33 Movie Sequels That Exemplify the Best and Worst of Nostalgia

33 Movie Sequels That Exemplify the Best and Worst of Nostalgia
Screenshot: Tron: Legacy/Walt Disney Pictures

The first trailer for the long-in-coming fourth Matrix film dropped last week, and it’s looking good — but were I trying to explain the premise of The Matrix Resurrections based only on that new footage, I’d probably wind up more or less describing The Matrix (the 1999 original, that is). Is this thing really a continuation of the storyline, or is it a reimagining of the first film?

Lana Wachowski is an endlessly inventive filmmaker who’s been part of the creation of some of the most original movie concepts of the past couple of decades, so I have no intention of counting her out. But are we just going back to the same old well when we might better look for something new? And is that even a worthwhile goal?

All stories are iterative to some degree, and fresh looks at old concepts have yielded some of the best and most beloved creative works in history — but also more than a few needless retreads. Let’s take a look at some of the most significant legacy sequels — past, present, and future — to see if we’ve gotten better or worse at turning nostalgia into art.

Psycho II (1983)

Norman Bates just wants to live his life, you know?

How long since the last one? 23 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? You can’t beat Hitchcock, but yes, it’s a smart and fun slasher movie that’s better than it has any right to be.

The Colour of Money (1986)

Fast Eddie is back with a hot new apprentice: Tom Cruise.

How long since the last one? 25 years since The Hustler.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Yes. It’s not Scorsese’s best, and it’s not as good as the 1961 original, but the movie is a believable and welcome look at Fast Eddie Felson’s later years that doesn’t wallow in nostalgia.

The Two Jakes (1990)

Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes gets involved in a new conspiracy, this time involving LA oil reserves.

How long since the last one? 16 years since Chinatown.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? All the pieces are in place — a script by Robert Towne, the writer of the original; direction by star Jack Nicholson — and it’s not a terrible neo-noir, but it’s a forgettable afterthought in comparison to Chinatown and we probably could’ve done fine without it. (Sorry Jack.)

The Godfather Part III (1990)

He tried to get out, etc.

How long since the last one? 16 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? The parts that are good are great, but this thing is wildly uneven (there’s a lot more wrong than Sofia Coppola’s unfairly maligned performance). It made some money and won some awards, but doesn’t hold up well against its predecessors.

Blues Brothers 2000

They got the band back together.

How long since the last one? 18 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? It’s… fine, but mostly just makes you want to watch the original.

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Retired Rocky plans to get back in the ring one last time. Again.

How long since the last one? 16 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Mostly, yes. It’s a nostalgia trip, but a welcome one. Even more importantly, its success paved the way for Creed, a truly worthwhile extension of the original Oscar-winning film’s legacy

Tron Legacy (2010)

A strange signal draws Garrett Hudland to his long-missing dad’s old arcade.

How long since the last one? 28 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Though it developed a reputation as a flop, it’s solidly entertaining and made (or at least didn’t lose) money on release. And that Daft Punk soundtrack still slaps. Work is underway on a concept for Tron 3, which may or may not arrive before another 28 years have passed.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Gordon Gecko is back and would like some more money, please.

How long since the last one? 23 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? It’s a timely prestige sequel from an era when our craving for Shia LaBeouf movies was apparently insatiable. It’s polished, but a little hollow.

The Best Man Holiday (2013)

College friends reunite for the holidays.

How long since the last one? 14 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Absolutely. It’s a poignant and funny follow-up with the same stellar cast that made the original a success.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

An orphan from a sandy planet sets off in search of his her destiny in a war-torn galaxy.

How long since the last one? 12 years since Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, but that one was a prequel; 22 years since 1983’s Return of the Jedi, to which it is the first proper sequel.

Reboot or sequel? See above, though it’s also basically a reboot (see below).

Does it work? Beat for beat, Star Wars: The Force Awakens mirrors the plot structure of the 1977 original, albeit updated with contemporary humour and special effects. It definitely did a good job introducing the saga to a new generation of fans, but it also provided perhaps the best (worst?) example of the dangers of nostalgia: By so closely following the original film, plenty of people might argue this one has trouble justifying its existence as anything more than an extension of the brand. (Not me though — please don’t email me.)

