and new characters.

Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban (2004)

Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Stars: Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint

Why it is better: The first two films directed by Chris Columbus were competent but safe adaptations of J.K. Rowling’s best-selling novels, sticking closely to the source material. After Oscar-winning Mexican director Cuaron took over the helm for this third film, he changed directions by daring to snip the book generously and making everything a lot darker. His take on the Dementors is truly terrifying compared with the ghostly spirits in the first two movies. The lead cast members have also passed the awkward puberty phase and grown into their young adult selves here, and are clearly more confident in the way they carry themselves.

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (2008)

Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman

Why it is better: The first film in the series, Batman Begins (2005), served as a good introduction to Nolan’s version of the tortured Bruce Wayne/Batman character, but its follow-up, The Dark Knight, is the one that fans constantly talk about because of how dark and complex it is. It offers grand action set-pieces, but it also makes the audience think about moral issues surrounding life and death. Aided by the very creepy and memorable performance of the Joker by the late Ledger, this is hailed as one of, if not the best, comic book superhero movies of all time.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Director: George Miller
Stars: Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy

Why it is better: Miller’s original Mad Max movies starring Mel Gibson were atmospheric and entertaining, but none had the cohesive plot that this new instalment offered – the seemingly simple story of two rogue warriors ferrying a group of abused women to safety. Neither did the original trilogy have the fantastic Furiosa (played by Theron), who blew viewers’ minds with her uber fierce ways. Max may have his name in the movie title, but Furiosa is the reason this film is considered not just a better instalment in the series, but one of the best action flicks in recent film history. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Mad Max: Fury Road