Seeing as how this is my second try at the ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter, I thought it fun to have a stab at sequels.
Sequels are generally maligned, and most of the time rightly so. If a movie has been financially succesful you can count on it someone wants to start a franchise, raking in more money out of the same concept. It seems like an easy win: you’ve already got the first movie to provide word-of-mouth for the second.
There are lots of pitfalls to avoid when making a sequel though:
-Sequels may lack the spark of inspiration and enthousiasm which made the original so good in the first place.
-Stories often suffer as they grow pretty convoluted, to allow the same leads having another adventure like the first one.
-Realism goes out of the window to get more spectacular visuals.
But the biggest problem remains that when you succeed in creating something exactly as before, the audience has already seen it! Sure, you can blow more things up (or blow things more up) but that only works sometimes.
So movie-sequel-history is peppered with bombed groanfests, artistically hollow successes, moderate failures and all-out embarrasments.
And, of course, there are exceptions. Here comes my list of sequels which, against age-old tradition, are actually considered to be BETTER than the movie which preceded it.
When I started to jot down names of good sequels two of my favorite movies of all time popped up immediately, and both happen to be made by the same director. The only reason why they are left out of the final list is that I cannot look in the mirror and tell myself that the original was inferior, even though I’d love to do so.
Seeing “ALIENS” in 1986 was like a baptism of fire for me. As a kid I was scared to death of horror movies. The very concept of these stories were enough to keep me awake at night, which was awkward because at the same time I was very interested in them. When “Aliens” arrived at our local cinema I had just turned sixteen, and my special effects addiction forced me to see it.
I left the cinema two litres of sweat lighter, and nothing has quite done that to me since. All my fears had been burned out of me in a single afternoon. I haven’t had this experience in a cinema ever again, and can only hope to relive it one day.
The critics panned it of course, as it was of two inferior genres at the same time and written/directed by one of the people who wrote the critically vilified “Rambo”.
But time has been very kind to it. I’ve seen the very same critics turn round over the years and grudgingly call this a classic. Few movies have been as often imitated and copied as this one, not just in films but lots of videogames as well. It almost set a template on how to make action horror movies (which is ironic as it copies lots of thing from other movies itself). For a while it seemed like every trailer used the “Aliens” soundtrack and editing.
And if Ridley Scott’s “Alien” would have been even a tiny bit less good than it was, “Aliens” would have made my list.
Less soul-searching was needed to drop “TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY” out of my list. With the first “Terminator”, director James Cameron created a very nifty story with a timeline set in stone. And “Terminator” features (amongst other things) perfect editing. I’m not kidding here: I must have seen this countless times on television, and it doesn’t matter where I drop in, I tend to watch it till the very end. This picture has an unbelievable flow to it, and I can’t think of another movie which bests it in this regard.
Not that “Terminator 2” is a slouch. It features more classic moments than most original movies, and where the first had some shaky (literally) special effects this one was loaded with total jawdroppers. Extrapolating the computer effects used in his “The Abyss”, any scene involving the morphing T-1000 was just… awesome beyond belief.
And the battlescenes in the prologue made repeat cinema viewings a necessity, even though these look now a bit dated as we have been spoiled with recent computer generated battles which are even MORE grand.
But “Terminator 2” misses the awesome flow of the original, and I couldn’t like James Cameron’s tampering with the timeline. Making it possible to actually change the past opens a can of worms which, in my opinion, unhinges the carefully laid out concept of both movies. Classic as it is, it will never surpass its little older brother as superior cinema.
MY TOP 5:
So how did this happen? “The Godfather” is generally known and loved as one of the best movies ever made. Wanting to make a sequel, you take the leftovers you didn’t film, some flashbacks, you create a new storyline on top of this which is VERY convoluted and seemingly unrelated. And you assemble the same cast, well… except the most famous member of it who refuses to return, even for a cameo. Doesn’t really sound like a recipe for succes, does it?
But “THE GODFATHER PART 2” does the unthinkable and succeeds in every way possible. Knowledge of the first movie is an absolute necessity, you need to know, love, hate, dislike these characters before you start with part 2. But as the main storyline shows the moral downfall of Michael Corleone from bad to evil, the flashbacks show how the family got to be this way. The killer acting of all people involved is a thing to behold. Add that brilliant ending, with its final shattering flashback, and this movie just delivers an emotional hit with the force of a jackhammer.
It even pulls off the remarkable feat of making the first one even better, by explaining things which didn’t need to be explained but enrich it nevertheless. A stunning achievement.
