With The Hunger Games: Catching Fire releasing this Friday, and sequels cropping up seemingly every week, it’s about time that we take a look back at what are some of the greatest sequels ever put on screen. Be it big franchise films (like the first one we’ll talk about below) or esoteric, loosely connected collections of pictures, here are ten of the greatest sequels ever made.
10.) Spider-Man 2
Without a doubt the greatest comic book sequel ever made, the film stands up as the true gold standard of the entire sub-genre of cinema. With a breathtaking sense of pacing and geography with regards to the film’s action direction, Sam Raimi meshes his aesthetic with the world of the web-head as perfectly as we have seen a director blend with a comic book character since the start of this new golden age of comic book adaptations. A perfect counterpoint to the self serious Nolan Batman-trilogy and the now completely muddled X-Men franchise, Raimi would go on to helm a third film in his Spidey trilog,y and while it is admittedly a mess, this second film featuresa villain and is a single narrative that is as involving and resonant as it is thrilling and ultimately quite comedic. Oh, and Alfred Molina may give the best performance in any superhero film, ever.
9.) New Tale Of Zatoichi
One of over two dozen original pictures based on the legendary story of this iconic blind swordsman, the third film in the series may be one of its best. Certainly the best this writer has seen (I’ve only seen about six of them, so don’t entirely trust me on this one). New Tale finds our lead jumping into the world of color film for the first time, and while the grainy black and white photography of the first two added a great level of atmosphere to the picture, part three features both one of star Shintaro Katsu’s greatest takes on this character, and also one of the most interesting narratives found within thes series. A breathless meditation on a man trying to make amends for his life, this film is so thrillingly entrenched within its own mythology, that it becomes both a top notch sequel, and also a genuinely moving love letter to a character that is set to become even more popular with a pending, giant, Criterion Collection box set release later this month.
8.) The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse
Jumping from the world of samurai pictures to a Fritz Lang gangster film, number eight on this list is Lang’s follow up to the brilliant Dr. Mabuse The Gambler. A masterpiece of the crime genre, Testament is a stunningly crafted thriller that is now seen as not only a great piece of cinema, but also a historically important piece of German film. Cited by Nazi leadership as a film that stood firmly in opposition to their propaganda, this taut and tense proto-horror film is as intense a picture as Lang would ever make, and as inventive a piece of crime cinema as this era would ever see. Wonderfully distilled Fritz Lang, this film, his last work with wife Thea von Harbou, is not just a great sequel, but also one of the greatest crime thrillers ever shot.
More a companion film than a real sequel, this follow up to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo may not be as well beloved, or as truly, cinematically bombastic, but it is just as impressibve. With a great lead turn from the ever engaging Toshiro Mifune, the film lightens the tone a bit, offering up a bit of comedy amongst the breathtaking direction from Kurosawa, as well as a series of images that are absolutely unforgettable. With one hell of a final shot to boot, the film is a decidedly different beast than the previous entry, but in that, it proves just how brilliant an auteur Kurosawa truly was. Switching the tone of his previous film on its head, this lighter comedy picture is no less brazenly crafted, and no less unforgettable.
6.) Before Midnight
While it is still fresh in many minds, it’s hard to argue with Richard Linklater’s latest film as one of the greatest sequels ever made. Capping off (possibly?) the Before trilogy that Linklater now has to call his masterpiece, this is not only a stunning piece of real, human filmmaking, but also of modern fiction storytelling. Feeling in many ways like its own, stand alone film, newbies to the franchise will find a lot to take from Midnight, but those who have seen these characters grow, it is nothing short of life shattering. Setting up what will hopefully be a fourth entry a decade or so from now, Linklater’s new film proves that while cinema has gone broad and explosion-heavy, there is nothing more thrilling, nothing more involving, nothing more powerful, than real character-based narrative fiction. And it truly doesn’t get much better than this.
The loosest of all sequels here, Wong Kar Wai took a narrative tying through two previous films, Days Of Being Wild and In The Mood For Love, and turned it into one of the most inventive and stunning pictures ever made. Ostensibly told in four parts, the film is a time traveling look at unrequited love that is as beautiful as it is poetic and as tactile as it is melancholy. With some of Kar Wai’s most entrancing direction – proving this picture as just the step out of his comfort zone that he truly needed to expand his career – the film boasts top notch performances from the likes of Tony Leung and Gong Li, both of whom are in rare form here. A relatively forgotten masterpiece today, this is easily one of Wong’s least talked about pictures. However, hopefully as we get further away from its initial release, it will ultimately be seen as the cinematic triumph that it is.
Likely the least known, or at least the least seen, of all the films on this list, this may be the best film from arguably the greatest trilogy ever made. The middle film in Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, Aparajito (The Unvanquished) follows the story of Apu as he leaves childhood behind for adulthood. Winner of the 1957 Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, the film has become an iconic picture amongst world cinema fans, and for good reason. With breathtaking direction and a lead performance from Smaran Ghosal that is as good as any turn found on this list, this is a truly masterful continuation of one of the greatest stories ever told. Unlike many of the films on this list, the series never took a dip, culminating in what is, again, one of the very greatest trilogies ever made, and likely the best one you’ve never seen.
3.) The Empire Strikes Back
Say what you will about the Star Wars franchise (especially in today’s age where it appears to be as trendy to bash the films as it ever was to say you loved them) but this film, the second released but fifth in the narrative, is one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever made. With a sins-of-the-father, Shakespearean-esque story that is ultimately an aggressively dark way to expand upon one of the most vibrant of all sci-fi universes, The Empire Strikes Back takes the franchise out of what is best described as a relatively simple, if lively, adventure series into something truly legendary. Turning the series that helped launch the franchise tentpoles we see yearly on its head, this film proves that while they may be fun, a blockbuster can be something more. They can be something greater, something bombastic, something epic and most importantly, something truly groundbreaking.
While most sequels continue on with both narrative, and aesthetic, connections to its predecessor, one of the most interesting sequels ever made also happens to be a relative far cry from its previous entry. Ridley Scott launched the Alien franchise, and while the first film is one of the greatest horror pictures ever made, director James Cameron took on the sequel, and turned it into not only one of the greatest follow-ups, but also one of the greatest action films ever made. Now, while it does seem very much like a departure, Cameron proves once again that very few filmmakers of his generation have the skill in crafting a percussive action picture as he. With some truly groundbreaking effects work and one of the most exciting final acts in all of film, this is as entrancing an action movie as there has truly ever been.
1.) The Godfather, Part II
Truly the end all, be all of sequels. Not much else can be said about this film that hasn’t already been discussed, as this is routinely cited as the greatest sequel of all time, if not one of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid. With a career defining turn from star Al Pacino and some of the most exciting direction from filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, this film (released two years after the first, equally brilliant masterpiece), a Shakespearean meditation on a man’s journey into madness and ultimately the entirety of American capitalism, is the greatest sequel ever made. Continuing on from the first, legendary, film, this film would find a sequel of its own that is often scoffed at as a failure, but with the first two pictures originally considered by most, even Sight And Sound’s prestigious collective, as one of the greatest duos in all of film, this stands as a cornerstone in not only film, but American fiction.