Francis Ford Coppola once said, “Sequels are not done for the audience or cinema or the filmmakers. It’s for the distributor. The film becomes a brand.” These words, spoken by the director of the greatest sequel (and maybe movie) in the history of film, are largely correct. The purpose of sequels is to make money. Yet, a retort might theoretically consist of something like, “What’s the purpose of an original film — to lose money?” Hollywood has always been a commercial institution where the unholy bond between dollars and creativity both constrains and breathes life into some of the most audacious works of art in human history. And today, the historic oversaturation of film premises and the rise of the event film necessitate the use of pre-existing intellectual property for many studios. If you want to tell impactful stories, you gotta play ball. Therefore, to discount any cinematic merit of sequels is to discount the artistic merit of film in general. So, in the spirit of the death of film, art and moral integrity, let’s look back on the best in a decade of sequels.
Ryan Coogler’s breakout masterpiece uses Shakespearean performances and an urban operatic score to create a thrilling yet poignant exploration of legacy, time and the unmitigated thrill of boxing in a world without traumatic brain injuries.
“John Wick: Chapter 2” (2017)
A deliberate reproach to the blur of the post-Jason Bourne battle, the “John Wick” franchise proved to be revolutionary because it saw the fight scene as a ballet rather than tired filler. Whether that makes the classically-influenced franchise art or just gorgeously nihilistic entertainment is an interesting question, but nevertheless, it’s at its best in the riveting second film — one of the greatest action movies ever made — as Keanu Reeves’s one-man military proves too large for such a mortal understanding.
“Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (2018)
The 2010s saw the “Mission: Impossible” franchise go from a successful TV-to-film adaptation to trampling over the inconsistent and dated shadow of the “James Bond” films. It was “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” that cemented the franchise’s legacy in the 2010s.
“Blade Runner 2049” (2017)
With Roger Deakins helming the camera, there are few shots in this long-belated sequel that could not adorn the wall of the Met — framed visions that bleed the ravishing warmth of human emotions in the deepest pits of our tragedies and loneliness.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Parts 1 and 2” (2010 and 2011)
The two-part finale of the “Harry Potter” film series has proven to be the best conclusion to a franchise since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (yes, including “Avengers: Endgame”). Of course, it’s true that, unlike recent high-profile failures, director David Yates had a proven source text to adapt, but that makes this epic yet somehow uncompressed finale no less impressive.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014)
The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” franchise has always been at its best the deeper it buries itself into the popcorn bucket. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is easily the greatest example of this, as it forgoes tired CGI-cutscenes for more grounded, up-tempo action. To label it a paranoid 70s thriller may be inappropriate, but its magnetic characters and consistently engaging plot make the film an unrelenting force.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013)
Cable — if anyone watches that anymore — seems to have given this forgotten young adult phenomenon a second life. Of course, it helps to have Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence as the lead, but director Francis Lawrence’s visually creative and consistently tense fantasy is an all-around remarkable adaptation.
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014)
A technical impossibility until this past decade, the innovative motion capture primates of this rebooted franchise thankfully trashed the unbearable camp of Tim Burton’s remake for a vivid condemnation of the arrogance of man and muscle — especially in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Oh, and there’s a monkey that dual-wields machine guns on horseback.
“Fast Five” (2011)
Family, PG-13 Brazilian nudity, fast cars, exploding cars, The Rock and a massive bank vault being towed through Rio de Janeiro by a Dodge Charger. Translation: one of the greatest heist films in movie history.
“22 Jump Street” (2014)
A parody on the absurdity of sequels that, in turn, was one of the greatest sequels (and funniest films) of the 2010s.
“Toy Story 3” (2010)
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” (2017)
“Before Midnight” (2013)
Contact David Newman at [email protected].