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Mary Robinette Kowal – The Ten Best Fantasy Movie Sequels

Hollywood is quite fond of making sequels. Hey, if something worked the first time, why not do it again, right? The challenge is that the first movie of a series often succeeds because it surprises the audience in some way — a novelty that quickly fades when you bring out another flick just like it. Sometimes though, a sequel can succeed as a movie all its own. Here are the best fantasy flicks that do just that.

10. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
One of the easiest ways to come up with a sequel is to start with a fantasy series with sequels already built in, like in the Narnia books. You take familiar characters, throw them into a new situation and introduce a few new (dreamy) characters along the way. In this case, the Pevensie children arrive back in Narnia to find an internal political struggle between the titular Prince and his usurping uncle. The story can’t quite stand on its own, but it comes close.
How it improves on the original: Better pacing

9. Addams Family Values
This one is one of those rare fantasy sequels that is actually better than the original — admittedly, in this case, a low bar to clear. It recognizes the inherent campiness of the television show, which the first movie aims for and fails to capture. It also expands on Gomez and Morticia’s characters by using their lens to view contemporary world issues. Just pretend the first one doesn’t exist.
How it improves on the original: Uses campiness for character exploration

8. Shrek 2
The first Shrek ends with your typical “happily ever after.” What Shrek 2 does is recognize that there is no such thing, and thus continues the story. You really do need to see the first movie to appreciate this one, because it builds the conflict from the events of the first one. At the same time, it’s a totally different movie as opposed to a rehash of the original.
How it improves on the original: Demonstrates the true meaning of “happily ever after.”

7. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Right… so I’m skipping Temple of Doom because Last Crusade is way better. It gives you all the swashbuckling elements of the first, and adds a family dynamic. Doing that allows the movie to explore Indy’s character in ways that the first two chapters could not. In fact, I think the reason that the second wasn’t as strong is because it clung too tightly to the formula. This one uses the same basic recipe, but adds new elements.
How it improves on the original: Sean frickin’ Connery

6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Askaban
The first two Potter flicks had a lot of world building to do, and really moved too fast. Here, the movie has enough breathing room to really let the characters, and the audience, experience the events. It takes the initial spectacle of magic and uses it to convey emotion and build tension — it may not be as adherent to the book, but it’s significantly better than the first two flicks.
How it improves on the original: Does away with slavish devotion to source material.

5. Dawn of the Dead
Taking the dark edge of fantasy and riding it down into horror, George Romero borrows the basic premise of his Night of the Living Dead to paint a completely new picture here. Unlike the other sequels on this list, no characters recur. What makes this a sequel is that it is exploring the same theme and essentially the same zombie plague, but in a different place. It’s dark, gory and way creepier than the original.
How it improves on the original: More zombies! In a mall!

4. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
This takes the common sequel road and goes Bigger! Badder! Flashier! But unlike most sequels (Transformers 2, I’m talking to you), Hellboy II ties all of that extra action to a story that actually makes sense. With the Golden Army providing the gee whiz factor for the fight scenes, the movie still manages to let the characters breathe, grow and entertain us.
How it improves on the original: Giant battle scenes with windup robots

3. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
It’s tough being the middle child, but Two Towers nicely spans the space between the other chapters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And as the bridging story, it could have easily become weak and lazy. It’s not. It retains the drive of the first movie, offers a killer climax at Helm’s Deep and makes you hunger for the last.
How it improves on the original: Same tone, less setup, more action.

2. The Bride of Frankenstein
True, Frankenstein stories are arguably science fiction, but I’m claiming this one as fantasy. So there. And it could have been a cheese fest, this one, but Boris Karloff shows that you can project pathos while wearing five pounds of makeup in a dark comedy — cementing his character’s status as one of the most iconic in horror history.
How it improves on the original: Shows the hell of being a monster, but isn’t afraid to laugh at its own silliness.

1. Toy Story 2
The amazing thing about this movie is that you don’t actually need to watch the first one to enjoy it. Rather than rehashing the adventures of the gang, Pixar followed their natural progression and development, continuing the path that they set in the first movie while being totally satisfying as a movie in its own right. You can even watch this first and the original Toy Story as a prequel — it’s that good.
How it improves on the original: Umm, hello? Villain in a giant chicken outfit?


Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a professional puppeteer. Her first novel, Shades of Milk and Honey, is being published by Tor in 2010.

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