Top 20 underrated movie sequels
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
The franchise entries that, for one reason or another, got sentenced for crimes they didn't commit...
Sometimes sequels get overlooked or pre-emptively dismissed for the very thing that got them green-lit: the title. Sometimes they're hamstrung by the poor reputation of other sequels that preceded them. Sometimes they're wrong for their time, and right for a later time. In any case here are the twenty most-maligned movie sequels I can think of, ordered by the disparity between their quality and their reception...
20: Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971)
Producer Arthur P. Jacobs and 20th Century Fox had a rigid strategy of matching the diminishing box-office returns of the Apes sequels with ever-thriftier budgets. So when the new franchise entry turned out to be set in modern-day America. there was a feeling that the glory of the chimps' tea-party was pretty much over. Instead writer Paul Dehn came up with a simultaneously witty and tragic tale of prejudice which focused in on the series' most popular characters, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter). Director Don Taylor was also able to reunite the original actors to their parts, a factor which was often a problem in the Apes films. A classic just for Cornelius's famously witty response to a judge's question about whether apes can talk.
19: Return Of The Living Dead 3 (1993)
Though H.R. Giger had nothing to do with RotLD3, its blend of gore, sex and sadomasochistic imagery must surely have earned a place on the eccentric Swiss artist and film designer's DVD shelf. Like others in this list, Brian Yuzna's truly underrated sequel to Dan O'Bannon's dark 1980s horror-comedy was poisoned by a genuinely inferior precedent in RotLD2. In fact 3 has some genuinely interesting ideas to offer in combination with some startling and shocking imagery. Sartorially placed between the extreme sadomasochism of Hellraiser's Cenobites and the rather friendlier fetishism of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Melinda Clarke provides zombiedom with its definitive pin-up as this undead version of Romeo And Juliet plays out. Despite a cult-following, RotLD3 made less money than any other in the series.
18: The French Connection II (1975)
If The French Connection II had been a standalone movie (obviously with an amended title), it would enjoy a far higher reputation as a purely fictitious Euro-American police thriller. As it stands, John Frankenheimer's compelling sequel to the 1971 William Friedkin original must contend with the fact that it's pushing a 'real' central character (Gene Hackman's 'Popeye' Doyle, based on real-life narc Eddie Egan) into a totally fictitious scenario, as Doyle hunts down 'Frog 1' in his native territory. Additionally Roy Scheider is absent, a 'missing actor' factor which also affects the following entry in this list, but equally unfairly; if anything, FCII is about what happens to Popeye when he's taken off the leash, away from the protection of his best friend and the watchful eye of his precinct. Doyle brings mayhem to Marseilles, only to be captured and turned into a heroin addict by arch-enemy Charnier (Fernando Rey). The scenes of Doyle's addiction and recovery number among the best-acted and most poignant of the 1970s - and that's some pretty fierce competition. Not only is there humour, pace, spectacle and the fascination of the 'fish out of water' dynamic, but Friedkin's bleak sensibility is ably matched by Frankenheimer.
17: Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)
The fact that Kevin Bacon did not reprise his role as Fred Ward's sidekick from the hugely popular 1990 Ron Underwood 'B'-movie gave Tremors 2 a certain unjustified sense of emptiness, one that did not reflect how capable Fred Ward is of carrying a movie by himself. In spite of that, Helen Shaver provides excellent romantic and comic support along with Bacon-substitute Christopher Gartin, playing a 'fan' of the well-publicised exploits of Ward from the first movie. Our hero, having lost the fortune he made with Bacon in the earlier movie, is persuaded to return to his struggle with the subterranean Graboid terror in order to clear a potential oilfield of the carnivorous pests and earn himself a nice pay-check. It's all a dynamite-laden walk in the park until his success at his task forces his old nemesis to mutate into deadly new forms.
