Sequels are much maligned. They’re seen as lazy film-making, taking from a pre-existing audience and riding on its coat-tails. This can be the case, but such a notion is incredibly lazy in and of itself.
The Godfather part II, Empire Strikes Back, The Evil Dead II, Oldboy, Desperado, For a Few Dollars More and Terminator 2 all improved and built on the mythology of their original films and are rightly considered improvements. But that’s a discussion for another time…
What we’re looking at here are the films that seem to end of a satisfactory conclusion, but in actual fact need sequels far more than the casual viewer will realise. These are the films that, when you start thinking about it, you really want to know what happens next. Now they’ve established the rules, why not go further with them?
There are all sorts of blogs and postings around teh interwebz that tell you films which need a sequel because the poster wants one. This isn’t one of those. Some of these films are great, but many of them aren’t. To shoot a proper sequel to some of these films would be almost impossible, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have had one earlier. This isn’t “films we’d like to see follow ups to” it’s “films that still have some explaining to do”. Think of it as plot holes that we’d like to crawl into.
Also, as an aside, there might be some spoilers.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter)
As we know it: John Carpenter only makes movie gold or absolute, utter bum drivel. The man who made Halloween and They Live also made Ghosts of Mars. Big Trouble in Little China is one of his best, mixing the big kid 1980s action film with some clever special effects and Kurt Russell. It was basically The Goonies grown up. With Kurt Russell.
Why it needs a sequel: Most people will remember the main story of the film. Kurt and his friend try to save a kidnapped girl from a gang, only to discover the gang are actually working for an all powerful sorcerer who needs to marry a girl with green eyes to keep his youthful good looks. Kim Catrall – also green eyed – gets involved, gets harassed by thousands of year old monsters, gets kidnapped and eventually both girls get freed by Kurt. A job well done.
Only, the very last shot of the film shows Jack Burton’s (Russell) Pork Chop Express truck pulling away with one of the thousands-of-year-old monsters still clinging to the bottom. Sure, Burton has dealt with an all-powerful evil sorcerer, what possible threat could this monster pose? That was just there to toy with the audience, right?
Well, according to the original script, this particular monster is “the most horrific creature… thing… abomination… you ever saw. An unnatural monster of myth and legend, a Chinese wild man made of flesh and blood… the claws on his fingers that dig into Gracie’s arms recall only death”.
Aye, I think it might be a tough ask to get rid of him quickly, seeing as this particular monster is actually the Chinese Bigfoot…
Likelihood? Thankfully very little. Not only are we coming up for the 30th anniversary of the original film, but it’d be all wrong to suddenly touch on a plot point so far after the fact. Still, there is “hope” for some revisiting of the character, if not the series. There are comic books based on the ongoing adventures of Jack Burton, and sooner or later Hollywood will get round to making every comic book going.
Top Gun (1986, Tony Scott)
As we know it: Tom Cruise camps it up in the name of the USA; flying, shouting, standing in his pants, high-fiving other glistening bodies and hooting after taking down unnamed enemies from an undisclosed country. Glistening body high-fives all round, innuendos-a-plenty and the world saved in the name of Uncle Sam.
Why it needs a sequel: Now the last thing we’d want to do is think too hard about a Tony Scott film. His recent passing has meant that people (quite rightly) re-evaluated his work, discovered he was very good at what he did, and confirmed that he made films for the thrills rather than for the thought. Still…
The finale of Top Gun has Maverick taking down these mysterious enemy MiGs, which have – and this bit is important – attacked a US communications ship that has drifted into enemy waters. Now for starters the phrase “communications ship” is all well and good, but imagine for a second the cinematic reaction a Russian “communications ship” in 1980s America. Basically, a US spy ship got caught in hostile territory and came under attack.
From the original script we also know that this “hostile territory” was meant to be North Korea. If that’s the case, then the MiGs are going to have come from Russia. Still, the Russians and Americans would have been good enough to put their differences aside in the mid 80s, wouldn’t they? Oh. Right.
This was still at the peak of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan was launching his Star Wars projects to prevent nuclear attacks from Soviets, both countries were refusing to travel to the other for the Olympics and in 1983 there had been two false alarms in Russia which had suggested the US was launching attacks.
At best, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell kicks off an illegal war with North Korea, after shooting down their planes in their own airspace. At worst he gives the Russians all the reason they could ever need to formally declare war on the USA. Nice one.
Likelihood? Up until a couple of weeks ago there were concrete plans to make a sequel to Top Gun, with Cruise reprising his role. Were we likely to get a meditation on the possible World War Three that his character must have kicked off? Unlikely. It’d have been a gun stroking, tech-happy plane-porn. Tony Scott’s death means the chances of the sequel are unknown.
Cape Fear (1991, Martin Scorsese)
As we know it: In one of the better remakes of the last three decades, Robert de Niro’s Max Cady gets out of prison 14 years after being left to rot by his former lawyer, Sam Bowden. Cady sets about making Bowden’s life hell: psychologically tormenting him, raping his colleague/mistress, poisoning his dog and setting about his family. Eventually, Cady and Bowden have a showdown on the family houseboat, and Bowden hand-cuffs Cady to the sinking boat, hitting him in the head with a rock to make sure he sinks.
