Grantland released a new pop culture tournament yesterday and this time it is in the search of the greatest movie sequel of all time through a process called Sequeltology. The bracket is an interesting one and it is certainly not without controversy right from the get go. So I decided to dive into the bracket and share some thoughts on their selections and how I think it will all shake out.
The Grantland Snubs
Every bracket has snubs and I am sure cinephiles everywhere will find plenty to bring up based on the picks the Grantland staff made. The site released a companion piece to the main article and it included an email chain with the majority of the films put into consideration by the site’s writing staff. So to start off with the snubs we should start with the films that were in the conversation from the get go.
Before Sunset: The most glaring omission from the list is Richard Linklater’s superb sequel to Before Sunrise. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles wonderfully in this heartbreaking tale of lost love and we start off awkwardly with the pair as they attempt to reconnect after nine years apart. They soon fall into step like they haven’t missed a minute and the film takes off as they dance around embracing their chemistry. The film is technically impressive, is set against the gorgeous streets and vistas ofParis and is one of the rare sequels that surpass the original with ease. The film’s final moment is also a haunting cliffhanger of possibilities that cements the film’s greatness; and why it should have been on the bracket no lower than a number two seed.
Toy Story 2: Yes, Toy Story 3 made the cut, but Pixar’s first sequel is arguably better than its predecessor as well and is one of the rarest of breeds in a successful animated sequel. They expanded the world, successfully folded in a set of new characters and enriched all of our existing plastic friends along the way. I agree that Toy Story 3 is the better of the two sequels, but on a bracket that has six series with at least two entries (Star Wars, LOTR, Batman, Rocky, National Lampoon’s, Indiana Jones) I think I would take Toy Story 2 & 3 over any of those prevailing duos.
Any Harry Potter Sequel besides Chamber of Secrets: Once Alfonso Cuarón took over on The Prisoner of Azkaban the Harry Potter films became both critical and financial successes. Many will argue that Cuarón’s film is the series high point, and it probably is technically, but it might be the weakest adaptation. Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire is my favorite translation from book to screen, but all of David Yates’ contributions are right in the running as well. The Deathly Hallows, when taken as one film, is as epic a piece of filmmaking as anything on the bracket and The Order of the Phoenix has always been in the running for my favorite Potter film. The absence of any sequels from the most successful franchise of all-time is a major oversight.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army: Guillermo del Toro’s comic book sequel does everything a sequel is “supposed” to do. It creates a far richer world for our heroes, tweaks the things that do and do not work in the original, and takes the spectacle to another level. The first Hellboy feels small by comparison to the epicness of this sequel and the film takes full advantage of expanding its characters with no origin to run through this time. Ron Pearlman delivers one of the most unsung performances in a comic book film and he & del Toro really find the humor in the character; making this one of the funniest comic book films to date.
X2/X-Men: First Class: The two Bryan Singer touched (one directed/one produced) sequels/prequels to X-Men both surpass the original and First Class does that without Hugh Jackman (yes, I know he cameos). Matthew Vaughn’s First Class creeps closer to X2’s level every time I see it and X2 is in that class of superhero movies that sits right below the very best. X2 hits all those check marks on what a sequel should do and is again another rare sequel that surpasses the original. More money, better effects, and a grander story, I can only imagine where Singer’s two parts Phoenix Saga might have ended up if Fox hadn’t ran him out of the franchise for two films.
Return to Oz: I don’t know how many of you have seen this, but it is one fucked up movie. This movie experience is probably equivalent to a bad trip on some cheap drugs you took in college. Dorothy is thrown in an insane asylum for her delusions of OZ and she is left to escape back to the mysterious land to save her from electroshock therapy. A lot of creepy villains, including a woman who changes heads and really messed up roller derby dudes, chase Dorothy and three new companions all across OZ in a film that has to be seen to be believed.
The Never Mentioned
The Bourne Ultimatum: The first Bourne sequel was mentioned, but I think it is the second that should have been in the running and on the bracket. The scene at the train depot with Paddy Considine is an all timer action/chase scene and the way Greengrass and Damon were able to wrap up the series in a fairly neat bow was much appreciated. Sure it doesn’t have the great vehicular chase scene the first two have, but the rooftop chase and eventual fight to cap it off was as good of an action scene in any of the Bourne films.
