The first season of Ash Vs. Evil Deadflew onto the screen like a bat out of hell, exactly how Ash would have wanted it. Even though you can watch it with no prior knowledge of the film series, its technique in how it approaches what is and isn’t canon is also fascinating. Army of Darkness is out for sure, due to rights reasons, but the strict adherence to the first two films is admirable. When Ash and company made it to the near-perfect recreation of the cabin last year, I lost it. This is a project that cares about its source material but isn’t overly cloying with it. That said, season 2 is starting off a little half-cocked, even if it’s better than the vast majority of television at the moment.
Ash vs. Evil Dead has a perfectly executed tone that it immediately picks up where it left off in the season 2 opener with Ash slicing up a beer keg in a Hawaiian shirt in his “idyllic dream city” of Jacksonville, Florida — and that’s just the first few minutes. Somehow it manages to balance camp and horror on a knife’s edge, as the creatures are actually creepy, proving that practical effects still rule. This is a world we know so little about, and after decades of wondering what might have been we’re getting more and more — I’m still in awe that this show exists with each passing episode. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Sam Raimi and Joseph LoDuca (who worked with the former on the original soundtrack for the films) are involved. They’re veterans, and it shows.
That said, season 2 is playing things a little too close to the chest in terms of where it’s actually going. It’s captivating, but we’re mostly just getting teases rather than revelations, despite the big cliffhanger in the previous finale. We get to see Ash’s dad (who lives up to all of your deadbeat expectations), which is great, but there’s not a whole lot of chemistry there yet. If Jon Voight wasn’t so busy winning awards for Ray Donovan he would have been perfect here, but Lee Majors has the chops to grow. What I’m most interested in actually is the focus on Ash’s internal struggle with what he did at that cabin.
Upon returning home to the town of Elk Grove, Michigan, he’s immediately taunted by demons (and subsequently, locals) with the title of “Ashy Slashy,” a not-so-cute nickname that subsequently forced him to live a life of solitude. I like this angle because it shows that Ash is a flawed being, and despite his over-the-top heroism and luck, it cements that he really needs people more than ever. I mean, he did re-unleash the demonic horde onto Earth due to a drug-fueled slipup, after all. Evil Dead can’t rely solely on Ash, though, and I am a tad worried, as so far, Michelle Hurd’s character (Ash’s highschool girlfiend) is the only person I’m remotely interested in when it comes to new cast members.
Season 2 so far is pushing the reset button a little too heavily, but premium cable once again proves that it’s the perfect home for Ash vs. Evil Dead. It’s gruesome and vulgar, and Ash wouldn’t settle for less. While the current direction seems a little too wayward, Ash is the only real hook you need to keep watching — even if the (true to self) narcissistic focus on him keeps it from achieving greatness every now and then.
Disney’s massive blockbuster reboot of The Jungle Book really shouldn’t have worked. After all, their recent attempts to remake animated classics in live action have been tiresome at best, and they already did a live action Jungle Book reboot in the 90’s that was so disappointing you didn’t even remember it until I mentioned it. Yet somehow, not only is the film the best of their current “in with the old” Disney recycling projects, but it’s currently the best blockbuster on screens right now, period. Somehow, Jon Favreau found a way to mix the goofy charm of the 1967 animated adaptation, the dark adventure of the original source material, and a dash of Spielberg wonderment into a gorgeous package that succeeds on pretty much every level. I’m not sure how he pulled it off, but I am sure that after this, Favreau’s got to be considered one of the best blockbuster directors around, and not just an enjoyably quirky outlier.
So, the story is pretty much the same. Youngster Neel Sethi headlines as Mowgli, the young boy who was raised by wolves (yet inexplicably decided that he needed a loin cloth). He’s a happy part of the pack though, with a loving mother (Lupita Nyong’o) to guide him and a mentor panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) to look out for him. Unfortunately, there’s this big, jerk of a tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba, cast just as perfectly as it sounds) out there who hates humans. In fact, he demands that the wolf pack give over Mowgli to him for some good old fashioned kiddie eating. Bagheera doesn’t care for that idea, so he sneaks Mowgli out of the wolfpack and into the jungle. The destination is a human village, the journey is an adventure, and it’s all one big episodic parable about growing up. Plus, you’ll get to see the seductive snake, Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), the goof-off singing bear Baloo (Bill Murray, naturally), and the ambitious orangutan King Louie (here played by Christopher Walken, which might sound like a weird choice, but it’s kind of brilliant). Yep, it’s the Jungle Book alright, only with less songs and more adventure. Holy crap does it ever work well.
