It’s still hard to believe: in four years — the time it takes most to finish college — Marvel Comics got their cinematic act together. They created a sprawling universe with their most famous superheroes across six movies, culminating in this summer’s mammoth The Avengers. In those same four years, Christopher Nolan made his second and third Batman films, two of the most consistently challenging and unique entries in the superhero movie genre. The wait’s not always worth it — three Transformers movies came out in four years, after all — but Hollywood is doing its best to make our nerd fantasies come true in no time flat.
Yet we’ve also seen some incredibly long gaps between entries in our favorite existing and would-be franchises. The best laid plans of studios (usually, to get sequels in the can before their beloved actors age out or move on to other things) sometimes go awry for a variety of reasons. But, as this list shows, sometimes the wait is surprisingly intense, yet bizarrely worth it. And sometimes… it’s not.
8) The Terminator to Terminator 2: Judgment Day – 7 Years
James Cameron probably wasn’t thinking “franchise” when the his low-budget sci-fi potboiler The Terminator hit theaters in 1984 (he would, in fact, move on to direct Aliens, a sequel to Alien also helmed seven years after the original). But Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commanding performance as the unstoppable cyborg assassin certainly got people to take the muscled Austrian seriously; he’d assume a slew of action-packed leading roles over the next 20 years. When the 1990s dawned, Cameron realized there was more to the nuclear war tale than one breakout flick could tell, and in 1991 released a sequel unprecedented in size, scope and price tag, breaking all budget records at the time. But audiences bought it, thanks to eye-popping visuals and command performances by the cast, including Schwarzenegger as a robot fighting for good and the steely Robert Patrick as the shapeshifting villain, the T-1000.
7) The X-Files: Fight the Future to The X-Files: I Want to Believe – 10 Years
No matter how hard Chris Carter and company would try, the rich mythology of The X-Files would lead to a bit of a disconnect on the big screen. Released as sort of a bridge between the series’ fifth and sixth seasons, Fight the Future was, at worst, no more than an expanded episode of the show, with little of the ambitious expansion a film adaptation could enjoy. Ten years later — six years after the show left the airwaves — Scully and Mulder returned for I Want to Believe, eschewing the overarching series narrative in favor of an isolated monster-of-the-week yarn. Like its silver screen predecessor, it, too, was not much of a hit.
6) Men in Black II to Men in Black 3 – 10 Years
Five years elapsed between 1997’s Men in Black, a snappy adaptation of the Malibu comic with a deft blend of ’60s retro sci-fi sentiment and hip ’90s blockbuster trends, and 2002’s Men in Black II, arguably the most disappointing sci-fi/comedy sequel since the Ghostbusters rode the Statue of Liberty. But time was not kind to the franchise in the decade that elapsed between MIIB and this year’s incredibly lazy third installment, beleaguered by production delays, outdated jokes and a seeming inability to remember what people liked about the first film. (even Will Smith couldn’t be bothered to come out of rap retirement to pen a song for the end credits, instead farming the duties out to incredibly agitating rapper Pitbull).
5) Terminator 2: Judgment Day to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines – 12 Years
So James Cameron waited nearly a decade to turn the Terminator story into a franchise; surely there wouldn’t be such a wait for a third film, right? Well, not counting the embarrassing inability of producers Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna to hold onto the franchise rights (thanks, commercial failure of Cutthroat Island!) or the overloaded schedules of both Schwarzenegger and Cameron (who ended up opting for shipwrecks and blue alien cats instead of Skynet), perhaps the 12-year gap between T2 and T3 wasn’t too long of a wait. Unfortunately, the Jonathan Mostow-directed T3 lacked the wow factor of its predecessor, overshadowed by Schwarzenegger’s successful pursuit of the California governorship that same summer.
4) Escape from New York to Escape from LA – 15 Years
Escape from New York is smack in the middle of John Carpenter’s great period of sci-fi/horror classics, pitting Kurt Russell’s iconoclastic mercenary Snake Plissken against a post-apocalyptic prison colony version of New York City to rescue the captured President of the United States. Nonstop action and a killer supporting cast (including Harry Dean Stanton and Isaac Hayes) made this a go-to sci-fi/action film for the ’80s, but it doesn’t necessarily explain why Carpenter and Russell reunited years later to make essentially the same movie — but bigger, of course, and on the opposite coast of the country. Ultimately, Escape from LA is much like the Plutoxin virus Snake is infected with during the film: it seems dangerous, but ultimately it’s a total bust.
3) 2001: A Space Odyssey to 2010: The Year We Make Contact – 16 Years
2001 was a watershed moment for sci-fi and film geeks everywhere. Stanley Kubrick’s idiosyncratic vision, Douglas Trumbull’s iconic visual effects, that brilliant match cut, “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” the Monolith, HAL 9000 – all of these things made the flick not only one for the ages, but an incredible bitch to sequelize. And it isn’t that 2010, based on Arthur C. Clarke’s 1982 sequel novel, is bad. It’s just that the original is so damn notable that any follow-up — even one with Roy Scheider, John Lithgow and Bob Balaban attempting to figure out what happened to the fateful Discovery One voyage would look like a mustache painted onto the face of the Star Child.
3) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – 19 Years
Look, it’s not that more Indiana Jones films are intrinscially bad ideas. Provided you can find a captivating reason for Harrison Ford to don the fedora and leather jacket again, the rest should fall into place without much effort. But the fact that it took so long to come up with what we ultimately flocked to see in 2008, not to mention that creators George Lucas and Steven Spielberg are now radically different filmmakers than the young adventurers who created the character on a beach in Hawaii some 35 years ago, nearly spelled doom for the ultimate hero before Shia LaBeouf even grabbed a single vine.
2) Day of the Dead to Land of the Dead – 20 Years
George A. Romero’s brilliant, low-budget Night of the Living Dead and its sequel Dawn of the Dead painted a tragicomic picture of societal decay worsened by zombies, not caused by it. The claustrophobic Day of the Dead, released in 1985, eschewed most of its moral fiber for gory, pull-apart human action, an acceptable enough ending for the series until Romero revived the franchise in 2005, a year after the commercial success of Zack Snyder’s overblown remake of Dawn the year before. The stiff and shambling narrative — centered on class warfare through the filter of the undead crisis — didn’t really break new ground, although audiences and critics certainly enjoyed it. But you truly can’t keep a dead man down in Romero’s world; he’s since made two low-budget Dead films.
1) Tron to Tron Legacy – 28 Years
With all the diminishing returns on sequels made nearly 20 years after their predecessors, what made Tron Legacy such a rousing success? Was it the sincere devotion from the filmmakers to the silly-but-fun original? Disney’s desire to make something profitable for young boys that somehow paid respect to their parents? Daft Punk’s turbo-charged soundtrack? Jeff Bridges’ eternal… Jeff Bridges-ness? Whatever the real reason, it’s kind of amazing the would-be Tr2n/Tron 2.0 became something so lastingly cool nearly three decades after the original film seemingly came and went.