Quantum of Solace: I know they weren’t supposed to include any Bond movies, but with the reboot with Craig Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel to Casino Royale. I know I am in the minority on this, but Quantum > Casino Royale. It’s more efficient, darker, has better action and turns Bond into a cold and random killing machine operating out of revenge for someone he thought loved him. It’s a spy’s coming of age film of sorts and I don’t think it nearly gets the credit it deserves. People complained Solace wasn’t Bond enough, yet they praised Royale for mixing up the formula; you can’t have it both ways. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace play wonderfully as a giant two part movie and it kind of makes me sad Skyfall isn’t planning on continuing that story.
Tron: Legacy: The much maligned sequel that nobody asked for is an excellent companion piece to its predecessor and is a special effects extravaganza that you can cite when arguing why 3D is a worthwhile endeavor. I will concede that the film loses its momentum in the latter half of the film, but all that grid talk somehow gets more interesting on repeat viewings. There are some pretty cool ideas at play here and if Joseph Kosinski would have just dropped in a couple good set pieces in the film’s back half I think this film is far better received. Still, we are talking about sequels here and I think this one not only captures the spirit of the original but successfully updates it for a new generation.
The Avengers: One could argue that Joss Whedon’s The Avengers is the biggest sequel of all time in that it is the sequel to four separate franchises at once. The superhero mash up was the most fun you could have at the box office this summer and the balancing act Whedon was able to pull off with all those characters is an impressive feat. It also doesn’t hurt its case that it is better than all of the films that fed into it while also elevating all those franchises profiles to new heights in the process. If The Avengers doesn’t count, it’s only three more years till it gets its own sequel for the conversation.
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith: If we are going to include Return of the Jedi then you have to throw Sith into the mix as well. I hold Sith as my third favorite Star Wars film as the grand tragedy of it all is just the perfect gut punch for the midway point of the Saga. Now I know many of you just choose to ignore and bash the prequels no matter what, but Sith has the series best fight, some great special effects, and one of the best performances in the series in Ewan McGregor. Could it have been better, probably, but as it stands it is still my third favorite Star Wars film.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Rupert Wyatt turned this long thought obsolete franchise into one of the hottest inHollywood last year with the release of “of the, of the.” Andy Serkis is amazing as Cesar behind some of the best CGI in a film to date as WETA created photo realistic apes that we not only take as real, but care about too. The film has a couple solid action beats, but the film works wonders because it is able to sell us on a CGI character in Cesar and has us rooting for him in the end. The film is character first, spectacle second, and the character of Cesar is so rich the film can overcome a pair of stiff turns by its real life leads.
Star Trek: J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the beloved franchise was not only an immensely entertaining sci-fi action romp, but was also capable of creating a new path for the series without erasing the original story line. Abrams collected a strong, young cast to fill his enterprise and thrusts them through a plot at near warp speeds. We don’t miss a beat though and Abrams achieved something that was almost always deemed impossible, he made Star Trek cool for everyone.
Prometheus: Time is going to possibly help this one out as I feel like the love it or hate it culture we live in today doesn’t really allow us to fairly assess this film. I also think Ridley Scott has a better version of this movie out there, waiting to be released at some point down the line, which might further elevate its status in the upcoming years. The fact that this film has already elicited so much discussion this early in its history bodes well for its growth as more people discover the film. I can only imagine the strengthening voice that will drive this film into talks of the all-time best sequels/prequels; as it is certainly better than a number of films on this list.
The Movies To Throw Out
As a first rule that should maybe have been put in place, I would throw out any duplicates from one series. Almost half of the films on this list come from only 6 film franchises and that can’t be possible if we are going to take this fun exercise overly serious.
So of the franchises with repeat entries we can throw out:
Return of the Jedi, Rocky II, Rocky III, The Dark Knight Rises, Temple of Doom, European Vacation and LOTR: ROTK. I would also remove the messy LOTR: The Two Towers and replace it with the Extended Edition of that same film; superior in every way and gives Fellowship a run for its money.
A couple other titles need to be exiled, starting first and foremost with Fast Five. Seriously, go watch that movie again; it’s laughably terrible any time The Rock isn’t on the screen. The Naked Gun and Jackass sequels are also a pair of nostalgic stretches thrown in that would easily be replaced by many of the aforementioned films. I think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret of the Ooze is great, but I am not putting it in this bracket. I also think Beverly Hills Cop II might not quite make the cut, but it’s been awhile since I have seen that one so I can’t make that call with confidence. The Beverly Hills Cop pick does feels like Simmons was at a conference table arguing that it has to be in there.
