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The Best (and Worst) Movies of 2013: Sequel Edition

Sequel. Does the word bother you? Annoy you? Cause repressed feelings of anger and annoyance to swell in your chest?

Despite how you might feel about them, one thing is clear: they’re here, and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon in our modern age. And as much as we might groan about every new announcement of a film with a number in the title, it’s hard to dispute the logic; after all, history has proven that many sequels within franchises go on to not only earn as much as the original, but in many cases manage to beat its box office numbers come release weekend.

2013 was no exception to this rule and saw the release of a bevvy of sequels, all ranging from successful iterations on massive franchises to terrible follow-ups that no one asked for. For the sake of celebrating the year and steering you away from the productions that might make your eyes bleed, here are the best and worst sequels released in 2013.

THE BEST SEQUELS OF 2013

Fast & Furious 6

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The Fast and Furious franchise is one that has evolved over the years from being a hardened and adrenaline-fueled action franchise for car geeks into a crazy, no-holds-barred series of films unafraid to venture even into the strangest of territory. A venture to Tokyo? Why not? The gang wants to pull off a heist? Seems like an obvious choice. Take down a criminal mastermind in a globe-trotting, action-packed adventure? It ain’t no thing.

Strangely, it’s the franchise’s ability to embrace craziness that has allowed it to evolve into the successful behemoth it is today. And although they might not mirror Shakespeare in their ability to craft meaningful character development and dialogue, the films are well made and a fun sight to behold. Fast & Furious 6 took the crazy to new heights and delivered on the action, checking all the boxes and releasing as one of the best and most successful sequels of the year.

Despicable Me 2

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It’s hardly surprising that the Despicable Me franchise has reached its current level of popularity, simply because it hits on nearly every point of the typical animated film: cute and comical side characters in the minions, relatable characters in lead roles, well-delivered visual gags and physical comedy, and a sense of whimsy only achieved through the magic of animation. The formula worked well for the original film, helping it score over $500 million dollars worldwide on a $69 million dollar budget.

Due largely to the success of the first film, it wasn’t at all surprising to learn that a second Despicable Me film was in the works and targeted for release in 2013. And while so many children’s film sequels fall short of upholding the legacy of the originals, Despicable Me 2 was a nice outlier that evolved the story in new and inventive ways while still staying true to the conventions that made the original so memorable. We saw a return of the lovable supervillain Gru and his three adopted daughters, related to their ever-changing dynamic as the girls grew up, enjoyed the times the quirky Minions appeared on screen, and experienced a plot that took some creative liberties in changing the way we felt about many of our established characters.

Despicable Me 2 isn’t perfect. There are plenty of comedic moments it tends to over-farm, and some of the plot developments are a bit rote and leave something to be desired. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s a fun and endearing animated sequel that thankfully felt more creative and substantive than most.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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The second film in the young adult novel adaptation series, Catching Fire succeeded where so many sequels fall short: it took the basic facets of the original film, explored them with more depth, and expanded on them in virtually every way.

The delicate political climate conveyed in the books failed to really resonate on screen in the first film, but the events that transpired in the midst of Katniss’ and Peeta’s victory tour around Panem served to truly capture the threat of the burgeoning revolution in a sobering way. Relationships between Katniss and the other characters in her life found new levels of depth and development, and the action sequences, although often delivered with gratuitous amounts of shaky cam and once again reduced to PG-13 levels of violence, were a massive improvement over what we saw in the original.

The Hunger Games was a decent film in its own right, but Catching Fire helped it realize the greatness of the franchise by doing what a good sequel does best: taking a good production and making it even better.

Iron Man 3

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Just like any year in our post-Dark Knight era, 2013 saw the release of several superhero films, including three Marvel releases and DC’s latest Superman venture with Man of Steel. And while so many of these superhero movies released annually fall somewhere into an awkward mediocrity between great and terrible, Iron Man 3 stands out as the best sequel in a superhero franchise released this year.

Really, the reason why the film stood out among the rest is due largely to the personality behind it. The story of Iron Man 3 wasn’t all that fantastic, as it was riddled with odd, never fully realized developments and plot holes that prevented the story from ever feeling totally cohesive, along with an added dash of cliche and predictability.

But so many of the film’s problems can be overlooked thanks to the audacious and lovable Tony Stark and the presence Robert Downey, Jr. has onscreen as the billionaire character. Sure, the whole PTSD thing didn’t quite make sense or work in the capacity where they used it, but it was still interesting nonetheless to see a fractured Stark unsure of where his loyalties and strengths lie. Plus, one can never get enough of his snarky and clever one-liners. Sure, it’s not necessarily the greatest of the Marvel films, but Iron Man 3 was arguably the best superhero sequel of 2013.

 

THE WORST SEQUELS OF 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

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It’s a truth more painful than any of us should have to face: the Die Hard franchise has officially fallen far from the heights where it once stood.

When did this happen? While it’s possible that fans will fault different Die Hard films for contributing to this, it’s hard to argue that the 2013 release of A Good Day to Die Hard wasn’t the one that single-handedly buried the knife deep into the franchise’s chest. Poor acting, terrible plot development, one-note characters, and even cheap effects all worked together seamlessly to create one of the biggest embarrassments of 2013.

Grown Ups 2

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Whether it’s a middle school lunchroom, a degenerate fraternity house on the weekends, or even a birthday party sleepover for eleven-year-old boys, it’s easy to think of places one could go for the same comedy of Grown Ups 2 without having to actually bother spending the money or the time on watching the film itself.

Fart jokes, alcohol jokes, cheap getting-hit-in-the-crotch gags, and awkward sexual humor is what you’ll find padding the film’s entire 101-minute running time. If Grown Ups 2 serves as any indicator of where Adam Sandler’s career is going, then his die hard fans have reason to be very, very nervous.

Thor: The Dark World 

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Resting somewhere between mediocre and terrible on the superhero movie spectrum, Thor: The Dark World is the most ancillary and forgettable film starring a Marvel hero released in the last few years. The film’s jumbled narrative is driven by a never-fully-explained MacGuffin and powered by elements of awkward comedy, tonal inconsistencies, painful cliche, and a lack of real sincerity from any of the performers (with the exception of Hiddleston’s Loki). It’s a film so unnecessary that it’s likely you’ll forget many of its key components mere hours after viewing.

Scary Movie 5

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Believe it or not, there was once a time when Scary Movie was funny, when the actual practice of using pastiche and satire to riff on pre-existing films was largely entertaining and interesting. And when considered, this makes sense; after all, horror films notoriously manipulate our emotions in an attempt to generate fear, much in the same way that comedy does with humor. When we turn a mirror on horror in an attempt to generate humor and to make fun of some of its goofier elements, the jokes very nearly write themselves.

There was also a time when we hadn’t seen anything really like this before. That’s when this idea worked: back in the year 2000, when we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to openly laugh at movies like Scream or The Sixth Sense.

But we’ve had time to laugh now. Plenty of it. So much of it, in fact, that the format itself is just about as stale as a three-year-old box of Cheerios. And that’s exactly what Scary Movie 5 felt like; a tired, old product that nobody’s asking for anymore.