Studios get lazy. With the onslaught of prequels, sequels, and spin-offs over the past few decades, this has never been so obvious. From a business perspective, it makes sense: If the public wants more of the same, give it to them. If the fans want more story, broaden the original scope. Who needs mystery anyways?
Typically, when a franchise or a success seems like a certainty, thanks to market research and test screenings, any prequel, sequel, or spin-off receives the green light before their predecessors even see any box office returns. However, there have been several cases where highly celebrated franchises lay dormant for a lengthy period of time, only to return years later.
This week, Danny Boyle takes us back to Edinburgh for another druggy adventure with the skagboys in T2 Trainspotting, a sequel that takes place 20 years after the original. In light of the reunion, we broke down 25 similar films, discussing whether they were successful in their own right. Some were good, some were bad, but one thing’s for certain: this is a list.
Nine Years Later
American Reunion (2012)
Previous Entry: American Wedding (2003)
Returning Cast: All of the principals, including those not seen since American Pie 2.
Is It Better Than the Last One? Yes. This Pie leaves a better taste in your mouth than Wedding, although that film essentially replaced dead-behind-the-eyes Tara Reid with slightly-less-dead-behind-the-eyes January Jones.
Is It Any Good? There’s much ado about nostalgia, and you likely won’t be able to count how many references are made to previous entries on just one hand. However, there is a strange comfort in seeing this group of actors back together again. Much of this is personal; I graduated the same year these characters graduated, so I experienced a total recall. The gang get up to the same embarrassing antics, but like all of the earlier films, everything works out in the end. Kudos to the producers for getting them back together one last (?) time, and additional congrats to the marketing team on the film’s poster mirroring the original’s. –Justin Gerber
Nine Years Later
Anchorman: The Legend Continues (2013)
Previous Entry: Anchorman (2004)
Returning Cast: Everybody. Like, seriously, everybody.
Is It Better Than the Last One? Not particularly. The first Anchorman makes for one of those comic experiences where it’s never quite as good as the first time, but the first viewing will make you laugh harder than you ever have before. It’s shock comedy in the proper sense, not the one fashionable in the early aughts, but the one where it’s almost impossible to know what’s coming next.
Is It Any Good? By contrast, The Legend Continues is just as disorienting, but not in a good way. The off-the-cuff nature of the first installment was taken way too far in the sequel. Where the first film at least had a (frequently ignored) message about how idiotic and cruel the macho attitudes on display were, the sequel goes for the much easier and less interesting “cable news is evil” talking point, one that Network already more or less closed the book on decades earlier. And that’s really just window dressing for a bloated two hours of free-form improv that relentlessly commits the cardinal sin of mistaking randomness for comedy. And let’s not even talk about the second news team battle, which ends up collapsing in a heap of cameos from every single celebrity who ever wanted to be in an Anchorman movie. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Nine Years Later
Before Sunset (2004), Before Midnight (2013)
Previous Entries: Before Sunrise (1995), Before Sunset (2004)
Returning Cast: Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy both returned each time.
Is Each One Better Than the Last One? Yes. The Before trilogy makes a case for being the greatest movie trilogy of all time. Sorry, Matrix fans.
Are They Any Good? Um … yeah. Hawke and Delpy, along with Richard Linklater, have taken events that occurred in their own lives and fed them to their respective characters (e.g. ending of a marriage in Before Sunset). While the first one is one of the more underrated walk-and-talks of the 1990s, unfairly lumped in with other Gen-X flicks of the time, the sequels allowed room for more collaboration between the director and the stars, creating a world that we want to return to every nine years for as long as humanly possible. The possibilities have proven to be endless over the past two decades. –Justin Gerber
10 Years Later
Previous Entry: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Returning Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Frankie Faison
Is It Better Than the Last One? No, and Hannibal never really had a chance. The Silence of the Lambs is a master-class thriller that seeped its way into pop-culture infamy and even the lexicon. Fava beans and chianti, if you please?
