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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Some movies are made with the intention of sequels. “Franchises,” they call them. Superhero films are a good example of this. However, many movies are made with the intention of being one story with no follow-up anticipated nor needed. However, when a film like that becomes a monster success, the studio forces out a sequel, and almost always, those sequels are terrible. I’m referring to films such as The Hangover, Jaws, Ghostbusters (although, I’ll defend Ghostbusters 2), The Fly remake, and Highlander.
However, every once in a while, despite all odds for a crash and burn, there is a sequel to a movie that didn’t need a follow-up that actually really good and might rival the original. This week, I’ll be looking at five surprising good sequels that shouldn’t have been.
Fast Five (2011)
Why it should have failed: The Fast and the Furious franchise, though entertaining, is one that gets dumber after every installment hitting a low with the lazily titled Fast and Furious. With the same cast and crew signed up for a fifth installment, all seemed set to outdo themselves in badness.
Why it was good: The Rock. Besides him, the film moved away from the racing genre and unexpectedly became a heist movie which made it narrative more focused, about the characters, and rejuvenated the franchise. It was also clever to bring in characters from the previous films, tying together previously unrelated installments. Plus, it was fun. Also, it starred The Rock.
Why it should have failed: This was a sequel to a Stanley Kubrick film not being made by Stanley Kubrick. Also, despite being an adaptation of a novel, it was made 16 years after 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Why it was good: The film was not beholden to what Kubrick did in his film. Granted, they took cues in set design, but director Peter Hyams did his own thing and brought his own style. Smart move. While the film was more conventional, it still had a footing in being hard science fiction, something that was rarely seen in films at the time (and even today). Adding in fantastic cast, 2010 became a classic of its own.
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Why it should have failed: This is the sixth installment of the Rocky franchise…a franchise with continuing diminishing returns with the previous entry being a critical and financial flop. Added to this is the fact that Rocky Balboa came out 16 years after Rocky V. It almost reeked as if Sly Stallone was trying to recapture some element of his long-gone glory.
Why is was good: The film eliminated all the goofiness the series built up over the previous entries and centered solely around Rocky and his character arc. It was less about who he was fighting and more about what he was doing. In many ways, it went back to the style of the first film.
American Wedding (2003)
Why it should have failed: American Pie was a classic from the 90s. The sequel was a clear cash-in and failed to take into account what made the first one more successful. A second sequel (with half the cast not returning) had nothing but disaster written all over it.
Why it was good: By centering the movie around a wedding, a romantic/sentimental event, the film was able to move way from being straight-up gross out humor and gave viewers reasons to care about these characters and their troubles. Focusing on the characters gave the film a heart that was missing from the second installment.
Clerks II (2006)
Why it should have failed: It was a sequel to Kevin Smith’s 1994 self-contained film. By the mid-00s, Smith’s star was fading. Doing a sequel to his, arguably, most popular work came off as desperate and a bit of a cash grab. What more could be said about these characters?
Why it was good: A lot, actually. Smith wisely moved the setting to a fast-food restaurant giving the characters new location to cause hijinks. Additionally, having the movie set ten years later gave Smith the ability to set Dante and Randal in new life situations which he wouldn’t have been able to explore about in the previously. I’ve mentioned before that this movie could stand alone and didn’t need the Clerks duo to be successful. However, by using Dante and Randal, Smith was able to really highlight the growth these characters gained and is able to enhance your feelings over the characters’ journey.