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Legacies, returns, and facing the music: 19 sequels that fans waited a long, long time for

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Dec 18, 2020, 12:47 PM EST (Updated)

Not too long ago, it was almost unheard of for Hollywood to make fans wait a decade — or more — for a sequel to a popular movie. Usually, the longest audiences would have to wait for the next installment in their favorite franchise was an average of two or three years. But in the last decade and change, thanks to growing nostalgia, a track record of box office wins, and a sweeping trend towards reviving old IP rather than creating something new, studios have opened their vaults and revisited (or rebooted) long-dormant properties. As a result, waiting a decade (or more) for a follow-up isn’t such a crazy proposition, as Tron: Legacy proved when it was released on this day ten years ago — 28 years after the original.

To celebrate Tron: Legacy's 10th anniversary, here’s a selection of sequels — either the first new entry in a long-dormant franchise or the first one in a while to pick up an old story (and maybe ignoring some non-canon sequels in the process) — building up to the ones that made fans wait the longest. Let’s see how many of these movies were worth it.

Toy Story

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Time Between Installments: 11 years.

That incinerator scene?! That tearful moment was worth the 11-year wait for this threequel, which proves that not all Part 3s are disappointments. Woody, Buzz, and the gang struggle with abandonment issues when an off-to-college Andy moves on from his toys. What our favorite sentient toys find after being donated to a daycare center is a renewed sense of purpose, a new owner, and one last chance for Andy to play with them. And no, we're not crying again. That's just...someone must be chopping onions.

Toy Story 3 is the rare third chapter that is better than its predecessor, with it and Toy Story 2 often finding themselves duking it out for the title of Best Pixar Movie Ever.

Live Free or Die Hard

Live Free or Die Hard (2007)

Time Between Installments: 12 years.

Fans of John “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” McClane waited 12 years for Bruce Willis to dust off his trademark smirk and embark on another kick-punching fest against terrorists. Instead of a grounded, R-rated summer blockbuster that could service the character’s roots, Live Free or Die Hard gave us a McClane that had become the very over-the-top action hero the character was intentionally created to be the antithesis of.

Worse, he was doing so in a watered-down, PG-13 summer movie whose rating the studio intentionally downplayed in an attempt to not upset fans. (Narrator: Fans were indeed upset). Leaping onto and off the back of a fighter jet is not what fans want to see in a Die Hard movie — judging by how quickly this sequel has been relegated to “all-but-forgotten” status.

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Time Between Installments: 12 years.

Another problematic sequel to an R-rated legacy title, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a noble misfire that turns Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signature character into a caricature, one prone to too many lame-even-for-2003 puns. We're including this "meh" threequel on the list because, at the time, it was notable for being one of the earliest sequels to hit the big screen after a franchise's long absence.

In what was clearly a cash grab for Arnuld, whose bona fides at the box office were suffering at the time, Rise of the Machines uses the CG tools James Cameron’s T2 pioneered but in ways that make the digital stitches very obvious and more dated than its 12-year-old predecessor. What does work in this lackluster threequel is its third act, which pits John Connor once again against a murderous, liquid metal Terminator (this time a woman, played by Kristanna Loken) as the plot rockets to a Twilight Zone-worthy ending. Here, audiences witness John losing in his attempt to save the future from Skynet's nuclear holocaust that turns the world into a post-apocalyptic battleground between man and Terminator.

Incredibles 2

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Time Between Installments: 14 years.

Pixar’s Incredibles 2 came out as its parent company, Disney, was reaching new highs in the superhero movie market thanks to Marvel’s blockbusters. It also premiered at a time when fans and critics felt Pixar was churning out too many sequels that were box office hits (think Finding Dory) but struggled to reach the creative highs of their more original works that endeared the company’s unique storytelling to audiences for the better part of three decades. But Incredibles 2 somehow balanced the commerce with the creative to give Pixar not only one of its most satisfying sequels, but also one of its greatest films.

The 14-year gap between Brad Bird’s blockbuster sequel and his 2004 original hit seemed to be just what fans needed, as the continued adventures of the Parr family (especially Jack Jack) scored an Oscar nomination for Best Animated feature and minted $1.2 billion worldwide. Bird’s 2004 film came out when superhero movies were nowhere near becoming the industry they are today; The Incredibles had to walk (in part) so that the Marvel Cinematic Universe could run, essentially. Getting to revisit Pixar's superhero family more than a decade later, when superheroes were the norm, not the exception, was a nice little treat.

Jurassic World

Jurassic World (2015)

Time Between Installments: 14 years.

