It stands to reason that if you enjoy a film, you’re going to welcome the thought of a sequel. A good movie creates an alternate world complete with intriguing story threads, a strong sense of internal logic, and characters that seem just as real to us than the people we meet every day.
If you enjoy being immersed in the parallel universe that a film’s screenwriter, director and cast have taken so much trouble to construct, aren’t you going to want to spend as much time there as possible? Actually, the answer to that question is often “no.”
Whether because they’re too idiosyncratic, too experimental, too complete in themselves, too open-ended, or too much a product of their time, there are plenty of good movies out there that don’t lend themselves well to the idea of a second installment. In some cases, the film is so one-of-a-kind that it would actually be diminished, not enhanced, by a follow-up – and as a rule the better the movie is, the truer this becomes. That’s why this list is entirely made up of iconic films that should be left just the way they are.
Presenting: the 15 Classic Movies That Should Never, Ever Get Sequels.
15. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Be honest. Are there three words in the English language more likely to strike fear into your heart than “Pulp Fiction 2”? There are a thousand reasons why no-one wants to see a follow-up to Tarantino’s masterpiece, but let’s just look at a few.
Firstly, there’s the movie’s experimental structure – no sequel is ever going to recapture that perfect balance and flow. Then there’s the fact that Vincent Vega (John Travolta) dies halfway through Pulp Fiction, robbing a potential sequel of one of the movie’s best characters. Finally, there’s the fact that we all need a little mystery in our lives. When Butch drives away on Zed’s chopper, it’s better that we don’t know where he’s going or what he’s going to do next. And when Jules Winnfield says that he’s going to “just walk the earth”, no one really wants to know what he means.
14. Lost in Translation (2003)
Just like Pulp Fiction, this movie ends with the perfect combination of closure (Bob gets to meet Charlotte one last time and whisper something into her ear) and open-endedness (but what’s he saying?). The whole point of Lost in Translation is that its protagonists are trapped in lonely, boring lives. They start the film like that and we know that after the movie ends things are going to go right back to the way they were.
The time Bob and Charlotte have together in Japan is a one-of-a-kind experience for both them and the viewer, something precious that can’t be replicated. This knowledge is what gives the film its unique bittersweet flavour. And even if the two almost-lovers do manage to find each other again and find another lonely hotel room where they can consummate their relationship, it’s better that we don’t know that.
13. Shawshank Redemption (1994)
So if a film’s good, it makes you want to see a sequel. If it’s really good it has you hoping for a trilogy or even a full-blown series. But if it’s perfect then you dread the very thought of it getting a follow-up. There are some films that are so well-crafted that you don’t even want to see an extended edition of them, and The Shawshank Redemption is one of those films.
The plot is absolutely perfect. It’s got the perfect beginning, the perfect middle, and the perfect end– and everything in-between is perfect too. Andy’s incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit, he makes the best of things, he makes a friend, he shakes up the system, he’s put through hell but never loses his determination to escape, and finally he makes it through the wall. The closing scene where Andy and Red reunite is one of the most uplifting movie endings of all time. If they were to make Shawshank: Some More Redemption, what would it be about? Would Andy be framed for murder again? Would he pay a visit to the inmates for old times’ sake? Would we be treated to a two-hour tour of his beach house? Better to leave things as they are wouldn’t you say?
12. Apocalypse Now (1979)
Apocalypse Now 2: The Apocalypse Continues would be wrong on every imaginable level. For one thing, the process of making the original film was so legendarily hellish that the thought of making a sequel must be the stuff of director Francis Ford Coppola’s nightmares.
For another thing, the film is utterly dominated by the figure of Kurtz. We spend the whole film wondering what he’s going to be like, and the scenes that finally do feature him make for one long, sustained climax. A sequel that continued on from his murder would have nothing to center itself on.
Another problem is that Coppola’s classic is a product of its time; a commentary on the Vietnam War that wouldn’t make any sense if it was taken out of its original context. While we’re on the subject, nothing about Apocalypse Now makes any sense. It’s got a one-of-a-kind madness running through it that no sequel could hope to approach. You can sleep easy, Francis.
11. Mulholland Drive (2001)
Speaking of movies that don’t make any sense… Mulholland Drive, rightly regarded as one of the best films of the 21st century, is another of those films that’s too bizarre for a sequel to work.
