Well, we’ve made it to 2022. To celebrate the new year, and all those twos, we’ve decided to rank the ten best movies with the number two in the title.
It used to be that when you made a sequel to your successful movie you would just recycle the title from the original film and slap a “2” on the end. Well, these days every other movie is a sequel of something else, and thankfully studios have become a lot more creative with their titles. Certainly there are a lot of dashes, semi-colons, and subtitles to keep track of, but it feels like someone actually tried. The “add a two” formula became often associated with straight-to-home video releases, and so it seemed like others with similar approaches were doomed to fail. It’s like the films seemed so underwhelming the studios didn’t even bother to come up with a title.
However, I’m here to tell you that some of the greatest sequels ever made have a “2” in the title. Proof that you can’t always judge a movie by its numbers. Below I have outlined 10 of what I consider to be the best movies with a “2” in the title.
So, what counts and what doesn’t count? Well, any film with the digit “2” in the title, or the roman numeral equivalent “II”. So, 2 Fast 2 Furious would qualify twice, if it was any good. Movies with the word “Two” spelled out do not count, even if it is something like “Part Two”. It has to be the actual number. Trust me, it pains me to leave Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers off this list, but tough choices had to be made. I’m sure I missed something, but here are my picks for the top ten:
- Blade Runner: 2049 (2017)
Blade Runner: 2049 is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to being a sequel (and existing in general). First, the original film it was based on was not very successful in theaters, and so it would not be a traditional choice to generate a sequel. Certainly the film has become better appreciated over time, but it’s difficult to quantify that attention as popularity that could translate to ticket sales for a sequel. Second, the original film came out in 1982, and this sequel came out nearly 3 decades later. These issues suggest a small window of success.
In other words, 2049 was a VERY risky film. Not only did it have to bridge the gap between our contemporary expectations for film and the classic nature of the original, but it had to do so with a story that made it seem necessary. Add into this the fact that the story couldn’t really answer any of the questions of the original film in a direct way, or else it could have had a negative impact on our view of the original. And yet, 2049 excels. It is incredibly detailed, beautiful to look at, and almost poetic in its storytelling. Maybe it isn’t as good as the original, but it remains an incredibly unique triumph of filmmaking.
- Mad Max 2 (1981)
Ok, maybe you know this film as The Road Warrior. That’s fine. I’m still going to count it because it was released in Australia, its home market, as Mad Max 2. The original Mad Max was a cult classic that became a smash hit. It put Mel Gibson and George Miller on the map, and made us hungry for post-apocalyptic action movies. The creativity was top-notch, and cautionary-tale the world building left us breathless.
But if the original film felt like a student film with more imagination than most, the sequel felt like a real professional film. It upped the ante in all departments, chiefly production values, without sacrificing what made the original so great. It made Mel Gibson even more of a bad ass, and it found new ways to make its bleak setting fun and dangerous. Most importantly, it set the bar for sci-fi action films which would not really be topped until 1986’s Aliens.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011)
The endings of film franchises based on book series tend to be pretty spectacular. Consider Lord of the Rings or The Hunger Games. So, it isn’t really a surprise that the end of the original Harry Potter series also went out with a bang. Deathly Hallows Part 2 is everything the series had been building up towards. Throughout the course of the franchise we had been growing up with these characters, and in the end they get their chance to prove themselves.
But it’s more than just having a film with a nice story. The Harry Potter franchise was not only incredibly popular, but also very high profile with high expectations as well. It’s difficult to tie together all of the strands of a franchise in a way that is consistent with what has been done already. And yet, Deathly Hallows Part 2 does exactly what it needed to do. It also happens to be very well acted, full of very entertaining action, and has incredible production. It’s rare that we get to see a franchise go out on a high note, but this one certainly did (don’t talk to me about the prequels).
- Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2 is a bit of an anomaly if you study it closely. While my pick for best Toy Story sequel would be the third film in the franchise, you can’t deny the impact the second film had on not only Disney/Pixar, but the entire subgenre of computer-animated films. See this is one of the few Pixar films that resulted from Disney interference. After the initial success of Toy Story and A Bugs Life, Pixar wanted to make more original films. Parent company Disney said no.
Remember this was the era when Disney couldn’t get out of its own way. Flop after flop of original (expensive) animated films in the 90’s made the studio very leery of developing original material. Pixar was essentially a happy accident, and after its success Disney saw the potential for making money the easy way – churning out cheap sequels. This desperation from Disney could have ended in disaster. Thankfully, they let Pixar do what they do best and it resulted in a film that was arguably better than the original. It set the standard for what animated sequels could be, and (in terms of first sequels) has yet to be topped in that department.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
This is the film that saved Star Trek, and remains as the best film in the entire franchise. What’s more, it motivated a rivalry with Star Wars, which helped to make that franchise what it is today. It also showed how a franchise can move from the small screen to the big screen successfully. The first Star Trek film proved that you couldn’t just copy the formula that had made the franchise successful on TV. Film is its own beast, and requires a different approach.
