The Case of the Sequel was Better

Hey Cassettes, it’s 2020 and we have a clear vision of the year ahead! Welcome back to another episode of The Black Case Diaries Podcast. 

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So for the past few months, we have been doing a lot of what we call, “focus” episodes where we talk about one movie or show at a time. But, we like to shake things up here, so we’re starting off 2020 with something a little different. 

Today we are talking about movie sequels! On Twitter a while back, we asked people to name a sequel that they thought was better than the original. We got a lot of feedback and some really great ideas, so thank you! We are going to highlight some of these movies and discuss what it takes to make a great sequel, and whether or not a sequel is ever “necessary.”

What We Mean By a Sequel

Really quick, we want to clarify what we mean when we say “sequel”. A sequel is a continuation of an earlier story that takes place in the same universe. Sometimes it takes place directly after the original, or maybe a long time after. This is different from a reboot, which is a re-telling of the same or similar story and it may take place in a universe where the original events did not occur. 

  • For example, Ghostbusters 2 is a sequel; but Ghostbusters (2016) is a reboot. Ghostbuster 3 will be a sequel to the original Ghostbusters films, but not a sequel to the 2016 reboot of the franchise. Confused? Don’t worry, so is everyone. 

 

Where do sequels come from? 

  • Since the ability to mass produce any kind of story has existed, so has sequels. If something is popular, why not use it to make more money? It’s a simple model that has been around for centuries. 
  • Even in the silent film era, directors were making follow-up films to their original pieces. For example, the famous film “A Trip to the Moon” (1902) by George Méliès  was soon followed by “The Impossible Voyage” 
  • As long as sequels have been around, they haven’t had the best reputation. In some instances, filmmakers relied too much on the popularity of the first movie, and didn’t put in the same amount of time and effort for the sequel. This continues to happen today, and more often than not, the sequel is inferior to the first film in the franchise. 

But, why do studios make so many sequels? Well, it’s because audiences want them. Jurassic World, The Force Awakens, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel; no matter how “bad” these movies seem, they make money! If audiences didn’t really want them, we wouldn’t pay to see them. We as a capitalist country vote with our money every day, and that’s a vote that really counts. 

Bad Sequels

Before we look at sequels that could be the exception to this rule, we need to find an example of a “bad” sequel. We looked at lists curated by Business Insider and USA Today to find some sequels with the worst reputations. Now, movies are subjective, so we will try our best to look at the technical aspects of these films and take into account the general consensus from audiences and critics

  • Home Alone 3
  • A Good Day to Die Hard
  • Son of the Mask 

 

What makes a good sequel?

To answer this question, we looked all over the internet and read lots of lists about the good qualities of movie sequels. We used them as a reference to compile our own list of what makes a sequel worth watching: 

  • Is it necessary? 
    • Now what we mean is: Does this story need to be told? Did the first film warrant a sequel? 
    • Some, including Jessica Firpi from Always the Critic Movie Podcast, would argue that no sequel is ever necessary or worthy. This is not that crazy of an idea! 
    • But if a writer creates a story with a sequel in mind, who’s to say that the sequel story isn’t as important as the original? There is no law stating that sequels are automatically of less artistic value, so why do we automatically assume that a sequel won’t live up to an original? 
  • Is it a new story, or the same story told again? 
    • Audiences go see sequels because they like feeling confident that they will enjoy what they are paying for. But this is where studios make the mistake of trying to give the audience the exact same movie. 
  • Did the actors/characters return, and if they didn’t, were they replaced with equally well-written characters? 
    • Are all the characters important to the plot? Were characters kept around for fan service or do they serve the story? 
    • If these characters return, do they develop? Have they changed or will they change in this continuing story? 
    • Does it recognize the original and the accomplishments of its characters? 
  • Did the unique and iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • This can be as simple as a line or an outfit. Imagine Terminator 2 without “I’ll be Back” or any Indiana Jones film without the fedora? It just wouldn’t be the same
  • Does the sequel change the lore or rules of the first film’s universe? Has the genre changed? 
    • This can be a pro or a con, depending on how well it’s done
  • Does the villain return OR does this villain stand on its own as a character? 

Most of these points could be boiled down to one key concept: If you must make a sequel, figure out what made the original so special and build off of it! Don’t rewrite it, and don’t leave it out!

Best Sequels Consensus

Twitter Suggestions: 

We got SO MANY suggestions for sequels that were better than the original on Twitter, we can’t name them all. But, it was nice to see how passionate everyone was about this topic! We made a list of movies that came up again and again, and we are going to examine what makes them good sequels!

