Mary Poppins Returns arrived in theaters this past Friday (Dec. 21), some 54 years after the original Disney classic first opened on movie screens in 1964. Critics have been mixed-to-positive on the new film, praising Emily Blunt's performance and the movie's design while pointing out its lack of an original plot, but one thing that's apparent is that director Rob Marshall and the cast worked hard to recapture the sweetness and wonder of the original movie.
Picking up where you left off is hard enough after two years (we're looking at you, Star Wars), but five-plus decades? That's a very tough task — there are a lot of generations to please. Still, the inexorable march of time has never stopped Hollywood from revisiting a nice, juicy, potentially profitable piece of IP, as the 15 examples we've selected below readily prove. (We've used the 15-year mark as a cutoff, so you won't find a few titles like Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines or Jurassic World on this particular list.)
All of the movies below (which are ranked from worst to best) feature at least one character, and in some cases the same actor(s), as the film(s) that came before them (with one or two slight exceptions that are noted). Some of these sequels somehow found a way to work after all those years had passed, and a handful are even superior to the originals, while others should have been left to molder in the studio vaults. But one thing is certain: Somebody thought that reviving all these properties seemed like a good idea at the time.
The Rage: Carrie 2 (1999, 23 years after 1976's Carrie)
The very first adaptation of a Stephen King novel — released in 1976, two years after the book itself, King's debut, was published — remains among the finest. Faithful largely in plot and spirit to the book, Carrie benefits from Brian de Palma's tense direction and stupendous work from Sissy Spacek as the telekinetic heroine and Piper Laurie as her maniacal mother.
The Rage: Carrie 2 was a different story. Although Amy Irving reprised her role as Carrie's now adult former schoolmate Sue Snell (ridiculously retconned as Carrie's half-sister), this sequel that no one asked for centered around a teenage girl named Rachel and the high school drama that triggers her own psychic talents. A pale knockoff of both the original film and a teen soap opera, this Carrie sequel was virtually powerless.
The Wicker Tree (2011, 38 years after 1973's The Wicker Man)
1973's The Wicker Man is one of the strangest and most unsettling horror movies of its era; the story of a rigid Christian police officer running head-on into an island community steeped in ancient pagan rituals, it juxtaposed colorful musical numbers with a horrific scene of a living person being burned alive inside the title structure.
Director Robin Hardy finally made a sequel more than three and a half decades later (and after a rancid 2006 remake sullied the original's reputation). He declared his film more a "spiritual" successor than a direct sequel, although The Wicker Tree dealt with the same themes. It also featured a cameo from Christopher Lee, who starred as the island's leader in 1973 and sort of played the character again in flashback. Despite some inspired moments, however, The Wicker Tree is a largely incoherent mess, proving that musical pagan horror mysteries are harder to get right than you think.
The Mother of Tears (2007, 27 years after 1980's Inferno)
In 1977, Italian auteur Dario Argento made one of the all-time horror classics in Suspiria, following it up in 1980 with Inferno. While neither film featured the same primary characters, both dealt with the legend of a trio of evil witches known as the "Three Mothers," with the former film focusing on the Mother of Sighs and the latter based around the Mother of Darkness.
It took Argento more than a quarter of a century to finish the trilogy with a film about the Mother of Tears, but sadly when he did he was no longer at the top of his game. Argento has never been strong on telling coherent stories to begin with, but The Mother of Tears is far too ambitious for its own good. While entertaining in that "so bad it's good" way, the film doesn't come close to the stylistic grandeur of its predecessors.
Return to Oz (1985, 46 years after 1939's The Wizard of Oz)
Walt Disney wanted to make a movie based on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — the original L. Frank Baum book — as far back as 1937, but he was beaten to the rights by MGM. The rest was history. But Disney did finally acquire the rights to the other 13 books in 1954, although it took another 31 years for the company to finally make this unofficial sequel.
