Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
Opening in theaters on May 27th is ‘Top Gun: Maverick,’ which is a sequel to the classic 1980’s movie, ‘Top Gun.’ Directed by Joseph Kosinski, the sequel will see Tom Cruise return to the cockpit as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell for the first time in over 35 years.
In anticipation of the upcoming sequel’s release, we are going to count down the top ten all-time best sequels to films from the 80s.
To qualify for this list, the film does not have to have been released in the 80’s, but it must be a follow up installment to a movie that was first released in the 1980s and has to have connective tissue (IE: storyline, actors, etc.) to that original film.
With that said, let’s go back to the 80’s!
The ‘Nightmare on Elm Street‘ franchise has had many sequels, spinoffs and reboots but no film has had an impact like the original 1984 Wes Craven classic. The closest would be 1987’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors,’ which was directed by Chuck Russell. While the film recaptures the horror elements of the original, this was the first movie that also infused humor to the film, allowing Robert Englund to truly become the sick and depraved character that audiences have grown to love.
Heather Langenkamp returns as Nancy Thompson in a supporting role, and there is a whole gang of new teenagers for Freddy to terrorize, played by future Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne and future Oscar winner Patricia Arquette. The movie also features a “superhero” type ending, as the kids realize that they have powers in their dreams and can defeat Freddy at his own game.
Following up on the success of 1985’s ‘Back to the Future,’ Robert Zemeckis made both 1989’s ‘Back to the Future Part II,’ and 1990’s ‘Back to the Future Part III,’ at the same time. The second film in the series is very dark, and never really grabbed me as a viewer. But whatever mistakes the filmmakers made with the sequel, they fixed it with ‘Part III’ and closed out the series on a high note.
After ending ‘Part II’ on a cliffhanger, the follow up sees Michael J. Fox’s Marty McFly time traveling to the old west to save Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The film finally recaptures some of the magic of the original, by making Marty a “fish out of water” again and finding the humor that made the first movie so successful. Zemeckis basically gives us his version of a Western, with lots of laughs, action, and a touching love story between Doc and Mary Steenburgen’s Clara.
Back to the Future Part III
“They’ve saved the best trip for last… But this time they may have gone too far.”
PG1 hr 59 minMay 25th, 1990
Directed by the late great Tony Scott, 1987’s ‘Beverly Hills Cop II’ is an odd duck as it has a completely different tone than 1984’s ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’ which made Eddie Murphy into a mega-star. The original ‘Cop’ was a comedy with some action, but ‘Cop II’ is an action movie with some comedy in it. With a commanding performance from Murphy, and Scott behind the camera having just come off of making ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Beverly Hills Cop 2’ is one of the best action movies of the 80’s.
Murphy is still in his heyday as a performer in this film and has grown as an actor since the first movie, allowing his character of Axel Foley to grow and change too. He’s no longer the wise cracking cop of the first film, as the character is now a fully formed detective … who still sticks “a banana in the tailpipe” every once in a while.
While arguably ‘48 Hours‘ created the “buddy cop” movie, 1987’s ‘Lethal Weapon‘ is the movie that really made the genre popular. While Mel Gibson and Danny Glover were unable to recapture the magic of the first film with the third and fourth installments, 1989’s ‘Lethal Weapon 2,’ in many ways, was a perfect sequel.
With the main characters already established in the first movie, this film opens in high-gear with a fantastic car chase, and Gibson and Glover are really allowed to let their chemistry shine. Adding Oscar winner Joe Pesci to the cast to help elevate the humor was smart, and in many ways, this is where the franchise found its true voice. Where the original was more of a “dramatic-action movie,” ‘Lethal Weapon 2’ fully embraces its “action-comedy” tone, which would be on display for the rest of the series.
‘National Lampoon’s Vacation‘ starring Chevy Chase debuted in 1983, and there have been four sequels since but the best was 1989’s ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.’ The holiday themed movie has become a Christmas tradition for many and the movie skillfully recaptures the slapstick fun of the original. The film reintroduces us to Chase’s Clark Griswold, Beverly D’Angelo’s Ellen Griswold, and Randy Quaid’s Cousin Eddie, as well new Griswold children played by Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki, which would become a running gag throughout the series.
