In defense of sequels and remakes

You can hear an audible groan from the film fans of the world with the announcement of each new terrible sequel or remake. Mainstream Hollywood seems bereft of original ideas, and so we end up with a lot of terrible ideas instead. Nothing could illustrate this more than the oft-rumored (but thankfully never produced) remake of Casablanca starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

The evidence that sequels and remakes are a bad idea is overwhelming. The world didn’t need another The Day the Earth Stood Still starring Keanu Reeves. Disney seems to have made the argument that all sequels should be banned all on their own: just walk through the animation section of any video store and see crimes against your childhood neatly alphabetized: Cinderella 2 and 3, Fox and the Hound 2, Return to Neverland— none of them compare favorably to their predecessors.

[[image:090416_sequels.jpg:Sequels, I Am Your Father:center:0]]

But I’m not here to bury sequels and remakes. I love ’em! I won’t bore you with a top ten list of my favorite films (I’d likely end up banned from GameSpite if I tried), but among those films are quite a few revisitings. The Empire Strikes Back is a sequel and probably my favorite film of all time. The Thing is a remake, and it’s one of the finest horror films ever put to celluloid. The Godfather Part II is arguably better than the first film. Sequels have been kind to the current era’s superhero movies. Spider-man 2, X-Men 2 and The Dark Knight are my three favorite superhero movies, and they’re all sequels. Horror is notorious for over-sequelizing (the recent Friday the 13th was twelfth in the series!) but I wouldn’t give back Evil Dead II or Romero’s Dawn of the Dead for anything.

Of course, there is a dark side. X-Men III is wretched. Spider-man 3 isn’t as bad as people say, but it is still an unsatisfying and uneven film. (I’m extra sad about that one because Sandman has been my favorite Spidey villain since I was a tiny tot watching Spider-man and his Amazing Friends). Godfather Part II is a cinematic classic, but Godfather Part III is legendary for failing to live up to its legacy. Still, as much as I hate X-Men III, I would still like to see another installment in the series. If Coppola announced he a new Godfather film was in the works, I would feel a bit of frisson before my rational mind kicked in and started having doubts.

I guess I’m just an eternal optimist. One of the ways I passed the time when I was a kid was speculating about possible sequels to all my favorite movies. As an eight year-old I wrote my own sequel to Gremlins, and if there had been an internet back then I would certainly have posted it somewhere online. Despite how crushed I was as a kid seeing Back to the Future III or Ghostbusters 2, I would still have been trying to record the commercials for any new sequels on VHS so I could rewatch them over and over, and begging my mom to buy me the movie tie-in book when we went to the grocery store.

30 thoughts on “In defense of sequels and remakes

  1. Sequel and remakes aren’t inherently bad, it’s just that movie studios don’t understand the “quality threshold” very well. The harder you try, the better results you get… up to a certain point. Then you hit the effort Uncanny Valley, where you’re trying too hard. You can push past that to the utmost level of quality (see the Lord of the Rings trilogy, probably one of the most expensive movie trilogies in history), but most fall into that valley and get stuck there. And of course, there’s the whole “cash-in” factor with remakes, taking an already satisfying film and trying to make it “better”. That almost always results in a trip into effort’s Uncanny Valley.

    Another thing they’re notorious for is not realizing when a story stands well alone and doesn’t need a sequel. Disney became notorious for that, bringing out sequels to movies that never needed one to begin with. So to sum it up: sequels and remakes are fine, as long as there’s actually some reason for them and they aren’t going to go past the tipping point into the realm of destroying the franchise.

  2. Weird how consistently the “first movie establishes a formula, the sequel refines it and the third film grinds said formula into a useless and unpalatable dust” phenomena seems to happen when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy films (well, at least the film trilogies whos second/third films weren’t hastily assembled at the same time a la Back to the Future/The Matrix/Pirates of the Caribbean).

  3. Nice use of the word frisson!

    I would like to throw out the “Alien” series of movies as evidence that movies can have multiple sequels and still be good. Alien Resurrection is certainly not as good as the original and its sequel, but it was unique and competent as a contribution to the series.

  4. I have often considered why many trilogies follow the 2-1-3 model when arranged in order of quality. It is not just SF/Fantasy: Godfather, Evil Dead, and the first three Romero Living Dead movies all fit the pattern.

  5. No way man, the original is better. Part II is good, but the first is a much more cohesive movie.

  6. Did anyone else ever have the Godfather II Colorforms when they were a kid? I used to mix them up with my Star Wars Colorforms and make Kaye admit to Jabba the Hutt that she had an abortion, and yes, that “It was a boy, Jabba. A BOY.”

  7. I’ve been toying with the “rule” that sequels should be released within ten years of the original or else they are not worth watching. There are exceptions, of course (Rocky Balboa was wonderful) but more than enough evidence to support that guideline.

  8. For an article “in defense of sequels and *remakes*” I don’t see much defense of remakes. I guess you an stretch some of it a little and call Evil Dead 2 a remake. Some folks also swear that they like Dawn of the Dead’s remake but I personally didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it, I just saw it and felt “yeah, this movie is kind of like Dawn of the Dead except I didn’t really enjoy it.”

    It seems like 9/10 times remakes/reimaginings are terrible. Plus, the good ones are usually extremely different and/or have different titles/settings. Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars, Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai, for instance.

