Defining what is the key in crafting a good movie sequel is without a doubt complicated. Movie studios almost never know when to quit and more often than not it turns out to be a bad idea. But hey, often times they make money. The key to an excellent sequel, whether it be part of a franchise or trilogy, is respecting the soul of the story and characters as opposed to simply trying to cash in. You also have those unfortunate hopefuls in which the maestro’s are just pushing their luck a little bit too far (Godfather Part III anyone?). It can be tough to find, but there are some real diamonds in the rough. Here are my Top 10 Movie Sequels. Franchises or trilogies are in play, but it must be a direct sequel to the original installment on this particular list.
10. “Back to the Future Part II” (1989):
I am still waiting for my hoverboard dammit! The original “Back to the Future” went from being a plucky 80’s teen comedy to a cultural phenomenon that has stood the test of time. One of the biggest reasons is its sequel. The hoverboard is the most iconic thing in this franchise, but there are so many great moments involving Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) and Doc (Christopher Lloyd) time traveling. This time they head to the future because Marty’s kid is in big trouble. Pop culture references that were way ahead of this movies’ time are abundant, including a pair of pump up Nike sneakers. The crux is a record book of pro sports game scores going back to the 1950’s that allows Marty’s infamous foe Biff (Thomas F. Wilson) the key to a fortune. Ignore the third installment back in the old west in this franchise. “Back to the Future II” continues the adventure perfectly and is another blast for the entire family.
9. “For a Few Dollars More” (1965):
Anybody who knows me knows I am not a big fan of westerns. The John Wayne/John Ford movies are boring and littered with extreme racism. The westerns I do like are the gritty style shoot-em-ups with antiheroes leading the way. The Clint Eastwood type of saloon showdowns. In the 1960’s Eastwood teamed up with director Sergio Leone to make three films centered around ‘The Man With No Name’. Eastwood was an absolute badass who lived by a code. If you cross him, your ass is getting shot down. Later coming to be know as ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ because Leone was Italian, the trilogy was a huge success on both sides of the pond. “A Fistful of Dollars” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” bookended the trilogy, but let us not forget the excellent second entry “For a Few Dollars More”. Months after the bloody shootout in “A Fist Full of Dollars”, Eastwood is now a professional bounty hunter that arrives in the town of El Paso on the hunt for an outlaw named El Indio. Despite getting word that a bounty hunter is coming, Indio still plans to rob a bank. An ultimate showdown is inevitable. This is what exciting western filmmaking looks like.
8. “Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn” (1987):
I mean, technically this is a sequel? Director Sam Raimi made a career for himself with the low budget horror hit “Evil Dead” in 1981. Six years later he got back together with star Bruce Campbell to create a crazy sequel/remake of the original film with “Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn”. Armed with a legitimate budget, Raimi upped the ante big time in order to create his second go around involving the ‘Book of the Dead’ and the possessed monsters that come along with it. “Evil Dead II” is the ultimate horror/comedy, highlighted by its main character arming himself with a chainsaw made to kill demons. This is pure entertainment at the highest level.
7. “The Dark Knight” (2008):
The gold standard when it comes to comic book movies, director Christopher Nolan took the mostly historically goofy movies about guys wearing capes and made a serious action drama that felt as real as possible in a world that includes Batman. The first movie in this reboot of the classic character “Batman Begins” was surprisingly well done. “The Dark Night” was a masterpiece, headed up from a virtuoso performance by the late Heath Ledger as Batman’s top villain the Joker. That is what makes this the gold standard. Yes there are big action set pieces, but the core is the methodical madman obsessed with creating chaos. If the opening scene does not have your jaw dropping then I do not know what will.
6. “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935):
Everybody knows the classic Universal Monsters from the 1930’s and 40’s. Somewhat tame by todays violent horror movie standards, the Universal Monsters were terrifying audiences still getting aquatinted with going to the movies. “Frankenstein” is definitely the most iconic of the group. “Dracula”, “The Wolfman”, “The Mummy”, and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” were among the other original greats. The problem was that almost all of their sequels and franchises were WAYYYYYY worse than the initial films. The one exception is “Bride of Frankenstein”. The monster survived the fire in the first film and is discovered by an even crazier mad scientist known as Doctor Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger). Working with Dr. Frankenstein the two set out to make a female companion for the big guy. “Bride of Frankenstein” is quite possible better than the original. Director James Whale uses subtle homosexual undertones in a time when that was not cool. Let us also not forget Pretorious’s crazy experiments, highlighted by a trio of shrunken people in little glass jars. “Bride” is iconic, and who could forget those white hi-lights on the new creature that women still dress up in during Halloween to this day.