16: Superman III (1983)
Admittedly there's lots wrong with Richard Lester's one-and-only sole-proprietor entry in the Christopher Reeve 'Man Of Steel' franchise. Lots. For one thing, as series originator Richard Donner has pointed out more than once, it's basically a Richard Pryor movie that also features Reeve. For another, Margot Kidder's dispute with the Salkinds finds Lois Lane giving way to Lana Lang (Annette O'Toole) for 95% of the movie. Well, let's start there, since Lois actually needed a break at this point after the operatic tragedy and comedy of the first two movies, and O'Toole is a very engaging version of a Superman classic character. For another, we finally get to see 'evil Superman', a classic scenario from the comics. Whether flicking peanut-bullets at the optics in a bar as he drinks himself into a stupor, performing petty vandalism on the world's monuments or picking up hot totty Pamela Stephenson, it's fascinating to watch Supes turn to the dark side - and Reeve, as ever, is more than capable of rising to a new aspect of his most famous character. Then there's the inventive use of the 'fractions scam', wherein hacker Richard Pryor embezzles his company of the millions of sub-cent fractions that their accounting computers can't be bothered to round off (a plot-device good enough to reappear, with attribution, in the Mike Judge classic Office Space in 1999). The schizophrenic fight between Clark and Evil Supes in the junk-yard; and the fact that Pryor, despite being over-featured in this particular movie, was a very engaging and sympathetic leading man. Unlike with Star Trek V, the classic moments of Superman III are enough to pull it entirely out of the trash-can, in spite of its many weaknesses.
15: Predator 2 (1990)
There's no Arnie and no jungle in Predator 2. Except a concrete jungle. Most fans of the original 1987 John McTiernan aliens-vs-soldiers outing drifted away on receiving this information, only to miss, in my opinion, a more enjoyable movie. Me, I'm a fan of the city and the forest - the jungle and the beach, along with most other tropical environments, leave me cold. Therefore the Blade Runner vibe that Predator 2 shares with the later Se7en is a more engaging backdrop against which detective Danny Glover (a new character) must investigate a series of murders that may have an out-of-this-world motivation. Stephen Hopkins' sequel also has a far more inventive and chilling ending than the original movie
14: Hannibal (2001)
Though it would have been nice to see Jodie Foster reprise Clarice Starling in Ridley Scott's sequel to the genre-redefining 1990 Silence Of The Lambs, I rather doubt that it would have altered the frosty reception of critics and moviegoers to this very visceral follow-up. In any case Julianne Moore is hardly a low-grade ringer, and delivers an excellent performance among many others in Hannibal. Scott realises, wisely, that there's no 'going back' to the style of Silence after a decade of The X-Files and other imitators have drained the original of its early impact. Instead he opts for an atmosphere of clinical yet refined horror, as Anthony Hopkins' cultured cannibal is disturbed from his Italian repose when a 'contract' is put on his life by the one victim who survived his attentions - an unrecognisable Gary Oldman. The final 'brain-eating' scene with Lecter, Starling and Ray Liotta (can any villain deserve such a fate?) numbers among the most horrific in cinema, and typify the invention on display by screenwriters David Mamet and Steven Zaillian, working from the Thomas Harris literary sequel. The after-show restaurants of most major cities must have been cursing this release.
13: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
The fifth entry in Hammer Films' Frankenstein franchise finds regular lead Peter Cushing in a very different aspect to any of the previous entries. Until now the Baron has played many parts, from misguided scientist to hero, but he's never been anywhere near this evil - blackmailing, ethically-vacuous, ruthless and even inclined to rape, this is a shocking new direction for the eponymous character, and one which only the compelling talent of Peter Cushing could make palatable. Just as the evil doctor gets more evil, Freddie Jones provides us with the most sympathetic 'monster' of any cinematic derivatives of the Mary Shelley original - a misbegotten creature that throws his creator into sharper relief than ever. An early appearance by Simon Ward adds to a strong cast in perhaps the best entry in the series.
