Julien Neaves, Editor
Well hit me with a snowball and call me Frosty. Almost 30 years after the release of Sylvester Stallone’s super cool high altitude action banger Cliffhanger we have news that a sequel is in the works. The news makes sense as Sly has previously made belated returns to his famous franchises like Rambo and Rocky, but if anyone said they were expecting a Cliffhanger sequel three decades later them they are a dirty, dirty liar and their pants are likely ablaze.
The Cliffhanger sequel news got me thinking about other belated sequels Hollywood has dropped on us. Most have been terrible, like Dumb and Dumber To, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Zoolander 2, and The Matrix Resurrections. But once in a blue moon you get an Avatar: The Way of Water which blew up the box office despite releasing 13 years after the original. And there are a few other Johnny Come Lately sequels that delivered quality and made bank at the box office. Which brings us to our list today.
Below are Seven Belated Movie Sequels That Actually Worked which I have ranked based on a combination of the length of time between films, overall quality and box office returns. And why seven sequels? Well, that’s because we are celebrating seven years of Robot Mango Reviews with Seven Top 7 Lists! With that explanation and a heavily delayed SPOILER ALERT let’s get to the list:
#7 Bill and Ted Face the Music (19 Year Gap, Worldwide Box Office of 6.3 Million)
I am pleased as punch to see the career Renaissance Keanu Reeves has been having in recent years. From the blistering action of the John Wick franchise to the hilarity of Always Be My Maybe and Toy Story 4, to reprising his iconic role of Neo in The Matrix Resurrections (which wasn’t good, but he gave it the old college try) Keanu is back on top. There is even word of a sequel to 2005 supernatural thriller Constantine. But we’re here to talk about 2020 comedy Bill and Ted Face the Music where he reprised the role of charming dimwit musician Theodore “Ted” Logan.
Now, neither of the two previous Bill and Ted films were ever in danger of winning Best Picture at the Oscars, but they were both delightfully quirky and silly comedies. And Bill and Ted Face the Music is a wonderfully dumb romp. Reeves and Alex Winter (who plays Bill, the other half of Wyld Stallyns) are hilarious together. We have several returning characters and fun new ones, great looking visual effects and a decent share of laugh-out-loud gags. It’s not the best movie nor did it take over the worldwide box office, but it’s an entertaining one, and a worthy return to the franchise. Bodacious!
#6 Rocky Balboa (16 Year Gap, Worldwide Box Office 156.2 Million)
It ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it’s about how you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.Rocky Balboa
And the Rocky franchise suffered quite the hit in 1990 with Rocky V. After the Academy Award-winning original (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing) and three solid sequels the fifth installment was a thoroughly inept and terrible film. With its critical thrashing and poor box office (it is the lowest grossing of the series) it seemed like the Rocky franchise had been knocked out for the count. But Sylvester Stallone was determined to keep moving forward and delivered a return to form 16 years later with Rocky Balboa which he wrote, directed and starred in.
There were many missteps with Rocky V, but one of the main ones was sidelining the main character in favour of the utterly charmless Tommy. Rocky Balboa fixes that by returning the Italian Stallion to the centre of the ring in an inspiring comeback tale of a 60-year-old Rocky going up against the heavyweight champion of the world. With great performances by Sly and Milo Ventimiglia as Rocky’s son and well-choreographed boxing sequences this belated sequel revived the franchise and led to the awesome Creed spin-off series.
#5 Jurassic World (14 Year Gap, Worldwide Box Office of 1.671 Billion)
Remember 2001’s Jurassic Park III? No? Do allow me to refresh your memory.
Yeah, the third film took an Academy Award-winning franchise and turned it into a cheap looking and unintelligent Sci Fi adventure thriller worthy of going straight to DVD. And most assumed the franchise was extinct after this massive pile of dino poop. But almost a decade and a half later and the series was brought back to life with the sequel/soft reboot Jurassic World.
No Jurassic sequel has recaptured the magic and thrills of the 1993 original, but this one came the closest. Chris Pratt made for a likeable lead as Velociraptor expert Owen Grady, it was great seeing BD Wong again as shady geneticist Dr Henry Wu, and there were some genuine thrills to be had and spectacle to enjoy. And with more than a billion and a half at the box office the franchise was at the top of the food chain again. Too bad the two sequels Fallen Kingdom and Dominion crapped the bed again.
#4 Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens (10 Year Gap, Worldwide Box Office of 2.066 Billion)
I am in several Star Wars Facebook groups, and I can tell you that the fanbase is split on the sequel trilogy, with some attacking it and others defending it (personally, I’m not a huge fan but there are things that I like). And for those in the former group most of the ire is aimed at The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker, with Episode VII: The Force Awakens usually getting something of a pass. And TFA did have the benefit of being a cinematic return to a franchise which seemed to have turned into a Force Ghost. Yeah, the hype when it was announced was not moon-sized; it was Death Star-sized. And the film delivered, mostly.
