10 of the Best Long-Awaited Sequels That Aren’t ‘The Matrix Resurrections’

10 of the Best Long-Awaited Sequels That Aren’t ‘The Matrix Resurrections’
Screenshot: 20th Century Fox
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Without diving too deeply into the divided responses to Lana Wachowski’s The Matrix Resurrections, it’s clear that late sequels are becoming increasingly the norm. If a once-popular property can be revived, it will be, if there’s even a single cast member still alive (though technology, I suppose, is making even that consideration increasingly irrelevant). Matrix 4 took 18 years to come to the screen — on the long side for sequel gestation, but not the longest. It’s also a case in which a series that was well and truly done is getting a revival, necessary or otherwise.

Within the next month, the fifth Scream movie (titled, confusingly, Scream) is coming to theatres, with only a scant 11 years having passed between sequels. Slasher franchises are notoriously hard to kill, so this one’s less surprising, although the series had previously been the province of director Wes Craven. The director’s death in 2015 means that this is the first Scream movie for which he wasn’t involved. Whether that means that the film will be a complete reinvention or a tribute remains to be seen. Both modes can work.

It’s tempting to guess at what’s coming next, but I’d guess we’re going to continue to see more direct sequels and slightly fewer reboots…neither style is inherently better than the other, but sequels pack a bit more of a concentrated nostalgia punch (Ghostbusters: Afterlife didn’t really do better than the 2016 reboot, but it definitely stirred up a lot less shit). Here are some recent, long-awaited (or not) sequels that worked.

Toy Story 4 (2019)

I was a little surprised to learn that the wait between Toy Stories 2 & 3 (11 years) was a bit longer than the one between 3 & 4 (9 years), but maybe that’s because the third film felt like a true ending — the gut-wrenching, tear-jerking cap to a trilogy from which I’m still recovering. In that sense, the latest in the series could have been an afterthought, but it’s one that’s every bit as well-crafted, funny, and moving as all the others — so it’s tough to get mad about it. There’s less finality to the conclusion, so time will tell whether this one will be viewed as an epilogue or the beginning of a new path for the beloved characters. What the movie does is prove that our favourite series’ can survive extra sequels as long as they’re crafted with this much care.

And, in a world of ubiquitous (and increasingly tiresome) cinematic cameos, it doesn’t hurt that this one squeezes in some elevated voice work from the likes of Betty White (sob), Carol Burnett, and Mel Brooks.

Where to stream: Disney+

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

I have my own slightly convoluted theory about the modern Apes trilogy, one that sets the movies as direct sequels to the originals rather than reboots (it has to do with the multiple instances of time travel in the ‘60s/‘70s series, but I won’t bore you with it). Nevertheless, this movie kicked off what’s probably the most impressive blockbuster series in modern history — at least in the series’ unremitting willingness to dive into the dark. Without being entirely cynical or hopeless, each movie plumbs the depths of human inadequacies, refusing to offer up reassuring platitudes or easy, obvious heroes (don’t get me wrong…they’re also, conversely, quite thrilling). Inspired by the trenchant social commentary of the original series, the films suggest we’re not necessarily the heroes of our own stories, and that, unless we’re willing to change our violent and narrow-minded ways, we’ll deserve whatever’s coming. In a world of carefully triangulated blockbusters designed to make us feel good enough to go shopping, it’s amazing that these things got made.

Where to stream: Disney+

Bay Boys for Life (2020)

After 17 years, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprised the roles that they first played way back in 1995 — and I’m not sure anyone was really begging for it. The first two movies succeeded almost solely on the charisma of their two leads, but were otherwise middling and slightly generic action movies in the Michael Bay canon. Bad Boys for Life dropped in January, the off-est off-month at the movies, with a significantly lower budget than the last one, and without Michael Bay. There was every reason to believe that this was going to be another in a long line of forgettable third films. Time, though, has been kind to Mike and Marcus — the movie got (deservedly) far better reviews than either of the previous outings, and made quite a bit more money, even as COVID cut short its box office run. Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah film some competent and exciting action sequences, while adding some depth to characters that were previously more about one-liners. It all worked so well that there’s now talk of a luck-pushing fourth movie.

Where to stream: Apple TV

Finding Dory (2016)

Though it’s an inevitable temptation, promoting your story’s comic-relief supporting character to lead status is inherently risky. And by “risky,” I mean that it hardly ever works — Disney itself has been down this road back in the old direct-to-video days, offering money-making but not terribly memorable standalone adventures from characters like Timon & Pumbaa, and Tinkerbell. The set-up here isn’t wildly different from that of Finding Nemo, with forgetful Dory teaming up with friends to find her long-lost parents, but there’s an emotional core to the story that establishes a heartrending backstory for Dory that makes the journey compelling. The moments of action are bigger and sillier, which isn’t to the movie’s credit, but that traditional Pixar heart sells it.

Where to stream: Disney+

Incredibles 2 (2018)

What could be more natural than a super-sequel? Marvel’s entire output fits into a 14-year timespan, but that’s how long Brad Bird and Pixar took to produce Incredibles 2 (the company having gotten much less sequel-averse than it used to be). It’s not a wild reinvention, or a deconstruction of superhero movies (which might have been a tempting move), but instead it furthers the story of the Parr family and friends, and adds some slightly more current themes. The public and politicians are getting a little fed up with the destruction wrought by Mr. Incredible’s battles, and so the family is forced to rebrand by moving Holly Hunter’s more careful Elastigirl to the forefront of the team, fitting her with a body cam in order to restore public trust. There’s a new mystery villain in the wings, though, one who is manipulating minds through screen images. There’s just enough of an effort to grapple with some of these ideas about modern culture to give the film a bit of heft, but not so much that it gets bogged down — and the animation here is some of Pixar’s most stylish.

