The best movies don’t need to inspire sequels. But sometimes, the best stories can’t be contained to just one movie. So, what are the few movies that actually deserve a sequel?
Ever since movies like The Empire Strikes Back, Aliens, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day changed the game, movie sequels have become shorthand to imply both epic success and an audience’s continued investment in a story being told.
But many times, the movies that actually deserve sequels the most are the ones that don’t get that chance. Whether it’s due to over-inflated budgets or bad marketing, some movies fail to attract the right amount of moviegoers to warrant sustained interest.
But that doesn’t mean the movie is actually bad. In fact, it might mean that the movie is so good, no one knew what to expect from it until it was just too late. From standalone superheroes to experimental sci-fi tentpoles, here are the 32 movies that actually deserve a sequel.
32. Warcraft (2016)
For all its artificial visual effects, Warcraft had a surprising amount of heart. While the movie struggled to handle the unwieldy lore of the popular Warcraft video game franchise, director Duncan Jones still delivered an engaging high fantasy epic about the foolishness of war and the bravery it takes to overcome ego and prejudices for the sake of a better future. Despite the worldwide recognition of the Warcraft brand, the film suffered critical damage at the box office, although its strong performance in China made it the highest-grossing video game movie ever at the time. Years after its release, fans now hope for a return to Azeroth.
31. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)
At once a throwback to sci-fi pulp adventures and an innovative piece of filmmaking that foreshadowed VFX-heavy tentpoles, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a cult classic celebrated for its boundless imagination and unfulfilled franchise potential. Set in an alternate 1930s, a reporter (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) hires an old flame, the dashing pilot “Sky Captain” (Jude Law) to investigate the whereabouts of missing scientists. With its arresting art deco designs and its original universe teeming with more stories to tell, it’s maddening that Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow failed to take off with audiences. Financially, the movie underperformed, grossing just $58 million against an estimated (and disputed) budget of $70 million. If there was any movie that should have launched a dozen sequels and spin-offs by now, it’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
30. Van Helsing (2004)
To be clear, Van Helsing (from director Stephen Sommers) is not a very good movie. But the mere premise of a crossbow-wielding Van Helsing – played by a masculine Hugh Jackman – is simply too good to not try again. As a tribute to the Universal Monsters (before ill-fated attempts at a shared universe), Van Helsing entertains as an empty calorie creature feature that sacrifices horror and suspense in the name of spectacle and pizzazz. While the movie’s underwhelming commercial performance stopped any movement for a sequel, Hugh Jackman deserves more than one bad shot at a truly killer idea.
29. Hard Boiled (1992)
As one of the most popular movies ever from action movie maestro John Woo, his 1992 heroic bloodshed feature Hard Boiled was (and still is) his most popular Hong Kong-produced film before spending the rest of the 1990s in Hollywood. Basically a mixture of Die Hard with The Departed, it’s bizarre that Hard Boiled didn’t turn its slick protagonist, Inspector Tequila (Chow Yun-fat) into an enduring action movie hero. While an official sequel did happen through a video game – John Woo’s Stranglehold, released in 2007 – Hard Boiled, and Inspector Tequila, deserve so much better.
28. Barbie (2023)
Through the star power of Margot Robbie, the vision of director Greta Gerwig, and the organic summer phenomenon that was “Barbenheimer,” Barbie was a bonafide blockbuster that found something real beneath its plastic IP packaging. In its surprisingly philosophical exploration of the human condition, Barbie became more than an iconic doll, but an avatar through which we project our idealized selves only to find them staring back at us, wishing for the same. In spite of the monumental success of Barbie, there has been little motion over Barbie 2 (or even, Ken). In a November 2023 interview with the Associated Press, Margot Robbie demurred over a potential sequel on the grounds that she and Gerwig left nothing behind.