The best sequels according to Twitter were: 

  • Aliens
    • Ridley Scott’s original Alien hit theatres in June of 1979 and introduced the world to Sigourney Weaver’s heroic Ellen Ripley and the doomed crew of the Nostromo. It was sci-fi horror film that made history, so it wasn’t a surprise when a sequel was in the works. 
    • Directed by James Cameron instead of Ridley Scott, Aliens takes place 57 years after the first film. James Cameron also wrote the screenplay. 
      • Was this sequel warranted? 
        • This is a tough question for this particular franchise, because the first Alien could have been a one-off from a story perspective with the question of whether Ripley will awake from hyper sleep.
        • But the second plot goes well with the first, using a rescue mission as the main motive of the characters, similar to the original motive of the crew in the first Alien film.
      • Is it a new story?
        • Absolutely. Even though we see the return of a lead character and villain, this film feels like a continuation of a franchise, not a repeat. Without the knowledge of the Xenomorph, it makes sense that eventually humans would colonize the moon inhabited by the creatures and watching Ripley express these horrors to a disbelieving audience builds on her character arch.
      • Did the actors/characters return? 
        • As the sole survivor of the Nostromo, Ripley’s return in Aliens is instrumental to the plot of the film and connects the movie to the original. If Sigourney Weaver did not return, this film would not have been nearly as successful as a sequel
          • Because of the nature of the first film, no unnecessary characters returned for Aliens. 
          • Ripley is a strong, intelligent, and resourceful character in both films. But in the second film, we see her step forth as a natural hero and leader, and with the introduction of Newt, we see her compassionate side.
        • The other characters in the original Alien are replaced with a larger group of Marines. Some of these characters stand out, like Bill Paxton’s Hudson or Jeanette Goldstein’s Vasquez, but ultimately more people means more room for bloodshed.
        • Aliens recognizes Ripley’s experiences and how her character would have been affected by them. We see her get ignored just like the first film, but her past experiences put her in a place that allows her to take charge and help her shipmates survive.
      • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
        • The most iconic parts of Alien were the Xenomorphs, and they return in full force. We see the face-huggers and chest-bursters along with full-body aliens.
          • The look and feel of the sets are similar, with the futuristic setting.
      • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
        • Alien is a unique sequel, in that it sits in a different genre than the original movie. The first film was an all-out thriller set in space. The second film is a sci-fi action film and strays from its horror roots. Aliens takes on more of a Jurassic Park feel, humans trying to survive against an animal force. 
        • The sequel Aliens does not change the rules of the universe, it doesn’t suddenly reveal the Xenomorphs to be anything but soulless beasts that kill to survive and take over whenever possible. 
      • Does the villain return?
        • It depends on what you mean by villain. In the first Alien film, Ash the android is a stand-out villain that does not return for Aliens. But, as we said before, the Xenomorphs do return for this movie and stand alone as their own terrifying villains.  
    • Aliens could not have existed without the iconic Alien. Although many may consider it to be better than the original, it certainly stands on the shoulders of a film giant. 
    • How is Aliens BETTER? 
  • The Godfather Part II
    • Was the sequel warranted? 
      • The Godfather is regarded as one of the greatest films in cinematic history, so a sequel was inevitable. Every family has a history, and the Coreleone’s are no exception! The second film explores Vito Coreleone’s origin as an Italian immigrant and juxtaposes this against his son Michael taking over for him in present day.
    • Is it a new story? 
      • Yes, this is a new component to the story that brings more depth to the characters and performances of the first film.
    • Did the characters return? 
      • Yes! The Godfather Part 2 brought back the infamous Vito Corleone and his son.
      • While it turns the clock back on Vito, we see a progression of Michael. Michael’s character moves forward and adapts to his surroundings.
      • Michael assumes the role of The Godfather, and goes through a metamorphosis to do so.
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
      • The iconic characters, the film score, and the cinematography continue a signature feeling from the first movie 
    • What makes The Godfather Part 2 BETTER?
  • Terminator 2
    • Did the first warrant a sequel?
      • This again is a very hard question to answer.  Could they have stopped after the first movie? Yes.  But….Would it have been a disservice to the character of Sarah Connor? Yes.  In the second installment we get to see a much more confident and strong woman who is willing to do anything to not only save her son but also the fate of the world, even when there is nobody that believes her.
    • Is it a new story?
    • Did the characters return?
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
    • What makes Terminator 2 BETTER?
  • Kill Bill Vol 2
    • Was the sequel warranted?
      • In this special case it was definitely warranted because it is a two part story.
    • Is it a new story?
      • No it is the same story continued.
    • Did the characters return?
      • Yes
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
      • Quentin Tarantino’s unique storytelling is kept throughout both films.
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
    • What makes Kill Bill Vol 2 BETTER?
  • Empire Strikes Back 
  • The Dark Knight
    • Was the sequel warranted?
    • Is it a new story?
    • Did the characters return?
      • We of course get Batman and Alfred.  We also have the return of Batman’s love interest Rachel. The actress, however, was changed from Katie Holmes to Maggie Gyllenhaal. The decision to keep the character was wise in order to keep consistency because otherwise the audience would have wondered what had happened to Rachel.
    • Did the unique/iconic elements of the first film return? 
    • Does the sequel change the lore of the original or change genre?
    • Does the villain return?
      • The villain of The Scarecrow returns but we also get an amazing performance from a new villain, The Joker.
    • What makes The Dark Knight BETTER?

 

Sources:

https://screencraft.org/2015/10/02/the-ten-commandments-of-writing-a-great-sequel/

https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/7-rules-writing-sequels

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