There are many hasty remarks made about sequels both among the hordes of regular movie goers and the more professional echelons of critics. The hasty remark voiced by the average movie viewer is that vast majority of sequels are worse than the original. The hasty remark by critics, specifically those who write for mainstream movie magazines, is that decent sequels have only really started appearing in the 21st century. I consider both views to be gross generalizations at best.
The critics' generalization is disproved with 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein. This is often considered a vast improvement on James Whale's atmospheric original Frankenstein. Whale had the opportunity to really cut loose on Bride using black humour and a subtle play of hammy campiness not really appreciated until many decades later. The Godfather Part II won more awards and is also considered by many to be a better sequel than the original. And who can forget The Empire Strikes Back. Far from being cynical, the film took chances with a darker tone for a mainstream family movie way back 1980 and is perhaps the most incomplete part of the original trilogy. Yet critics and fans alike look upon it with extreme fondness, so much so that it is arguable that it is more responsible for the negativity the third film received off fans than the first film. Likewise the third instalment of the Star Wars prequels has received more acclaim than its two predecessors.
Still before the 21st century superhero revival and Batman Returns may have seen a decline in box office revenue from its original, but looking back it is perhaps a much better film. Into the 21st century and we see Christopher Nolan scoring with perhaps one of most all round successful sequels to date, 2008's The Dark Knight. This film would also be the sequel that would give the superhero genre their first Oscar for an acting role with Heath Ledger's Joker. Also in the superhero genre we find Spider-Man 2, which is an improvement, in many ways, over the original film.
Most professional drama has seen sequels. Yet we have come to see the movie sequel as little more than an attempt to cash-in on a successful or semi-successful original film. "The Fall of a Nation" was Thomas Dixon Jnr's attempt to cash-in on the first full length feature film "The Birth of a Nation", which was the feature film. Apparently Dixon didn't receive a penny for the first film, so decided to direct his own sequel the following year. It is now considered a lost film, but film critics look to it, in hindsight, as the blueprint for the first attempt to milk an original film with a follow on feature. However, if we look at the history of the novel, the play and even the epic poem we see that there was often a need to continue a story, which was justified in the form of a sequel. A similar argument could be made for remakes, but I will save that for another article.
Few professors of English literature would look favourably upon the view that Shakespeare's Henry VI parts II and III, and Richard III were cynical soulless cash-ins on Henry VI part I. Furthermore, and it is worth mentioning considering we are in a time of prequels and especially considering the bashing the Star Wars prequels have met, it worth considering that the prequels to VI, Richard II, Henry IV part I and II and Henry V are often viewed as superior plays to the Henry VI trilogy and Richard III. The popular view is that William Shakespeare was older when he wrote the first parts of history cycle and therefore more mature, intellectual and philosophical in his writing, whereas the latter part of the cycle were written with more melodrama and although still brilliant aimed for a broader audience in order to pay the bills.
One might argue the point that the aforementioned plays were the work of the same person whereas many movie sequels are the work of hacks employed by cynical production companies. This might be a valid point if we consider the second Godfather, Spider-Man 2, the Lord of the Rings' two sequels, X-Men 2, Evil Dead 2, Romero's first two Dead sequels, The Bride of Frankenstein and Superman II*. The Empire Strikes Back may have had a different director, but the writing and creative control were all in the hands of the same man who directed the first film. The argument might be taken further if we think of what happened to the franchise after the man behind the original left. The third X-Men film wasn't a bad superhero film to be fair, but stank by contrast to the first two. The Universal horror sequels that followed The Bride of Frankenstein are charming and fun, but they become exactly what sequels are often considered to be: blatant cash-ins.
However, this can all be considered confirmation bias or selective arguing. After all Sam Raimi made Spider-Man 3 as he did the first two, and most agree it is not a patch on the rest of the franchise. Romero's long time coming fourth and fifth Dead sequels fizzled rather than exploded. We have already George Lucas's work on Star Wars, but it is worth mentioning here to illustrate a point. After Empire, Return of the Jedi prompted the beginning of a phenomenon in fandom known as "Lucas bashing". This was far from assuaged when the auteur took the full helm again with the most eagerly awaited prequels in cinema history. Each successive prequel was hated a little less, but for all their huge financial success, there are many casual cinema goers and militant Star Wars fans alike that agree they were either badly executed or never should have been made in the first place. The big problem many had with the Star Wars prequels was the retconning. In the minds of many there was an established mythology and by adding to it the great auteur ruined the perceptions of many. What, of course, is often forgotten is that Lucas had messed around with Star Wars since the announcement of The Empire Strikes Back when he added "Episode IV: A New Hope" to the opening crawl of the re-released version of the original Star Wars. Even the original trilogy's plots are full of changes that makes Lucas's supposed grand plan dubious at best.