Less loved was George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”. It may now be considered to be a classic, but at the time it was just a low budget black&white little horror picture. People keep heaping praise on it these days but Romero’s finest hour would come when he made the somewhat bigger-budgeted sequel “DAWN OF THE DEAD”. Spending the money wisely he created a sequel which needs to be seen to be believed. And in color, especially red!
Yes, this movie is gory. Notoriously so. But where it shines is in its concept and its satire. For start, humanity is portrayed as being too stupid and territorial to survive. The living are losing from the start on a worldwide basis, which makes for one of the bleakest universes ever shown in a horror movie. The very hopelessness nags at you from start to finish, and you can’t help but get angry as the few survivors waste resources on in-fighting, managing with all their brains to lose from an enemy which might be omnipresent but is also very slow and very stupid. Romero never overplays his hand though and the moronic behavior of the main characters is uncomfortably believable.
Add some puns at the expense of rampant consumerism and a classic soundtrack (whichever version you have) and this is an apocalyptic sequel which eclipses its original totally.
Speaking of apocalyptic: here is another one. “Mad Max” was a small-ish action movie which became a bit of a cult success out of its home country Australia. Some nice chase scenes, some remarkable sadism, but generally slow.
The sequel changed gears. A lot of them.
In fact, the change in quality is so big it was marketed in several countries as a standalone, in no way a sequel.
Now a man-with-no-name story taking place in a post-world war 3 outback, director George Miller boldly describes his wasteland setting with a short voice-over and a nice car chase. Followed by a bigger car chase. Followed by an awesome car chase. Followed by some of the best action scenes ever. Need I say it culminates in the car chase to end all car chases? And it made Mel Gibson into an instant God.
“MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR” is brilliant bloody fun from start to finish. The bus-gate rocks. The gyro rocks. Mohawk-ed maniac rocks. Every single home-made armored vehicle rocks. In fact, whoever did the designs on this movie rocks!
This movie started a genre in itself which petered out fast with a string of cheap imitations, none of which became particularly well known. People see those and think back to the one that was actually GOOD. More of an original than its original, it would be a crime to keep it off this list.
Next is “STAR TREK 2: THE WRATH OF KHAN”. Now most people will consider this cheating, as it’s the number two in a long series instead of a sequel. Well, in 1982 it wasn’t yet!
When the first Trek finally made it into cinemas in 1980, the butchered end result was disappointing. Occasionally beautiful but with a glacial pace, it got nicknamed “Star Trek: The Motionless Picture”. Star Trek almost died but the sequel turned out to be so good it revived the franchise completely, resulting in not just more movies but the most successful Trek series of all with “The Next Generation”.
I do not consider myself to be a Trekkie, in fact these people often scare me a bit. But “StarTrek 2: The Wrath of Khan” conjures only happy memories in me. Still considered to be the best of the movies, it provided the franchise with many of its best moments. It has a great villain in Khan, brilliant fights between capital ships and a big twist at the end with emotional impact. Seeing it now and knowing who returns in part 3 spoils it somewhat, but at the time that end was nothing short of stunning, even for part-time admirers of the original tv-series like me.
What also helped was that it looked gorgeous. Every series has nabulae in the background these days, but when this was used in Khan it was still novel and took my breath away.
Staying in space, the other movie franchise in this respect… oh hell. Do I need to explain this one? Just look at this screenshot, it gives me chills to this day.
Truth to be told, lots of people consider Star Wars to be superior to “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”, but even more think otherwise. “Star Wars” ("A New Hope” for all you revisionists) was pure fun and an awesome movie. I mention awesome a lot because that’s what happens when you’re twelve years old. You get awed. But I got awed to an amazing extent by StarWars’s evil brother “The Empire Strikes Back”. This movie lifted “Star Wars” from being a story to being a universe. It made sure you got the point that all this fighting between rebels and imperials was just one of an endless amount of stories happening in it. The unfinished end made our young little minds feverishly making up the next movie, to the extent that it could never hope to live up to what we had created ourselves. And it didn’t. To this day, “The Empire Strikes Back” still is Star Wars’s finest moment.
And that’s my list!
I fully hope to start a debate about these choices in the comments section. Do you know any other examples, please tell of them. If the response is high enough I’ll even start a topic for it in our forum.
If anything, I think my samples may be too well known, so if you know of an unseen treasure, unjustly forgotten because of its sequelness, please tell about it here!