Ironically, one of the reasons the narrative is so difficult to follow is that director David Lynch originally conceived the project as a TV series. During most of the shooting, Lynch thought that he was creating a TV pilot, only to have the idea rejected when he was nearly finished. He wisely decided to provide the narrative with an ending that didn’t attempt to tie up all the loose ends he’d left scattered about.
The result is a film that isn’t tied to any of the certainties that we take for granted in everyday life: cause and effect, a stable sense of identity, the boundary between what’s real and what’s imagined, etc. But the movie’s not totally illogical either. It’s probably most accurate to say that it makes sense on its own terms: all the people, places, and events are connected by a kind of dream logic. That’s essentially what Mulholland Drive is; a cinematic dream. And when’s the last time a dream had a sequel?
10. Citizen Kane (1941)
There are a couple of practical reasons why a sequel to Citizen Kane would be a bad idea. Firstly, director Orson Welles isn’t with us any more, and he was such a unique talent that it’s hard to imagine the next installment retaining the flavour of his original masterpiece. Secondly, on any list of sentences directors don’t want to hear, “We want you to direct a follow-up to the most respected film of all time – no pressure now” would have to rank pretty near the top.
There are plenty of cinematic reasons too: as with Apocalypse Now, the central character is already dead; as with Pulp Fiction, the original movie had a structure that would be impossible to replicate; and as with Lost in Translation, a sequel would ruin the mysterious ending.
Finally, Citizen Kane is just as much a product of its time as Apocalypse Now. It’s a historical document of an era when American filmmakers were starting to bring avant-garde techniques into the Hollywood mainstream. To have anything like a similar impact, the sequel would probably have to be shot entirely from a first-person perspective, in one continuous take, using a 3D drone camera located on Mars.
9. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Admittedly it would be interesting to see what Frankie does after we last see him sitting alone in the diner where he once ate with Maggie. Scrap’s narration finishes with several tantalizing question marks: “Frankie never came back [to the gym] at all, Frankie didn’t leave a note, and nobody knew where he went… I’d just hope he found some place where he could find a little peace… But that’s probably wishful thinking.”
We’re not even told whether Frankie manages to make up with his estranged daughter or not. It’s unlikely he’ll ever return to training after what he’s gone through with Maggie, but given that boxing’s all he knows, how is he going to fill his time from now on? Will he make his peace with his decision to end his protégé’s suffering, or will he live with a guilty conscience for the rest of his life?
While it’s frustrating that we’ll never know the answers to these questions, the fact is that the answers wouldn’t satisfy us anyway. Any follow-up to Million Dollar Baby 2 would fall into one of two traps: it would either be unrealistically happy or realistically depressing. Either way, best to leave things as they are.
8. Cast Away (2000)
Even more than Lost in Translation or Shawshank Redemption‘s hypothetical second installments, any sequel to Robert Zemeckis’ classic would face the problem of what to base its story on.
If Chuck spent the film without once setting foot on a desert island, it wouldn’t be thematically close enough to the original movie to feel like a genuine sequel. If he did end up on an island, the movie would get panned for having the most implausible plot in the history of cinema. And if the new film had a totally different protagonist, we’d spend the movie wondering what happened to Chuck.
Besides, as with several other films on this list, the movie ends on a highly evocative, open-ended note that would be compromised by any attempt to describe what happens next. Fundamentally, Cast Away is about a major crisis point in the life of a normal guy. What he does before the crisis point is largely irrelevant, and what he does with the rest of his life is even more irrelevant. If you want to see more of Tom Hanks on a desert island you should probably just rewatch Cast Away.
7. True Romance (1993)
Out of all the films on this list, this one is probably the most suited to a second installment (which really isn’t saying much). Clarence and Alabama are a pretty wild pair, and it’s easy enough to imagine them getting themselves into another scrape involving apparitions of dead singers, murdered pimps, large bags of cocaine, short-tempered mobsters, twitchy film producers, violent henchmen, and hotel room shootouts.
But like Shawshank Redemption (which, incidentally, also ends on a beach) the movie just has one of those endings that’s too happy to spoil. We know in our heart of hearts that the two lovers are going to get themselves into more trouble sooner or later – most likely involving a mission to track down Coccotti in revenge for the slaying of Clarence’s father – but let’s forget about all of that and leave the happy couple staring at the sunset, holding their newborn baby in their arms.
6. When Harry Met Sally (1989)
When Harry Met Sally is the template for all modern romantic comedies, and understandably so: its love-hate dynamic is part of a grand tradition that dates back to Austen, if not Shakespeare.
