Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sequels

It’s summer, which means that the movie theater lobbies look oddly familiar because so many of the posters are for sequels of movies we’ve seen before (sometimes numerous times). But what sets apart a good sequel from a bad one? It’s not simply a matter of getting the band back together, moving the action to “the Hood” (alt: Outer Space) and upping the body count; there are many tricks that have been played over the years that have elevated what might have been simple cash-grabs into legitimate works that stand on their own.

Here are a few of the tried-and-true tricks to making a solid sequel, as well as some of the films that pulled it off… and a few that didn’t.

1. Introduce New Blood

Shrek-Puss

One thing that all sequels need is some element of newness. After all, while people came to see the sequel because they loved the first movie, they don’t just want to watch the first film over again. (Otherwise they would.) One of the simplest ways to do this is to bring in colorful new characters. (Note: There’s no need to get too literal, like Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood. We’ll get the picture.)

Nailed It: Shrek 2

Puss in Boots was the best thing to ever happen to the big green guy and his lady.

Failed It: The Hangover Part II

They literally have the same exact people doing the same exact things as the first film. Only it’s in Thailand, get it?! No.

2. Switch Up the Genre

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How about continuing the story using a different set of film conventions entirely? It’s not easy, but when it works it can be wonderfully effective.

Nailed It: Aliens, Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II

Aliens picked up where Alien‘s atmospheric haunted-house horror film left off, but this episode was a full-bore action movie. People went Newts for it! And Tobe Hooper followed up his bleak, extremely effective survival horror film Texas Chain Saw with… a comedy? Yes – it’s one of the sickest comedies ever made, but it’s also hilarious in all the wrong ways. Even the movie’s poster was a WTF? parody of The Breakfast Club.

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Failed It: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Saw

This “origin story” of Texas Chainsaw was exactly the same as the remake of the first film, and could have benefitted from a little creativity. Only it co-starred Matt Bomer, so it had that going for it.

3. “Don’t F*ck With the Original”

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In the wildly meta Scream 4, Neve Campbell‘s beleaguered Sidney Prescott utters the priceless words above. And she’s right: if people are coming back to see a sequel, chances are they really dug the original. Don’t go getting all revisionist and actually rewriting the essential elements of the first film.

Nailed It: Scream 4

Scream 4 managed to honor the original film and characters while telling an entirely new chapter of the story, all with the series’ trademark self-awareness.

Failed It: The Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions

Remember that awesome feeling at the end of The Matrix when Neo was the chosen one and he could slow down bullets and shit? Well, forget all that – they got a little ahead of themselves, and spent the next twenty hours undoing their brilliant first act.

4. Up the Stakes

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If the first movie’s about saving a cheerleader, the second movie better be about saving the Dallas Cowgirls.

Nailed It: Airplane 2: The Sequel

What’s worse than a plane without a pilot? A SPACE SHUTTLE without a pilot! This guy would agree. As would Pat Sajak, above.

Failed It: Ocean’s Twelve, Ocean’s Thirteen

By the third Ocean’s film, they would have had to have been robbing the World Bank in order to fund a bone marrow transplant for Scott Caan to make it worthwhile. But no, it was just more of the same.

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