A decade after Men in Black II, Columbia Pictures will release the third entry in the cheeky sci-fi comedy franchise starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Men in Black 3 may not qualify as a “long-awaited” sequel, since nobody in particular seems to have been waiting for it. Hollywood should self-impose a statute of limitations for making follow-ups to successful movies. Unless the story organically lends itself to a continuation, and features some of the original talent, a long-delayed sequel will inevitably disappoint fans of the original, and often cheapen the memory of the earlier, better film. It’s easy to find examples of superfluous follow-ups, including The Godfather III, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Tron: Legacy. A handful of exceptions prove worth checking out, although none really escape the shadows of their predecessors. Here are seven delayed sequels that were actually worth the wait:
Released 23 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s prototypical slasher thriller, Psycho II is barely remembered today, but makes a game attempt to revisit the Bates Hotel. Anthony Perkins revisits his signature role as Norman Bates, who attempts to return to society after two decades in a mental institution for his crime spree. Vera Miles reprises the character of Lila Loomis, sister of one of his victims and a vocal opponent of Norman’s release. Director Richard Franklin cultivates a cheesily spooky atmosphere (and had previously proved to be a student of Hitchcock with his Australian thriller Roadgames, a loose remake of Rear Window involving motorists along a long stretch of Australian highway).
Subtitled “The Year We Make Contact,” this interplanetary adventure attempts to explain the spectacular mysteries Stanley Kubrick posed with 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968. Roy Scheider, Jon Lithgow and Helen Mirren man a space mission to learn what happened to the Discovery One, previously sent to investigate an enigmatic monolith near Jupiter. Keir Dullea reprises his role as astronaut Dave Bowman, while Douglas Rain again voices the possibly homicidal computer HAL. Based on a novel by 2001 originator Arthur C. Clarke, 2010 literalizes some concepts better left to the viewer’s imaginations, but it’s still a satisfying, middlebrow science-fiction mission that pays more attention to the realities of space exploration than Hollywood’s countless space operas.
Paul Newman won his only Academy Award for reviving his role as “Fast Eddie” Felsen, the title character of 1961’s The Hustler. Martin Scorsese directs this gritty drama that finds a middle-aged Eddie reluctantly returning to the hustle as a mentor to Tom Cruise’s young pool shark, like a matinee idol passing the torch to the next generation. Not one of Scorsese’s classics, The Color of Money nevertheless features plenty of seedy pool-hall texture, as well as the famous scene of Cruise showing off his cue-stick wizardry while singing along to “Werewolves of London.”
William Peter Blatty won a Best Screenplay Oscar for adapting his own novel, The Exorcist and helping to terrify America in 1973. Ignoring the hilariously terrible Exorcist II: The Heretic, Blatty writes and directs this continuation, in which Jason Miller returns as Father Karras, whom we believe killed himself at the climax of the first movie. Exorcist III focuses less on demonic possession than a serial killer mystery with an occult theme, with George C. Scott harrumphing through the role as a skeptical detective turned true believer. Exorcist III falls apart at the end but also presents some genuinely memorable, terrifying set pieces (and appears twice on Retrocrush’s Top 100 Scariest Movie Scenes of All Time)
Director Denys Arcand arranges a reunion of the eight adulterous Québécois intellectuals he introduced in The Decline of the American Empire in 1986. Emphasing themes of parenthood and terminal illness, The Barbarian Invasions confronts its aging protagonists with their own mortality and anachronistic politics. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 2004.
Richard Linklater offers the rare delayed sequel that improves its predecessor, in retrospect. While Before Sunrise offered a pleasant, low-stakes depiction of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy romancing each other on a night in Vienna, Before Sunset reintroduces the pair as older, more disillusioned people meeting in Paris and rekindling their old spark. Viewed together, the films resemble a two-act play with a nine-year intermission.
This list ends with its most entertaining and financially successful entry. While 11 years passed between this film and Toy Story 2, Pixar Studios still reunited most of its sprawling cast of beloved voice actors, including Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. Toy Story III features the clever jokes and tight action scenes that define Pixar’s work, but the heart of the film lies with its least-noticed vocal performance. John Morris grew up with the franchise to voice toy owner Andy Davis in all three films, at ages 6, 9 and 17 respectively, and Andy’s bittersweet decision to put away his childish things gives Toy Story III its considerable heart.