What are the Best Film Sequels?

The Godfather: Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Gremlins II: the New Batch... Anne Billson on the sequels that went one better

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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, Part II illuminates and elaborates on the first part, 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 you. 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 immediate sequel (we’ll draw a veil over Return of the Jedi and the subsequent prequels). George Lucas may be a genius as a producer, but I’m sorry, he can’t write or direct for toffee. So it helped that The Empire Strikes Back was made by people who knew their craft, notably screenwriters Leigh Brackett (veteran of a couple of Howard Hawks classics) and Lawrence Kasdan.

It helps, of course, if you’re not bowled over by the original film. Alien was innovative in terms of setting and design, but once the creature had burst out of John Hurt’s chest, I found the way each character gormlessly wandered off to get killed a dull cliché already done to death by too many horror movies. Aliens, on the other hand, grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go for the entire 137 minutes.

Conversely, 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 variety any day. I’m not alone in marginally preferring Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 to the original Toy Story, but I’m almost certainly in a tiny minority when it comes to Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Ghostbusters II, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Perhaps it was the result of lowered expectations, but I found all three more fun than their precursors.

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