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Better than Dr. No?

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Was Sean Connery’s best Bond movie Dr. No? It would be pretty depressing if the most popular Bond’s best movie came out first and the series over 53 years failed to reach that level again. I am not actually ranking all of the Bond movies. I did that 6 years ago in 50 Years of Bond. Instead this looks at the 5 (of the 6) Bonds who got more than one movie. Each actor will have his movies compared, and then I will say that Martin Campbell was the best Bond director, because even though Guy Hamilton directed Goldfinger, he also directed Diamonds Are Forever.

Bond.jpeg Sean Connery – The original Bond has the distinction of having made 6 (7) Bond movies. He is the only Bond to have reprised the role (twice). And, if you count Never Say Never Again, he is the only one to have remade his own movie. Since From Russia with Love is one of the best two Bond movies of all-time, and Dr. No is not, that means that Connery surpassed Dr. No, and his first sequel was better! All of Connery’s sequels came out within 2 years of their prior films. And only From Russia with Love was better than its immediate predecessor. Also, Goldfinger is pretty uncomfortable to watch in 2018. The question is – is You Only Live Twice even more uncomfortable?

Roger Moore – The third Bond (yes, we can’t forget Lazenby, even if he does not count for this) started out hot with the now very racist Live and Let Die. 1 year later the even crazier Man with the Golden Gun came out, and was not as good, but I could watch that one over and over again. That quality misled me into thinking it was superior to its sequel, The Spy Who Loved Me, but it is not (3 years later). 2 years later a fast tracked Bond adaptation set in outer space (instead of Nazis operating in Southern England) mostly sucked. It should be forgotten, so that must be how I never ranked it for the 50 Years of Bond list I did—in fact I skipped the 12th through 16th best, which seems odd in hindsight. The back to basics For Your Eyes Only 2 years later was a welcome return to form for Moore. Then Octopussy was fully bananas 2 years later, and 2 years after that View to a Kill was the worst Bond movie of all-time. 6 sequels and only 1 improvement and 1 tie. Ouch.

Timothy Dalton – The Living Daylights was great and Licence to Kill pretty much sucked. They were made 2 years apart, and only 2 years after View to a Kill. Licence to Kill is why no other Bond movie has been R-rated (according to me and inductive reasoning from other people saying the same thing).

Pierce Brosnan – Goldeneye was great and Tomorrow Never Dies pretty much was not great. They were made 2 years apart, but after a 6 year gap—the longest in Bond history. As okay as Tomorrow Never Dies is, The World is Not Enough was not up to the level of okay. Then 3 years after that Die Another Day crapped out, making the most money of any Brosnan movie, but ending his career as Bond.

Daniel Craig – Just like with Dalton & Brosnan, Daniel Craig came out with a great Bond movie and dropped off sharply. It was 2 years for Quantum of Solace, which did not benefit from the writer’s strike, but was cranked out quickly regardless. Maybe that is why since Quantum the waits have been 4 years, 3 years, and hopefully only 5 years for “Bond 25”. Skyfall was better than Quantum of Solace, and I rated Spectre the same as Skyfall. That was a mistake and Skyfall was better.

As I noted above, with the exception of Sean Connery, each Bond peaked with his first Bond movie. Third movies have been very critically well received, and benefitted from generally weak second movies. Each series has ended weakly. So yeah…not exactly holding my breath from Bond 25. This pattern is why “who will be the next Bond” has been a story 5 times a year for the past 40 years. The median, mode and mean gap between films (even ignoring who was Bond) has been 2(.3) years. What a staggering fact for 24 blockbuster movies. Looking at these gaps actually suggests that Bond 25 has a shot to not suck, since the 4 & 6 year gap films have been great.

Oh and I almost forgot, Martin Campbell is the best Bond director of all-time.

This post is Part VI of my sequels series.
Part I is here, II here, III here, IV here and V here.

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It was all downhill from there

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If you thought that my last entry, Not better than the first two, was negative, then prepare yourself for the fun sledding since this is…all downhill from there. Often we will watch a movie and love it so much that we want more. And often we get something not as good, which is then followed up by something even worse. This looks at nine series where the first film was the best, and at worst had diminishing quality to the end (at least as far as I was willing to watch).

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What do you call the movie series featuring Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo? Regardless of what you call it, the original First Blood was a very good, intelligent film. Whereas the others were quite bad. The names were inconsistent, but that just makes them even more fun. First Blood came out in 1982, Rambo: First Blood Part II was released in 1985, and Rambo III grunted its way back to theaters in 1988. 20 years later Rambo was back. After such a good first movie it was all downhill from there.

Jaws – I have actually only seen the first two, unless you count clips used to demonstrate how bad 3 & 4 were. And I listened to all of the How Did This Get Made Podcast for 4 (The Revenge). Jaws is one of the greatest thrillers of all-time. 4 features a different shark who follows the family to get revenge? Even after something similar happened in 3-D?? Yeah, it was all downhill from Jaws and 2 was a major drop off to begin with. Unsurprisingly Spielberg only directed the original, which came out 3 years before the sequel, then 5 years passed for 3-D and 4 years for Revenge. The series’s star, Roy Scheider, left after 2, which can often be a bad sign.

