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Sequel Showdown

Scene Staff Report | Thursday, April 14, 2011

The sequel. It’s one of the hardest movies to make in Hollywood. If you start with a lackluster film, the sequel could easily eclipse the first installment and rocket the series to fame. But if the series begins on a high note, unfortunately (unless the producer oozes talent) there’s no direction to go but down. Hollywood has taken sequels in many directions trying to bring credibility to the genre, from replacing actors and actresses to changing settings. Below, Scene judges if they work.

Best Sequels

Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson’s 2001-2003 trilogy not only swept up the Academy Awards, it also captured the hearts of millions of Tolkien fans.  Each movie stayed close to the storyline of the beloved book it followed, which helped make each sequel a credible movie of its own. This direction also helped keep the story arch of the trilogy on track, eliminating silly mistakes and discrepancies. From Moria to Helm’s deep, Rohan to Gondor, these movies kept audiences in their seats, despite the films’ almost three-hour lengths.

Producers made sure the series never featured a dull moment and kept the dialogue fresh and witty. Viewers, even those who hadn’t read the books, could not wait to see what would befall Frodo and his companions in each installment. And Jackson didn’t even have to resort to painful cliffhangers. The all-star cast, who returned for each movie, and Jackson’s novel idea to film all three movies at once greatly aided the success of his trilogy. These practices ought to serve as standards for other series to follow.

Toy Story

“Toy Story” aptly represents a series our demographic has grown up with. From the original, where we held our breath as the toys tried to escape sadistic neighbor Sid, to the more recent additions, where the toys attempt to stay relevant in their owner Andy’s life, the series has never failed to tug at heartstrings.

The third film in the series amps up the sentimentality, reducing many unsuspecting movie-goers to balls of tears. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to choke up as the toys, holding hands, prepare to meet fiery death. Although tackling an emotionally heavy storyline, “Toy Story 3,” the best of the series, stays true to its roots. Like the other movies, the toys embark on a highly entertaining and spectacularly animated journey, meeting charming and funny new characters along the way.


“Batman Begins” was an incredible, refreshing change from the sub-par Batman movies of the 1990s. It gave the Batman story a dramatic, realistic and cinematic power. However “The Dark Knight” managed to be even better. With more minutes, a bigger budget and the origin’s story already out of the way, “The Dark Knight” jumped immediately into action. It kept the incredible acting skills of Christian Bale, Michael Cane and Morgan Freeman and gained the phenomenal performance of Heath Ledger’s Joker. The violence, vehicular mayhem, emotions, plot twists and characters all go above and beyond the standards of the impressive first movie. The action, intrigue and powerful score by Hans Zimmer keep the audience at the edge of their seat throughout the entire movie. “The Dark Knight” takes its place not only as a successful sequel, but also as another one of Christopher Nolan’s masterpieces.

Worst Sequels

Pirates of the Caribbean

Gore Verbinski’s series, which seems to never end, hit blockbuster gold with its first installment, “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Johnny Depp stole the show with his slightly eccentric portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow, the swashbuckling pirate who achieved his goals through treachery and often dumb luck.

Despite the big hype for the second movie, “Dead Man’s Chest” fell short. And to make matters worse, it ended on a cliffhanger, which only left audiences hoping the next movie would defy expectations. It did not.

Orlando Bloom and his lackluster acting skills played too large a role, while Captain Jack was relegated to cheap laughs and weird scenes with sand crabs. The series veered too far from its first hit, which showcased an appropriate amount of the hunky hero (Bloom), the damsel “in distress” who can actually fight for herself (Keira Knightly) and the lovable cast of colorful characters (Depp, Geoffrey Rush, et al). Verbinski should have quit while he was ahead, instead of making upwards of four movies.

Legally Blonde

Women everywhere love Elle Woods as a girl who knows how to use both her beauty and brains to kick down barriers (in stilettos no less) but it’s safe to say “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde” was a movie that never should have been made. Really, Sally Fields, what were you thinking? While the first movie was all novelty and sass, the second was worn out, and despite the amped up star power, lacked the heart and relatable storyline of the first. Setting Elle up against Harvard Law pretensions was funny and made you root for her, but putting her in the serious and grown-up world of Washington, D.C. transformed our beloved heroine into a mockery. Next time, Reese, just go for “Sweet Home Alabama 2.”