Think about going to dinner at one of those Japanese steakhouses where the chef cooks at your table and puts on a show. The first time you go, it's pretty awesome. Knives flying everywhere, salt and pepper shakers being banged like drum sticks, steaming onion volcanoes. It’s entertaining, and tasty. Then, every subsequent trip seems to be a downer. The food's not as good as you remember, and it's more entertaining to watch the ice cubes melt on the grill than it is to watch the chef flip a shrimp tail into his hat...again. Let's face it: he hasn't learned any new tricks since the last time you were there. On your fourth or fifth visit, the novelty has completely worn off and the annoyance of having to wash your favorite shirt three times to get the hibachi smell out makes you wonder why you went back at all.
Movie sequels are a lot like that. There was something unique and original about the first movie that made you want to go back a second time, but more often than not, it’s just a retread of the first movie. Every subsequent sequel just retraces the steps of the one before, until you can practically tell someone the storyline before you even see the movie.
There are, however, a handful of sequels that not only live up to the original, but at times surpass the originals. With the release of Toy Story 3 this weekend, I decided to look back and pick my top 5 favorite sequels of all time (in no particular order). These movies had a lot to live up to (I consider all five of the original films classics), and yet, each of them has become a classic in its own right. So here you go: The Greatest Movie Sequels of All-Time!
I could give you a million reasons why this movie is incredible, and more than lives up to the Best Picture winning original. Let's start with the story: it juxtaposes the rise of Don Corleone with the fall of Michael, in a cross-cut style that never gets boring, even with an over three hour running time. There's Copolla's ability to keep all of these stories cohesive, while never losing sight of the bigger themes. There's Gordon Willis' criminally underrated cinematography, and the award winning production design. There's the incredible acting by the ENTIRE cast, with five of them being nominated for Oscars. Pacino and DeNiro, two actors with a long list of accolades, have never been better. But really, there's only one thing that you need to know about The Godfather Part II: it's the only sequel in Oscar history to win Best Picture.
Most sequels don't work because they just remake the original. It would be tough for me to tell you the difference between Saw and Saw IV. They're the essentially the same movie, just with different situations. Alien is an incredibly scary, claustrophobic sci-fi film directed by a master of the art, Ridley Scott. So how did James Cameron avoid falling into the sequel trap? Instead of making a scary, claustrophobic sci-fi film, he made Aliens a guns-blazing action film. Ripley heads back to LV-426 with a group of Marines to find out what happened to workers and their families who colonized the planet. Once there, we get a couple of moments to rest, but mostly, we get guns, explosions, and aliens. Sigourney Weaver's performance deservedly won her an Oscar nomination, and the character of Ellen Ripley in this film launched a new archetype: the kick-ass action chick. This new character paved the way for...
In which Sarah Connor goes from running scared to completely bad-ass. I can't remember a character doing such a complete 180 from one film to another. I had a serious crush on Linda Hamilton for awhile after seeing this film. But this movie's treats don't stop there. This is back when James Cameron actually knew how to write a script, and this is a pretty great script. No wasted scenes here; they either forward the story along or bring us an exciting chase scene/gun fight. There's Arnold, bringing some serious muscle, and much needed to comic relief. There's Edward Furlong who...um...doesn't distract us from the awesomeness of the film. Then there's the T-1000. Cameron's The Abyss was just a taste of what CGI could do in the right hands. T-1000 was the next step, and I remember sitting in the theater watching it in awe. It was liquid metal! It could change shapes! It could get shot and melt back together! Cameron would go on to make bigger films with bigger special effects, but he never combined story and effects better than he did here.
Imagine for a moment you're George Lucas. You've created the biggest blockbuster of all time. That movie, Star Wars, ended with a nice little bow around it. Yeah, Ben Kenobi dies, but the good guys win and everybody, including the giant walking rug, gets a medal. Every-body's happy. What are you going to do for the sequel? You're going to create what may be the darkest second chapter in film history. Seriously, go watch The Empire Strikes Back again. It is DARK! Luke almost dies...several times (including what amounts to one giant suicide attempt). He even loses his hand. The rebels never actually find a place to call their own, losing a giant battle to open the film. Han and Leia finally find happiness with each other...until Han finds himself frozen in carbonite and disappears for the last quarter of the film. Even C3PO, the film's comic relief, ends up in pieces. There is no happy ending here. In fact, there is no end at all; just a "To Be Continued". And we couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. Oh, and did I mention the four greatest words in movie history - "I am your father!"
5. Toy Story 2
11 years ago, I was seriously concerned when I heard Pixar was making Toy Story 2. Toy Story, at the time, was my favorite animated film ever, and knowing how most sequels sucked, I feared that the legacy of the original might be tarnished. In fact, Toy Story 2 was originally slated to be a straight to video release. My fears were completely unfounded, as Toy Story 2 not only built on the fun and thrill of the first movie (that opening video game sequence is still one of the most exciting I've ever seen on film), but added an emotional layer that I had never seen in an animated movie. I dare you to watch Jessie's flashback sequence and not ball your eyes out. We can look back at Toy Story 2 as the moment where Pixar went from just making entertaining, original movies to being the best movie studio around. Will Toy Story 3 join this list? I guess we'll find out when it hits theaters this Friday!