The Transporter – It is okay to be a fan of someone yet acknowledge that the thing that made them famous was not exactly the best. The Transporter was not the best of Jason Statham, nor the best of Luc Besson. 3 years later Transporter 2 was okay, but not as okay as the original. Another 3 years later and Transporter 3 killed the franchise despite making the most money, more than double of the original. 7 years later the Transporter was back and no longer played by Jason Statham.

Jurassic Park – People disagree on which Transporter was the best, but literally no-one has ranked any Jurassic movie above Jurassic Park. I have not seen Lost World since it was in theaters, but I hated it. I rate it Steven Spielberg’s worst film. William H. Macy phoning in Jurassic Park 3 in all its easy to mock “aww shucks-ness” was less aggressively bad (each was separated by 4 years). Jurassic World came out 14 years later and was somehow an average movie.

Batman – Oh there was over a decade that I insisted that Batman Forever was the best of the original WB Batman series. That was the first movie I ever saw thrice in theaters. Rewatching it was a painful blow to my nostalgia. I stand by my assertions that Val Kilmer’s Batman was good, and that Jim Carrey’s Riddler was very good, but otherwise Joel Schumacher’s film deserves all the crap other people had given it. Batman and Batman Returns are overrated, but sequentially each 3 years the movies got worse until Batman and Robin…which only took 2 years to get much worse.

The Hunger Games – The term for when one singular item represents the whole is synecdoche. If only the series could have maintained the quality of its start. Also, the final 2 part installment was clearly a money grab. Each film was released one year apart, but the 2 parter must have been filmed together, yet it was somehow the worst.

Once Upon a Time in China – Also known as Wong Fei Hung this series was all downhill from its epic start. Thankfully it was a great start because it gave us Jet Li! The release dates were 1991, 1992, 1992, 1993, 1994 and then 1997 for one of the worst, most offensive movies I have ever seen. I finally understood somewhat how people from other cultures must feel when white English speakers portray non-white non-english speakers as Once Upon a Time in China and America featured lots and lots of Chinese people dressing up as Native Americans.

Lethal Weapon – Lethal Weapon 4 had Jet Li in it. Maybe that propelled it above 3. Otherwise the first two were the best, with the first one being just a little better but the sequel being more ironically amusing. Lastly, Mel Gibson is a bad person, but has been in several good movies. The gaps between these films were: 2, 3 & 6 years.

Rocky – It seems fitting to bookend this installment with more Sylvester Stallone. Rocky was so good that it won Best Picture at the Oscars. 3 years later Rocky 2 was so bad that the only highlights come in the recap montage at the start and the rematch of the fight from Rocky at the end. Another 3 years later and Rocky 3 went in a new sillier direction, but without any consistency. Bizarre as it seems, Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) was not a national icon when this film came out, but Mr. T was. Another 3 years later and people would now have you believe that an even dumber boxing movie somehow impacted geopolitics (it did not, but there is a great fake 30 for 30 pretending it was real). Lastly 5 years later Rocky has a street fight and America vows to never watch another Rocky movie again. 16 years later people have forgotten the greatest collapse in film history. This and Rambo basically ended the trend of putting numbers at the end of movie titles. With rose colored glasses people misremember 2 as being closer to 1, 3 being a classic, 4 being impactful and not totally cheesy, and totally forgetting 5. Unlike Rocky Balboa, I did watch Creed and it was excellent 9 years after Balboa. Go figure.

As promised, here are the current statistics after looking at the the four major permutations of sequels: sole sequels, trilogies in two ways, and series where the first movie was the best. Still to come are the popular series that fit into none of those paradigms. But here are the stats: 95 films counted. 61% have been worse, 14% have been equal, and 25% have been better. The most likely to be better are films released within 2 years of the original (36%). The most likely to be worse are films released 9 or more years later (79%), although 3-4 years later gets close with 70% and a sample size more than 3x larger (46 vs 14). Equally good is down to 14%, which makes more sense than the initial 20%. It looks like the conventional wisdom that sequels are worse tends to be true, and after looking at series that all went downhill there are plenty of examples of later sequels really stinking. Let’s take a look at the Bond movies first to push these worsening sequel statistics even higher!

This was Part V of the sequels series. If you stumbled across this and have somehow missed Parts IIV, feel free to read those.

Yeah, but…Amadeus

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When I first started tracking my movies I had 22 years of film viewing to find five star movies to rewatch and rate. Within the first year I had given 12 movies 5 stars. In the 13 years since then I have rated 32 more movies 5 stars, this being 1 of them. 8 years ago I ranked Amadeus the 2nd best movie from 1980–1984, behind only The Empire Strikes Back. Now I look at it again to see how holds up.

