What’s the logical thing for a studio to do when a film is successful? Make a sequel! Audiences have come to expect sequels at a steady pace: when the Harry Potter film series was ongoing, there was only a one-two year gap between instalments, and the four Hunger Games films were released over consecutive years. In its heyday, we got a James Bond film about once every two years – now that has increased to three-four years, but the series is still chugging along.
Sometimes, audiences must wait a little longer to see how stories they’ve become attached to continue. There were eight years between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 12 years between Judgement Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, six years between Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, and six more years between Terminator Salvation and Terminator: Genisys. Sometimes, they must wait a lot longer. The 2006 direct-to-video animated film Bambi II holds the record for the longest gap between film sequels – the original Bambi came out in 1942, a whopping 64 years earlier.
Blade Runner (1982)
There are a variety of reasons for sequels or prequels being released many years after the previous instalment in a series: a project can enter development hell with a tussle for creative control ensuing, it can take a while for a film to gain popularity or cult status that would lead to demand for a sequel, or the rights to the original film might have lapsed, with new rights holders making a sequel without the involvement of the original creators.
This week sees the release of Blade Runner 2049, 35 years after the release of the original Blade Runner. The 1982 film, directed by Ridley Scott and based on Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, did not initially catch on with audiences and critics. However, it gradually became viewed as an influential sci-fi masterpiece, and was re-evaluated as Scott released his director’s cuts of the film. A sequel has been in development since 1999, and has finally come to fruition. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) takes the director’s baton from Scott, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard. Ford is joined by Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto.
Here are five other sequels/prequels that took their time in getting to the big screen. We’re not counting straight reboots like the current Planet of the Apes series, but we will bend the rules a little – you’ll see if you read on!
#1: TRON: LEGACY (2010)
28 YEARS AFTERTRON (1982)
Tron Legacy (2010)
1982’s Tron, directed by Steven Lisberger, is a milestone in the development of visual effects technology. The film stars Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who enters the digital realm of a video game and fights for survival. Tron was a modest success, and gradually became regarded as a cult film. Following the rise of Pixar, there were rumours that the animation studio would pursue a sequel to or remake of Tron. The desire for a Tron sequel was further fuelled by the release of the video game Tron 2.0 in 2003.
Development on a follow-up to Tron began in earnest in 2005, with visual effects artist Joseph Kosinksi being hired to direct the film two years later. Kosinski disagreed with Disney’s mandate that the film be modelled after The Matrix, and set about creating a proof-of-concept short film to demonstrate his vision for the sequel. This convinced Disney, and in 2008, a teaser trailer for what was then called ‘Tr2n’ was screened at Comic-Con. Jeff Bridges reprised his role as Kevin Flynn, who had been living in the Grid for many years. Kevin’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes off in search of his father, teaming up with an ‘iso’ named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to defeat Clu (also Bridges), the tyrannical digital duplicate of Kevin. Bruce Boxleitner returned alongside Bridges from the first film. Tron: Legacy showcased cutting-edge visual effects technology, including extensive digital de-aging used to make Bridges appear younger. The film received mixed reviews, but the visual effects and the score by Daft Punk were widely praised. Tron: Legacy spawned the animated series Tron: Uprising, and development on a sequel was underway, but those plans have been shelved in favour of a possible reboot, to which Jared Leto is tentatively attached.
#2: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
19 YEARS AFTER INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2009)
Before Harrison Ford made a belated return to Star Wars and Blade Runner, he reprised the role of adventurer archaeologist Indiana Jones in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had originally made a deal with Paramount Pictures for five Indiana Jones movies in the late 1970s, but after 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lucas decided he couldn’t find a satisfactory plot device to base a follow-up on. Lucas turned his attention to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a prequel TV series in which Indy as a young man interacted with various historical figures and got entangled in world events. Ford made a cameo in the series, narrating an episode as a framing device. This led Lucas to pursue a film sequel set in the 50s, with Lucas setting his heart on making it an homage to sci-fi B-movies.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
Spielberg and Ford were initially resistant to the idea of the movie featuring aliens, but Lucas convinced Ford by saying the ‘aliens’ in the movie would instead be ‘interdimensional beings’. A succession of writers, including M. Night Shyamalan and Frank Darabont, were hired. Darabont’s draft, entitled ‘Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods’, featured ex-Nazis hiding out in Argentina. After making Schindler’s List, Spielberg decided he could no longer use Nazis as cartoonish villains, with Soviet operatives chosen as the villains of the piece. Numerous attempts were made to find out more about the secretive production, with an extra violating a non-disclosure agreement, and a separate incident in which photos and documents were stolen from Spielberg’s office. Returning alongside Ford was Karen Allen, who played the feisty Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shia LaBeouf played Mutt, their son. Cate Blanchett turned in an enjoyably over-the-top performance as the villainous Irinia Spalko. Ford is set to don that dusty Fedora again in a fifth film, due in 2020.