First things first. As a technical achievement, The Jungle Book is absolutely remarkable. Despite being animated entirely in a computer, the titular jungle is a vivid creation all too easy to lose yourself in as a viewer. It’s rich and full and coloured with seemingly limitless depth enhanced beautifully by 3D. The talking animals are themselves rather special creations. They’re created with naturalistic accuracy, yet speak and emote like people in a way that feels completely right. It’s not easy to make talking animals feel special again. Somehow these effects wizards pulled it off. It helps immensely that Favreau shot the movie from ground level (well, for the most part) and limited his digital camera moves to shots that would at least theoretically be possible in the real world. The film is shot with a Spielbergian sense of wonder, pulling the audience in and making them feel gobsmacked by digital creations in a way that’s much harder to achieve than it seems.
It helps immensely that Favreau assembled a pitch perfect cast to voice his CG creations. Whether it be Kingsley’s stately and honourable panther or Scarlett Johansson’s hypnotically seductive snake, there are clearly very human performances beneath the effects that bring them so vividly to life. The three major standouts are Idris Elba’s genuinely frightening Shere Khan (don’t be surprised if he’s too much for some children), Bill Murray’s hysterical, slacker-philosopher Baloo, and Christopher Walken’s mafia-don infused King Louie. Each takes a character already iconic in the Disney landscape and imparts them with their own distinct personas in a manner that reinvents them all as something fresh and endearing. At the center, Neel Sethi does admirable work for such an inexperienced young actor and nails all of his biggest and most important scenes. Unfortunately, there are times when the kid seems a bit dwarfed by the effects and lost in the green screen magic box, but never to the extent that it completely spoils the surroundings. It’s just an unfortunate reality that occasionally, the only completely human element on screen is the least lifelike.
Jon Favreau’s blockbuster reboot of The Jungle Book is an quite the impressive achievement. It’s infinitely better than anyone could have expected and may well go down as one of the finest blockbusters of the year even though the season has barely begun. Sure, the episodic film can feel a bit structurally lumpy and the meaning often gets lost in the spectacle. However, by the frequently disappointing standards of this particular brand of blockbuster filmmaking, there’s no denying that The Jungle Book is an unexpected success. Once again, Jon Favreau has proved himself to be the most unassuming of tentpole filmmakers. It’s getting to the point now that the only surprise when he hits one of these things out of the park is the fact that it’s taken for granted. He’s become one of the best filmmakers working on this scale rather quietly, and through established properties that aren’t his own. Hopefully sometime soon he’ll be able to launch his own, personal blockbuster without a “based on” credit. He’s gotten very good at what he does. It would be exciting to see what he’s capable of with his imagination allowed to run wild.
Recently, a lil’ horror movie called The Witch was released and caused quite a ruckus. Deservingly so, too. Rob Eggers’ film was one of the most striking horror debuts in recent memory. Combining art house drama with visceral thrills, the film is both intelligent and terrifying. It already feels like a contemporary classic and it’s nice to hear people saying such things about horror flicks once more.
To celebrate the success of The Witch, we thought we’d serve up a handy-dandy viewing guide to the top 10 best witch movies in movie history, mostly because we didn’t have time for 100 movies. Oddly enough, the Halloween costume staple doesn’t have as many endearing big screen treatments as you’d think. Sure, there’s that pretty successful film series with the school of witchcraft and wizardry, but other than that there aren’t too many great films out there that dabble in witchcraft and do it well. If The Witch left you hankering for more cinematic treats featuring witches, these ten flicks should help scratch that itch.
*Note The Craft is not included because I never loved that film. Sorry 90s teens. Please forgive me.
10) I Married A Witch (1942)
First up, a frothy romp. This mind-bogglingly delightful 40s comedy stars that goddess that was Veronica Lake as an ancient witch brought back to life in modern day (well, the 40s) to seduce one of the descendants of the family who burned her at the stake. Unfortunately, her target is too much of a Dudley Do-Right to fall for her witchly charms, so a love potion must be concocted. As we all know, love potions never work out as planned and lots of 40s wackiness entails (in the best possible sense). Certainly those sad folks who immediately balk at the idea of a black and white movie will run from I Married A Witch as fast as their legs can carry them. But for those wise souls who understand just how magically entertaining old Hollywood magic can be, this thing is an utter delight. It’s the greatest episode of Bewitched ever conceived, only better.
9) The Witches Of Eastwick (1987)
Decades before delivering the most greatest action movie ever made that doubles as a feminist parable, director George Miller combined sexual politics and genre thrills in this underrated gem. Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer star as a trio of repressed, small town women who accidentally form a coven and invite Satan into their lives while dreaming of the perfect man. Jack Nicholson plays the horny little devil in question, a casting decision that should sum up the goofball satirical tone of The Witches Of Eastwick rather succinctly. The title is primarily a clever, dark comedy, but when Nicholson’s devil goes on his inevitable rampage against the coven of heroines, George Miller and the ILM wizards serve up a spectacular light show. Another delightful witchy romp, only this time painfully dated to 80s cheese rather than 40s classicism.
