Making a sequel in Hollywood might be the single most stress-inducing task for cast, crew, director and producer. Why? Because expectations are that the first film was, in all likelihood, well-liked and popular and thus by making a sequel you stand a chance to tarnish its legacy, if not done right. You also run the risk of pissing off a considerably well-built fanbase that will ask for heads on a guillotine if the film fails to meet expectations. That's Hollywood for you. Most of the time the sequel doesn't come remotely close to the original's freshness, but sometimes, in the case of these 10 classics, it turns out to be a landmark moment.
1) The Godfather Part II
After winning the Best Picture Oscar two years before that, Francis Ford Coppola decided he would continue Mario Puzo's gangster saga by making a sequel to his 1972 masterpiece "The Godfather." Wise decision. If anything, Part II one ups everything that made the original so great: the dialogue, the shot selection, the violence, the artful resonance. Oh, and it also adds one of the greatest actors of all-time in what would be the start of his prime: Robert De Niro. De Niro brings a ferocious intensity to his role in flashbacks as the young, up and coming Don Corleone, roaming the streets of sicily, trying to make them his own property. I also have a theory that this sprawling 222 minute epic was the film that would influence and change Television, yes TV, forever. You can see imprints of Coppola's style in future TV hallmarks The Sopranos, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire and, hell, even Breaking Bad. Because of that, and TV's clearly more prescient and cinematic future ahead, it might just turn out to be the most infuential film of all-time.
2) Before Sunset
Celine and Jesse. It started with “Before Sunrise” and then continued with the beautiful “Before Sunset” and capped off with the mature, pessimistic “Before Midnight”. Richard Linklater’s trilogy of romance in European cities has been building a solid cult following for more than two decades now. “Before Sunset” is a masterful examination of love, family life and conversation. Never has an audience wanted an on-screen character to cheat on his wife more than when Jesse shows up at Celine’s apartment in the climactic scene. Celine is indelibly played by Julie Delpy and Jesse is superbly played by Ethan Hawke. Linklater and his two actors wrote the screenplay, much of it clearly improvised, from the artists’ own experiences and points of views. This organic style brings a real sense of authenticity to the films. These movies ask us questions about love that many studio movies refuse to ask. Is our view of love as a society conflicted, disjointed? Or can we really love someone eternally, in a “forever” sense of the term? How much can we compromise until we end up losing sense of ourselves and our own independence? There is not one answer to any of these questions. Linklater is a curiosity seeker who asks more than he answers and the way “Before Midnight” ends makes you wonder what can possibly happen next. I hope this isn’t the last we see of Celine and Jesse.
3) The Empire Strikes Back
“The Empire Strikes Back” is the best Star Wars movie ever made. Characters who, in the original, had the depth of a puddle here develop and become human (or whatever). Even the far-too-obvious revelation ("I am your father, Luke") comes at a time and in a way that humanizes the, until then, mechanically evil Vader. True, Lucas' patented blend of bland mysticism with portentous pronouncements is still present, now represented by a muppet rather than Alec Guinness: but even that has been turned to the service of the story. The training of the hero has become more than a blend of fortune-cookie wisdom and how to hold your weapon; we see it as the difficult, painful, and frustrating thing it must be. We see Luke as a potential hero and a more intelligent human being that at first portrayed in "A New Hope. "Empire" has far and away the most visual impact of the three. From the stark expanses of the iceworld at the beginning to the terrifying climactic sequence with the injured Luke hanging by one hand from the bottom of the cloud city, the whole screen is used to good effect to bring the viewer visually and, more important, viscerally into the action.
4) Terminator 2: Judgment Day
James Cameron's blistering sequel to the 1984 classic is much more of an action movie than its predecessor. Like many of the movies on this list, it first garnered mixed reviews before being re-evaluated years later as a masterpiece. Teaming up with Ah-nuld's Terminator, a buffed up and kickass Linda Hamilton tries to stop the viscerally frightening T-1000, sent from the future to kill her troubled son John Connor. I remember being a teenager when it first came out and I had never seen action scenes staged quite like this before, nor had I ever witnessed special effects as inventively surreal and chaotic. I still haven’t. The special effects still hold up to this day and so does the beating heart that Cameron injects into his characters. It had everything the 21st century action film would strive for, yet none have come close to replicating this 1991 movie's triumphant achievement.
