Top 5 Cinematic 1-2 Punches
By Bret Dorman
(As always, potential SPOILERS! for the following movies)
What is a cinematic 1-2 punch? The best way I can describe it is when the first movie is good on its own. It doesn’t necessarily need a sequel. But then the sequel comes along and it specifically builds on what the first one did, is related to the story, and in most cases surpasses it in some way (but is not necessarily ‘better’).
The perfect example is Crank -> Crank: High Voltage. Crank is crazy, absurd, and its ascent into mayhem is nearly exponential. There was no need for Crank 2. Yet when Crank 2 did come out (and whoever read the script and greenlit it anyway… I love you), Neveldine/Taylor didn’t want to hold your hand. They built off the momentum of the first. They took the gimmick of the first and added on to it. Crank 2 is more craziness, more absurdity, and the mayhem rises at an exponentially exponential curve. Alas, I have retired Crank from my Top 5’s, otherwise I would pick it for everything… I’m sure I’d even manage to sneak it into a Top 5 Movies that Aren’t Crank.
Let’s take a look at some movies that are NOT good examples of 1-2 punches to further clarify what I mean…
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective -> Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls: Although Ace 2 is a good sequel, one that acts like a highlight reel from the first while adding tons of hilarious new jokes and a silly premise, Ace 2 does not really relate specifically to Ace 1 in any way other than its main character.
Rocky -> Rocky II: Rocky II exists really just to give people the traditionally happy ending they all wanted from the first.Blade -> Blade II: Whoever tells you Blade II isn’t one of the best action movies of the 2000’s is a liar. A damn dirty liar. But Blade II specifically goes out of its way to undo what the first one did. Same thing as The Incredible Hulk or Punisher: Warzone (which by the way Hulk spends its opening credits to retell the Hulk while Warzone takes literally 6 seconds to retell Punisher).
Batman Begins -> The Dark Knight: Yes, Dark Knight is great (flawed, but great). But like The Matrix or The Man With No Name (or Lord of the Rings I guess) it feels more like a trilogy. Sure some of the movies I list will be come part of trilogies or franchises, but they specifically feel like 1-2 punches where as the third and more feel like add-ons…
Kill Bill vol. 1 -> Kill Bill vol. 2: Supposed to be one singular movie.
So now that we we have all that out of the way… let’s get on with the barrage of greatness!
5) Clerks -> Clerks II
The Clerks pairing of movies is one of those situations where there was a pretty big gap between one and the next, but Kevin Smith handles that by making the sequel address the issue. Dante and Randall feel like they are older, with older people problems while still stuck in an adolescent phase. Clerks was about two friends talking while not really doing their jobs well. Dante was stuck up on a relationship and Randall was offending everyone all the time. Clerks 2 is the same. Yet all those conversations they have are different.
Clerks was shot in black and white due to budgetary reasons. But the world of Clerks is such a colorful world full of cartoonish characters and over the top dialogue. “Purists” of the first may have been upset when he decided to go very colorful with the second, but it just feels right. Clerks ends on a somewhat depressing note while Clerks 2 ends on a tad bit more uplifting one.
4) House of 1000 Corpses -> The Devil’s Rejects
House of 1000 Corpses is a fine, loving tribute to the horror films of the 70’s that has a very strong third act. The Devil’s Rejects though, is one of the best horror movies of the past decade. It takes the strong villains of the first and turns them into bickering, almost likable fugitives. William Forsythe plays the brother of one of the gunned down cops of the first and his portrayal as the crazy cop on their trail is more disturbing than the bad guys at times. It takes a lot to make someone cringe at seeing horrible people getting their comeuppance, yet that’s exactly what Rob Zombie manages to achieve.