Is It Any Good? As a gruesome, kinky curiosity, yes, Hannibal’s pretty decent. An unrecognizable, uncredited Gary Oldman is Mason Verger, a disfigured, mentally unstable trust-fund gazillionaire seeking revenge for Hannibal Lecter’s vicious actions in the past. A re-cast Clarice Starling is back on the hunt as well, as the nutso sexual tension between the crazed cannibal genius doctor and the talented podunk FBI agent flares up again. It’s notable for how gross it is: disembowlings, dead tissue about the face, and eating Ray Liotta’s brains. Ridley Scott loses the tension in favor of showmanship, and that’s a distinct choice, but it’s no Silence. Hannibal pairs well with the original, but it’s not necessary. NBC’s Hannibal, now that’s something to salivate over right there! –Blake Goble
10 Years Later
Men In Black 3 (2012)
Previous Entry: Men in Black II (2002)
Returning Cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
Is It Better Than the Last One? Totally.
Is It Any Good? Men in Black II was an over-expensive and heavily re-written disaster production that managed to sneak its way into 2002’s box office top 10 on the strength of Will Smith’s huge commercial hit streak. Men in Black 3 was an over-expensive and heavily re-written disaster production that managed to sneak its way into 2012’s box office top … 20 on the strength of nostalgia for Will Smith’s ‘90s. The key difference? MIB3 felt like a nice course correction and comeback for the alien-bustin’ G-men franchise, with goofy effects and a disarming sweetness in the last act. Also, if you’re curious, be sure to look up the stories about Smith’s larger-than-life trailer taking up space on the streets of Manhattan. It’s embarrassing star behavior that will live on in infamy. –Blake Goble
10 Years Later
X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)
Previous Entry: The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998)
Returning Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi
Is It Better Than the Last One? Not really, well, I’m still not sure. Fight the Future was more an amusing diversion between seasons than a movie. It’s not great, but it’s not lousy. It just feels like a distraction or side material.
Is It Any Good? Yes. Now, I Want to Believe’s been maligned both for being an over-extended follow-up to the faded X-Files franchise and for not being a creature-of-the-week reunion party. It was a tense, genetic experimentation thriller filmed in the wilds of Canada (classic X-Files). It had the feel, but not the hallmarks, of the conspiracy-nut franchise, but as its own movie, Believe makes for a serviceable, cerebral entry that looks a little more interesting as time passes. Also, there’s a very pointed Bush gag in there that makes no sense if you think about it, but it feels like classically dorky X-Files. –Blake Goble
11 Years Later
Scream 4 (2011)
Previous Entry: Scream 3 (2000)
Returning Cast: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, and Courtney Cox all return.
Is It Better Than the Last One? Debatable. While Scream 3 definitely signaled that Wes Craven’s reinvigorated phase was drawing to a close, there are still enough enjoyably subversive moments in the third installment (particularly its awareness of how trilogy finales are never good) that arguments could be made for it. Your mileage may vary.
Is It Any Good? Scream 4 isn’t so much a bad movie as it’s a superfluous one. The self-reflexive humor doesn’t stretch as far as it once did, simply because in the 11 years between installments, pop culture started eating its own tail with vigor in any and all aspects, meaning that the Scream films’ central conceit of horror movies that know they’re horror movies ironically ends up feeling as dated as the rote slasher movies Craven set out to browbeat in the first place. But then, the opening sequence’s nesting doll of kills is a blast. So this one’s a scratch. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
11 Years Later
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
Previous Entry: Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Returning Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Earl Boen
Is It Better Than the Last One? Not really. Whereas T2 remains celebrated for its innovative effects, unique gore, and shockingly sentimental robot-and-boy love story, T3 is renowned for having the biggest green-lit movie budget out of the gate at the time ($170 million, mere dollars next to your average 2014 tentpole now).