  9. …how is it the word “Scarface” doesn’t show up anywhere in this post or its comments?

    It WAS a remake, you know.

  10. The Day the Earth Stood Still was one of the few new films I watched and enjoyed last year. I still watch the occasional film on TV (maybe once or twice a month), but it seems I’ve become powerfully bored with cinema. Something like Benjamin Button does intrigue me, but in the end I can’t work up the effort and enthusiasm to go see even something like that, let alone the by the dozens tripe that is infesting the big screen. So maybe I’ll miss the next Sideways, but I’m also saving myself the boredome and a bucketload of cash on these ridiculously overpriced tickets for less worthy films.

  11. Maybe this is heresy, but to me the third X-Men movie didn’t seem any different than its predecessors in terms of quality: about a middle-of-the-road comic book movie, nowhere near as good as your Dark Knights or your Iron Men, but well above trash like Fantastic Four. I only ever watched each of the X-Men films once, but I was sufficiently entertained.

    Granted, most of my X-Men knowledge comes from occasionally watching the 90s cartoon, so for all I know the film could have been committing unforgivable crimes against the franchise and they’d have gone right over my head. But can someone delineate exactly what made it so awful?

  12. Evil Dead 2 is not a remake! However, The Thing is, and it is one of the finest films in the genre.

  13. Movies like The Godfather Part II are the exception to what is usually a naked attempt to draw in more money. Any time some director or producer has a major success with one film and then plans for two more movies and announces that they always envisioned a trilogy with their movies are lying through their teeth.

  14. Back To The Future III wasn’t as horrible as many thought (to me, anyway). It definitely didn’t live up to the first two, but it was still a fun watch.

  15. Apart from the problem that somebody else mentioned about there often being no NEED for a sequel story-wise, I think it’s also just that…you know, everybody just seems to lose their enthusiasm, if not for the sequel then DEFINITELY for the third in a series. The actors start doing a kind of imitation of themselves in the previous films, and the whole thing just gets very flat — and then when you have a remake like Superman Returns with a new actor doing an impersonation of the old one, BLEH. Even when you get a good sequel that works the kinks out of the first film, it can lack the ZEST of the original.

  16. You were crushed by Back to the Future 3 and Ghostbusters II? Funny, I wasn’t old enough to know any better/care. And funny, I’m watching Back to the Future III tonight, lol.

  17. The third Die Hard film was about a million times better than the second one. For the life of me, I can’t remember another time that’s happened.

  18. Evil Dead II is a remake because the recap at the beginning of it completely negates any need to ever suffer through the first film. It replaces it.

  19. For my part, I can honestly and without irony call Gremlins 2 one of my all-time favorite movies.

  20. I’d heard Return to Neverland wasn’t as awful as some of the other straight to DVD Disney sequels. It’s Wendy’s daughter who’s growing up during WWII in the middle of the London blitz. I haven’t watched it myself but from the sounds of it had a potentially awesome premise.

  21. I think the 2-1-3 quality matrix happens when the writers and directors have a great idea for a film, but that idea requires a healthy chunk of exposition. Hence the first film sets everything up, the second film is full of all the ace stuff they wanted to do, and the third film is left with nothing to do because they couldn’t think of a good way to end it. They could probably have done it in one film, but they’d have had to simplify the story too much. They could have done it in two, but there’d be less room for all the fun actiony bits in the second part. And so, you have the trilogy syndrome we all know and love to discuss.

  22. Um, oops. Sorry, that was me.

    I’d say BTTF3 is superior to 2, myself. A rare appearance of a 1-3-2

    Also, I think Toy Story 2 breaks the Disney-sequel curse (but then, it’s Pixar, and they really can Do No Wrong); I’d go far enough to say it beats out the original for me. Nervous about 3, though, naturally.

  23. And now the phantom comment that I was apologising for has vanished. I should just go back to bed.

  24. I think that the movie critic consensus on the BTTF series (at least when they first came out) was that the first one was fun and charming (for a movie with an attempted rape), the second was convoluted and relied too much on special effects, and the third was a return to form with lotsa heart. Personally I love ’em all, although I think you’ll realize the second one doesn’t make all THAT much sense if you think about it too much…

    I think Ghostbusters 2 is one worth revisiting with adult eyes… I remember being really disappointed with it as a kid, and upon re-watching it, it’s still rather meh, but on the other hand, it’s a pretty respectable effort and kind of a logical successor. Well, maybe not that whole statue of liberty bit… But you know, cut ’em some slack. It has its moments!

  25. Aw, I liked BTTF III when I was a kid. I think it may have played a bit into my love of the mad science class when my old gaming group got really into Deadlands.

  26. I don’t know how anyone could defend Spiderman 3 by saying it wasn’t bad. It was a lot like watching a movie written, directed, and edited by someone with bad ADD. Its not just a lousy Sam Raimi movie, its an atypical Sam Raimi movie with its uneven consistancy and awkward pacing.

  27. “Still, as much as I hate X-Men III, I would still like to see another installment in the series”

    You want to see X-Men origins: Wolverine? After what happened to Deadpool?

  28. The Ring (American) was a fantastic remake, and actually did a pretty good job of trumping the original. Can’t say the same for the American sequel however.

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