Jurassic World (2015)

It’s been well over a decade since the Jurassic Park dinosaurs got loose and killed everybody for the third time… let’s head back!

How long since the last one? 14 years since Jurassic Park 3.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Despite some clunky character work and some interesting gender politics, it does everything it needs to do in terms of dinosaur action and reinvigorated the franchise. (Plenty of people think it’s horrible though.)

Mad Max Fury Road (2015)

How long since the last one? 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Reboot or sequel? Reboot, I think?

Does it work? The platonic ideal of a legacy sequel that works on every level.

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Jeff Goldblum spots a giant alien mothership approaching Earth. Again. Only this time, we’re prepared.

How long since the last one? 20 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? It does not. Largely unmemorable (I literally can’t remember a thing about it), it did roughly half the business of the silly-but-fun original.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Ryan Gosling plays Officer K, who sets off on a hunt for Harrison Ford, thus forming the core of a multigenerational family Blade Runner buddy comedy.

How long since the last one? 35 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? It rather famously flopped at the box office (as did the original), but that’s mostly because it cost so much — it made $US260 ($353) million worldwide but cost as much as $US185 ($251) million to make. I suspect that time will be kind to it, and it was certainly good enough to get Warner Bros. to throw piles of money at director Denis Villeneuve to make Dune.

XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Xander Cage assembles a new team to put a stop to Pandora’s Box.

How long since the last one? 12 years since XXX: State of the Union, which actually didn’t have Vin Diesel in it; 15 years since the original.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Vin Diesel is always a solid performer, but I’m not sure that anyone was demanding a new Xander Cage movie in 2017, nor were they after this film’s release.

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Ewan McGregor’s Mark Renton comes home.

How long since the last one? 21 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? It’s a smart and poignant followup that doesn’t really hold a candle to the original in terms of impact. Call it a well-made coda.

Super Troopers 2 (2018)

The Super Troopers are back, zanily defending the border between the US and Canada.

How long since the last one? 17 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? It’s got moments of dumb fun, but not really. Did decent box office, though.

Incredibles 2 (2018)

With Elastigirl off saving the world and doing superhero PR, Mr. Incredible takes on his greatest challenge yet: taking care of the kids.

How long since the last one? 14 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Pixar has a better track record with sequels than just about anyone else in the double/triple/quadruple-dip business, and that’s borne out here. It’s approximately as good as the excellent first one, and it made over a billion dollars.

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Their lives at crossroads, an adult Jane and Michael Banks receive a well-timed visit from their sassy and remarkably well-preserved nanny.

How long since the last one? 54 years.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel, mostly.

Does it work? A qualified yes. Emily Blunt is great as a Mary Poppins closer to the slightly scary original book version, and the movie digs deep to capture much of the spirit of the original. Still, while there are some standouts, the songs are often forgettable, and it’s not going to replace the original in anyone’s heart.

Halloween (2018)

It turns out that we dreamed all those other sequels: Michael’s been locked away since that night 40 years ago when Laurie Strode got him tossed out a window. Turns out he’s been stewing about that the whole time — but so has she.

How long since the last one? Nine years since Rob Zombie’s Halloween II.

Reboot or sequel? Both? Halloween reboots the series by ignoring the previous nine films — including the fact that Laurie is Michael’s sister — but serves as a direct sequel to the 1978 original.

Does it work? Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastic, and the family dynamic among the three generations of Strode women is great. Next to all that, the more typical slasher-movie elements sit uncomfortably. But, overall, yeah. And it made enough money to bring Michael back at least twice more, for this year’s Halloween Kills and next year’s Halloween Ends.

Glass (2019)

The vigilante from Unbreakable and the killer from Glass are on a collision course, with Samuel L. Jackson (and his career-best hair) pulling the strings.

How long since the last one? 19 years since Unbreakable, but only three since Split. So depends on which you want to count.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? M. Night Shyamalan is always an interesting filmmaker, but his films themselves are wildly inconsistent. After the surprise success of the admittedly problematic Split, this one is the least of the impromptu trilogy.

Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Rambo’s back! Again. And out for vengeance! Again.

