The road to “Mad Max: Fury Road” has been a long and twisting one for Australian filmmaker George Miller, who began an eventual franchise 36 years ago with little more than a shoestring budget, an unknown actor named Mel Gibson and a fair amount of gumption.
Much has transpired since then, including a detour into family films for Miller (“Babe,” “Happy Feet” and sequels to both), a series of false starts and production delays for “Fury Road,” and the replacement of Gibson with new leading man Tom Hardy.
Nevertheless, three decades removed from “Beyond Thunderdome” (the third film in the “Mad Max” series), “Fury Road” is poised to roar into theaters for more post-apocalyptic action. That gap ranks among the longest ever for a major Hollywood sequel, but Miller’s movie does have some company — and more on the way, thanks to studios’ newfound interest in reviving dormant properties.
Here are some other examples of high-profile follow-up films that took their sweet time getting to the multiplex.
‘Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull’
Apparently 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was a misnomer, because 19 years later the swashbuckling archaeologist played by Harrison Ford returned to battle Cold War villains and chase alien artifacts. As with “Fury Road,” “Crystal Skull” represented a franchise director — in this case, Steven Spielberg — coming back for a fourth go-round after a long break.
Although the film was a commercial hit, grossing $786 million worldwide, it’s generally considered the least beloved of the four films, and it birthed the derogatory phrase “nuke the fridge,” meaning to exhaust a Hollywood franchise with underwhelming sequels.
Not that Lucasfilm, now owned by Disney, will be dissuaded. Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy recently told Vanity Fair that another Indy movie “will one day be made inside this company. When it will happen, I’m not quite sure. We haven’t started working on a script yet, but we are talking about it.”
‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’
Speaking of Lucasfilm, the company’s crown jewel, the “Star Wars” franchise, has had two notable gaps. Sixteen years separated “Return of the Jedi” from “The Phantom Menace,” the first installment of a prequel trilogy that concluded in 2005 with “Revenge of the Sith.” And this December will see the release of “The Force Awakens,” the first new “Star Wars” movie in a decade.
The prequels, which were conceived and directed by “Star Wars” creator George Lucas, did blockbuster business to the tune of $2.5 billion worldwide — but they also met with decidedly mixed reviews from critics and fans.
Lucas has since put “Star Wars” behind him (he’s now into making experimental films), and J.J. Abrams is shepherding “The Force Awakens.” The new movie, a direct sequel to “Jedi” set about 30 years later, will feature familiar faces, such as Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, as well as newcomers John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. It might well end up the biggest movie of 2015.
“Jurassic Park III” delivered a dose of dinosaur mayhem back in 2001, but incoming director Colin Trevorrow’s new film, opening June 12, is looking back to the 1993 original (directed by Spielberg, incidentally) for its inspiration.
Taking place 22 years later, “World” centers on a fully functional version of the theme park that went awry in the first movie, with dinosaurs now roaming about and visitors taking it all in. Everything seems to be going smoothly, except that attendance is down, prompting the park’s brainiacs to genetically engineer a bigger, badder dinosaur. You can imagine what happens next, at least with the giant lizards. The big question is whether “World” will be able to clone its predecessor’s critical and commercial success.
The 2010 sequel to “Tron” took nearly as long to reach the big screen as “Fury Road” — 28 years. Although the original with Jeff Bridges was not a commercial success, it was the first feature film to use extensive computer-generated animation, and it went on to develop a cult following. Making a sequel updated with spiffy new visual effects — not to mention a score by Daft Punk and Bridges back in a supporting role — seemed like a no-brainer.
Ultimately, “Legacy” proved dazzling but clunky, and it just barely earned back its hefty $170-million production budget at the North American box office. It fared well overseas, though — well enough to put a third installment in motion.
‘Independence Day 2' and ‘Blade Runner 2'
These two are still taking their time, though it looks like we’ll see them both eventually. “Independence Day 2" will find director Roland Emmerich returning along with numerous cast members — including Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox and Jeff Goldbum, though not Will Smith — for a rematch against invading extraterrestrials. The Fox sequel is set for release June 24, 2016, almost 20 years to the day from the first film.
The notion of a “Blade Runner” sequel, meanwhile, has been floating around for ages, and Alcon Entertainment acquired rights to the property in 2011. Last year the company announced it was wooing Harrison Ford (yes, him again) to reprise his role as a replicant-hunting cop from Ridley Scott’s landmark 1982 sci-fi film. Ford’s involvement was confirmed in February, and Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”) will direct, with Scott serving as executive producer (he also helped conceive the story).
The “Blade Runner” sequel does not yet have a release date (or title) but is scheduled to shoot next summer. If the film were to open in 2017, it would arrive a full 35 years after the original.
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