Very rarely does lightning strike twice. When a movie becomes successful, the first instinct of the studio is to make a sequel as soon as possible. Once the law of diminishing returns kicks in, however, we find that many sequels are criticized for being derivative of their predecessors, and rightly so.
Sometimes, a sequel opts not to replicate the success of the original, but to explore a new direction. The films on this list refused to be beholden to the rules of their predecessors, and offered uniquely different experiences from what audiences may have been expecting. Here are 12 Sequels Which Were Way Different Than the Original.
Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction film, Alien, is one of the most endearing classics of all time. Its unrelenting claustrophobic horror in a post-Star Wars world was completely unprecedented, as was the legendary design of the creature, which was ripped straight out of the nightmares of artist H.R. Giger. One of the biggest and worst-kept spoilers of all time is that Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is the sole survivor, rather than Captain Dallas, played by the top-billed and more famous (at the time) Tom Skerrit.
For several years, James Cameron’s passion project was a sequel; after the success of The Terminator, Cameron got his chance, and, in 1986, seven years after the original, Ripley returned in Aliens. This time, instead of one creature aboard a ship of civilians, the plot focuses on a whole colony which has been infested with hundreds of the vicious monsters, who go up against a crack team of hardened Colonial Marines, macho soldiers with big guns and lots of ammo.
Fans continue to argue about which is better, Alien or Aliens, which is beside the point. They’re both scary and exciting films, but for totally different reasons. Alien is intimate and oppressive; Aliens is a brutal war film with massive explosions and in-your-face combat. But it was more than just guns and machismo, as the relationship between Ripley and Newt can attest; Sigourney Weaver was even surprisingly nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role as one of science fiction’s greatest survivors.
11. Evil Dead 2
Sam Raimi’s first film was the microbudget horror masterpiece, The Evil Dead. Bruce Campbell starred as Ash Williams, the sole survivor of a group of friends whose vacation to a cabin in the woods goes horribly wrong when they’re attacked by an evil force which turns Ash’s dead friends into murderous zombies called Deadites. The Evil Dead possesses a unique blend of genuine horror and the unintentional comedy that comes from a ridiculously minuscule budget.
The sequel, Evil Dead 2, was released in 1987, six years after the original. Raimi and Campbell were able to secure an actual budget (only $3.5 million, but that’s certainly leagues above the production of the original film, $500,000.) and real actors! But even wilder, Evil Dead 2, while still full of its fair share of scares, is overtly a comedy; this sequel takes the horror tropes of the original film, and makes them hilarious. There’s probably more fake blood in Evil Dead 2 than in every Friday the 13th film put together, and most of it ends up on Ash’s face.
The second sequel, Army of Darkness, ratchets up the hilarity even further, with Ash being transported back through time and fighting monsters in the Middle Ages. It’s totally bonkers, and it’s glorious. More recently, Ash showed up in both the recent reboot of Evil Dead and the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead, but they both lack the manic magic of Evil Dead 2.
10. The Chronicles of Riddick (Sequel to Pitch Black)
David Twohy’s Pitch Black was a surprise hit, both critically and commercially. Vin Diesel starred as Richard B. Riddick, an escaped convict on a transport ship which crash lands on a seemingly-barren planet. When the planet is revealed to be populated with ravenously violent creatures, Riddick must team up with the survivors of the crash in an effort to survive and escape.
Four years later, Twohy and Diesel returned with a sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. Rather than the sci-fi horror and character-driven intimacy of the first film, Chronicles went full-tilt into Space Opera territory, with big budget special effects, gigantic action setpieces, and a grand adventure about Riddick being the chosen one who will save the galaxy…
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out the way producers intended. The Chronicles of Riddick bombed at the box office, only barely earning back its production budget in worldwide ticket sales, and critical reception was mostly negative. After Vin Diesel became one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, he was able to return with a third space movie, simply called Riddick, which returned to the style of the first film, mostly ignoring or glossing over the developments of the first sequel. We’ll just have to wait and see if Riddick’s Space Opera side ever gets another shot at glory.
9. The Road Warrior (Sequel to Mad Max)
George Miller was a successful medical doctor who created experimental films on the side. His first true feature was Mad Max, the iconic “aussie-sploitation” film about fast cars and the cops and robbers who drive them. Human civilization was intact, but noticeably on the brink of imminent collapse. The film’s smashing success made Mel Gibson into a star, though his voice was dubbed-over in the film’s initial American release.
The sequel, The Road Warrior (also called Mad Max 2 in certain markets), begins with the titular Max living in the new world, a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The Road Warrior continues the first film’s fascination with cars and machismo, but evolves the setting in such a way that one would be forgiven for not even knowing the two films were related. The Road Warrior pretty much single-handedly invented the modern post-apocalyptic setting, and its influence is still felt in Hollywood movies and video games to this day.
