Sequels often get a bad reputation. And when you look at the likes of Alien: Resurrection, Jaws 3D, or Rocky V, it’s easy to understand why. The problem is usually that the genres that usually spawn sequels (action, sci-fi, etc.) depend largely on excitement. And nothing is more exciting than being introduced to a whole new world for the first time. Re-introduced? Meh.
But modern sequels are slowly changing that stigma. After seeing what didn’t work about sequels in the past, they refined the formula and have come up with some excellent films. And so here are some of best in no particular order. (SPOILERS for those who haven’t seen the films)
7. The Bourne Supremacy/The Bourne Ultimatum (2005, 2007)
I can never decide which one I like more. Really though, all three films are about as equal as three movies in the same series can get. The sequels are a bit more unconventional than the original though, which is why I prefer them. The Bourne Identity (which, mind you, is still an outstanding film) is more than just an action movie. It’s a tightly plotted, well-acted, and intelligently directed spy thriller that happens to feature some thrilling action set pieces.
But at the end of the first movie: the good guy gets the girl and all is well. A good ending for the character if only one movie ended up being produced.
Then his girlfriend gets offed in the beginning of the second film. WHAT? What follows is a path toward revenge that is also a search for identity. Both Jason Bourne’s previous identity before he lost it and who he would’ve been without the top-secret government agency “Treadstone.”
After a spectacular car chase in the first movie, the sequels stray away from making the car chases “bigger and better” and instead surround them with different story elements, heightening the suspense. These films also revolutionized the modern fight scene: opting for shorter, more realistic, and more brutal combat. Simply brilliant.
6. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Anybody who thought Schwarzenegger’s career was all blood and guts and no substance should check out his sci-fi films. Especially this one. I know there are many who prefer the original, but to me it’s just a horror film with an interesting backstory. Robot sent from the future to kill the mother of humanity’s savior in the war against the machines? Human sent back to stop him becomes the boy’s father and the robots become the instruments of their own demise? Pretty cool stuff.
Which is why it’s a shame that too much of the first film is Ah-nauld going around killing people; or engaging in tepid car chases with 80s techno music pounding in the background. The second film, however, is a much different story.
Philosophical questions such as “do we make our own fate?” are discussed. Mind-blowing (for their time, and still today) special effects take us into the war against the machines like never before. We learn to care about a robot as much as a human, and in so doing perhaps committing the very error that led to the machines’ sentience in the first place. Will our fate be the same as that of the fictional United States? Fascinating ideas. There are also lots of cool explosions and stuff.
5. Desperado (1995)
Not everyone knows that this was actually a sequel. The first movie (El Mariachi) starred all unknowns, the audio is entirely in Spanish, and it was initially filmed for only $7,000. The version on DVD was cleaned up by Columbia pictures for another few million of course, but the fact that director Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids) got a major studio’s attention with a movie that he filmed on borrowed equipment is pretty impressive.
The film itself is meh. A kid accidentally ends up with a guitar case filled with guns and he uses them to take down this cartel. The film’s commentary is far more interesting, as it describes using condoms filled with fake blood to depict gunshot wounds and the director covering himself in a large t-shirt to prevent being reflected in a mirror in the scene.
The second film is then one of Hollywood’s great success stories. Rodriguez’s motto of “make it cheap but don’t make it look cheap” started here. It’s largely the same story as the first but it was revolutionary in its mix of dark humor, acrobatic gun battles, and sharp dialogue. It also features an acting performance by Rodriguez’s good friend, Quentin Tarantino. Another (bigger budgeted) sequel came out eight years later called Once Upon a Time in Mexico. It’s a little too zany for its own good but still a great film. Both are excellent examples of how one can build on a very small first film with a good idea and turn it into a blockbuster franchise.
4. X2: X-Men United (2003)
’m proud of myself for how long it took before I dropped a superhero film in there! Though Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man are the films that started the comic book revolution, this was the film that told us it had staying power. Because without the possibility of good sequels, the genre would’ve died out by now. The first film involving the X-Men was an anti-racism narrative that featured an excellent ensemble cast. The action and the powers were just the side narrative.
Then the sequel made everything bigger, added more action scenes, added more characters, and was half an hour lengthier. So it’s probably bad, right?