So what makes a good sequel? Essentially I think viewers are impressed by a feel that the sequel progresses naturally from the original. Going back to the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries - not to mention the epic works of antiquity - we can see that audiences were drawn to the ominous warnings, prophesies and dramatic irony that had been set up in the preceding work. If done correctly there is a particularly delicious soliloquy delivered by Richard Duke of Gloucester in Henry VI Part III as, towards the play's final acts, he suddenly reveals his Machiavellian intentions to seize the crown in the sequel, Richard III. Subsequently Richard III, which is mostly viewed, read and studied as a self-contained work, has a significant portion of its speeches and conversations centred on actions that have occurred in previous plays. In fact, the whole play is about the conclusion of the original sin committed in Richard II. In this respect, Richard III is perhaps an ideal representation of the sequel.
Bryan Singer's X-Men and X2 work as if they are two parts of the same film. The same thing happens in Superman and Superman II, which were filmed at the same time. In fact, the sequel is often better in these instances because of the events that set it up in the original. Similarly Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 is an excellent example of a much-loved middle sequel, a la The Empire Strikes Back, because it not only fulfils events set up by the first film, but then takes other matters and leaves them with tantalizing cliffhangers for the third part. Unfortunately this ball is well and truly dropped in X-Men: The Last Stand and even fumbled with in the overblown Spider-Man 3. In the former case a different director could be blamed, in the latter it could be argued that Raimi was under considerable pressure that compromised his position. The same could be said by the much belated "The Godfather Part III". Back in 1974 Francis Ford Coppola was pretty much given full creative control with his sequel to The Godfather Part II, even to the extent that he was able to change convention in having the first sequel to have name "Part II" added**. However, according to Coppola this was not the case with 1990's The Godfather Part III, a film he would have liked to have called "The Death of Michael Corleone". However, as we have already discussed, giving an auteur complete control of a franchise does not always guarantee critical success.
Nevertheless, The Lord of the Rings stands as a gleaming example of what happens when sequels are filmed and fully conceived as part of one whole continuous project by the same creative team. In this instance each film generally received more praise, acclaim and awards than its predecessor. There becomes less need for retconning and new characters appear more fluidly. Much like the first two Superman films, the second two parts of the Back to the Future and Matrix trilogy demonstrated the benefits of back-to-back filming. Like Lord of the Rings, the third instalment is generally considered by casual and professional critics alike to be better than the second, which is very rare in film land. *** One might speculate that viewers are more forgiving with a third instalment if it, at least, keeps a solid and fluid continuity with its predecessor even if it is somewhat disloyal to the original.
Then there are those sequels that break all the rules and still do a good job. "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" differs considerably from all the sequels, I have mentioned, by not being a genre movie. Although it will always be overshadowed by the viscerally intensive and dramatically impressive first film, "Once Were Warriors", it is still an excellent sequel. What is most impressive is that the first film left no obvious doors open, which judging by the many examples I have given is pretty much a requisite for a sequel to have a chance. However, WBBH does have one advantage over other sequels; it is based on an original novel. It earns other good sequel marks by having most of the original cast. Where it works and shouldn't is by killing off a character from the first film at the beginning and creating a totally new angle to base the rest of the film on. This is normally a sign of desperation in the world of sequels, but with WBBH it results in creating the epilogue to the first film (and novel) that it seems we needed after all.
Likewise, when it comes to the world of bad movies or should I say "films that are so bad they are good" we find that only by being totally audacious with the rules can a film sometimes stand out for the right reasons. Such is the case with "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives". The films were already illogical, far-fetched and, quite frankly, ridiculous, but never before had the main protagonist since Part II been officially considered supernatural. The sixth part completely threw caution to the wind by bringing the villain back in Universal horror style, with a bolt of lightening sent through his rotting corpse and so was born zombie Jason. By setting up the ludicrous the rest of the picture didn't miss a beat. Like the third A Nightmare on Elm Street, it used the humour wisely without turning the whole film into a complete parody. It was nowhere in the same league as the Nightmares, but it began to demonstrate signs of slasher self-awareness long before Wes Craven used it to good effect in "Scream" a decade later.
