Sequels can be a mixed blessing for movie lovers. As much as we might be left longing to know where the story goes from there and what our heroes get up to after the credits roll, sometimes what we get next fails to live up to our expectations – and, when things are particularly bad, this can even undermine our love for what came before.
This is especially true when the sequel doesn’t arrive until a long time later. It may not be quite so hard to brush off a disappointing sequel that comes almost immediately after the original, but when we’ve had that much longer to imagine and anticipate the following chapter, it carries that much more weight.
2020 will see the release of a few sequels that have taken their time reaching screens, in the form of Top Gun: Maverick, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Bill & Ted Face the Music. While we wait to see if those live up to what came before, let’s consider the following sequels, all of which arrived more than a decade after their previous films – some of which proved to have been worth waiting for, others not so much…
Worth the wait: Bad Boys for Life
Landing in cinemas 17 years after 2003’s Bad Boys II, the third instalment in Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s action-comedy series proved to be the first blockbuster of 2020.
While the world wasn’t necessarily holding its breath for another round with Miami cops Mike Lowry and Marcus Burnett, Bad Boys for Life – surprisingly – delivers.
Bad Boys for Life has all the high-gloss action and attitude that fans have come to expect from the franchise, even without original director Michael Bay calling the shots.
Bay’s successors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah prove themselves to be adept at staging impressive chases, shoot-outs and punch-ups which hold up in the wake of the John Wick movies.
More surprisingly, they deliver a film with far more heart than Bay’s efforts, thanks to a screenplay which boasts hints of tragedy, and acknowledges that these ‘bad boys’ really aren’t boys anymore.
Not worth the wait: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
Few, if any sequels have had quite the impact of 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a massive hit, a turning point for big-screen stunts and special effects work, and the jewel in the crown of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
So when a third film arrived 12 years later, with Schwarzenegger but without original director James Cameron or Linda Hamilton, fans were naturally wary.
All these years later, about the best thing we can say of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is that it isn’t as bad as any of the subsequent Terminator sequels.
Even so, Machines paved the way for the seemingly endless rehashes of the franchise that have come every few years since, and director Jonathan Mostow serves up an efficient but soulless action movie which fails to move the franchise forward in a significant enough way.
What’s more, Schwarzenegger, as much as he might have tried to deny it at the time, was unfortunately already looking too old for the job.
Worth the wait: Jurassic World
1993’s Jurassic Park was a bona fide gamechanger for Hollywood: the biggest movie hit ever for a time, and the film that proved above all others that CGI was the wave of the future for high-tech visual spectacle.
So many FX-heavy blockbusters came in its wake that Jurassic Park’s own sequels seemed to get lost in the quagmire. As such, if the series was ever to come back, it would have to be even bigger than ever before.
Arriving 14 years after 2001’s Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World somewhat divided critics, with many taking issue with a perceived cynicism and regressive attitudes.
For many fans of the series, however, Jurassic World delivered something we’d long hoped to see: a vision of what a fully realised, functioning dinosaur theme park would look like.
It wasn’t just that: Jurassic World also has the ensuing turmoil when things inevitably go wrong, giving us the best of both worlds.
Not worth the wait: Escape from LA
The films of director John Carpenter may not have done huge business at the box office, but most discerning fans would agree that very few filmmakers had as impressive a run of films as he did in the 80s.
After the early 90s proved shaky for Carpenter, however, the director surprised many by deciding to make his first sequel.
Reuniting with Kurt Russell, Carpenter decided to bring back futuristic anti-hero Snake Plissken 15 years after 1981’s Escape from New York.
Sadly, 1996’s Escape from LA proved noteworthy for all the wrong reasons. With a garbled plot and campy tone, it tries and for the most part fails to bring the concept up to date for the 90s.
All the efforts to make a more lavish sequel, with fancier sets and special effects, only succeed in making the film look even more dated today than its lo-fi predecessor.
Worth the wait: Mad Max: Fury Road
In the three full decades that had passed since 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, few but the most devoted fans of the series had imagined we’d ever see the post-apocalyptic action series return to its former glory.
