The trick to pulling off a great movie sequel is staying faithful to the previous films while still being original enough to keep audiences interested. If a sequel is just a rehash of the first it could come across as forced, but if it is too different it could alienate long-term fans.
Some series though decide to take wildly sharp turns in their sequels. Not content with just going bigger, these films massively changed up not only the tone of the series but the entire genre of their films. For better or worse, these sequels didn’t just change the formula, they threw it out completely.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Since the series is known for its outlandish villains and high-octane, post-apocalyptic action, it is easy to forget that the first Mad Max was a relatively small-scale revenge thriller. The film is set in a near-future, but all too realistic Australian town where the titular Max hunts down the criminals who murdered his family.
The Road Warrior cranks things straight up to eleven. Instead of a familiar hometown, it takes place in a post-nuclear wasteland. The former cop Max is now a half-feral, leather-clad killing machine. Instead of seeking vengeance, he is facing down warlords in heavily armed battle cars. All of the violence and mayhem of the first film is turned up even further into a non-stop, diesel-fueled fight to the death that still holds up today.
Similar to The Road Warrior, Aliens took everything from the original and went even bigger with it. The first Alien film was a claustrophobic horror with a small cast and only a single, unstoppable alien hunting them down. It took a less-is-more approach and is still pretty unsettling.
In James Cameron’s follow-up Aliens, that one xenomorph is now an entire planet full of them, and Ripley is recruited into a group of space marines sent to wipe them out. There are massive explosions, gun battles, and a finale where Ripley fistfights the Alien queen in a mech suit. While it still retains the mythos and scares of the original, Aliens is a bombastic 80’s action film through and through.
Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
Captain America 2 was a rare case of a movie sequel taking the exact opposite approach and pulling things back for its second outing. Cap’s first movie outing was a huge-scale action-adventure that was both a superhero movie and a war movie. The sequel dialed things down a bit.
While it is still unmistakably a Marvel movie, The Winter Soldier was much more of a spy thriller in the vein of the Bourne series than a full-blown superhero movie. Instead of punching Nazis, Captain America and his allies must solve a government conspiracy in a much more grounded story. The Winter Soldier is a standout not only for its different tone but also because it is one of the MCU’s best movies.
Speaking of spy thrillers, when most moviegoers think of action and espionage, Pixar’s Cars series is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. The first Cars film was a beloved character study of a brash race car who learns compassion after being stranded in a middle of nowhere town.
Cars 2 on the other hand is a country-hopping spy adventure reminiscent of a James Bond film. Mater, the first film’s comic relief, is caught up in a worldwide conspiracy to sabotage an international race and discredit synthetic fuel. It is also surprisingly violent for a kid’s movie, with a body count higher than some horror movies. Audiences were divided on the movie, but it was something new.
Return to Oz (1985)
To call The Wizard of Oz a classic would almost be doing it is a disservice. The film was a cultural phenomenon that still endures today. The fun musical numbers, whimsical tone, and genre-defining use of color cemented its place in cinematic history.
Return to Oz, on the other hand, is just plain unsettling. Coming out almost 50 years after the original, Return to Oz strips away the whimsy and joy of the original and goes incredibly dark featuring creepy monsters and electroshock therapy. While it is more accurate to the book, and not a bad film, it is far removed from the original. If anyone thought the flying monkeys were scary, wait until they see this.
The Terminator series is one of the most iconic science fiction franchises going. Terminator 1 and 2 combined slasher and sci-fi movies as the heroes battled a killer cyborg while trying to prevent a world-ending war against the machines.
Terminator Salvation finally gave fans what they wanted by instead focusing entirely on this war after it has already begun. John Connor is no longer a resourceful kid, he is a battle-hardened veteran leading what’s left of humanity in a desperate war for survival. The shift to full-on war film could have been a fascinating departure from the first few films, but unfortunately didn’t quite resonate with fans.
Army of Darkness
Sam Raimi’s cult classic Evil Dead became wildly popular among horror fans for its ingenious use of its incredibly small budget and its campy charms. Some of the movies were silly, but it was still unmistakably a horror movie and at times a very effective one.
Evil Dead 2 on the other hand was almost a satirical half sequel, a half remake of the first. The series was now in on its jokes, and this was leaned into even harder for the third film Army of Darkness. Protagonist Ash has gone from scared college bro to a wise-cracking demon slayer with a chainsaw for a hand. Throwing Ash into the Middle Ages, Army of Darkness is a far cry from the original.
The Raid 2
The now-legendary Indonesian martial arts film The Raid: Redemption was an unrelentingly brutal action thriller that never lets up in its violence. Straightforward but masterfully done, the film follows a SWAT team as they infiltrate a drug kingpin’s stronghold and is a non-stop showcase of incredible martial arts choreography.
The also phenomenal sequel expanded from the self-contained fight for survival into a large-scale crime thriller. Protagonist Rama becomes a mole in the criminal underground and perilously navigates through multiple warring factions and power struggles. It still features the same spectacular fight scenes and one of the best car chases in movie history but puts it over a thrilling Departed-esque backdrop.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2
Many iconic slasher franchises have ended up as self-aware parodies as their series have dragged on, but few have done it quite as intentionally or as jarringly as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. The original Chainsaw Massacre film is one of the most seminal horror films ever made. It was even banned in some countries for being too disturbing.
The first sequel to the film was about as wildly different as the two films could be. Part 2 was intended to be a comedy, albeit a very, very dark one. The fear of the first film is completely replaced with black humor and gore which proves the original was fairly tame. As far as sequels go, it doesn’t get much more different than this.
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Rambo has become synonymous with over-the-top action and cinematic machismo. The sad part is, that he was never meant to be. Rambo’s first film, and the book it is based on, are tragic character studies about a broken Vietnam veteran who is pushed to the edge by a crooked town.
First Blood is emotional and not terribly violent, but First Blood Part II and every sequel since has shifted further into mindless action. Completely ignoring the horrors of war that were key to the original, the Rambo sequels throw their hero back into Vietnam to save hostages and gun down as many enemies as possible. On its own, the film is still fun and iconic, but compared to First Blood it is practically a different series.
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