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From 'T2' to 'Star Trek: First Contact': These are the best sci-fi sequels of the '90s
Sometimes bigger is better.
We've got sequel fever on the brain! And we're not just talking about any sequels here. No, no — we're talking about the best science fiction sequels of the 1990s, folks.
There had to be something in the water during that particular decade because Hollywood delivered some stone-cold genre classics. Follow-up film projects usually get a bad wrap, decried by fans as shameless and cynical cash grabs. And while there is a good deal of truth in that claim, subsequent installments do have the capacity to improve upon established properties and franchises if done the right way. To that end, we present ten shining examples of the best sci-fi sequels of the '90s that are just as beloved — if not more so — than the movies that spawned them.
1. Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Often considered the black sheep of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale's iconic trilogy, Back to the Future Part III is worth your time and reconsideration.
When Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is accidentally sent to 1885 after a bolt of lightning strikes the DeLorean the end of Part II, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) once again travels back in time to save his scientist mentor. As expected, not everything goes according to plan as Marty pisses off Biff’s outlaw ancestor, “Mad Dog” Tannen; Doc falls in love with schoolteacher Clara Clayton (Mary Steenburgen); and the two heroes struggle to get the DeLorean up to 88 miles per hour in a world without refined plutonium. The end result is a perfect marriage of sci-fi and western sensibilities that eventually led to one of the greatest genre cameos of all time.
Back to the Future Part III is available to rent or purchase via YouTube Movies
2. Robocop 2 (1990)
Applying the same mature approach he used on The Empire Strikes Back, director Irvin Kirshner crafted a sequel that was a lot darker than its Paul Verhoeven predecessor. Co-written by comic book legend Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), this sophomore chapter finds Officer Alex Murphy, aka RoboCop (the returning Peter Weller), attempting to rid the streets of a new drug known simply as “Nuke.” The man behind the distribution, Cane (Tom Noonan), is a villain for the ages, and the scene in which he allows Officer Duffy (Stephen Lee) to be sliced into while still conscious is Hostel levels of messed up. Even when Cane gets his comeuppance later in the film, it’s still pretty difficult to watch a team of doctors take apart his body while the man's disembodied brain, eyes, and spinal cord watch from a bubbling tank nearby. RoboCop 2 is as memorable as it is psychologically scarring.
RoboCop 2 is currently streaming on Amazon Prime
3. Predator 2 (1990)
Whatever you might think of Predator 2, you’ve gotta appreciate the cojones of the opening shot that tricks us into thinking we’re back in the jungles of Central America before panning up to reveal that we’re actually in the hills of Los Angeles. It’s a pretty genius way to pull the rug out from under your audience.
As the story gets underway, you can almost feel the sweltering California heat coming off the screen as Lieutenant Mike Harrigan (Danny Glover) attempts to solve the mystery of why gang members are turning up dead in the most gruesome ways. The investigation puts him on a rip-roaring collision course with a fugitive not of this world and for better or worse, the movie's final scene on the spaceship paved the way Alien vs. Predator a little over a decade later.
Predator 2 is currently streaming on Sling TV
4. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)
Doubling down on the anarchy associated with its titular critters (not to be confused with Critters), Gremlins 2: The New Batch did meta humor before it was mainstream. It is the hipster equivalent of Hollywood sequels. Packed with pop culture references and self-aware nods to the original, the Manhattan-based follow-up is what happens when you allow Joe Dante to bring Looney Tunes into live-action. He throws everything at the wall like Jackson Pollack on a bender. Does it all stick? No. Is it entertaining as all hell? Yes indeed!
Gremlins 2: The New Batch is currently streaming on HBO Max
5. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
"Hasta la vista, baby!" A paragon of how to build out a beloved property, T2 is proof that lightning can sometimes strike twice.
Six years after the success of Aliens, James Cameron gave the world another dynamite sci-fi sequel whose cultural influence continues to be felt three decades later. Sarah Connor’s transformation from helpless damsel in distress to buffed-up doomsday warrior is some truly empowering character development that keeps Judgement Day from feeling like a warmed-over plate of apocalyptic leftovers.