8) The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
Look, you can’t have a movies list of great cinematic witches without including Margaret Hamilton’s green-skinned cackler who has inspired decades of childhood nightmares and countless Halloween costumes. If there’s a single greatest witch in the history of cinema, it’s The Wicked Witch Of The West. ‘nuff said.
7) Drag Me To Hell (2009)
When Sam Raimi left the Spider-Man franchise after making approximately a gazillion dollars and kicking off the Marvel movie revolution, the director could have made anything that he wanted. Thankfully for genre fans, he decided to dust off an old script from his horror heyday about a gypsy witch cursing a well-meaning young lady. Easily one of the finest horror flicks of the 2000s, Drag Me To Hell recaptures Raimi’s Evil Dead masterful mixture of slapstick comedy and jump scare horror to perfection. It’s a giddy sugar rush of witchy entertainment that never quite got the glowing reputation it deserves. It did fine in theatres and is well liked, but is considered a cult hit at best. It should be considered a classic, especially in the underserved genre of witch horror. Watch it again immediately. You’ll be surprised just how well the title holds up as a work of pure genre entertainment.
6) Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Along with the concurrently released Night Of The Living Dead, Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby kicked off the modern horror era. No longer was the genre limited to dusty castles and period settings. Suddenly, horror was contemporary and real. This quietly creepy title is more psychological than visceral, but there’s a reason it’s endured for so long: the shivers are still there. In particular, the movie brilliantly reinvented witches as creepy eccentric Manhattan neighbours (perfectly embodied in Ruth Gordon’s secretly sinister kook). The coven in the movie was terrifying because they could be all around you and you’d never know it until it was too late. Given that most of the horror in the flick is centred on the demon seed in Mia Farrow’s belly, the witches are typically forgotten. However, they are spectacular and should be remembered for the mundanely terrifying tone that Polanski found with his exquisite cast. (Note: if you prefer your witches to be of the cackling variety, check out Polanski’s version of MacBeth which features some of the most terrifying hag-ish witches to ever stink up the big screen).
5) Black Sunday (1960)
If nothing else, Black Sunday is the favourite film of every Hot Topic employee that they’ve never seen. The breakout film by the original Italian horror maestro Mario Bava, it’s a gothic masterpiece about a witch rising from the grave to exact revenge for the sins of the past. The incomparable Barbara Steele stars as that vengeful witch, delivering an otherworldly performance that instantly made her a horror icon and helped usher a generation of lost souls into puberty. The film has the bad dubbing and lapses in logic that are a staple of the Italian horror genre, but what Black Sunday lacks in its screenplay it more than makes up for it’s dankly beautiful atmosphere and terrifying lead. A masterpiece of cinematic gothic horror (one of those movies that lead to Tim Burton existence) that deserves even wider acceptance.
4) The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Yeah…I know…you never see the witch (unless you count the inexplicable Todd MacFarlane action figure), but still. The Blair Witch Project is one of the most important horror films ever made and the fear, panic, and dread packed in the film are all the result of an off-screen witch that deserves to rank amongst the great horror movie icons even though she’s never seen. After all, the title is basically a POV experience of being teased and tortured by the Blair Witch. She’s crucial to every frame of the film, even if she never appears on them. Plus, the movie remains just plain terrifying all these years later for viewers who love a good tease. The sequel isn’t bad either, although it’s tough to find Book Of Shadows supporters, even amongst those who made the movie.
3) Haxan (1922)
Speaking of mockumentaries about witches, here’s a special blast of horror from the silent era that deserves a bigger reputation. A fictionalized history of witchcraft filled with incredible effects, genuine scares, and imagery that will burn into your brain forever, Haxan is silent horror masterpiece that deserves to be remembered alongside Nosferatu. If you ever want to give yourself the willies, pick out a soundtrack of your favourite frightening music, turn off the lights, play it loud, and sync it up to Haxon. Good luck getting to sleep.
2) The Witches (1990)
If you were a child in the 90s, then chances are The Witches was one of the first films to truly terrify you. Based on a novel by the incomparable Roald Dahl (Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, duh), this tale of a little boy discovering a secret witch convention is a dark comedy for children that never holds back the horror when needed. Directed by the brilliant Nicolas Roeg (Don’t Look Now), the title is visually stunning and perversely funny, but when it gets to witch time, Roeg and the puppet wizards at Jim Henson’s company deliver images ripped from every child’s nightmares. Toss in some delightful performances by the likes of Angelica Huston as the queen witch and Rowan Mr. Bean Atkinson and you’ve got a kiddie picture that actually holds up remarkably well to adult eyes. Right up until the unfortunately softened ending, The Witches captures the twisted humour of Roald Dahl better than any other adaptation and should be remembered more fondly as one of the few family horror films that can creep out viewers of all ages.