Picking up where The Lost World and Jurassic Park III left off (but mostly serving as a sequel to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Jurassic Park), Jurassic World proved that (*in perfect Ian Malcolm voice*) life finds a way to make a gazillion dollars after spending the last 14 years frozen in amber.

Director Colin Trevorrow capitalized on fans’ nostalgia for the original JP, just as the blockbuster was celebrating its 22nd anniversary, by submitting more humans to rampaging dinosaurs. This time, the PG-13 terror takes place at a fully-functioning (and well-attended) theme park. Raptor trainer Chris Pratt and corporate suit Bryce Dallas Howard became the latest stars to run screaming from the T-Rex, as Jurassic World reinvigorated the franchise with a scope and scale bigger than anything Spielberg pulled off in the Jurassic films he directed. (And the less said about Joe Johnston’s “just OK” Jurassic Park III, the better.)

Escape From L.A.

Escape From L.A. (1996)

Time Between Installments: 15 years.

Usually, when you have a critical and financial success like John Carpenter did with 1981’s cult-fave Escape From New York, a sequel is fast-tracked into theaters. So why the delay on seeing Kurt Russell put on Snake Plissken’s eye patch once more and brood his way through another grim future-set action movie?

Blame the sequel’s script. In 1985, the filmmaker — who usually, at the time, wrote his own material, commissioned a script from ‘80’s TV scribe Coleman Luck. Carpenter was unsatisfied with Luck’s take on Snake’s second outing, and the project got back burnered as Carpenter and Russell got busy making other movies. Eventually, Russell rallied Carpenter and his collaborator, Debra Hill, to help shape the story themselves, with Russell getting the first and only screenwriting credit of his career. The end result is a very lean, but very campy, B-movie that didn’t find much love at the box office, but Escape From L.A. has found considerable care space among fans since it was released in August 1996.

Bad Boys For Life

Bad Boys For Life (2020)

Time Between Installments: 17 years.

2003 marked the last time Will Smith and Martin Lawrence blew some s*** up real good, thanks to director Michael Bay’s excessively R-rated Bad Boys II. Filmmakers like Joe Carnahan (The Grey) tried at various points to bring back the intrepid Miami-based cops for one more outing over the years, with Bay stepping away from directing duties.

Studio Sony Pictures was determined to find a price point that made sense, after the very expensive first sequel. It wasn’t until October 2018 that the movie was officially greenlit, helmed by directors Adil & Bilall. The duo reinvigorated the franchise with a strong dose of Fast & Furious-style action and visuals, which made the wait worth it for fans as Bad Boys for Life currently ranks as the third highest-grossing movie of 2020 (though to be fair, it's been a weird year).

Glass

Glass (2019)

Time Between Installments: 19 years.

Some 20 years ago, Disney/Touchstone’s Unbreakable was ahead of the curve with its unique and grounded take on comic book heroes. M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense follow-up didn’t find that film’s blockbuster success at the box office, but it did earn a faithful fanbase that desired more stories featuring supervillain Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) and heroic security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis).

Those fans were shocked to learn that the sequel they spent 20 years pining for was finally happening — with the news coming from an end-credits tag in another studio’s movie! Shyamalan and Blumhouse’s Split concluded with an older David learning that his world had crossed over with that of Split’s villain, The Beast (James McAvoy). Glass would bring David, Glass, and The Beast together for a low-budget, Avengers-esque team-up that generally disappointed creatively but delivered in terms of rewarding fans’ patience.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

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

Time Between Installments: 19 years.

If there is a movie that embodies the adage of “be careful what you wish for,” it is Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated sequel to the 1989 blockbuster, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, took the better part of two decades — and several screenwriters, including Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and M. Night Shyamalan — to swing out of development hell and onto the big screen. But when it arrived, Crystal Skull lacked the charm and inventiveness of its predecessors and was a largely over-plotted and soulless affair. Watching Harrison Ford don his iconic character’s fedora and whip once again provided a short burst of nostalgic joy that was quickly replaced with an air of disappointment that still surrounds the film.

Here’s hoping director James Mangold’s upcoming sequel, set to be released 14 years after Crystal Skull, doesn’t suffer the same fate.

Independence Day

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Time Between Installments: 20 years.

In Independence Day: Resurgence’s case, the wait was definitely not worth it.