Is It Any Good? Uh, while the film’s scope and scale and CGI are all in order, the fact is that T3 feels like a desperate cash grab and forced horse show for Schwarzenegger (who nabbed an insane $30 million for this on James Cameron’s insistence … bastards). The film finally made the franchise resemble the heartless machines it fears. Whereas the first two Terminators were innovatively plotted and truly special in their effects, T3 was such a repetitive drag. And will someone tell us what the hell happened to Jonathan Mostow? Who was that guy? Now we know why you cry. –Blake Goble
12 Years Later
Clerks II (2006)
Previous Entry: Clerks (1994)
Returning Cast: The male leads return; the females do not. Jay and Silent Bob are also present. Sadly, Olaf doesn’t make a cameo.
Is It Better Than the Last One? Nah. While the film is objectively a more well-made film in virtually every way, the increased budget leads to decreased filmmaking discipline at points. The ramshackle, grimy aesthetic of the first film is a big part of what made it so iconic, and there’s also a simplicity of perspective to the first movie that’s missing here.
Is It Any Good? Yes, though there are other writers on this site who would no doubt vehemently argue against this point. (“Hi, Dominick!” –Michael Roffman) While Clerks II is messy as hell, there’s also a heart and soul to the film that Kevin Smith struggled to find in most of his films between Dogma and this one. For all the outlandish donkey show business and the film’s disquieting acceptance of Dante’s infidelity as a noble path to self-actualization, Clerks II is really a movie about what happens when 10 years fly by faster than you can understand and you start reaching an age where being adrift in the world isn’t cute or funny anymore. There’s a wistfulness and nostalgia in play here that even most of Smith’s most acclaimed works can’t lay claim to. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
14 Years Later
Naqoyqatsi: Life as War (2002)
Previous Entry: Powaqqatsi (1988)
Returning Cast: No one. These are experimental documentaries. WAIT. According to IMDB, archive footage of Pope John Paul II is in both! The system works!
Is It Better Than the Last One? No.
Is It Any Good? It’s so-so. Naqoyqatsi was the third chapter in Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy (“Qatsi” being Hopi for “life”). The first two chapters were beautiful, avant experiments in pure sight and sound, blending the chamber music bliss of Philip Glass with crisp, elegant cinematography. Some view them as overbearing screensavers, and others meticulously epic art, but either way they catch the eye and ear. In 2002, Reggio sought to finish his trilogy, and with Steven Soderbergh executive producing, he abandoned photography for weird, cheap, obvious-looking digital displays that actually looked like Mac screen-savers of the time. Thematically, the film is as good as the first two, logically continuing the stream of reflection on life as we know it with the new fear of over-information. As sight and sound, eh, I’m just going to wait for my computer to fall asleep. Ooh! iPhoto snapshots! –Blake Goble
14 Years Later
Jurassic World (2015)
Previous Entry: Jurassic Park III (2001)
Returning Cast: B.D. Wong
Is It Better Than the Last One? Surprisingly, no. Despite the fact that Joe Johnston’s go-around with the Jurassic Park franchise more or less went into production without a finished script and features an asinine dream sequence that includes a talking Velociraptor, it’s still somehow better than the mindless buffoonery of Colin Trevorrow’s CGI wasteland.
Is It Any Good? Not really. The action is over-the-top in all the wrong ways, the characters are miserable (especially the two leads in Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard), and the tongue-in-cheek cynicism collapses on itself about 20 minutes into the film when it starts indulging in all the cliches and tropes it should have been subverting. However, the most fatal flaw in this film’s DNA is that the fucking dinosaurs don’t even look real. Trevorrow leans too much on CGI, to the point that even the sets look fake, which is tantalizing given that they’re all stores you can find in any shopping mall. Jurassic Hack! –Michael Roffman
16 Years Later
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
Previous Entry: The Godfather: Part II (1974)
Returning Cast: Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams-Corleone), Talia Shire (Connie Corleone), Richard Bright (Al Neri), and Al Martino (Johnny Fontane)
Is It Better Than the Last One? No. Director Francis Ford Coppola considers this film to be more of an epilogue than a sequel to his earlier masterpieces. And no Duvall? For shame.