For me, sequels vary much as any original film does. You have good ones and you have bad ones. Some are complete insults to the original (American Psycho 2), others just don't measure up to the original but our essentially decent films in their own right (Meet the Fockers), some are respectable continuations (Psycho II), some equal the original (Blade II) and there are a fair few that surpass the original (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me). I definitely feel they work best if they are carefully set-up and plotted plausibly in the first film and then follow a close continuation throughout the franchise, not discounting the events in any part of the chain. In this respect it is a momentous task and perhaps far more credit should be given to a production company who can deliver a critically and commercially well received sequel beyond the first one.
*Superman II was originally directed by the same man who directed the first film, Richard Donner. Donner filmed an estimated 75%, but was taken off the film due to - depending on who you believe - artistic differences with the studios or going over budget or both. Nevertheless, I have included in the list as it was shot at the same time as the original and with essentially the same creative team, at least until Richard Lester took over as director.
**The first commercial film to feature 2 or II in the title was 1957's "Quatermass 2", the sequel to 1955's "The Quatermass Xperiment". It was also based on a TV series entitled "Quatermass II". In the US the titles for both the original and the sequel were not used, which is perhaps why many American movie historians overlook this when discussing the history of the sequel. Movie geeks are quick to point out that "Jaws 2" is the first film to actually mention the whole title of the original movie followed by a number. Looking at the way many films have difficulty getting the numbering system right - think First Blood's sequels, Rambo First Blood Part II, Rambo III and Rambo - it is little surprising we find difficulties with continuity in their storylines.
***For sequel haters, the third instalment is regularly considered - to quote the third sequel of the Blackadder series - "The crowning turd in the waterpipe".
You can?t really blame the big studios for running with sequels until the horse is well and truly flogged. But often as not they are pretty awful with only a few second and third time out bettering the original. Latest scores just coming in on the movie prompter. ROCKY 5 JURRASIC PARK 3??.A late own goal settling this titanic battle. DIE HARD 3 STAKEOUT 2?.Truly awful away showing by Richard Dreyfuss in the second half up against a powerful Bruce Willis front line trio. POLICE ACADEMY 8 HONEY I SHRUNK MYSELF 0??.The title sums up the desperation of the away teams tactics to get a winner again for captain Moranis. A truly awful encounter with little quality or action in this dire match up. A desperate attempt by manager Rick Moranis to save his player manager career failed abysmally. WAYNES WORLD 2 AUSTIN POWERS 2?..A surprisingly good return fixture with both sides out witting their first half showing. STAR WARS 3 TERMINATOR 2?..Very much a judgment day for the local team as a superb away showing really should have stolen this classic encounter. Maybe ninety minutes too much for the home eleven. AIRPLANE 2 AIRPORT 77??.How can something so good go so bad.There were still flashes of brilliance from the home team but the visitors had just too much riding on the fixture. A depressurization couldn?t save either teams in this poor long ball slog. AMERICAN PIE 2 BACK TO THE FUTURE 3?..The youngsters were even worse second time out after they?re over rated first leg performance. The older more experienced visitors caught them on the break and rolled back the years to win comfortably. RAMBO 3 FRIDAY THE 13TH 9??The away side were just relentless with attack after attack of cheesy build ups and predictable stabs at goal. The home end looked on in dismay as their star man tried to single handedly take them on with disastrous results. CITY SLICKERS 2 HALLOWEEN 17??.It was no
contest from the first minute as the truly awful match up produced tons of mistakes and very little quality. STAR WARS 4 ALIEN 3???Two aging managers ready for the chop here as a patchy performance with expensive poor signings decided this scrappy return.Both sides have seen better days and really should have called it a day and hung up the boots. MEN IN BLACK 2 TERMINATOR 3????..Match postponed. Polls panel, scoring draw. The word is that T3 is being put together with the actual Endo skeleton from Cyberdine systems currently laying menacingly in a Hertfordshire props studio. Arnies big film, Collateral Damage has been held back for obvious reasons (Its crap). Men in Black 2 is on the menu as Will Smith wanted to finish up late rushes from Ali to get that project just right. Lets just hope two great films don?t mess up in pursuit of product placement and hard cash dollars for beleaguered studios. My Top three sequels would be worthy of a list so here goes. 1) Terminator 2 Judgement Day??Was clearly a five out of five action classic packed with revolutionary FXs and catchy Arnie dialogue.The original was a cool idea for a flick but didn?t quite have those effects that made the sequel so much fun. 2) Waynes World Two?The first was funny but the second was sidesplitting stuff like we haven?t seen for along time. They way they tongue in cheek took the piss of sequels through out with product placement and talking to the camera was real smart. 3) Alliensssssss....ok that?s a little controversial as the original was more authentic and inteligent.But the sequel was action packed and just as scary so it gets the nod on dialogue and excitement. The worst three sequels???. 1) City Slickers 2.The search for Curlys goal was really stupid as they tried to recreate the magic and plot from the excellent original. Where as the first was a brilliant film about a guys mid li
fe crisis. This was just one crisis after another. 2) Star Wars Part 4???You wouldn?t let it lie as Vic Reeves said when he was still funny. Well Lucas should have either bought back the original characters aged with new ones or just not bothered. The original and the first sequel were the ultimate in big screen film and will never be bettered for impact and revolutionary film on astounded seventies audiences. 3) Stake Out 2?You know when a sequel is going to suck because the original line up show an extreme reticence to show up again. This one was bad from the first spool of film as the director tried again to make a great film about a stakeout.How is that possible guys!.Up there with Police Academy for pure evil badness. Sequels will always be with us like Des O`coner but we don?t have to queue up at the cinema or rent. But the mugs who shell out a fiver offer valuable revenue for the big guys to take risks and bring us more wonderful films. So we cant really lose can we. Honey im back again????..
