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7 Definite Yet Unofficial Sequels

Many movies just seem like “unofficial” sequels. These movies truly have a direct connection to something that came before.
unofficial sequels My Blue Heaven
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on February 17th, 2016

Unofficial sequels are all over the place if we stretch the guidelines. There are spiritual sequels, like how War, Inc. feels like a loose follow-up to Grosse Pointe Blank, which itself feels like an even looser follow-up to Say Anything. And there are movies with character-referencing connections, like Commando and Die Hard 2 or American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction.

But occasionally an unofficial sequel is more legitimately a continuation of another movie, only they’re not linked by a studio or much of anyone involved in the production. Not to mention any rights conflicts barring official affiliation. That’s the case with Risen, the Jesus resurrection movie that plays as, and is implicitly intended to be, a direct successor to The Passion of the Christ.

The two movies share an editor, Steven Mirkovich, but that’s as far as their union goes. He didn’t even work on the original cut of Passion, just the later PG-13 version. Sony, distributor of Risen, does highlight the association via Mirkovich in a promotional video, however. And the press notes for Risen pitch news outlets the angle of “Where The Passion of the Christ ends…”

Unofficial sequels can be definite sequels of this sort when they’re dealing with true stories ‐ or, in the case of Risen, at least believed-to-be-true stories ‐ or fictional works and characters who are in the public domain or allowed to be used as “homage.” Below are other such examples of movies that aren’t technically number twos but certainly carry forward a main character’s story.

Return to Oz (1985)

Is an unofficial sequel to The Wizard of Oz (1939)

There’s actually very little reason to consider a link between MGM’s classic musical version of Frank L. Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” and Disney’s flop adapted from various sequel novels. They’re simply based on the same literary franchise. But Return to Oz, the sole feature directorial effort of Walter Murch, is chronologically situated after The Wizard of Oz, so while the two movies look and feel nothing alike, they’ve long been superficially hitched. And now that Disney went and made the prequel Oz the Great and Powerful with distinct visual ties to the 1939 film, it all comes together more easily.

My Blue Heaven (1990)

Is an unofficial sequel to Goodfellas (1990)

Probably the only sequel to come out a month before its predecessor, My Blue Heaven is a veiled and exaggerated depiction of Henry Hill’s life in the Witness Protection Program, played hilariously by Steve Martin. Hill is, of course, the ex-mobster officially portrayed by Ray Liotta in Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece Goodfellas. That movie was based on the book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi, who also wrote the screenplay and who is also the widowed husband of Nora Ephron, the screenwriter behind My Blue Heaven. She conducted interviews with Hill for her husband’s book and used many of her notes about his new life in the suburbs for her own comedy script.

Beau Travail (1999)

Is an unofficial sequel to Le Petit Soldat (1963)

The simplest way to explain how Claire Denis’s loose adaptation of Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd” ties to Jean-Luc Godard’s sophomore feature is that it’s kind of fanfic as homage. But it also has the same actor, Michel Subor, playing the same character, Bruno Forestier. In the earlier film, he’s a deserter during the Algerian War tasked with a hit job for a French intelligence agency. For Denis, “I told myself that after [Godard’s film], when he leaves the army and kills the correspondent for the FLN, Forestier joined the French Foreign Legion.”

Frost/Nixon (2008)

Is an unofficial sequel to Nixon (1995)

If Oliver Stone’s biopic starring Anthony Hopkins had gone cradle to grave (outside of showing real footage of Nixon’s funeral, that is), then it would allow for no sequel. But since it ends with Nixon’s resignation in 1974, then Frost/Nixon, a dramatization of his 1977 interviews with David Frost fits in as a follow-up. In fact, the later film, an adaptation of a 2006 stage play, opens with Frost seeing the resignation on television. Both Hopkins and Frank Langella, who plays Nixon in the “sequel,” were nominated for an Oscar for their portrayal of the 37th US president.

Blackthorn (2011)

Is an unofficial sequel to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

There were many portrayals of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid before their most famous movie starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. And there were plenty after, including a prequel put out by the same studio but otherwise not entirely canonically linked. Mateo Gil’s Blackthorn, one of the few that proposes the duo didn’t die in a shootout in Bolivia, is by far the best of either end and while not nearly of the same tone is still worth watching as an add-on to the 1969 classic.

The Bronx Bull (2015)

Is an unofficial sequel to Raging Bull (1980)

Actually both a prequel and a sequel to the Martin Scorsese classic (another one), this second biopic about Jake LaMotta, depicting the boxer’s early and later years not shown in Raging Bull (Mojean Aria and William Forsythe take over the role iconically portrayed by Robert De Niro), was even originally titled Raging Bull II: Continuing the Story of Jake LaMotta. Both movies are officially based on books co-written by the real guy, but they’re not linked in cinematic IP terms, and a lawsuit led to the newer movie ceasing its association with the older.

Mr. Holmes (2015)

Is an unofficial sequel to Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)

Obviously Mr. Holmes is a successor to all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but I highlight Young Sherlock Holmes in particular because neither of these movies is directly based on the original Arthur Conan Doyle literature, nor do they take place during those canonical tales. The first of the two is, of course, about Holmes as a young man, and the more recent is about Holmes as an old man. Two bookending stories for the legendary detective character. I can only imagine what it’d be like to watch them together with no familiarity with anything occurring in between.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.