Later this week, when Zoolander 2 finally hits theaters, it will be the culmination of a 15-year journey since the first film, which introduced the world to Blue Steel in 2001. We haven’t seen it yet, but if it lives up to the hopes and expectations of fans of the original, it will join a club of other movies with sequels that took a long time to arrive, but that were worth the delay.
Long-gestating sequels are nothing new—there were a bunch last year—but they don’t always deliver on the love for the earlier films. Godfather 3 arrived more than a decade and a half after Godfather 2, but wasn’t everything fans hoped for. Still, sometimes the time off was well used and served to deliver something special. After all, wouldn’t you rather filmmakers take their time and get it right that just crap out a quick sequel? With that in mind we thought we’d take a look at some of our favorite sequels that took forever getting here, but were well worth every second we waited.
There are, of course, tons more, so you should let us know your favorites in the comments.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road was hands down my favorite movie of 2015. George Miller’s return to the post-apocalyptic wastes took 30 years to arrive in theaters—during production, it often looked like it was doomed to fall apart—but holy hell, was it ever worth it. A scorching, nearly non-stop chase scene from start to finish, Tom Hardy took over the Max Rockatansky role from Mel Gibson and delivers an almost mute, feral performance. With Charlize Theron playing one of the biggest badasses we’ve seen on screen in some time, Miller turned in a thoughtful, critical look at the modern world filtered through insane action and a ruined world, and showed the world that he still has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.
Set more than 20 years after Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park filled fans with wonder, and almost 15 years after the ill-fated Jurassic Park 3, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World brought the franchise back in a big way. It may be big and dumb and lack things like characterization and subtlety, but as sheer spectacle and adventure, it’s also a lot of fun. Watching dinosaurs rampage through a bunch of sunburned tourists at the titular theme park, wreaking havoc through every product placement-packed frame, makes for a damn entertaining popcorn blockbuster. And a blockbuster it was, as, before Star Wars: The Force Awakens came along, it was the third highest grossing movie of all time. Still, a $1.6 billion haul isn’t half bad.
The Color Of Money
By the time Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money rolled around in 1986, it had been 25 years since Paul Newman played pool shark Fast Eddie Felson in 1961’s The Hustler. The sequel picks up with Fast Eddie having retired from the pool circuit, becoming a successful liquor salesman in the intervening years. He still dabbles in that world, however, placing bets for promising players, and when he stumbles across Tom Cruise’s Vincent Lauria, a brash, cocky young stick man with a ton of potential, he finds a new protégé. Though it is generally regarded as a lesser film than The Hustler (it is the only Scorsese movie to earn two thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert), it still won Newman an Oscar and made an entire generation want to become pool hustlers.
Rocky Balboa will never stay down. After Rocky 5, we expected that the franchise would remain face down on the canvas, but it rose again with Rocky Balboa in 2006, which was better than most expected. Nine years later, we got Creed. Writer and director Ryan Coogler crafted a Rocky movie where Rocky is a secondary player, following the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed’s son in his quest to follow in his father’s footsteps. Creed is about family and friendship, triumphant and crowd-pleasing in all the right ways, and is everything you want from a Rocky movie. With a visual flair and elaborate choreography, Coogler stages intricate fights, including one that unfolds across multiple rounds in a single shot. It does sound, now, like Sly may finally be done with the franchise.
The Exorcist 3
1973’s The Exorcist may be the scariest movie ever made. The 1977 follow up, The Exorcist 2: The Heretic, is not. Interestingly enough, however, 1990’s The Exorcist 3 regains some of the momentum of the original. Directed by William Peter Blatty, screenwriter of the original, the story is more of a spinoff than a straight sequel. It follows police Lieutenant William Kinderman (George C. Scott) as he investigates a series of murders with a satanic twist, ones that bear all of the hallmarks of the Gemini Killer. The Exorcist 3 may be a bit uneven, due largely to studio interference—they demanded an exorcism scene for the climax, as well as the Exorcist title—but it is tense and funny, witty and intense, and still holds up as a fantastic horror movie.
There is a nine-year gap between all of Richard Linklater’s Before movies—1995’s Before Sunrise, 2004’s Before Sunset, and 2013’s Before Midnight. Picking up that long after the events of the first movie, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) come together once again. A deeper story and connection than the first, perhaps because the two primary characters are older and wiser and more experience, Before Sunset eschews some of the traditional rules of structure and screenwriting, relying on fantastic, esoteric dialogue—written by Delpy and Hawke themselves—meandering and lingering in scenes. It’s all horribly romantic and moving and fits with Linklater’s pattern of never giving audiences quite what they expect.
Sylvester Stallone is not one to let a franchise die, and in 2008, 20 years after he stormed Afghanistan to fight the Russians, he returned to one of his most iconic characters, John Rambo. Rambo finds the former soldier living a quiet, isolated life in Thailand, earning a living capturing snakes. When a group of missionaries, who hired him to take them into war-torn Burma on a humanitarian mission, is kidnapped by a vicious military leader, he must haul himself out of his solitude and go on a rescue mission. The ensuing violence is brutal and raw—there was a meme going around at the time of release that said, "The last third is just Sylvester Stallone cutting dudes in half with a machine gun," and that description is not far off. Grim and grizzled, Stallone is stone-faced and near savage, but he also simmers with anger and self-disgust. There has been talk of another Rambo movie, but nothing has ever materialized, and it seems unlikely, but after another 20 years have passed, who knows what will happen.
Toy Story 3
Pixar isn’t known for simply churning out sequels, preferring to get it right. There was an eleven-year gap between Toy Story 2 in 1999 and Toy Story 3 in 2010, but given the public and critical response, the wait was well worth the time and investment. Not only did it earn more than $1 billion worldwide, more than the previous two films combined, it has an astounding 99% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Hell, Quentin Tarantino even listed it as his favorite film of 2010. Toy Story 3 is funny, adventurous, clever, and deeply touching; it’s about growing up and moving on and friendship and so much more. Rare is a sequel that outshines its predecessors, especially when the two previous movies are as beloved as these, but Toy Story 3 stands among the greatest animated films of all time.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Though it had only technically been ten years since Revenge of the Sith, it felt like a much longer wait for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Is this a perfect movie? Not by a long shot. If you like, you can find all manner of articles digging into the various story problems, criticizing J.J. Abrams and company for relying too heavily on the past, and more. But none of that matters because goddamn this is a fun movie. With the first post-George Lucas film in that far, far away galaxy, Abrams delivered a Star Wars movie that feels like a Star Wars movie, full of high adventure, swashbuckling action, and legitimate emotional investment. On the outside, with more than $2 billion in global box office earnings, it proves that the space opera is still a bona-fide cultural phenomenon.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
It’s not often that a sequel winds up being the best installment of a franchise, but when it comes to The Terminator, the high-water mark in the killer-robots-from-the-future saga is James Cameron’s 1991 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (I love the original, but damn, T2). Now Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 has been reprogrammed to protect John Conner (Edward Furlong) from an even greater threat. The Sarah Conner (Linda Hamilton) we meet this time around is no longer the out-of-her-depth waitress just trying to survive, she is a strong, capable warrior prepared to do whatever is necessary to save her son and ensure the survival of the human race. With groundbreaking special effects, heart for days, and fantastic action, T2 still holds up.
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