By Zoe Rose Bryant
As soon as the rave reviews started to roll in for “Top Gun: Maverick” – which is currently rated at a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes and 80 on Metacritic – it was almost instantly hailed as one of the best sequels of all time, mentioned in the same breath as Cruise’s own “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and another recent May blockbuster with a surplus of stunt-driven spectacle, “Mad Max: Fury Road.” However, being a superb sequel isn’t the only feather in “Top Gun: Maverick’s” cap, as it can also claim membership in a newer – and more elite – club: the greatest “legacyquels.”
“Legacyquels” are a bit of a modern phenomenon – only truly becoming popularized with the mainstream in 2015, following the considerable commercial success of Jurassic World and especially “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” – but they’ve pretty much taken over every existing franchise in Hollywood, as studios leave no stone – and no series – unturned. In the years that followed, “Halloween,” “Terminator,” and “Ghostbusters” all received the “legacyquel” treatment, but crowds and critics soon caught on to the fact that these “special” sequels weren’t always going to be slam dunks.
When done right, a “legacyquel” – a sequel in a beloved series released years (or even decades) after the previous installment that unites the original cast with the new generation in order to make the franchise feel “fresh” again while not ignoring what made it so successful in the first place – can be a cash cow and/or even a critical success (ex. the aforementioned “Star Wars: The Force Awakens“). However, it’s not enough to simply bring a franchise back from the dead and throw a few new faces in it – creatives have to put in the work to find a reason to return to a slumbering series and resurrect it for modern audiences.
Thankfully, “Top Gun: Maverick” seems to have figured out that winning formula, and in honor of its release this week, we’ve cited ten other “legacyquels” that gave this emerging trend a good name and gave new life to properties put on pause.
10. Jackass Forever
Does “Jackass Forever” even count as a “legacyquel”? There’s no actual continuing storyline in the “Jackass” films, but since ““Jackass Forever” marked a long-awaited return to the core series after a decade-long hiatus and introduced several rising stars (and potential replacements) for Johnny Knoxville and co, we’ll count it – and also because it’s just that damn good. Here’s the thing about “Jackass”: at this point, you either love it, or you hate it, and there’s little here that will change your mind. But if you’re already fully in the “love it” camp, ““Jackass Forever” was probably the most fun you had with a film since… well, the last “Jackass” movie. What makes this sequel so special? It’s not that it’s particularly “contemplative” or “reflective” on “Jackass'” legacy – in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
In spite of the years passed between ““Jackass Forever” and “Jackass 3D” (and even the Johnny Knoxville-led spin-off, “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa”), ““Jackass Forever” feels subversive simply for being… another “Jackass” sequel (and a pretty terrific one at that). The unbridled creativity behind these sketches is a sight for sore eyes (“Silence of the Lambs!” “Bee Genitals!” “The Cup Test!”), making it feel as if no time has passed and showing why “Jackass” still reigns supreme above its imitators, and the new generation (Sean “Poopies” McInerney, Zach Holmes, and Rachel Wolfson, among others) all convincingly hold their own against the OGs, helping us feel that the franchise is in good hands if Knoxville and the gang do hang it up for good. It accomplishes everything a good legacyquel should and manages to be a mightily entertaining experience on its own. What more could you want?
9. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
By the time “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” was finally released in the fall of 2020, it felt like the cries for a “Borat” sequel had died down significantly since the first film’s release all the way back in 2006. Was “Borat” even… relevant anymore? What was there left to say? Didn’t Sacha Baron Cohen already run this joke into the ground over the past fourteen years? However, there were two factors that no one could anticipate that proved essential in this sequel’s success: the COVID-19 pandemic (and all the potential for absurdist sketches surrounding our government’s ineptitude in responding to the public health crisis) and the comedic revelation that was Maria Bakalova as Borat’s teenage daughter Tutar.