Based mainly on Baum's second and third books, The Marvelous Land of Oz (1904) and Ozma of Oz (1907), the dark Return to Oz was directed by legendary editor Walter Murch and finds Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) journeying to the magical land to help save her old friends and Oz itself from destruction at the hands of the Nome King. A box office and critical failure upon release, Return to Oz is now seen by some Baum fans as more faithful than The Wizard of Oz, although it will likely never replace the 1939 masterpiece in the pop culture pantheon.
Independence Day: Resurgence (2016, 20 years after 1996's Independence Day)
Roland Emmerich's 1996 Independence Day was, in some ways, dumb as a box of rocks, but it was still a total blast: a remix of The War of the Worlds told with modern visual effects and, for its time, an epic new level of mass destruction on a global scale.
Emmerich destroyed the world a few more times (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012) before returning to his alien invaders, but by then the magic was mostly gone. Independence Day: Resurgence still benefits from pretty amazing visual effects, but it just feels like an uninspired rehash of the first film on a bigger but somehow more boring scale. And let's face it, Will Smith is missed as well. Audiences stayed away as well, meaning that a third invasion is unlikely.
TRON: Legacy (2010, 28 years after 1982's TRON)
Here's a dirty little secret: the original TRON (1982) is not a great film. It's a groundbreaking, visually dazzling movie that's ahead of its time, and it's got some great work from Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. But the story is weakly developed and the film, despite its striking visuals, is inert for long stretches.
28 years later, Disney and director Joseph Kosinski finally produced a sequel, another visually magnificent and pioneering (in its de-aging of Bridges) movie that also suffers from a weak, incomprehensible plot and never identifies a reason to care about what happens to its characters. It seems as if once everyone involved got inside the computer, they didn't know what to do there... and IT for the series was not available.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008, 19 years after 1989's The Last Crusade)
The last shot of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was just about perfect, as Indy, his dad and their friends literally rode off into the sunset. It capped a trilogy that, while not perfect, came damn well close — even more so than the first three Star Wars movies.
But no one in Tinseltown ever likes letting things rest, so 19 years later, a visibly bored Harrison Ford, an annoying Shia LaBeouf and a welcome but underused Karen Allen all assembled under the direction of an indifferent Steven Spielberg. Some folks like the movie, but the first red flag should have been the years it took to get a script ready... and then that the one they did settle on was a convoluted and uninteresting hodgepodge. And they want to make a fifth one?
Psycho II (1983, 23 years after 1960's Psycho)
A sequel to Psycho? Really? Well if they could make sequels to The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind, then why the hell not? Horror author Robert Bloch wrote his own sequel in 1982, so if Bloch did it, why not Hollywood?
Of course, Alfred Hitchcock was three years in his grave when Psycho II was produced, so Australian director Richard Franklin bravely took the job. Fortunately Anthony Perkins was still with us to reprise the role of Norman Bates, who is released from the asylum and seemingly cured of his insanity... but this is a Psycho movie, so things start going awry in short order. The film has its strengths — an empathetic performance from Perkins among them — but it cannot equal the subversive psychosexual fever dream that is the original.
Superman Returns (2006, 19 years after 1987's Superman IV: The Quest For Peace)
It's amazing to think that numerous filmmakers have tried and failed to get Superman right — after the excellent Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981), every film starring the Man of Steel since (including the 2013 one bearing that title) has ranged from dismal to uneven. The execrable Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) killed the franchise for years... and might have stopped comic book movies in their tracks had Batman (1989) not emerged.
During the long, dry spell after Superman IV, many projects designed to reboot the story of Kal-El went through development hell before Superman Returns somehow emerged from the abyss. Director Bryan Singer intended the film as a direct sequel to Superman II, ignoring the two movies in between, as well as a tribute to Richard Donner's original vision. A then-unknown Brandon Routh did his best Christopher Reeve impersonation and the effects were impressive, but Singer relied too much on nostalgia instead of telling a fresh story. And still we wait for the next great Superman film...
Land of the Dead (2005, 20 years after 1985's Day of the Dead)
The only recurring characters in the zombie movies of the late, great George A. Romero are the reanimated corpses themselves: most of his casts usually end up dead or zombified. At the end of the brilliant Day of the Dead (1985), three survivors had found their way to a respite on a tropical island, but the future of the zombie plague seemed unresolved.