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The things I loved about it then I love about it now: Three main characters who are not black & white. The music, oh that music. Some consider the music to be a main character in and of itself (thanks Mario for pointing this out). The music might be the best thing about this great movie, although F. Murray Abraham’s voiceover and performance as Salieri in general are amazing. Jeffrey Jones is a polarizing figure because of his legal troubles, but his performance as the emperor has always captivated me—I still like to say “well, there it is” as his character does and nobody ever gets it. The movie sucks me in so deeply. That Salieri’s old person makeup does not look entirely convincing doesn’t matter, or it wouldn’t really matter to me in a play. And a play could not go so many places for quick scenes, although on Broadway the costumes may have been on par with these Oscar award winning designs (I assume, I am not even checking to see if this is true). Truly everything about this movie is excellent, but what makes it excellent is not always as readily visible as the beauty of the costumes.

For instance, which character are you? Who is the audience? Put another way, through whose eyes are we meant to see things? Milos Forman, or Peter Shaffer adapting his own play, adds a priest who seeks Salieri’s confession in the insane asylum. Salieri’s story takes almost 24 hours to tell and basically rumples the priest before our eyes. So are we then rumpled and crushed by the film? Despite it having Mozart’s death and Salieri’s life in an asylum the film ends on a very high note as Salieri acts the part of a priest and pardons his fellow mediocrities. He labels himself their patron saint. In his mind G-d tormented him by giving him enough talent and skill to fully appreciate Mozart’s superiority over him. This ties into a fundamental problem that many films dealing with geniuses face—how do you demonstrate genius? One way is by having a lot of stuff on chalkboards and Russell Crowe acting weird, which was the A Beautiful Mind route, which works for some people. Amadeus presents a much more refined and elegant way. The prodigy montage was pretty standard, but even before that the film defines Salieri as well above average, but somehow forgotten; he was a fallible person who rose to astonishing heights, respected by seemingly everyone around him. In the first scene with the priest he plays two songs that he claims were very popular, which elicit no recollection from the younger priest. But when he plays Mozart the priest can recognize it and actually finish the song, calling it “charming”. Just like that Mozart’s work is timeless while Salieri’s is not. No offense, but most people are not doing timeless work, I certainly am not. Would I consider my work better than average? I would like to think so, which means I should relate far better to Salieri than Mozart. Next take this secretly relatable character and show him seem slow; have him show shock when confronted with Mozart. Even as Mozart seems hours from death, his mind can still work faster than Salieri’s brain or fingers. Lastly they reinforce this message with an incredible score. Jeffrey Jones’s emperor, who is very mediocre at everything avoids becoming the relatable character by virtue of him being a freaking emperor and thus out of touch with reality.

That was a lot for a review of this size. I did not include how Mozart’s wife Constanze fits into this, but I feel that her character does not see enough to be that anchor. Fortunately she is presented, as Mozart is as well, as human and flawed. She is neither an opportunistic gold digger, nor is she Virgin Mary meets pre-prison Martha Stewart.

While the movie is called Amadeus, as was the play it was based on, the artistic source for the Salieri-killed-Mozart theory comes from Pushkin, who almost certainly took a popular rumor and turned it into a much less subtle short play—Salieri openly poisons Mozart. But one thing that I have taken for granted, as most audiences have been trained to do, is that what I am being shown is true. Well, true within the confines of the world established by the film. For instance, when you feel annoyed at James Caan for not believing in Santa Claus in Elf that is because the movie presents Santa as factual. With that setup notice that 98% of this film is a presentation of Salieri’s memory. Or at least the way he chooses to relay this memory to a priest asking him to confess if he truly was responsible for Mozart’s death. Salieri is a man who thought G-d killed his father as a gift so he could make heavenly music. Why would you trust Salieri? Salieri is a man who maligned Mozart behind his back to the Emperor, and maligned the court behind their back to Mozart. Why would you trust Salieri?? Is the film even trying to posit what is being shown was factual by having such an unreliable and untrustworthy narrator? The film is historical FICTION, but as with Santa, in its world there must be some truth, but is Salieri’s version true even in those terms?

Lastly, you might wonder, why does a rich man like Salieri wind up in an asylum? The reason for this is that he had tried to commit suicide, which under Catholicism is a mortal sin and if successful lands you in hell. Only a crazy person would try to go to hell. And when I say crazy it is important to note that in the 18th century (and well into the 19th century) the prevailing theory of insanity and mental illness was that it was a choice. Thus the key to curing insanity was to present sanity as tolerable and insanity as intolerable. That is why you see someone in a tiny metal box and someone collared to a wall so that he could not sit. It is a small part of this movie, but I thought it was an interesting touch.

 

Not better than the first two

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Better than the first two had seven entries. This list has more. The prevailing logic being that if the third movie was bad enough, or unprofitable enough, to end a series or at least get me to stop watching more of the series, then it is probably not a good movie. With that in mind, let’s see some confirmation bias in action!

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The Godfather Part III – I wonder how many people expected to find this movie here. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It is still a good movie, but with The Godfather Parts I & II to live up to, it was doomed. I & II were 2 years apart and equally good, for our purposes. III came 16 years later, and was not equally good.

