“Coming 2 America” starts streaming on Amazon Prime March 5. Might the movie have anything to do with “Coming to America,” that Eddie Murphy comedy about an African prince who moves to New York in search of a bride? Yes, it would. It’s a sequel. There’s a twist, though.
Like most sequels, “Coming 2 America” brings back the principals from its predecessor: Murphy; James Earl Jones, as his father; Arsenio Hall (remember him?), as his sidekick; and Shari Headley, as his love interest. As with most sequels, there are also additions to the cast: Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones.
Here’s where the twist comes in. Unlike most sequels, there’s been a long — no, make that looooooong — gap in between: 33 years. “Coming to America” was released in 1988. How long ago was that? Ronald Reagan was president. LeBron James was 3. “Amazon” referred to a river in Brazil. On the other hand, Tom Cruise was already Tom Cruise. He has his own past — and future — with long-gap sequels. But we’ll get to that.
Sequels can have one or both of two justifications. One is financial: cashing in. “Greed is good,” as Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gekko says in “Wall Street” (1987) — and in “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” (2010). The other is artistic: further developing a story or character. Financial is far more common, but artistic is not unknown for sequel inspiration. It was the idea behind the first two “Godfather” pictures (1972, 1974), which worked; and “Chinatown” (1974) and “The Two Jakes” (1990), which didn’t. Either way, sooner is almost always better than later, what with popular culture having the short attention span it does, hence the relative rarity of long-gap sequels.
Is 33 years a record for a sequel gap? No, but it’s up there. Cruise is set to outdo it, with “Top Gun: Maverick,” scheduled for release later this year. It comes not so hard on the heels of “Top Gun” (1986). Also in the Cruise filmography, looking back rather than ahead, is “The Color of Money” (1986), a sequel to “The Hustler” (1961). Both of those movies starred Paul Newman as pool shark “Fast Eddie” Felson (Newman won a best actor Oscar for “Color of Money”).
Sameness of one sort or another determines if a movie qualifies for long-gap-sequel status. For example, there’s a 54-year gap between “Mary Poppins” (1964) and “Mary Poppins Returns” (2018). If ever there’s a sequel-title word, it’s “returns.” It ranks right up there, title-wise, with “2” and “II.” The Poppins movies share the same title character, but different actresses play her (Julie Andrews, Emily Blunt) and different filmmakers directed (Robert Stevenson, Rob Marshall). So “Mary Poppins Returns” doesn’t count as a sequel. On the other hand, the pairing of “Blade Runner” (1982) and “Blade Runner 2049” (2017) does, since Harrison Ford appears in both, even if Ryan Gosling is the star of “2049” and there are different directors (Ridley Scott, Denis Villeneuve). The 35-year gap equals the one between the two “Top Gun” movies.
At least Ford plays the same character, Rick Deckard. In “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) Tom Hardy succeeds Mel Gibson in the title role. It came out 30 years after the last film, “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985). But George Miller, bless him, was still on hand as director. It’s been called the best movie of the last decade.
Sameness of one sort or another is a rule. “Basic Instinct” (1992)? Sharon Stone. “Basic Instinct 2” (2006)? Sharon Stone, 14 years later. Also a rule: Prequels don’t count and neither do reboots. Reboots are about starting over fresh, whereas sequels are defined by continuity, however attenuated.
Series fall somewhere in between. If there’s a really long gap between one film and another, and there’s the same star(s) or director, then, yes, it qualifies. So there’s “The Godfather Part III” (1990), 16 years after “Part II” — and those 16 years show. That’s also how many years George Lucas let elapse between “Return of the Jedi” (1983) and “The Phantom Menace” (1999). Apparently, it took that long for Jar Jar Binks to gestate. (No, Lucas didn’t direct “Jedi”; Richard Marquard did. But it’s Lucas’s vision, his scripts, and the same actors playing the robots.)
Steven Spielberg let an even longer length of time elapse between “Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade” (1989) and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008). There’s supposed to be a fifth, as-yet-untitled Indy movie, with a release date of July 29, 2022, but let’s not get carried away.
There were two “Matrix” sequels, both in 2003, “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions.” “The Matrix 4” is scheduled for release Dec. 22. For such a tech-driven series, that long of a break does seem to be asking for trouble. Demonstrating the technological perils of long-gap sequels — box-office perils, too — would be “Tron” (1982) and “Tron: Legacy” (2010).
The “Die Hard” series, starring Bruce Willis, had three movies between 1988 and 1995. A fourth one didn’t come until 2007, with “Live Free or Die Hard.” Did the New Hampshire Department of Motor Vehicles get a royalty? “A Good Day to Die Hard” (2013) came out a mere six years later. Let’s not talk about Willis in that car-battery ad on TV.
Larry McMurtry, who won an Oscar for adapting “Brokeback Mountain,” is the literary king of long-gap sequels, with four of his novels inspiring two pairings. Peter Bogdanovich directed both “The Last Picture Show” (1971) and “Texasville” (1990), with much of the same cast (including Jeff Bridges, who’s in the two “Tron” movies). While “Terms of Endearment” (1983) and “The Evening Star” (1996) have different directors, Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson (in a cameo) reprise their Oscar-winning roles.
Like McMurtry and Bridges (Harrison Ford and Cruise, too), Sylvester Stallone is a double qualifier. He’s made long-gap series sequels not once but twice. “Rocky” movies came out with the regularity of three-minute rounds in the ring — until the 16-year gap between “Rocky V” (1990) and “Rocky Balboa” (2006). “Rambo III” came out in 1988. Twenty years later, “Rambo” (2008) was released. Who needs a Roman numeral? “Rambo: Last Blood” arrived a mere 11 years later, in 2019. It remains unclear whether the subtitle, which plays off of the title of the movie Rambo debuted in, “First Blood” (1982), is more promise or threat.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.