Rodney Twelftree takes a look at the best sequels of all time and finds that many part twos are actually better than the films they follow. What is your favourite sequel?
Do you recall that scene in “Scream 2”, where Jamie Kennedy’s character imparts his words of wisdom to a class of students (and so, to us) as to the rule of film sequels? About what must be done to achieve a perfect sequel? Admittedly, the “Scream” formula itself began to run out of puff after the first film, but it laid the groundwork for this top 10 list, namely the 10 best sequels ever made. Thankfully, this list automatically excludes the “Police Academy” and “Look Who’s Talking” films, so you can rest easy.
The art of a sequel is a formula that’s pretty rare in Hollywood circles. Of the multitude of sequels and remakes released each year by major studios, they usually follow the faithful Law of Diminishing Returns, that is, the film never makes as much money as the original, especially if the sequel is no good. However, sometimes, a sequel comes along that is actually an improvement on the original film. These rare instances are to be treasured, for while a good film is something to behold, a film that actually improves upon the original is akin to lightning striking twice in the same place. So, without further ado, let’s see what we can come up with as we list our Top 10 Sequels of All Time.
10. The Mummy Returns (Sommers, USA, 2001)
As an unabashed fan of the original Karloff Mummy movie, I was quite jazzed to hear that Universal were going to retool the franchise for modern audiences. Advances in CGI and digital technology would allow for more realistic monsters and mummy’s to be portrayed on screen. Stephen Sommers’ take on “The Mummy” was an action/adventure smash hit, so it was inevitable that a sequel would be made. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz had a genuine spark together on screen, and the storyline of the original film was well conceived, if somewhat corny. The cheese factor of “The Mummy” didn’t appeal to plenty of hard-core fans of the original Mummy movies, but I didn’t mind it. I was happy as Larry to hear a sequel would be made, not only bringing back the entire original cast, but also throwing in pro-wrestler The Rock (now known as Dwayne Johnson, a dreadfully dodgy moniker for Hollywood if ever there was!) and newcomer Freddie Boath. I’ll admit to being completely blown away in the cinema when I saw this: the film moves with the speed and ferocity of an out-of-control freight train, had the logic and common sense of a room full of skun cats, and is so cheesy and clichéd you can almost smell the fromage leaping from the screen. “The Mummy Returns” isn’t in any way, shape or form a great film, let’s state that right here. But by comparison to the original, it takes the characters and events of “The Mummy” and ratchets them up to 11, delivering an eye-candy spectacle that delivers on every Law Of Sequels imaginable. [Oh, there’s one possible caveat to that, and it’s the all-CGI Scorpion King in the film’s finale, which is quite possibly one of the most horrendous acts of digital eye-rape ever perpetrated on an audience (after Jar Jar Binks, probably). While you’d think this badly produced CGI character would see “The Mummy Returns” removed from our list, I think the sheer exuberance of the preceding two hours of film will mitigate any negative thoughts towards that result.]
9. Blade II (Del Toro, USA, 2002)
Slick, well made follow-up film to Wesley Snipes-starring “Blade”, “Blade II” is helmed by former Hobbit director Guillermo Del Toro, a man with a penchant for the unique and bizarre. The original “Blade”, directed by David Norrington, had introduced cinema-goers to the half-vampire, half-human Blade, a man who hunted vampires with a lot more passion than Buffy ever mustered. With the sequel, Del Toro took everything Norrington nearly got right and improved it, including more fierce villains (the Reapers) and one of the best knock-down drag out brawls to climax a film I’ve seen since Van Damme did “Bloodsport”. Okay, perhaps not since then, but the finale of “Blade II” is pretty damn cool. The Blade character is near perfect actor-for-role casting with Wesley Snipes, the actor stepping into the hunters shoes effortlessly. Del Toro directs this film with every cinematic trick in the book. The camera sweeps and swoops through the film like a dervish, a breathlessly edited montage of blood, action and atmospherics. There’s a few of you who will probably sneer at the inclusion of “Blade II” in this list, but I think it’s a better film as a whole than Norrington’s original. The story is more epic, the action a lot more sweetly filmed, and the effects are first rate. In terms of spectacle, story twists and genuine cinematic chutzpah, “Blade II” is dynamite.
8. Spider-Man 2 (Raimi, USA, 2004)
Take a hero, put him through the wringer, and give him a more powerful villain to face, and your sequel will be better than the original film. That’s the mantra of “Spider-Man 2”, the Sam Raimi-directed blockbuster following on from 2002’s “Spider-Man”. The sequel did a number of things to the “Spider-Man” film legacy: it was a direct continuation of the original film, with many of the original cast reprising their roles allowing for greater continuity and a development of story arcs, it gave us a more sympathetic villain in Doctor Octopus, a grieving scientist who tries to take revenge for the death of his wife, and a development of the Peter Parker/Mary Jane Watson love story. Cannily crafting all elements of this massive story together took class and balance, something Raimi achieved in the original film and perfected here. Unfortunately, “Spider-Man 3” saw Raimi’s (and the franchise’s) downfall, with it’s copious villains and decidedly cartoonish narrative, leaving “Spider-Man 2” as the classiest of the franchise’s sequels. Action packed and dramatically sound, “Spider-Man 2” is the best of the Raimi-directed franchise entries.
