Throwback Thursday: three sequels that outshine their originals

Charles Liu

Sequels are a staple of summer movies, but the best ones are those that surpass their predecessors. Take a look at three of The Daily Texan’s picks.

“From Russia with Love” (1964)

After the low-budget “Dr. No” was released but before “Goldfinger” established the 007 formula, there was the first Bond sequel, “From Russia with Love.” Unlike the franchise’s more action-oriented fare, this film offered a story heavily rooted in political espionage.

James Bond (Sean Connery) finds himself the unwitting target of SPECTRE, a villainous organization that plans to trick him into stealing a Soviet decoding device. Their hope is to kill Bond in the act and expose the British government’s involvement in the incident. SPECTRE uses the innocent Soviet clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) to lure Bond into their trap, but 007 isn’t so easily fooled.

In “From Russia with Love,”  Bond relies on trickery and brains rather than gadgetry and brawn, and the cat-and-mouse duel between him and the bad guys is tenser than anything in “Dr. No.” It’s more thrilling because of its relative realism — you almost feel that Bond can lose.

“Dawn of the Dead” (1978)

George Romero defined the zombie genre with 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Then he redefined it 10 years later.

While the first film was set on a countryside farm during an isolated attack, “Dawn” takes place after the zombie apocalypse has swept across the nation. Survivors hole up inside a shopping mall, hoping to survive the onslaught of the dead, but as with any horror picture, things go wrong and a lot of blood is spilled.

“Dawn” is effective horror as well as sharp, observant satire. The zombies that dully wander around the mall are, in truth, not that different from the living who do the same. Perhaps, Romero is highlighting how members of modern commercial society are not truly alive.

“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)

In 1977, “Star Wars” enraptured the minds of young and old alike with a galaxy far, far away and obliterated box office records. It was epic, romantic and fun — but could it be topped?

It was. With Irvin Kershner in the director’s chair, “The Empire Strikes Back”  works because it doesn’t try to outdo “Star Wars” in terms of physical scale. Instead of using bigger battles, “Empire” employs character development to invest us in its plot. Though “Empire” is a smaller film, it feels more important because of its intimate scope.

The film is loaded with spirituality, courtesy of Yoda (Frank Oz), and darkness, heralded by Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones). While there are some spectacular battles that bookend this dialogue-heavy picture, from the war on Hoth to a fateful lightsaber duel, “Empire” elevated the “Star Wars” franchise from breakout success to pop culture legend.