Despite premiering on Amazon Prime towards the tail end of the year, when it seemed as if all that could be said about COVID had already been said, Baron Cohen, through Borat, made us see this noxious social nightmare in a whole new light – in a way that only Borat could – but the true ace up this sequel’s sleeve was the sincerely heartwarming storyline between Borat and Tutar, and how deftly Baron Cohen and Bakalova moved from comedy to drama and infused a Borat sequel with genuine pathos and sentiment, ultimately evolving it into a shockingly stirring love letter to fathers and daughters everywhere. It’s one of the greatest examples of “the new blood” in a “legacyquel” becoming just as beloved as the OGs, and the fandom for Bakalova was definitely deserved (that Oscar nom speaks for itself!).
8. Scream (2022)
After 2018’s “Halloween” broke box office records, every classic horror franchise started seeking the “leagacyquel” treatment, bringing back famous “Final Girls” to tussle with their infamous tormentors once more and defend a new generation from a gory demise. However, while “Halloween” doesn’t land on this list, this year’s “Scream” does, building off the bones of that film’s formula by bringing back classic characters (Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott, Courteney Cox’s Gale Weathers, and David Arquette’s Dewey Riley) and mixing them with with a surplus of stars on the rise who fit this franchise like a glove (“In the Heights‘” Melissa Barrera, “The Boys'” Jack Quaid, and “X’s” Jenna Ortega) but further setting itself apart from the pack with its intelligent and sly screenplay.
While “Halloween” attempted to position itself as some grand statement on “trauma” and violence against women throughout time, “Scream” actually succeeded in having something meaningful to say about reboot culture/”legacyquels” and even toxic fandom while matching this commentary with Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s classic meta style and never straying from that signature “Scream” structure. Throw in several stupendously directed setpieces from “Ready or Not’s” Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, and you’ve got yourself the start of something new for “Scream,” with more promise and potential than can currently be found in the rebooted “Halloween” franchise.
7. X-Men: Days Of Future Past
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” falls into this unique gray space where it’s half a regular sequel – following the events of “X-Men First Class” and the stars of the series’ prequel, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence – and half “legacyquel” – picking up with fan favorites from the original timeline, such as Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Halle Berry. However, because the “legacyquel” elements are so essential to the story’s structure and the film’s success (and because it’s simply such a stellar superhero sequel), we’ll count in here and take the opportunity to sing the praises of one of the most captivating comic-book adaptations – structurally and thematically – of all-time.
Sure, it’s probably more of a sequel to “X-Men: First Class” than “X-Men: The Last Stand,” which may disappoint some fans expecting more screen time for the OG X-Men, but having Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine pal around with McAvoy and Fassbender in the past is purely joyous, and the way the fearsome future is weaved into the central story is both smart and surprising, beautifully bringing about numerous effective emotional beats (McAvoy and Stewart “meeting,” anyone?). Additionally, the action here is off-the-charts (I mean, the “Time in a Bottle” sequence alone), and before we had “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” this was a comic book nerd’s dream come true in terms of cinematic crossover events, and it was one that didn’t rest on the novelty of that concept alone, finding ways to justify such a story and serve all characters individually.
6. The Muppets
Sort of like the “Jackass” series, “The Muppets” franchise also has a very loose continuity, frequently appearing in “one-offs” set in a single specific genre (“The Great Muppet Caper,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol”) as opposed to sequels advancing an overarching storyline. However, James Bobin’s “The Muppets” was a true-blue “legacyquel” to its core, taking a look back at the legacy of the Muppets both within the world of the movie (in which they are actual “celebrities”) and within our own culture as well, making for a meta examination of not just the Muppets’ place in Hollywood history but the industry and its increasing superficial commercialization as a whole.
