Rarely does a movie sequel turn out better than the original film that spawned it. Here are five of the best movies that pulled off this feat.
- Road to Morocco (1942)
Between 1940 and 1962, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour starred in seven Road To… movies, the first six of which are terrific. Unfortunately, the final entry, 1962’s Road to Hong Kong, lacks energy and, except for a cameo, Lamour is replaced by Joan Collins, which was cruel.
My favorite of the seven is 1946’s Road to Utopia, which I love enough to include in my Top 165 list. But Road to Morocco, the third in the series, is where the franchise really hit its stride.
The first two chapters, Road to Singapore (1940) and Road to Zanzibar (1941), did something more than prove to be big hits. The real discovery was the chemistry between Crosby’s laid-back crooner and Hope’s excitable coward and skirt chaser. The two men became good friends in real life, which is quite an accomplishment. Crosby was notorious for not letting people get close, even within his own family.
In the Road to… franchise, Bob and Bing always play rival con men who stick together, even as they try to cheat one another out of the money and the girl (Lamour). This rivalry proved so popular, Bob and Bing played it up outside the series—in their respective movies and personal appearances. It became a decades-long running gag, an in-joke of sorts that the audience was in on and loved.
What sets Morocco apart from its two predecessors is its confidence. By this time, everyone involved knew what worked and why so they poured it on, and the results were pure movie magic.
- A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Blake Edwards’ The Pink Panther (1963) is a terrific movie. But as charming as that film’s stars, David Niven and Robert Wagner, are, you still feel like you’re marking time waiting for the next scene with Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau.
Yep, in the first Pink Panther movie, Inspector Jacques Clouseau is a supporting character.
Well, after its box office success, everyone knew why… No one was interested in another elegant caper movie. What they wanted was more slapstick and pratfalls. And so, less than a year later, Edwards and Sellers brought us A Shot in the Dark, a full-on Inspector Clouseau movie that contains more belly laughs than you can count.
Sellers is perfection that role, something proven by all the talented actors (including Steve Martin and Alan Arkin) who have tried and failed to step in those shoes.
Sellers would star in three more Pink Panther movies before his untimely death in 1980, and all three are brilliant.
- The Road Warrior (1981)
Mad Max, director George Miller’s apocalyptic 1979 action-thriller, is a perfectly acceptable genre movie.
The Road Warrior changed movies forever.
Action movies would never be the same after what is also called Mad Max 2 hit screens. The sequel manages to tell a great story by way of compelling characters (especially Mel Gibson’s Max) while the screen bursts with unrelenting actions scenes, all of them spectacular. The bone-crunching stunts, the choreography, the explosions, the imagination… What really makes it work is that we’re not watching meaningless mayhem. This isn’t a video game. We believe in this world and these characters, so the stakes are real, and our emotional buy-in takes those amazing action scenes to a whole new level.
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
This is another title that ranked in my Top 165.
After the stillborn Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), one of Paramount’s most important brands was in serious trouble. Granted, The Motion Picture made a fortune, but that was a testament to how many Star Trek fans there are, not to the quality of the film, which stunk.
In other words, the fans came, but we were all disappointed, which meant the sequel had to deliver, or it was over.
Well, the result was the back-to-basics Wrath of Khan, a grand slam—an exciting, clever, emotional, and funny sequel to not only The Motion Picture but Space Seed, the 1967 Star Trek TV episode that first introduced Ricardo Montalban’s mighty Khan.
What really works, though, are the relationships. Star Trek’s holy trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy has always been the secret to Star Trek’s appeal—this bickering brotherhood between three very different men who love and respect one another, even though they don’t fully understand one another.
- For a Few Dollars More (1965)
Right now, a lot of people are yelling the following: “What about The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”!
First, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), which is set during the American Civil War, is actually a prequel to A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965), both of which are set after the Civil War.
Secondly, as much as I love The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, my favorite of the Sergio Leone Dollars’ Trilogy is the middle chapter, For a Few Dollars More.
A Fistful of Dollars is lean and mean and obviously filmed by a director who knows this is his shot at a career, so he pours his genius all over a genre movie with no budget.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is pure epic, a stunning achievement, and one of the most rewatchable movies ever made.
But For a Few Dollars More is something even better—an operatic Western full of secrets and secret motives. Clint Eastwood is perfect as the bounty hunter Monco (“The Man with No Name” was a publicity gimmick). His is a performance full of watchful stillness and a perfect counterpart to Lee Van Cleef’s Mortimer, a rival bounty hunter who’s not what he seems.
Best of all, there’s Gian Maria Volonté as El Indio; a sociopath made even worse by the opium he constantly smokes to balm a self-hatred driven by his own terrible secret. Indio is equal parts haunted and menace, which adds a layer of pathos and unpredictable danger. He is one of the great all-time (and under-appreciated) screen villains.
For a Few Dollars More also contains two jaw-dropping scenes, two of the best you will ever see. The final showdown is cinematic perfection. Monco and Mortimer sizing each other up using bullets instead of words is just as good.