Our Ten’s List: Sequels Worth the Wait.
As Blade Runner 2049 proved, some times a long delay between movies winds up being worth waiting for.
With a 35 years between films, Blade Runner certainly seemed unlikely to get a sequel, let alone a sequel that was any good. While long waits aren’t exactly rare for Hollywood, getting a quality addition to a long dormant franchise is more the exception than the rule. Often, a new studio adapts a sequel-in-name only to a beloved movie, looking more for a big payday than a meaningful exploration of the material. Since Blade Runner 2049 proved it could be done, we dug through the archives and found ten franchises that rose from the grave and didn’t send fans shrieking in terror.
We are limiting our selections to movies with theatrical releases for both films. Disney learned in the 1990’s that they could slap a “2” next to every one of their classic animated hits and release it straight to DVD for some guaranteed cash. So while Bambi 2 is technically the film series with the longest time between entries, it’s not making the list. We’re also not factoring in sequels currently in development. Sorry, Beetlejuice 2 and Mary Poppins Returns, you should have pulled the trigger by now.
Lastly, we will consider spiritual sequels. While some films aren’t direct follow ups to the earlier material, they contain the same main characters. Those “further adventures of so and so” flicks are close enough to a true sequel to count.
The list will be ordered by wait time, not by how good the sequel was. On to the list.
Top Ten Sequels Worth Waiting the Wait.
10. The Rescuers > The Rescuers Down Under.
The Wait: 13 years.
While I trashed Disney’s reputation for pooping out belated sequels of questionable quality, there is one Disney animated classic that actually got a sequel into theaters. The Rescuers may not be a household name for Mouseketeers, but it wound up being the most successful Disney animated film of its time when it released in 1977. It was such a surprise success, it beat the original Star Wars in France for box office gross.
The story of a UN-esque organization of animals who help victims of abuse and abduction around the world, the Rescuers is fairly adult in theme…and I’m not talking about the home release which included a topless photo hidden in a couple of frames of animation. The story about two cute mice who rescue a kidnapped girl in Louisiana went dormant for a dozen years before getting a sequel – the first theatrical sequel in Disney history.
The follow up, The Rescuers Down Under was a superior film to the first in nearly every way. The production value and animation was exceptional, being the first Disney film to go digital. The story, though fairly similar to the first film, featured the return of Miss Bianca and Bernard, the two mice from the first film played by Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor. It also added the talent of John Candy and George C. Scott. Set in Australia, our heroes must save a little boy who is being held captive by a poacher who wants to capture the boy’s pet, a rare golden eagle. It’s unfortunate that this sequel was a box office dud, as it was one of the most original titles in the Disney line up, since it didn’t feature a story based on fairy tales.
9. Escape from New York > Escape from LA
The Wait: 15 years.
Director and horror icon John Carpenter only ever made one sequel in his career, so it’s not a surprise that quite a bit of time passed between Escape from New York and Escape from LA. The long awaited sequel to the cult classic Escape from NY almost didn’t happen, since Carpenter was unhappy with the script and let it ferment for a decade. When the LA earthquake and riots happened in rapid succession, Carpenter saw an opportunity to make his sci-fi dystopian flick topical as well as timeless.
The pair of movies share many plot points. In the first, a former special operative who has gone rogue named Snake Plisken (Kurt Russell) is forced to venture into New York City to rescue the president. NYC has become a penal colony completely cut off from the world and surrounded by hi-tech security. Plisken is injected with a timed explosive charge and tasked with getting back the president’s nuclear football…and maybe the president if he can work it into his schedule. No pressure though.
In the second film, Plisken is once again forced into a maximum security prison, this time the city of LA which has been separated from the west coast by natural disasters. He is tasked with finding a top secret weapons disk before the demented “ruler” of LA can find it and extort the mainland.
Both films are excellent; filled with dark humor, dystopian themes, and standout performances by Kurt Russell and an all-star cast in both films. While the follow up is a touch less stellar, mostly due to how much of the plot is recycled, it is worth a watch. It also has a cameo by Bruce Campbell, so you should definitely check it out.
8. Drunken Master > The Legend of Drunken Master.
The Wait: 15 years.
The Legend of Drunken master is our first “spiritual successor.” Drunken Master was a pretty standard kung fu flick about a young man learning an esoteric form of martial arts from a deranged lunatic. Like I said, a really bog standard story for 70’s chop sockey. They’re connected by Jackie Chan playing the same character in each, a semi-historical hero named Wong Fei-Hung.
In the first film, he’s the student. In the second, he’s graduated…though you get the feeling that he’s still got a lot to prove since everyone disses his kung fu on the regular. By the end of the second film, though, you know that Chan is the master. Everything is bigger and better. The story is more coherent and features an epic plot to stop villains from robbing China’s heritage. The characters are more interesting, even though you still get plenty of slapstick and broad humor. And finally, the action is out of this world. I’ve called this movie one of the best kung fu movies of all time, and many regard the last fight of the film to be the best movie fight of all time. It’s worth every silly joke to see Chan absolutely go HAMM on his opponent, especially when you find out his opponent was his bodyguard in real life!
7. Rocky V > Rocky Balboa.
The Wait: 16 years.
