With the summer movie season officially underway, movie fans (most of them, anyway) can look forward to heaping helpings of cinematic comfort food, a.k.a., sequels. From a business perspective, few can fault the studios for sticking with tried and true formula, but creatively, the majority of sequels are little more than lazy and faint facsimiles of the original articles.
Because outstanding franchise “second installments” are so few and far between, listing them was not a particularly difficult task, that is, once I could define what I believe actually qualifies as a true sequel.
The only titles eligible are just the first sequels (or prequels) of original movies. For example, “Toy Story 2” could be considered but “TS3” and “TS4” would not (but not for a lack of quality). Also not eligible would be planned trilogies and franchises such as “Star Wars” (all three collections), “The Lord of the Rings,” “The Hobbit,” Christopher Nolan's “Batman” flicks, “Twilight,” and “Harry Potter,” etc.
All titles are available on multiple streaming services (except * which is currently playing in theaters).
- “The Godfather Part II” (1974) — The only sequel to ever win the Best Picture Oscar, “TGPII” set the bar for every follow-up movie which followed in its wake — a platinum standard which has yet to be remotely equaled. One of only 12 people to win three or more Academy Awards in one night, producer/director/co-writer Francis Ford Coppola’s brooding masterpiece magnum opus also introduced the virtually-impossible-to-pull-off-well dual prequel/sequel storytelling format.
- “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) — Darker, more complex (and way funnier) than its original, “T2” also pulled off a major accomplishment by transforming the villain from the first installment into the protagonist in the sequel. The production also marked the creative zeniths for writer/director James Cameron, leading man Arnold Schwarzenegger, and leading lady Linda Hamilton while ushering in - for better or (frequently) worse - the age of high-voltage CGI effects.
- “Deadpool 2” (2018) — “Deadpool 2” and its 2016 predecessor are two of the only “R” rated installments in the “X-Men” franchise (“Logan” being the other); something which allowed it a far wider creative berth. Loaded to the rafters with profanity, graphic violence, and gut-busting bathroom humor, director David Leitch (“John Wick” — 2014) in tandem with returning co-writer/producer/titular lead Ryan Reynolds deliver a high-octane, visceral, non-stop thrill ride.
- “Toy Story 2” (1999) — The most critically-acclaimed franchise ever and second-highest grossing animated series of all-time, the combined financial and artistic success of the four “Toy Story” films will likely never be matched. Originally slated to be a direct-to-video title, “TS2” is regarded by most as being better than the first and it still has a 100% positive rating on rottentomatoes.com two-plus decades after its release. Could this be the greatest animated film ever made? Yes, it is.
- “Aliens” (1986) — Blessed with a larger budget and an established fan base that (rightfully) went bonkers over the first, director James Cameron’s “Aliens” isn’t better or worse than Ridley Scott’s 1976 “Alien,” just bigger and louder. “Big and loud” in the right hands is just fine, provided it’s balanced with an equally ambitious story, something Cameron and co-writer Walter Hill see to and then some. Avoid all other sequels and instead check out the 2012 prequel “Prometheus.”
- “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) — Another follow-up to a Ridley Scott original, “2049” is more than a worthy bookend to the first from 1982. Again penned by Hampton Fancher, “2049” takes place 30 years after the events in the first, with Ryan Gosling as the title character, an intense detective charged with hunting and “neutralizing” replicants. In a smaller role, Harrison Ford returns as the still haunted Rick Deckard, but the real star of the show is director Denis Villenueve (“Sicario” , “Arrival” , this year’s “Dune”), taking on an unenviable task and totally slaying it.
- “A Quiet Place Part II” (2021) * — Released just last week, returning writer/director/producer John Kasinski is sure to include all of the calling cards from the 2018 original, without falling prey to blatant recycling. The story opens with a pre-opening credit, short-film-length prequel which lays the groundwork for everything seen in the first. Populated with fewer horror elements than the first, “AQPII” is more of a dramatic, family-centric action thriller with a bravura juvenile hero.
- “Incredibles 2” (2018) — Unlike the relatively short time in-between the release dates of its other franchises (“Cars,” “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo”), Pixar studios waited 14 years to issue their second “super-family” adventure. Instead of a repeat of the original with the male leads (Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson) saving the world, returning writer/director Brad Bird pits clan matriarch (Holly Hunter) against a “James Bond”- level female antagonist (Catherine Keener).
- “The Two Jakes” (1990) — In “development hell” for close to 15 years, this follow-up to the iconic “Chinatown” went through several incarnations before leading man Jack Nicholson (as Jake Gittes) took on directorial duties. In place of water in the first, real estate, oil, and gas are the wishbones here and instead of trying in vain to duplicate perfection, Nicholson and returning screenwriter Robert Towne shoot for dread, double crosses, love triangles and gnawing guilt.
- “Paddington 2” (2017) — Because just under 75% of its box office take came from overseas markets, it’s easy to understand why most U.S. audiences aren’t aware of this charming yet highly intelligent family gem. Seamlessly blending live-action with CGI animation, the story may be simple by today’s overly-complicated standards yet the dry British humor delivered by an all-star voice cast (complete with a prison-based sub-plot) makes this more just than a “cuddly bear” tale.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national film industry media outlets and is based in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a regular contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on floridamanradio.com. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles and is one of the scant few conservative U.S. movie critics. Read Michael Clark's Reports — More Here.
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