Making My Picks
Division 1 – Rd. 1
Godfather Pt. II vs. Jackass 2 – An obvious no brainer here as Godfather Pt. II is a masterpiece. I would argue that it is not better than the original film as I find Michael’s story in Pt. II to be not nearly as compelling as The Godfather, but the origin stories of father and son are what make these films so special.
European Vacation vs. Beverly Hills Cop II – Taking Eddie Murphy here as I was never able to get into European Vacation and I remember watching the BHC II VHS on multiple occasions growing up.
Return of the Jedi vs. The Two Towers – If we are talking theatrical, Jedi wins easily, but I am going to assume that all incarnations of a given film are up for grabs and in that case The Two Towers Extended Edition is the better film. The extended cut of TTT improves the film by leaps and bounds and the forty minute longer run time actually feels shorter than the theatrical cut. The extended cut even adds arguably one of the most important scenes of the whole series, Boromir takes Osgiliath, and it gives us character development for Faramir and Denethor that makes their characters infinitely better than in their theatrical iterations. Sorry Jedi, I still like the Ewoks.
Rocky IV vs. Naked Gun 2 ½ – A no brainer, Rocky IV is the only Rocky sequel that should be on this list and it is my favorite Rocky movie, period. The final battle between Drago and Balboa is one of cinema’s all-time great fights and the quotability and meme inducing nature of the film cements its status as a great sequel.
Division 1 – Rd. 2
The Godfather Pt. II vs. Beverly Hills Cop II – Another easy win for Godfather, as the number one seed cruises to the elite eight.
The Two Towers vs. Rocky IV – The Two Towers EE is almost as good as Fellowship of the Ring, and that is one of my favorite films of all-time; The Two Towers moves on.
Division 1 – Final
The Godfather Pt. II vs. The Two Towers – I would like to say that this is a tough pick, but as much as I love LOTR I can’t deny how great Godfather II is. Both of these three and a half hour plus epics can hold my attention from start to finish, but only one has DeNiro; and Ents going ape shit on Isengard doesn’t quite match up. Godfather Pt. II to the final four.
Division 2 – Rd. 1
The Dark Knight vs. Christmas Vacation – I am not one who sits at the alter of Christmas Vacation and in fact I am baffled how many times my family can watch this film between October and January every year. The Dark Knight on the other hand is one of the best comic book films of all time, features one of the greatest villains ever put on screen, and is Nolan’s best film in his Batman series. Vote, The Dark Knight.
The Color of Money vs. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Truth, never seen any of either of these movies. I don’t know which one I would be more inclined to like as Kahn is considered a classic and Color of Money has Scorsese, Newman, Cruise, and is a sequel to the classic The Hustler. I hope to correct this wrong soon, but for now I abstain from voting.
Fast Five vs. Superman II – Fast Five is fun to watch if you like watching terrible movies so I don’t think that is going to make it through. Superman II, while good, would lose out to a number of the snubs I threw out earlier, but it is through by default.
Terminator 2 vs. Ocean’s 13 – I would have been happy with either of the Ocean’s sequels making this list as I feel Soderbergh’s trilogy might be a tad underrated from start to finish. That doesn’t matter though as James Cameron’s epic sequel to Terminator is a signpost for special effects and action filmmaking. The set pieces in this thing never stop coming and there is plenty of innovation both in front of and behind the camera. Not to mention it is one of the most entertaining films on this entire bracket. T2 will be back in Rd. 2 (I’m sorry, that was terrible).
Division 2 – Rd. 2
The Dark Knight vs. Did Not See – since I didn’t see either of The Dark Knight’s potential opponents it moves on through. I find it hard to imagine myself enjoying either The Color of Money or The Wrath of Khan as much as I enjoy TDK so I call it a fair win regardless.
Superman II vs. T2 – Superman II had the weakest Rd. 1 opponent in the entire bracket and it is not even worth mentioning in the same breath as T2. Terminator advances again.
Division 2 – Final
The Dark Knight vs. Terminator 2 – I am going with the upset here as T2 gets my vote over the heavily favored Batman sequel. As good as TDK is, it can’t match T2 in almost any category. Sure the acting and villain might be better in Nolan’s work, but I could easily argue that The Dark Knight is Nolan’s fourth best film. T2 on the other hand is probably Cameron’s best film and that is saying something. Everything clicks here for the highest grossing director of all time and we have this film to thank for a lot of what we have come to expect from our big budget fare. Funny thing is, few have still yet to top it twenty years later.