Romantic comedies should be sequel-proof by definition. Miscommunication, crossed signals, stupid mistakes, rudeness, arguments, personality clashes and broken hearts are all highly entertaining. A lifetime of happily married bliss is not. And if a romantic comedy sequel were to attempt to bring any fresh drama into the couple’s story – infidelity, divorce, betrayal, or even just the odd argument – it would shatter the age-old Hollywood illusion that true love is a perfect thing that lasts forever. And we can’t have that.
In fact, this utter resistance to sequels could well be the reason that romantic comedies have gone out of fashion lately; it makes more sense for studio to stick to films that have the potential to grow into franchises.
5. Casablanca (1942)
Oddly enough, several people over the years have talked about making a sequel to Casablanca, one of the most idiosyncratic films of all time. Let’s just get this out of the way: it’s a terrible idea.
For starters, there’s that historical context problem again – the film was made during World War Two and sizzles with a patriotic, anti-Nazi energy that no filmmaker could hope to recreate today. Then there’s the chemistry between the film’s two leads, who are doomed to spend the rest of their lives apart.
The studio’s original idea was to make a sequel tracking the course of Rick and Renault’s “beautiful friendship” as it took them to the Free French stronghold of Brazzaville. But if there’s any chance that people would have cared what happened to Humphrey Bogart’s Rick after he lost the love of his life (i.e. the emotional center of the original film), then there’s absolutely zero chance that anyone will care about what a modern actor does with the character. Forget it, guys.
4. The Breakfast Club (1985)
The Breakfast Club was actually originally intended to have a sequel – several, actually, involving the characters meeting up again every ten years – but the difficult relationship between director John Hughes and Judd Nelson (John Bender) scuppered that plan.
If you were to pitch a sequel to the ’80s classic today you’d probably come up with something that acknowledged the 32-year gap between Breakfast Club 1 and 2, something along the lines of: “Where are John, Claire, Allison, Brian and Andrew now? Watch as they turn up to a school reunion to find that no-one else has showed up and they’ve locked themselves inside the building. As they wait for help to arrive, they reflect on the kids they used to be and the adults they’ve become. John turned out quite conventional in the end, while Andrew has settled into a job in accounts. Meanwhile, Claire sweeps floors for a living, Allison’s head of the PTA, and Brian is a high-level CIA operative. How time does fly.”
3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
There’s a type of sequel that would actually suit this film very well– namely the kind that’s thematically linked to its predecessor but doesn’t actually follow on from the plot or use any of the same characters (think the Three Colors trilogy).
It would be interesting to see another installment of Close Encounters in which the visiting aliens weren’t benevolent – and in fact Spielberg was working on just such a film before he decided to make E.T. instead. However, short of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) falling to his death during the closing credits, there’s no way a conventional Encounters sequel could be more unthinkable.
Spielberg’s 1977 passion project is the ultimate example of a film that needs to end on a note of mystery. Do you really want to see where the aliens take Roy or what he does when he gets there? What kind of metaphor for transcendence would the original ending be then?
2. Groundhog Day (1993)
High-concept movies generally don’t lend themselves to sequels, and that goes double for movies based on an impossible premise. If audiences would reject the idea of Chuck being stranded on an island for the second time, how much more would they object to Phil Connors finding himself stuck in yet another time loop?
There’s also the fact that Groundhog Day is a comedy, meaning the eternal-recurrence theme is mostly played for laughs. While Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis’ script manages to sustain the conceit brilliantly over the film’s 1 hour and 40 minutes, the joke would start wearing awfully thin if we had to sit through a further two hours of recycled gags.
1. Memento (2000)
Another high-concept movie, Memento owes a lot of its drama to its backwards structure. The way the viewer is forced to piece the story together bit by bit over the course of the film makes the big reveal at the end that much more shocking: no sooner have we got everything figured out than we’re told that we’ve been wrong about all of it.
If Christopher Nolan were to release a sequel that employed the same backwards-narrative framework, the novelty would have worn off and the ending couldn’t possibly have the same shock value (unless the movie ended with a completely different, but equally creative, twist. Which is unlikely).
On the other hand, if the sequel was told “forwards” then it wouldn’t have an awful lot to do with Memento. As with so many of the other films on this list, what we have here is a film that’s just too creative, original, and unique for a second installment to be worthwhile. In other words, it’s too good for a sequel.
Are there any other classic movies you’d hate to sequel to? Let us know in the comments!