Al Pacino In 'The Godfather: Part II' Woody Allen And Mia Farrow In 'A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy' '

The Godfather is great, but The Godfather: Part II is greater. It’s that rare thing – a sequel that doesn’t just match but actually surpasses the original film. Not content with just recycling the same story, it illuminates and elaborates on it, adding a classically tragic dimension by using flashbacks to show the origins of the Corleone family, and then moving forward in time to show that same family ripping itself apart.

Conventional wisdom has it that sequels are inferior to the original films, but we all know there are a few titles that buck the trend. It’s not difficult coming up with a list of them; the hard part is getting everyone to agree with your choices. You’re on safe ground with The Godfather: Part II, which won twice as many Oscars as the first film, or with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, since Star Trek: The Motion Picture had been such a dog’s dinner that the only way to go was up.

But there are plenty of people who will disagree with my contention that Star Wars is inferior on all counts to its first sequel (we’ll draw a veil over the sequel and prequels after that). George Lucas may be a genius as a producer and world-builder, but he can’t write or direct for toffee, so it helped that The Empire Strikes Back (I’m sorry, but I am not going to refer to it by its abominable retroactive retitling, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) was made by people who knew their craft, notably Irvin Kershner, a useful if not inspired director, and screenwriters Leigh Brackett (veteran of a couple of Howard Hawks classics) and the up-and-coming Lawrence Kasdan.

It helps, of course, if you’re not as bowled over by the original film as everyone else. Alien was revolutionary in terms of setting and design, but once the creature had burst out of John Hurt’s chest, I found the repetitive way each character gormlessly wandered off to get killed a dreary cliché already done to death by so many horror movies. Aliens, on the other hand, was no longer a horror film but a war movie that grabbed me by the throat and didn’t ease up for the entire 137 minutes.


There are those who prefer Terminator 2: Judgment Day to The Terminator, but I’m not one of them; give me killer Schwarzenegger to the kiddy-friendly version any day – even if the special effects were flashier. I’m not alone in marginally preferring Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 to the original Toy Story, but there are other partialities where I’m certainly in a tiny minority. Perhaps it was the result of lowered expectations, but I found Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Ghostbusters II and The Lost World: Jurassic Park a lot more fun than their predecessors.

Then there are the sequels where a talented director seizes on increased resources to do things he couldn’t afford to do in the lower budget of the original. With Mad Max, George Miller conjured an eye-popping white line nightmare for only 400,000 Australian dollars; but 4.5 million enabled him to add even crazier stunts and an epic quality to Mad Max 2. That 20 minute carmageddon at the climax is surely still the best extended multi-vehicle car chase ever filmed, and if you’ve never seen it in 70mm, you’ve never lived.

Likewise, if Sam Raimi whipped up a colourful orgy of demonic possession for peanuts in The Evil Dead, an increased budget of 3.6 million allowed him to remake it as even bigger, funnier and more splattery Evil Dead II.

For the best sequels, though, you’d have to go back to the first great golden age of Hollywood horror. James Whales’ The Bride of Frankenstein is even weirder and more phantasmagorical than his Frankenstein; they’re both stone-cold classics, but many of us prefer the second film. And while Cat People (1944) is a classic of psychosexual horror, its nominal sequel, Curse of the Cat People, makes me cry like a baby; unlike its predecessor, it’s not a horror film, but a sensitive study of childhood. Just as, 42 years later, Aliens would swap its predecessor’s horror elements for those of a war movie, it switches genres.

Perhaps this is one of the keys to making a sequel that can match its predecessor for quality; not serving up more of the same, but offering something completely different – albeit recycling some of the characters and set in the same fictional landscape.

Then again, maybe this just means it’s not a sequel at all – simply another original film masquerading as one.


This piece was first posted on the Telegraph website in April 2014. It has since been edited, a bit.


Addendum: My Top Ten Sequels:


The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Curse of the Cat People (1944)

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Mad Max 2 (1981)

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Aliens (1986)

Evil Dead II (1987)

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

Batman Returns (1992)

Toy Story 2 (1999)


14 thoughts on “MY TOP TEN MOVIE SEQUELS

  1. It looks like you’re interpreting sequels as specifically the second movie. Given that, this is a solid list, though for personal preference I’d replace Curse of the Cat People and Toy Story 2 with Dawn of the Dead and Dracula’s Daughter.

    • That wasn’t intentional. I would have included Toy Story 3 in the Top Ten, except I ran out of places. But I can’t think of many second or later movies that would make the cut.

      It never occurred to me that Dawn of the Dead is a sequel, though of course you’re right. It is.

  2. But of a head-scratcher, because you had first dibs on ALL the good ones!

    The Dark Knight

    A Shot in the Dark
    It’s when Insp. C takes centre stage and Dreyfus and Cato first appear.

