I’m not wild about our current pop culture obsession with nostalgia, in part because we seem be reaching a point where a dearth of original cinematic fare is going to leave the nostalgia miners of the future with nothing to work with.
This summer’s premiere long-awaited sequel is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, actually the franchise’s second legacy sequel after 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Also coming this year: October’s The Exorcist: Believer, which sounds like it’s going to be one of those sequels that ignores all the awkward middle movies in favour of a back-to-basics approach. Kenan and Kel are back together in a forthcoming sequel to 1997’s Good Burger; while that year’s other big movie, The Full Monty, is getting a sequel series on Hulu. Even the Gremlins are returning to chow down after midnight in a new animated series on HBO Max.
It’s a rich vein, is what I’m saying, and Hollywood has been mining it for years now. While we wait for the next old thing to be new again, here are 12 legacy sequels that worked — and eight that really didn’t.
Didn’t work: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Sequel to: the Indiana Jones trilogy (1981–1989)
Many of us think of the Indiana Jones series with tremendous fondness, but on a movie-to-movie basis, it offers less consistency than we tend to remember, even if they’re all watchable. Crystal Skull isn’t execrable, but it’s certainly the weakest of the four films, featuring competent but unmemorable set pieces and a bland arc for Indy and his surprise son Mutt (Shia LaBeouf, from back when he was being positioned as the next big thing). Karen Allen makes a welcome return as Marion Ravenwood and Cate Blanchett is having fun as a Soviet femme fatale, but it all feels a bit warmed-over.
Where to stream: Paramount+
Worked: Doctor Sleep (2019)
Sequel to: The Shining (1980)
Director Mike Flanagan (Hush, The Haunting of Hill House, Midnight Mass) has a well-earned reputation as a master of “elevated” horror, and he works a bit of magic with Doctor Sleep. The novel on which the movie is based is late-career Stephen King, which means opinions on it were already split, and Flanagan faced the challenge of crafting a Shining sequel that would both adapt the book and satisfy passionate fans of the original Stanley Kubrick film. Even given all that, the movie feels surprisingly fresh, finding a heart (in the relationship between Ewan McGregor’s grown-up Danny Torrence and a young girl who seems to share his magical powers) and horror (embodied by Rebecca Ferguson’s villainous Rose the Hat) amidst the IP requirements.
Didn’t work: Coming 2 America (2021)
Sequel to: Coming to America (1988)
Eddie Murphy followed up the brilliant Dolemite is My Name with this long-awaited sequel that was forgotten almost as soon as it dropped straight to Prime Video after Paramount sold Amazon the rights amid the heights of the pandemic. The only real laughs come out of recycled gags from the original, leaving Coming 2 without much of a reason to exist. Even worse, the plot turns on a wildly ill-conceived running gag involving date rape, which makes the movie feel instantly more uncomfortably dated than its three-decade-old predecessor.
Where to stream: Prime Video
Worked: Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
Sequel to: Top Gun (1986)
For better and worse, Top Gun: Maverick traded the gay camp stylings of the original for pure action spectacle, and the result is a movie that’s smart enough to know that pure cinematic spectacle, when done right, is enough. It saved movie theatres and was good enough to earn a Best picture Oscar nomination, a rare feat for a legacy sequel — though unlike The Godfather, Part III, this one people actually like.
Worked: Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
Sequel to: The Die Hard trilogy (1988 – 1995)
Bruce Willis’ first return to the career-making role of John McClane was a good time at the movies, with the already cantankerous action hero slipping easily back into the shoes (or not) of the over-the-hill detective as he’s drawn into one one more adventure. With a chilling Timothy Olyphant as the central villain, this is arguably the best of the Die Hard sequels. Unfortunately, followup A Good Day to Die Hard is unquestionably the worst, which just goes to show that you can never trust these things.
Where to stream: Max
Didn’t work: Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)
Sequel to: Space Jam (1996)
The original walked a fine line, blending intellectual properties (and selling shoes) while maintaining a lightness of touch that made for a fun 90 minutes at the movies — or at least, light enough that people who were kids when it came out seem to still like it. The second one is longer, louder, less funny and, perhaps most importantly, barely made a dent in the pop culture landscape, largely because most of the jokes are just lazy pop culture references. It’s not awful, but it mostly makes you wish you were watching the first one. (Or anything else.)
Where to stream: Max
Worked: Creed (2015)
Sequel to: the Rocky series (1976 – 2006)
Like the character himself, the Rocky franchise has had a number of legacy sequel comebacks over the decades, including 2006’s rather good Rocky Balboa. But while that movie felt like an epilogue, Creed completely reinvents the series without totally remaking it. Rocky’s still here, but takes on the mentor role to Michael B. Jordan’s Donnie Creed. The soft reboot was successful enough to kick off a new run of movies with Jordan in the lead and spark discussions about both a new Stallone-lead film and a Dolph Lundgren-starring spin-off for Rocky IV villain Ivan Drago.
Where to stream: Sling
Didn’t work: Rambo (2008)
Sequel to: the Rambo trilogy (1982 – 1988)
This one might depend on your point of view: Rambo was a modest box office success, and Stallone clearly understands what Rambo fans want from a Rambo movie: over-the-top violence and a figuratively (if not literally) bulletproof title character. On those counts, the movie delivers, but the violence in this followup so wildly over-the-top that it soon grows boring. The plot tries to make some kind of serious point about conditions facing missionaries in Burma, but it’s so cartoonishly bloody it’s hard to take any of it seriously.