Corpses manages to creep us out through sheer weirdness. The Firefly family is akin to the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They put on a very intimate talent show that goes from strange to confrontational and in a very bad way. Then with Rejects, Zombie switches the focus. The villains still kill and do horrible things, but now we also see them childishly beg for ice cream (tootie fuckin’ fruity to be exact). The family sticks together no matter what, allowing us to relate to them in one of the truly horrifying aspects of Zombie’s best work yet…
3) Back to the Future -> Back to the Future Part II
Okay so I’m going to break my own rules here. Technically BttF2 ends with a cliffhanger of McFly being sent back into the west. So technically it is a trilogy (the first could have been the end, its cliffhanger is a bit more ambiguous). BttF deals only with the past. BttF2 not only goes into the future-future, but excels when it is in the past of the first. The third one acts primarily as a fish-out-of-water time-travel western Michael J Fox movie. The first two feel more complimentary.
I swear at one time I saw a nice picture of this example but I can’t find it… Anyway, in Back to the Future, George McFly casually drinks some punch at the dance, then later acts a bit out of character when he punches Biff to win over Lorainne. It makes sense in the movie because Marty is trying to get his dad to stand up for himself. However, in Back to the Future Part II, when George drinks some punch it is shown just moments before that the punch is spiked with some whiskey. Giving George this liquid courage and tying in those small moments make BttF 1 -> 2 a more than memorable 1-2 punch.
2) The Terminator -> Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Okay, I can probably ‘retire’ The Terminators from my Top 5 as well. It was either this or Alien -> Aliens, which is also a fantastic 1-2 punch. But I gave Alien(s) some credit in its own franchise Top 5. And I’ve been advocating T2 as the most epic action movie of all time on the blog for some time now… but how can I resist?
The T-800 is unstoppable. Its scary. Its a killer. The T-850 is a bodygaurd. Its protective. It was a killer (“He’ll Live” is still one of my favorite parts). The T-1000? Forget it. Relentless. Merciless. Soul-less. But T1 -> T2 doesn’t just ramp up the fun, it raises the personal stakes and obstacles. Instead of just a killer cyborg, Sarah and now her son John have to fight a liquid metal morphing maniac AND assassinate some dude while taking out Cyberdyne. And what inspires Cyberdyne to create A.I. and mechanical beings? The Head Chip/Robot Arm specifically from the first. Sure, the series goes on in movie and tv form, constantly sending back the ‘unstoppable’ Terminators to do the job the previous ‘unstoppable’ Terminators couldn’t do, but really its the first to the second that have the most weight as a singular story.
1) Hellraiser -> Hellbound: Hellraiser 2
Let’s get one thing clear. I don’t just like Hellraiser 1 & 2. I fucking LOVE Hellraiser 1 & 2. Yes, all those moments you think are cheesy or stupid or silly or weird I genuinely love. Hellraiser just gets so many things right. The ideas of power, masculinity, femininity, pain, pleasure, demons, and the afterlife are all badass. Characters are constantly one upping each other and the movies have a good sense of cause and effect. One thing happens which leads to a character doing another. Its almost episodic without dragging it out.
Hellraiser deals with a woman, Julia, having an affair with her husband’s brother and eventually killing off a bunch of other dudes so he can slowly reanimate himself back to life and try to escape the Cenobites. It never holds back, showcasing some great special effects and weird BDSM outfits. Hellraiser 2 focuses on a doctor’s descent into madness, his love affair with the reanimated Julia, their quest for power, and Pinhead’s ultimate kind of redemption in a badass way. Frank makes a comeback and Kirsty is once again harassed by pretty much everyone. Hellraiser introduces us to hell and Hellraiser 2 brings us into it full force. Putting aside my critic cap for a second, I just love everything about these two movies. They hit me on a personal note and all the silliness and absurdity I am more than willing to buy into.
(Okay Hellraiser 3 sucked (The Chatterer replaced by a CD shooting Cenobite? Fuck you.) but Pinhead does have that nice moment in the Church.)
There you have it. I know a lot of you will personally hate me for not including The Godfather -> The Godfather Part II but I just don’t like them as a 1-2 punch as much. The first is good. The second is fine (I get why there’s the dual story but it just felt a tad awkward to me). I know everyone else loves them. But I’d take Pinhead over The Don any day… So feel free to comment below with other great 1-2 knockouts that left you dazed and seeing stars…