After a brief Midterm-Week/Spring Break hiatus, I’m back and ready to wrap up the Sequelbration!. And what better way to do that than to write up a comprehensive list of my favorite sequels of all time! So, here are the rules: all entries on the list are sequels. Not prequels, not remakes. Sequels. Also, each film series only gets one entry, so if there are two worthy films from the same series, only the higher one will get put on the list.
Oh, and let’s just rip this band-aid off right now, I’ve never seen The Godfather part II (yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve rented it off of iTunes).
10. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Welp, here it is. My number ten pick is the second entry in the extremely lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I chose this one, not because it’s some kind of landmark in filmmaking history, but because there are very few films I’ve ever had as much pure fun watching as Dead Man’s Chest. The action is insane, the comedy is riotous, it’s Gore Verbsinki’s best looking film to date (and given the strength of his visual sensibilities, that’s nothing to sniff at). It’s just a bigger, better, more awesome Pirates than it’s immediate predecessor. I loved it to death when I saw it in theaters, and I still love it to death now.
Alfonso Cuaron’s sole Harry Potter credit is not only the series’ most impressive entry, but also one of the greatest family-films ever made. A pitch-perfect balance of comedy, mystery, and kid-friendly horror, Azkaban is every great element of the Harry Potter films at their most potent. It stills amazes me when I rewatch these films together and see the unfathomable jump in quality from Chris Columbus’ two hideously shoddy original entries, to Cuaron’s stunning work in Azkaban.
If you’ve never seen the Harry Potter films and found yourself deterred by the shoddy quality of the first two films, believe me when I say it is worth suffering through Columbus’ hack job to get to this gem. Azkaban sets an extremely high bar which the rest of the series never quite reaches again, but it’s hard to deny that that bar was instrumental in later directors really giving it their all on their respective entries. I don’t think we would’ve seen the excellent final films in the Harry Potter series had it not been for the creative standard laid down by Cuaron and his achievements in Prisoner of Azkaban.
Slick, stunning, intense. That’s how I like my Bond. And on all those fronts, Skyfall is a smashing success. Where it’s story lacks in originality, it makes up for in presence and personality. Who cares if we’ve seen it done before? We’ve rarely seen it done better. And we’ve certain never seen it through the lens of James Bond.
Skyfall really and truly is the whole dang package. And if you’re looking for a standalone spy flick with all the elements to satisfy your hankering for secret agents, Skyfall is definitely the way to go.
Alien 3 is probably most well known for being David Fincher’s personal hell. One where the studio interfered liberally and ended up recutting and reshooting the picture beyond recognition.
Thank God for special edition DVD releases.
Fincher’s work in Alien 3 is spectacular, and his original, unmolested vision for the film can be viewed on most DVD and blu-ray versions, listed as the “Assembly Cut”. Darkly beautiful in a manner completely unto its own, no film in the Alien series stuck with me as much as 3 did. Much closer to the original Alien in tone than the crowd-pleasing roller coaster that is Aliens, 3 brought the series back to its primal roots for a powerful final act. Set in an industrial prison with a perpetual orange glow, the feeling of apocalyptic finality lingers on Alien 3 like a heavy fog. This isn’t fun and games. This isn’t James Cameron. Alien 3 means business. And it delivers like crazy.
Possibly the entry on this list I felt the most completely blindsided by, The Bourne Ultimatum provides that which all mystery writers strive to achieve: dramatic closure. The film is totally awesome, to be sure. Matt Damon embodies Jason Bourne, and he apparently saved all his greatest action sequences for last. But the brilliance of Ultimatum lies in a simple reality: it’s satisfying. I remember when I first watched it and the final frames began to play. I recall just having a stupid grin plastered on my face because I was just so dang happy with what I had just saw. And that, is the best feeling a movie can give you.
A surprisingly powerful finale to a film series I didn’t know I had such deep emotions about until the last half an hour of this movie. The unsettling implications of living toys was always something of a joke amongst snarky cynics after Toy Story‘s release. Little did we know that Toy Story 3 would actually confront a lot of these disturbing implications head on. The result is a poignant look at the concept of purpose, how it feels to be abandoned, and what it means to be loved. The Toy Story Trilogy is, shockingly enough, one of the greatest film trilogies ever made, and has earned it’s place alongside the likes of Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.
I already talked a decent bit about Rises in my first Sequelbration! post. But, to put it in a nutshell, what makes this film so great is how excellent it is in it’s own right while simultaneously serving as a completely satisfying conclusion to the two films which precede it. I didn’t think I could love a superhero film more than I loved The Dark Knight. Rises proved me wrong.
3. Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi
Another film I discussed at some length already in the Sequelbration!, I confess I had a hard time picking between this film and The Empire Strikes Back. I eventually landed on Jedi because no scene is Star Wars is greater than the final confrontation with Darth Sidious aboard the second Death Star. Empire had its fair share of great scenes, for sure, but the Throne Room sequences give Jedi the edge. Even with the added dramatic weight of the prequel trilogy, Jedi‘s conclusion stands strong, as a finale to the Original Trilogy, and to the Saga as a whole.
2. Insidious: Chapter 2
Insidious: Chapter 2 is not a sequel. It is the sequel. It is everything a great sequel should be: it advances the story on its own, while retroactively improving the original film as well. Director James Wan’s sensibilities have never been more on point than they are in this film. Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up literal moments after the first film’s climax. Never bothering with the hassle of returning to square one, it takes the energy of the first film’s finale and keeps building upwards, essentially turning these two films into a singular, extremely lengthy horror film. It’s a feat I have never seen before in a saga that wasn’t preplanned, and it was a delightful surprise for me as a die hard fan of the original Insidious.
What makes the the Insidious films unique is their tone. They both walk the very thin line between “serious” horror (like The Exorcist) and “comedic” horror (like Evil Dead II), while never entirely giving over to either. The result is a film whose style and feel are entirely it’s own. A creepy carnival ride of a film, with a lot of comedy and lighthearted moments on its surface, but strategically punctuated by moments of bone-chilling terror. Insidious: Chapter 2 takes that sensibility and ramps it up to 11. Staying totally true to the tone of the original film (watching them back to back, one may have a hard time distinguishing where the first film ended and the second began), while ramping things up quite a few notches. Never in my life have I seen an “unnecessary sequel” (as in, a sequel that didn’t need to happen to have a complete, finished story) that satisfied me as deeply as Chapter 2 did, and it’s an experience that every film and/or horror fan should experience at least once.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
This is the one that almost didn’t make the list. Not because it’s not worthy, far from it, it’s just that I don’t really consider Return of the King a “sequel”. As far as I’m concerned, The Lord of the Rings is just one long film. It was shot as one film (many of the scenes in King were shot before most of Fellowship and Two Towers), and it was only turned into three films in the editing room. King is merely “part 3” of one long production. That being said, it was King alone that won the Oscar for Best Picture, and as far as the world is concerned, Return of the King is technically still a sequel. And so, if it is, in fact, a sequel, it most certainly takes top honors on this list.
Return of the King is not your average “Best Picture” Oscar winner. For starters it is the only fantasy film to have ever received the honor. But more importantly, and perhaps less noticeably, Return of the King represents a very different kind of film in it’s very spirit than your typical Oscar nominees. King, and the The Lord of the Rings as a whole, doesn’t deal in terms of moral greyness. It is the ultimate battle between good vs. evil, a dynamic that today’s society is virtually never still willing to take seriously, at least not without a few doses of moral ambiguity to ease them into it. Rings does none of that. It’s good vs. evil straight up, and will offer no apologies for it. And therein lies Rings greatest victory: it represents a triumph over disillusionment. The Lord of the Rings presented a story so powerful, that even today’s nihilistic viewers were swept up by it. Rings made it okay to believe in that ultimate struggle again, without ever feeling childish or naive. Return of the King‘s Best Picture victory to the Oscars is proof of this. The Lord of the Rings, Return of the King in particular, is a monumental achievement, a film that stood opposed to the societal trends of it’s time and defeated them, and it will continue to amaze and inspire for generations to come.
And so that wraps up the Sequelbration!, I hope you guys enjoyed this series of articles as much as I enjoyed writing them. I hope y’all will come back next week as I take a look at the Indiana Jones films, and give my honest opinion on them as somebody who only watched all of them through two weeks ago. Should be quite the conversation starter.
Andrew Allen is a television and film writer for Action A Go Go. He is an aspiring screenwriter and director who is currently studying at the University of Miami. You can check him out on Tumblr @andrewballen and follow him on Twitter @A_B_Allen.