Sequels must be the most commonly attempted type of films that are scarcely pulled off in the history of cinema. It is hard enough creating a decent movie that is still worth watching a year or two after it is initially released, let alone a classic that is still good after decades or a masterpiece that remains timeless.
Creating a good, or in some cases great, sequel is a rarely seen art form that is often treated as a formula to replicate or exceed its success of the film that preceded it. Sequels are often treated as a gateway to turn one film into a franchise in order to cobble together any money the first movie may have left behind at the box office.
Although they may be few and far between, there are some sequels that pickup where the original movie left off and seamlessly allow the narrative and characters to flow in incredible new directions. Some sequels serve as bookends to the first film, provide rare insight into the character’s past and breathe new life into the direction of the story.
Despite some sequels being regarded as some of the most widely hated films of all time (i.e. Back to the Future Pt. II, The Godfather Pt. III, Escape From LA, Star Wars 1-3 etc.), there are some classic films that were crafted as sequels. Let us take a look at some of the greatest sequels of all time to learn how some stories reached beyond their original ambitions to exceed the audiences expectations.
20. The Girl Who Played With Fire
This list has a few of the most lethal female action protagonists cinema has ever seen, but Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salanda is definitely one of the most welcome entries from the 21st Century. Here is a complex character that is completely believable that was an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation that rose to greatness to be reborn as the person she was always meant to be.
This sequel is definitely more of an action movie compared to all of the suspense in the original film, but we get to see Lisbeth kick more ass as a one woman army than any other installment in the series. Not only does she take on a villain that can physically feel no pain that’s straight out of a James Bond movie, she can hack her way out of the vault in the Fort Knox.
Lisbeth is also smart enough to survive the corporate baddies at every turn in an espionage that makes the Bourne series seem like a high school writer’s craft project. With enough mental, emotional and physical strength at her disposal, The Girl Who Played With Fire proves that if you play with matches, you’ll get burned.
19. The Raid 2
Gareth Evans has given birth to one of the most exciting action franchises the genre has seen in decades with enough firepower to kick off a riot and a storyline that slices like a guillotine. The true magic of The Raid 2 is that it carries the storyline from pure brute force to a golden thread of deception woven throughout both the underground world of crime surrounding every character into the law enforcement agency sworn to take them down.
Much like LA Confidential and Infernal Affairs, as the story unfolds audiences see that every character realizes that their true enemy lies within themselves and their inner circle. With a climax that will leave viewers scrapping their jaw off the floor and plot twists that will leave them equally in awe, it is not to be missed.
Hollywood should take a cue from The Raid 2 because despite all of the incredible visual action sequences, nothing tops a crisp script containing a side-winding narrative full of mind-bending characters.
18. X-Men 2
When the X-Men were originally brought to life onscreen Hollywood finally took notice that Sam Raimi’s cinematic vision for Spider Man was no fluke. Filmmakers finally had the technological abilities to merge imaginative ideas with real action in a way audiences had never seen before and X-Men became no exception. Never had casting merged with the clear-cut crystallized creation of the characters on the page than with X-Men.
X2 formed a cinematic coalescence with crystallized fan ideas of who these characters on the page with who they could be onscreen that was pure imagination embodied by movie magic. It turns out having a razor sharp script in tow doesn’t hurt either, and after David Hayter set the bar with what fans expected of comic book films at the time.
With the US government waging a full on war with mutants to defend the idea that mutants wouldn’t exist without humans to diverge from. While civil war emerges Magneto begins forming an army to take control of Earth where Professor X looks to create a balance so there’s still a planet for humans and mutants to live on together.
With Alan Cumming taking the stage as Nightcrawler, X2 successfully allows some of the fan favorites to share the spotlight while being balanced with a story chalked full of death defying action scenes met with a diverse range character development. The X-Men stories have always been about finding a way to adapt, evolve and continue to live in harmony with those that are different than us rather than rely on the evil we know and allowing our fear to prevent change.
The film succeeds in creating a tale strong enough to intrigue long term fans and moviegoers alike while allowing some of the coolest characters in the franchise to have a life on screen.
17. Toy Story 3
Say what you want, but the Toy Story trilogy are one of the few film series that bridge the gap between 20th century storytelling and 21st century moviemaking. This film series could not have been more nostalgic for children in the nineties that remember life before the internet exploded into public consciousness that had to use their imaginations to make their own fun. Not to say everything was better “back in the day”, but take a good look at Toy Story 3 and try not to get nostalgic.
Much like the function of the story itself, the film is all about moving on, accepting change and finding a new purpose in life. Although Woody, Buzz and all the other beloved characters within the story have done everything they could to stick together with Andy throughout all the challenges that childhood presented, nothing could prepare them for Andy finally growing up. They try to substitute going to daycare and looking for the cheap thrills of daily playtime with a revolving door of toddlers that will never remember them as they leave their long-lasting relationship with Andy behind.
In the end they see how other toys take out their pain of loss on them because their last owners abandoned them. The gang bands together to find a new place for themselves while coming to terms with Andy going to college by treasuring their memories with him and cherishing their time together while they search for new owners.
Anyone who ever had a favorite action figure, bought accessories for their favorite Barbie or had a toy they couldn’t leave behind will have a hard time not getting nostalgic about this movie. It’s a beautiful love letter to childhood and sentimentality about the fact that we all have to grow up, but that doesn’t mean we have to leave everything behind to move forward.
16. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Finally, a Peter Jackson movie that cuts to the chase, gets to the point and delivers the goods. The film does carry certain elements of old school Hollywood epics in the scope of the story that are reminiscent of Ben Hur and Spartacus, albeit infused with massive CGI. The attention to detail within this series of films is on an unparalleled level, but the success of The Return of the King lies in the fact that unlike many sequels, his series acts as a crescendo.
Unlike many trilogies, the action, dynamics and development of the characters grow stronger as the story goes on rather than Tolkien searching to drum up another adventure for his characters, which is the case in many sequels. The film is certainly longwinded when it comes to wrapping up the ending, but the trek into Mordor and the completion of the quest it took two movies to lead up to definitely create a satisfying ending.
It would be great to see Peter Jackson take on a more stripped down approach to storytelling, but that’s like asking George RR Martin to write a romantic comedy. The sheer scope of the vision, the vastness of the world within the story and the amount of characters call for it.
If there ever was a King of Mexploitation films, his name is Robert Rodriquez. After his explosive indie debut with the seven thousand dollar gun-play extravaganza El Miriachi, Rodriguez brings audiences back to Mexico for round two of every gunslingers wet dream.
The film acts like a love-letter to John Woo films like Hard-boiled and The Killer, prepare to get in the ring for another swing for the film that defined the trope “cool guys don’t look at explosions”. Essentially the film is treated as a modern Western on steroids as a lone gunman takes on a Mexican drug cartel to save a small town and the woman who saved his life.
Selma Hayek delivers an electrifying performance that is hotter than the heat-waves rippling off the desert highway. This film put Antonio Banderas back on the map as a leading man in action movies and established Rodriguez as one of the new emerging indie directors to watch in the nineties alongside Quentin Tarantino.