The long-anticipated sequel to 2009’s “Avatar” is finally releasing this December, raising the question of whether or not sequels released many years after the original are ever any good. Although some legacy sequels are abominations to the world of film — such as “Independence Day: Resurgence” or “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” — many have successfully brought new life to once-dead franchises.
Hollywood seems to be obsessed with turning standalone films into franchises by making legacy sequels that typically feature the original film’s protagonists, now much older, passing down the torch to a new generation of heroes. There are many ways to define a legacy sequel, but for the purposes of this article, a legacy sequel is any film sequel that takes place many years after the original and presents some form of a torch-passing from the original movie’s characters to a new generation.
Honorable Mentions: “Blade Runner 2049” (2017), “The Color of Money” (1986) and “T2 Trainspotting” (2017)
5. “Toy Story 3” (2010)
Released 15 years after the original “Toy Story,” the third installment in this classic Pixar series is a masterclass in filmmaking that can entertain both children and adults. “Toy Story 3” does the impossible, feeling like a seamless sequel to “Toy Story 2” while also taking place over 10 years later. This film has hilarious moments, a terrifying villain in Lotso and an emotional ending as Andy passes his toys down to a younger child. Unfortunately, what holds back “Toy Story 3” from the top of the list is its own mediocre sequel, “Toy Story 4.”
4. “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
“Mad Max: Fury Road” won six Academy Awards and for good reason — it is one of the most technically impressive films ever made, from its immaculately high-paced editing to its wonderfully deserted production design. Critics of this film say it is only a two-hour car chase, but it is for that exact reason that this film is so special and refreshingly simple in today’s landscape of overcomplicated action thrillers. Tom Hardy does an incredible job of taking up the mantle of the titular Mad Max, while Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is a great new addition to the franchise.
3. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021)
What is better than a film that is a legacy sequel to a singular franchise? A film that is a legacy sequel to two different Spider-Men. Both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield reprised their role as the famous web-slinger after 14 years and seven years since their last film, respectively. Add on a great performance from Tom Holland as the current Spider-Man and the result is an emotionally powerful film that beautifully honors the almost 20-year legacy of Spider-Man on the silver screen.
2. “Creed” (2015)
When it was first released, few expected “Creed” to be as good as it was. The “Rocky” franchise had been on the decline ever since “Rocky II,” and although it seemed to have ended in 2006 with “Rocky Balboa,” there was life left in the franchise. “Creed” did the impossible and matched the quality and heart of the original. Perhaps the most literal legacy sequel on this list, Rocky trains and coaches Adonis Johnson — the son of his deceased friend Apollo Creed — to fight, and the two bond in the process. A simple story with great performances and an incredible soundtrack created a special film greater than the sum of its parts, even spinning off into its own “Creed” franchise.
1. “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022)
Although the original “Top Gun” took our breaths away when it was released in 1986, the new one managed to take us back on the highway to the danger zone in an even more epic fashion. “Top Gun: Maverick” is not just the best legacy sequel ever made — it is one of the greatest sequels ever made, period. Where the original was a good action flick, the new one is a transcendent journey into the mind of Maverick and the world of naval aviation.
What sets “Top Gun: Maverick” above the rest is its ability to simultaneously honor and improve upon the original film. The story is better and more refined, and the characters actually have a clear mission threaded throughout the film, which the original lacked. Furthermore, the characters themselves are more developed and given complete arcs — watching Maverick and Rooster grow to trust each other over the course of the film feels realistic and earned. Finally, the visuals are stupendously stunning and make this the must-see film of 2022.