No. Ok, thats it, can I go home now? Just click VU because I'm sure you all agree and umm thankyou and goodnight. *Sigh* Ok, let me elaborate. "No", would be the immediate reaction to most people faced with that subject heading and for the most part they the reaction would be correct. There have been some really awful sequels produced over the years by greedy Hollywood moguls hoping to cash in on past successes and in general most sequels seem to be somewhat lacking. I wonder sometimes whether if a movie sequel had been released before its predecessor whether it would get quite the slating it does. Still, for the most part movie sequels generally result in substandard movies, or simply fail to meet up to people's expectations. I see a number of main reasons for this: 1) Lazy film-making. Hollywood realises that they can milk more money out of its audience's pockets simply by using the name of the original and adding a "2" after it. It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be average and fans of the original will flock to see it. It doesn't matter that you read review after review saying it "average" because you'll go anyway, Hollywood knows this, the draw is too great and they cash in on it. I give you Robocop 3 as the prime exmple of cash-in fever, a movie made solely for the purpose of selling action figures to kiddies. 2) You can only milk an idea so far. Some movies have two or three sequels in them, they have great mileage and you can get three decent movies out of them. Hollywood never seems to know when to stop though and always has to puch it that one step to far. The current trend is for trilogies. Three Matrix movies(even though it was destroyed in the first), three Lord Of The Rings(for once justifyable), three Scream movies(but that was parodying the whole thing). many movies however do not even make it to the second sequel. Scary Movie
for example should NOT have had a sequel, not should any spoofs. There is only so much mileage some movies have and if its successful, there WILL be a sequel no matter how fitting the subject matter is for one. Spoofs get tired before they finish, adding another 2 hours is ludicrous, but there is money involved. To give a further example, the Lethal Weapon series was great, the first two were excellent, the third made money but a fourth? Talk of a fifth after the fourth was widely received as naff? Oh please. I hear talk of a Titanic 2...this is known as over-milking an idea! 3) The idea that MORE equates to BETTER. Hollywood seems to have this idea that by increasing the volume on whatever made the original movie successful automatically means a better movie. It certainly means bums on seats but then the hype surrounding this automatically means inevitable disappointment. "More" rarely comes out as "better" in Hollywood, more usually means "more special effects" couple with no plot, no script and rumblings of discontent when the curtain comes down. I give you Gremlins 2, more variety of beasties, dumb as hell movie. Make a sequel to Jurassic Park? Needs TWO T-Rexs then. it rarely works. 4) The loss of the original cast and crew. Sequels to movies often find themselves without the original cast members and directors often go walkabout as well. With some of the major elements of what made the original movie great now missing its little surprise that the sequel doesn't live up to its predecessors. A director has an aim and a vision, he produces a work of art and we all love it. Someone else comes along and modifies that vision and at best it feels "wrong", at worst its a travesty, rarely does a switch in directors work. Replacing main cast members with different actors and then pretending they are the same is just criminal. Jodie Foster is Clarice in the Silence of the Lambs, great thou
gh I thought Hannibal was(ok great, but flawed), replacing her took a huge chunk out of the movie. It just doesn't work. 5) Its just not "new" anymore Many movies are exciting and capture the imagination because the concept is new, refreshing and hits you square between the eyes. The Matrix is one movie which I would give that particular crown too and whilst I have high hopes for the upcoming sequel to be a great movie, it is going to be lacking that original "wow" factor. 6) The Cash-in Yes, its a part of all of the above but the cash-in factor is perhaps THE main reason why so many sequels are so poor. When lining one's pockets becomes the reason for producing a movie then there is little heart and soul which goes into its production. This is perhaps when you notice the original director taking off, the original cast losing interest, the part 3,4,5,6+ of a series, the merchandising ploys etc. Everyone involved in making movies has money as a motivation, but it shouldn't be the sole motivation. You notice that movies tend to be a bit smelly when the original 18 certificate suddenly drops to a PG/12/15 for the sequel to get more bums on seats. Or when a sequel hits the cinema screens with a year of the first(Scary Movie 2) and such like. These are usually good warning signs of a substandard sequel with little thought and invention. and I am sure there are more. However, that is not to say that all movie sequels are awful because there are those which are on a par with their predecessor and some which even exceed the quality of that movie. Aliens is arguably a better movie than Alien for example, I say arguably because it depends on what you want from a sci-fi. Ghostbusters 2 is arguably as good as its predecessor despite the idea being the same. American Pie 2 is just as funny as the first. I would however defy anyone to find me a superior horror movie sequel... In general
