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By Daniel Lammin
26th April 2015

I feel that if I’m going to write an article about great sequels, I need to get two things out of the way. Firstly, I haven’t seen ‘The Godfather Part II’. This isn’t because I didn’t like the first one, I flat out lost my mind over ‘The Godfather’. It’s just one of those films I’ve never gotten around to - let’s be honest, it is a very long film. And secondly, I have to admit, to the disgust of many, that I didn’t like ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’. I know, that’s practically blasphemy, but I just liked the first film more, that’s all. Why is it important to get that out of the way? Because both films feature on every 'Best Sequels' list ever written, and I’m sure there'll be surprise at their not being here. Let’s look at this as an opportunity though! Instead of just going for the obvious, I’ve had to put some serious thought into this list. So let’s just assume those two are a given in general, and continue the almost impossible search for that most elusive of cinematic achievements - a legitimately great sequel.

This one is a no-brainer. I’ve eliminated a lot of franchise or series-related sequels from this list on account of most these days being planned in advance regardless of the success of the first (hence no Marvel or Lord of the Rings or James Bond or Hunger Games), but while George Lucas always wanted to tell a grand six-part story, the release of the original ‘Star Wars’ in 1977 held no guarantees it would happen. We didn’t know there would be a follow-up, and certainly didn’t expect it to exceed the already considerable heights of the first. ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is a perfect sequel, driving the story of Luke Skywalker into new territory. It’s funnier, darker, bigger, bolder and more daring than the first, and features one of the best shocks in film history. Not only is ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ a great sequel, it’s still the best film in the Star Wars Saga.
I know it isn’t popular to think highly to Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to the sublime ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’, but there is just so much about ‘Temple of Doom’ that I absolutely love. Pitting Dr Jones against an Indian death cult, this is a much darker and more violent film, but it’s arguably the funniest film in the series, especially thanks to Kate Capshaw’s wonderfully silly performance as Willie Scott. She excels as the show girl so in contrast to the Indian culture around her. Much like ‘Aliens’, ‘Temple of Doom’ doesn’t try and replicate the success of the first, but strikes a tone and a texture all of its own, helped immensely by the Indian setting, which is beautifully executed. In no other Indiana Jones film will you find anything so blackly funny, so genuinely terrifying or so fearlessly daring as ‘Temple of Doom’.
It’s hard to say whether this is technically a sequel, since it doesn’t share any similarities with the original ‘Wizard of Oz’ (apart from keeping ruby slippers rather than silver). It’s also debatable how great a film it really is, obviously not as timeless as the MGM classic. There are things about Walter Murch’s film though that are truly unforgettable. Like ‘Temple of Doom’, it strikes a completely different tone, somewhat melancholy and more complex. Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) ends up back in OZ after escaping from a psychiatric hospital to find it practically deserted. Teaming with a new band of misfit friends, she attempts to find out what has happened and faces some truly terrifying foes along the way. It might not be a great film, but for me personally it’s a film I’ve never been able to get out of my head. There is far more daring in this Disney reboot than in any of the rebooted rubbish the studio churns out today.
ALIENS (1986)
Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ is a masterpiece. There’s absolutely no question about that. So how on earth could anyone make a sequel to it? By changing genres, changing tone and going for broke. I made the mistake of approaching James Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ wanting the same as the first, and came away very disappointed. Years later, I took it on its own terms and was completely blown away. ‘Aliens’ is the most balls-to-the-wall action film ever made, with an army of xenomorphs at war with a group of marines intent on wiping them out. At the centre is a traumatised Ripley, forced to face her worst nightmare once again and defeat it once and for all. Sigourney Weaver earned an Oscar nomination for her performance, and James Cameron achieved the impossible. Not only is ‘Aliens’ exactly the sequel ‘Alien’ needed, but it’s a masterpiece in its own right.
Barry Sonnenfeld had put all the right pieces together for his live action adaptation of ‘The Addams Family’, especially his spectacular cast headed by Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd and the divine Angelica Huston, as well as discovering star-in-the-making Christina Ricci. What he did with them in the sequel though was some kind of witchcraft. ‘Addams Family Values’ takes all the insanity of the first and doubles it, with sharper one-liners, more dangerous irreverence and even less regard for logic or sense. Outrageously funny almost every step of the way and completely nuts from beginning to end, ‘Addams Family Values’ is a total gem of a film, and completes the promise shown in the first film. And the Thanksgiving Day pageant just needs to be seen to be believed.
TOY STORY 2 (1999)
Originally, this follow-up to the Oscar-winning classic was supposed to go straight to video without any involvement from Pixar whatsoever, but when Disney decided to give it a theatrical release at the eleventh hour, John Lasseter and his team decided to step in and save the crumbling production and the integrity of their creation. What they came up with, after a marathon run towards completion, is a film that surpasses ‘Toy Story’ in every way. The tale of Woody and Buzz and the toys in Andy’s room explodes in scope and ambition, building on the mythology of the characters and setting Pixar on the path towards a more complex and emotional kind of film. And yet, in the process of upping the drama, they still maintain the sublime comedy and fun that made the first so wonderful. The third film in the series, ‘Toy Story 3’, continued to make the Toy Story Trilogy one of the finest ever made.
'Batman Begins' gave both Batman and the superhero genre a much needed breath of fresh air, but nothing could have prepared anyone for what Christopher Nolan thought of next. The modest success of ‘Begins’ was no indication of the gargantuan cultural and financial impact ‘The Dark Knight’ would have, effectively rewriting the rules of the superhero film and launching its director into the stratosphere. And all Nolan did was effectively not make a superhero film, but something more in line with the crime epics of Michael Mann and Francis Ford Coppola. ‘The Dark Knight’ is a grand epic, almost too big for its own good, crafted by a team of artists (both in front of the camera and behind) working at the absolute top of their game. Everything that’s come since (including the messy ‘The Dark Knight Rises’) just pales in comparison.
It’s hard to know whether this is a prequel to the original, a sequel to ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ or the seventh film in a series, so convoluted is the timeline of the Apes franchise. Where it sits more comfortably though is as a sequel to ‘Rise’, the modest success of which being the only reason ‘Dawn’ exists. And how thankful we are that it does! ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is an extraordinary film, taking the ideas planted in its predecessor and taking them into dark and unexpected territory. Director Matt Reeves proves that tentpole blockbusters can have tremendous intelligence, can look absolutely beautiful and be incredibly daring in their narrative and characters. As a sequel, it blows its predecessor out of the water, and finally does justice to the original film in a series that has never been this impressive since.

Of course there are many others worth mentioning - Sam Raimi's ‘Spider-Man 2’ which builds so beautifully on the original, the operatic elegance of ‘X2: X-Men United’, the edge-of-your-seat thrills of ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ which pretty much rewrote the spy thriller, and ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, Marvel’s only successful "sequel" to date. There are also those strange beasts, the spiritual sequels, like Edgar Wright’s glorious ‘Hot Fuzz’, Lars Von Trier’s mesmerising ‘Melancholia’ or the films of Ingmar Bergman’s Faith Trilogy. The fact is, as cinema gets more creative and diverse (and we fall into the trap of this horrid "cinematic universe concept), what constitutes as a sequel is getting hard to define.

But are there any that I’ve missed? Take to the comments section and leave your opinion! You won’t convince me to like ‘Terminator 2’ though...

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