Is It Any Good? Yes, in spite of Sofia Coppola’s performance as Mary Corleone. Her father still gets heavily criticized for casting his untested daughter in such a pivotal role, and while her performance doesn’t kill the film, it doesn’t do it any favors. Another negative is the through-line, which has something to do with a corrupt church and a pesky, rival mafia family, especially when compared to the first two Godfather entries. However, Pacino dominates the screen as a weary, older Michael desperately trying to leave a life of crime behind him, but forever condemned to meet his end alone, and in silence. The final three minutes alone is worth the price of admission. –Justin Gerber
16 Years Later
Rocky Balboa (2006)
Previous Entry: Rocky V (1990)
Returning Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Tony Burton, Pedro Lovell (The guy that played “Spider” Rico in the first match of Rocky), Frank Stallone (he cameoed in II and III and this so we’re counting it)
Is It Better Than the Last One? Anything is better than Rocky V. Anything is better than ‘ol Rock fighting a guy whose name is “Tommy Gunn” in an idiotically cut and shot street fight.
Is It Any Good? Oh sure. Rocky Balboa was far from a knockout, but it’s a humble return. It’s jokey, self-aware, and best of all not embarrassing to see Stallone come back for an exhibition match with a hot young boxer named Mason “The Line” Dixon. Who names Rocky characters, anyway? Sylvester Stallone, that’s who. Stallone looks like he’s just happy to be scrappin’ one last time, even if the fights look like Gatorade ads. –Blake Goble
16 Years Later
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Previous Entry: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Returning Cast: Only characters, for this one. We’ll talk about the returning cast come next December.
Is It Better Than The Last One? ::deep inhale and exhale:: No, it is not. While Jedi is continually the most debated of George Lucas’ original trilogy, any of those films look like masterpieces next to a prequel that primarily concerns itself with intergalactic trade tariff disputes, offers one of cinema’s most grating child performances ever courtesy of Jake Lloyd, and generally establishes beyond dispute that Lucas’ mission objective of making Star Wars more kid-friendly missed the point that kids deserve good movies, too.
Is It Any Good? To flog the rotting horse once more, no. The film kills off its most interesting new character without much ado, kicks off a vaguely creepy romantic courtship that would become the prequel trilogy’s ripest source of parody, and bogs down the magic and infinite possibility of the whole universe with endless over-explanation and context. In fact, you know what? I’m going to let Patton Oswalt handle this one for me:
16 Years Later
The Two Jakes (1990)
Previous Entry: Chinatown (1974)
Returning Cast: Jack Nicholson, Joe Mantell, Perry Lopez, James Hong, and Allan Warnick
Is It Better Than the Last One? No. The Two Jakes was supposed to be the second of a trilogy, but would prove to be the final (as of this posting) Jake Gittes film.
Is It Any Good? Yeah. “Yeah” isn’t as enthusiastic as a solid “yes,” but the film ultimately works despite being leagues away from Chinatown. It feels very much like a proper sequel set years later, with Chinatown flashbacks that don’t feel out of place in the world of the second film. While the first film deals with water, the follow-up finds itself surrounded by fire, as Gittes becomes dealing once more with corruption in L.A. and a member of the Mulwray family. Sometimes a film gets an overall bump in quality thanks to its final scene or even a final line, and The Two Jakes is certainly one of those films. –Justin Gerber
18 Years Later
Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
Previous Entry: The Blues Brothers (1980)
Returning Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Frank Oz, Kathleen Freeman, Aretha Franklin, Steve Lawrence, and The Blues Brothers Band
Is It Better Than the Last One? Heavens no.