5. “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”:
“The Lord of the Rings” was one of the biggest gambles in film history that ended up being one of biggest successes on the silver screen. As a whole, the trilogy is amazing. After “The Fellowship of the Ring” was such a big hit, many wondered if director Peter Jackson could keep it up. In my opinion the best installment came with “The Two Towers”. The filmmakers did not have to spend a ton of time establishing things and could get right into the meat of the story. The fellowship is broken with the main hobbits on their own and the warriors on a mission to save their other two tiny friends. Two big elements that separate this film from the others. ‘The Battle of Helms Deep’ is quite possibly the most epic battle scene ever committed to film. But the main show stopper is the introduction of Gollum. Andy Serkis puts on a tour-de-force of motion capture work as the deformed creature obsessed with getting back his ‘precious’ once joining Sam and Frodo on their journey. Man do I miss epic filmmaking.
4. “Mon Oncle” (1958):
One of the greatest physical and situational comedic filmmakers ever, Jacques Tati is a French treasure. Similar to the classic slapstick silents of Charlie Chaplin as ‘The Tramp’, Tati is genius as the aloof old man character Monsieur Hulot. The charming man armed with a brown coat and umbrella is constantly finding himself in the strangest situations while just trying to go about a quiet day. The first film in the series, the black and white “Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday”, was a hit and excellent satire on the French citizens obsession with going on holiday every year. His follow up “Mon Oncle” brought the character into the world of color and it is a blast. Hulot finds himself exploring the cutting edge technology world of his brother-in-laws place of work, an atmosphere foreign to the man. Starting with the high tech modern home the family lives in, M. Hulot is lost from the start. He does however create a bond with his curious young nephew much to the chagrin of the young boys parents and their high class lifestyle. “Mon Oncle” is all about enjoying the little things in life, and will have you smiling the entire time.
3. “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” (1991):
Arnold said he would be back, and boy was he not kidding. “The Terminator” was a huge sci-fi hit in the 80’s, putting James Cameron on the map, also giving Arnie his most memorable character. With a much bigger budget and much improved visual effects, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day” was a colossal summer blockbuster. Introducing a new liquid metal killing machine the T-1000 from the future sent to eliminate young John Connor was high tension stuff. Sent back as a reprogrammed hero, Schwarzenegger is the only hope to keep Connor alive so that he can save the future of humanity. Many consider this to be superior to the initial film. I prefer the original, but it is really close. One thing is for sure, stop after “T2” as all of the other “Terminator” movies are absolute garbage.
2. “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980):
Unless you are under the age of 15, everyone knows the original “Star Wars” trilogy films are by far the best in the franchise. Nerd or no nerd, it is pretty clear “The Empire Strikes Back” is without a doubt the best. After “A New Hope” came out and started a global phenomenon, George Lucas upped the ante with a far more darkly mature film with “Empire”. So many great moments. The opening battle on the ice planet Hoth. Han and Leia trying to escape the empire in the Millennium Falcon. The introduction of Lando Calrissian and of course the wise Jedi master Yoda. And finally, perhaps the greatest twist ending in history. “Empire” has it all and took the franchise from a one time blockbuster and sent it on its way to being a generational juggernaut.
1. “The Godfather Part II (1974):
I always argue “The Godfather” is the most historically classic movie ever made. Everyone has their personal favorites of course, but on a purely historic list that has got to be number one. How director Francis Ford Coppola did it again by making another epic masterpiece with “The Godfather Part II” is unbelievable. Al Pacino blows the viewers minds with a second unbelievable performance as Michael Corleone, now in full command of the family. The innocent young military man we first met at the start of this story is now a cold blooded mob boss. Michael is trying to balance multiple attempts on his life. Finding out on a business trip to Cuba in the middle of the communist revolution that his brother was the one to betray him is what you think would be the low point. But the biggest blow is his wife Kay becoming so sick of this murderous world that she even commits one of the ultimate sins against an Italian man in order to spite her evil husband. On top of that, we have a great side story flashback about the original Godfather Vito Corleone and his tumultuous journey of coming to America. Robert DeNiro has such intense presence as he shows how one Italian can begin a criminal empire. Like “Terminator 2”, many people prefer “Part II” here. Once again I prefer the original, but it is very close. If you live under a rock and have never seen these two classics, get off your butt now. If you don’t, I’m gonna make you an offer you can’t refuse.