When the movie was greenlit, ‘90’s nostalgia and reboot fever was at an all-time high, so it made sense to revisit one of the decade’s most popular and successful films. But a key part of that success, Will Smith, wisely sat out this bloated and lifeless sequel that featured a second wave of aliens coming to finish what they started 20 years ago. Original cast members Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman did reprise their roles, however, and audiences greeted the film with a collective shrug at the box office. Even its studio, 20th Century Fox, knew they had a stinker on their hands; they withheld screenings for critics until the morning of release — not an uncommon practice when a studio doesn’t have much faith in a movie, but an especially bad sign when the movie in question is an expensive blockbuster that should be met with fanfare instead of shrugs.

Superman Returns

Superman Returns (2006)

Time Between Installments: 26 years.

Richard Donner famously brought Superman to life with his blockbuster 1978 release, which spawned three sequels until 1987's cheap and unremarkable Superman IV: The Quest for Peace dealt the Man of Steel a permanent case of kryptonite poisoning on the big screen. After years of trying to resurrect the DC hero, Warner Bros. settled on director Bryan Singer's take, which would ignore all but 1980's Superman II and serve as a rebootquel to the late Christopher Reeve's time under the cape.

Superman Returns compresses the tricky timeline between this new take and the first two Superman films with Kal-El (Brandon Routh) returning to Earth after a years-long search from what's left of his homeworld. Supes struggles to re-enter his life as both mild-mannered Clark Kent and savior to a planet that has moved on without him, while Lex Luthor (a pre-canceled Kevin Spacey) plots another deadly (and non-sensical) real estate scheme to destroy the world.Superman Returns was too much of a love letter to a previous generation's association with the iconic hero, and not enough of its own thing to endear a new legacy of fans — at least not enough to warrant further installments featuring Routh's likable portrayal of The Last Son of Krypton.

TRON Legacy

Tron: Legacy (2010)

Time Between Installments: 28 years.

Tron’s loyal fanbase waited nearly 30 years for a return to the Grid, first brought to life in 1982 by Disney’s landmark (if underseen) film. Tron’s then-revolutionary special effects helped pave the digital path for Tron: Legacy to push the visuals even further with the help of modern CGI. Director Joseph Kosinski didn’t disappoint with his slick digital landscapes and tension-filled set pieces.

Like its predecessor, Tron: Legacy also helped pioneer visual effects techniques as it became an early adopter of digital de-aging effects to help make Jeff Bridges resemble his younger self from the 1980s. Despite disappointing at the box office a decade ago, that hasn’t stopped Disney from wanting to further exploit their IP. Tron: Ares, starring Jared Leto, will hopefully go into production next year.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Time Between Installments: 28 years.

No one really wanted another Terminator sequel. 

2015’s Terminator: Genisys, one of the decade’s most high-profile box office disappointments, made it very hard for audiences to rally behind another return trip to the world of Skynet. (Especially after the previous disappointments Terminator: Salvation in 2009 and Rise of the Machines in 2003). But with the success of Halloween in 2018, and how it rebooted the franchise by ignoring every sequel film in the series minus Carpenter’s original, Paramount and Skydance were emboldened in part to take another shot at Sarah Connor.

In fact, they brought Linda Hamilton back in her iconic role and set the film after the events of T2. (Terminators 3 through Genisys don’t exist in this rebooted cinematic timeline). What does exist, however, are Arnold’s T-800 and the rest of Skynet’s murder bots — the latter still hellbent on using the past as a hunting ground for members of a future resistance force. Dark Fate’s John Connor analog is Dani (Natalia Reyes), who is forced to join a broken Sarah and a human-cyborg hybrid played by Mackenzie Davis to save humanity.

The first Terminator movie to have James Cameron’s active involvement on a story level since 1991, Dark Fate deserved a better reception at the box office. Its action scenes are as inventive as its more dramatic beats are surprisingly emotional. While it’s highly unlikely Paramount and Skynet will give us another Terminator movie anytime soon, Dark Fate is the first film in the series since T2 to make us eager for more.

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Time Between Installments: 29 years.

Bill & Ted Face the Music couldn’t have come out at a better time.

As 2020 proved to be a dismal year on multiple fronts, the decades-long efforts of stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter, coupled with Bill and Ted creators and screenwriters Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson, paid off with one of the best and most rewatchable threequels in recent memory. The movie’s themes of hope and family landed with extra resonance as families sheltering in place found a movie seemingly brimming with a hopefulness that the world was struggling to find.

