- Legacy sequels often fall short, but a rare few, like Top Gun: Maverick, surpass the original by recapturing the excitement and adding new storylines.
- Films like Tron: Legacy and Mad Max: Fury Road update their franchises with advanced visuals and intense action, raising the stakes and surpassing their predecessors.
- Creed and The Color of Money succeed by staying true to the original formula and delivering compelling characters and stories that audiences connect with.
Legacy sequels are almost certainly doomed to fall short of their classic predecessors, but a rare few – including Tom Cruise’s high-flying blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick – actually managed to surpass the first movie. The legacy sequel phenomenon is the latest way that Hollywood has come up with to exploit their biggest franchises, so most of them end up being shallow cash-grabs. The Star Wars sequel trilogy checked in on an older Luke, Leia, and Han. The Jurassic World movies imagined what would happen if John Hammond’s dinosaur-infested theme park actually opened its doors to the public.
There are a few different ways to make a legacy sequel work. Top Gun: Maverick expertly recaptured the high-octane thrills of the original movie while telling its own father-son story about Maverick’s strained relationship with Goose’s son. Creed modernized the Rocky franchise formula, focusing on Adonis Creed’s own journey to the boxing ring with Rocky Balboa acting as a mentor figure. Mad Max: Fury Road upped the ante, raising the stakes and intensity from its predecessors. It’s not common, but some legacy sequels have outdone the original film.
10 Top Gun: Maverick
Tom Cruise brought his Mission: Impossible tradition of death-defying one-upmanship to the Top Gun franchise in Top Gun: Maverick. The aerial stunts of the Top Gun sequel demanded to be seen on the big screen, making it one of the biggest blockbuster events of the post-pandemic era. Cruise’s turn as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell was even more effortlessly charming the second time around, and Joseph Kosinski deftly recaptured the audacity and liveliness of Tony Scott’s direction. The legacy-focused scenes, like Iceman’s tearjerking cameo appearance, were some of the film’s strongest moments.
9 Tron: Legacy
Before revamping the Top Gun franchise with a legacy sequel that went above and beyond the original, Kosinski did the same for the Tron franchise with 2010’s Tron: Legacy. The first Tron film was an exciting enough sci-fi adventure, but it didn’t immerse viewers in its digital universe as effectively as its legacy sequel. Tron: Legacy has the same mesmerizing neon-soaked visuals as the first movie but with much more advanced CG effects. Daft Punk’s distinctive techno musical style pairs perfectly with the video game world of Tron on the soundtrack.
8 Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller returned to the gonzo post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max in 2015 with the gritty, intense thrills of Mad Max: Fury Road. Fury Road is every bit the dystopian satire that Mad Max was and the high-octane action movie masterpiece that The Road Warrior was, but with all the extra flash and frills of modern blockbuster filmmaking. The movie is essentially a feature-length car chase, and its practical stunt work is breathtaking. Fury Road has become a go-to example of action cinema firing on all cylinders.
The Rocky series’ legacy sequel, Creed, sees Rocky Balboa reluctantly agreeing to train the estranged son of his late rival-turned-friend, Apollo Creed. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, director Ryan Coogler recognized why audiences connected with the Rocky movies in the first place. Audiences want to root for an underdog and watch them rise up to become their best selves, and Coogler nailed that familiar but powerful journey in Creed. Michael B. Jordan brought just as much passion to the role of Adonis Creed as Sylvester Stallone brought to Rocky, making the character equally iconic and beloved.
6 The Color Of Money
Martin Scorsese’s underrated gem The Color of Money is another Cruise-starring legacy sequel that tops the original. This time, Cruise played the young mentee figure opposite the returning A-list icon. Paul Newman won his first Academy Award for Best Actor out of seven nominations for reprising his role as pool hustler “Fast Eddie” Felson, 25 years after originating the part in The Hustler. In The Color of Money, Felson takes a cocky but gifted protégé under his wing. The electric on-screen chemistry between Newman and Cruise made The Color of Money an even more engaging movie than The Hustler.
5 Cobra Kai
The TV spin-off Cobra Kai reimagines The Karate Kid franchise from the perspective of the villain, Johnny Lawrence. The Karate Kid is a really great movie, but it’s very formulaic (and very much of its time as a flashy ‘80s sports movie). Cobra Kai has been unwaveringly faithful to its source material, but it’s also surpassed The Karate Kid and its sequels with a stronger story and more compelling character development. It has plenty of nostalgia for the original movies, but it’s always been more focused on telling a story of its own.
4 Bad Boys For Life
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reunited for a third Bad Boys film, Bad Boys for Life, nearly two decades after the second one. Adil & Bilall stepped in to direct and managed to bring just as much explosive flair to the action as original director Michael Bay did, but they put more of a spotlight on the characters and their friendship. Bad Boys for Life has plenty of thrilling action set-pieces, but it’s really about Miami detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett going through a midlife crisis and reckoning with their age.
3 Star Trek (2009)
J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie is superior to 1979’s underwhelming Star Trek: The Motion Picture in every way. Abrams injected the franchise with action and excitement while retaining the complex plotting and intriguing themes. 2009’s Star Trek reboots the original series from scratch, with new actors playing Kirk, Spock, Bones, and every other fan-favorite character from the crew of the Enterprise. But the movie doesn’t erase the classic TV series; it takes place in a parallel universe alongside it, known as the “Kelvin Timeline.” The iconic Leonard Nimoy makes a mind-blowing cameo appearance as an older Spock, honoring the series’ legacy as it ventured into new frontiers.
2 Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
When Borat returned to screens in 2020 amidst a pandemic and a presidential election, the character’s satirical viewpoint of America turned out to be more relevant than ever. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm almost plays as a parody of legacy sequels. The unexpected cultural impact of the first movie becomes a meta running gag in the sequel, as Borat is recognized all across America and Sacha Baron Cohen has to don additional disguises in most of his scenes. An Oscar-nominated Maria Bakalova provides a hilarious foil for Baron Cohen in the role of Borat’s estranged daughter Tutar. Bakalova admirably matches Baron Cohen’s improvisational energy and brings her own perspective to each scene.
1 Blade Runner 2049
Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi neo-noir Blade Runner is one of the most technically masterful and philosophically thought-provoking science fiction films ever made. Scott left Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve with some giant boots to fill, but Villeneuve was up to the task and delivered a sequel that went above and beyond the classic original. Blade Runner 2049 has the same questions of mortality and self-identity that made the first movie such a head-scratcher, but it also has a more expansive and in-depth look at the dystopian future that Scott conjured up.