Nope! The second film in the series is widely considered to be the best (although the prequel, X-Men First Class, is certainly up there too). Though it features an extensive cast, each member gets wonderful character moments throughout the film. Even the villains, who have some of the best scenes in the film. It also manages to keep the social commentary going, add new layers of moral questions, and do all of that in-between enough innovative and exciting action scenes to please even the most ADHD 12-year-old boy’s expectations. HOW DID THEY DO IT? I still have no idea, but it’s a sight to behold.
3. Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
It was a tough call between this and Mission: Impossible III but I have to go with the newest installment. No fourth film in a franchise should be the best one. Again I ask: HOW DID THEY DO IT? The first movie is an underrated spy thriller that features an exciting and twisted plot, but is a little bland with its characters. The second film is a 2-hour music video. It’s all flashy shots of long-haired Tom Cruise as he flips around and shoots people while doves fly around him. The third film is an amazingly personal movie with an outstanding villain, that finds the time to also feature a touching love story and suspenseful action sequences?
So what more was there left to do? How about an exciting and twisted plot that’s also intensely personal and that features thrilling action scenes, with long-haired Cruise to boot? It also inspired me to coin the term “Hitchcock-ian action film.” All that was missing was a great villain, but you can’t have everything.
The film certainly has its share of ridiculous action sequences, but they all play out as realistically as possible. None of the technology works perfectly. Almost everything in their various missions go wrong. As Ethan Hunt says at the end: “the only thing that worked was the people.” And so help me, I’d love to see another film with that exact cast. In addition: director Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles) proves that you can jump from directing animation to directing live action without breaking a sweat.
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
You knew it was coming. Since almost all of my articles tend to feature the caped crusader in one way or another, there’s no sense leaving him off of this list (especially since he definitely deserves to be here). Batman Begins is actually my “favorite” of the 3 films but this is the better movie. I know that’s an odd distinction but it’s important. The first movie is a superhero film, much better than the average one and a ton smarter, but that’s what it is. He’s my favorite superhero, so of course his origin would be my favorite of the movies.
But solely going on the purest form of “what’s the best film?” leads us to the incredible second installment. What everyone figured would just be a few hours of well-plotted action scenes and Batman yelling at drug dealers was instead a dark powerhouse of moral gray area. Questions such as: “what effect would a vigilante have on society?” and the classic “do the ends justify the means?” drive the intelligently written and intensely acted picture.
There are also the requisite beat-em-up scenes, car chases, and gadgets. Heath Ledger’s Joker got all of the attention (both due to the performance itself and his untimely demise) but Nolan himself said that it’s Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking) as Harvey Dent/Two-Face who represents the soul of the film. Batman and The Joker are order and chaos. The immovable object and the unstoppable force. But Dent isn’t an ideal, he’s a man. And it is his tragic story that shows us what can happen when two gods do battle over a city.
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Since this is a list of sequels, technically I mean: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. But it goes against everything my (not-so-inner) nerd stands for to put any of the films above the other. This is truly what sequels should be: continuations. It’s almost impossible to plan such a thing because of the way the industry works, but New Line Cinema’s multi-million dollar gamble paid off. And what we got were three films that truly made cinematic history. Nothing like that had ever been done before and it’s highly unlikely it’ll be done again.
Most sequels are just “bringing back the same characters you already like for another zany, if unrelated, adventure.” But these 3 really are one big movie. The story of Frodo and the ring of power manages to be both cynical and idealistic. Full of optimism and intensely disturbing. Funny and intense. It also features some of the most impressive battle scenes ever put to film. And the special effects reminded Hollywood that computer generated images (CGI) aren’t always the best way to go, as many of director Peter Jackson’s techniques were simply upgrades from similar films in the golden age of cinema (Christopher Nolan has a similar mindset).
They are incredibly long movies (even the theatrical cuts) and they’re not for everyone by any means. It’s definitely a marathon to get through even one and not a sprint. But if you’re willing, you’ll see how filmmakers can introduce walking/talking trees to you and have your response be: “oh that’s cool” and not “WTF?” That takes talent, to create a world that’s so fleshed out. Between that, the unforgettable characters, and the inspiring and simple story of friendship, hope, and devotion: it’s a series that forever changed what the word “sequel” meant.
A lot of films could be included on this list, depending on tastes one might say Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or Spider-Man 2 or The Godfather Part II. Setup is usually better than delivery, but these films disprove that. What are some other favorite sequels that you hold dear?
We dare you to find a television show or movie that Domenic has not seen and most of them he owns. For this reason he has become a walking encyclopedia of anything you would want to know on the topics of TV and movies. When he’s not watching flicks, he’s writing screenplays. Stay tuned for those.