Division 3 – Rd. 1
The Empire Strikes Back vs. Return of the King – I am a nut for both of these franchises (I argued Revenge of the Sith should be on this list and bring on a third Hobbit movie), but this is an easy call. Empire Strikes Back is a number one seed for a reason and it is the best of the Star Wars films. Return of the King is the weakest entry into the LOTR series and even though it is improved with its Extended Edition it can’t match its predecessors. ESB is taking its Tauntaun to round 2.
Bad Boys II vs. Rocky II – Not an easy decision here as I don’t think either film is in anyway great. Bad Boys II is more fun and has some worthwhile set pieces concocted by Michael Bay, it also doesn’t hurt that it is quite funny at times. On to the next round, Bad Boys II.
Die Hard with a Vengeance vs. The Dark Knight Rises – While TDKR serves as a very strong conclusion to Nolan’s Batman, I am not sure how good it really is as a standalone film. On the contrary, Die Hard with a Vengeance would be a great movie even if you took McClane out the picture as the wild scavenger hunt of a plot would be thrilling regardless. We do get the added charisma and star power of Willis though and he is great as McClane and he bounces off Samuel L. Jackson for one of the best duos in this bracket. Die Hard carries on.
Back to the Future 2 vs. Spider-Man II – I think Rami’s Spider-Man films are quite overrated as he never really made the character gel with this viewer. I would even go as far to argue that Marc Webb’s Spider-Man film is as good as or better than any of Rami’s entries. Back to the Future II on the other hand is a childhood favorite that does a pretty great job of following up to one of the best comedies/time travel films of all time. The way it folds itself back into the original and has fun with the timelines/parallel universes is a treat as well; if only Crispin Glover would have came back as George McFly. Now where is my hoverboard?
Division 3 – Rd. 2
The Empire Strikes Back vs. Bad Boys II – No need to discuss. ESB skips right on through.
Die Hard With a Vengeance vs. Back to the Future II – This might be the toughest Rd. 2 match-up to call in the bracket, but I think I am giving the edge to Back to the Future. Again, this might just be nostalgia winning out, but Die Hard certainly doesn’t have a hoverboard. You can’t deny Michael J. Fox either and whether Marty McFly is in the future, the past or the wild west you can’t help but love the guy.
Division 3 – Final
The Empire Strikes Back vs. Back to the Future II – Again, an easy call for ESB as it cruises its way into the Final Four. Back to the Future II might be easy to love, but that just makes it easier to gloss over its short comings. Empire is about as perfect as a movie can get and I took no pause in moving it along to the final four.
Division 4 – Rd. 1
Aliens vs. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey – A tough draw for Bill and Ted here as they probably would have squeezed through to the second round if they had been a higher seed. Breaking all the rules of sequels by killing off its protagonists in the first act (by robot duplicates of them no less), only to have them challenge Death to a series of party games to bring them back from the dead. Throw in a trip to heaven, twin aliens that form into one bigger alien (Station!), who then in turn creates good robot versions of Bill and Ted to kill the evil ones and you have a classic comedy sequel. Alas, James Cameron’s sci-fi action sequel did everything right, starting by not trying to replicate the original, and he turns Ripley into the best action heroine for all-time. Catch you later Bill and Ted, Aliens is moving on.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom vs. Toy Story 3 – Toy Story 3 gets the victory for being one of the most emotional animated films of all time; successfully having everyone in tears by the end if you still have a beating heart. The prison break sequence is thrilling, Sunnyside is rich and full of brilliant animation and character, and the landfill scene is one of the greatest moments of solidarity put on a screen. The Temple of Doom wasn’t an easy opponent to shake off as the film is brilliantly bat shit from start to finish. I mean, they rip peoples’ hearts out and then roast them in a lava pit for Pete’s sake. Throw in the child abuse, raft skydiving, getting eaten by crocodiles and monkey brain desserts and you will have a hard time not loving Spielberg’s only prequel. Still, I am giving Toy Story 3 the vote.
