Anybody can get lucky and make one fantastic film. But sequels are a tricky business. Few movie series can boast not only a great first film but also an equally excellent sequel… that came out just a year after the original.
Now that takes foresight.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 sequels that fall into this category. Just so it’s clear, these films had to be the first sequel to a popular film, so I couldn’t include, say, Back to the Future Part III, or other sequels that are further away from the original than the first one.
Admittedly, half of the films on this list are based on books, so it makes sense that they would be able to be pumped out fairly quickly because the stories were already there. They just needed to be adapted. But it’s still a big risk to put a sequel into production before you know for sure that the first film is a huge hit.
This will be a countdown, so we’ll start with what I judge to be the least great and then work our way to the best at the bottom. So let’s find out what are the 10 best sequels that are only separated from the original film by a single year.
10. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
This sequel has a lot in common with 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. 2002’s Chamber of Secrets does offer a few interesting wrinkles, like the amusing antics of Gilderoy Lockhart, removing Hagrid and Hermione from the story at critical moments, and a thrilling ride through a cave full of spiders. It’s definitely a good movie, but it lacks that extra oomph to really distinguish it from the original. Which is why it barely makes it onto this list.
9. Jewel of the Nile
Did you know that they made a sequel to 1984’s Romancing the Stone? Sure, the directors and writers are completely different from one film to the next, but the three lead actors (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito) are all back in 1985’s Jewel of the Nile. There are some clever twists and even a nice deepening of the romance from the first film. I always enjoy scenes of two lovers expecting to meet their end because it forces them to cut the crap and just speak honestly. That’s one of the highlights of Jewel of the Nile. It’s not a perfect film, but it still has a lot of the charm of the first one.
8. The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Hear me out. Twilight (2008) is an unintentionally hilarious film and it really failed to do its source material justice. But all of its mistakes were corrected beautifully by its 2009 sequel New Moon. With Edward’s gloominess mostly absent, Jacob gets a chance to shine. He’s a much more interesting character, and his relationship with Bella is handled remarkably well. Of all the Twilight films, this is the only one that stands out as truly enjoyable to me.
7. Ernest Goes to Camp
You might be thinking, “Hey now, Mr. Deja Reviewer, what do you mean calling Ernest Goes to Camp a sequel? This is the first movie in the Ernest P. Worrell series!” Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. The first movie that Ernest appeared in wasn’t 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, but 1986’s Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam. True, Dr. Otto is totally different than every other Ernest film, but I think of it more as a trial run to get out all the kinks, a la Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Every Ernest film is completely self-contained, so I think it’s fair to call this a sequel. Ernest Goes to Camp has a special place in my heart, and it is clearly the best in this series.
6. High School Musical 2
This the Empire Strikes Back of the High School Musical series. Every song is brilliant, the dance choreography is inspired, the characters have dimension, and the story is oddly engrossing. I’ve racked my brain trying to figure out what it is that makes me love 2007’s High School Musical 2 so much when I despise 2006’s High School Musical and I’m indifferent to 2008’s High School Musical 3. Its music just stays with me, and I’m amazed that the filmmakers managed to put this together with such great speed and talent.
5. For a Few Dollars More
I didn’t watch a lot of westerns as a kid, but even I know who Sergio Leone is. His spaghetti western trilogy (1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, 1965’s For a Few Dollars More, and 1966’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) is legendary, and each one is fantastic in its own right. For a Few Dollars More is at least as good as the original.
4. Scream 2
1996’s Scream came out of nowhere and shocked the horror genre out of its old clichés and inspired it to create all-new clichés. Making a sequel that could equal the first film’s cleverness and ingenuity seemed like an impossible task. But screenwriter Kevin Williamson and director Wes Craven defied the odds and somehow turned out a rare horror sequel that is at least as good as the original. And it only took them a year to do it. 1997’s Scream 2 picks up the story of the survivors of the first film and tells an engaging story that is probably my favorite of the series.
3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
As I noted in my deconstruction of director Gary Ross, he’s a competent writer/director, but he never elevates the material he’s given. He’s also very slow. When he made it clear that he wouldn’t be able to churn out a sequel to 2012’s The Hunger Games within a year, the producers turned to I Am Legend director Francis Lawrence. And he got the job done. 2013’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is much better than the first Hunger Games, and it’s even better than the book it’s based on. Since that explosive start, Lawrence was also tasked with directing the final two films in the series. Hopefully he’ll find a way to improve upon the lackluster ending of the novel Mockingjay.
2. From Russia with Love
1962’s Dr. No was a pretty big hit, especially considering its low budget. And it did a good job setting up the James Bond style. 1963’s From Russia with Love needed to bring something special to the table to ensure the series would last. And boy did it deliver. Though Goldfinger gets most of the praise for propelling Bond into pop culture, it’s From Russia with Love that takes the cake as the most suspenseful, engaging, and believable Bond film this side of Daniel Craig.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
And finally, we come to No. 1. Director Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema took a huge risk filming all three Lord of the Rings films at the same time over more than a year. Their gamble paid off with the gigantic release of The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. Expectations were through the roof for the 2002 follow-up The Two Towers. And this sequel makes a strong case for being the best of the trilogy. It has everything you could want, from quiet exchanges between Frodo and Sam to the huge, desperate Battle of Helm’s Deep. And lest we forget, it has the first completely convincing CGI character, Gollum. The Two Towers is my pick for the best sequel to debut just a year after the original film.
A Word About What I Left Out
I know I didn’t include many horror movies on this list, even though there are plenty of those that have first sequels that came out just a year later, like Saw II, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Hellbound: Hellraiser II. But I just don’t care about any of those series because they all suck.
If you know of any worthwhile first sequels that deserve a spot on this list, I’m all ears.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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