Editorials in the Darke | Sequel Bait


From my Facebook Wall:

So I was reading your review for the new Blade Runner (I just love to read your eloquent reviews!) And I was thinking… it seems to me, that it is far easier to make a whole new film then to attempt sequels. But what would you classify as the top ten sequels (any genre) in your opinion ??

This is kinda a loaded question, but one I want to take a stab at. Let me break it down into parts before getting to the meat of the question itself.

Far Easier to make a whole new film than attempt sequels

As a writer, and someone who is familiar with fan fic, it’s easier to work from a framework. Original ideas are hard only because as writers we tend to question ourselves far too often and think we are being too derivative of someone else’s body of work. This only gets harder as time goes on and more products are out there. Ex Machina could be seen as Blade Runner told with a cast of 3, but it isn’t quite that. Of course you also have reboots, in which you take the original narrative and try to modernize it or do something new with it. These have mostly poor reception with only a few actually even equaling the other work from a purely objective much less subjective standpoint. I could probably write a doctorate level thesis on that concept alone.

So then you come to the sequel itself, which has factors that can make it easier or harder when you take them into account:

  • Popularity of the property. This even has a further breakdown when you consider nostalgia.
  • Time between films
  • Budget
  • Success of the property
  • Property framework, or does the original work allow for organic sequels?

Frequently we find sequels being ordered with release dates before even a pen is put to paper to give a good script after a film does well in the box office. Usually this results in a train wreck as the creative process takes more time than is allowed, but the studio wants to get the money while people still care. Which leads into time between films. At 35 years Blade Runner is one of the longest times between actual sequels, but due to that it has built considerable credibility and nostalgia within the film community – yet it effectively bombed on its release. The popularity got it a sequel but also creates harsher judges of its quality on release. Some sequels are given less budget to work with all but damning them, while others are given exhorbitant budgets – which does not equal success as much of what made some things work was how the production had to get scrappy and do more with less, when given keys to the kingdom creativity can actually die.

Many films don’t leave room for sequels but we get them anyway. Carrie, Fright Night, even Star Wars could be considered a movie that had little room at the time for a sequel but here we are 40 years later. Others implicitly set up sequels which will never get made for good or for ill, Push, Jumper, and a lot of Young Adult films tend to fall into this category. Many reviewers (including me) and those in the critique business (Cinema Sins, Honest Trailers, Nostalgia Critic) even make jokes about how its cute they think they will get a sequel.

I could really go into this more, but for now let’s talk my top 10 sequels.

Rules:

  1. These are sequels I have seen both the original film and the sequel. If I haven’t seen it – it will not make the list, so you won’t see the critically acclaimed Godfather II on here.
  2. In many cases I am not stating explicitly that the sequel is better than the original, only that it is really good.
  3. I am including films that are part of series, but will only rate the second film against the first – so yes, you are going to see Empire Strikes Back on this list, but you won’t see Nightmare on Elm Street 3, Back to the Future 3, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or Fury Road
  4. If I am reminded of a film later, I may re order this list.

Ok so here we go. These are in no particular order, currently.

    1. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back (1980) / Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

      Star Wars is an iconic piece of movie history. It defined the lives of tens of thousands of children and rewrote the rules of what summers and blockbusters were. It is, however, flawed. This doesn’t lessen it’s impact, but does give room for its sequel to be better. While it is clear Empire was written to be a continuation where Star Wars was not, despite protests to the contrary, it still holds as it’s own film. It successfully reintroduces the characters with no loss of personality, growth in character, and then expands the universe. The Empire becomes seen as the massive fist that it is vs. a single monstrosity. The sets, threats, and beats all just work better than they do in the first. Much of this can come from Kasdan’s writing, but also having the power of an established universe. You don’t need to explain as much, but have the luxury of using your footing to get more stable.

      Then of course there’s the ending. It would be easy to say no movie made now would have the audacity to end the way Empire does. While you still have some hope it *must* be acknowledged the heroes are playing from the back foot now and their positions are in jeopardy. This is really what gives it such staying power is that the heroes are not always triumphant. If you consistently win without sacrifice then the wins have no value. People, audiences, love to root for the underdog and if the hero is on top you just have a perfunctory win instead of a fight to come out on top in the next film. Empire delivers this and will always be remembered fondly for it.

    2. Color of Money (1986)/ The Hustler (1961)

      This will seem an odd one coming from me and it isn’t really a well known sequel. The original film has both amazing performances from Jackie Gleeson and Paul Newman. What the sequel does so smart is they introduce you to a very young Tom Cruise who seeks out a now aging Newman to show him how to shark. The music, the acting, the personalities all work and shows a logical dramatic evolution of the Newman character. It is actually rare to make a sequel like this where your original young star now plays the elder mentor. Its on this list as I think the formula here has opportunity for usage. It could and should have been used on the recent Flatliners film as Sutherland was in fact playing his prior character and would have been perfect to continue the story and mentor the new scientists on the risks.

    3. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) / Blade Runner (1982)

      Just see my recent review and know that these films are amazing pieces of work and the sequel is the best possible sequel you can make from a movie that didn’t have implicit architecture to do so. Already news agencies are talking about how 2049 bombed. As a financial investment it certainly did, but this doesn’t keep it from being amazing film making.I was tempted to throw everyone by putting Kurt Russel’s Soldier on here as the sequel to Blade Runner, but as its merely a spiritual successor/side-quel set in the same Universe I couldn’t. But you should see it and I still consider it an amazing film for what it is.