The adventures of Max Rockatansky (particularly 1981’s Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) may have inspired countless rip-offs – among them, megabudget misfire Waterworld – but they seemed to have been a product of their time.
With director George Miller not getting any younger, the chances of any Mad Max sequel, let alone a good one, seemed slim indeed. Now and then, however, conventional wisdom is proved completely wrong.
2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road not only lives up to what came before, but is by leaps and bounds the greatest film made in the series, and indeed one of the most awe-inspiring action films of all time.
Tom Hardy is powerful enough to make one forget Mel Gibson ever played the role, Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is a mighty hero in her own right, and despite his age director Miller delivers an epic, energetic spectacle that few films have come close to.
Not worth the wait: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Yes, we know, dissing the Star Wars prequels is like shooting fish in a barrel these days, but try to put yourself in the mindset of a fan in 1999.
The original Star Wars trilogy was more than just a movie franchise: it had truly shaped the imagination of a generation who grew up with it. The prospect of their original creator returning to the universe he created and showing us where the story really began… the word ‘excited’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
However, as soon as The Phantom Menace’s opening crawl begins, informing us ‘the taxation of trade routes to outlying star systems is in dispute,’ the writing is already on the wall (or the stars, as it were).
Where previously he had given us an archetypal fairy tale adventure in a sci-fi fantasy setting, George Lucas chose to continue his story in Episode I with turgid politics, leaden dialogue and lame-brained attempts at kid-friendly humour (yes, we mean you, Jar Jar).
Perhaps worst of all, Phantom Menace stars a talented cast whose abilities are poured straight down the drain by a director whose interests seem to lie only in the technical aspects of the film.
Worth the wait: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
By 2015, there hadn’t been a Star Wars movie for a whole decade, and a great many fans would have preferred to pretend that the three films which had most recently made it to screens didn’t exist at all.
With Lucas himself retired, and seemingly having lost touch with what originally made his creation magical, it was up to a new team headed up by J.J. Abrams to rekindle that spark for a new generation.
Happily, Abrams and company proved up to the challenge. The Force Awakens captures the spirit of the franchise in a way that no other film had since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.
The joy, the optimism, the childlike wonder are all back in spades, and with them an endearing new group of characters to be held close to the hearts of cinema-goers.
Not worth the wait: Die Hard 4.0
By the dawn of the 21st century, Die Hard looked to be dead for good. While the 1988 original is almost universally accepted as a masterpiece, and the two sequels that followed are respectable action movies in their own right, that whole cop-versus-terrorists set-up didn’t lend itself so well to escapist entertainment after 9/11.
Hence it wasn’t until 2007, 12 years after his last big screen outing, that John McClane returned to save the day a fourth time.
The resulting film, while commercially successful, left many of us wondering whether Die Hard should have just stayed dead.
Die Hard 4.0 (also known as Live Free or Die Hard, depending on where you live) may be an efficient, glossy action adventure with a hi-tech twist, but it could scarcely be further removed from the claustrophobic, character-based, seat-of-your-pants thrills of the original.
Still, like Terminator 3, at least it’s not as bad as the sequel that came after it – but then when the best compliment you can pay a film is that it isn’t as bad as the critically-reviled A Good Day to Die Hard, something’s gone terribly wrong.
Worth the wait: Blade Runner 2049
Few films have built such a reputation over time as 1982’s Blade Runner. More or less ignored on release, Ridley Scott’s film was a confirmed cult classic by the 90s, and all these years later is now widely accepted as an all-time great.
Even so, the idea of it getting a sequel 26 years later didn’t necessarily inspire much confidence; much of Blade Runner’s mystique is based in the questions it leaves unanswered, and surely any follow-up would sully this.
Happily, 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 does anything but tarnish the legacy of the original. Denis Villeneuve’s film is not only one of the greatest sequels ever, but truly one of the greatest films to come out of the Hollywood studio system this century.
Jaw-dropping not only in its visual spectacle, 2049 also features beautifully understated storytelling and character-building as rich as the world itself.
2049 may be too slow and subdued for some tastes, but if you allow yourself to be truly immersed in this strange alternate reality, it’s an experience like no other.