1) Suspiria (1977)
Finally, we come to quite possibly the most beautifully crafted horror title ever made. Italian master Dario Argento took dated Technicolor cameras out of retirement to deliver a psychedelic nightmare about a ballet school run by witches that still packs of punch and offers a feast for the eyes unlike anything else. Sure, it’s dated and the dialogue can be pretty dire. Yet, whenever Argento crafts a horror set piece backed by Goblin’s astounding prog rock soundtrack (inarguably one of the best ever recorded for a horror flick), it’s impossible not to be impressed. It’s a visual masterpiece that feels like a nightmare caught on film and teases the eyes and ears like few movies ever made (of any genre). If you somehow haven’t seen Suspiria by now, but enjoy witchy horror films…well…then…I’m quite jealous. You are in for one hell of a wild ride. The sequel Inferno is also very much worth seeking out. It would likely be considered a classic were it not for the fact that it came after Suspiria and that’s pretty much an impossible act to follow.
Thanks to global warming, hitting March does not mean that we’re out of winter yet! In fact, we’re probably in the midst of the worst winter stretch. You know, that special time of year when the cold is at its coldest and everyone is so sick of it that things feel particularly dire. It’s that chapter in every winter season where most folks are over the novelty of snow and can’t even bother to pretend that they like being outside anymore. In other words, it’s the ideal season to be an indoor kid; a perfect time to snuggle up with some movies and avoid setting foot outside at all costs.
Some folks like to watch mood-lifting comedies or films set in the tropics during this butthole stretch of winter in the hopes of finding escape. Not me! Nope, this is the season to really dig into bitterly cold slices of cinema, because you can deeply relate to the plight of the characters. It’s the time of year when I like to dive into what I call “Winter Misery Movies.” There are many of these, more than you’d think. Best of all, most of them are genre movies in the corner of cinema that we specialize in here at CGM. Rather than keeping these especially harsh winter genre flicks to myself this year, I thought I’d share them with all you fine readers in a handy top ten list.
Now, this unofficial genre is so extensive that I couldn’t fit in all of my favourites, so feel free to check the “honourable mentions” sections below for a few extra titles if ten winter misery movies aren’t nearly enough to get you through the next few weeks. However, the following top ten titles are the ones to start with. They’ll take all of your bitter n’ cold feelings that spring from the winter season and transform them into nasty and bloody cinema. What could be better than that? For cynical and cinema-loving souls like myself? Nothing. So let’s dig in, shall we?
10) Snowpiercer (2013)
What better place could there be to start this list than an apocalyptic world of winter misery? Korean filmmaker Joon Ho Bong’s satirical action epic presents a world destroyed by a climate change experiment gone wrong, leaving the last remnants of humanity on a train perpetually touring the snow covered globe. Funny, biting, bloody, and relentlessly entertaining, it’s a genre movie delight (it stars Chris Evans, so delight is inevitable). However, also one with a bitter aftertastes that presents humanity in pretty harsh terms. You know, a feel bad work of pure entertainment. Stirring stuff that also proves that cold winter chill you’re escaping is only a few removed away from end-of-the-world territory when cast in the right cynical light.
9) The Hateful Eight (2015)
Quentin Tarantino’s latest effort snapped his recent hot streak of blockbuster success and it’s likely that even he saw that one coming. After all his Kurt Russell/Sam Jackson headlined Western is a nasty provocation rooted in all of the hate and prejudice found at America’s core. Sure, it’s also a fun drawing room mystery filled with hysterical dialogue and explosions of violence…but it is far from a nice film. It’s bitter and brutal. Not coincidentally, Tarantino set the movie in a harsh winter storm that forced all of his reprehensible characters in the same room together, a vicious room as inhospitable as the blizzard outdoors. That was no accident. It all fits in the piece. It might seem too soon to give The Hateful Eight a spot on this list given that it’s barely a few months old; however, I feel like the reputation for this flick is only going to grow over the years. So it makes sense.
8) Let The Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)
Ah yes, a depressing childhood vampire love story that could only come from Sweden. Tomas Alfredon’s heartbreaking tone poem is about alienation in all forms. It’s a tragic film dedicated to the lonely and the disenfranchised. Sure, it’s also a pretty fantastic vampire movie, but only in ways that suit the filmmaker’s more high-minded themes. It only makes sense that this heartbreakingly sad tale of tragic love and vampirism take place in the winter. That adds to the overwhelming mood of the piece in powerful ways. Let The Right One In has grown into a bit of a cult classic over the last few years, and justifiably so. It’s a beautiful little horror film and that word doesn’t typically apply to this genre. Controversially, I’d say that Matt Reeves’ American remake Let Me In is about as good as the original, for those viewers who don’t like subtitles. Sure, it doesn’t change much but that’s entirely deliberate and the few changes Reeves does employ tend to enrich the experience. There are few remakes worth recommending as much as the original. Let Me In is one of them. Both deserve a spot on this list.