Why it needs a sequel: There are a series of plot holes in this that all add up to what could be a very interesting legal drama. First of all, in the film Cady has served his time, getting 14 years for rape. In the eyes of the law he’s a former criminal, not a current one. Meanwhile, during the course of the film Bowden first hires a private investigator in an attempt at scaring Cady away, the conversation of which is recorded, and then hires three goons to assault his former client. This is discovered by the police, who disbar Bowden from practicing law and place a restraining order on him. At this point, the only criminal is the “good guy”.
Cady then breaks into Bowden’s residence, kills the private investigator in the house and follows the family to their house-boat. After fighting with Bowden he is eventually hit with a rock and handcuffed to the sinking boat. The bad guy is vanquished and the family can all be together again without the psychotic criminal chasing them down, yeah?
Think how this looks to the police. A former criminal gets out of jail and his former lawyer doesn’t like the look of him being on the outside. He repeatedly reports the newly free man for crimes of which there are no evidence, hires a PI to intimidate him to leave town and then hires a gang to give him a doing. That’s what the police know.
A couple of days later and the private investigator turns up dead in the house of the lawyer and Max Cady’s body is retrieved from the river, handcuffed to the side of a boat and with a rock-shaped hole in his head. How does Bowden explain all of this? Cady’s gun went over the side of the boat and the only other (alive) person who could testify to his crimes is Lori Davis, Bowden’s colleague, who refuses to do so because the police will ask questions about her promiscuous lifestyle (which presumably includes time spent with Bowden).
At best Bowden is going to lose his family to revelations about his private life and a drawn out murder trial, at worst he’s going to be charged with kidnapping and first degree murder. In North Carolina. Which has the death penalty.
Likelihood? Not bloody likely.
Independence Day (1996, Roland Emmerich)
As we know it: Aliens invade the earth, blow up some monuments and generally wreck shit up good. Then Will Smith discovers that being from another planet doesn’t make you invulnerable to a good ol’ American haymaker, a computer virus is introduced as a weapon by and for people who don’t really know what one is (it was 1996) and Randy Quaid’s bark-at-the-moon crop duster goes all hari-kari to save the world. The president is shown to be a lead-from-the-front war hero, the Fresh Prince pumps it up and all is right with the world again. Right?
Why it needs a sequel: The tagline to this was “the question about whether we are alone in the universe has been answered”. Yes, but only in a one word answer.
Not only do the population of earth realise there are other lifeforms out there, but at least one of them are genocidal tyrants. In the film we see downtown Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and numerous other landmarks levelled to the ground. What is the body count here? Hundreds of millions? Billions? You do notice that the aliens didn’t attack Scotland, but then again, if the Romans couldn’t do it neither could they. Then again, I digress…
So the survivors of this attempted alien invasion are not only tasked with rebuilding The World, they know that there are beings from outer space who quite fancy dealing out death. Earth’s technologies aren’t really up to finding these invaders, so the paranoia make the Cold War seem fairly mild. Presumably the invading army of the original film wasn’t all of their species? And nobody that builds a 20-mile diameter space ship for the purposes of gunishment takes a kicking from Dr Rex Martin from Brain Dead without thoughts of retribution.
Likelihood? Pretty good, if you refer simply to the chances of it happening. Roland Emmerich says he’s going ahead with two sequels (with or without the involvement of Will Smith), so it’s certainly on the cards. Will we see the kind of post-apocalyptic, paranoid investigation into what a post-war earth would be like? Or will we get a bigger, explodier, 3D rehashing of the original…
American Gangster (2007, Ridley Scott)
As we know it: American Gangster follows the real-life story of Frank Lucas, a good-hearted man trying to get out of the ghetto by selling drugs, and Richie Roberts, one of seemingly few non-corrupt NYPD officers in the 1970s. The story fishtails two character’s lives as Lucas attempts to avoid the mafia and the attentions of the bent cops, while Roberts aims to take him and his like down, while cleaning up the police operation. The film ends with Lucas striking a deal with Roberts to avoid the maximum prison sentence in return for information that will stop the heroin trade and lead to the arrest of the corrupt elements of the NYPD. Roberts goes on to become a lawyer, while Lucas goes into witness protection.
Why it needs a sequel? This is all to do with the post-script of the film. After watching the lives of these two characters intertwine for two hours, we are left with a seemingly satisfactory conclusion: the good guys won and the police were cleaned up. But then we get a freeze frame and an explanation of what happened next.
Four years after the events of the film, Frank Lucas was caught trying to sell heroin again. With his background, he was likely to receive a huge sentence, and bring unwanted attention from the sort of people who a drugs whistle-blower doesn’t really want to know. Fortunately for him, he got off lightly with a four year prison sentence thanks to his lawyer, Richie Roberts. Wait, what?
Yes, after spending years trying to take Lucas down, and eventually growing to respect him for his part in cleaning up the NYPD, Roberts became a lawyer and actually represented the man he was chasing for over a decade in a huge trial. Surely that’s your film, right there, not as a post-script?
Likelihood? Never going to happen, and with numerous director’s cuts and extended editions, the ending is even more diluted and questionable. In some versions they even end on this…
…which is either a very sloppy way to cast back to Lucas’ earlier glories, or a suggestion that he took revenge after going into witness protection. If it’s the latter then it is even more of a missed opportunity.