How long since the last one? 11 years since Rambo.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Sure? If you’re looking for something other than an ultra-ultra violent power fantasy about Mexican rapists and the dangers of a hilariously porous border… well, you probably should’ve quit the series four movies back. This one did OK, but not stellar, business.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Turns out that Sarah Conner didn’t just pack it in after T2 — she’s been hunting Terminators ever since, and a mysterious message from the future sends her to protect Mexico City factory worker Dani Ramos.

How long since the last one? Four years (or 18 since Terminator 2)

Reboot or sequel? Both: Like Halloween 2018, it’s a direct sequel to T2 that wipes out everything since.

Does it work? Yes and no. Linda Hamilton is the heart and soul of the series, and she brings with her some impressive newcomers. It’s a great action movie, and the only one in the series to justify its existence since 1991. But! It made pretty much no money, so as a series revival it’s a fail — one of many (by my count this is the third one-and-done attempt to launch a new Terminator trilogy)

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Those wisecracking cops you loved back in the day are back again.

How long since the last one? 17 years since Bad Boys II.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Totally. It’s (maybe) the best movie in the series, and it made more than enough money to justify plans for a fourth.

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Rather than writing the song needed to save the universe, old buds Bill & Ted decide that they’re better off stealing it from their younger selves.

How long since the last one? 19 years since Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? It doesn’t really miss a beat in capturing the spirit of the original movies and it brings their storyline to a perfect close, so yes. It was released right in the middle of the pandemic, though, so it’s really tough to gauge its financial success.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)

Cop Chris Rock finds himself entrapped by the machinations of a new Jigsaw killer.

How long since the last one? Four years since Jigsaw, the last time the series got this kind of soft reboot.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Meh. It’s got a solid cast and does what it needs to do, but doesn’t feel like the reinvention that the series needs. Still, it made just enough money to inspire talk of (another) sequel.

Candyman (2021)

How long since the last one? 22 years since Candyman: Day of the Dead.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Does it work? Yup. If anything, it feels too short for the ideas it broaches, but director Nia DaCosta has made a smart and uncomfortable film that’s done very solid box office, even given its mid-pandemic release.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Upcoming — 2021)

How long since the last one? Five years since the reboot, or 31 since Ghostbusters II.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel. (Or a reboot that reboots the reboot.)

Will it work? The trailer looks good, and the dudebro fans who avoided the 2016 movie have no reason to skip it, so it should do very well. But the footage so far also views the original — which is, let’s remember, a goofy comedy in which a ghost gives Dan Aykroyd a blowjob — with a reverence it perhaps does not deserve.

Top Gun: Maverick (Upcoming — 2022)

How long since the last one? 36 years (or more by the time it comes out — it was originally scheduled for release in 2020).

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Will it work? Why not? Tom Cruise is a reliable action star, and 80s nostalgia is pretty evergreen.

Scream (Upcoming — 2022)

How long since the last one? 11 years since Scream 4.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Will it work? Tough to say. The series has been remarkably consistent in quality, and its refusal to do a full reboot leaves it nearly alone among slasher franchises. But without Wes Craven at the helm (RIP), nor original screenwriter Kevin Williamson, this one’s a big question mark. Still, new directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett made the delightfully subversive horror comedy Ready or Not, which is definitely a point in their favour.

Indiana Jones 5 (Upcoming — 2022)

How long since the last one? 14 years since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Will it work? The fourth Indiana Jones was definitely a rough patch for the series (putting its success rate at 50%, depending on how you feel about Temple of Doom) but director James Mangold (Logan, Ford v Ferrari) is no slouch. I’d love to see the series go out on a high note, so I’ll say yes. It will be fabulous. I hope.

Hocus Pocus 2 (Upcoming — 2022)

A lonely teenager is set to summon the witchy Sanderson sisters fora whole new round of Halloween-lite hijinks.

How long since the last one? 29 years since Hocus Pocus.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Will it work? The original has developed such a huge cult following that I’m sure it’ll do fine, as long as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. (And why would it?)

Avatar 2 (Upcoming — 2022)

How long since the last one? 13 years since Avatar.

Reboot or sequel? Sequel.

Will it work? Tough to say. No one asked James Cameron to spend the rest of his life making Avatar sequels, but here we are. For all the retroactive hate it gets, the original still made nearly 3 billion at the box office, so don’t count Cameron out yet.

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