#3: STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
16 YEARS AFTERSTAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1989)
The other franchise Lucas is known for is no stranger to significant gaps between major instalments. The production and development of the Star Wars franchise is as storied and eventful as the mythos of the films and related media themselves. Lucas had originally intended to remake the classic sci-fi serial Flash Gordon, and when the rights were unavailable, set about devising his own space opera, cobbled from influences as varied as Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, WWII-era dogfight movies like The Dam Busters and 663 Squadron, and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Weathering a torturous production process, 1977’s Star Wars became a smash critical and commercial hit, leading to the sequels The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Lucas said he was “burned out” after working on the original trilogy, but having fleshed out the backstory, did not close off the possibility of eventually returning to make prequels. What became known as the Expanded Universe, consisting of books, comics, video games and other media beyond the films, was developing. A driving force of this was the trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn, which took place after Return of the Jedi and introduced the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn. These books caused a resurgence in the popularity of Star Wars in the early 90. Lucas became fascinated with the advancements in computer-generated visual effects technology, modifying the original trilogy to create the ‘special editions’, which were released theatrically in 1997. He decided that the prequels would tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, who would eventually become the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Attack of the Clones would follow in 2002, and Revenge of the Sith in 2005. The prequel trilogy has generally been derided for its over-reliance on visual effects and its poor writing and stilted performances, but there are those who enjoy it for its depiction of the Jedi and Clone Troopers.
There is a 10-year gap between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, which picks up the story 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens was released 32 years after that film, its immediate predecessor in the series’ chronology. 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released 39 years after A New Hope.
#4: THE THING (2011)
29 YEARS AFTER THE THING (1982)
The Thing (2011)
John Carpenter’s The Thing is often cited as one of the most influential sci-fi horror films ever made. The film was adapted from John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, which also served as the basis for the 1951 film The Thing From Another World. Carpenter’s version did not perform extremely well at the box office, but went on to become a cult classic. Its gory, inventive and spectacular creature effects were devised by Rob Bottin, with Stan Winston making the dog creature when Bottin’s crew was swamped with the other creatures made for the film. The Thing begins with a Norwegian helicopter pursuing an Alaskan Malamute across the Antarctic ice. The helicopter’s pilot is shot dead by the station commander before he can fully issue his warning – the dog is not what it appears. What ensues is a frightening sequence of mistrust and monster mayhem as a parasitic alien life form wreaks havoc in the American base.
The Thing (1982)
The prequel film, also titled ‘The Thing’, sought to answer the question of what exactly happened at the Norwegian base. Producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman convinced Universal Studios that the film should be made as a prequel rather than a remake. Writer Eric Heisserer, who would go on to become an Oscar nominee for Arrival, described constructing the story as “doing it by autopsy”. He carefully went over the original film, working backwards to ensure everything would line up. Director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. insisted on casting Norwegian actors to play the Norwegian characters – you might recognise Kristofer Hivju because he went on to play Tormund in Game of Thrones. van Heijningen also took inspiration from Alien, casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the protagonist. The film’s animatronic effects were created by Amalgamated Dynamics Inc (ADI), but most of them ended up being replaced by computer-generated effects in post-production, much to the chagrin of ADI founders Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. The film received mixed to negative reviews, but is worth checking out to see how the filmmakers stuck to rigid parameters in creating a film that takes place just days before the events of the original film.
#5: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
30 YEARS AFTER MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Here’s where we’re bending the rules: technically, this is a soft reboot and a sequel, and retains the same director as the earlier three Mad Max films: George Miller. Mel Gibson starred in the three films (released in 1979, 1981 and 1985). Miller refrains from referring to the film as either a reboot or a sequel, calling it a ‘revisit’. The post-apocalyptic action thriller had been mired in development hell for ages. Miller decided to make a fourth instalment in 1998, which was set to begin production in 2001. This was halted due to the economic collapse in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which led to the film’s budget inflating. Miller decided to recast the role, given the controversies that Gibson had stirred up with his increasingly troubling behaviour. The road to making a fourth film was only beginning, with more potholes along the way for Miller and his crew to contend with: production in the Australian desert was about to begin, but unexpected rainfall put in a spanner in those works. Miller was forced to relocated to Namibia, but production was put on hold due to travel and shipping restrictions imposed as the Iraq War was beginning in 2003.
Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)
Miller briefly turned his attention to a possible 3D animated film, but eventually abandoned these plans to resume production on a live-action film, which would now be shot in 3D. In 2010, the casting of Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky was announced. Charlize Theron joined him as Imperator Furiosa. Miller originally intended to shoot the fourth and fifth films in the series back-to-back. Shooting was set to begin in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, but once again, Mother Nature had different plans. Unexpected heavy rains caused wildflowers to sprout, ruining the desolate post-apocalyptic setting. The crew picked up sticks and moved back to Namibia, for an arduous 120-day shoot in the desert. Elaborate vehicular action sequences and daring stunts were staged with an emphasis on practical effects. Even so, the film ended up containing more than 2000 visual effects shots. After the R-rated cut tested better than the PG-13 one did, Warner Bros. went ahead with that version. Mad Max: Fury Road was a smash hit, praised for its feminist themes, strong performances and captivating action. It received ten Oscar nominations and won six, more than any other film nominated that year.