if none of the above 6 points apply then the movie has a good chance of being ok. One more I would suggest is that everything should change but it shoud all stay the same. Freshness of ideas without destroying the original concept. The general idea of the movie is kept the same but there is enough about it which is different and fresh to enable it to stand on its own two feet. Aliens is the best example of this I can think of. Whereas its predecessor was basically a haunted house movie set in space, enormously atmospheric but with one alien, its sequel is instead a roller-coaster ride of mayhem. Same aliens, same lead character, entirely different movie but losing none of the suspense and tension of the original either. It kept elemnts of the original but managed to remain fresh at the same time. Alien 3 returned to the claustrophobia of the original and failed, but mainly due to Fincher trying to be too clever and losing most of his audience - Alien is about aliens, it is not a metaphor for AIDS and a diseased society, but thats by the by. Jurassic Park flopped, nothing changed, same island, same plot almost, just abysmal. In general though movie sequels aren't made because a director says he really enjoyed that one and would really like to make another, or because some Hollywood movie mogul feels that the fans deserve a little more of a good thing, but instead because of the volume of cash involved. Why risk millions of dollars on a new idea when you already have one which works and is guaranteed an audience? Of course you go for the easy option, hence the number of remakes of old 60s/70s television shows as well for that matter - guaranteed audiences. Its a shame because given a good concept initially the blueprints should already be laid down for a great sequel movie but so often it doesn't work out like that for one or a combination of the above reasons. So like I said, "no" but its worth weeding through the dross to find the occassi
onal "yes" in there.
These days you can't have a movie without having a sequel, its almost innevitable. In my life I have never encounted a really succesful sequel that can truely be counted as better than the first. True there have been many which can be classed as good, but there is still that thin line between a good movie, and a masterpiece. Now I couldnt have this argument without mentioning that famous scene from Scream 2, where they debate the validity of sequels in general, a little tounge in cheek reference to the fact that Scream 2 is of course a sequel itself. It does raise some good points. Have there really ever been any movies that have been more succesful and better received as a sequel? One of my all time favourite movies was Ghostbusters. They were my childhood heroes and I loved them very much. I had all the toys and of course all the cheap merchendise. When a company is making that much money from a phenomonon like Ghostbustsers, its clear to see why they would want to expand it as much as possible. Sequels, cartoons, comics, music, whatever they could think of, they would produce. Thankfully they didnt get out of hand. Only one sequel was made, and it was an excellent movie, its very close between the first and the second to decide which is best. My thinking on the subject of sequels is that they have always been a cheap way to cash in on the success and popularity of the first. Often movie makers dont even think about sequels, but because the public want them so much, they do it for the sake of it. Scary Movie 2 I will not see. I thought the first was OK, but its pretty clear that the sequel will be one spoof too far. The Scream trilogy did pretty well in my opinion. I'm not too sure out of 1 and 2 which I like best. But I do know that the first time was probably more sensational and amazing, with the second movie, in all cases, the sense of originality is lost. If I wanted to give bad examples of sequels, I could look no
further than the Friday the 13th series. So many follow ups I lost count, and each less interesting than before. I think if your trying to seriously make a sequel, then you dont want people to laugh at them. So what should you do if your a film maker, and your first movie has become so succesful that your almost abliged to provide the public with another installment. Dont do it. And if you are going to do it, then try to completely change the plot. Theres nothing worse than a sequel that re-tells the first story but from different angles and with a couple of new characters. There really is no point. In modern cinemas around the world, film makers are trying desperately to produce sequels that can be better than the first, and I really dont think anyone has succeeded. But as they say, if at first you dont succeed...