Wrath of Khan found adventure in space. It proved how great villains are absolutely necessary for great cinema, and how basing your entire film around a Macguffin can actually work out very well. It showed us how films with large casts can give (almost) everyone something useful to do, and it proved that you didn;t have to sacrifice the values of the franchise in order to “cash-out” in cinema. Wrath of Khan isn’t as significant a film as some of the others on this list, but what it accomplishes as a sequel, allows it to earn its spot.
- Paddington 2 (2017)
The Paddington films are a very strange anomaly in today’s modern cinema. The original film, despite being a box office success in the UK, and despite receiving as universal appraise as you can get, it hasn’t really reached the pop-culture icon status as the rest of the films on this list. Because the original film was so well received, and because it made money, it made sense to make a sequel.
And what a sequel! Paddington 2 not only matched the box office success of the original, but had been one of the most highly-rated films OF ALL TIME (at least, until a curmudgeon critic’s review got uploaded onto Rotten Tomatoes). Despite the lack of international notoriety and fame, Paddington 2 deserves to be on this list because it faced the near impossible task of following up on what may be one of the most loved family films ever made, and it DID BETTER.
- Spider-Man 2 (2004)
To this day, Spider-Man 2 remains as not only one of the greatest sequels ever made, one of the greatest superhero movies ever made, but also the best superhero movie with a “2” in the title. And yes, until the mid 2010’s there were lots of opportunities for competition. Consider X2, Iron Man 2, Spiderman II, Blade II, Hellboy II, Incredibles 2 (and to a lesser extent, Robocop 2, Kick-Ass 2, and even The Amazing Spider-Man 2). These days we’re a bit more creative about naming our superhero movie sequels, but Raimi’s second Spidy film is certainly king of this “2” hill.
What makes Spider-Man 2 great is that it amps up the excitement of the original film while ALSO exploring the characters more deeply. With all the origin story complications out of the way, this film is able to spread its wings and fly. Most importantly, the mad-cap action works well with Raimi’s comic-book like tone. Unlike other superhero movies of the time, it doesn’t get bogged down in doom and gloom, which makes it that much more of a complete package. This film set the stage for our modern mainstream cinema, but it is also just a lot of fun to watch.
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
What should a good sequel do? Well, it should certainly remind you of the original film, both in terms of the theme, characters, and story. But in doing so it should not feel identical. It needs to have its own twists and turns, and an attitude that sets it apart. Good sequels will build on what has come before, not coast off of the success of its predecessors.
Most importantly, good sequels find a way to surprise us. They have to up the ante and deliver more thrills with the same basic premise, or else there is no reason to watch it over the original. Terminator 2 does all of these things. In addition, it set the standard for what a modern action movie could be, and showed us how CGI would be the next big evolution in mainstream cinema. In many ways Terminator 2 was ahead of its time, and even today it remains one of the most intense, fun, and powerful cinematic experiences ever made.
- The Godfather: Part II (1974)
We’ve already seen some examples on this list of sequels that had incredibly high expectations to meet because of the success of the original film. But I think The Godfather: Part II has them beat, which is why I had to rank it so high. The only reason it doesn’t rank higher, is the same reason I didn’t rank it high in my list of the Best Sequels Ever Made; the original film remains the series most popular and remembered film.
And again, that doesn’t mean Part 2 isn’t a better film. It’s just living at least a little bit in its predecessor’s shadows. Still, Part 2 is not only one of the greatest sequels ever made, its one of the best films ever made, period. This is a film that faced the impossible task of following up a film that really defined the 70’s and was incredibly successful with both critics and audiences alike. To face that challenge, and come out ahead, is an incredible achievement.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
We started this list off with a movie that had a year in the title, and we’ll end it with one too. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a monumental cinematic achievement, and one of the most important films ever made. Brought to cinemas in a time when science fiction was supposed to belong to B-movies only, it was able to show the potential of the fledgling genre. In many ways it was one of the first science fiction films which audiences, and critics took seriously. It graduated the genre from fantasy to real life, and that made quite the statement.
Certainly evil computers seemed pretty far-fetched in 1968, but today it’s a valid concern. That’s the type of forward-looking cautionary tale we’ve come to expect from science fiction. 2001 proved that science fiction could be used to tell a story that resonated with our contemporary life, even if the setting is nothing like our contemporary life. Factory in the excellent, almost poetic composition, incredible special effects for the time, and an unforgettable soundtrack, and you have one of the greatest films ever made.