27. Constantine (2005)
In 2022, Deadline reported that the impossible was happening: Keanu Reeves and director Francis Lawrence were reuniting for Constantine 2, a sequel to their first 2005 movie (based on the Hellblazer comic series). However, that announcement was made months before stewardship of DC’s films and TV were handed to James Gunn and Peter Safran, who together revealed their own plans for DC on the big screen – plans that did not seem to include Constantine 2. While the project remains in some kind of limbo state, it doesn’t change the fact that for many years, fans have wanted the resident exorcist of the DCU make his return.
26. Atomic Blonde (2017)
Between her seismic hit Mad Max Fury Road and her recurring role in the Fast & Furious franchise, Charlize Theron starred in her own John Wick-esque action movie, the rollicking and stylish Atomic Blonde. Despite its box office success and positive reviews from critics, the movie did not immediately ignite a new cinematic franchise. While there have been talks of a sequel, including rumors that Netflix would be the main distributor, the project seems to be on ice indefinitely.
25. The Rocketeer (1991)
Before Disney owned the Marvel empire, the movie studio tried to launch its own superhero franchise in The Rocketeer. Created by Dave Stevens as an indie comic, it became a Disney film in 1991 under the helm of Joe Johnston and Billy Campbell as its title character. Its story tells of a washed-up pilot who comes into possession of a mysterious jet pack and adopts the moniker The Rocketeer to fight Nazis and save the world. Celebrated today as a cult classic, The Rocketeer’s tepid box office intake did not launch a franchise for Disney; a cartoon series was not produced until 2019, and a direct film sequel has suffered erratic starts and stops since 2012. In 2021, Deadline reported that a sequel for Disney+ was in development, with David Oyelowo involved as producer and potential star.
24. Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
That director Guillermo del Toro could not finish his Hellboy trilogy is still one of the gravest sins in movie history. Despite two impeccably designed comic book movies that did very well with both audiences and critics, del Toro simply could not get studio backing for a third and final movie. Despite hope lingering throughout the mid-2010s, del Toro finally put the kibosh on a third movie in February 2017 when he posted on Twitter the movie was dead. In 2019, a standalone Hellboy reboot movie was released and fared poorly at the box office, making it more unlikely del Toro could resurrect a damned franchise.
23. The Nice Guys (2016)
While Shane Black’s laid-back detective comedy The Nice Guys was mostly ignored during release, it has slowly amassed a cult following of die-hard fans who admire the chemistry of co-stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. Though the film wraps up its story and the arc of its characters remarkably well, the simple fact is that Gosling and Crowe pack too much dynamite for one movie. That the first movie ends with the official formation of their detective agency is an easy springboard for new cases, new stories, and new laughs.
22. Hancock (2008)
In an era just before Marvel and DC weaponized their maximum potential, there was a slew of original – and often subversive – movie superheroes. In 2008, Will Smith used his own superheroic star power in Hancock, where Smith stars a crude, alcoholic superhero whose discovery of another “super” like him complicates his life. While the movie’s second half is way overcooked with a complex backstory reveal, the first half is A-plus stuff, with Smith hilariously flying around L.A. and making a total mess of it all. If the superhero genre is jam-packed with sequels, there’s no superhero more deserving of another chance than Hancock.
21. Galaxy Quest (1999)
The star-studded comedy Galaxy Quest, in which an ensemble cast of former sci-fi TV stars are recruited by aliens to save their species, is revered all these years later for its affectionate satirizing of fandom. That premise is arguably more relevant than ever, now that geek culture has gone mainstream. While it would be devastating to reunite with these characters without the late, great Alan Rickman as Alexander Dane, there’s no denying how much fun a theoretical Galaxy Quest sequel could have with modern geekdom, from toxic social media creators to Hollywood’s over-reliance on reboots and revivals. There has been some traction over the years regarding a sequel, including rumors of a series for Paramount+ in 2023, but that a sequel didn’t happen immediately speaks to how difficult it actually is for any project to blast off.
20. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Despite a gross of $212 million worldwide and several Oscar nominations including for Best Picture, production costs for Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the world still weighed too heavily for 20th Century Fox to immediately greenlight a sequel. That’s a shame, because all these years later, the Russell Crowe-led war epic is still celebrated for its handsome period design and stirring high seas action. That the movie was also based on the first in a series of 20 novels by author Patrick O’Brian means Master and Commander had all the makings for a new Hollywood franchise, and that it simply hasn’t become one is enough to shiver one’s timbers.
19. Dracula Untold (2014)
While Dracula Untold failed to sink its teeth into critics, there have been some renewed appreciation for this superhero-esque retelling of Dracula, which reimagines the famous vampire identity as an “alter-ego” of the real-life historical figure Vlad III (also known as Vlad the Impaler). In a time when the rest of Hollywood was catching on to Marvel’s cinematic universe strategies, there was a brief moment in time where Dracula Untold was to be the first chapter in a new shared universe of monster movies. Eventually, none of those plans panned out. But Dracula Untold’s unique ending, where Dracula continues living in the 21st century, makes a sequel not only plausible, but exciting to speculate over.
18. Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Originating as a passion project of producer James Cameron, the live-action Alita: Battle Angel – an adaptation of Yukito Kishiro’s manga, directed by Robert Rodriguez – has become a cult favorite due to its impressive visual effects, sympathetic characters, and wholly unique science fiction setting. Though the movie has been supported by fan-led campaigns on social media (under the hashtag #AlitaArmy) and Cameron insisting that more Alita movies are in development, it remains to be seen if Alita: Battle Angel can in fact be the next sci-fi juggernaut or if its prospects are doomed for the scrap heap.
17. Léon The Professional (1994)
Luc Besson’s grimy crime noir Léon: The Professional is not only the film debut of one Natalie Portman, but tells a story that is begging for a continuation. In Léon: The Professional, Jean Reno stars as a French hitman in New York who reluctantly takes in his neighbor, an adolescent girl named Mathilda (Portman) after her family is massacred by corrupt DEA agents. Over time, Mathilda learns Léon's trade. The movie ends with Mathilda living on her own, wholly capable of taking care of herself. With Portman now a bonafide movie star, a legacy sequel that catches up with an adult Mathilda is a premise just begging to be seen on the screen. Besson even wrote a script for it. But strict legal rights to the original film have barricaded any forward motion for a sequel. In 2011, Besson reworked that script into the standalone action movie Colombiana.
16. National Treasure (2004) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
Let’s acknowledge up front that the National Treasure film series does, in fact, have a sequel: National Treasure: Edge of History, a series continuation made for streaming on Disney+. It was canceled after one season. While it had star power in actors like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Harvey Keitel, public interest was not there for Edge of Secrets because of one glaring absence: Nicolas Cage. While Cage’s first two National Treasure films were disliked by critics, they were a hit with audiences who loved its winning combination of Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code. A third movie has been in development for a long time, with years of writers taking turns hashing out a script. In 2022, Cage denied any possibility of returning on the basis of Disney prioritizing the IP as a series – a series that became the canceled Edge of History. For now, it seems National Treasure is history unless Cage is involved.
15. A Wrinkle in Time (2018)
In 2018, acclaimed director Ava DuVernay took on the daunting task of adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s influential 1962 YA sci-fi novel A Wrinkle in Time. Despite a packed ensemble cast, among its stars Chris Pine and Oprah Winfrey, A Wrinkle in Time was just too expensive for its worldwide gross of $133 million to make sequel prospects worth the effort. Still, DuVernay demonstrated a remarkable grasp of L’Engle’s work, not to mention gorgeous renderings of its cosmic spiritualism, which makes it a shame that she (or anyone else) could not get a hold of the rest of L’Engle’s Time Quintet series. While a reboot is inevitable, for now, A Wrinkle in Time seems lost in a black hole.
14. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005)
Purists of Douglas Adams’ work are not fond of Garth Jennings’ 2005 Hollywood film version of the British media franchise. Yet the movie still maintains a faithful following of fans who enjoy its sense of humor, impressive creature effects, and radiant performances from a strong ensemble cast (including Martin Freeman, Zooey Deschanel, Mos Def, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, and more). Though the movie performed somewhat admirably, grossing over $100 million worldwide, it simply didn’t make enough to instill confidence that interest was there for the long run. That’s a shame, because there’s plenty of us still wondering what’s on the menu at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
13. Saban’s Power Rangers (2017)
In 2017, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers finally got the dark PG-13 reboot treatment, with studio Lionsgate expressing a bit too much confidence over its franchise potential. While its brooding tone, bizarre storylines (including a revenge porn subplot), and overall angsty The CW vibe didn’t mesmerize critics, there have been some retrospective appreciation for the boldly un-affectionate way the movie treated the campy source material. While its cast of twenty-something actors have aged past the point of playing believable teenagers, there are still those who wish for a sequel to finally introduce the iconic Green Ranger to the big screen.
12. Wanted (2009)
Before Mark Millar’s comic books like Kick-Ass and Kingsman blew up as movies, there was Wanted. Based on Millar’s comic book miniseries centered around a fraternal order of supervillains, the 2009 film Wanted (which scrubbed away most of the comic’s superhero aspects in favor of more “grounded” assassins) starred James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, and Angelina Jolie as assassins who can bend physics to their will. While the movie broke box office records as an R-rated film – more impressive, given that it competed against Disney’s WALL-E – work on a direct sequel has stalled over numerous script changes and talent unavailability. In 2020, director Timur Bekmambetov said a Wanted sequel would look nothing like the first movie and instead take place entirely on computer screens, reasoning that assassins in a digital world would sooner use drones than guns.
11. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Despite oozing more style than your average James Bond sequel, Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., based on the classic spy television series, did not attract enough moviegoers to survive its August 2015 opening weekend. But in the years since the movie bowed, audiences have grown to love the way co-stars Henry Cavill, Alicia Vikander, Armie Hammer, and Elizabeth Debicki look, move, and talk. Today, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. proves that adaptation doesn’t mean a movie can’t still look or feel original. It’s truly an international crime that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t given Mission: Impossible a run for its money.
10. Real Steel (2011)
At first blush, it’s easy to dismiss Real Steel as just a movie version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. (It was actually an adaptation of a sci-fi short story by Richard Matheson, for the record.) Released at the height of Transformers’ dominance, it was impossible to believe that a movie about robot boxers could actually have soul. But through the magnetic star power of Hugh Jackman and strong direction from Shawn Levy, plus some impressive visual effects mastery, Real Steel packs a punch as a heartwarming sports drama about fighting against one’s own limits. A sequel has reportedly been discussed by both Jackman and Levy, and in 2022 there was news of a series version for Disney+. But little has been heard about it since.
9. Jumper (2008)
In the aftermath of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Hayden Christensen emerged as a budding action star in the sci-fi movie Jumper, based on the 1992 novel and directed by Doug Liman. While a “superhero” movie about a man who commands one specific superpower – the ability to teleport anywhere in the world – Jumper leaps free from any pre-existing intellectual property parameters and expectations for shared universe spin-offs. That ironically makes Jumper more qualified for the modern franchise treatment than anything else. (It also helps that it’s just a solid action movie to boot.) Even after all these years, Jumper’s simple but intriguing premise means there’s still so many more places it can go.
8. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)
Being based on the world’s most popular tabletop role-playing game theoretically means that Dungeons & Dragons movies can tell literally any story. So it’s quite surprising that the moderately strong performance of the 2023 movie Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves didn’t immediately greenlight more movies. While Paramount CEO Brian Robbins said that a direct sequel is possible – on the condition of a smaller production budget – the expansive mythology of D&D is simply just too big to contain in just one movie.