Is It Any Good? Jesus H. Tap-Dancin’ Christ no! The two surviving talents behind the hilariously epic Blues Brothers came to make a sequel long, long after their primes. John Landis had been somewhat shut out of Hollywood and lost his nerve for comedy filmmaking in the ‘90s; no one remembers The Stupids or Beverly Hills Cop 3. Aykroyd, meanwhile, was fledgling with his writing and starring roles. (Remember his failed sitcom about a Harley riding priest in ’97, Soul Man? No? Great.) You can just smell the desperation to repeat the lightening of Blues Brothers, with large-scale sight gags and a dense soundtrack. Such a waste of Erykah Badu. And Dr. John. And Wilson Pickett. The jokes either didn’t land or felt like needy re-hashes of the ’80 classic. Perhaps a lethal dose of Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Skull vodka will do a satisfactory memory wipe of this. –Blake Goble
19 Years Later
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Previous Entry: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Returning Cast: What’s left of Harrison Ford’s onetime enthusiasm, as well as Karen Allen.
Is It Better Than The Last One? Nooooooooope. As with Star Wars, the stance on the one-time final Indiana Jones film has softened with time, particularly once audiences saw what laid ahead. Plus, the interplay between Sean Connery and Ford in Last Crusade is enjoyably brisk.
Is It Any Good? It could’ve been. The idea of Indy passing on the fedora is interesting enough in theory, but in practice it involves a lead-lined fridge being able to survive a nuclear blast and Shia LaBeouf at his most aggressively grating. The film’s finale is enjoyably gonzo, what with Cate Blanchett being murdered by knowledge when an ancient temple turns out to actually be a spaceship, but by then it’s too late. The combination of weak effects, a weaker script, and Ford’s palpable disinterest throughout make for an experience that’s less rousing than it is depressing. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
20 Years Later
Dumb and Dumber To (2014)
Previous Entry: Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Returning Cast: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels
Is It Better Than the Last One? Of course not. Whereas the Farrelly brothers’ 1994 comedy felt refreshingly original and eerily charming despite the crude subject material, this one comes across as cheap, dull, and even pandering. It’s a scrapbook of greatest hits with, no lie, one or two original jokes that actually land. It’s even worse than the horrifically bad 2003 prequel, Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd.
Is It Any Good? Laws no! Dumb and Dumber To is an obvious cash grab, and it’s apparent that the Farrellys simply copy and pasted every joke and plot twist from the original in a poor attempt to sell it off as something new. Both Carrey and Daniels do their best given the insipid material, but they wind up coming off as annoying, harmful bastards, who you don’t come to love, but come to hate, to the point that you start wondering why you ever liked them in the first place. –Michael Roffman
23 Years Later
Psycho II (1983)
Previous Entry: Psycho (1960)
Returning Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles
Is It Better Than the Last One? Absolutely not. Alfred Hitchcock’s original film is better than most other films, including its three sequels (and one remake). However…
Is It Any Good? Absolutely. The filmmakers had the unenviable task of creating a sequel to an all-time classic, but director Richard Franklin and writer Todd Holland (writer/director of the original Fright Night and Child’s Play) were clearly up to the challenge, incorporating color and dark humor into the proceedings. Perkins is so convincing as a rehabilitated Norman Bates that viewers find themselves sympathizing with him while rooting against one of the survivors from the original. The film’s big reveal is quickly retconned by the time Psycho III concludes a few years later, but Psycho II is about the journey and remains one of the better sequels of its genre. –Justin Gerber
23 Years Later
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Previous Entry: Wall Street (1987)
Returning Cast: Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen (cameo), and Sylvia Miles (cameo)
Is It Better Than the Last One? Yes and no. The original is a film that speaks to its times, and as such, it’s incredibly dated. The wardrobes, the hair cuts, the technology, and the characters’ dreams are all very stuck in the late ’80s. Not all of it holds up decades later, especially the shallow romance between Sheen and Daryl Hannah. Director Oliver Stone improves upon this area with his sequel, though he still tends to overshoot the drama. At the end of the day, I’ll still be buying shares in the original.
