James Cameron wants to film three sequels to his mega-hit Avatar, all in one go. This sounds like a hugely ambitious undertaking—but he’s not the first director to try this. There have been some disasters, but also a few triumphs. Here’s our complete history of people directing a movie and its sequel back-to-back.
The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers
Before they worked together on Superman II, director Richard Lester and producer Alexander Salkind pioneered the back-to-back sequel—by splitting one three-and-a-half-hour film into two, far more manageable 100-minute installments. Upon hearing this, most of the actors involved were incensed by this bold new idea, and threatened to put this extra-long shoot into jeopardy. This minor skirmish between producer and cast member gave birth to something we now call the “Salkind clause” – a contractual stipulation laying out just how many movies are being made at one time.
Fortunately, the films were modest successes commercially—with The Four Musketeers earning just two million less than its predecessor. Critically, though, The Four Musketeers is enjoying some reappraisal, after Quentin Tarantino listed it amongst his favorite sequels of all time in an issue of Video Watchdog in 2012.
Superman 1 & 2
Intended to be a two-part epic, both films were shot in 1977, but the producers felt that director Richard Donner was taking too long. So they ended up firing him and replacing him on the second film with a new director, the aforementioned Lester. And because of Director’s Guild rules, Lester went back and reshot a huge amount of Superman II that Donner had already completed.
Superman II is a lot of fun, but Lester clearly wasn’t able to stack up to Donner’s vision, and even the “Donner cut” doesn’t let us see the movie that Donner would have made if he’d been allowed to finish. Clearly, back-to-back filming backfired a bit here.
King Solomon’s Mines/Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold
Golan-Globus shot these back-to-back in an attempt to capitalize on the success of the Indiana Jones franchise with a public domain character. The resulting films are very much up to the usual Golan-Globus standard, which actually benefits from rushed production.
Back to the Future 2 & 3
After the success of the first movie, Robert Zemeckis filmed both of the sequels in one go. As a new book about the making of the trilogy reveals, Zemeckis later expressed regret that he didn’t spend more time on post-production of Back to the Future 2. He felt that a rushed editing process resulted in a film that had some holes in it, because he was already busy working on BTTF3. But this is still one of the most solid movie trilogies ever, taken as a whole.
Toxic Avenger 2 & 3
Intended to be one, extremely busy movie, this sequel was split in two due to the sheer length of the original cut, which ran close to four hours. The story sees Toxie travel to Japan in search of his father (part 2), then return to New Jersey to fight Satan himself (part 3).
Part two is certainly more popular (inspiring video game company Namco to produce Sargent Kabukiman, NYPD). But the third is has its champions – the Devil runs a corporation called Apocalypse, Inc. that’s intent on eliminating small-businesses and privately owned video stores.
Critters 3 and 4
Shot back-to-back by director Richard Harvey for a direct-to-video release, the third Critters entry is notable for introducing the world to Leonardo DiCaprio. Despite that, neither film is very good– 3 sees the alien hedgehogs terrorizing a tenement building, while 4 puts them up against Brad Dourif in outer space. (DiCaprio’s debut had our curiosity, but Brad Dourif in space has our attention.) Given their steady showings on the Syfy channel and their multifarious releases to DVD (separate releases for each film, and an additional Critters collection set), the Critters experiment proved a financial success, just not a critical one.
Mirror, Mirror 2 and 3
Like the Toxic Avenger sequels, these were low-budget, direct-to-video releases, shot back-to-back in order to get some product out after the success of the first movie. Part 2: Raven Dance stars Roddy McDowell ,Veronica Cartwright and Sally Kellerman – and even features Mark Ruffalo in a small role, while Part 3 stars Billy Drago, David Naughton—and Mark Ruffalo again—this time as a different character with a meatier role. The movies themselves are acceptable, with Raven Dance, perhaps, just edging out The Voyeur in terms of Roddy McDowell screen time. Not the worst of the back-to-back cycle, but definitely not the best.