It’s also the world that further sequels Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Mad Max: Fury Road are set in.
8. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Halloween and Halloween II tell a complete story about psycho serial killer Michael Myers terrorizing the residents of a small Illinois town. Jamie Lee Curtis stars as Michael’s secret sister and main target, Laurie Strode, and the great Donald Pleasance plays Dr. Samuel Loomis, Michael’s psychotherapist. The second film ends with both Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis dead, and Laurie forever traumatized.
Halloween III was completely disconnected from the Michael Myers story, as the producers attempted to anthologize the series with brand new Halloween-themed situations. So, instead of a slasher claiming victims in a suburban setting, the story of Halloween III: Season of the Witch involves a corporate conspiracy to sacrifice children in the name of sorcery via a commercial which will summon insects to kill them. Yeah, it’s weird.
Halloween III was written-off by critics and fans who were hoping for more of the same slasher action they had gotten used to, and which was just starting to catch on by 1982. In 1988, the series returned to form with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Thirty years on, however, Halloweens 4-6 are happily ignored, while Halloween III has developed a surprisingly healthy cult following.
7. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Vin Diesel and Paul Walker starred in The Fast and the Furious, a derivative Point Break rip-off with some decent acting and fun car chase sequences. Vin Diesel jumped ship for the sequel, the ridiculously titled 2 Fast 2 Furious, in which Paul Walker teamed up with the charismatic Tyrese Gibson to kick butt. Superfluous CGI races notwithstanding, 2 Fast is a pretty decent movie, thanks mostly to the palpable chemistry between Walker and Gibson.
For part three, Tokyo Drift, neither Walker nor Gibson elected to return, and the plot was shifted accordingly; the new, teenage protagonist was played by Lucas Black (the kid from Sling Blade!), and his story is a relatively more laid-back tale about juggling school and street racing, which eventually escalates to life-or-death stakes… To say nothing of the change in scenery and racing style to Tokyo and drifting, respectively.
After original stars Walker and Diesel returned to the series in Fast & Furious, the confusingly titled fourth film of the franchise, the series retooled itself yet again with Fast Five, which turned the series into a straight-up blockbuster action series. The latest entry, Furious 7, is currently the sixth highest-grossing movie of all time worldwide, so, love them or hate them, the F&F movies are here to stay!
6. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created Raiders of the Lost Ark and introduced the world to the swagger of its 1930s throwback hero, Indiana Jones. He kicked butt, kissed girls, and killed tons of evil Nazis in his quest to recover the Ark of the Covenant. When the time came to continue the adventures of Harrison Ford’s instantly iconic archaeologist, Lucas and Spielberg elected to craft a prequel. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom featured Indy, plucky sidekick Short Round, and annoying romantic interest Willie Scott, traveling to China and India for an adventure which took many of the elements from the first film (Nazis, Judeo-Christian mythology) and completely ignored them.
Temple of Doom is sometimes derided by fanboys as being a lesser film than Raiders or subsequent sequel The Last Crusade, which returned to the “Classic Indy” formula of racing Nazis to a Christian artifact, but we still love Temple of Doom, in part because it dared to try something new and not rest on its laurels. Seeing an Indiana Jones imbued with righteousness and saving children from slavery still raises our spirits every time we see it. With an Indiana Jones 5 on the way, we’re really hoping for the triumphant return of Short Round. Perhaps he could be played by Byung-hun Lee. We love that guy!
5. Terminator Salvation
Arnold Schwarzenegger is The Terminator. There is no substitute. While nearly every single character in the Terminator film series has been recast from sequel to sequel, Arnold’s presence is the constant that keeps the series intact… Until part 4, when he was busy governing the State of California. Aside from being almost entirely Arnold-less, Terminator Salvation is set entirely in the post-apocalyptic future which only appeared sparingly in the first three films.
Salvation starred Sam Worthington as a mysterious wanderer who fights alongside Christian Bale’s eye-rollingly miscast John Connor against the mechanized menace of Skynet. The movie’s climactic showdown is a battle between our heroes and the first ever T-800, as played by a CGI facsimile of Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of the most promising new technologies of 21st century filmmaking is the act of using computer graphics to create a photo-realistic version of an actor as he appeared in a different era. We’re definitely not totally there yet, but we’re getting closer every year – just look at young Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War. CGI Arnold looks decent enough, though he doesn’t emote or speak, and quickly gets his face blown off with a grenade launcher.
Terminator Genisys returned to the time-traveling adventures of Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, and brought back Schwarzenegger in the lead role, but was plagued with more problems than we’re willing to go into here. Although we suppose it just wouldn’t be a Terminator sequel if it weren’t hotly contested by the fandom.