    4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)/ Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

      The first movie of the remakes here has one of the greatest film surprises in it of all time with a single word uttered. The second capitalizes on the world and the conclusion and takes us a time into the future. The visuals become stronger as does the storytelling. It is great science fiction in that it makes us look at our own humanity and our interactions with each other through the lens of how Ape culture is being built, interacts with itself and the natural divisions that occur – THEN goes and adds humans into the mix to show when opposing cultures meet. Many deride movies like this for showing the evil of “man”, but ask the un-contacted tribe in the Amazon what they think of modern man. Wait, you can’t they were just wiped out by a gold mining company.We do have better angels, but movies like this remind us of what we do all too frequently overtly and unconsciously amongst our own society. This is why it makes my list as the movies put these issues in focus and do it well consecutively.

    5. Aliens (1986) / Alien (1979)

      Alien is one of the definitive horror films of all time. So how do you make a sequel in the genre? Trick question – you don’t. You instead turn it into a pulse pounding yet character driven action movie. Aliens does something that most horror and action films fail to do – let you get to know the characters just enough so that when they die you knew who they were and a basic personality. To borrow from Oceans 11 “He has to like you and forget you.” Modern films in these genres give us the same amount or more of disposable characters, letting you know they will die, but don’t bother to make you care so the stakes never rise. Think about Vasquez, tough as nails, reaching for her partner Drake. Sgt. Apone, Frost, Weirzbowski, Ferro. Most fans of the franchise know each of those names, but they were nothing more than tally marks against the things have gotten bad. Hudson, Vasquez, even Gorman are left with you so that when they die, you see just when it couldn’t get worse it does. Hicks is taken out for the last fifteen minutes of movie, but for a moment you worry he won’t make it because of how all the others were structured. Even Bishop is set up to let you worry and you do. Not bad for a machine. This is why Aliens is a fantastic sequel. It defies convention and sets up structure in a way that others should, but don’t learn from, on how to do horror/action/and or sci fi.

    6. Superman II (1981) / Superman (1978)

      Richard Donner cheated here. Both films were made in 1977 with Donner having filmed an estimated 75% of it prior to being removed from the project by the studio. Richard Lester replaced Donner, but to get the credit had to shoot 51% of the material – which meant much in the way of reshoots. While I do feel the Donner cut is superior and the troubled production does create some very interesting continuity errors in the movies, Superman II is quite likely the most remembered of the two movies. This comes down to Terrence Stamp as Zod and Reeves Superman being so much larger than life. It brings the otherworldly nature of Superman into the focus vs. the weird real estate story of the first. If I asked you to quote a line from either of these films easily 90% of people would say “Kneel before Zod” – and that right there is why it makes the list. The *fond* memories of it and how well it holds up 40 years later.

    7. Star Trek: First Contact (1996) / Star Trek: Generations (1994) AND Star Trek: Wrath of Khan (1982) / Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

      Ok this one is kinda a cheat as its the same franchise, but different generations. MP allowed for Khan where they reached into the series and pulled one of the iconic villains and resurrected him into one of the most iconic sequels of all time. The battle of wills and the sacrifice of friends to see it through. Sure the sacrifice was short circuited by another film, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of watching Spock die before your eyes.

      First Contact does similar and brings the analogy closer to Moby Dick (as the movie points out), but does so very well. It’s also the first time TNG really goes “Dark”; meanwhile telling two very different stories successfully. Both of these movies tend to top people’s Star Trek film lists and for good reason.

    8. The Dark Knight (2008)/ Batman Begins (2005)

      Batman Begins is the better comic book movie that remains true to its origins and is an overall better Batman film. The Dark Knight deviates keeping only trappings of comic book worlds but tells instead a gritty crime drama with a villain who is on par cinematicaly with Hannibal Lechter. It is better made as a film, where you could watch it and a movie like Heat in a film study of crime films and while there might be a few eyebrows raised the argument is easy to make.The loss of the more comic book aspects and too much of it shot during daylight do take away from the Batman nature of it, but with its billion dollar gross, near universal fan and critical praise The Dark Knight does need to be acknowledged as one of the great sequels of all time.

    9. Terminator 2 Judgement Day (1991) / Terminator (1984)

      What is it with Cameron making superior sequels -ignoring Pirhana II the spawning. In this case he expands on his own universe and gives one of the most financially successful sequels of all time. Terminator 2 largely holds up in every category from then til now even with its early generation CGI effects. There are some that don’t let’s be fair, but it works on a lot of levels in the FX department even now. Much was practical and then we have excellent character development like we saw with Empire Strikes back on how characters changed over time. Terminator gave us a world, a look and a feel. Terminator 2 capitalized on it. The sadness is that none of the sequels gave us John Connor like we were promised from T2’s battlefield shot or even a world as promised by Kyle Reese in the first.

    10. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) / Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

      I have a love for The First Avenger. Of the two movies it is the one I am more likely to watch just because it is a touch more on the feel good components (all things considered) and less on more modern horror shows. It makes me feel in the right ways. That being said, Winter Soldier is without a doubt the best sequel in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Even Cinema Sins and Honest Trailers had issues mocking it because much like Dark Knight it is solid film making. What it does better is keep within the strongest parts of its comic book trappings.

That’s my list. While I have a feeling I missed something and didn’t fully explain everything (I’m already at 2500 words) I believe these are the right choices. There were a few who didn’t make the cut. I may get inspired to talk about remakes/reboots in a future post to this. Special thanks to Jessica L. for inspiring this post.

Comment here on AmusedintheDark on Facebook on what you think should be on this list or if you agree or disagree.

Runners Up:

  • The Chronicles of Riddick (2004) / Pitch Black (2000)
  • The Wolverine (2013) / X Men Origins Wolverine (2009)
  • Hellboy 2 The Golden Army (2008) / Hellboy (2004)
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