Here are 26 possible answers to that question.
Illustration: Greg Kletsel
The greatest sequel ever made? Well, that’s George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, an answer we arrived at after no small amount of debate. Weeks of arguing over the merits of franchises made it clear that what we value about sequels (as we broadly defined them) is not always the comprehensively good stories they provide but the individual jolts of pleasure packed inside. A thrilling car chase. A tantalizing flashback that explains everything. The return of a beloved character. Or better yet, the birth of a new one, no matter how inconsequential to the plot they may be. So who is the greatest character to come out of a sequel? Let’s keep fighting.
Like the Matrix trilogy, the first Pirates movie is a tight action-adventure, with sequels going full sicko mode. Gore Verbinski and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio flesh out their pirate world by introducing the fearsome captain of the Flying Dutchman, Davy Jones, as the sequel’s main antagonist. It would have been easy to make Jones a copy of fellow supernatural pirate Captain Barbossa. But Verbinski instead gave us a tentacle-headed monster helming a crew of the slowly rotting damned. It’s creepy and weird and makes you realize that this is the guy who directed The Ring and A Cure for Wellness. Bill Nighy’s performance, like Geoffry Rush’s as Barbossa, is both terrifying and weirdly captivating. I don’t wanna smooch his tentacles, but I don’t not wanna smooch his tentacles is what I’m saying. —Emily Heller
The first time I heard Fat Bastard say, “Get in my belly,” I thought: Get in my belly. Just laughing wasn’t enough; I needed to consume that quote and make it part of me. It is my favorite movie quote. You need proof? If you Google “Get in my belly vulture.com,” you will see that I have secretly and pathologically been using it in unrelated posts over and over and over and over and over again. Just thinking about Fat Bastard fills me with longing. Less specifically for him but for the type of character he represents — ginormous, illogical, just grounded enough, stupid bizarros. —Jesse David Fox
Sporting a mechanically modulated voice that I can only describe as “Darth Connery,” Tom Hardy’s Bane is, for all the mystery of his background, a much more open book than Heath Ledger’s Joker: The quizzical, almost sneering look in his eyes speaks volumes, as does the muscle-bound confidence with which he moves. There’s thematic power in Bane’s aesthetic too. With his half-naked physique and bizarre headgear, he is in many ways the opposite of Batman, who is covered in armor and robes and reveals the one part of his face that Bane keeps hidden. Much like the Joker, Bane presents himself as a man who seems positively liberated — thus highlighting the oppressive, ever-brooding gloom that constantly hangs around the superhero. The Dark Knight Rises is widely considered an inferior sequel (even by some who love it), but Hardy’s Bane has endured almost as well as Ledger’s Joker has. —Bilge Ebiri
He’s a riff on a character from The Seventh Seal, a film that was also a sequel — Bergman’s follow-up to his auto-racing blockbuster, The 6ixth Seal. He starts as one of Bill & Ted’s trademark high-low gags: an art-house cinema icon playing a series of increasingly undignified board games. But then he sticks around and the character deepens. That Death is a sore loser is only the first beat; turns out he’s just deeply insecure in general, a quality heightened by William Sadler’s performance. “I made him more vulnerable. I made him needy,” the actor told Vulture in 2020. (Both “Don’t overlook my butt” and “See you real soon” were ad-libbed.) Of course it makes sense that he would eventually join Bill and Ted as the bassist for Wyld Stallyns. Where else would a guy so desperate for ego stroking belong? —Nate Jones
For about 110 of its 117 minutes, Split lets James McAvoy put on an acting clinic as Kevin Wendell Crumb, a man whose struggles with dissociative identity disorder have manifested in 24 different personalities fighting over control of his body. As Dennis, Barry, and Ms. Patricia, McAvoy is varyingly calculating and menacing, immature and goofy, and polite and obsessively orderly, and he effortlessly switches between these modes as he holds Anya Taylor-Joy’s Casey Cooke hostage. The film’s final minutes suddenly revealed Split to be a sequel to the 2000 superhero film Unbreakable, and suggested McAvoy’s cannibalistic, crawling-on-all-fours Beast would be back to face off against Bruce Willis’s David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass. While so much of 2019’s Glass was a disappointment, spending more time with McAvoy’s multiple characters wasn’t. —Roxana Hadadi
Before sex-positive feminism really had a foothold in the culture, we had her. The Sexy Lady Gremlin is a testament to knowing what you want (to fuck someone approximately eight times your height) and going for it. She’s comfortable in her fake latex skin, and she’s a final girl! Even the allegedly Brainy Gremlin gets tricked into his death, but Sexy Lady Gremlin stays true to her mission: seducing, marrying, and bedding Robert Picardo. —Bethy Squires
Say what you will about how badly the Ace Ventura films have aged — and boy, you could say a lot — but there are two objective truths about the franchise: When Nature Calls is better than Pet Detective, and few characters introduced in sequels have made a more unforgettable cultural splash than the rhino machine that Ace gets stuck in, then forces his way out of by pushing his sweaty body headfirst through its small but stretchy asshole opening, to the horror of the tourist family watching outside. Sometimes the best movie characters play it subtle in order to let everyone around them shine, and from Jim Carrey’s masterful physical comedy to the little boy’s delivery of “COOL!” to the way the kid’s dad’s mouth quivers while holding back vomit at the sight of Carrey’s naked body emerging from another animal’s butt, the rhino delivered on that task, and she deserves recognition. —Megh Wright
Technically speaking, the pteranodons of Isla Sorna make their first appearance in the closing shot of The Lost World, but these airborne killing machines are the defining element of what I consider the most underrated film of the franchise, 2001’s Jurassic Park III. Yes, the one with the talking velociraptor. Our big list crowned Lost World the superior JP sequel for leaning into being a “big dumb-fun action film,” and I can’t argue with that assessment, but I’ve always championed III for its B-movie vibe in general and its climactic aviary sequence in particular. Does director Joe Johnston use liberal amounts of mist and Jaws-inspired suspense tactics to compensate for some fledgling CG effects? Sure. Does it work? Damn right it does. JPIII often takes the blame for the long break in sequels between it and Jurassic World thanks to its relatively poor box office and objectively poor reviews, but it deserves recognition for establishing the unique strain of danger embodied in these flying terrors. When the franchise returned, guess which dinos got the honor of inflicting mass chaos during the park’s evacuation? That’s right, the pteranodons — or, I guess, pterosaurs, as this iteration of the cloned monsters are dubbed. —Genevieve Koski
Harley Quinn as played by Margot Robbie is, to put it simply, a revelation. Quinn has been a fourth rail in DC Comics since she debuted in Batman: The Animated Series a blend of various modes: high-pitched Brooklyn accent, an underrated intellectual with a penchant for chaos, a madwoman redefining herself, a sexy mischievous force. Robbie brings these pieces of Harley Quinn together with a panache and decadence that often trumps the films she appears in. —Angelica Jade Bastién
From Mission: Impossible sequels to The Greatest Showman to Dune, Rebecca Ferguson consistently remains a casting director’s best decision. That has never been clearer than in Doctor Sleep, the 42-years-later sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining. As Rose the Hat, a practically immortal energy vampire who survives off the “steam” produced by those with the shining when they’re in pain, Ferguson is a magnetism machine. From her cheery “Well, hi there” to a little girl she’s about to consume to her fury when she realizes that Ewan McGregor’s grown-up Danny is killing her found-family members in the True Knot, Ferguson makes Rose the Hat simultaneously attractive and repellent. —R.H.
Things to love about Jada Pinkett Smith in Magic Mike XXL: Her character’s name is Rome. She spends pretty much her entire performance strutting around in incredibly high heels and whispering seductively into a microphone. She throws Channing Tatum off balance and refers to him as “white chocolate.” She runs her own members’ club in a mansion that she compares to the Roman Empire. It’s a performance that’s as sexy as it is imperial, in a film series (fingers crossed the third one gets made) about the varieties of pleasure in the world. Pinkett Smith’s character bursts into the second movie swathed in the pleasure of confidence, of control, of getting to do what you want on your own terms. —Jackson McHenry
Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner is not the first character from The Fast and the Furious to show up in 2 Fast 2 Furious. That would be Suki (Devon Aoki)’s pink Honda S2000. In her former life, she was Johnny Tran (Rick Yune)’s ride. She wore black then. Her only scenes in the first film saw her a witness to so much violence and aggression, some of it homoerotic (“Ted, kiss my shoes?”), all of it toxic, that it’s no wonder she skipped town. In Miami, she has a fresh start with a fun kawaii aesthetic and a swell crew of women held together by love and cooperation instead of dominance. And when she busts her splitter after the opening scene’s big bridge jump, she’s offered restorative care that very night. It’s clear that she’s in a better place and in community with people who love her — a neon glow-up for the ages. —Melvin Backman
He died not once but twice onscreen. And the benevolent god marionette-ing the F&F universe (Chris Morgan) still brought him back. One could argue fans’ anticipation of Han’s return fueled (heh) this franchise as much as anything else. And we have.
The only thing better than the awkward interactions and blank, horny stares of Bella Swan in every single Twilight movie is that of one of the best, campiest, and most boring characters to ever be born from a film sequel: Dakota Fanning’s red-eyed, blonde-bobbed, really creepy Jane of the Volturi. Her appearances within the pentalogy of Twilight onscreen don’t amount to much, other than her hyper-focused whispering of the word pain — this is her special vampire superpower — so she really just stands around all the time. It’s monotonous, repetitive, and honestly … gag-worthy. The nature of Jane fully culminates in Twilight: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 during the series’ climactic battle scene, which features Dakota Fanning lethargically walking around, attempting to injure her enemies with one word and a glaring eye-roll. Spoiler: She eventually gets eaten by a werewolf in a foreshadowing vision, a tale that is so incredibly dull it’s iconic. —Wolfgang Ruth
Technically, the best characters to come out of Lion King 2 — the superior Lion King and superior sequel, ahem — are my two cats, named after Kovu and Nuka, two of the new lions this film introduces. Kovu’s kinda the star, the wannabe rebel and heir apparent to Scar, who basically just ends up simping for Simba’s daughter instead of doing his duty; Nuka is Kovu’s dumb older brother voiced by Andy Dick (please don’t tell my cat this info). Anyway, who cares about these men(?). The whole pride of the lion world is supposed to be its lionesses. And so, today, I must show honor/fear and bow down to the queen of Lion King 2: Zira. See, unlike the lionesses of the other Lion King, Zira really is not here for Simba or his Mufasa legacy shit (Sarabi, you’re too kind). Because, see, she RUNS the Outlands, a.k.a. not the Pride Lands, and is a devotee and possible wife of Scar (RIP), and therefore has been sent here to destroy everything everyone else stands for. She is also Kovu, Nuka, and their sister Vitani’s mother. It’s quite the lion’s den. Now does she win her/Scar’s war? Well, this is (straight-to-video) Disney so … no. (Deception! Disgrace!) But she DID win my heart with this most menacing lullaby/battle cry. You can’t keep a bad bitch down. Bring her back! —Dee Lockett
Because nothing screams “America!” like two growth spurt–fueled teenagers chugging milk before bed, jamming on their hockey sticks as air guitars, and unironically wearing bandannas as night-out accessories. The proto-himbos our preteen selves deserved! —R.H.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze gave us so much. An awesome, wicked, eclectic opening credits scene; a Vanilla Ice dance fight; and two of the best villains to ever grace a comic book film: Tokka and Rahzar. Tokka and Rahzar are a wolf and a snapping turtle (respectively) that Shredder forces TGRI scientist Jordan Perry to mutate using the same ooze that made our turtle heroes into pizza-scarfing teenagers. They may sound menacing, but there’s one small problem: “Babies!!! They’re BABIES!!!!” This — my favorite line of the whole film — is what Shredder screams when he realizes his new monsters have dumb li’l baby brains and think he is their mama. While they do possess incredible strength and a surprisingly shrewd sense that something is up with those doughnuts, these are not scary villains; these are big, adorable idiots who set the Turtles up to go full vaudeville during fights (i.e., “Which one’s the ugly one!?,” a classic Turtles zinger). They’re also a shining example of how Jim Henson’s Creature Shop can do no wrong (when Tokka’s little ears wiggle, my heart is warmed.) Luckily, the Turtles find a way to turn Tokka and Rahzar back into regular animals, giving us a nice, happy little ending that so often eludes villains. —Anne Victoria Clark
You know a newly introduced character is good when there are talks of a spin-off only days after a movie’s release. That’s exactly what happened after Zombieland: Double Tap director Ruben Fleischer introduced Zoey Deutch as Madison, Zombieland’s resident Valley Girl meets influencer. A true scene-stealer (and man-stealer), Madison becomes the perfect foil to the other gritty survivors, especially Emma Stone’s Wichita, and accelerates the film to its multiple climaxes and bloody fights. She also became someone I personally could relate to after it’s revealed she used her nails and mace to survive for ten long years. I bet you didn’t know you could girlboss your way out of a zombie apocalypse. —Morgan Baila
The Merovingian is played with the haughtiest French glamour by Lambert Wilson, who nears delicious parody in how he rolls his r’s and teeters on the precipice of spitting on the floor when insulted by what he finds to be the gauche turns of our protagonists. With the beauty of Monica Bellucci by his side and an ability to code cakes that give hot blondes orgasms — I mean, what more can you ask for? —A.J.B.
Hot off destroying the Death Star in the original Star Wars, our hero Luke Skywalker travels to the swamp planet Dagobah, expecting to train under another Obi-Wan Kenobi. Instead, he meets a sassy puppet that completely owns his whiny ass. With the voice of an elderly Miss Piggy and an idiosyncratic method of ordering objects, subjects, and verbs in sentences, he teaches Luke how to use the Force while delivering much-quoted bits of wisdom. Yoda is somehow both a character that can only exist in a movie and the go-to reference for many people describing a mentor in their lives. What’s more, he’s cute as an old Jedi Master and was probably unbearably adorable as a baby (yes, I know Grogu in The Mandalorian is not Yoda). Besides all that — and I refuse to fact-check this — he’s the only character on this list who has a Weird Al song. Legend. —Tolly Wright
This monitor lizard queen is framed as the evil sidekick to animal poacher Percival C. McLeach, but really she doesn’t care about what he and his toxic masculinity has planned. She, like any of us basic bitches at brunch, wants eggs. Joanna bungles some jobs and technically kills the villain she serves, but that’s what makes her great. She has her own agenda. Eggs! —Devon Sherer
John Goodman’s performance as Howard the (vindicated) doomsday prepper and claustrophobic bunker proprietor is the thing that pushes 10 Cloverfield Lane from a solid curiosity into a genuinely excellent claustrophobic thriller. Imposing, pathetic, and definitely not all there — again, doomsday prepper — Howard, in the hands of Goodman, is also not entirely unsympathetic. Through subtle grunts, glassy-eyed stares, and the singsong of a wounded, manipulating voice, Goodman keeps you emotionally disoriented throughout. Yeah, yeah, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a “pseudo-sequel.” And sure, perhaps the only seeming connective tissue between the franchise’s three movies (and counting) is just a single word in the title as well as the variable presence of aliens, but really, the sequel-ness and continuity of the Cloverfield franchise lies in the meta-production formula: unproduced original script + genre + fledgling director + bizarro marketing campaign + vibes. If franchisity is how we get to shovel new genre films, new original screenplays, and new directors into the pipeline, let’s lean into it. I’ll take a thousand more Cloverfields, please. —Nicholas Quah
In a ranking of best line readings of all time, few would think to scour a sequel like 2010’s Get Him to the Greek for potential inclusions. Yet to overlook it would be to miss ten rightful entries attributed to P. Diddy’s character, Sergio Rama, a terrifying music-industry executive whose unforgettable lines of dialogue include, “Do you know how many Air Jordans six Black kids wear?” and “You’re one shirt away from Carlton, motherfucker.” It’s not just dialogue either. On multiple occasions, Rama generates visceral laughs with little more than an arched eyebrow and a deadpan glare. If there was any justice in this world, he would have been spun off into his own sequel, much like Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow was spun off from 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall to make this movie, and the cycle of spinning off scene-stealing characters would continue in perpetuity. —Hershal Pandaya
Like a cockroach, the most royal P.O.S. James Bond ever faced is maddeningly tricky to kill. Ernst Stavro Blofeld first appeared on film in 1963’s From Russia With Love as a pair of malevolent hands stroking a steely-eyed cat, kicking off decades of homage, parody, and memetic reinterpretation. The man behind SPECTRE has hurt Bond more cruelly than anyone in his rogues’ gallery, infamously assassinating Bond’s wife, Tracy, in their “Just Married” car. Every talented actor who has played Blofeld brought something of his own to the role, a rotating showcase of erudite superiority (Charles Gray, Diamonds Are Forever; Christoph Waltz, Spectre, No Time to Die), casual intimidation (Telly Savalas, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and literally unblinking menace (Donald Pleasence, You Only Live Twice). But the less we see of Blofeld, the more evil he is. The pairing of Anthony Dawson’s hands and Eric Pohlmann’s voice in From Russia With Love and Thunderball were what first defined him. Together, they will always be “Number One.” —Eric Vilas-Boas
Onscreen principals get a bad rap. Whether they’re the puritanical killjoy or the embodiment of incompetence, they’re rarely given credit for bearing the same cross as any other educator: simply dealing with students and their parents. Opening with, “Attention, parents, shut your pieholes!” and calling a sneaky brownnoser with a hidden agenda by his name, Miss Ungermeyer immediately sets the tone for how she’ll be handling the bullshit that comes her way during a two-week Roman holiday. But how else could the sole chaperone of a group of American eighth graders maintain order, especially as the titular student under her watch is gallivanting around Rome and engaging in identity fraud with a rogue Italian pop star. And when said Italian pop star is revealed to be the real sneaky brownnoser with the hidden agenda, so commences the Ungermeyer revenge plot! Just kidding, but at least our powerhouse principal gets a dance break. —Anusha Praturu
No further questions.