4. Rocky III & Rocky IV
Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky Balboa, and Creed are intimate character dramas which happen to revolve around showstopping boxing matches. They’re the most beloved entries in the series, by a wide margin, with Rocky Balboa (and later young Adonis Johnson Creed) overcoming adversity and self-doubt, not to win, but to prove to themselves that they can go the distance. Whether one has a passion for the sport or couldn’t care less about punching people in the face whilst shirtless, it’s a timeless message which resonates strongly with anyone in possession of a human soul.
Rocky III and Rocky IV, however, are about larger-than-life cartoon characters beating the tar out of each other in an action-blockbuster spectacle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s a decidedly different direction than the more cerebral entries in the series. Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago are memorable villains, with Drago even having surprising depth as a character. We would love to see him return in a future film and make some kind of peace with Adonis Creed. Such a scene has the potential to be the kind of spectacularly emotional sequence only possible with the decades of history that encompass the Rocky saga.
Meanwhile, there’s also Rocky V, the one that sucks.
3. Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible was a wildly popular 1960s television drama starring Peter Graves, about the Impossible Mission Force, a squad of elite agents who excelled at espionage and undercover missions. Tom Cruise recruited director Brian De Palma to bring the IMF to the big screen, and they succeed in grand fashion, with an epic spy story featuring more backstabbing and double agents than even the most devoted genre fans could keep track of.
When it came time to create a sequel, Cruise and company decided to go in a different, more action-oriented direction. While the first film had plenty of hair-raising chases and exciting setpieces, it was more of a paranoid thriller. For Mission: Impossible II, John Woo was hired to bring his Hong Kong brand of gorgeous gunfights and unparalleled action sequences to the franchise.
As a result of its massively marketable action (as well as Cruise’s impossibly beautiful hair), Mission: Impossible II became the highest grossing film of 2000, in terms of global box office. The best part of the Mission: Impossible film franchise is that one never knows what to expect. Cruise keeps things fresh by hiring a new director every time, each bringing their own unique style to the series in an effort to surprise and entertain audiences, and we haven’t been let down yet.
2. Rambo: First Blood Part II & Rambo III
Sylvester Stallone has a certain reputation among more cynical internet circles; his memetic manliness has given him an unjustified reputation as being “dumb muscle.” We only have two words for the Stallone haters out there: First Blood.
Based on the 1972 novel by David Morrell, First Blood features a raw and powerful performance from Stallone as John Rambo, a PTSD-stricken Vietnam War veteran who finds himself harassed by a small-town sheriff, played by Brian Dennehy. Pushed past his breaking point, Rambo is compelled to declare war on “Jerkwater, USA” and all hell breaks loose. While First Blood features plenty of action and a handful of impressive explosions, the body count is only one, a single sheriff’s deputy who, let’s be honest, totally deserved it. The film is less memorable for its action and excitement than it is for its indictment of our obsessions with masculinity, hunting, and warfare.
The first two sequels are full-on action movies, more-or-less in line with the testosterone-rich image most often associated with Stallone. Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rambo III still maintain the political themes of the original to an extent (Richard Crenna’s Colonel Trautman compares Soviet action in Afghanistan to American intervention in Vietnam, to great effect), but err much more strongly on the side of being balls-to-the-wall action movies with screen-encompassing explosions and other hallmarks of 1980s testosterone-laden spectacle.
2008 brought the character back for one last fight with Rambo, which, for our money, is the best entry in the series. It truly explores Rambo’s psyche to an extent that the earlier sequels neglected, and features unexpectedly brutal violence in the vein of Sam Peckinpah, director of The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs, who always made such scenes as shockingly realistic as he possibly could, to avoid glamorizing the act of taking a life.
1. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek is ostensibly a franchise about the crew of space explorers, seeking out new life and new civilizations… And yet the Enterprise crew’s greatest mission was a light-hearted romp through 1980s San Francisco.
After the emotional gut punch of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the polarizing melodrama of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, director Leonard Nimoy (who also played Spock, but all good Screen Rant readers already knew that) opted to take the franchise in a different direction; after multiple films of gloomy drama and angsty plotlines, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is all about Kirk, McCoy, and company travelling back in time to the 1980s in an effort to recover a pair of Humpback Whales to bring back to the future.
Hilarious fish-out-of-water antics ensue, and it’s an exercise in sheer, unadulterated joy. Star Trek was always broad and varied in its television incarnation, but making a full-blown, big-budget motion picture out of a Star Trek comedy story was a huge gamble… But it paid off. The Voyage Home was the most financially successful Star Trek movie yet, and would remain so until the release of JJ Abrams’s Star Trek, over 20 years later.
There you have it. What sequels can you think of that openly broke the rules of their franchise? What’s your favorite Rambo movie? Sound off in the comments below!