Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled To be continued... sort of: 11 unofficial sequels

1. Enemy Of The State, 1998 (The Conversation, 1974)

No discussion of “unofficial sequels,” those de facto or spiritual continuations of cinematic narratives, is complete without mention of the clearest example: Enemy Of The State. Like most movies about surveillance and conspiracy, Tony Scott’s 1998 thriller owes a debt to The Conversation, Francis Ford Coppola’s suspenseful classic about an expert eavesdropper who gets mixed up in a murder plot. But in the case of Enemy, the connection is more than just thematic. Halfway through the film, Will Smith’s beleaguered protagonist—hunted by NSA thugs after he comes into possession of some incriminating evidence—crosses paths with Edward “Brill” Lyle, an aging master of surveillance played by Gene Hackman. Hackman, of course, also played a master of surveillance in The Conversation, and the parallels don’t stop there: Both characters don a transparent raincoat and operate out of a cage-like workshop; when Scott cuts to a photo of Brill as a young NSA employee, the image is of Hackman in the earlier film. Yes, the characters have different names, but wouldn’t a man as paranoid as The Conversation’s Harry Caul adopt multiple pseudonyms? It’s just a lot of fun to imagine the actor is playing the same frazzled hero, 25 years older but still keeping one eye open and an ear to the ground. [A.A. Dowd]

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2. Goodfellas, 1990 (My Blue Heaven, 1990)

On the surface, My Blue Heaven and Goodfellas couldn’t seem much different: One is a silly comedy about a mobster adjusting to small-town life in the witness protection program, and the other is about a mobster’s violent, nail-biting rise and fall. But they’re both based on the real-life Henry Hill: Research for both films was supposedly done at the same time by Heaven screenwriter Nora Ephron and her husband, Nick Pileggi, who co-wrote Goodfellas and wrote the book it was based on. Since Goodfellas came out a month after My Blue Heaven, this is more of an not-quite-prequel situation. They’d be good back to back, too: You can watch Henry Hill’s downfall, and then enjoy the wacky, Rick Moranis-assisted high jinks of his later years. [Josh Modell]

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3. Soldier, 1998 (Blade Runner, 1982)

Paul W.S. Anderson’s pulpy space Western Soldier is set on a trash-strewn desert planet that just happens to be located in the same fictional universe as the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. Screenwriter David Webb Peoples wrote both films, and though the link between the two movies is never foregrounded—a junked flying car here, references to battles at the Tannhäuser Gate and the Shoulder Of Orion there—they are woven into the texture of the film. (In fact, the movie’s prologue was set to include a scene of the Tannhäuser Gate; it was featured in the trailer, but was cut from the film before the special effects were completed.) This contributes to the sense that the movie’s setting is a kind of sci-fi junkyard, full of detritus from an iconic movie. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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4. The Limey, 1999 (Poor Cow, 1967)

One of the cooler tricks Steven Soderbergh pulls in The Limey, his chronologically jumbled 1999 revenge thriller, is conflating cinematic history with the history of his characters. The protagonist, a grizzled ex-convict played by Terence Stamp, is a man lost in his own memories; sometimes his mind wanders back a couple of decades, to when the dead daughter he’s out to avenge was still a child. Rather than cast a younger star for these flashback scenes, Soderbergh repurposes footage from an older movie: Ken Loach’s 1967 directorial debut Poor Cow, featuring Stamp as a thief who gets sentenced to a dozen years in the slammer. Officially, The Limey is not a sequel, as the little kid in Poor Cow is neither the thief’s offspring nor a girl. But in many ways, The Limey is a film about memory—its failures and distortions—and so the scenes from Poor Cow, shot on scratchy celluloid and stripped of all audio, function beautifully like bursts of unreliable and context-free recollection. Soderbergh, in any case, considers his film a continuation of the earlier one. The screenwriter, Lem Dobbs, begs to differ; it’s just one of many things the two filmmakers argue about on the amazingly contentious commentary track of The Limey DVD. [A.A. Dowd]

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5. Hard Eight, 1996 (Midnight Run, 1988)

Paul Thomas Anderson has never been shy about referencing cinematic predecessors; he’s nodded to everyone from Martin Scorsese to Robert Altman to Stanley Kubrick. But only his first feature, Hard Eight, actually positions itself as a follow-up to another movie—at least an indirect one. Isn’t Sydney, the gambler and ex-mob advisor Philip Baker Hall plays in Hard Eight, remarkably similar to Sidney, the gambler and current mob advisor Hall plays in Midnight Run? The latter is only a bit player in his respective film, which somehow makes the theory cooler; it’s as if PTA took a small, supporting character and imagined a whole future for him, his debut feature operating like one of the best pieces of fan fiction imaginable. Certainly, Hard Eight is a better quasi Midnight Run sequel than Witless Protection, the Larry The Cable Guy vehicle that casts Yaphet Kotto as FBI agent Alonzo Mosely—the same character he played in Midnight. [A.A. Dowd]