7. Superman II (Lester, USA, 1980)
With Richard Donner’s blockbusting re-imagining of the “Superman” mythos in cinema in the late 70’s, a sequel was inevitable. So inevitable, that the producers decided to shoot two films at the same time, with the intent of releasing the second one a year after the first. However, problems behind the scenes (which are too complex to go into here) caused Donner to leave the sequel’s production schedule midway through, allowing fill-in director Richard Lester time to come in and claim credit for “Superman II”. Where the first film introduced Superman and the world he lived in, Lex Luthor and an aversion to Kryptonite, “Superman II” ratcheted up the action and pathos at the expense of character development and charm. Essentially a 2 hour action spectacle, this film features everything you’d want to see in a “Superman” film: powerful villains that Superman has no chance of defeating without being sneaky, a major fight sequence in a major city, massive special effects, the near-destruction of The White House, and copious footage of Superman doing super-things. Oh, and Lois Lane discovers his secret identity and sleeps with him. Yeah, that too. While further sequels gradually rob Christopher Reeve of the lustre playing this iconic role, “Superman II” is a near-perfect follow-up to the original film. Not only does it keep the characters introduced in film one, but it allows their characters to grow somewhat (although, with that controversial super-kiss at the end, makes everything redundant anyway) and provides a certain level of continuity. The Richard Donner-filmed action set-pieces still boggle the mind with their incredible realism, because unlike most action films of today, they actually filmed a lot of the stuff for real, instead of creating it in a computer. I believe this film has, to date, the best Superman Film Action Sequence ever made (the city brawl).
6. Aliens (Cameron, USA, 1986)
Ballsy, action-packed sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, sees the return of Ellen Ripley to the planet humanity first encountered the nasty, acid-for-blood killing machines. James Cameron, fresh from his stint directing “The Terminator”, came on board to steer the “Alien” franchise in a new direction, and he did so exceedingly well.
Cameron took what Ridley Scott had done, and injected a boat-load of testosterone into it, giving us a group of battle-hardened space Marines going to rescue some colonists on a distant planet. It seems they’ve gone missing, and the company which owns the colony seems to think they may have run into the alien life forms Ellen Ripley encountered on the Nostromo in the previous film. Ripley is persuaded to tag along as a consultant, although of course they’re all going to be stranded on the planet’s surface to face off against the alien creature. Oh wait. Cameron added something. It’s “creatures”, plural. Hundred of aliens now swarm through the colony outpost, and with limited ammunition and a rapidly decreasing time-frame with which to effect an escape, Ripley and her Marine buddies must simply try surviving long enough to find a way off the planet.
Much like its originator, “Aliens” is a slow burn exercise in terror, with Cameron not even getting to the first alien attack until at least an hour into the film. This build-up of tension is exquisitely handled, leaving the viewer to get to know the characters and their nuances, prior to them all being ripped asunder by the alien creatures. Cameron handles this with consummate ease, his ability to generate tension on screen by using the unseen (in this case, using the motion sensor plot device from the previous film a lot more eloquently than Ridley ever did) to heighten tension and terror; before exploding into the action and giving the audience the long awaited release of adrenaline. “Aliens” is relentless, a heart pounding narrative with delicate balance of character and action, and some of the most quoted lines in cinema history. This film is by far superior to the original, and remains one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.
5. The Matrix Reloaded (Wachowski Bros, USA, 2003)
I know I’m going to cop some flack in the comments for this, but I really rate Reloaded as a sequel. The first Matrix film was awesome, let’s make no mistake about that, but the sequel allowed Andy and Larry Wachowski the opportunity to open up and let rip. Massive fight sequences, car chases and some state-of-the-art special effects, as well as continuing the mind bending storyline started by the first film, Reloaded was initially applauded by the fanboys and critics alike, before succumbing to general scowling and gnashing of teeth in the wake of it’s immediate sequel, “The Matrix Revolutions”, a film I have very little time for. “Reloaded” is bold, dynamic filmmaking, a blisteringly action yarn coupled with more of the Brothers’ trademark set-pieces. Epic in every sense of the word. Oh, and will somebody please make the Wachowski’s direct a Superman film at some stage? Thank you.
4. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (Cameron, USA, 1992)
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Louder, more explosive, technically revolutionary and where possible just terrific entertainment, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (or more fondly known simply as T2) is the second sequel to be directed by James Cameron to appear in this list. Improvements in digital effects allowed Cameron to create a startling new villain in Robert Patrick’s T1000, a model much higher up the evolutionary ladder than the older Arnold Schwarzeneggar version from the original film. Convoluted time travel science aside, T2 is a superior film than it’s predecessor for simple scale and achievement. Buildings are destroyed, highways turn into shooting galleries, and Arnold once again strides into a bar to steal the right size apparel. Cameron’s mastery of action and tension in this film is incredibly powerful, his use of CGI sparing (considering how clunky it looks by today’s standards, I think it holds up well) but well executed, and the perfect use of Arnold’s physique and “acting” ability make T2 a defining schism in action movie history. A genuine classic.
3. The Empire Strikes Back (Kirshner, USA, 1980)
Long considered the most complete entertainment venture of all the “Star Wars” films, “Empire” has often made Top 10 lists with relative ease. The Law Of Sequels is writ large with this entry into our list, as every possible element you could want in a follow-on film exists: ‘badder’ villains, more complex storylines and character development, greater danger and stakes, and better special effects. When George Lucas decided to hand the role of directing the sequel to his former collegiate professor, Irvin Kershner was immediately reluctant to take on the job, but was persuaded by both Lucas and his own agent. Of the Star Wars films, I consider “Empire” to be the most character driven, with Luke’s education about becoming a Jedi, and the love story between Han and Leia, being the most dominant elements. The “Star Wars” mythology is expanded without becoming “monster of the week”-esque, an issue Star Trek fans had often felt was the problem with the TV show and the following feature films. It is the film’s central character arc, however, that really makes this the best of the six Star Wars films: the journey of Luke Skywalker to discover who he is, who his lineage and ancestry is. Featuring quite possibly one of cinema’s greatest twist endings (now rendered moot by the more recent prequel trilogy), “Empire Strikes Back” remains one of the great science fiction films of all time, and justly one of the best sequels ever made.
2. Toy Story 2 (Lasseter, USA, 1999)
When the original “Toy Story” was released midway through the 90’s, it unleashed a revolution in digital filmmaking that’s been felt ever since. It also introduced the general public to Pixar Animation, a film studio which had, until then, remained hidden from mainstream audiences, but had been in existence in it’s current format sine 1986. With “Toy Story”, the first animated film created entirely inside a computer, audiences were amazed at what they achieved (and still are, to be honest!). Ever since, Pixar has continued to dominate the world of CGI animation, with hit after hit after hit released almost every single year. However, their first direct sequel, was originally never going to be a theatrical film. Pixar’s distribution partner, the Disney Corporation, initially wanted Toy Story 2 to be yet another of their cheap-and-fast DTV sequels; at least that was the plan, until they started to see the first results on screen. “Toy Story 2” took the original characters of Woody, Buzz and the gang, and improved on them from the first film, both story-wise and in the level of animation. It raised the bar not only for other studio’s to follow, but for Pixar’s genius storytelling wizards to aspire to. And, thankfully, they’ve been achieving greatness ever since. “Toy Story 2” remains one of the finest animated films ever made.
1. The Dark Knight (Nolan, USA, 2008)
Could Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises live up to the quality of The Dark Knight – find out in our review
Criminally robbed during the 2009 Oscar season for Best picture, “The Dark Knight” is one of the finest films made in the last decade. Christopher Nolan set the bar pretty high with his Batman revamp, “Batman Begins”, in 2005. The success of that film led to his rehiring as director in the inevitable sequel, which in comic-book film terms, was a genuine test for the British born Nolan, as the added pressure of not only continuing his remarkably well conceived new Gotham City story, but improving upon it led fans into a fever pitch. The cast from the original film were to return, allowing a sense of continuity (which has begun to become more commonplace in today’s world of multi-film contracts), as well as newcomers to the franchise Heath Ledger (as the Joker), Maggie Gyllenhall (replacing Katie Holmes as Bruce Wayne’s love interest) and Aaron Eckhart (as Gotham City’s DA, Harvey Dent). However, it wasn’t until early footage of Ledgers portrayal of the iconic Joker character was released that people began to get very excited. Indeed, up until Ledger’s death, most of the marketing and preamble for the film had been centred around his character. So when Ledger died, it added not only a somewhat melancholic tinge to the film’s release, but it also ensured an audience. People wanted to see Ledger’s final film.
Fortunately, the film not only lived up to expectations, it surpassed them. The Dark Knight was gritty, urban, violent and as far from Joel Schumacher’s “nipples on the bat suit” debacle from years prior as you could get. The story itself, of a maniacal Joker flitting about Gotham causing mayhem, with Batman caught up in a gang war as well as escalating public backlash, made this film quite possibly the finest comic book film ever created. How this film was overlooked for even a nomination for Best Picture at the Oscars should be investigated by the FBI as an offence against humanity.
Written and compiled by Rodney Twelftree
Your turn – what is your favourite film sequel of all time?
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