Friday, August 10, 2012

What are the best sequels of all time?

The key to a good sequel is balance.

You need to have enough of the first film to make fans happy but enough new material so you don’t bore them.

It’s a tricky proposition.

And, more often than not, filmmakers fail.

So, what are the best sequels? Here we go.

10. The Dark Knight (2008): This is a movie about Batman that is owned by the Joker. It’s still all kinds of awesome, though. Christian Bale has issues in real life, but you can’t complain about his performances on the big screen. It’s Heath Ledger as The Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent, though, that really solidify ‘The Dark Knight’ as quality cinema. An argument can be made that ‘The Dark Knight’ is the best comic book movie ever put to film. I would actually put ‘X2’ and ‘The Avengers’ ahead of it – but I understand why some people make the argument. There’s a dark and brooding atmosphere to ‘The Dark Knight’ – and the horror of the final hour sticks with you for a long time.

9. Aliens (1986): Ellen Ripley is one of the best heroines on film. Current leading ladies – Jennifer Lawrence especially – owe Sigourney Weaver a debt of gratitude. What’s interesting about the Alien franchise is that the first movie was a quiet horror movie set in space. The second film is a badass science fiction extravaganza. It’s also set in space, of course, but it’s radically different from the original. The third and fourth installments in this franchise are weak – and ‘Prometheus’ takes the franchise in a completely different direction – but ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ are great cinema at its best.

8. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989): The first ‘Lethal Weapon’ introduced us to the best buddy cop team ever put to film. The second movie took the relationship between the two characters to another level. Not only is the sequel funnier than the first movie (thank you Joe Pesci), it’s also bloodier, sweeter and louder. You really can’t ask for more from a sequel – and ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ delivers just that. Just to be clear, though, there really isn’t a bad entry into this franchise. The fourth movie is the weakest, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been. It’s too bad Mel Gibson has fallen so far, because I do love me some Martin Riggs.

7. Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991): It’s rare to have a sequel that completely changes the scope of a franchise. ‘Terminator 2’ does just that, though. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to be the hero, not the villain, in this film and the end result is pretty funny. Linda Hamilton wows as the eternally screwed up Sarah Conner and the special effects were so cutting-edge at the time that fans couldn’t believe what they were seeing on the big screen. It’s Edward Furlong’s John Conner, though, that is the heart of the film. As viewers, we’re just as broken-hearted as he is when the terminator is lowered into the pit. We’re just as hopeful, though, that his character will have the future he deserves.

6. X2 (2003): I liked the first movie. I did. I thought it was a great set-up to what I thought was going to be a great franchise. ‘X2,’ though, that was pure magic. Hugh Jackman is always good as the conflicted hero, but ‘X2’ allows him to have some fun while on the run with Bobby, Rogue and Pyro. The ending of ‘X2’ is tragic in its simplicity. It’s also profound in a way. The X-Men franchise is a mixed bag. There are three good movies and two terrible movies (we all know what they are). ‘X2,’ though, is clearly the best.

5. Superman II (1980): Christopher Reeve was a true sight to behold in that Superman outfit – and he did it in an era when you couldn’t go in and clean up the digital print after the fact. The second movie in the franchise is about longing. In this film, Superman agrees to give up his power to marry Lois but things go horribly awry when some super villains come to play – especially the ultra creepy General Zod (Terence Stamp). I think I love Superman II because it highlights the central theme of super heroes: They make life better for others but struggle themselves.

4. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982): My mom dragged me to this when I was seven and scarred me for life. I was terrified of bugs for years because of this film. I couldn’t watch ‘Fantasy Island’ anymore either. Anyway, the second movie in the franchise is not only better than the first it’s widely considered the best in the entire ‘Star Trek’ franchise. I’m actually torn, ‘The Wrath of Khan’ and ‘The Voyage Home’ are my two favorites – but I love them for different reasons. ‘The Wrath of Khan’ is essentially about fighting the aging process and ‘The Voyage Home’ is about embracing history. Honestly, I still can’t decide. I love them both. ‘The Wrath of Khan’ gets the nod for pure vision, though, and the fact that the ending still breaks my heart to this day.

3. Rocky II (1979): I love the first four Rocky movies. I love the first because it didn’t have the typical Hollywood ending. Rocky didn’t win. I love the second because Rocky learned some valuable lessons and managed to hold on just long enough to accomplish his dream. I love the third because there’s a certain magic that happens when Carl Weathers and Sylvester Stallone are on screen together. And I loved the fourth because Rocky ended communism in Russia. What? I love that movie. Sue me. It’s the second film in this franchise, though, that really is the standout. Between the training montage, the down and dirty fight and the outstanding soundtrack, Rocky is one of those stories you can never truly forget.

2. The Godfather: Part II (1974): The first movie is epic and always will be. An argument can be made, though, that the second film is even better. The film features standout scenes from Robert De Niro as a young Vincent Corleone. De Niro was considered the standout of the film, but the scene that always gets me is Diane Keaton’s Kay admitting she had an abortion to Al Pacino’s Michael – essentially telling him she did it because she refused to bring another child into his bloodthirsty world. The scenes, and Michael’s reaction, are chilling. Of course, the true powerhouse scene involves poor Fredo – but everyone remembers that scene. 

 1. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980): This is my favorite ‘Star Wars’ movie – by far. Sure, the first film set up an epic space drama that continues to engage year after year. ‘The Empire Strikes Back,’ though, that is a cinematic masterpiece. From the early scenes on the barren ice planet of Hoth to the middle of the film – and the introduction of a wisecracking puppet named Yoda – the climactic lightsaber fight and the biggest revelation in cinema history, “No, I am your father.” There’s really no film that can compare to the magic of Empire.

Honorable mentions go to ‘Toy Story 2,’ ‘Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,’ ‘Beverly Hills Cop 2,’ ‘Friday the 13th Part 2,’ ‘Young Guns 2,’ ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead.’

What do you think? What are the best sequels of all time? What movies did I miss?


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