Not worth the wait: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Good old George Lucas went and did it again. Back in the 80s, his creation Indiana Jones only served to further cement Lucas as the great big screen storyteller of his age.
Though in this case Lucas shared responsibility with Steven Spielberg, the famed director has always been the first to admit that adventuring archaeologist Indy is Lucas’ baby first and foremost. As such, when the time came to bring Indy back after a 19-year hiatus, Spielberg deferred to Lucas on the film’s overall concept.
Sadly, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull proved to be the most ill-conceived continuation of a well-loved franchise since, well, The Phantom Menace.
While moving the action to the 50s and pitting Indy against Soviets made sense, taking things in a sci-fi direction just felt wrong, and the over-abundance of obvious CGI felt even worse.
Still, perhaps above all else, the casting of Shia LaBeouf as Indy and Marion’s son was one of the gravest mistakes of recent cinematic history. We can but hope the planned fifth Indy movie will help to put things right.
Worth the wait: Toy Story 3
Time and again, Pixar’s flagship franchise, Toy Story, has defied the standard thinking of the day. No one thought a feature-length computer animation could be anything but a gimmick before the 1995 original; and no one thought the sequel could possibly be even better before 1999’s Toy Story 2.
After that second film left young and old alike a blubbery mess (go on, try and deny bawling your eyes out every time you hear When She Loved Me), the idea of picking up with Andy’s toys a third time after an 11-year gap seemed sure to be nothing but a lazy cash grab.
However, Pixar proved the cynics wrong yet again, as 2010’s Toy Story 3 proved to be one of the most spellbinding, heartbreaking animated movies ever made.
Not content with reducing hapless cinemagoers to floods of tears just the once, director Lee Unkrich’s film packs the formidable one-two punch combo of bringing the toys to the brink of fiery death in a furnace, before ending perhaps even more agonisingly, with the now college-age Andy handing his toys down to new girl Bonnie.
Happily though, Toy Story 3 isn’t all death-of-childhood poignancy. Like all the best Pixar movies, Toy Story 3 doesn’t forget to pile on the fun and the laughs, with the entertaining Great Escape-inspired core plot of the toys breaking out of daycare, in the company of Spanish-mode Buzz Lightyear.
Not worth the wait: Monsters University
Alas, while Toy Story 3 managed to feel like a natural, worthy progression of a story that warranted continuation, Pixar evidently had a little more difficulty in making a follow-up to their 2001 hit Monsters, Inc.
The problem in this case was fairly obvious: the central plot device of Monsters, Inc. – monsters coming into human children’s bedrooms at night to collect their screams, which they use as an energy source in their parallel dimension – was resolved by the film’s conclusion, with the loveable Sully’s realisation that children’s laughter is more effective.
So, with no readily apparent way to move the story forward, 2013’s Monsters University opts instead for the prequel route, detailing how big furry Sully and little walking eyeball Mike first met as college students, learning how to be professional scarers.
Admittedly it’s not the worst idea; the whole set-up plays out as a childproof variation on the traditionally non-family-friendly frat house comedy (Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds etc), which is certainly good for a few undemanding chuckles.
However, this is a Pixar movie; we have long since come to expect considerably more from the animation house than your garden variety non-challenging matinee fare that packs in enough potty humour to keep the kids happy, and allows the parents to tune out.
Worth the wait: Return to Oz
Most of the sequels we’re talking about here arrived within one or two decades of the original, but there was a significantly wider gap in the case of 1985’s Return to Oz, the massively-overdue follow-up to 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.
Given what a perennial family favourite the colourful Judy Garland musical fantasy has been for generations, audiences were naturally anticipating something similarly bright, cheerful and kid-friendly when Disney took them back over the rainbow 46 years later.
This, however, was not quite what director Walter Murch had in mind, as Return to Oz is one of the darkest, most unsettling children’s films you’re ever likely to see – which is saying something, considering it came from the decade that gave us The Dark Crystal, The Black Cauldron, The Watcher in the Woods and more besides.
That said, for those with a taste for creepier entertainment, Return to Oz is an enthralling film in its own right, which delves far more deeply into the sinister undertones which were always present in L. Frank Baum’s original Oz stories.
The earlier film’s Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys may have inspired a few tears in youngsters over the years, but Return to Oz’s Wheelers, the Nome King and opening sanitarium sequence are sure to leave an even deeper mark on viewers, irrespective of age.
Not worth the wait: Superman Returns
By 2006, it was crystal clear that superhero movies were here to stay – so it was only logical to bring back the character whose 1978 feature debut had largely pioneered the cinematic genre.
Superman Returns director Bryan Singer had already played a hugely important role in revitalising the genre with the first two X-Men movies, so hopes were high when he boarded the long-in-development revival of Superman, and decided not to reboot but rather follow on directly from the Christopher Reeve movies.
However, while the resulting film is certainly better than 1983’s Superman III and 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (both of which the 2006 film wisely pretends didn’t happen), Superman Returns ultimately winds up a hollow, unrewarding experience.
While Brandon Routh by no means shames himself in the title role, it’s readily apparent his casting was based almost entirely on his resemblance to the late Christopher Reeve. Unfortunately, he can’t help coming off as a pale imitation.
Even worse, whilst the filmmakers seem anxious to show as much reverence as possible for the originals, they singularly fail to deliver a compelling story of their own; honestly, who decided that Lex Luthor’s evil plan should be to become a property baron, by means of an utterly uninviting Kryptonian landscape?
Worth the wait: The Color of Money
25 years after taking the role of ace pool shark ‘Fast’ Eddie Felson in 1961 classic The Hustler, Paul Newman decided to dust off his cue and revisit the character in sequel The Color of Money, with two of the new generation’s biggest talents in tow.
1986’s The Color of Money casts Tom Cruise (fresh from Top Gun) as Vincent, an arrogant but directionless kid with exceptional pool skills, who finds himself taken under the wing of the long-since retired ‘Fast’ Eddie in hopes of making them both a lot of cash.
With The Hustler director Robert Rossen having long since passed away, Newman handpicked Martin Scorsese to call the shots on The Color of Money: a wise decision that paid off in a big way.
While Scorsese has admitted he doesn’t consider the film one of his most personal efforts, the American auteur’s fingerprints are all over it, from the gritty vibe of the tough-talking streets, to the pulsating rock’n’roll soundtrack.
The Color of Money also won Paul Newman his only Best Actor Oscar, and while this honour was long overdue given his career history, the screen legend gives a performance that more than warrants the award.
Not worth the wait: Prometheus
Okay, we admit we’re breaking our own rules just a little here, as 2012’s Alien prequel Prometheus arrived only five years after Alien vs Predator: Requiem – but we figured the two AvP movies are generally considered their own thing, and not strictly canon to either pre-existing franchise (they’re also certainly poor enough movies to be disregarded).
With that disclaimer in mind, Prometheus arrived 15 years after the last official series entry, 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, and more significantly it marked the long-awaited return of Ridley Scott, director of 1979’s original Alien.
After all the anticipation, the resulting film left audiences very much divided. There’s plenty to be said in its favour, not least its visual splendour and exemplary cast – but we’d be lying if we said Prometheus felt entirely worth waiting for.
It’s commendable that the filmmakers didn’t simply want to do another by-the-numbers Alien film, but in creating this strange new origin story for the monstrous xenomorph, Prometheus gets lost in a maze of vague philosophical postulations, flimsy characterisations and unresolved story threads.
Even so, like Terminator 3 and Die Hard 4.0 before it, we can at least safely say it’s nowhere near as bad as the film that came next (in this case 2017’s Alien: Covenant, which was much more of a by-the-numbers sequel).
Worth the wait: Dawn of the Dead
A full decade after George A. Romero unwittingly invented a new horror subgenre with 1968’s The Night of the Living Dead, the filmmaker continued his zombie apocalypse with Dawn of the Dead (made in 1978, but not widely released until the following year).
In so doing, Romero revitalised the zombie genre which he had created, with Dawn arguably making an even greater impression on the horror landscape than Night, thanks in no small part to its dark humour and overtones of social satire.
The sequel sees an all-new group of survivors take refuge from the living dead nightmare in a shopping mall – only to find that, with every consumer luxury they could want at their disposal, they lose the will to seek a genuine safe haven.
A bigger film than Night of the Living Dead in every respect with ground-breaking and gruesome make-up FX, Dawn of the Dead demonstrated just how much could be done with zombies, proving massively influential in the decades since.
Without it, we wouldn’t have The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later, World War Z – or, most obviously, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake from director Zack Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn.
Not worth the wait: Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
For just over the first decade of his career, writer-director Kevin Smith set all his films (with the exception of 2004’s Jersey Girl) in a shared universe, in which the common element was always comic relief double act Jay and Silent Bob.
18 years after their ‘solo’ movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (and 13 after their last appearance in Clerks II), Smith and Jason Mewes brought back the dim-witted duo for 2019’s Jay and Silent Bob Reboot; and to say the resulting film is ‘just for the fans’ is an understatement.
Intended as a sardonic swipe at the modern reboot trend, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot deliberately hits most of the same plot beats as 2001’s Strike Back, but substitutes Shannon Elizabeth’s girl gang for a self-consciously ‘young and diverse’ group, headed by the director’s own daughter Harley Quinn Smith – who plays the unwitting daughter of Jay.
In terms of humour, it’s as low-reaching as you’d anticipate, and heavily dependent on knowledge of Smith’s earlier films, so doubtless some of the filmmaker’s most ardent fans will have fun even if we’ve literally seen most of it before. Still, the fact that many vulgar jokes now involve Smith’s own daughter add a significant ‘ick’ factor to certain scenes.
All in all, though, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot is trying too hard both to service existing fans whilst also branching out just far enough to win over a new generation – and in so doing, it falls into the very same trap of the reboots it’s meant to be sending up. Worst of all, it’s just not very funny.
Worth the wait: Rocky Balboa
Even the most passionate fans of the Rocky series (and there are plenty of us) will admit that, by the end of the initial five-film run, the movies and the central character had become a bit of a joke.
Where the 1976 original had presented us with an identifiable, salt-of-the-earth guy on the street, the sequels saw him devolve into something of a cartoon character; and while 1990’s Rocky V may have shied away from killing him off (as was originally the plan), the film itself was the final nail in the coffin nonetheless.
Or so it seemed until 26 years later, when Stallone brought back the character that made him with the truly joyous return to form that was 2006’s Rocky Balboa.
The film presents us with a long-retired, widowed and increasingly disenfranchised Rocky, who shocks everyone by stepping back into the ring one final time to take on the toughest young champ of the day. Handled differently, it could easily have been absurd – yet Rocky Balboa proves to be the most human and heartfelt entry since the original.
Stallone gives a moving performance – he’s also in astonishing shape for his age – while the film is the actor’s finest work as writer and director. This film also helped set the stage for the equally impressive Creed nine years later.
Not worth the wait: The Godfather Part III
If we’re talking about the weight of expectation, few films could ever carry quite so mighty a burden as the third instalment in The Godfather series, given the 1972 original and its 1974 sequel are almost unanimously counted among the very best films ever made.
Given the more substantial time gap between the second and third films, one would have to question whether there really was much more story to tell; and once The Godfather Part III finally arrived in 1990, many felt that it might have been better left alone.
To its credit, the film brings back the key surviving figures from the original films in director Francis Ford Coppola and stars Al Pacino, Diane Keaton and Talia Shire, but it’s hard to avoid the sense they’re all there in the vague of hope of rekindling the old spark (not to mention box office success).
Andy Garcia is a fine addition to the ensemble as Michael Corleone’s estranged nephew Vincent, but the casting of the director’s own daughter Sofia Coppola as Michael’s daughter Mary was a major misstep: though she has since become one of her generation’s best directors, her inexperience as an actress is unmistakable.
Coppola has long since admitted he made the film primarily because he needed a hit, and that he considers it an epilogue, as opposed to the conclusion of a trilogy; with that in mind, we feel even more secure in saying The Godfather Part III is a film that’s probably best overlooked completely.