    Hellboy II: The Golden Army
    Even though it has to carry an ex boy-band member, the relationship between the lead characters works starts to work, rather than being isolated from each other

    *leans further into the barrel*

    Honourable mention for:

    Shock Treatment

    Not better than, how could it be? But interesting in itself for the idea of characters living in a constructed reality for a TV audience.

    And just to lower the tone:

    “Oooh innit dark down here in the bottom of the barrel!”

    Bad Boys II.
    The first film is a routine and fairly dull cop/buddy movie. The sequel is an out and out comedy piece, that seems to hark back to some of the 70’s cop films, when things like procedures, departmental policy and ‘laws’ went straight out of the window at the first sniff of finding a baddy. (Often followed swifty by the snitch themselves if they wouldn’t .cough up to who was ‘Mr Big’.)

    • “Even though it has to carry an ex boy-band member”

      Hey, Luke Goss is fantastic in Hellboy 2 AND as the antagonist in Blade 2. Would love to see him in more sequels by Del Toro as that seems to be where his skills lie.

      • Well I was being just a teeny bit provocative, I much prefer HB2 over HB for all the very reasons you list. And the Bird Woman and the Gas Man and the Fairys and the Angel. (Undecided about the bloke in the wheelbarrow.)

        Not quite sure about Lucas though, but I’ll admit the script doesn’t give him much to work with. Prince Nuada’s character seems to be limited to glowering, pouting and going into a strop. Not promising material for any actor.

        I’ve not seen Blade II, it’s on a long list of things I need to catch up on. I had two reasons to watch it, GdT’s direction and the production design, now I have a third!

  3. A Shot in the Dark – good call. And very different to The Pink Panther.

    It’s true Hellboy II has better kittens, but I think I marginally prefer the first one. Also, Liz has a distracting asymmetric hair-do in the sequel.

    Bad Boys II? No. Just no.

    • *giggle*

      I thought you might not rate BBII

      (If I have time tomorrow, I might attempt to get you to soften your view just a teeny tiny incy wincy ickle bit. It’s not a great film, but it’s not terrible either. It seems to be caught in the currently fashionable trend that all films by MickyB are automatically beneath contempt.)

      But to the slightly more serious matter of Liz.

      That’s not a weird asymmetric bob; that is POWER HAIR!

      (Ok so that is sort of a ref. back to “Stations of the Coiffe”.)

      In HB, Liz is just a lank-haired sub-Bella moody wet thing, torn between two suitors and struggling with anger-management issues.

      In HBII, as well as the crop, she is now switched on, focused, dressed to kill: literally, tooled up and fully able to function as a member of ….whatever it is called. She has only two things she wants to do, kick ass and chew gum; and she’s all out of gum!


      • I have seen Bad Boys II twice. I failed to enjoy it on both occasions (and believe me, I would LOVE to love a Michael Bay movie, so it’s not through want of trying) though I’m perfectly prepared to admit it might be to somebody’s taste. Just not mine.

  4. I think comic book film sequels are generally an improvement on the first film, though they tend to mess it up by the third. I love Hellboy II, think it’s far better than the first, mostly for all of del Toro’s typical world-building — the Troll Market, the nature God, the Elves living underground surrounded by pipes and passing subway trains — but also for using Barry Manilow on the soundtrack and letting Doug Jones keep his voice instead of using a David Hyde-Pierce dub.

    Blade II is better than Blade. Spider-Man 2 is better thanks mostly to Alfred Molina’s great Doc Ock and that train roof fight sequence.

    Conversely, I found I’ve enjoyed The Dark Knight less each time I see it, but Batman Begins only improves. The former is exclusively about Heath Ledger’s performance, there’s not much else that sets it apart.

  5. I’m beginning to think world-building is overrated. All fiction builds worlds – it’s what happens in those worlds that’s crucial, not the worlds themselves, though I’m writing that off the top of my head and haven’t thought it through, and I’m aware a lot of people would disagree.

  6. I’d say the best sequel ever was made in Germany eighty-something years ago; The Testament of Dr. Mabuse by Fritz Lang. It would have premiered in early 1933 but gee, some shift in government prevented that. If you consider the context in which this was made it is one of the creepiest movies ever made. It certainly blows its silent-era predecessor out of the water.

    This scene may contain a spoiler. Actually, it’s not miuch of a spoiler, you’ll have figured out the whodunit way earlier. But it explains the nature of the titular testament. And nobody in Germany in 1933 would have missed out on who and what this was referring to.

    • I’d say you were right. Amazing scene. Fair tingles the spine. Had I thought of this, it would have been on the list. Thank you for reminding me.

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