Sequels have the power to instill appreciation or disdain within viewers, especially if the movie takes a substantial amount of time to hit theaters. Some of the most beloved and popular films happen to be follow-ups to cinematic treasures, and it’s no surprise that such projects end up having quite the legacy to live up to. Audiences often long to reconnect with adored characters and universes, anxiously awaiting future installments of their favorite flicks. When a sequel takes a long time to complete, the anticipation for the finished product can be both an exciting and painstaking process.
The highly buzzed about legacy sequel Top Gun: Maverickhas Tom Cruise reprising his iconic role as the naval aviator, premiering 36 years after its predecessor and becoming a massive blockbuster hit. After dazzling moviegoers with his groundbreaking visual effects and stunning cinematography in the 2009 sci-fi juggernaut Avatar, director James Cameron has two sought-after Avatar sequels scheduled for release at the end of this year and 2024. Let’s take a closer look at some of the greatest movie sequels that were worth the very long wait.
8 Toy Story 3
Audiences around the world fell in love with the wild antics of the cowboy Woody and space ranger Buzz Lightyear in the beloved ‘90s classics Toy Story and Toy Story 2, with the two characters serving as the leaders of a group of toys who come alive when humans aren’t around. The first follow-up in the hit franchise was released in 1999, four years after Toy Story, and was touted as one of the few sequels superior to the original; Toy Story 2 was a critical and commercial hit and earned a perfect rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
When Pixar announced a new sequel was in the works after 11 years, fans of the animated films were skeptical that it could possibly live up to its predecessor. The Oscar-winning Toy Story 3brilliantly proved the naysayers wrong in 2010, becoming a blockbuster success and earning over $1 billion while being heralded for its emotional storytelling and depth, animation, voice performances and moving soundtrack.
7 Rocky Balboa
16 years after the release of Rocky V, Sylvester Stallone made his highly anticipated return as the iconic boxer and former heavyweight champion in the 2006 sports drama Rocky Balboa, which follows the now retired eponymous character as he is challenged to an exhibition fight against the fierce boxer Mason Dixon. Not only did Stallone reprise his career-making role, but he also wrote the screenplay and directed the picture, bringing back fellow stars Burt Young and Tony Burton and their counterparts Paulie Pennino and Tony “Duke” Evers.
Stallone began development for a sixth installment after expressing his disappointment over the outcome of Rocky V, believing it was a lackluster conclusion to the famous franchise. Rocky Balboa was a hit with both critics and audiences, with Stallone earning praise for his touching performance and for the moving exploration of the character, with many calling it one of Rocky’s greatest entries.
6 The Color of Money
Legendary silver screen actor Paul Newman returned as the notorious pool hustler and stakehorse Edward “Fast Eddie” Felson in the 1986 sports drama The Color of Money, based on the Walter Tevis novel of the same name and serving as a sequel to his 1961 classic The Hustler. Set more than 25 years after the original picture’s events, the follow-up focuses on a now retired Eddie as he takes a cocky but gifted nine-ball player (Tom Cruise) under his wing and shows him the tricks of pool hustling, ultimately inspiring Eddie to get back into the game.
The revered Martin Scorsese directed the thrilling drama, with the sequel serving as his first foray into mainstream movie-making; Newman personally reached out to Scorsese via a fan letter to ask the director to helm the film. The cinema icon’s efforts paid off, as he went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance, his first win after seven nominations.
5 Bad Boys for Life
Fans of the hilarious Miami detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett couldn’t get enough of the wise-cracking, bantering duo in the Bad Boys franchise, with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence dazzling viewers with their charming chemistry. After appearing in 1995’s Bad Boys and 2003’s Bad Boys II, the comedic superstars stepped away from the action-packed series for 17 years before finally giving audiences what they wanted and served up a third installment.
In 2020’s Bad Boys for Life, the exciting comedy catches up with the detectives as they investigate the wife and son of a Mexican crime lord as they wreak havoc on the city, while also dealing with a young elite team aiding them. Bad Boys for Life went on to become the highest-grossing film of the franchise and was also the most well-received, with countless critics calling it an immense improvement over its predecessors.
4 Jurassic World
Serving as a fourth installment of the Jurassic Park franchise and the first in the new trilogy, the 2015 sci-fi action film Jurassic World brings the spectacular dinosaurs to the big screen after a 14-year hiatus, this time following Navy veteran and ethologist Owen Grady as he fights to protect vacationers at the titular theme park after a genetically modified dinosaur escapes containment and terrorizes the island.
After 2001’s lackluster Jurassic Park III, the franchise’s writers set out to incorporate three of Steven Spielberg’s ideas for a sequel: a human with a relationship with trained raptors, a dangerous human-eating dinosaur on the loose and a fully operating dinosaur theme park. Jurassic World was a knockout with critics and audiences alike and kicked off a lucrative trilogy starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, and helped breathe new life into the iconic film series.
3 The Incredibles 2
Pixar’s 2004 animated superhero film The Incredibles famously chronicles the misadventures of the Parr family, residents of Metroville who are forced to hide their superhero abilities after the government forces “supers” to permanently forego any crime fighting. The fun and exciting movie was a mega success, winning two Academy Awards and becoming a hit with audiences both young and old; it is widely regarded as one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.
With such high standards set, talks of a sequel were both welcomed by fans but speculated by critics due to the bar being so high. The Incredibles 2far exceeded the expectations of moviegoers, with the follow-up depicting the efforts of the Incredibles as they attempt to reinstate the public’s faith and trust in superheroes. It went on to earn praise for its stunning animation, storyline, humor and performances, and raked in a whopping $1.2 billion at the box office.
2 Top Gun: Maverick
The iconic 1986 Tom Cruise staple Top Gun famously featured the Hollywood heavy hitter as Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a young and tenacious naval aviator battling to be at the top of his class at the US Navy’s Fighter Weapons School. The action flick helped cement Cruise’s status as a cinema superstar and went on to become a quintessential staple of the 1980s, with rumors of a long-awaited sequel beginning to seriously swirl around 2010.
After development issues and production hiccups, Top Gun: Maverickfinally made its worldwide premiere at CinemaCon 2022, dominating the box office and earning critical praise for its breathtaking visuals, dynamite performances and exciting storyline. The film follows Mitchell, now one of the Navy’s top aviators, as he trains a group of Top Gun graduates and is forced to face unsettling ghosts of his past. Top Gun: Maverick has been deemed by many reviewers as far superior to its predecessor and has been credited with reinvigorating the movie industry.
1 Mad Max: Fury Road
Simultaneously serving as both a reboot and fourth installment of the post-apocalyptic action franchise Mad Max, the 2015 big screen extravaganza Mad Max: Fury Road features Tom Hardy in the famous role of Max Rockatansky, with fellow star Mel Gibson passing the baton to the actor for the adrenaline-pumping picture. Director George Miller was eager to do a sequel to 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome but faced financial difficulties and the project ultimately spent years in development hell; the film was finally greenlit in 2009 with the follow-up serving as a “renaissance” of the franchise.
Mad Max: Fury Road centers on the titular character as he teams up with Imperator Furiosa in an effort to escape the nefarious cult leader Immortan Joe and his deranged army. Fury Road garnered numerous accolades and was lauded by critics for its fantastic performances, action sequences and direction, winning six Academy Awards and being heralded as one of the greatest action films of all time.