Rocky III vs. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – Again, I am not the biggest Rocky fan and I don’t have a whole lot to say about that series of films. That said, I really liked Brad Bird’s take on the Mission Impossible series and it is the number one film that I would want to see again in IMAX. The Burj Khalifa sequence and subsequent chase scene across Dubai were action filmmaking at its finest and Brad Bird uses the IMAX camera to make you feel like you are going to fall to your death into that screen. I wouldn’t have minded seeing J.J. Abrams’ MI: 3 here either as I would rank that fairly high up on a best sequel list as well. MI: GP gets the vote.
Indian Jones and the Last Crusade vs. Wayne’s World 2 – Another favorite of my youth, Wayne’s World 2 is silly fun. Just hanging out with the characters again is a blast and adding Christopher Walken to the mix is a big time added bonus for the sequel. Still, it doesn’t reach the same level as the original even with a half naked Indian thrown into the mix. Last Crusade on the other hand was my favorite Indiana Jones film growing up and I watched it quite a bit on VHS before I came to my senses and saw Raiders of the Lost Ark for what it is; perfect. Last Crusade is still great though, with an amazing father/son relationship at its center, and I easily moved it along into the next round.
Division 4 – Rd. 2
Aliens vs. Toy Story 3 – Anyone who’s met me and talked movies quickly realizes I am a Pixar fanatic and many would argue that is how Toy Story 3 is getting this vote. Aliens doesn’t have the emotional connection we get with TS3 and I would argue TS3’s set pieces rival anything in Cameron’s film as well. TS3 is also funnier, sweeter, and can be enjoyed by just about everyone; I’m not just a Pixar homer giving it my pick.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol vs. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – An easy win here for Spielberg and Indiana as Ghost Protocol’s fun never manifests into greatness. It’s also Brad Bird’s “worst” film and I find it hard to argue a director’s worst film is also one of the top eight sequels of all time. Both are great rides, but Last Crusade’s central relationship is why so many people love it as much as they do as Harrison Ford and Sean Connery give their film character and depth Ghost Protocol can’t even dream of.
Division 4 – Final
Toy Story 3 vs. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Pixar finds its way into the final four, but it was no easy task. Both films similarly retread their franchises original entries, but Toy Story 3 is able to actually surpass its. Both films also have a ton of heart wrapped up inside them and their finales play out in battles to save family. Crusade can’t make me a blubbering mess like TS3 did and I think that is what helps seal the deal for Lee Unkrich’s masterpiece.
The Final Four
Godfather Pt. II vs. The Empire Strikes Back – Yes I am a Star Wars nerd and yes ESB is going into the finals. Comparing the films is nearly impossible as they couldn’t be more different, but Irvin Kershner’s dark second act gets my vote. “I am your father,” Yoda, “I know,” it all stuck with me since I first watched the film and I keep coming back. I can’t take anything away from Godfather though, as the film is a marvel in its own right, it just had the poor luck of coming up against Star Wars film on a Star Wars fan’s bracket.
Terminator 2 vs. Toy Story 3 – I have been dousing love over Pixar’s entry in the bracket over the last few paragraphs, but Terminator 2 gets the win as I have had so much damn fun with the film time, after time, again. The film is a perfect blend of CG spectacle and practical wonder and I really can’t overstate how wonderfully put together the film is by director James Cameron. The set pieces keep getting bigger, the stakes are as high as they can possibly be, and the T-1000 still stands the test of time as one of the coolest villains to grace the screen. Terminator 2 might not get the water works going like Toy Story, but its action and thrills can’t be topped by Pixar’s plastic heroes. So I give T2 the thumbs up as I slowly descended into a molten steel pit.
Empire Strikes Back vs. Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Call me a SW homer, but Empire Strikes Back is my pick for best sequel of all-time. It doesn’t hurt that it is also my favorite film of all time, period, but these are the sort of things that happen when you are raised on the multiple re-releases of the series on VHS. Empire expands the world, enriches the characters, and has the best villain of all-time in its corner; T2 just can’t match up. Empire has Yoda on its side and Edward Furlong offering sage like advice to the T-800 just doesn’t have the same effect on viewers. We also finally got to see lightsabers in true action at the end of ESB in what has to be considered one of the great fights in cinema history. Vader vs. Luke was compelling enough as a battle of sheer physicality, but when Vader drops that bomb on Luke it changed the way we looked at everything. A shocking twist in an amazing film; The Empire Strikes Back is my pick for the winner of Sequeltology.