Two decades later, Romero got a major studio (Universal) to back a long-awaited fourth film in his series. This one found one American city — Romero's native Pittsburgh, of course — in a semi-rebuilding phase, although in typical Romero fashion the elites lived in a luxury skyscraper while the 99% tried to survive on the streets below while keeping the undead out. Not as boldly gruesome as his earlier unrated efforts, Land of the Dead was perhaps a bit of a disappointment but still a well-produced and often intense return to the genre Romero created.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017, 35 years after 1982's Blade Runner)
Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner was largely ignored by audiences and sneered at by critics when it first came out, only to become a cult classic and hugely influential on sci-fi cinema for the next 30 years. While not quite the masterwork its fans make it out to be, Blade Runner did touch on genuine sci-fi themes and create an indelible visual style.
Fast forward three decades and the longstanding rumors of a sequel finally became reality. Blade Runner 2049, produced by Scott and directed by brilliant French-Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, arrived on a wave of hype - and was again largely ignored by audiences but this time embraced warmly by critics.
A marvel of design and visuals like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 is hampered by a murky, thin plot and inconsistent characters... but check with us again in 30 years or so and we'll see if that assessment has changed.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, 32 years after 1983's Return of the Jedi)
Yes, we know that the prequels were released in the intervening years. But as a direct sequel to Return of the Jedi, The Force Awakens took 32 years to get to the screen... and arrived as perhaps the most anticipated sequel of all time.
Director J.J. Abrams did a lot of things right with The Force Awakens: he made a film that looked more like the original trilogy than the prequels and restored the pulpy, old-time adventure vibe of the very first film. But the script was more or less a remake of the original Star Wars as well, and Abrams missed a prime opportunity to reunite the franchise's three iconic leads for one last time. We still like this movie, but it's becoming increasingly evident that no one will ever truly equal the original three.
Halloween (2018, 40 years after 1978's Halloween)
We're going to fudge things a little here and copy exactly what this year's David Gordon Green-directed sequel did: we're going to ignore the seven other sequels (plus the 2007 remake and its sequel) that followed John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic and pretend that Green's film is the only one - and in a way, it's now the only one that matters.
While movies like Halloween II and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers have their charms, 2018's Halloween took The Shape back to his primal, unknowable roots, making him an enigmatic force of evil rather than the central figure in an increasingly convoluted family tree. It also reframed the conflict between Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in terms that were relevant to the current cultural landscape. So forget the rest... this is the best.
2010 (1984, 16 years after 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey)
Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was such a singular achievement in science fiction and cinema in general that the idea of a sequel could never been seen as anything but conventional. Still, Kubrick's co-author, sci-fi legend Arthur C. Clarke, penned his own follow-up novel in 1982, so the material was there to continue the story.
And the truth is that while 2010 is a much more conventionally made film than the transcendent 2001, it's still a pretty impressive sci-fi adventure in its own right. True, it explains some of the ambiguities and mysteries that were a major part of 2001's sense of awe and poetry, but it does so in an intelligent, coherent fashion that harkens back to its literary sci-fi roots. It's an authentically compelling genre tale that, freed from the comparisons to its unparalleled predecessor, plots its own course into the infinite.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, 30 years after 1985's Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome)
The first Mad Max (1979) is a brutal little action/exploitation thriller. The second, The Road Warrior (1982) is a stone cold post-apocalyptic classic. The third, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), is an ambitious but unfocused chapter that somehow lacks the starkness of the others.
Three decades later, creator George Miller picked up right where he left off and gave the world Mad Max: Fury Road, which not only wiped the floor with other action films and dystopian epics but managed to update its own mythology at the same time. Tom Hardy was a sturdy replacement for Mel Gibson as Max, but Charlize Theron owned the film as the majestic and defiant Furiosa. Very few franchises yield more than one bona fide masterpiece, but this one has two.