The middle of the list is dominated by Sly Stallone. Decades after his prime, Sylvester had a renaissance in the action movie business by telling complex and emotionally charged stories about the characters who made him famous. The first to get a sequel after decades was Rocky Balboa. The Rocky franchise had become the punchline about a franchise being done to death, and Rocky V was just a joke. Straying from everything that made the series so good, it seemed our marble mouthed journeyman was destined to retire a bum. Then came Rocky Balboa.
It beggars belief that a 60 year old man could bang with the top fighter in the boxing world…especially since the top fighter in the Rocky world happened to also be Antonio Tarver, a real life champion. The charm of Rocky Balboa is that the film knows that the premise is shaky, so it goes about telling a rock solid redemption story about a broken man who needs one more shot at the big time, win, lose or draw. While Stallone went on to appear as Rocky in the Creed movie, Rocky Balboa was a touching and exciting swan song for the pugilist from Philly.
6. Rambo III > Rambo.
The Wait: 19 years.
While I don’t enjoy the Rambo revival as much as the Rocky Balboa sequel, Nate certainly does. I think my take is that Rambo does less to revitalize the series – mostly because he never sank as low as Rocky did before Sylvester Stallone put him on hiatus. Rambo III is a fun action flick that hardly resembles the harrowing story of First Blood, but that’s the story of the whole franchise. While Rambo is certainly a darker film than the laughably gung-ho macho shoot em-up that the series had become, it’s nowhere near as good as First Blood. Well, they can’t all be classics. At least Rambo is a solid movie that gives fans a good final look at the 80’s action icon while covering the screen in more blood than a slasher flick. Or…final look until the next time Sly needs a career resurrection.
5. The Hustler > The Color of Money.
Wait Time: 25 years.
The Color of Money is a sequel that nobody knew they needed. The Hustler, starring Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason is an under-celebrated classic about two grifters, one a young hotshot and the other a cagey veteran. The chemistry between Newman and Gleason is superb, giving this con-vs-con story a real set of teeth. What surprised everyone is that the dynamic they created could work so well in a second film, this time with the roles reversed.
In the sequel, we see Newman return as Fast Eddie Felson, a minor pool shark who hit the big time in the first film. Now a grizzled vet like Gleason had been, he gets lured back into the life of hustling pool games when he meets a phenom named Vincent (Tom Cruise). The two become partners and then rivals, resulting in a riveting showdown in Atlantic City with the older pro versus the younger ace.
Director Martin Scorsese pitched a gem in this film, capturing much of the vibe of the original while spinning his own story. The characters are larger than life while still remaining intimate, and the film keeps you riveted with as many twists and turns as a real game of skill. It’s a classic sequel to a classic movie, well worth the wait of 25 years.
4. Tron > Tron: Legacy.
Wait Time: 28 years.
Another film that took a quarter of a century to receive an update, Tron: Legacy is unfortunately not up to the caliber of The Color of Money. Some would argue that it’s not even up to the cult-classic caliber of the original…and I would be hard pressed to argue differently. Tron is one of those seminal sci-fi flicks that may not have the deep impact of a 2001 or Blade Runner, but has been seen by pretty much everyone and enjoys a solid reputation for its groundbreaking visuals. The sequel may not be as good, but it’s still a fine film that doesn’t tarnish the first, even if it can’t equal it.
3. Mad Max Beyond Thunder Dome > Mad Max: Fury Road.
Wait Time: 29 years.
It took nearly 30 years, but director George Miller found some gas left in the tank of the Mad Max franchise…and then promptly set that gas tank on fire and crashed three cars into it. A visual spectacle of vehicular mayhem, Fury Road returned to the iconic dystopian wastelands of the franchise with a new star (Tom Hardey) as the legendary road warrior.
While the first film in the series was a cool freshman effort and the second was a cult classic action flick, the third film was a dud that couldn’t get off the starting line for many viewers. Seemingly set to wander the wastes in infamy, Mad Max looked all washed up until 2015’s sequel returned to the roots of the franchise, introduced many excellent new characters, ramped up the practical effects-laden visuals, and turned the whole thing to eleven. We’ve talked a lot about the franchise and the excellent return to form of Fury Road, so take it as wrote that this franchise was worth sticking around for.
2. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi > Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Wait Time: 32 years.
I was not as impressed as other’s with 2015’s return to a galaxy long ago and far far away, but who am I to argue with a billion dollars in domestic ticket sales? For many fans, The Force Awakens was just what the doctor ordered to cleanse the series of the taint put on it by the ill-fated prequels. Promising an update on beloved heroes such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo, episode seven also introduced a whole new group of heroes and villains for fans to fall in love with. Now that we’re on the cusp of episode eight, many are excited once again to return to the timeless tale of light versus dark that started in 1977 and returned to glory a generation later.
1. Blade Runner > Blade Runner 2049.
The Wait: 35 years.
The sequel that got this list started takes the top spot as the longest time between iterations of a successful franchise. It’s hard to even think of Blade Runner as a franchise, as it spent 35 years as just a single entry, a lone science fiction masterpiece. Ridley Scott gracefully passed the baton when it came to directing, allowing an excellent young director of sci-fi, Denis Villeneuve, to give his vision of LA in a beautiful but bleak future. Aptly set a generation after the first film, we follow a new protagonist as he explores the seedy underbelly of a technologically advanced but morally bankrupt society. For fans of the original, loose ends are tied up and old questions answered, notably about the human status of the first film’s hero, played by Harrison Ford in both outings. While many may have been skeptical at first, we were impressed by Blade Runner 2049 and recommended it in our recent review.