20th Century Fox
1988’s groundbreaking action movie ‘Die Hard,’ has gone on to have four official sequels and countless imitations. “It’s Die Hard on a boat!” But the best sequel was 1995’s ‘Die Hard with a Vengeance,’ or at least the first hour and fifteen minutes of it, as the film kind of falls apart in the third act. But the film ranks high on this list because the first half is just that good! In fact, part of the reason the ending doesn’t work is because the film is based on a script that was originally intended to be another ‘Lethal Weapon’ sequel.
Instead it was made into a ‘Die Hard’ movie, and that’s why Bruce Willis’ John McClane was partnered with Samuel L. Jackson’s reluctant character, so he could fill in the Roger Murthaugh role. The film is also enhanced by a crackling performance from Oscar winner Jeremy Irons as Hans Gruber’s brother. The incredible action sequences, the cat-and-mouse game with the villain, callbacks to the original, and Willis and Jackson’s strong chemistry, make this movie a classic … even if the ending doesn’t quite follow through.
Tim Burton followed up his groundbreaking film, 1989’s ‘Batman,’ with 1992’s ‘Batman Returns,’ which actually is also a Christmas movie. Michael Keaton returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and is joined by Danny DeVito’s Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and a delightfully over-the-top Christopher Walken as wealthy businessman Max Shreck.
While Burton was certainly allowed to put his signature dark tones on the first film, clearly the studio took the reins off of the director as he was allowed to go “full Burton” on this movie. So much so that McDonalds couldn’t sell Penguin toys because the character would “scare children.” You can tell that Keaton is more comfortable with the role this time around, even if DeVito, Walken, and Pfeiffer steal every scene they are in. The result is one of the best Batman movies ever made!
“The Bat, the Cat, the Penguin.”
PG-132 hr 6 minJun 19th, 1992
Explaining the ‘Evil Dead’ franchise can be a little confusing. The Sam Raimi directed ‘The Evil Dead’ starring Bruce Campbell opened in 1981 and was a straight-up horror movie. Then, the director and actor made ‘Evil Dead II‘ in 1987. While it was technically a sequel, roughly the first half of the movie is a remake of the original, and then the second half goes in new directions.
One of those new directions was infusing “Three Stooges” like comedy into the scenes, as well as some of the franchise’s most iconic moments including Campbell’s Ash slicing off his own wrist with a chainsaw. The third film, ‘Army of Darkness’ picks up where the second leaves off, with Ash time traveling to the 1300s, but has more of a fantasy/comedy/horror tone.
The structure of the movie is classic with the “stranger from another world fighting the unbeatable army of villains and saving the Princess,” but of course it’s done in a complete ‘Evil Dead’ way with Ash as more of an idiot than a true hero. If you are watching this movie for the first time, be sure to watch the Director’s Cut, which has Raimi’s preferred ending that features Ash sleeping too long and waking up “Rip Van Winkle-style” in a post-apocalyptic future!
Army of Darkness
“Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.”
R1 hr 21 minFeb 19th, 1993
Steven Spielberg’s third installment to 1981’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ 1989’s ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ is not only the best sequel in the franchise, but I would argue it’s the best film in the franchise. It hits all the best beats from the original, while giving us a fresh dynamic with the father and son relationship between Harrison Ford’s Indy and Sean Connery’s Henry Jones.
The two are fantastic together, and let’s not forget the movie also has a terrific opening scene with the late River Phoenix playing a young Indiana Jones. The film is fun and funny, and I would also argue that the Holy Grail is the mother of all McGuffins. After a sequel that had nothing to do with Germany and WWII, it was nice having Indiana Jones back doing what he does best, fighting Nazis!
Hands down, no questions about it, 1991’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ is the best sequel to an 80’s film ever made! A follow up to 1984’s ‘The Terminator,’ the sequel, once again directed by James Cameron just turns everything “up to 11.” The story is grander in scope than the first movie, all the characters have grown and changed (even the Terminator), the stakes are bigger, and the action and the effects are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Linda Hamilton gives one of the best action film performances of all-time and is completely badass this time around.
And say what you will about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting, but no one plays a robot better than him! His performance is really believable, and he adds a lot of humor to the film. But it was Robert Patrick’s performance as the T-1000 that really terrified me as a kid.
I remember seeing the movie for the first time, and in the scene after the helicopter crashes, the Connors are trying to escape in a car and the T-1000 is chasing them on foot. I remember thinking, “How are they going to survive? There is no way to beat this guy!” Of course, they do, and the franchise went on to make four more sequels and a fairly good TV series, but nothing will ever live up to the bar Cameron set with this film.