7) Frozen (2010)
Unfortunately, Adam Green’s fantastic situational horror flick has gotten overshadowed in recent years since it accidentally shares a title with one of the most successful animated films of all time (I sure hope no parents accidentally rented this for their kids…but it’s terrifyingly possible). It’s a simple story about a group of friends who accidentally get trapped on a ski lift over a particularly frigid night, gradually transforming into one of the great survival horror flicks of it’s era. If you want to see the pure horror potential of freezing temperatures, let Adam Hatchet Green take you on a ride you won’t forget. Do not watch this movie if you have a particular phobia for frostbite—or maybe watch it specifically if you do. Depends on how much you like to confront your personal fears through filmed entertainment I s’pose.
6) The Grey (2011)
There are very few movies that I’ve ever seen as spoiled by a trailer as Joe Carnahan’s The Grey. It was designed to be a very simple and direct survival/action/thriller about a group of oil workers trapped in Alaska and surrounded by wolves with only Liam Neeson to help them survive. Walk into the movie with no expectations and Carnahan will take you on a wild and chilly ride with Neeson as your guide. Watch the trailer and you’ll see all the best moments ruined, including the damn ending. I don’t know what they were thinking. That trailer really spoiled this fantastic winter thriller’s box office potential, but thankfully enough time has passed that you finally appreciate the white-knuckle thrill ride as intended. Just do yourself a favour and avoid the trailer before watching the movie.
5) The Great Silence (1968)
Sergio Corbucci might not have the same reputation as his Spaghetti Western contemporary Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly), but he really should. Corbucci delivered a stream of brilliantly nasty and darkly hilarious Spaghetti Westerns through the late 60s that are desperately in need of rediscovery. Yet his masterpiece is likely The Great Silence. It has none of the humour as his other efforts, but doubles down on nihilism. The film stars the great Klaus Kinski as a bounty hunter who travels to an isolated mountain town filled with folks with bounties on their heads desperately trying to escape society. His goal? Kill everyone and collect all the money. Yep, pretty harsh stuff and in Corbucci’s hands it turns into a downright dirty and violent affair with one of the most surprisingly bleak endings in the history of the genre. Plus it’s sent in a brutally bitter winter setting that suits the cold-hearted nature of the film rather perfectly. Throw in a fantastically unsettling Ennio Morricone score and you’ve got yourself one of the most bleakly brilliant Westerns ever made. A tough movie to find, but well worth tracking down for any winter misery movie marathon.
4) A Simple Plan (1998)
After spending the first decade of his career making the most wilfully absurd and fantastical genre movies that he could dream up, Sam Raimi decided to play things straight on A SimplePlan and delivered quite possibly his finest film. A terse little small town thriller about a gang of locals who stumble upon a bag of money and tear each other apart over it, the movie has many obvious influences. Pitched somewhere between Fargo and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, Raimi dialled by his wild instincts to deliver a painfully real thriller that goes for the heart and the jugular. Billy Bob Thornton delivers quite possibly his finest performance and Raimi very carefully toys with tension until he has the audience in his trap and pulls the ripcord. A harsh and resonant little thriller in desperate need of rediscovery. It was generally liked in ‘98, but also somewhat rudely dismissed as a Fargo knock off thanks to the “blood in the snow” setting. Thankfully, time has done it’s levelling thing and now A Simple Plan stands on its own rather nicely.
3) The Shining (1980)
Proof that even staying indoors is no escape from the brutal horrors of winter. Also…you know…a masterpiece…like all Stanley Kubrick joints.
2) Fargo (1996)
There are so many things to love about the Coen Brothers’ brilliant Fargo and so iconic images from this mundane crime comedy that have burned their way into our collective consciousness. Yet the sequence that always sticks out in my mind is when a cold, lonely, and desperate William H. Macy marches across an empty snow-filled parking lot to scrape the ice off his windshield while contemplating all of his failures and the kidnapping scenario complicating them all. If you’ve lived through a crappy winter, you know that feeling. The Coens captured it beautifully and then placed it within quite possibly the greatest crime/comedy of the 90s…and given that the decade was essentially defined by that genre, that’s really saying something.
1) The Thing (1982)
Finally, there was only one movie that could possibly top this list. One of the finest horror films ever made courtesy of John Carpenter, a fantastic ensemble cast, one of the greatest beards ever grown (good work Kurt Russell), astounding practical special effects that might never be topped, and of course one of the most brutal winter settings to ever trap a cast in a horror film. Carpenter was at the peak of his powers when he decided to remake one of his favourite childhood horror flicks. He took a clever campy genre classic and elevated it to a perfectly executed horror masterpiece without a frame out of place or a theme overstated. Rob Bottin’s ground-breaking effects created genuinely uncanny imagery that once seen is never forgotten. It’s damn near impossible to find fault in The Thing and it’s also a horror movie guaranteed to chill you to the bone in the midst of the latest round of snowmageddon. There’s no movie better to transform your winter aches into genre terror. Watch it in a snowstorm and prepare for nightmares.