These are regarded by most franchise fans as the bottom-tier of Hellraiser sequels. Deader is based on an unrelated horror spec script, with Hellraiser elements added during filming. The second film, Hellworld, began as a short story called “Hell Can’t Breath” by Joel Soisson, and sees Pinhead take on several MMORPG players—it’s often placed dead last on the Hellraiser rankings.
Lord of the Rings
Some of the most financially successful films of all time, Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy have easily become the most celebrated back-to-back films ever, with the third receiving the Oscar for Best Picture. Looking back, the first is probably the strongest. “Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee!”
The Wachowskis followed up their great 1999 hit The Matrix with two sequels – and yes, they were made simultaneously. In recent years, The Matrix: Reloaded has gotten a bit of a reappraisal, with some of us defending it as an underrated gem. But nobody much sticks up for Revelations. They’re still viewed, overall, as somewhat akin to the Gog and Magog of back-to-back production travesties, tearing the hearts out of all those poor kids who invested in The Animatrix.
Ginger Snaps 2 & 3
Two more rushed direct-to-video sequels, following John Fawcett’s excellent original, Ginger Snaps. While three (Ginger Snaps Back) is a period piece, reuniting series stars Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle, it’s the second film that’s probably the most successful—Perkins character, Brigitte, must combat the lycanthropy she inherited from her late sister, while at at a rehab clinic.
Anaconda 2 & 3/Pumpkinhead 3 & 4
Four SYFY originals shot simultaneously in Bucharest, Romania—Lance Henriksen apparently had an awful time working on part three, which he described as a “nightmare”. All four of these films are resoundingly terrible.
Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3
After the wildly successful Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, it was inevitably answered with a deluge of sequels, Death Man’s Chest and At World’s End, featuring an array of wonderfully designed fish-people and little else to recommend them. Still, these movies made truckloads of cash and the series is still continuing, so they were clearly successful in some sense.
Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows 1 & 2
Another entry in the Harry Potter franchise, The Deathly Hallows, concerning Harry’s search for the horcruxes, was split in two for sheer length—and many fans regard it as the high point of the series. The idea of making two films came from executive producer Lionel Wigram. After re-reading the book, producer David Heyman could only agree, and although some fans feel the first movie drags quite a bit, the story did support two installments.
Twilight: Breaking Dawn
Another novel adaptation split into two films for sheer length – the decision to film two movies at once was a wise move, as the actors were already aging at a steady clip, and desperate to divorce themselves from their wildly popular franchise. And both halves were directed by acclaimed director Bill Condon, who was able to devote lots of time to the lavish wedding and the birth of Edward and Bella’s freakish baby. Considering the source material, these films might be the best we could have hoped for.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay
One of the most expensive productions ever, this two-part finale took three cities to create the nation of Panem: Atlanta, Berlin and Paris. As Natalie Dormer told US Magazine:
“It was pretty amazing. We filmed at Hitler’s Tempelhof Airport and explored some old Nazi Barracks. And we were in Berlin on the 70th anniversary of D-day. It felt very profound to all of us.”
And while it remains to be seen if Mockingjay Part 2 will live up to its predecessor – especially its theme song, “The Hanging Tree”– but we’re optimistic.
Return to Nuke ‘Em High
Volume 2 has yet to see the light of the day, but the first volume is excellent, and comes highly recommended, featuring an incredibly passionate and well-directed dance sequence between its two leads, Asta Paredes and Catherine Cocoran.
Bonus: Dracula & Dracula
A Spanish-language version of Dracula was made simultaneously alongside the Bela Lugosi original. The Spanish cast was allowed to watch dailies from the English version, and were encouraged to imitate its performances. While both are great, the Spanish edition is arguably the superior of the two—coming off darker, moodier and perhaps just simply less familiar than Tod Browning’s.
Bonus: King Kong/The Most Dangerous Game
In 1932, Ernest P. Schoesdeck, co-director of King Kong, used the film’s sets at night to direct an adaptation of The Most Dangerous Game. Though King Kong is, obviously, the better of the two, The Most Dangerous Game was also a valiant—if somewhat stodgy— effort.