And, even disregarding how surprisingly brilliant Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller’s script is for a brief moment, it’s just really freakin’ funny, giving the Muppets some of their best material in years where every star gets to shine. Segel and co-star Amy Adams lead the film with an appropriately affable pluckiness, while newcomer Walter naturally works his way into the Muppets’ motley crew with considerable charm of his own and all of the expected celebrity cameos (Jack Black! Zach Galifianakis! Alan Arkin!) deliver in spades. And perhaps the best part is that, in spite of its occasional cynicism directed towards the state of mainstream moviemaking, it retains that wholesome spirit that has always set “The Muppets” apart from the pack, and it leaves you on an optimistic high, just the way a sequel in this series should (and it’s a shame this fledgling reboot franchise came to such a swift end in 2014 after “Muppets Most Wanted,” given all the promise it still possessed).
5. The Matrix Resurrections
Arguably the most divisive “legacyquel” on this list, “The Matrix Resurrections” alienated certain audiences expecting a more conventional “Matrix” fourthquel this past December but conversely delighted crowds who rode Lana Wachowski’s wavelength and were entirely on board with her rebuttal to reboot culture and reclamation of her and her sister’s ideas that have been insidiously misconstrued in the years that followed. At the start, it doesn’t even seem like this is a movie Wachowski wants to make (the meta satire of Keanu Reeves playing a video game developer who fashioned the famous “Matrix” franchise and is being forced to make a fourth game by Warner Bros. is appropriately amusing). Still, she soon finds a promising path ahead anyway, taking this major movie studio’s money and essentially making an introspective love story as opposed to the action-packed extravaganza that Warner Bros. might have expected.
As a result, the studio-mandated action is admittedly a bit lacking in comparison to its predecessors, but the themes here are so stimulating and the character work so compelling that they essentially make up for it. With “The Matrix Resurrections,” Wachowski takes “The Matrix” back from everyone else who has tried to claim it as their own over the years – from “the right” to even Warner Bros. themselves – and returns it to Neo and Trinity, showing that, above all else, this series was always about them and their love story alone, hammering home a familiar but heartfelt message that love is all we truly need. It can conquer all, even when it looks as if the world is falling apart. It may not have been the “Matrix” fourthquel many wanted, but in these trying times, it’s the one we needed, and one that’s legacy will linger for years to come thanks to a thematic core that only grows more relevant by the day.
2006’s “Rocky Balboa” was reasonably successful, but it was clear that the franchise was running on fumes, and it needed to reinvent itself in a revolutionary way to stay relevant. And sometimes, the simplest solution is the right one. With 2015’s “Creed,” writer-director Ryan Coogler essentially borrowed from the story structure of the first “Rocky” (while also adding racially specific story beats to showcase the differences between the journey of Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis “Donnie” Creed and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa) but put Stallone in Burgess Meredith’s role and Jordan in Stallone’s, reinterpreting this modern movie myth for today’s audiences in fascinating fashion.
The action alone was absolutely arresting (you only need to watch that final fight to see how distinguished a director Coogler is and what a gift he was to this series), but it was the pathos and the emotional pull of the relationship between Donnie and Rocky that kept us coming back for more, mainly thanks to Stallone’s powerhouse performance, which earned him his second Oscar nomination as an actor and almost got him a win (rightfully so, in this writer’s opinion). It’s one of the best examples of a movie star returning to the role that made them famous and mining it for more emotional depth than ever before, and thanks to both his and Jordan’s courageous commitment to these parts and this redemption plot, “Creed” became one of the most powerful pictures of 2015 – and has remained as such in the years that followed.
3. Top Gun: Maverick
Funnily enough, despite seemingly most of the moviegoing public holding the original “Top Gun” in high esteem, it was never a critical darling, earning only a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being that it was an exercise in style over substance. However, against all odds, “Top Gun: Maverick” improves on its predecessor in every way, taking everything that worked so well in the original (the thrilling aerial sequences, the sexy beach volleyball scene) and fixing what didn’t (suffusing this script with extensive emotional depth). What we’re left with is one of the most striking jumps in quality from a first film to a second in a franchise in cinema history, and one of the greatest legacyquels ever made.
