11 Movies That Prove Blockbuster Sequels Aren’t Always Bad
Summer is the season for sequels, and sometimes that's a good thing.
Hey, you know what’s pretty good in cinemas at the moment? The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Yep, for all the concern about the influx of blockbuster sequels this summer, the second outings of Katniss Everdeen and Thorin Oakenshield are happily superior to their predecessors. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues hits a similar note, meaning directors Francis Lawrence, Peter Jackson and Adam McKay have somehow delivered franchise follow-ups that are throwing tridents of awesome through the heart of mediocre filmmaking.
Here are some other exemplary movies that top their source material to make you reconsider writing off follow-up blockbusters just yet.
Brian Singer’s first film set up the X-Men world, and his follow-up X2 gave its mutant denizens the opportunity to band together to protect themselves from the ‘normals’. In the process, we scored one hell of an entertaining pulp-action movie, which also kept the X-Men franchise viable. Unfortunately, Brett Ratner fucked up the third one so badly it nearly torpedoed the entire endeavour, but Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class righted the ship again. (Also, the less said about the Wolverine side of the franchise, the better.)
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: It pays to get personal. Much like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, X2 successfully narrowed in on its characters to engage politically via the personal.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Substantially funnier, darker and more heartfelt than its first incarnation, this sequel sees Hellboy battling the idea of what he does for a living, complete with a ’fuck you, boss’ bent. Guillermo Del Toro’s dazzling direction and predilection for captivating oddball creations also reigned supreme here: his steampunk Johann Strauss (who’s literally made from steam), leprechaun goblin, ‘monster market’ fight scene and clockwork Golden Army are as impressive as Ron Perlman’s voice.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Darker is better, and and even non-humans can contemplate their humanity.
The Expendables 2 (2012)
Well, at least this one acknowledges that it’s utterly ludicrous. Amid all the explosions and testosterone, it unlimbers the big guns, letting Jean Claude Van Damme (playing a dude named ‘Vilain’… c’mon!) and Chuck Norris in on the action, while expanding the roles of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger with way more kickarse results.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: YES TO MOAR ‘SPLOSIONS. Also, it never hurts to acknowledge the arch-camp idiocy of your endeavour (See also: Fast & Furious 2-7)
Evil Dead II (1987)
Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead was properly scary, but then he bettered that effort by just kinda-sorta remaking it. Bruce Campbell’s heroic Ash is still the guy I most want to be when I grow up.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Don’t be afraid of revisiting what you did well the first time. And if you have to go back to that cabin in the woods, please pack a shotgun and a chainsaw.
Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
You know what doesn’t hold up well? 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s clunky, slower than a highlights tape of Greg ‘Diesel’ Williams running down the wing of the MCG set to an Arcade Fire ballad and, well, it’s just kinda ridiculous. Voyager 6 is sentient? Really, yawn. Its follow-up, however, is the high point of the Star Trek universe. Ricardo Montalban not only possesses the best name for an actor ever, but his Khan is superior malevolence incarnate. He’s cold, calculated, legit scary, and one of the better screen villains ever. That Kirk and Spock have their best scene of the series (right at the end, obviously) is almost gravy.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: If your franchise has one of the most implacably badarse villains ever, use them wisely.
“In space, no one can hear you scream”, right? Yep, the first one nailed that. But here, the tagline could’ve simply been ‘The One James Cameron Did That Has Ripley Rocking A Flame-Thrower Strapped To A Motherfuckin’ Machine Gun’. While Ridley Scott’s Alien remains a masterpiece, James Cameron’s Aliens hits a lot more cylinders, combining sci-fi, horror and action into one glorious “Get away from her, you bitch!” cacophony of awesome.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Keep your original’s signature tone, expand your setting, and just strap a flame-thrower to a machine gun already.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Who else is still fucking terrified of Robert Patrick, based purely on his role as the T-1000 from twenty-odd years ago? James Cameron proved himself king of the blockbuster sequel and set the tone for big budget movie-making when he went wide-screen epic for Judgement Day, bringing back Arnold Schwarzenegger (this time as John Connor’s saviour) and Linda Hamilton, who is pitch perfect as Sarah Connor. Even if Eddie Furlong’s brutally dated catchphrases grate now, just try saying “Hasta la vista, baby” without a thick Austrian accent.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Always go bigger, badder, moar splodey, and maybe tie in a Guns N Roses music video if you can.
The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Sam and Frodo wander the Emyn Muil wastes and the Dead Marshes north of Mordor with Gollum before meeting Faramir in Ithilien, Pippin and Merry rock out with Treebeard, Gandalf goes all white wizard, and Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas jog across Rohan, sort out Wormtongue and King Theoden, and tackle an Orc horde at Helm’s Deep in one of the best battle sequences put to film. Fellowship Of The Ring was good, but not this good.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Get your pacing right. And then throw a dwarf.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The film that allowed Spidey to breathe. Done with Willem Dafoe’s maniacal Green Goblin, Spidey tackles Alfred Molina’s much more interesting Doc Ock, and we get to see just how much of an effect Harry Osborn’s (James Franco) relationship with Mary-Jane (Kirsten Dunst) is having on ol’ mate Peter Parker. Plus, who can forget that excellent train scene? Also, I saw this on my birthday when it came out and have always liked it, so there.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Release it on my birthday?
Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
To declare where my heart lies when it comes to Star Wars, I’m currently on the “A New Hope is my favourite movie ever!” bandwagon, but I can’t argue against the fact that Empire is the better-made movie. From the desperation and execution of the Hoth battle and the asteroid field escape, to Luke’s disfiguring wampa injury and growth from Yoda’s guidance, to the crowning revelation of Darth Vader in Cloud City and the meditative, downer ending, it fleshes out a universe only hinted at in the original, putting all of it — and the characters you’ve grown to love — at stake.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Seriously, darker is always better.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Batman Begins was good, but The Dark Knight remains the singular benchmark for any contemporary blockbuster movie that’s looking to excel at filmmaking and not just make a ton of money. Christopher Nolan’s gruff and moody Caped Crusader met his opposite in Heath Ledger’s unhinged Joker, and, alongside the descent of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), walked us into a world of moral quandaries and amazing set pieces (the bank robbery, the Gotham car chase, the hospital explosion, the Joker’s criminal coup d’état, the Hong Kong kidnapping, etc). The best part, though, is the air of uncertainty and dread that hangs across the film, even on repeat viewings. It’s set the bar for every blockbuster since, and none have come close.
Lesson it teaches us about making a good sequel: Just shut up and make a great movie.
Jaymz is a New York-based writer (originally from Melbourne, and the former Editor of triple j magazine), super-yacht enthusiast, hi-tech jewel thief and Bengal tiger trainer. He enjoys wearing monocles, finely spiced rum, constructing pillow forts, and zip-lining from Hong Kong skyscrapers. You can find him on twitter via @jaymzclements