Ten Deep 9.19.13: Top 10 Movie Sequels
Posted by Mike Gorman on 09.19.2013
From Spider Man 2 and Dawn of the Dead to Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II and more, 411's Mike Gorman counts down the top 10 sequels of all time!
"Top Ten Movie Sequels"
This weekend I saw Insidious Chapter 2 and I have got to say that it is a fantastic sequel to the first film. While neither is ground breaking film making, Insidious Chapter 2 felt like the perfect follow up to the original and got me thinking about what makes a film a truly great sequel. I make no secret of my love for sequels. When a film ends my head immediately starts going to where the story could go from there. That's not to say that I am not ever satisfied with a well told story that clearly ends, but often when I am enamored by the characters and events of a film I want to see what happens next.
To me, a good sequel does two things. First, it seamlessly continues the story from the first film, even if time has elapsed. You can still see the same thru-lines being drawn as the sequel progresses. And second, it builds upon that story adding new elements that deepen the mythos of the first story. A sequel should broaden the scope of the first film's world and take us deeper into the events. The characters don't even need to be exactly the same; they should just exist within an established continuity. The ten films I have selected below do just that. Some will be easy picks I am sure but there may be a surprise or two.
10. Dawn of the Dead
With Dawn of the Dead, George Romero showed that the world of the zombie apocalypse was much broader that the delicately claustrophobic confines of his first venture, Night of the Living Dead. In Night, the action centered on what was happening in that small farm house and the desire of the occupants to escape. In Dawn the perspective flipped in a way, as this time the new set of survivors fight to stay in one place that they think is the perfect shelter from the hordes. Dawn took many of the questions raised by the first film, like where would be the best place to take shelter, and tried to answer them. It felt like a perfectly logical progression from the original film.
9. Spider-Man 2
The sequel success of Spider-Man 2 comes from the great groundwork laid out in the first film. By the time number two starts, we know who Peter Parker is and what his life mission is about. There is no need to tired rehashing of the entire first story and instead we get to take a closer look at the impact of becoming Spider-Man on his life. We also were treated to another iconic villain from the Spider-Man comic book mythology, Doctor Octopus. Spidey's villains have long been a part of his unique story and they brought Ock into the film world with great success in my opinion.
8. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
It's funny because when I look back on the very first time I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring I remember being incredibly disappointed in the ending. I turned to my friend Brian and said, "Wait, so now they're just going to walk more?" and he said, "Oh yeah, that's the best part!" That said, my anticipation for the second film was kind of low. It wasn't until I saw it that I could really appreciate the scope of the work being laid out before us. I truly love a sequel that picks right up where the first film ends and drives the story forward, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers did just that. I was able to eventually appreciate the use of exposition in the film and the care given to crafting the details of Middle Earth.
7. The Dark Knight
I chose The Dark Knight for this list not simply because it was the best film in Nolan's trilogy but because it does something all great sequels do, delivers on the promised potential in the first film. Batman Begins establishes the world that Bruce Wayne operates in and then The Dark Knight shows us, well, how dark that world can get in the form of the Joker. Truly great superhero stories have to establish an origin for the hero's purpose and abilities, and then establish their counterpoint, their villain. We were definitely given that progression at a nice pace in these films.
6. Toy Story 3
No offense to Toy Story 2 but as sequels go, Toy Story 3 is vastly superior and earns a spot on this week's list as one of the best sequels of all time. 2 is a lot of fun and a solid film but 3 takes the toys to a whole new place in their journey and hits all the emotional hot buttons for the audience, be they children or adults. While the first films raised the question of what happens to toys when they start to fall out of favor, Toy Story 3 brings us the tale of what happens when the owner grows up. It is an inevitable chapter to this story of toys and was handled with skill by the folks at Disney Pixar. I've yet to find someone who was not on the edge of their seat during the "melt down" scene.
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Before you beat me up for my obsessive fan-boy love for this film series, stop and think about this film for a second. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors came after a film that would easily earn itself a spot on the list of worst sequels ever made and was able to revitalize the property and give birth to the franchise that followed. This film took the story of the first Nightmare, the battle between Nancy & Freddy, and expanded upon it. In A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors Nancy returns and helps the rest of the Elm Street children to find their strength in the fight against the dream demon. By building an army in this film, Nancy helps set up the stories that were to follow in subsequent films.
4. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day lies in the fact that it built upon the story of an incredibly popular and action packed film. When you have a film that possessed the momentum of the original Terminator a fear that a sequel might derail the action is not at all surprising, but T2 was able to take the foundation laid down in the first film and slam that action pedal to the metal. The sense of urgency contained within the first film is only heightened as Judgment Day itself grows ever closer and is reflected in how Sarah Connor's life has changed so dramatically. Having Schwarzenegger's Terminator flip from uber-villain to guardian angel was also a very nice touch that helped move this titanic tale forward.
Aliens definitely fulfills all of my stated criteria for what makes an awesome sequel on many levels. Alien and Aliens are two films that fit together seamlessly in my opinion yet have every different feels to them. In the first film we do not know what the alien is and that mystery lurks around every corner, but by the time we get to Aliens we have seen them and we know the threat that they are which is why most fans are screaming at the screen when Ripley is brought back into that environment. She is the franchise's through-line clearly, and when we see her go from hunted to hunting over the course of these films, one can't help but cheer. Aliens is explosive action-fest that follows the dark discoveries of its lead in and this makes complete sense when you look at the threat the aliens provide.
2. Godfather 2
When I say that a great sequel brings depth to the story of the original and its characters one cannot help but immediately turn to Godfather 2 as the quintessential example of this in action. In the first Godfather we meet Vito Corleone and his family, but Vito's story is nearing its close. As Godfather 2 opens we see that we will now learn the history that brought him to where he was in the first film as we watch his son, Michael, step into his shoes. Godfather 2 makes many critics best film of all time lists and is one of the few sequels I know that I have heard anyone seriously defend as possibly being better or stronger than the original.
1. The Empire Strikes Back
If Star Wars was the opening act of George Lucas' epic space opera, The Empire Strikes Back was the incredibly strong act two. In Empire there is no massive leap forward in time, the characters are continuing the journeys they started in the first film on logical paths. What I also really enjoyed about The Empire Strikes Back is that it feels like part two of a trilogy in that the makers were not afraid to continue their story and cut it off at the part that seemed most logical in anticipation of what was to come next. In that way, I find this film to function exquisitely as it begins and it ends, a rarity with sequels. I also think this film laid the groundwork for trilogy storytelling as it would follow; yes I am looking at #8 when I say this. The other factor that ensured The Empire Strikes Back spot at the top this week is of a more personal nature as a kid who grew up when these films were being released. They were epic on a scale I had not seen before and when Star Wars ended all my little brain could think was, "But what's next???" My anticipation of this sequel was intense and I remember standing with my father in a line that wrapped around the outside of the theater more than twice to see it when it opened. Needless to say, I was not disappointed.
Are you a sequel fan or do you feel like they just milk audiences for more money while providing watered down continuations of stories that already had endings? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
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