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6. Beau Travail, 1999 (Le Petit Soldat, 1960)

Beau Travail—Claire Denis’ fragmented, moody masterpiece—is a lot of things: a reworking of Herman Melville’s Billy Budd set at a French Foreign Legion outpost in Djibouti; a quasi-erotic reverie, full of tensed male bodies and dance-like military exercises; a movie that foregrounds tactile sensation, but is framed around memories. It’s also a sly, sideways sequel to Jean-Luc Godard’s underrated second feature, Le Petit Soldat. Godard’s film follows Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), a right-wing secret agent who has been ordered to assassinate a pro-Algerian public figure. Beau Travail revisits Forestier (and Subor) 40 years later, having presumably fled to Africa after the events of the earlier film; now in his 60s, he serves as the commander (and occasional conscience) of the outpost, training the next generation of troubled front-liners. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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7. The Kid With A Bike, 2011 (L’Enfant, 2005)

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, cinema’s most acclaimed siblings that don’t answer to “Joel and Ethan,” have never written and directed a sequel. But there are plenty of parallels and shared themes to be detected in their body of work—and in at least one case, a dramatic conflict seems to have been carried over from one film to another. In the 2005 film L’Enfant, Jérémie Renier plays Bruno, a twentysomething petty thief who discovers an unconventional answer to his money problems: He sells his newborn child to a black market adoption agency. Bruno eventually stumbles upon a kind of redemption, and the final, Pickpocket-indebted scene implies that the double meaning of the title may not apply to him any longer. Still, when Renier pops up again in the Dardennes’ The Kid With A Bike, it’s possible to imagine that he’s playing an older version of the same character: Guy, as he goes by there, has also skirted parental responsibility, this time by allowing his 12-year-old son to fall into the foster care system. As deadbeat-dad moves go, that’s at least an improvement; better to neglect a child than to pawn him like stolen goods. [A.A. Dowd]

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8. Pale Rider, 1985 (High Plains Drifter, 1973)

Clint Eastwood directed and starred in a pair of strikingly similar Westerns a dozen years apart: 1973’s High Plains Drifter and 1985’s Pale Rider. In each, Eastwood is a man without a real name—in the former he’s “Stranger,” in the latter it’s “Preacher”—who rides into town to help the meek and punish the wicked. (That’s an oversimplification of Drifter, but you get the gist.) Fans have speculated for years that these characters are in fact ghosts, and some have gone so far as to assume that they’re actually the same avenging angel. Elements of the Drifter plot certainly point to the idea that Stranger is supernatural, and Eastwood himself said that Preacher is “an out-and-out ghost.” Whether they’re part of one longer story is something only Eastwood knows. [Josh Modell]

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9. War Inc., 2008 (Grosse Point Blank, 1997)

In 1997’s Grosse Point Blank, John Cusack plays a hitman with a conscience who returns to his hometown for both his high-school reunion and to kill someone. In 2008’s War, Inc., Cusack is a hitman with a conscience who goes to a trade show to kill someone. They’re probably not the same exact character, though both are also assisted by Joan Cusack and interact with Dan Aykroyd, too, so there’s clearly some winking here. Unfortunately, where Grosse Point was funny and biting, War Inc. bites off more than it can chew with commentary about the Iraq War. Cusack wrote War, Inc., so it’s safe to blame him for its heavy hand. [Josh Modell]

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10. What Time Is It There?, 2001 (The 400 Blows, 1959)

François Truffaut made five films with Jean-Pierre Léaud playing the role of Antoine Doinel, following the character from the age of 14 to the age of 35; like Richard Linklater’s recent Boyhood, the movies conflate real and narrative time. Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang has made nearly a dozen films featuring Lee Kang-sheng as a character named Hsiao-kang, something that Tsai directly links to the Doinel cycle in What Time Is It There? Here, Hsiao-kang is a street vendor obsessed with the first Doinel film, The 400 Blows, and Léaud himself—by then in his mid-50s—appears in a scene set in a cemetery. It’s both an homage and a continuation of the project that ended with Truffaut’s death. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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11. Sunset Boulevard, 1950 (Queen Kelly, 1929)

Queen Kelly was one of the most notorious productions of the late silent era—a debauched, pessimistic epic that would have run five hours if completed. The movie was only half-finished when filming shut down, and none of its footage would be shown on American screens until a little over two decades later, in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. There, it appears as one of the movies made by the faded silent star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson, who had starred in Queen Kelly), projected by her butler, ex-husband, and ex-director, Max von Mayerling (Erich von Stroheim, whom Swanson had fired from Queen Kelly). Though Queen Kelly was never finished (a patched-together version was shown in South America in the early 1930s), Sunset Boulevard functions as a sequel to the legend that surrounded the movie, with von Stroheim and Swanson reprising the roles they’d played in the tabloids and trades of the time. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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