12: Back To The Future Part III (1990)
There's a certain tiredness to the notion 'Let's do it as a western' or 'Let's do it as a whodunit', etc., and one that belies the fact that the final entry in the Robert Zemeckis time-travel trilogy has more heart, integrity, cohesiveness, character development and laughs than even the original, perhaps. And I speak as someone who hates any western that doesn't feature Clint Eastwood (which is also Marty McFly's assumed name when he returns to the old West to stop Biff Tannen's ancestor killing Doc Brown - who ended up stranded there after the rather more clinical events of Back To The Future Part II). If, as I am, you're a fan of trains and Victorian technology, the fact that our heroes must return to their own time in a steam-driven locomotive is a compelling plus, and the final shot of Part III is pure steampunk ecstasy. To boot we finally dig a little deeper into the Doc Brown character, who gets a girlfriend in Mary Steenburgen and in doing so develops not only the character but the movie and the franchise.
11: Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
With the box-office pulling-power of Bruce Willis largely undiminished, it was a bold move to have him share this excellent sequel with Samuel L. Jackson, playing a white-hating electrician drawn into the latest John McClane misadventure. The mastermind of a plan to rob New York's Federal Reserve Bank turns out to be the brother of the villain played by Alan Rickman in the John McTiernan original movie. Hokey, yes? Except that Jeremy Irons is excellent in the role, and the character's motivations are not what they seem to be, as he leads our hero - in tandem with his reluctant sidekick - a merry dance round the various environments of NYC. Despite its appalling title, this sequel gets everything right, from the writing, casting and performances to the balance between the familiar and the new.
10: Return Of The Jedi (1983)
As part of the sacred 'original trilogy', Jedi's status as the least of the Star Wars movies was irrevocably amended in 1999, when The Phantom Menace was released. 2002's Attack Of The Clones threw it into a better light yet, and you can make your own mind up about what 2005's Revenge Of The Sith did to its ranking. Pint-sized Ewoks and metal bikinis seem forever to dominate Jedi's destiny, and the novelty and invention of the superbly-executed speeder chase in the forest is seemingly negated by the apparent repetition of the Death Star attack run from 1977's A New Hope. But in fact, this third entry is exactly where the Death Star offensive was originally meant to be, according to George Lucas' commentary on the classic|revamp DVD release of Return Of The Jedi. This was the first time that the original audiences had met the Emperor, a dark shadow around the fringes of New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and Ian McDiarmid provided a masterly performance under heavy make-up, a classic villain which was to provide the most solid and enjoyably dazzling link between the original trilogy and the later prequels, due to the consistency of the 'transformed' emperor make-up and the quality of the actor himself. Try to remember as well that Anakin Skywalker's place as the central figure of the canon was strictly theoretical when Jedi was first released, giving Darth Vader's climactic turn from the Dark Side even more impact than it has in a current Star Wars DVD marathon. There's too much brilliance of invention and darkness behind the fur and bare flesh of Jedi for it to continue in its place as 'disreputable cousin' to Empire.
9: Alien Resurrection (1997)
The studio interference over David Fincher's helming of 1992's Alien 3 was legendary enough to make it practically an unmentionable subject to Fincher, and the accompanying documentary on the quadrilogy and anthology disc releases is one of the most fascinating behind-the-scenes outings since Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse. But the laudable 'director's' edit and the increasing esteem of Fincher himself has brought that sequel into a more compassionate critical environment. In the meantime, Jean Pierre Jeunet's glossy comedy-horror, a critically-acclaimed box-office success on release, has inexorably dropped in the estimation of Alien franchise fans over the last decade. But Resurrection has creditable integrity, and if its aims are more limited than they might have been, they are all realised as fully as they possibly could be. The film's brooding atmosphere of death, sex and disgust is enjoyably offset by the visual humour of Jeunet (such as the fact that the guards in front of the laboratory in the opening shot have their guns inadvertently pointed at each other whilst they stand vigil), and the inventive storyline and casting lend the movie a fresh start on the Alien environment. No director has yet been foolish enough to try or hope for the impact of Ridley Scott's 1979 original (we'll have to see if the great man himself can pull this off with Prometheus); instead all have taken the tools of the franchise and turned their hand to original works. Resurrection is its own movie, and delivers, to boot, a lot of the pure horror elements that were absent in Fincher's contribution, or transformed into action-movie material in Cameron's 1986 Aliens.