The Hangover Part III — It seemed appropriate to follow up some classics of American cinema with another classic hollywood trilogy. You have a surprisingly successful movie. There was no sequel planned, but this is easy money, so you try to remake the first one and it is almost as good, but infinitely less novel. And you get it out in 2 years because that way it is fresher in the minds of the fans who loved the first one. Since that makes a bunch of money you ask for a third installment, but this time none of the actors need the money and only sign on because it’s an homage to The Big Lebowski. And that comes out as bad as one might expect. This leaves us with the classic quick Hollywood trilogy of diminishing returns (both financially and in terms of quality).

Dark Knight Rises – Last time I used the average of the first two films to justify claiming a third installment was better than the first two. This time I will use different logic to come to the opposite conclusion. I think Rises was better than Batman Begins, but not also better than Dark Knight. Therefore Rises was not better than the first two. These each came out in the 3-5 year window, yet were all really good. This is David Goyer’s second appearance in a trilogy here.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End – This was a very disappointing end to what started as a fun adaptation of a theme park ride. 3 years later Dead Man’s Chest came out and it was not as good, but could have been salvaged with a great payoff from At World’s End. There was no great payoff 1 year later, just lots of disappointment. 4 years later another sequel came out, but I did not care. I only realized the movie had come out when I was playing the video game. Fun fact – there was a fifth installment last year and I did not realize that either.

Naqoyqatsi – The first one in this trilogy is Koyaanisqatsi, which was followed 6 years later by Powaqqatsi. Then there was a 14 year gap before Naqoyqatsi came out. I love Philip Glass, and I admire Godfrey Reggio for making this trilogy, but it peaked with the first one. This answers my unasked question of do documentaries count for sequel purposes.

A Better Tomorrow III: Love and Death in Saigon – The first two in this series are classics. Movies that fans of Chow Yun Fat immediately point to for examples of his greatness. The first two, just 1 year apart, are excellent and the third movie, only 2 years later, is a big disappointment. And I think Chow Yun Fat plays his own twin in the 2nd movie, that’s how solid the film is — it overcomes that casting choice.

Underworld Awakening – Technically this is the fourth movie, but it was pretty crappy. Even crappier than Underworld 2. None of these are awful, but I do think they went downhill. It was 3 years between 1 & 2.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult – These movies were 3 years apart. I was 12 when this one came out and the only one I saw in theaters. Even so, even at that age, I could tell it was not as funny. The whole OJ Simpson is in the first two is weird, but once you get past that, they’re great. 2 1/2 is really good, but the original is an utter classic.

Beverly Hills Cop 3 – This film series has the exact same trajectory as Naked Gun. The only difference is that 3 came out 7 years after 2. And was 4 years crappier. 12 year old me might have seen this in theaters too, but I do not remember clearly.

The Matrix Revolutions – Everything about Matrix 3 is depressing. When I think back to my dashed hopes when I was leaving the theater, I get sad. When I think about the precipitous dropoff in the score from the first two movies to this traditional dreck, I get annoyed. And when I think about how the first movie had a superman ending that should have precluded any sequels, I think of how much more fondly I would remember that first movie, had there been no sequels. 2 & 3 were filmed at the same time, which seemed novel to me then, even though Lord of the Rings did all 3 at the same time. So it was 4 years and then 1 year. Also, remember the Animatrix? What do we do with that?

Lady Vengeance – 1 year after Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance came Old Boy. Then 2 years later came Lady Vengeance. Sympathy is the weakest of the group, but probably necessary for the series to exist. If you’ve never seen a Korean revenge film, any of these will check that box. And teach you never ever to seek revenge.

Jackass 3D – The Jackass Trilogy may be better known than the Vengeance Trilogy, but it certainly gets less respect. In its own way, though, I would say it is equally good. Its second picture is also its best — on par with Borat. Each sequel took 4 years to come out, but sometimes quality takes time. Also, these are pretty much documentaries too.

Star Trek: Beyond – Pretty much mirrors the trajectory and scores of Jackass, but with only 3 years between Into Darkness and Beyond.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly – Does this qualify as a sequel? Blondie is kind of a name, but this is considered the third in the Man with No Name Trilogy. The score by itself would be the best of the lot, but as a film it’s less tight and precise as the first two. #2 being my favorite. Considering this is called “not better than the first two” there is almost a 50% chance #2 will be my favorite. Unless sequels in general are worse. But these are sequels that all begot another sequel, so that says something.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – Clearly this movie was better than the Two Towers. I have that thing where I use Two Towers as synecdoche for misleadingly bad sequels. The extended editions of Fellowship and Two Towers are improvements, but I’m not sure if Return of the King’s was. All 3 were filmed together and released 1 year apart, with the best first, and second best last.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Unlike LOTR this one went 2-1-3. Each released 1 year apart. I’m not sure which is worse, peaking right away, or getting the viewer’s hopes up with a sequel that was better than the original.

Justice League – This one went 3 years then 2 years. This one went best, worst, middle. The series is maligned more than it should be, but with billions at the box office, my or your opinion does not seem to impact this series.

Clear and Present Danger – I read the book for this. It was very long. But Tom Clancy probably was daring people not to read his enthralling Jack Ryan books at that point. The Hunt for Red October is amazing both as a book and a film. Patriot Games was less so. And Clear and Present Danger is hard for me. I will say it was on par with Patriot Games, although I initially preferred Clear and Present Danger. Each released 2 years apart, and Harrison Ford took over the role for the latter two.