Let’s talk the positives first. There was a welcome return to practical effects/CGI mix after the CGI deluge of the prequel trilogy. We had the return of legacy characters Han and Leia. We had the promise of a fun new trinity in Rey, Poe and Finn. Kylo Ren made for an impressive new villain. And droid BB-8 was totes adorbes. But the film played it too safe plot-wise with story that was way too derivative of A New Hope, the sequel felt like a cheap copy of the original era, and we only got the briefest of cameos of Luke Skywalker. It was a solid film, though, if not the most rewatchable. And it did make more than two billion at the box office, which could be a tidy downpayment on a nice system in the Outer Rim. But when it comes to the quality of the sequel trilogy as a whole, though, well that is another story for another list.
#3 Bad Boys for Life (17 Year Gap, Worldwide Box Office of 426.5 Million)
With most film franchises the original is usually the best, with a few having the second film take that honour (see Terminator 2, The Godfather Part II, and Aliens) but the third film? Nah. Well, it did happen with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (Dream Warriors is the best, feel free to @ me on it) and this was also the case with 2020’s buddy cop action comedy Bad Boys for Life. Now the 1995 original was a decent flick, but 2003’s Bad Boys II was bloated, and a lot of the comedy was forced. But they finally found the perfect formula with the third entry.
More than a decade and a half later Bad Boys for Life reunited Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as detectives Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett respectively and their chemistry was stronger than ever. The comedy was better written, the action was improved and more bombastic, the dramatic aspects worked, and the plot was tighter and featured actual stakes. Just a very well-done action comedy film that offers hope for the once dormant franchise. It also made more than $400 million on a $90 million budget, which is not bad at all. And by the way, did you know the Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba starring TV series L.A.’s Finest is part of the Bad Boys franchise? #themoreyouknow
#2 Top Gun: Maverick (26 Year Gap, Worldwide Box Office of 1.493 Billion)
There’s exceeding expectations, and then there’s Top Gun: Maverick. The original Top Gun is an iconic, testosterone-filled action drama but the hype wasn’t into the stratosphere when a sequel was announced, especially one that was being released more than 25 years later. But like a jet fighter zooming low on a crowded highway Top Gun: Maverick came out of nowhere and just blew everything out of its way.
The plot is a simple one. United States Navy Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns to Top Gun to train a group of young pilots, including the son of his late best friend “Goose”, for a dangerous mission against an unidentified enemy. In the midst of the action there is a tale of grief, guilt and redemption that never knocks one over the head with its themes. Where Maverick shines is in the heart-pounding aerial stunts (Tom Cruise at his Tom Crusiest) and technical brilliance which deliver some of the greatest set pieces ever put to film. A truly excellent movie that surpasses its very good original and is one of the most cinematic experiences audiences have had in some time. And it is just such a fun ride. It made almost one and a half billion at the box office, was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture (which was a bit much IMHO) and took home a very well-deserved Best Sound Oscar.
#1 Mad Max: Fury Road (30 Year Gap, Worldwide Box Office of 415.2 Million)
Who revives a science fiction franchise 30 years later? That crazy bastard George Miller, that’s who. Three decades after Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Miller and his post-apocalyptic hero “Mad” Max Rockatansky returned with Mad Max: Fury Road. The fantastic Tom Hardy replaced Mad Max actor Mel Gibson and gave a brilliant performance. New character Furiosa (played by the incomparable Charlize Theron) was so good that she is getting her own spin-off film scheduled for release next year. And the skeletal grin of villain Immortan Joe made for an unforgettable bad guy.
Like Maverick, the plot here is an uncomplicated one and is basically a feature film-length chase through the desert. BUT WHAT A LOVELY CHASE! Sorry about the caps, but the film just gets me very excited. Mad Max: Fury Road features some of the best practical action set pieces EVER! I hope first-time audiences had their hands fixed to their jaws because mine just kept dropping on the floor with the masterful madness that was unfolding before me.
In terms of box office, it falls far short of The Force Awakens, Jurassic World and Maverick, with just over $400 million, but it was critically lauded and nominated for ten (yes, you read that right) Academy Awards, winning six. And many, including my good self, declare it to be one of the greatest action movies ever made. Not bad at all for a Sci Fi franchise that seemed to have been buried in the dust.
So, that’s my list. Any great belated sequels I left out? And you can check out more great movie content that you don’t have to wait forever for below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.