As tough as it is to create worthy sequels to great cinema, it's nearly impossible to take a terrible movie and, while staying in the same franchise, improve upon it. Many movie plots deal with an underdog story, but that's difficult to pull off in real life when the first film is a narrative at the height of its power and later films feature ideas like taking Jason to Manhattan or are called Batman Forever.
The following are rare examples of series that would eventually turn great but that started off as pathetic experiments in seeing what happens when you give inept people cameras and tell them, "It's cool." Please understand that most of these enhancements are the work of pure witchcraft and should not be attempted unless you have hit the dire straits of being forced to follow 2 Fast 2 Furious.
5 The Fast and the Furious
My first exposure to the Fast and the Furious franchise was through a yearbook in which an angry 17-year-old wrote to my friend (who was, at the time, dating that angry teen's ex-girlfriend): "You break her heart, I'll break your neck." If you're unaware, that is a line spoken by Vin Diesel, and it is the pinnacle of clever dialogue in the first two films of the series. I don't think there is a better reveal of someone's character than them trying to threaten another person with Vin Diesel quotes in the back pages of the Ronald Reagan High School 2006 annual.
He was later voted "Most Likely to Live His Life a Quarter Mile at a Time."
The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious (aptly named, as it was operating at a level far outside of the realm of any normal human critic's judgment) are car porn blended with a healthy mix of sleeveless shirts and topped off with CGI that looks to be from 1980. Some series take a while to establish the laughable stereotype that they will become, but The Fast and the Furious did it almost immediately. It is, in itself, every parody of the film that will ever need to happen. The films all made a ton of money, and it was the most expendable action franchise of the 2000s, holding strong in that spot until a new series came along that actually declared itself expendable.
Whereas the first three films focus primarily on street races and the people with a lack of screen presence that love them, Fast & Furious, along with Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6, took all the vroom vrooms and implemented them into what would become, basically, heist films, a far more exciting route than having characters frown at each other in between screeching tires for 100 minutes.
Now they drink beer and seizure-smirk at each other.
Secondly, they created a stronger overarching theme, primarily based around the importance of Vin Diesel's favorite word in the series ("Family," Diesel said thoughtfully, doing something with his mouth that sort of looked like smiling). And, to top it off, they added Dwayne "Don't Call Me 'The Rock' OK Maybe Just Once" Johnson, a human cartoon character who provides the kind of macho, self-aware performance that really anchors the tone of the series.
And single-handedly saved the baby oil industry.
The films are filled with more ludicrous situations than ever, but rather than the overly serious manner of the early efforts, the recent installments seem to be approached with a sincere embrace of all the booming, ridiculous action. The cast and crew are cognizant of the insanity of parachuting cars out of a plane in order to chase a bus, and they're prepared to make it the most entertaining, well-constructed scene of parachuting cars out of a plane to chase a bus that you've ever seen. I predict that Furious 7 will be Ludacris' first foray into the Criterion Collection.
Sorry, make that Academy Award-winner Ludacris.
By the mid-1960s, Toho Co.'s Godzilla had been able to shed his whole "nuclear weapon metaphor" shtick and had settled into defending Japan from all the King Ghidorahs that Planet X could throw at him. He was also immensely popular with children, which sent competitors, most notably Daiei Film Co., into a race to create their own protagonist monster that could slaughter the world's remaining population of irradiated beasts. Basically, Japan's version of Vin Diesel.
Don't you dare tell me you can't see the resemblance.
Gamera, whose original series of eight films had the combined effects budget of whatever could be dug from an unlucky production assistant's wallet, was Daiei's invention. While he was also beloved by the loud masses of kids who thirsted for the giant turtle to spill the blood of any alien that thought of Earth as a welcome pit stop, he could not prevent Daiei from going bankrupt in 1971.
Though Gamera would come back in 1980 for a film called Gamera: Super Monster, which loosely formed a plot out of copious stock fight-scene footage from the previous films, his honorable return happened in 1995 with Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. By this point, Godzilla had also had a renaissance, but that franchise's return had been marred by Toho's reliance on infusing those movies with tropes from famous, recent American blockbusters, whether those blockbusters be Aliens, The Terminator, Jurassic Park, E.T., or Hot Cock 4: Slippery When Wet.
Little-Known Fact: Gamera's flight is powered by ejaculation.
The '90s Gamera trilogy is the best example of suitmation (actors wearing monster suits) ever put on film. While it's very easy for suitmation to end up looking like a poor stuntman arthritically trying to kick his way through a cardboard diorama, the '90s Gamera films blend suitmation and CGI in a way that best uses the advantages of both. This is especially evident in the fight scenes, which are far more engaging than the Godzilla rumbles of the time, in which two monsters shoot rays at each other until one falls over and the other remains stationary until the resolution. Much like the aforementioned Hot Cock 4.
They're serious in tone, which is a massive step above the bleating elementary-schoolers that Gamera joyously saves in 1968, and they manage to be ambitious in a way previously unseen in the giant-monster movie genre. Prior to this trilogy, the most ambitious thing in monster films had been resisting the urge to make another cheap sequel.