Honourable Mentions (Just in case those ten movies weren’t cold and miserable enough for ya!):
The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Hanna (2011), The Ice Harvest (2005), Insomnia (either 1997 or 2002), The Last Winter (2006), McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Misery (1990), Runaway Train (1985), The Thing From Another World (1951), 30 Days Of Night (2007)
Summer movie season is the land of too many sequels and has been for at least 30 years. Complaining about sequels is one of the most easy and common practices available to film critics, but it ignores one fact that is impossible to deny: plenty of sequels are really damn good. In fact, there are many sequels out there that are better than the original. Granted, we’re talking about the minority of sequels given that this is the cashiest of cashgrab genres, but that’s not what this article is about dangnammit! In a week when not one, but two sequels will be competing for the top slot at the box office (How To Train Your Dragon 2 and 22 Jump Street), we thought we’d take a look back at the top ten sequels that are better than the films that spawned them. This is how to do a sequel right, Hollywood. I know you’re not listening, but please let me have my moment.
10) Star Trek: Wrath Of Khan (1982)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture promised the first generation of Trekkies the film of their dreams that would prove that Star Wars movie was malarkey compared to their cherished Enterprise and its crew. What they got was a deeply boring movie that spent more time lingering on shots of spaceships docking that anything resembling an adventure. But, just three years later Wrath Of Khan came along to not only set things right, but deliver what remains the finest Star Trek movie even 30 years later. The movie was riveting, larger than life, and thrilling in ways the TV series could never be (and that’s just Ricardo Montalban’s prosthetic chest. ZING!). It was also a film that dared to kill off main characters for drama and provided a legitimate sense of dread and menace that could never be achieved on a weekly TV series that required a reset after every episode. In short, the film was the peak of the entire first generation of the Star Trek franchise and proved to be so successful that the film series continued for decades until last year when JJ Abrams essentially remade the picture and pissed off the fans for some reason (Oh Trekkies, you’re so adorable in your pop culture Puritanism)
9) X-Men 2 (2003) (plus X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days Of Future Past)
Hard as it is to believe now, back when Bryan Singer made the original X-Men movie in 2000, superhero blockbusters were not considered a sure thing. So, the director didn’t have the time, resources, or money to do the franchise justice. Plus, he faced the necessary burden of having to establish a whole world of characters while still trying to deliver a satisfying action movie. It wasn’t until X-Men 2 that Singer was able to make a proper X-Men film and delivered a sequel that managed to increase the action, deepen the meaning, and expand the characters established in the first flick in a far larger and more satisfying package. It’s a pretty spectacular piece of work that remains the best entry in the franchise. That said, First Class and Days Of Future Past at least equal X2 in quality because they benefited from advancements in special effects technology, increased budgets, and ambitious screenplays. The franchise is pretty fantastic sequel factory that should keep Fox in the blockbuster business for quite some time.
8) Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The absolutely massive success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man that kicked off with the first ever $100 million opening weekend can be attributed with the current summer superhero movie onslaught. But, as strong as that movie was, it was still marred by some distractingly cheesy blockbuster conventions (hello unnecessary Macy Gray cameo!) and Raimi’s directorial flourishes felt somewhat neutered. Then came Spider-Man 2, possibly the greatest superhero blockbuster ever made. The film defined the color palette, gently comedic tone, and stunning CGI action set pieces of the future Marvel Cinematic universe. It was also littered with direct references to the original comics (even mimicking famous panels), served up genuinely moving human drama, provided heaps of genuine laughs (hello JK Simmons playing the ultimate J. Jonah Jameson), and even allowed Raimi to add his personal brand of visual insanity to the proceedings (the Doc Ock surgery scene alone felt like it came ripped from a Evil Dead flick). It is in many ways a perfect Spider-Man movie and its only flaws are those inherent in the source material (let’s face it, Spider-Man has always been a soap opera with superhero interludes). The film is so damn good that no Spidey film has even come close to matching it. Maybe some day some filmmaker who isn’t named Marc Webb will get a chance to top Spider-Man 2, but even if Sony never lets that happen, at least there’s one Spidey masterpiece that exists for all time.
7) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
When it comes to sequels, bigger isn’t necessarily better. That is of course, unless you’re James Cameron in which case that sentence pretty much defines your entire directorial career. Cameron’s breakout movie The Terminator is a bit of a masterpiece in its own right, but it’s more of a horror film with a time traveling robot slasher than the over-the-top action delivery system the franchise is remembered as. It wasn’t until T2 that Cameron had the opportunity to cut loose and fulfill his wildest ambitions (it was the first time he mounted the most expensive movie ever made and literally every movie that he’s made since topped his own budget records). It’s a blockbuster that continues to deliver its thrills perfectly all these years later, filled with clever ideas like a liquid metal machine, crackerjack plotting that moves like a runaway train, astounding amount of physical action, groundbreaking digital effects that changed the way movies are made forever, and of course it features Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of its powers. Were it not for a couple of silly flaws like that deeply stupid thumbs up finale, Terminator 2 might even be a perfect movie. Though to be fair, as with all James Cameron productions the goofiness is a big part of the charm.
6) Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Night Of The Living Dead might possibly be the most important horror movie ever made, but George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead remains his masterpiece. This bright, colourful, and silly follow up to the original downer zombie movie was in many ways the antithesis of the original. But it was also a necessary evolution on Romero’s ingenious zombie concept. With Tom Savini at his side for the first time, Romero cut loose on gore like no film before and single handedly kicked off the splatter-flick trend that would define the next decade of horror movies. The sequel also came laced with biting social commentary about consumerism and human nature as well as introducing the idea of the slapstick zombie comedy before the zombie movie was a genre (there’s even a zombie pie fight in here people). This grindhouse hit that defied the ratings board was even recognized by critics in a time when no one took horror movies seriously and remains the greatest achievement in zombie filmmaking even after decades of follow ups. Few movies have ever been so influential, sequels or otherwise.
5) Evil Dead 2 (1987)
Much like Dawn Of The Dead, Sam Raimi’s batshit insane slapstick horror/comedy Evil Dead 2 was so influential that many people mistake it for the original entry in the franchise. Ask anyone to describe the Evil Dead trilogy and they’ll talk about Bruce Campbell’s legendarily deranged performance and the lovingly ludicrous comedy despite the fact that neither element hit its stride until this sequel. Following a 15 minute remake of the original movie (which Raimi had to shoot because the sequel’s budget was too low to be able to afford to use recap footage from the original movie), the director and star transform their cult horror movie into a live action Looney Tunes cartoon with buckets of blood. It’s hard to even pick a favourite moment from the movie. Is it when Campbell cuts off his possessed hand or when the furniture starts laughing at him or perhaps when Campbell delivers the most dramatic line reading of the word “Groovy” in the history of cinema? It’s impossible to decide, but also impossible to deny that Evil Dead 2 is just straight up one of the entertaining movies ever made. Without it, chances are the Evil Dead series would not be remembered as a genre classic.
4) The Dark Knight (2008)
Sure, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins changed the face of Batman movies forever, but it wasn’t until the sequel that the ever-serious directing Brit delivered the greatest superhero movie ever made. What’s even left to be said about The Dark Knight? It’s a movie that treats the source material seriously and pulls from countless classic Bat comics (The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, Gotham Central: Soft Targets, etc.) yet reinvents all of the influences to create something new that makes a potent statement about the relationship between control and chaos along with one hell of a visceral rush of Batman drama. Plus there’s Heath Ledger’s Joker, which is just one of the most iconic movie villains ever created. Sure, the third act features some missteps, but it’s unlikely anyone will ever make a better Batman movie (certainly not Zack Snyder at the very least). The Dark Knight is definitive proof that even big glossy superhero sequels can be art when treated with respect.
3) Aliens (1986)
The genius of James Cameron’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien was that he completely changed genres. Scott’s 1979 classic may have featured astounding set design, ageless special effects, and the greatest movie monster ever created (R.I.P HR Giger), but it was also a very slow-paced, atmospheric, and claustrophobic movie. Cameron’s Aliens on the other hand was a balls out action movie that traded in slow creeps for a non-stop adrenaline rush. It was an ingenious reinvention of hit movie that took huge risks with the source material (granted they were highly commercial risks, but risks nonetheless) to deliver one of the most purely entertaining popcorn movies ever made. In addition to reinventing the franchise and designing the iconic Alien queen, James Cameron delivered an amazing blockbuster screenplay that managed to ably introduce a half dozen characters before killing them off in elaborate ways, slip in some feminist discourse, topped one of the greatest effects films of all time with sheer spectacle, and even found time to have Paul Reiser eaten by an alien. It’s a movie that makes sequels look easy and a blockbuster that’s rarely been topped for sheer entertainment value.
2) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
George Lucas’ Star Wars may have changed the Hollywood film industry forever and remains one of the most perfectly conceived pieces of entertainment ever produced, but it was The Empire Strikes Back that made the series one of the most important cultural artifacts of the 20th Century. Star Wars is a masterpiece, but even with all of its rigid adherence to Joseph Campbell’s theories about heroes and storytelling, it remains first and foremost an homage to movie serial storytelling. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that the Star Wars saga became a myth, layering on levels of philosophy through Yoda’s mouth, delivering one of the most jaw-dropping final twists in film history, and daring to traumatize children with a harshly downbeat ending that offered little of the heartwarming, crowd-pleasing resolution that made the original such a success. Its a ballsy extension to a popular franchise that deepened its subtext while also improving the series’ groundbreaking spectacle tenfold (there’s a reason why Empire was the movie least affected by Lucas’ Special Edition tampering). The Empire Strikes Back is a timeless masterpiece of blockbuster filmmaking that not only works beautifully on its own, but somehow managed to make the original Star Wars even better.