7. The Green Hornet (2011)
Though it suffered a dismal January 2011 release, Michel Gondry’s The Green Hornet is an entertaining if also strange instance of a star-led superhero spectacle falling under the helm of an auteur. Though studio interference hampered The Green Hornet from having any sting, the unique pairing of Seth Rogen with Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou – as his sidekick Kato – held so much potential as an unlikely comic duo. While Rogen and Gondry have both cited an overwhelmingly negative experience making the movie that they’re unwilling to entertain thoughts of sequels, some still hope for Green Hornet – and his sidekick Kato – to strike again.
6. Dredd (2012)
Released in 2012, Dredd, from director Pete Travis, is the rare hard-R comic book movie that actually explodes with arresting aggression. Coming long after the 1995 Judge Dredd that starred Sylvester Stallone, Dredd stands tall as its own beast with Karl Urban playing the part of the square-jawed Judge Dredd perfectly, as an outgunned lone wolf lost in a hostile environment. Though critics were enamored by Dredd, the movie’s mishandled marketing kept audiences from flocking to theaters, making it a cult classic that was unappreciated during its time. Work on a sequel television series began in 2017, with Karl Urban slated to reprise his role.
5. The Shadow (1994)
Once upon a time, Alec Baldwin was a movie superhero. In 1994, the 30 Rock star portrayed the pulp superhero The Shadow in a big budget (then a whopping $40 million) production that tried to modernize the 1930s icon. Though The Shadow failed to grab audiences and critics by the shirt collar, the movie has over time earned admiration as a gem of superhero cinema before the industry actually figured out how to make them guaranteed box office winners. Under the direction of Highlander’s Russell Mulcahy, The Shadow actually looks and feels like you’re watching a noir comic unfold before your eyes. While a sequel has never been entertained, a reboot or a sequel could see The Shadow lurk in the dark hearts of a new generation.
4. Zombieland (2009) and Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)
While zombies come and go in the pop culture zeitgeist, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland films still bring a breath of fresh air to a decaying genre. The original 2009 film had a remarkably impressive cast, including Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone as its leads just before they drew critical acclaim as capital-S serious actors. While the movie’s original cast reunited for a direct sequel, in 2019’s Zombieland: Double Tap, a theoretical third movie and presumably final could bring their journey to a proper conclusion. Besides, the perfect title is just sitting there waiting to be used: Zombieland: Final Tap.
3. Rise of the Guardians (2012)
A few years before animation director Peter Ramsey dazzled the world with the Spider-Verse films, he alone directed Rise of the Guardians, a 2012 fantasy adventure movie. Based on the book series The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce, the movie tells of the mythical avatars of childhood (including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, and the Sandman) who unite as a superhero-like team against the Boogeyman. The movie was smarter and overall just better than its slick surface led on, and its clever premise invites so much potential.
2. The Lone Ranger (2013)
Disney held its fingers crossed when Gore Verbinski took on bringing The Lone Ranger to the big screen, hoping his Pirates of the Caribbean magic could work again. Despite the presence of Johnny Depp (whose role as the Native sidekick Tonto actually drew criticisms), Verbinski’s movie was simply too big, too bloated, and too expensive for audiences to want to giddy up to the movies for. Still, The Lone Ranger was a bombastic Western epic for modern times, and the timelessness of The Lone Ranger means there’s still so many places for his story to gallop.
1. John Carter (2012)
As is the case with most cult classic bombs in the 21st century, Andrew Statnon’s epic sci-fi disaster John Carter was just too expensive for any box office gross to support. Still, that hasn’t tarnished the way audiences actually loved John Carter. An adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars – the first in a literary series – John Carter delights as a maximalist sci-fi spectacle. Although Disney had every hope for John Carter to launch a new franchise, its failure was so disastrous for the studio that by the next year, it owned Star Wars. Though audiences today would welcome a John Carter sequel, Disney surrendered the rights to Burroughs’ novels, making any possibility of a deserving sequel non-existent.