No one believes Sarah about Skynet and its eventual plan for nuclear annihilation until her estranged son, John (Edward Furlong), becomes the target of a new android assassin known as the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). But wait! There's more! Future John Connor — fearless leader of the human resistance — has sent a modified T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to protect his past self. It's badass, every narrative beat is executed perfectly, and the early CGI effects for the T-1000’s molten state were nothing short of groundbreaking.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day is currently streaming on Netflix
6. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
This sequel is anything but bogus, dudes! The confluence of killer robot doubles, time traveling phone booths, George Carlin, and a memorable depiction of the Grim Reaper played by William Sadler, make the second outing for Bill Preston and Ted Logan a most bodacious addition to the franchise canon. The only thing that bums us out is that it took almost 30 years to get another movie in the form of Bill & Ted Face the Music.
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey is currently streaming on HBO Max
7. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
"So... this is goodbye." Chekov couldn't have said it better. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is a fitting and emotional swan song for the original crew members of the USS Enterprise: William Shatner (James T. Kirk), Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Hikaru Sulu), James Doohan (Montgomery Scott), DeForest Kelley (Leonard “Bones” McCoy), and Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov). The supporting cast — which featured Christopher Plummer, Kim Catrall, and David Warner — isn't too shabby, either.
The film was helmed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer who was no stranger to the franchise, having previously directed 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and co-wrote the screenplay for 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. While The Next Generation was already airing at this time — and would prove to be massively iconic in its own right — many Star Trek fans weren’t ready to say goodbye to the old faces. In the words of Roger Ebert: “Why on earth (or anywhere else) would Paramount want to retire this crew, which is as familiar and comforting as old family friends, and which does its job with the effortless grace of long familiarity?"
Hearing Kirk's final Captain's log in the closing moments as the Enterprise literally rides off into the sun(set), with the famous opening cue to the theme song playing over the soundtrack, will never not bring a tear to our eyes. The end credits feature the real-life signatures of the OG Star Trek players, signing off on the log — something Avengers: Endgame would borrow for its own closing titles 28 years later.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is currently streaming on Paramount+
8. Batman Returns (1992)
Before Matt Reeves effectively reboots the Dark Knight (again) for the big screen in early March, revisit the original Batman film to feature Catwoman and the Penguin as significant characters. Michael Keaton is, of course, great as Bruce Wayne, but it’s Michelle Pfeiffer (as the complex and dangerous Selina Kyle) and Danny DeVito (as the truly repugnant Oswald Cobblepot) who make this a definitive addition to the Caped Crusader’s cinematic track record. Tim Burton's time in Gotham City may have been short, but it was enough to turn Batman into one of the most immortal icons ever committed to celluloid.
Batman Returns is currently streaming on HBO Max
9. Alien 3 (1992)
The second black sheep of another iconic trilogy, Alien 3 nearly ended David Fincher’s Hollywood career before it even had a chance to begin in earnest. It’s your classic case of too many cooks in the Nostromo kitchen. Competing screenplays, clashing edits, and a pulsating egg chamber full of studio interference ultimately spelled disaster for Ellen Ripley’s third bout with the deadly Xenmorphs. The movie didn't do itself any favors by killing Newt and Hicks off screen right at the start. Fincher, who’d go on to prove his filmmaking prowess with the release of Seven three years later, has since disowned the title, which is sort of a shame.
Sure, Alien 3 is not as good as the two movies that preceded it, but it’s also not a complete trainwreck as so many make it out to be. In fact, it contains a stellar supporting cast (Charles Dance! Charles S. Dutton! the late Pete Postlethwaite!) and lot of nifty ideas, including the rather inspired concept of a Xenmorph taking on the traits of the species in which it gestates (in this case, a dog).
Alien 3 is, without question, the bleakest entry in the original series, which means it may not be for everyone. However, the prison planet setting is a nice conduit for themes of redemption and grappling with one's demons, both real and figurative. If you're more interested in what could have been, however, there are several adaptations of William Gibson's unused screenplay for Alien 3 (a graphic novel, a traditional novel, and even an audio drama).
Alien 3 is currently streaming on Sling TV
10. Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Star Trek: First Contact is the second feature film to be spun out of The Next Generation television series. Co-written by Ronald D. Moore — who’d go on to reboot Battlestar Galactica not long after — the project was directed by cast member Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker) in his directorial debut. The film, which features a plot by the Borg to conquer the United Federation of Planets, nabbed an Oscar nod for its makeup effects. In addition, it took home three Saturn Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Brent Spiner as Data), Best Supporting Actress (Alice Krige as the Borg Queen), and Best Costumes (Deborah Everton).
Star Trek: First Contact is currently streaming on Paramount+