5) Mad Max: Fury Road
You can't deny the sheer impact of Mad Max: Fury Road. Director George Miller's Fourth installment of the film franchise is proof that not all blockbusters should be greeted with an indifferent shrug. If anything, this brutal action film is even more intense and exciting than its predecessors. With its nihilistic outlook on human nature and a nasty, in-your-face style, this is Miller's triumph through and through. The amount of detail that he brings to every frame is as obsessively meticulous as any Wes Anderson picture I've seen, as is the editing by Margaret Sixel, which is most deserving of next year's Film Editing Oscar. Edited at breakneck pace and staged with manic fury, Sixel is the unheralded hero here. The celebrated one is of course Miller who's passion and vision comes through in every frame. The total control he must have had with this project to pull off what he did on screen is unheard of, which is good for him and great for us.
6) The Dark Knight
If you haven't heard of Christopher Nolan's superhero classic then you just don't live in this planet. Nolan along with an A-list cast headed by Christian Bale as Batman, but, especially, the late Heath Ledger as a Joker to haunt your dreams, triumph in this artful blockbuster. Many have evoked the film as a post 9/11 depiction of a world gone to hell by trying to inflict evil to get rid of evil itself, they might not be far off as the caped crusader fights a Joker in a battle that might not be far off America's own fight against terrorism. Ledger's joker is so real and so intense that he almost threatens to overshadow the rest of the movie, but it's also Nolan's eye for detail that puts this film over the edge. This is his dark, twisted take on a misunderstood superhero and the crowning movie event of the superhero genre.
7) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Clocking in at an astounding 201 minutes, Peter Jackson's "The Return Of The King" won the Best Picture Oscar by putting most of the Hollywood epics of the decde to shame. It had breathless action, an epic scope, but, more importantly, a humanist spirit that still feels relevant as ever to this day. The story of Frodo, Sam and the one ring to rule them all had an intimacy to character and detail that was astounding for a film of such blockbuster proportions. Sure a case could be made that "The Fellowship of The Ring" was a better, more fully realized film, but the fact that Jackson concluded his trilogy with such a garagantuan and, yes, wholy cinematic delivery is a feat that should not be taken lightly. We will likely never again see such bombast delivered to the highest level of art.
8) Toy Story 2
It all started here. The first time I saw “Toy Story” I only imagined how groundbreaking and important it would become to the field of animation. This movie literally changed the game and practically got rid of all hand drawn animation in Hollywood, which of course is a real shame, because hand drawn is still one of the most beautiful and creative ways to make a movie – just look at any Hayao Miyazaki movie if you don’t believe me. Now almost every single animated movie is CGI and we’ve relied so heavily on it because of how monstrous a success Pixar had with “Toy Story”. The facial expressions, the movements, and the effortless flow that carry characters about was unprecedented. It was goodbye to the classical and welcome to the new age. We had no right to expect a sequel that would be better than the original, but that’s exactly what “Toy Story 2″ accomplished. This time around we had a better story, improved animation, and an exhilarating sense of adventure. If the original was riding high off of its landmark CGI, this sequel was trying to perfect the glitches that held the story back a little the first time around. With Indiana Jones styled action, “Toy Story 2″ proved there was still room to expand in the Pixar canon, and that these guys were dead serious about blowing us away.
For a film that happens to be the 23rd installment in a movie franchise that was supposed to run its course a long time ago, the latest James Bond thriller “Skyfall” is a surprisingly original treat. Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 is unlike any Bond movie we've seen before. It looks back on the first 50 years of Bond, shows him in a refreshing new light and sets him up nicely for his next 50 years of cinematic endeavors. Just like "Casino Royale" the film could use a little trim, but some of the action scenes here stand as one of the very best of the franchise. All credit must be given to director Sam Mendes ("American Beauty", "Road To Perdition") and director of photography Roger Deakins who combine to make a formidable duo. They accomplish something that has been rather ubiquitous in the last 3 decades of Bond: They bring back the cinematic in 007.
10) Spider-Man 2
Now this is what I'm talking about. After the average "Spider-Man" movie in 2002, director Sam Raimi completely redeemed himself by creating one of the best superhero movies ever made. A mind blowing mix of action, heart and character that had viewers on the edge of their seats. The special effects are outstanding and the action sequences, including a thrilling speeding-train finale, make this a knockout through and through. Raimi knows that to make a great superhero movie you need to care about the characters that are onscreen and, with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst along for the ride, he makes sure every shot counts. Also Alfred Molina, as Doctor Octopus, makes a very strong case for the title of greatest Marvel movie villain of all time.
Runners-Up: Bride of Frankenstein, Aliens, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Bourne Supremacy, Batman Returns, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Mad Max 2, X2, Superman II