Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had the ‘Which sequel is better than its predecessor’ debate. We all know the scene: It’s late. You’ve just washed down The Bourne Ultimatum, or Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, with a bottle of wine and a 12 inch pizza, and one of your number makes the statement. “That’s way better than the earlier ones!”
Cut to: several hours later, and your group will no doubt have concluded, after lengthy discussion, that the best sequels in the history of cinema are The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, Aliens, The Dark Knight and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. What’s more, they’re absolutely right. Since the dawn of the internet, film fans have been declaring their lists of the absolute best sequels ever made, and almost without exception, those titles eventually float to the top. Here endeth the lesson, right? Wrong.
Take a look at those five titles. The Empire Strikes Back – the second movie in what is arguably the most iconic film franchise ever committed to film. The Godfather Part II – the second movie in one of the most legendary film franchises ever made. Aliens – the second film in a franchise that practically invented a genre. The Dark Knight – the second film in a franchise that re-booted one of the most iconic comic book characters in history. Terminator 2: Judgement Day – the second film in a franchise that re-invented time travel movies, and a bona-fide blockbuster which single-handedly advanced filmmaking technology. Did you also notice that two of the five are James Cameron movies? The point is, we repeatedly cite these masterpieces as being the best sequels ever made, because they are already cemented in our collective moviegoer psyche. Of course we list them – they are the first ones that spring to mind. There is certainly a reason they have individually reached that level of recognition, but the list does not end with them.
Sequels are difficult films to get right, and in the case of the film franchise, success becomes progressively harder to achieve. Filmmakers must simultaneously embrace the familiar, and bring something new to the table. They must respect the original, while reinvigorating something that has been seen before. They must move the story forward, while acknowledging the past. There are advantages to be had, in terms of brand recognition, of course. The reason sequels are so common these days is that they represent a relatively safe bet in uncertain economic times. Audiences are perceived to be more willing to spend money on a ticket that gives them something they are familiar with and know they will enjoy, while distributors and exhibitors are more likely to roll the dice on a title that brings with it a built-in, proven fan-base.
That’s why, having already been treated to Rio 2, The Raid 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days Of Future Past this year, we will soon be bombarded with Transformers: Age Of Extinction, 22 Jump Street, The Purge: Anarchy, The Expendables 3, Paranormal Activity 5, Horrible Bosses 2, Dumb And Dumber To, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Night At The Museum 3, among others. Some of those films are interesting prospects that seem to provide some furthering of a particular narrative. Others are clearly just re-hashing something that previously made some financiers very happy. For example, does anyone really expect a third Night At The Museum movie to introduce an entirely new and hilarious gimmick? How many of the sequels heading to our theatres in 2014 would make it into your friendly debate about series instalments that are better than their original?
The fact is, superior sequels are incredibly rare – but there are more than five. Cast your mind back across all those series and franchises, and look beyond that legendary quintet. Which are the next titles on the list? Join me for the Superior Sequels Director’s Cut – with deleted scenes restored.