Solomon and Matheson started writing (and rewriting) the script over a decade ago, with the story centering on Bill and Ted (*plays air guitar*) having to make good on their first film’s promise of the San Dimas, California-based duo creating a song that unites the world. Troubles securing financing and finding a studio partner willing to revisit the dormant franchise plagued the sequel — at one point, MGM was willing to come on board, but only if the leads were recast as younger actors. Eventually, the movie’s creative stakeholders prevailed in their vision to bring Bill and Ted back, middle-aged and all, just when the real world needed them almost as much as their fictional one did. “Excellent!”

Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Time Between Installments: 30 years.

The last time director George Miller revisited the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max was in 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. For Fury Road, Miller ditched Mel Gibson and doubled-downed on the jaw-dropping practical effects as Max (Tom Hardy) teamed up with Charlize Theron’s instantly-iconic Furiosa for a “shiny and chrome” adventure through the Wasteland.

Fury Road became a once-in-a-generation theatrical experience, a relentless, feature-length car chase that is as poignant as it is adrenaline-fueled. The bloody, sunburnt aesthetic of this epic action pic gives way to heartfelt themes that Miller neither shies away from nor pulls any punches with. It’s one of his best films and one of the greatest cinematic achievements ever — and, thankfully, we won’t have to wait as long for more stories in this world. Miller’s follow-up, a Furiosa prequel starring The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy, is in the works.

Han Solo Star Wars The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Time Between Installments: 32 years.

Director J.J. Abrams left the Final Frontier of Star Trek for Star Wars’ galaxy far, far away, resurrecting the classic franchise 32 years after we last saw Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia on the big screen. (Before TFA, the last time audiences were treated to a live-action Star Wars movie was 2005’s Revenge of the Sith, the final chapter in George Lucas’ Prequel trilogy.) The Force Awakens would do for Star Wars what 1994’s Generations did for Star Trek and act as a “passing of the torch” for a new batch of characters to take over for George Lucas’ iconic bunch (with some of the legacy players like Chewie and R2-D2 still in the mix).

The Force Awakens succeeded as both a nostalgic play and as escapist entertainment, becoming the highest-grossing movie in the U.S. with a $936 million haul.

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Time Between Installments: 35 years.

Much like Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner in 1982, audiences slept on this underrated sequel. Also like the original, it is likely that in a few years’ time, audiences will regret that choice.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a slow-burn detective noir that furthers the puzzle-plotting and world-building fans loved in the first film while investing the sequel with a stronger emotional storyline, thanks to the return of Rick Deckard (an all-time performance from Harrison Ford) and a significant event from his past that has violent consequences for the future. Especially for Blade Runner K, a Replicant “skin job” played by Ryan Gosling. The two generations of Blade Runners must team up to stop a genius inventor with a god complex (Jared Leto) and uncover a mystery more than three decades in the making. Roger Deakins’ Oscar-winning cinematography is scary-good, and Villeneuve’s effortless handling of the complicated material is the sort of craftsmanship that should be the stuff of many a film school’s curricula.

Halloween (2018) - The Mask of Michael Myers Scene (1/10) | Movieclips

Halloween (2018)

Time Between Installments: 40 years.

The horrific conflict between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her relentless brother, masked murderer Michael Myers, is nothing short of iconic. But the horror series’ sequels always fell short of John Carpenter’s original masterpiece. (And the two Halloween movies from Rob Zombie have been quickly relegated to pop culture’s dustbin.)

But the unlikely combo of director David Gordon Green and pal and co-writer Danny McBride finally made a film on par with the first Halloween, 40 years later. All the filmmakers had to do was effectively erase all of the previous installments — save for 1978’s Halloween — and tell a direct sequel to the events of that film. As Laurie is off the grid and struggling with PTSD, the Shape returns to stalk Laurie, her daughter (Judy Greer), and her granddaughter. The movie is one of the most successful horror films and rebootquels of all time, with two sequels on deck. (The first, Halloween Kills, is set for release in October 2022.)

Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Time Between Installments: 54 years.

Mary Poppins Returns tried to capitalize on recent nostalgia plays by trying to make a franchise out of the last movie anyone was looking to sequelize: 1964's Mary Poppins.

But unlike some obvious Disney cash grabs, Mary Poppins Returns succeeds as a creatively-satisfying tale in its own right. Emily Blunt takes on the iconic role Julia Andrews originated, with the magical caretaker (and her umbrella) returning to help the Banks family once again. Mary Poppins Returns, like the first film, uses charming and whimsical songs to endear itself to audiences, while investing in a more "adult" tone when it comes to addressing the tragic reasons surrounding Mary's return at this time. It's a heartfelt, character-driven sequel that, like the first film, will stick with you long after it ends.

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