Where to stream: Disney+

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

It’s sounds strange, but there’s something comforting about this return visit with Ewan McGregor’s Mark “Rent Boy” Renton and company, even if it doesn’t ever feel strictly necessary. Perhaps it just harkens back to simpler days of hallucinogenic ceiling babies and toilet suppository dives, and director Danny Boyle goes to great lengths to revive the gritty, kinetic visual style that made the original so defining. At the outset, we discover that Renton’s been doing quite well for himself thanks to the drug money he made off with 21 years earlier — until a failing marriage and a mid-life crisis send him back to Edinburgh to check on his old friends. What could possibly go wrong? It’s a nostalgia exercise, absolutely, and more of a coda than its own narrative…but given my own choice of ‘90s cultural touchstones, I’d personally rather revisit Sick Boy & co. than, say, the Full House gang.

Where to stream: Apple TV

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017)

Twin Peaks, the revival of a beloved early ‘90s TV property, succeeds as a triumph of anti-nostalgia — or, more accurately, as a show that radiates ambivalence about revisiting the past. Kyle MacLachlan’s Dale Cooper returns, after a fashion, but though the actor is all over the 18-hour revival, the beloved character doesn’t get much more than a cameo, evolving into the inadvertent villain of the piece for his complete inability to move past his glory days, and his willingness to draw others back with him and into their darkest moments. There’s more going on here, of course — Twin Peaks itself gets an appropriately cracked origin rooted in one of humanity’s darkest moments, and dozens of characters (new and old, alive and dead, wacky and serious) pop in to advance the town’s story, alongside an impressive array of musical acts. Ultimately, it’s the characters who can move forward who get anything resembling happy endings here, suggesting that there’s value in checking up on old friends, but danger in living for and in the past. The Return also marked a series of poignant final acts for several actors who gave some of their final performances here (including Catherine E. Coulson, Warren Frost, Peggy Lipton, Miguel Ferrer, and Harry Dean Stanton), lending added, if unintended, layers to the themes of moving on. It’s an impressive feat that justifies its existence by reminding us to be careful what we wish for.

How long a wait? 25 years.

Where to stream: Apple TV

Cobra Kai (2018–)

On the other end of the nostalgia spectrum, Cobra Kai succeeds largely by leaning into nostalgia, and by blending in enough new elements and characters to keep it from feeling like a wallow. An incredibly smart move was moving one-time villain Johnny Lawrence to co-lead status — William Zabka turning out to be an impressive actor more than capable of pulling off the character’s bitter, peaked-in-high-school ambivalence. At the outset, the show looks at the world of The Karate Kid from Johnny’s point of view: He wasn’t a saint in high school and he’s not one now, but he lost his girlfriend and status in high school to the smug, self-righteous, one-time nerd who grew up to start a perfect family and business. The show understands that there’s a silliness at its core, but also does a surprisingly good job of setting some impressively believable characters amidst an increasingly complex mythology.

How long a wait? 29 years since we last saw Daniel LaRusso and co. in Karate Kid III, though The Next Karate Kid (1994) and the 2010 Jaden Smith reboot complicate the maths.

Where to stream: Netflix

Masters of the Universe: Revelation (2021– )

Each of the recent updates of the 80s-era Mattel-based cartoon shows has something to recommend it: The computer animated He-Man and the Masters of the Universe series is a cute reboot that, to its credit, is actually aimed at kids rather than their parents. Noelle Stevenson’s She-Ra reboot felt like something revolutionary — an all-ages show that reimagined the character and her world from the ground up, skipping past the obvious “girl power” themes in favour of an elaborate, but not convoluted, mythology set amid a world where diversity of gender, skin colour, sexuality, and body type are the norm. The only true continuation, though, is Kevin Smith’s Revelation series, which picks up where the original series left off (41 years later), and ties up some plot threads that were left dangling (that series, believe it or not, had some impressive writers who brought a bit of sci-fi/fantasy cred to those 30-minute toy commercials). The show shamelessly and gleefully pitches itself to the middle-aged 80s kids who enjoyed the show back in the day, expanding the world and upping the stakes while refusing to shy away from the essential weirdness of a fantasy world full of heroes with names like “Fisto” and “Clamp Champ.”

Where to stream: Netflix

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

If anyone was fit to follow up Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking science fiction film, it’s Denis Villeneuve, a director who has yet to make a bad film and, more importantly, has yet to make an uninteresting film. I’ll go on a limb here by suggesting that the original Blade Runner isn’t quite the sum of its parts: Its stunning cinematography and world-building sometimes suggest a movie that’s deeper and more thoughtful than it always is. In that, Blade Runner 2049 actually does a bit better, diving deeper into the questions about what it means to be human that the first only started to discuss. This one also offers up a return-to-form performance from Harrison Ford — a small miracle in itself. If audience response to the sequel was mixed, it’s worth remembering that the original did rather poorly at the outset (and both received complaints about their pacing, making them, unusually, big screen spectacles that might do better when watched at home).

How long? 35 years.

Where to stream: Binge