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SYFY WIRE Top Gun: Maverick

10 sequels that took forever to get made

With the release of Top Gun: Maverick this week, we're reminded that not every hit film gets a sequel fast-tracked. 

By Tara Bennett
Top Gun Maverick via Paramount

Audiences are quite spoiled these days. We're firmly rooted in a cinematic era rife with franchises that exist to feed audiences sequels and spin-offs of familiar IP, so it's easy to forget "next chapters" aren't always a given. In fact, there have been plenty of successful movies, and even ones that have gone on to cult classic status, that have had to wait a very, very long time to tell a next chapter. Like this week's Top Gun: Maverick which appears 36 years after the original Top Gun was released in theaters back in 1986. It's one of  the most dramatic spreads ever between the original release and a sequel, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other examples of sequels that took their sweet, sweet time before making it back to the big screen.

Since we like to celebrate the underdogs, SYFY WIRE presents 10 science fiction movie sequels that made their fandoms flop sweat, form prayer circles and perhaps almost give up before they were rewarded with more stories:

1. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road YT

Director George Miller essentially completed his Mad Max trilogy in 1985 with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Mel Gibson played the titular character for all three movies, and (what was then) the last installment worked to close out the post-apocalyptic hero's arc. Miller came up with the idea for a new installment in 1987 but it languished in developmental hell because the original trilogy wasn't much of a barn burner at the box office. The fourth installment essentially became the cursed title that was delayed for a myriad of reasons including 9/11, the Iraq War, and eventually Mel Gibson's personal controversies. It wasn't until 2009 that Miller finally announced it was actually happening with actor Tom Hardy taking over the role of Max. Production on Mad Max: Fury Road commenced in July 2012 and it was one hell of a rocky shoot with cast fights, heat issues and tons of practical effects. However, the end result was pure movie magic as this was one of the rare sequels that was absolutely worth the wait. It won six Academy Awards and is widely regarded as the best of the Mad Max films. 

2. The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

The first The X-Files movie hit in theaters in 1998 and was a box office and critical success. Directed by Chris Carter then returned his focus to The X-Files series until it ended in 2002. A sequel movie then languished in development hell until 2007 when Carter figured out a story that would continue where the series ending left off. The X-Files: I Want to Believe was a big departure from the first movie. While it reunited David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi in their classic roles, the movie functioned as a standalone thriller that felt thin to hardcore fans of the series looking for more mythology, and like a lesser episode in terms of story quality. The box office was also weak, getting hammered by the release of The Dark Knight. It basically closed the door on The X Files storytelling on the big screen. 

3. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

James Cameron retired himself from directing more sequel movies for his Terminator franchise after the massive success of 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day (well, until the Avatar sequels, that is). Because of that — and some very complicated ownership issues — the path to new Terminator sequels took a long time. It wasn't until director Jonathan Mostow (U-571) was able to woo back Arnold Schwarzenegger to reprise his cyborg role that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines officially became the next chapter in John Connor's time traveling story. Actor Nick Stahl took on the mantle of humanity's savior in a film that didn't have the originality or scale of the first two films, but was a crowd pleaser that introduced a female Terminator (Kristanna Loken).

4. Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015)

The Jurassic Park franchise basically limped into a long time out with the release of Jurassic Park III in 2001. Director Joe Johnston was attached to revive the franchise in 2010 but long-time producers Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy didn't give the scripts the green light. The IP languished a little while longer and then the creatives behind the scenes changed up. It wasn't until 2013 that Colin Trevorrow was hired to direct the resurrection of the franchise on the big screen with Jurassic World. Set 22 years after the events of Jurassic Park, back on Isla Nublar, the film starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, along with the OG trilogy's BD Wong. The movie was a massive hit earning $1.670 billion globally and spawning a brand new trilogy that concludes with the June release of Jurassic World: Dominion

5. Escape from L.A. (1996)

Kurt Russell And Pam Grier In 'Escape From L.A.'

John Carpenter's 1981's post-apocalyptic Escape from New York introduced the world to "Snake" Plissken (Kurt Russell) and audiences fell in love. The tough-as-nails antihero is blackmailed to save the President of the United States from the penal island of Manhattan. Grungy and darkly witty, the movie went on to become a cult favorite even if it wasn't a box office success. It took Carpenter tricking Russell into writing a sequel with him, and some creative financing, for a sequel to finally come to light in 1996 wth Escape from L.A. With its surfing tsunamis and satire of Hollywood, the sequel was again a cult favorite but its poor box office essentially put future Plissken stories on ice.

6. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars The Phantom Menace

George Lucas seemingly brought Luke Skywalker's trilogy to a close in 1983 with the trilogy ender, Return of the Jedi. Even though he talked about making three Star Wars trilogies, most fans figured that was a pipe dream until Lucas announced in 1993 that he was making a prequel trilogy about the rise of Anakin Skywalker. Interested in pushing the boundaries of visual effects technology and making a more kid-centric story around the very young Anakin, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ended up being the sequel most Star Wars fans were not expecting. Despite taking a lot of critical and fan drubbing, The Phantom Menace grossed more than $924.3 million worldwide. Not to mention, it's release date is pretty much the birth of the what is now known as the more toxic side of the Star Wars fandom (though there have been efforts to reclaim the prequels). "George Lucas ruined my childhood," anyone?

7. Split (2017)

James McAvoy in Split (2017)

In 2000, writer/director M. Night Shyamalan made Unbreakable, an original thriller starring Bruce Willis about comic book superheroes before that genre was a great big thing. It made money even if a lot of mainstream moviegoers didn't expect it, or quite get it. But comic book and sci-fi fans adored it and pestered Shyamalan for 15-years begging for a sequel. It took him that much time to figure out a thematic sequel which became Split. Starring James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, the story didn't appear to be a sequel to Unbreakable at all, until the post-credits scene revealed it took place in the same world as Shyamalan's earlier film. Willis merely made a cameo as David Dunn in Split, but the film led to the more on-the-nose sequel of Glass in 2019, which formally brought back Dunn and Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson). 

8. 2010 (1984)

Roy Scheider and John Lithgow in 2010 (1984)

Stanley Kubrick made his space masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 and to this day its still hailed as one of the greatest films ever made. How do you top that? Well, you don't. But then 2001 author Arthur C. Clarke happened to write a sequel novel in 1982, 2010: Odyssey Two, and Hollywood tried to capture lighting in a bottle once more. 2010: The Year We Make Contact was written and directed by Peter Hyams (Capricorn One) and starred one hell of a cast with Roy Scheider, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban, and John Lithgow. And, it was actually a very good movie, but it was a concrete narrative about the United States and the Soviet Union coming together to determine what happened to the Discovery One mission to Jupiter. It certainly has direct narrative ties to 2001: A Space Odyssey, just without the grandeur or the heavy existential surrealism of the original. Where 2001 answered nothing, 2010 answered a lot. Viewers didn't care for the answers, apparently, as it was a box office flop.

9. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Indiana Jones Crystal Skull Still

Just about everyone considered 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the perfect way to end the Indiana Jones franchise. Harrison Ford and Sean Connery were the perfect father/son on-screen pairing and the archaeologist/adventurer's reputation went on unsullied in our cumulative memories. But, Hollywood doesn't work that way and franchise creators, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, set about developing a next chapter. It took a long time, especially with Harrison Ford balking at some proposed stories. It wasn't until the mid 2000s settled on an angle of Indy finding out he has a son, with a story based on Lucas' idea about aliens. The much-anticipated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was released in 2008 to mixed reviews and a lot fan grumbling. It earned $790 million worldwide but creatively, the franchise was put on ice again until an untitled sequel starring Ford and directed by James Mangold (Logan) went into production in 2021.

10. TRON: Legacy (2010)

Tron Legacy

Back in 1982, writer/director Steven Lisberger knocked the socks off of many a sci-fan with his love letter to video games, Tron. Jeff Bridges played software engineer Kevin Flynn who gets zapped and uploaded into the ENCOM mainframe amongst the code he's created. Ahead of its time visually with a geek-centric storyline that wasn't exactly mainstream, Tron was a very modest success for Walt Disney Pictures. However, it became a cult hit that only grew as the video game culture continued to become a juggernaut. For years, a sequel was bandied about with Pixar initially showing interest. But it wasn't until 2003 when a Tron first-person shooter game was released and the sequel interest ignited once more. Director Joseph Kosinski was hired and production commenced in 2009. Tron: Legacy starring Jeff Bridges, Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde was released in 2010 to mixed reviews and earned $400 million worldwide. A third installment is still being discussed.