1) The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Speaking of sequels that make the original movie better, you’ve got to bow down to Frances Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II as the ultimate trump card to play during discussions of whether or not sequels can ever top the original. The Godfather might be the most iconic movie of the series, filled with memorable moments that are enshrined in film history. But, it was Godfather 2 that elevated the pulpy series into full on art. Using a flashback structure that made the movie both a sequel and a prequel, Coppola expanded on his universe and transformed a gangster tale treated as myth into a deeply moving tragedy that cut deep into the heart of the myth of the American Dream and mined the depths of human nature. It’s a devastating piece of work that when combined with the masterpiece that proceeded it, just might be the greatest single achievement in the history of film. Now, let’s just pretend that The Gofather: Part III doesn’t exist. It’s easier that way.
Honorable Mentions:The Avengers (if that counts as a sequel), Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey, Blade II, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum), Bride Of Frankenstein, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, Gremlins 2, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, Hellboy II, The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, Toy Story 2
So with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on store shelves (unless you have an Xbox One, then you’ll just have to download it), and the movie out, there’s a lot of Spider-Man to digest. That doesn’t stop us from looking back and thinking about the best games the wall crawler has ever swung into.
The videogame accompaniment of the first Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie was pretty fun. Published by Activision, it was the first time gamers got to truly feel like they were swinging through New York City. It featured a pretty sweet boss battle featuring Shocker, and a cheat where you could play as the Green Goblin (badass right?). Unfortunately, some pretty rough voice acting by Tobey Maguire, and a wonky camera holds it back from being any higher. But it’s still a fun ride.
4) Spider-Man: Web of Shadows
Web of Shadows features one of the coolest plots in gaming. The Symbiote is taking over New York and a lot of the Marvel Universe gets infected. What is really cool about this title is how much every character is entwined in the story. Characters like Wolverine, Moon Knight, Kingpin and Luke Cage all find themselves into the plot at some point. There’s also a really cool duality as Peter Parker and the Symbiote merge together once again. And it was developed by Treyarch. Like the number 5 spot, some horrible voice acting, weird camera controls, and an unsatisfying Venom boss battle hold this back from being any higher.
3) Spider-Man: The Animated Series The Videogame
This title is brought to us by Acclaim. Venom, Dr. Octopus, the Green Goblin, Alyster Smythe and Alien Spider Slayer break out of prison and it’s up to Spider-Man to stop him. There isn’t much plot aside from the opening picture, but this side scrolling beat ‘em up is fun. There’s power ups, outside help from the Fantastic Four and a variety of Spider-Man villains all drawn from the 90’s animated series. If you haven’t played this one, you should.
2) Spider-Man 2
This Activision title is considered the definitive Spider-Man game, Spider-Man 2 is the follow-up to the number five on this list and is the video game compliment to the best Spider-Man movie ever made. What makes this title really unique is how players had to pay attention when web swinging. It made for a more realistic experience that hasn’t been duplicated since. It’s a really strong title… But it doesn’t match number one.
1) Spider-Man and Venom:Maximum Carnage
Serial killer Cletus Cassidy winds up with some of Venom’s Symbiote and becomes Carnage. This leads to Spider-Man and Venom teaming up to stop him. It’s a side scrolling beat ‘em up with cameos from Cloak, Firestar, Black Cat, Morbius, Deathlok, Iron Fist and freaking Captain America! When it came out, it got bad reviews. In reality, it’s one of the better games LJN published. It’s awesome gameplay, huge challenge and wicked soundtrack make it one of those games that you look back on and say “goddamn that was good.” Those are the Spider-Man games we’ve had the most fun playing here at CGM. What’s your favourite Spider Man game?
The combination of Joel and Ellie in the PlayStation 3 action game exclusive, The Last of Us, captivated people around the world, and as a result the Naughty Dog title is receiving the big screen treatment.
Neil Druckmann, creative director at Naughty Dog, will write the film’s script according to Deadline’s exclusive story. Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra, Naughty Dog co-presidents, alongside game director Bruce Straley are also involved with the project.
Screen Gems, Sony’s own production company will be distributing the movie, while The Evil Dead director Sam Raimi and his Ghost House Pictures company are also attached to the project. The capacity of Raimi’s involvement is still unclear.
Wells had some positive things to say about Screen Gems and Ghost House Pictures.
“Since our game released last June, we’ve talked with many companies about making a film, but we couldn’t have found better partners who share our creative vision and high standards.”
Arguably one of the most emotional games of last year, The Last of Us relied heavily on those elements alongside the survival-horror theme, resulting in a magnificent story-telling, and gameplay experience. Raimi’s extensive history with horror and character development should come into play nicely here. Though the initial reaction to this announcement is likely being met with sighs and shoulder shrugs, the talent behind the project is undeniable.
The question now is, who should play the main roles of Joel and Ellie? Ellen Page will be playing one of them right?