Is It Any Good? Absolutely. It’s a joy seeing Douglas revisit his Academy Award-winning role (although he relishes the moment a little too much), and performances by Josh Brolin and even Shia LaBeouf play well against Gordon Gekko. What’s more, the story is appropriate, turning the 2008 financial crisis into a popcorn financial thriller that actually has higher stakes than the original. By featuring plenty of songs off David Byrne’s collaboration with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, the film pays homage to its glory days, specifically the original’s unofficial theme, Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”, which pops up here at the end. –Michael Roffman
25 Years Later
The Color of Money (1986)
Previous Entry: The Hustler (1961)
Returning Cast: Paul Newman
Is It Better Than the Last One? Even. Maybe we settle with a best two-out-of-three, with the next film featuring Tom Cruise mentoring a young, hotshot Shia LaBeouf?
Is It Any Good? Yes. Newman’s performance as “Fast” Eddie Felson earned the man his first Oscar, which some say is more for his legacy than his performance. I disagree. His take on Felson as an old man full of regret is one of Newman’s best roles. Whenever he takes off his sunglasses, you can see into the soul of a man who knows a thing or two about a thing or two. He’s become a walking ghost by the time Cruise’s character appears, but this young hustler gives Fast Eddie a chance at redemption. A father/son relationship develops, with some unexpected turns as the film concludes at a national tournament. Plus, it’s a Martin Scorsese movie, so you have to watch it either way. –Justin Gerber
27 Years Later
Previous Entry: Shaft in Africa (1973)
Returning Cast: Richard Roundtree
Is It Better Than the Last One? Definitely. Hollywood destroyed the Shaft franchise fairly quick back in the ’70s, churning out two sequels way too fast. Whereas Shaft’s Big Score rightfully turned up the action following the landmark 1971 original, Shaft in Africa jumped the shark, taking the big private dick overseas for a ludicrous adventure that was more or less Indiana Jones before Indiana Jones. John Singletown, however, brought it all back home for the 2000 reboot.
Is It Any Good? Shut your mouth. Of course, it’s good. It’s damn good. Samuel L. Jackson was born to play this role, and he steals the screen during every scene, his bark equally strong as his bite. By making him the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s iconic titular hero, who also brilliantly appears in the film as a sage-like mentor, Singleton was able to pay respects to the original while also continuing the story. He did so by building a story that was all-too-grounded, especially for today’s political climate, and had fun with the proceedings. That supporting cast — ahem, Christian Bale, Jeffrey Wright, Dan Hedaya, Vanessa Williams, Lee Turgensen, and Toni Collette — was more than inspired; it was pure gold. Why they didn’t make more sequels is something that keeps this writer up every so often. Not even kidding. –Michael Roffman
28 Years Later
Tron: Legacy (2010)
Previous Entry: Tron (1982)
Returning Cast: Jeff Bridges, both as an old man and a horrifying CGI being. And Tron is there, albeit in a reprogrammed and evil form.
Is It Better Than the Last One? It’s blasphemy time, but yes. While the original Tron is still a marvel of early CG innovation, it’s a movie composed almost completely of interminable stretches of exposition. It’s a slog to watch. By contrast, for the reboot/sequel’s flaws, it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining.
Is It Any Good? Yes, with some caveats. In its own way, Legacy is just as overexpository as its predecessor, and seriously, the early scene in which CGI Jeff Bridges reads his son a bedtime story is creepy as all hell. But the CG works a lot better once the elder Flynn is in the grid along with his son, Sam (Garrett Hedlund). Hedlund makes for a milquetoast lead, but there’s excitement aplenty, from Olivia Wilde’s turn as the doe-eyed Quorra to Daft Punk’s infectiously catchy score to the glee of seeing a lightcycle race rendered with modern technology. For a film that offers heavy cautions about the perils of pushing tech development too far, Legacy is thrillingly modern. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer