NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- We've all come out of a movie theater on a hot July evening after watching the latest summer blockbuster with that feeling that we just cannot wait for the sequel. We've just witnessed two-plus hours of explosions, action scenes, car chases and we start counting the days until we get more of our favorite characters on the big screen again.
Sequels are a tricky prospect because moviegoers have become conditioned to approach them with cautious optimism. Sometimes they merely match our expectations. Sometimes they exceed them. And on rare occasions, the sequels actually improve on the originals.
With that in mind, let us take you through the 10 best sequels ever made. For this list, we're sticking only with direct sequels, so anything ending in "III" or "3" is off the table.
10) X2: X-Men United
Many moviegoers trace the current dominance of superhero movies to 2000's X-Men, which brought the mutants to life on the big screen and proved a comic book movie could be successful. The 2003 sequel X2: X-Men United, took the formula from the first movie and built on it to create a superior sequel.
The second movie expanded the roster of mutants to include fan favorites such as Nightcrawler and teamed Magneto and his crew with the X-Men to combat a common enemy. The fight sequences, plot movement and character development are all sharp throughout the film which never sacrifices the important elements for special effects or meaningless battles.
X-Men: Days of Future Past may be the best film in the series, but this one held the crown for a decade.
Seven years after the original Alien movie, James Cameron took over for Ridley Scott to take the helm for the sequel, simply titled Aliens. Amazingly, this film was not complete until the week it released in theaters, yet it somehow provided a more satisfying experience than the original.
The action is fast-paced without overwhelming the viewer, and the horror elements mix wonderfully with the fighting to create a tense experience that makes you clutch the nearest person. Sigourney Weaver also gets more to do in the sequel, which is a welcome addition to the series.
8) Toy Story 2
How do you improve on the groundbreaking success of 1995's Toy Story four years later? You take the same fun and charm that made the first movie such a joy and add some character development to make the sequel have emotional weight.
Toy Story 2 created a new set of problems for Woody, Buzz and friends when Woody gets kidnapped just as he is having a mid-life crisis of sorts. He wonders if Andy will one day forget about him and the rest of the toys, which is a feeling each of us experience at some point in our lives. Will the people we care most about eventually outgrow us? Will we be all alone?
The sequel explored these issues while still maintaining the same level of comedy and lightheartedness from the first movie. That was no easy task.
7) Superman II
It doesn't matter if you prefer the Donner cut or the theatrically-released Richard Lester version, Superman II takes everything that made the first movie such a success and improves on it.
Christopher Reeve's winning smile and charming personality are on full display yet again, both as the confident and powerful Superman, and as the bumbling Clark Kent. The sequel also has more character development, as Superman must choose between his love for Lois Lane and his duty as a superhero.
The movie returns with Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor but also pits Superman against three Kryptonian warriors, including General Zod. It was a welcome sight to see Superman take on villains with his own power and not just beat them, but outsmart them.
Plus, he doesn't reverse time by spinning the Earth backwards on its axis.
6) Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The original Terminator is one of the most famous movies ever made thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger's action movie expertise and the famous "I'll be back" line. But with James Cameron in the director's chair once again for the sequel, Judgment Day upped the stakes and helped build the sci-fi franchise.
The second movie introduces John Connor and reprograms Schwarzenegger's killer robot into one that has a mission to protect the child rather than kill him. We also meet the T-1000, the liquid metal robot that was pretty much the coolest thing around at the time.
The action scenes in this movie are more intense than its predecessor, and the stakes feel much higher throughout the film. We'd eventually get two more installments, with a fifth one upcoming, but this one remains the gold standard.
5) Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
The 1977 Star Wars is one of the finest and most famous movies ever made, and rightfully so. The sequel had a tough task in following up the classic, and it did so with arguably the greatest twist in movie history.
Empire Strikes Back takes the foundation of the first movie and expands it without making it feel bloated or convoluted. The film introduces more players in the ongoing war between the rebels and the empire and continues to develop Luke Skywalker as a character as he trains to become a Jedi Knight and take down Darth Vader.
When he engages in battle with Vader, he reveals to Luke his true identity with five famous words: "No. I am your father!" (Not the often misquoted "Luke, I am your father.")
The action scenes aren't quite as strong, but the Death Star battle from the first movie is hard to top. Still, the rest of the movie more than makes up for it.
4) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Let's just get this out of our systems now: "KHHAAAAAAAAAAAANNNN!!!!!" Everybody done? Good, let's move on.
The Wrath of Khan was superior to Star Trek: The Motion Picture in every conceivable way, because Star Trek: The Motion Picture was really, really bad. But Wrath of Khan is more than just a step up from a poor first installment; it's an excellent movie all on its own.
The sequel introduces the famous villain Khan Noonien Singh, who has a personal vendetta against Captain Kirk and the power to cause serious damage to Kirk and those around him. And of course, Spock's famous death adds an emotional depth and profound sadness to the movie that no other Star Trek film has been able to match.
3) Spider-Man 2
The first Spider-Man movie in 2002 had its problems, but it accomplished the task of introducing one of the most famous superheroes from comic books to the big screen. Spider-Man 2 outclassed its predecessor and delivered what many consider one of the best superhero movies ever made.
The first movie was an origin story, but the second movie is a superhero story. Peter Parker struggles with his desires as a person versus his duties as Spider-Man. He tries to decide in favor of the former but ultimately realizes the latter is more important. The movie beats Peter down until he rises up triumphantly in the final act.
Doctor Octopus, one of the more famous Spider-Man villains, takes center stage in this movie and has an emotional conflict of his own. The fight scenes are excellently shot, and the villain presents a real threat to Spidey throughout the movie as he actually gets the upper hand and wins a few of the battles.
The only downside to this movie is it led to Spider-Man 3.
2) The Dark Knight
What can we say about this movie that hasn't already been said? Batman Begins successfully revived the franchise after the abomination that was Batman & Robin, but The Dark Knight catapulted into the realm of "best movies ever made."
Heath Ledger's phenomenal performance as the Joker is the obvious standout here, but we could honestly spend pages and pages listing out each of the superb elements of this movie. The script is tightly written, as Christopher Nolan constantly takes special care to make sure every move and every plot development has a purpose and informs the overall story.
The film is gorgeously shot. The soundtrack is stellar and adds a sense of tension in every scene, particularly the Joker's buzzing theme that feels like it plays throughout the entire movie. There's even some humor in the film, such as the Joker's first interaction with the mobsters and Bruce's line about telling the police Batman was Alfred's idea.
And we haven't even mentioned the famous "magic trick" or the Joker's "scars" speeches. Every time we watch this movie, we find something new to love about it.
1) The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part II does the unthinkable. It actually equals, and at some moments surpasses, one of the finest pieces of cinema ever crafted.
The first movie is one of the most famous of films of all time, and with good reason. Marlon Brando's iconic performance as Vito Corleone is enough, but his son Michael's transformation from reluctant member of a mafia family to head of that same family is what truly makes the movie shine.
The sequel also contains flashbacks to a young Vito's life, which inform both Michael's situation in the present and Vito's life in the first movie. The dissolution of Michael's world is fascinating to behold as his family members either die or leave him.
Whether one views them individually or together, The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are undoubtedly two of the greatest achievements in cinematic history.
***Do you agree with our list? Would you have added or removed any movies? Do you think any of the movies are ranked too high or too low? Let us know in the comments below.