Full disclosure – No, that is not the third movie in an awful action franchise, what I am saying is that I forgot to check the tallies before going onto the next set. And I may have started with some 5 year films in the 3-4 count because in my head 5 years +1 day would be 5-8, but I do not remember if I actually kept that straight. Unfortunately this might invalidate some of the very scientific “research” I have been conducting here. This was a long list, so I will save my ongoing conclusions for Part V – It was all downhill from there.

This was Part IV of my sequels series. Here you can find Parts I, II & III.

Better than the first two!

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63% of sequels were worse than their original movie, according to my uber-scientific post last week. Now, to mislead you into thinking that sequels are better, this will focus on the seven movies which essentially are the third in a trilogy. Movies that ended trilogies on a high note. And then the next installment will be longer because if number three was so great, why did the series end there?

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The Skulls III – The third Skulls is not really better than the first one, but it is better than the awful second one, so by that logic it was better than the first two (combined for an average). These each came out two years apart, so this would be one worse sequel and one better one. If you have not seen these movies, that is totally okay. My wife got me to watch them and she stopped reading my posts years ago so I won’t get in trouble unless someone narcs on me. That reminds me, Narc was an excellent film and one I actually do recommend.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Can we just pretend that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull never came out? 29 years later and only better than Temple of Doom—which is way more racist and stereotypical than your nostalgic “Kalima” quoting minds remember. Both Temple of Doom and Last Crusade came out 3-5 years after the previous installment, and Last Crusade edges out Raiders of the Lost Ark on the strength of Sean Connery’s elder Dr. Jones.

Scary Movie – Both 3 & 4 were better than the original, and I never saw 2. Did I really see 4, I have no memory of it. These came out once a year until it took 3 years for 4 to come out. Glean what you will from this.

Thor: Ragnarok –  I have enjoyed each Thor movie more than the last. Dark World came out 2 years after the first Thor, and (unlike most people) I liked it better. Ragnarok was unique in its tone and charm, so it is the best of the three. And it came out 4 years after #2.

Captain America: Civil War – Another comic book movie from the last 2010s? Another one where the second was better than the first, and the third even better than the second? There was 3 years between First Avenger and Winter Soldier, and only 2 between Winter Soldier and Civil War. Perhaps it is worth noting that all 6 of these movies would qualify as at least pretty good.

Avengers: Infinity War – Okay, this is getting eerie. A third Marvel trilogy (although there is a fourth movie on the way, that’s really part of Infinity War, so, what does this even mean?) with #3 being the best yet. I don’t know if Infinity War will stand up to repeat viewings the way that Marvel’s The Avengers did, but I know it was a lot better than Age of Ultron. That was a huge disappointment and this was not.  Each movie was three years apart. The last two Cap movies and Infinity War were all directed by the Russos, so maybe the great director theory has some merit. But are they really better than Joss Whedon and Kenneth Branagh?

Blade: Trinity – A fourth Marvel movie in a row!? The key to remember is that Blade II sucked, and came out 4 years after the original Blade, which is way better than I remembered it was. 2 years after II came Trinity which was not a great movie, but was a great deal of fun and had seriously excellent casting. Blade’s team had Natasha Lyonne, Patton Oswalt and Ryan Reynolds. And they faced off against Dominic Purcell, Parker Posey and Triple H. David Goyer directed 3, and wrote all 3 of these. DC hired him and he (co-)wrote Batman Begins, Dark Knight, Man of Steel… But the shocker, and counterpoint to good directors make better sequels is that Guillermo del Toro directed II!

So what new data do we have? 7 examples of third movies being the best of 3. None of these came out in that 5-8 year window. 9+ is still the worst and 3-4 is still second worst. Now we have about 58 sequels and we are down to 56% being worse! And 28% being better, which is up from 17%. Who knows how Not better than the first two will affect these numbers.

This post is Part III of my sequels series. Part I is here and Part II is here.

Better than the first one?

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Instinctively I think we expect the sole sequel to a movie to be worse than the original. For a movie to get made it must be greenlit — rich people must support its creation. Thus for a sequel to be greenlit, the first must have been sufficiently successful, (i.e. made enough money) to justify a sequel. So for a sequel to not beget a further sequel, one possibility is that people who believed in the first two no longer believe in the value of the story. Sometimes it takes a long time for a movie with a cult following to get enough momentum to even make the sequel that people clearly want. Still, there are lots of reasons why a third movie might not be made; jumping to mind is how some actors hate playing the same roles again. Here are some movies that begot one, and only one, sequel.

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Escape From L.A. – I never actually saw the first one, but it had to be less bad than this dreck. Instead of waiting 14 years for a sequel they should have just not made one.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder – I never watched Starship Troopers 2, so I am pretending this is the sole sequel. While the bar was low—unless you are a Verhoeven apologist—this movie failed to meet it.

