For the most part, when a sequel gets the green light in Hollywood it’s typically a cash grab being made by those greedy, awful producers who coincidentally refuse to purchase any of the screenplays we keep sending them. Sequels are by and large thought of as a sign that Hollywood and the film industry in general have run out of any new ideas, which is what makes it more bizarre that they refuse to return our calls when we bring them gold like a crimefighting cyborg bear who rides a rocket skateboard. But we do have to hand it to some filmmakers, who prove that not only can sequels be good, but actually surpass the original film entirely. Films such as…
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
The original Terminator by James Cameron was something of an unexpected smash success, surpassing all box office projections and firmly launching the careers of Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger, for better or worse. It spawned three sequels and a television show, which for the most part have been, well, god awful. Well, except for one of those, which absolutely blows the original film out of the water. We’re talking, of course, about Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
The film became something of a cultural phenomenon, giving us a new Guns N Roses song, a bunch of regrettable catchphrases and Edward Furlong. Despite those three things we still have to call it one of the greatest sequels of all-time, thanks largely due to an increased special effects budget, which led to some cutting edge stuff on the screen, along with an iconic villain played by Robert Patrick. Its set pieces were spectacular, and Linda Hamilton quickly became the woman every adolescent male had a crush on and wouldn’t dare tell her because she would absolutely kick their asses up and down the road.
LOTR: The Return of the King
The Fellowship of the Ring is a truly great film. It launches the Lord of the Rings trilogy perfectly, and establishes Middle Earth about as well as any adaptation possibly could. Sure, it has a few hiccups. That crap with Galadriel being tempted by the ring, for instance, is hokey as hell. But overall, it’s a fantastic film. The series regressed slightly, but only slightly, with The Two Towers, but the real masterpiece in the trilogy is the third and final film, The Return of the King.
In terms of scope, it’s difficult to find many, if any, films in history that have ever matched the epic grandeur of The Return of the King. The action scenes are flawless, the performances are top notch, and the special effects are absolutely sensational. To put the performances and effects in perspective, there was a very real push to get Andy Serkis recognition for his work as the completely CGI character, Gollum. Sure, the film had a few things people could point to negatively, like the seemingly large number of endings. But we’re guessing Peter Jackson would just respond by saying, “yep, one ending for every Oscar this movie is going to win.”
Right about now you’re probably thinking this is blasphemy, aren’t you? After all, the first Godfather was an Oscar winning film and considered by many to be the greatest movie ever made. And while it is great, and certainly belongs in the discussion for greatest movies of all-time, it’s just not quite as good as its sequel. By the way, we still find it kind of amazing that one trilogy can have two of the five or six greatest films ever made, and then be capped off by a movie everyone likes to pretend never actually happened.
So what elevates Godfather II past its predecessor? Several things, really. Everything to do with Las Vegas, Moe Greene, Hyman Roth and Fredo Corleone. Al Pacino turned in one of his finest performances, as well. But what really makes this the greatest Godfather movie is the tremendous back story of how Vito Corleone came to be the original Godfather in the first place. Robert DeNiro is spectacular in the role of the young Vito Corleone, and whenever the film cuts back to the present, you can’t help but wish they’d hurry up and shift the focus back on DeNiro. It’s an iconic performance by an iconic actor, and it helps make Godfather II better than the original.
Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man did an excellent job of setting up the Spider-Man universe, so naturally they’re rebooting the franchise this summer. Figures. Anyway, as far as superhero origin movies go, Spider-Man is at or near the top of the list, with maybe only Superman: The Movie, Batman Begins and Iron Man really challenging it for the title of best origin story ever. So you know the bar was set pretty high when Spider-Man 2 came out, and that’s what made it so stunning when the sequel absolutely kicked the ass of the original.
Spider-Man 2, quite simply, is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. When the film came out, Roger Ebert commented that it’s what a great superhero could and should be. Everything was improved from the already high quality original, most notably its villain. Look, we enjoy Willem Dafoe as much as anyone, but his hammy, over the top acting in Spider-Man would have been better placed in the Power Rangers episode they clearly stole his costume from. Dr. Octopus, however, was a villain with soul and charisma, and Alfred Molina’s performance, along with the incredible train sequence and Peter’s inner turmoil about what it means to be Spider-Man, elevated the franchise from good to great. And then Peter got all emo and ruined it in Spider-Man 3.
The Dark Knight
For awhile there, everyone was pretty much on board with calling Spider-Man 2 the greatest superhero movie ever made. And then the Batman franchise was rebooted by Christopher Nolan with fanboy favorite Christian Bale in the lead, and Batman Begins came out and showed that superhero films can be gritty. And Batman Begins paved the way for The Dark Knight, which quite emphatically knocked Spider-Man 2 off its perch as the greatest of all-time.
The Dark Knight built on the tremendous promise of Batman Begins, and was elevated to cultural phenomenon status by the once in a generation performance turned in by the late Heath Ledger. It was a performance so astoundingly good that it led to the impossible: someone from a comic book movie won a freaking Academy Award. Ledger’s turn as The Joker is already legendary. He’s both hilarious and terrifying, and it’s a legitimate shame we’ll never see what he may have been able to do in further outings.