Truly, “Top Gun: Maverick” is just firing on all cylinders. Director Joseph Kosinski – who has proved his expertise in aesthetics with “Tron: Legacy” and “Oblivion” – takes his craft to a whole new level here with genuinely stupefying stunt work, and he’s supported by the strongest screenplay featured in any of his films yet, thanks to Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie, while Tom Cruise turns in one of his most poignant performances to date, and the entire ensemble (from Miles Teller to Glen Powell to Jennifer Connelly) excels. But really, more than any flight-focused fight sequence, what moves us most of all is the way “Top Gun: Maverick” honors the late Goose (portrayed in the original film by Anthony Edwards) and furthers his legacy through his son (played here by Teller), giving Cruise’s Maverick a second chance to “get things right” by fixing his relationship with Teller’s Rooster and making peace with his painful past. There won’t be a dry eye in the theater.
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Though its sequels have sullied its reputation somewhat (love or hate “The Last Jedi,” I think we can all agree that “The Rise of Skywalker” isn’t what anyone wanted), “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” remains the gold standard for “legacyquels,” and simply one of the most exhilarating blockbusters and cinematic events of this century so far. Yeah, it borrows heavily from “A New Hope” (and maybe that’s even a bit of an understatement), but it moves like a freight train and features some of the most striking action set pieces in “Star Wars” history (The escape from Jakku! Rey vs. Kylo Ren!) and introduces us to a new cast of characters that are just as charming and captivating as those who came before, with both the past and present fitting together perfectly.
It sucks that some of the spellbinding storylines and gripping questions here never really received the resolutions they deserved in the films that followed, but if “The Last Jedi” and/or “The Rise of Skywalker” have made you sour on “The Force Awakens” in retrospect, I implore you to give this one another shot and fall in love with it all over again, remembering why it was such a sensation during the holiday season in 2015 and finding your interest piqued by the promise it possessed way back when. And, if nothing else, it’s worth it to revisit one of Harrison Ford’s best late-career performances, witness Daisy Ridley’s star-making moment, and see what John Boyega’s Finn could’ve been if the writers ever gave him this stirring a subplot again!
1. Blade Runner 2049
As far as mainstream blockbuster legacyquels go, it’s pretty hard to beat “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Top Gun: Maverick,” but from a craftsmanship standpoint – and in terms of sheer cinematic art – there’s no way Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049” can’t take the cake. For starters, it had to follow up perhaps the most beloved predecessor of any film on this list (save for maybe “Star Wars”), with Ridley Scott’s original film often hailed as one of the best – if not the best – sci-fi films of all-time, as a defining work of fiction that has influenced the genre for 50 years. But while so many movies have tried to ape “Blade Runner’s” cyberpunk aesthetic in the years that followed, it’s the themes – drawing the line between man and machine – that have lingered just as long, if not more so, especially as they continue to become more relevant in our increasingly AI-heavy society.
Thankfully, although Scott wasn’t returning to helm this sequel, he had a splendid successor in modern sci-fi god Denis Villeneuve, who, along with cinematographic icon Roger Deakins, recreated the world of “Blade Runner” in awe-inspiring and frightening fashion while also elevating it cinematically for the 21st Century. On visuals alone, “Blade Runner 2049” would’ve been one of the signature achievements from a mainstream studio throughout the entirety of the 2010s, but Hampton Fancher and Michael Green put in just as much work on the script to give the story an emotionally stimulating core, and one rooted in the franchise’s eternal questioning over the humanity of replicants, tied perfectly to the existential pain of Ryan Gosling’s replicant blade runner K and the hidden lineage of Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard. Though almost three hours long, there isn’t a single moment in which one isn’t entirely immersed in the feeling of this film and the pathos of its plot, and it continues to represent the best of what a “legacyquel” can be when creatives move beyond trying to make the most “fun” moviegoing experience for fans and instead finding the best path forward for the franchise artistically.
So what do you think? What is your favorite legacyquel? Are you looking forward to seeing the next legacyquel, “Jurassic World Dominion?” How many times are you going to see “Top Gun: Maverick” in the theater? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Twitter account.
You can follow Zoe and hear more of her thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @ZoeRoseBryant