Brother 2 – The original Brother, Брат in Russian, is the story of a guy who is the brother of a guy in 1997 Russia. He is a young John McClane badass who rights some small wrongs while being hyper-Russian, which makes him less likeable. At least that makes him more realistic. That realism and accuracy just is not there for 2, which has Sergey Bodrov fly to the US, which the filmmakers (himself included) clearly knew less about than St. Petersburg. 2 came out in 2000, so only three years later.

Be Cool – I bet most people forgot the 2005 sequel to Get Shorty. I have blocked most of it from my memory, because it was not an enjoyable viewing. That was a ten year gap. Dwayne Johnson is almost totally wasted by this movie.

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx – This sequel to LW&C: Sword of Vengeance also came out in 1972, so perhaps the hurried schedule made it so much worse? I did not watch either LW&C: Baby Cart to Hades or LW&C: Baby Cart in Peril, which also came out in 1972. These are adaptations of Japanese comic books so the source material was already there, and I respect that they did not make fan wait 10 years for a story to still not end like Marvel does, but the drop off from 1 to 2 was steep. 1973 & 1974 each have another LW&C!

Tron: Legacy – The original Tron was not very good, nor was this 28 years later sequel. Visually it was vastly superior, but lacked the soul the original featured. But again, neither was a good movie.

Kung Fu Panda 2 – Three years later a worse version of a movie comes out. There’s a phenomenon in movies I call “Two Towers Blindness”, by which I mean that everything good in a sequel was already there in the first movie. This dually does not mean that the sequel lacks good elements or execution, but it marks how disappointing that waste of skill is. The dual part is how people may confuse this waste for being something of quality — particularly when music and characters from the first movie, or elsewhere, make you feel emotions the instant film, the Kung Fu Panda 2 if you will, fails to earn. Skadoosh!

Machete Kills – If you loved Machete and loved Machete Kills, then you are suffering from “Two Towers Blindness.” Like Kung Fu Panda 2, this came out 3 years after the original. And can you see I’m trying to make that a thing? Ah well, not everything can be as good as “the crap barrier” or “Gary Marshall Level Bad.”

National Treasure: Book of Secrets – This 3 year follow-up tries to capture the magic of the original, which tried to capture the magic of Indiana Jones, but failed. Book of Secrets failed harder though.

RED 2 – Yet another 3 year gap, with yet another not as good, yet still financially successful sequel. Neither RED made Kung Fu Panda money. All these numbers are domestic, unless specified, and all my numbers are from BoxOfficeMojo.com. Tron made $26M (22nd most in 1982, 8 of the top 21 got sequels soon after). Machete made $26M and Kills made $8M. RED made $90M versus $53M, but the costs flipped from $58M to $84M. Don’t worry, worldwide RED 2 still made $150M~. The outlier here is National Treasure which made $173M, but Book of Secrets made $219M. And each got the same overseas. Over $400M and no third movie yet!

The Scorpion King – This is another third movie in a series that I skipped the second movie thing, but this was better than The Mummy. The movies came out in 1999 – 2001 – 2002 – 2008. Interestingly enough, The Scorpion King has its own line of sequels and a remake in the works now. But let me ask you this — why??

Now You See Me 2 – It is rare, but sometimes, through ingenuity and a simultaneous lack of imagination, a sequel can be just as mediocre as the original. Now You See Me 2 is a great example of that. If this were not such a lame name, I would try to work it into a saying. Something like, now you see me, now you continue to see me. I know that’s not great.

Independence Day: Resurgence – Not as good as the first one. Twenty years later and no Will Smith.

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army – In some ways 2 is actually superior to the original. There has been desire for the third movie, but we have had to settle for two pretty good animated Hellboy movies instead. I think 2 got greenlit because del Toro went from horror director to the guy who just directed Pan’s Labyrinth. Four years elapsed between movies.

Clerks II – I loved Clerks and might have really loved 2 also, if I had also been a teen when I saw it. Still it was 12 years later and I gave both movies 4 stars, so I count this as a tie. And yes I realize how blasphemous my actions here are.

Angels & Demons – Well this might have been a first for me, a sequel based on a prior book, that was not a prequel. Put another way, in the books Robert Langdon went to the Vatican before the Da Vinci Code, but in the movies, he solved the Da Vinci Code and then went to the Vatican. Anyways, based on the theatrical releases, Angels & Demons was actually better, and a third one has come out, which I haven’t seen because I did not really care for the book.

Ghostbusters 2 – Five years later the same team that made an amazing action-comedy put out this totally average junk. I’m just glad I didn’t wait five years for this to come out and got to be only slightly disappointed when I watched it on tape later.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age – It would have been hard for this nine years later sequel to live up to its Oscar nominated predecessor and in fact failed to do so. N.B. – I got a trivia question wrong by saying it was Hellboy 2: The Golden Age, even though I knew it was Golden Army, but couldn’t remember that it was Elizabeth. The shame.

The Drowning Pool – It would have been easy for this nine years later sequel to live up to its underwhelming, but fine, predecessor (Harper) but it failed to do so. N.B. – Newman had the character’s name changed from Archer to Harper because of his superstitions about the letter H being good luck for him.

Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse – While the original wasn’t great—they both merited 3 stars—it was good enough to make me want some more Jean Reno. This was not enough to make me want more.

The Four Musketeers – This 1974 sequel (subtitled Milady’s Revenge) to 1973’s The Three Musketeers should not really count since these look like they were shot at the same time. Why mention it here? To show there are different ways to make sequels, and because I forgot that until I started writing that sentence. Also, there is a 1989 sequel called The Return of the Musketeers, which seems a long time, until you recall the literary sequel to The Three Musketeers was Twenty Years After. If The Return had better reviews, I would be ecstatic to see the same cast reprise their roles 16 years later.

Under Siege 2: The One That’s on A Train – Under Siege 2 was not great, probably because Andrew Davis, who followed up Under Siege with The fn Fugitive, did not return for the sequel. Gee I wonder why not? Both of those had Tommy Lee Jones, coincidence?

Ip Man 2 – Except for the funnier ending, this movie was just generally worse than the original. On instinct, I did not return for Ip Man 3.

Oceans 13 – I actually enjoyed this movie as much as the original Oceans 11. That said, it was a bit sillier and more farfetched, so it’s not actually as good of a movie.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 – I actually reviewed both of these at the same time. What visually beautiful films. 1 got ½ more than 2 did.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Man of Steel was an auspicious title for the first new Superman movie. It was an epic movie with great goals. This “Dawn of Justice” was similar to Age of Ultron; they both strove to be epic while primarily functioning as transitional movies. The downside to transitional movies is that, excluding The Empire Strikes Back, they stink. People rarely ask which rest area you stopped at along the road, mostly they ask where you came from and where you were going. This was a solid Thruway rest stop. I would go so far as to say it was one of the nice new shiny ones in Ohio.

Pitch Perfect 2 – Now I remember 2 as being worse than 1, but the fact is that I gave them the same score and thought they were of equal quality after I watched both of them. So I count this as a draw.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – 22 years later with no unanswered questions, this serviceable sequel came along. Since the original was serviceable for what it was, I would call this one a toss up also.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me – Oh behave! There were so many fun lines from Austin Powers that as a society we beat them all to death. The original was better in every way, except it lacked Mini Me.

A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia – What, you did not know that 26 years ago there was a made for TV remake 29 years after Lawrence of Arabia? And that it starred Ralph Fiennes as the iconic Lawrence? I watched this for Dr. Julian Bashir—Alexander Siddig, and it was better than you would imagine. What it was not, was Lawrence of F’n Arabia.

War and Peace II: Natasha Rostova – This is actually movie 2 of 4 in a saga, but I stopped after this one. I do not remember why. Maybe because it was not as good and I feared they would disappoint me in the end? The book is amazing, for anyone who wants motivation to tackle it.

Spider-Man 2: What made 2 better than the original was that the original had to deal with the origin. Although only 1 had Randy Savage as “Bone Saw.” At the time, and I haven’t really wanted to go back and watch again, I thought 2 was a technically perfect film—like 100% on Rotten Tomatoes without being a 5 star film.

District 13: Ultimatum – Part of me dreaded watching this sequel to District B13. I introduced that film to so many people. Ultimatum basically went for the same trick a second time, but with the familiar scary faces as the good guys. Luc Besson still put out a fun and compelling movie, but it was not as strong or shocking.

Red Riding: The Year of Our Lord 1980 – 1974 was the first one, and 1983 is the final one. But I haven’t seen 1983 yet. Maybe that is because 1974 and 1980, while good, were dark and depressing. I thought 1980 was better too.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – Another classic example of “Two Towers Blindness”. An enjoyable and amusing film, but not as good as Guy Ritchie’s eminently rewatchable first Sherlock Holmes.

Analyze That – This is another classic sequel. What was shocking and against type, like Robert De Niro showing a softer, emotionally fragile side as a gangster, becomes easy, safe and predictable.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – I thought the original Sin City was great. That in 2005, the same year Revenge of the Sith came out, you could make a movie almost entirely with green screen and have it look amazing. Which lead us to…

300: Rise of an Empire – I really liked the original 300. So this was a major disappointment. Notably both of these sequels starred Eva Green, who is wonderful, but could not by herself lift up these films to the glory of the originals.

Legend of Drunken Master – Jackie Chan’s 1978 movie is technically inferior in every possible way. But this sequel lacked the charm of the original. Both are lots of fun though.

Deadpool 2 – I do not remember right now what made the sequel better than the original, but it was probably James Brolin as Cable. So here is a free tip — try adding James Brolin to movies to increase the likelihood of a sequel being good.

Kill Bill 2 – Tarrantino’s Kill Bill was basically a four hour movie made up of 8 chapters. The result was two movies of equal quality. If doing that were easy, then the Matrix 2 & 3 would have been equally bad, instead of unequally bad.

Sanjuro – I loved Yojimbo. A Fistful of Dollars might be a better version of it, but the roaming masterless samurai who saves a town makes for a great movie. Sanjuro starred the same Toshiro Mifune, but there is a reason For a Few Dollars More was not a remake of Sanjuro. My strongest memory of Sanjuro is the ending – Sanjuro (which just means 2nd son, if I remember correctly) has a one slice duel outside of town and the guy he kills emits a full keg of blood. It is unintentionally hilarious.