8: Robocop 2 (1990)
It's difficult to understand why Robocop 2 is so despised when it expands so brilliantly on the satire of Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original. Perhaps, partly, it's because the film's virtues are somewhat obscured in a difficult-to-stomach excess of sickening violence. But Irvin Kirshner's take on Murphy's world is humorous, well-paced, excellently written by Frank Miller and Walon Green, and to boot numbers among the best of the last pre-digital major VFX outings, with the titular villain an impressive stop-motion creation by the legendary Phil Tippett (though less ergonomically pleasing than ED-209, Robo 2 has a lot more versatility). One would have thought that sci-fi fans who laud Kirshner's The Empire Strikes Back would give this sequel the same second chance that Alien 3 got on the strength of Fincher's later reputation. Even if it isn't in the same league as Empire, it's easily the best of the Robocop sequels, and its inventive satire even extends to an elaborate explanation of the apparently generic title of the movie, as evil tech corporation OCP attempt to make a cybernetic police officer who's more compliant than Peter Weller's 'Murphy'.
7: Escape From LA (1996)
John Carpenter's one and only sequel to date (as director) was roundly trounced as a bombastic remake of his own cult 1980 SF hit Escape From New York. And so it is, unashamedly - and frankly, the clue is in the title. LA is more a satire on Escape From New York and on Californian life-style in general than a direct sequel. Bruce Campbell's turn as the deformed 'surgeon general' is pretty typical of the film's evocation of where Californian culture is going wrong, and Cliff Robertson's cameo as a God-bothering president is astonishingly prescient of the later George Bush era - though it made little impact in the middle of Bill Clinton's tenure at the top. Stacy Keach, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Steve Buscemi and Valeria Golino are among many first-class cameos, and there isn't another film in the world (or probably ever will be) where you can see a man pursuing a car whilst surfing. Just think of it as National Lampoon's Escape From New York, and you'll see this movie in a different light. The CGI does suck, admittedly.
6: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
If I had to sit down right now and choose a Terminator movie to watch, this is the one. Maligned as it is by fans of the franchise, it's a hell of a lot more fun than Salvation, doesn't suffer from the dated feel of T2, has some of the best action sequences of the 2000s and casts a dark gloom over the optimistic gloss of Cameron's own 1991 sequel. And it's perhaps this latter fact that cost it many fans. Rise Of The Machines has the same strand of fatalism that is widely-considered to have hamstrung Alien 3, but fans of 1970s cinema will like it more for that. The performances are excellent, the effects first-rate, the twists engaging and the design first-rate. Of all the under-estimated sequels in this list, the poor reception of this one is the most mystifying to me.
5: Psycho II (1983)
A very bad idea - the horror equivalent of trying to follow up Citizen Kane. It's perhaps the sheer audacity, if not folly, of elaborating on Hitchcock's masterpiece that put Richard Franklin's excellent horror-thriller into the 'cash-in' category in moviegoers' minds, even when they first heard of its existence. There was never any question that Psycho II could be considered in tandem with its predecessor, but it takes the core set-ups of the 1960 classic and spins an elaborate, sexy and truly mind-f***ing thriller out of them. Anthony Perkins reprises the role of Oedipal serial killer Norman Bates, released after twenty years of psychiatric confinement, genuinely trying to get along in society, and yet strangely surrounded by death. Is he his own worst enemy, or has he other more tangible nemeses? Certainly the locals aren't pleased to see him back, and drifting stranger Meg Tilly threatens to reawaken his virginal lust - and the carnage that comes with it. Prepare for one of the best multi-twist endings (punctuated with one of the most shocking movie deaths ever) to be had in any movie.
