Movie Sequels: The top five of all time (so far)

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With the release May 17  for  ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, I got to thinking about movie sequels and which ones really are worth watching.

The list below is partial, but is exclusive to films where the sequel was a better film than the original.

Films that didn’t quite make the cut were ‘Superman II’, ‘Silence of the Lambs’, and ‘Magnum Force’.

Click on any of the top five’s titles to view their respective trailers. Your thoughts on this list are welcomed and encouraged. Which film do you think belongs on this list…and why? 

1.’The Godfather Part II’ (1974)

The story shifted focus to the early life of patriarch and crime boss Vito Corleone as he rose to power. Origin stories are always a favorite, and Robert De Niro as a young Don Corleone in 1920’s New York makes this a must see movie, sequel or not.

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, the Don’s son, anchors the other half of the film which alternates between timelines in a method that compliments the storytelling. Michael’s ascension to the family throne is an interesting parallel to his father’s own path in its brutal violence and adherence to the codes of organized crime.

The sacrifices each character makes are powerful and often tragic, and framed in such a gorgeous and operatic way that each frame of every scene is mesmerizing.

2. ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980)
From the space cowboy heroics of ‘Star Wars’ we rejoin Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker as he begins his odyssey to become a Jedi Knight. The tone here is much more adult and darker than its predecessor and plays more like Greek mythology.

From the epic battle on ice planet Hoth to the stunning amber skylines of Cloud City; the marshy swamps of Yoda’s training of Luke on Dagobah to the genuine romantic saga of Han Solo and Princess Leia, this film has as many memorable images and set pieces as any other film ever made.

The intelligent human drama that unfolds amidst the spectacular adventure is heart wrenching and engaging. No film since has so effectively combined the science fiction/fantasy elements in a story where the audience feels so emotionally connected to its protagonists. Iconic.

3. ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
As Gotham’s organized crime syndicate has grown weary of the city’s masked vigilante, they strike a deal with the devil himself when they enlist the psychopathic Joker to kill Batman.

Buoyed by Heath Ledger’s brilliant performance as the Joker, director Christopher Nolan ups the ante in terms of scope and grandeur in this installment. Batman/Bruce Wayne must face not only his most famous adversary but must wrestle with personal demons and the loss of his greatest love interest.

With multiple storylines running throughout, Nolan could have easily chosen to neatly finish off one and leave the rest for the inevitable sequel. Instead, this epic chapter in the Batman saga satisfies its viewer with brilliant action throughout and a sense of foreboding for how this story’s consequences will play out in the next chapter.

4. ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ (1982)
Where the overblown ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ miscalculated as to why audiences loved their television reruns of the original series; director Nicholas Meyer with writers Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards delivered a smaller and infinitely more entertaining return to the Gene Roddenberry universe of Star Trek.

Admiral James T. Kirk and Captain Spock are forced to embark on a rescue mission with an untested crew when a distress call is received from a Federation science outpost. With Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) as Kirk’s revenge-minded adversary, this leaner vision of an aging Enterprise crew is much more fun and action driven than 1979’s Star Trek: TMP.

The scenes between Montalban and Shatner crackle with an old bitterness that befits two aging warriors and adversaries.

Where the 1979 film focused on special effects, director Meyer smartly emphasizes character and action instead here. The results are one of the most entertaining Trek films ever, and a sequel which easily surpasses the earlier film. And the emotional impact of the film’s ending for Trek fans…legendary.

5. ‘Aliens’ (1986)
The last time audiences had seen Lt. Ellen Ripley, in director Ridley Scott’s 1979 film ‘Alien’, she had just blown a particularly nasty alien creature out of an airlock and had entered a cryogenic stasis chamber in her escape pod from the space vessel Nostromo. Rescued after fifty seven years of floating through space, Ripley’s dismissed as a lunatic for her tale of the aggressive alien marauder. All things change once contact has been lost with the colony that had been established on the planet where the Nostromo crew first encountered the alien.

If the original film played out like a scary sci-fi version of ‘Ten Little Indians’, director James Cameron’s sequel is a muscular, noisy, all out edge-of-your-seat actioner. Ripley and the Colonial Marines are dispatched to rescue the colonists with all of the firepower that modern technology can muster. Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, is an emotionally tortured warrior and certifiable badass.

The range of emotions Weaver’s performance goes through take the viewer along for a nail biting action movie with heart. The pacing of the film is relentless, and each of the central characters journeys are ultimately rewarding for the viewer.

Especially you, Burke.

 

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