Ghost in the Shell II: Innocence – How do you follow up a perfect movie? Imperfectly. Unless you are making the Godfather Part 2.

2046 – This is only a semi-sequel to In the Mood for Love. It is a really good movie, but the story being set in the future made it harder to enjoy than the one set in the past. They came out four years apart, but took place 100 years apart! Always remember that Wong Kar-Wai is a great filmmaker.

Castle Cagliostro – This is a unique one. Sometimes called Lupin III: Castle Cagliostro, this is the second in a long series of Lupin animes that came after the successful animated tv show, on which Hayao Miyazaki worked. He did not direct the first movie, but did direct this one, and only this one. It is by far the best of the series, so having an all-time great director direct the sequel, increases the chances of it being good, got it.

22 Jump Street – I was surprised that I enjoyed the first one and even more surprised that I enjoyed the second one just as much. They are two years apart.

Aliens – Normally I would choose to watch a Ridley Scott movie over a James Cameron one, but this action-sci-fi-war-horror movie was simply better than the original, except in that Ian Holm’s robot was better than Lance Henriksen’s—who was also very good—and Yaphet Kotto got paid for Alien, which makes me happy.

What a list! This has given me so much fun and it is only the beginning. Stay tuned for Better than the first two!

But first, here are some data and some preliminary conclusions. 46 movie-pairs. 8 sequels were better. 9 were equally good. And 29 of those were worse. What sticks out to me is that 20% of the sequels were equally good, something I did not expect, particularly because of the Two Towers phenomenon. So if the film managed to go beyond just having the same good parts, I would expect the film to be better than, not equal to, the original. 12 films came out within 2 years of each other. 16 films came out between 3-4 years. 4 films came out between 5-8 years. And 10 films came out longer than 8 years apart. The worst time frame was more than 8 years, where no films were better and only 2 were as good. Second worst was 3-4 with 11 out of 16 movies being worse. The best was 5-8, with only 4 movies, but 2 better and 1 as good. And yes, these don’t add up all the way, because I fudged some of my choices above and cannot use things like the Scorpion King, because the time gap ignores the unwatched sequel in the middle.

This post is Part II of my sequels series. Part I is here.

“Better than the first two!”

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For people of a certain age Roger Ebert’s “Better than the first two” quotation is infamous, as it was a snippet plastered onto thousands of VHS box covers and movie posters in video stores across the country. If you do not remember to which film it refers, allow me to enlighten you — Home Alone 3. Of the 3,754 movies listed on IMDb released in 1997, it ranks 2,031st best that year, one ahead of B*A*P*S, and two ahead of McHale’s Navy. I have never seen Home Alone 3, nor have I seen BAPs (Black American Princesses, instead of Jewish…), but I have seen Tom Arnold’s awful knock-off of Down Periscope, which is itself an awful movie (the 1,082nd best movie of 1996). For some reason Roger Ebert—you can read the review here if you wish—recommended this clearly bad movie and the producers clung to this snippet like their lives, or more likely their careers, depended on it. My point is that at its essence, Ebert took the shocking position of saying  an objectively crappy the third movie in a series was the best of the three.

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Look, even when it was released on DVD his quote is the only thing written besides the name of the movie!

Was Ebert right about Home Alone 3? I do not know, and I do not care. What I do care about is testing the hypothesis that sequels are always worse than the original, with later sequels getting worse and worse. I know the knee jerk response many of you are thinking, because I thought it too — The Empire Strikes Back. But is that an exception that proves the rule, or just the tip of the iceberg? If I were to tell you that there is a movie called Titanic II what is your gut instinct?

That it sucks. Way worse than the original, right? Is that because the original won Best Picture at the Oscars? Because you have never heard of it? Because it was not in any way related to that film?

I want to delve into this topic, without putting the effort of watching a bunch of bad movies, to find out if sequels really are worse than the movies that came before them. So I will consider the movies with sequels that I have seen and divvy them up, before hopefully coming to a satisfying conclusion. Here are the ground rules:

Will I count movies I have only seen parts of, like Jaws 2? Yes, although that is a bad example because it turns out that I actually watched all of Jaws 2 because I like to finish movies before I rate them.
Will I take into account the passage of time between movies? I hope so, that might be important.
Will I count sequels/prequels that are unrelated to concrete originals, like Hamlet 2? No, that is too distant to be helpful here.
Will reboots count as sequels? Usually no, especially if it is a different group making it. This would be a fun inquiry to do later though.
What does this mean for the Bond movies? Each Bond actor will count as its own series, so Casino Royale is the 20th Bond movie, but the first Daniel Craig Bond movie.
Will Attack of the Clones be the 5th Star Wars movie, or the 2nd movie of the prequel trilogy? Both, but mostly because people love criticizing that movie.
Will there be more Empire Strikes Backs or more Attacks of the Clones? I cannot wait to find out myself.

This post was Part I of a series. Here are the other ones.
Part II – Better than the first one?

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