Where to stream: Peacock
Worked: The Colour of Money (1986)
Sequel to: The Hustler (1961)
Paul Newman revives his memorable character from The Hustler in Martin Scorsese’s sequel, which finally won Paul Newman his first and only Best Actor Oscar after several nominations. It’s not quite at the level of the 1961 original, but Newman and Tom Cruise are well-matched in a movie that honours the legacy while standing on its own merits.
Didn’t work: The Two Jakes (1990)
Sequel to: Chinatown (1974)
It’s not as bad as its reputation, but the Jack Nicholson-directed sequel to Chinatown flopped at the box office, and deserved to. In development hell for years, the movie’s chaotic production history is evidenced in the finished product: Nicholson’s direction is fine, but the story is overly complicated to the point of being dull, and adds nothing to the original.
Didn’t work: Texasville (1990)
Sequel to: The Last Picture Show (1971)
Where The Last Picture Show, loved by critics and audiences alike, announced the arrival of director Peter Bogdanovich as the cinematic voice of his generation, Texasville suggested that, perhaps, the director had passed his prime (and was in any case well past his time working with ex-wife and collaborator Polly Platt, whose influence, or lack thereof, is felt keenly throughout director’s filmography). From the original’s leisurely coming-of-age epic, we get an ill-conceived romcom with great acting talent on display, but not much else.
Where to stream: Surprisingly (given its cast and director), Texasville isn’t streaming anywhere. Which is probably for the best.
Worked: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Sequel to: Blade Runner (1982)
It’s perhaps overlong, but Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner followup is visually stunning, picking up on many of the philosophical themes of the original while adding many of its own. Ryan Gosling is great in the lead, and Villeneuve manages to coax a strong late-career performance out of the increasingly curmudgeonly Harrison Ford.
Where to stream: Hulu
Didn’t work: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
Sequel to: Independence Day (1996)
The original is no masterpiece but stands as a memorably fun, if kinda dumb, mega-blockbuster. The sequel has some decent set pieces, but that’s about all it has; the offscreen death of Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller character both doomed the sequel and looked like a smart career movie on Will Smith’s part. Worst of all, the movie feels like it exists to set up yet another sequel that clearly isn’t coming.
Worked: Bad Boys for Life (2020)
Sequel to: Bad Boys (1995) and Bad Boys 2 (2003)
The first two movies traded entirely on the charisma and chemistry between leads Will Smith and Martin Lawrence while being weighed down by the glossy, but uninteresting Michael Bay style. This third one, under directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, recognises the star power of its leads while also doing a far better job than its predecessors of balancing comedy and action. It’s not just the best Bad Boys sequel, it’s the best of the series.
Worked: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Sequel to: the Mad Max trilogy (1979 – 1985)
Director George Miller returned to his Mad Max series in 2015 with this over-the-top triumph, an action masterpiece that’s as loud and violent as it is narratively canny, subverting the male-dominated excesses of the original film by placing Charlize Theron’s Furiosa at the centre of a post-modern, apocalyptic western.
Where to stream: AMC+
Worked: Psycho II (1983)
Sequel to: Psycho (1960)
A Psycho sequel has no business existing, frankly, but this one’s a minor triumph, revisiting Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and the Bates Motel while playing on our expectations and finding new things to say about the character. It’s one of the best (and least tacky) slasher films of the ‘80s, with a solid concluding twist.
Didn’t work: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)
Sequel to: Ghostbusters (1984) and Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
Even while (admirably) trying something different (moving the ghostbustin’ out of the city, for one thing), Afterlife spends too much time looking backward — introducing new characters and a new generation, only to situate them in the middle of a hunt for easter eggs from the original movie. It’s fine, with some sweet moments, but plays too much and too often as a tribute to the earlier movies. [Whispers] Ghostbusters 2016 was better
Where to stream: Starz
Worked: The Matrix Resurrections (2021)
Sequel to: the Matrix trilogy (1999 – 2003)
This one’s about as polarising as they come, with plenty of Matrix fans absolutely hating it. For me, it’s by far the best of the sequels. After decades of lazy “take the red pill” references (looking at you, Elon Musk) it makes clear that it’s not that easy, using imagery involving literal mirrors to remind us that, ultimately, it’s not the machines that are the problem, but our own ability to face our own flawed humanity. That meta style is grounded in a love story between Neo and Trinity and, if there’s a clunkiness to some of the plot beats (why and how are the even alive again?), I’d rather have writer/director Lana Wachowski’s distinctive style and voice than a million other polished, committee-made sequels determined to say nothing.
Where to stream: Max
Worked: Candyman (2021)
Sequel to: the Candyman trilogy (1992 – 1999)
Nia DaCosta’s Candyman movie plays as a reboot, but ultimately introduces enough elements (and characters) from the original that it works as well as a direct sequel. DaCosta and company take the good racial commentary intentions of the original film and introduce a Black perspective, going far deeper in their exploration of the ways in which our culture turns marginalised victims into villains, and with incredibly inventive and smart visual flourishes.
Worked: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
Sequel to: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Equal parts sweet and goofy, it didn’t hurt the reception to the Bill & Ted sequel that it came out just a few months into the pandemic, a moment when we needed sweet and goofy more than ever. The movie knows exactly what we want from a middle-aged Bill & Ted, and has fun giving it to us.
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