Sequels are a tricky thing to get right. When something’s a success there’s a big desire to jump on that success and squeeze every last possible cent out of it, before everyone gets interested in something else. The problem is, a lot of the time no one has a clue why something was popular in the first place, so a lot of the time they just make the exact same movie again. Here are five sequels that manage to not just be great movies, but also extend the ideas of the predecessor in a meaningful way. This isn’t really in order of quality though, since I love them all like they were my children.
5. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
This one gets special credit for, in my eyes, saving the Mission Impossible franchise. I disliked all of the previous three films, and had a pretty low opinion of the series in general, but I was blown away by Ghost Protocol. This movie rules hard. If it hadn’t come out at the same time as “The Raid” and “Moneyball” it would be my favorite film of 2011. What I really admire about it is how simple and basic all the effects are. There isn’t a huge elaborate green-screen fight with tons of junk going on, Tom Cruise just runs around on the side of a huge building and it’s awesome. Also, if you read my “Parker” review (don’t) you know I have an unreasonable love for heist movies, and this movie has three different heists back to back, with little break in between. It’s good.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
There have been a few Griswald movies, all of which try to capture the experience of being a middle-class North American family, while adding in a little absurdity. “Christmas Vacation” is doubtlessly the most successful. It’s so packed full of memorable moments that virtually anyone who watches it can see their own family Christmas experience played out, in all its infuriating detail. It’s pretty good.
3. Spiderman 2
The Spiderman films, despite their faults, are known for being energetic, fun, and most importantly, human. I would argue that “Spiderman 2” is the distillation of all these elements down to their purest forms. The dialogue is fast and fun, the action is intense and meaningful, and it gives us a hero who is challenged both by an insane doctor with robot arms, and the metaphorical insane doctor with robot arms that exists inside all of us. It’s very good.
2. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
This is a sequel that is so well put together that it could easily stand on its own. The film is almost flawless as a fantasy adventure story, but the real interesting thing is how it follows the original film. The original was a classic coming-of-age story of good overcoming evil, about as standard a structure as you could get. With the sequel there was a big chance of them just deciding to do “the first one, but bigger” but here, after an explosive opening, we see the scope narrow immensely to focus on Luke, and Luke’s confrontation with the darkness inside him. This darkness hangs over the entire film, all the way to a rather downbeat ending. It’s the classic second act, where all hope seems lost. It’s pretty great.
“Alien” was a groundbreaking film in terms of both Science Fiction and Horror, and was a tough act to follow. Rather than just repackage “Alien,” and just slap it onto a different environment, “Aliens” opts to redress the entire thing as an explosive action film rather than another slow paced Horror. Much like “Alien” did with Horror, “Aliens” set the standard for future Action blockbusters, and informed basically every “tough futuristic soldier” film ever since. Hell forget films, basically every form of media that has Sci-Fi Action elements cribs from “Aliens” in one way or another. It also gave us the first ever female action hero. It’s great.