4: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
The Lost World, among the many other criticisms aimed at it, was lambasted for tacking on an 'extra segment' at the end involving a T-Rex loose in San Diego. Series originator Steven Spielberg is indeed to be criticised for his handling of this homage to classic urban monster movies like King Kong (which itself used the exact same jungle/city ratio) and the Godzilla franchise. But actually, the two movies which comprise Lost World should not have been jammed into one, but would have worked better as a two-part sequel, giving the original trilogy some integrity. As it stands, Lost World is nonetheless superior to Jurassic Park in many ways, not least because it finally honours the dark and terrifying tone of the original Michael Crichton novel, which was made painfully 'kid-friendly' for the 1993's blockbuster. Composer John Williams' bombast deepens into one of his best latter-day scores - creepy, terrifying and broodingly menacing throughout, it matches this more horror-oriented vision of man's tussle with genetically-engineered dinosaurs. An uncommonly thin Vince Vaughan joins Julianne Moore and an able cast of supporting actors in abandoning the popcorn-factor for hard chills as reluctantly re-embroiled scientist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is forced to defend his girlfriend and his daughter on 'site b', the 'factory floor' island for the tourist resort of Jurassic Park.
3: The Exorcist III (1990)
John Boorman's uncommonly awful Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) killed a potential franchise early in the wake of William Friedkin's blockbuster horror, which remains a seminal 1970s movie. It wasn't until original novelist William Peter Blatty wrote his highly-literate and lyrical sequel novel Legion in the late 1980s that the franchise seemed worth reviving. Blatty himself was at the helm, with George C. Scott taking over the role of The Exorcist's Det. William Kinderman, mystified by the apparent re-appearance of a long-executed serial killer who seems to be targeting his own family and friends. There's a lot of possession in Legion, but no actual exorcist, and so the inclusion of Nicol Williamson as the rather thinly-sketched 'Father Morning' adds nothing to Exorcist III except a justification for an inevitably lucrative title. Put that aside, and you not only have a movie filled with warmth and wit, but one with a good measure of truly heart-leaping moments of horror. The 'corridor scene' is perhaps the movie's most-appreciated scare, but the 'nurse shears' are close behind it for chills, along with the unearthly dream sequences. Legion is as deeply poetic and introspective a novel as The Exorcist, with a rich strand of humour from Pink Panther writer Blatty's profound interest in the human condition; if Blatty the director is reluctant to cut his own dialogue, and if Exorcist III consequently rivals Glengarry Glen Ross for wordiness, at least they're great words read by first-rate actors. This movie would never have been made if 'Exorcist' had been omitted from its title, but the same thing that made it marketable also caused many fans of good movies to dismiss it unseen.
2: Day Of The Dead (1985)
Once again the 'darkness' of a sequel curses it - which is pretty surprising when you're talking about a George Romero zombie movie. Yet the verve and action of 1979's Dawn On The Dead struck an Aliens-style energy into the Romero Dead cycle, and won many new fans over who might have been less entranced by the bleakness of 1968's Night Of The Living Dead. They therefore were perhaps not expecting the tableau of unlikeable villains who populate Day Of The Dead, or the claustrophobic oppression of weary scientists running a military-governed zombie research lab in Miami. Shocking too, perhaps, the grisly gore of Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero in the wake of the more pantomimic prosthetics and make-up of Dawn. Pretty much all fans of Romero, or zombie movies in general, love 'Bub', the zombie with personality who's trying to remember what he was like when he was alive; but as many are left cold by the sociopathy of Colonel Rhodes and his loathsome soldiers. I just don't get it - this is everything a horror movie should be, and amongst the best horror outings of the 1980s. There's more than enough viscera to satisfy the hardest gorehound, some great characterisations (to compensate for one or two other admittedly sub-par performances), and to boot the entire film has the horrible confinement of a dreadful dream that you can't wake up from - itself a motif in the movie.
1: The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)
The worst sin that this sequel to the 1998 intra-TV theatrical release Fight The Future commits is that it has a modest ambition - but most fans seemed unable to forgive it this in the distant aftermath of the showier earlier outing. Chris Carter's tale of a paedophilic ex-priest who may have a psychic link to a serial killer is definitely lacking in flying saucers, metamorphs and the usual array of alien technology which might be expected of a cinematic X-Files outing, and the well-publicised efforts of Carter and Co. to keep the plot secret probably also helped to raise audience expectations in the wrong direction. But the only other sin I Want To Believe commits is one pretty common to other entries in this list - a terrible title. That aside, it's a credible and very atmospheric winter thriller in the best style of the originating series.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.