Usually, one knows what to expect when it comes to a sequel. If it’s based off a book or another type of material, then the story is already out there. If not, most of the time, there will be an effort to deliver more of the same, and no matter how progressive the sequel tries to be, it will at the very least be a pretty good reflection of the original. Mostly, but not always. My idea started from the first entry on this list, and I tried to find a few other sequels that were rather different from what came before them.
This was the so called patient zero on my list – it immediately sprung to mind when I thought about sequels that were very different. And, sure enough, it is the most different one on my list. Cloverfield came out back in 2008, and it was a sort of found-footage Godzilla. It played around with the amateur footage style popularised by Blair Witch Project almost a decade before, while taking a page out of Godzilla’s book in the ‘huge monster attacks american metropolis’ setting. Eight years later, its sequel came out, but it was an entirely different project. While indeed alluding to a major event that made the Earth uninhabitable, it plays out as a tense psychological thriller set in an underground bunker, where three people are forced to coexist despite inherently distrusting each other. The two couldn’t be any more different, or cater to more different audiences. It would help the cause if I reminded you that the sequel, The Cloverfield Paradox, is a space sci-fi, but that one I would rather forget about.
Back in 1979, when space exploration was almost monopolised by Star Wars, Ridley Scott came with an entirely different type of space sci-fi: Alien. A classic in both the science fiction and horror genres, Alien excelled at building a tense atmosphere, and a sense of psychological dread – considering that it is set on a civilian spaceship whose inhabitants are hunted, one by one, by a powerful alien being. While the alien returned in all its glory seven years later, in 1986’s Aliens, this one was quite different from the original. Set in a space colony infested by numerous aliens, the second film plays out as an all-out war, with some nail-biting action sequences, but not so many ‘up close and personal’ moments.
Somewhat similar was the case of these two films. The original was Pitch Black, a sci-fi drama that sees an escaped convict crash land on a barren planet, that is infested with some very dangerous creatures. What follows is a fight to survive and escape – a very personal drama with some intense moments, but all the while grounded within a certain threshold. There is no threshold in the follow-up, The Chronicles of Riddick – which moved into ‘save the world, oh chosen one’ territory, with all the baggage that usually accompanies such a direction: corny storytelling, big budgets and a high number of explosions. This was not at all well received, and the focus was shifted back to the original values for the third entry in the series, Riddick.
We’re going back in time once again, to 1981, when Sam Raimi had just released what would later become a true cult classic – The Evil Dead. This was essentially a horror flick that saw a group of friends arriving at a cabin in the woods, where they soon come to be hunted by demons. And while it did have a fair share of scary moments – the arrival scene, with the gate rhythmically banging against the wind, comes to mind – the very low budget on which it was filmed meant that some scenes were inadvertently funny. Funny even back in the 80s, not to mention if you watch it today with the expectation that you’re going to watch a horror film. Six years later, in 1987, Evil Dead 2 was released, but this one oversaw a quite deliberate change of flavour – it kept all the gory elements, but turned the whole thing into a horror comedy. Further sequels, such as Army of Darkness and the far more recent series Ash vs The Evil Dead, only served to cement the humorous spin it deliberately took.
Finally, we have the latest installment in the popular Rocky series, starring Silvester Stallone in probably some of his best ever roles. If we were to divide the series into categories, we would find Rocky and Rocky II in a category of their own – a more introspective character study, during which Rocky Balboa overcomes plenty of difficulties and doubts in order to prove himself. It’s a tale of character building and growth, that harmoniously combines with the more action-packed boxing scenes into a unitary whole. Then, we have Rocky III, Rocky IV and Rocky V, which went all sails ahead into full action territory, leaving aside the more slow-burn character development and instead focusing their efforts on shaping rivals and choreographing exquisite fight sequences. And then came Creed, taking Rocky’s journey in a whole different direction, while taking the very best out of the first instalments of the series and adapting them to the new context.