The “legacy sequel” is one of the most powerful concepts in Hollywood filmmaking right now, and one of the most profitable. The legacy sequel (legasequel?), often arriving many years or even decades after the original film was released, isn’t a reboot or a remake but rather a long-anticipated sequel that grapples with the film’s impact, fan base, and yes, legacy, while refreshing it for a new audience. It’s a way for studios to capitalize on moviegoers’ nostalgia and familiarity with certain characters and stories, while introducing new characters to keep it going. With the legacy sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” kicking off the summer movie season next weekend, as well as the news that Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer will be reuniting for “Spinal Tap II,” it seemed an appropriate time to look at some of the best legacy sequels across film and TV.
Surprise, surprise, one of the most successful legacy sequels, is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the 2015 film by J.J. Abrams that fired up the old Millennium Falcon and reenergized generations of “Star Wars” fans old and new. It also spawned so many sequels, spinoffs and series that it’s hard to keep count. Everyone knows “The Force Awakens,” but it’s hard to overstate its impact, not just on the “Star Wars” universe, but Hollywood at large. Stream it on Disney+.
Before there was “The Force Awakens,” there was “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which came out a few months prior in 2015, and blew audiences away in a haze of desert dust and diesel fuel. George Miller returned to the world of “Mad Max” with a new Max, in Tom Hardy, and a new hero, in Furiosa (Charlize Theron). It was a long arduous journey (read all about it in Kyle Buchanan’s new book, “Blood, Sweat, and Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road”), but Miller pulled off one of the best action films of all time, and scooped up several Academy Awards too. Rent it for $3.99 on all digital platforms.
There have been a lot of “Scream” sequels, but the fifth, also titled “Scream,” is a true legasequel. The first film in the franchise not directed by the dearly departed Wes Craven, “Ready or Not” directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett had big shoes to fill, and they did, bringing the right mix of gore and winking social commentary. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette all also returned to hand the baton to a new crop of teens, in this highly entertaining slasher. Stream it on Paramount+.
But the desire to revisit landmark moments in media isn’t just relegated to the movies. In the utterly fascinating reality series “Real World: Homecoming,” the casts of early seasons of the pioneering MTV reality show reunite to catch up with their old roommates and reckon with their experiences finding out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real — under the watchful eye of ever-present cameras.
By now, we’re inured to the constant capturing and filming of everyday life, and the commonality of average people putting themselves under a microscope to be examined, whether on reality TV, YouTube or social media. But in 1992, when the first season of “The Real World” aired, it was a revolutionary concept. It claims to be the first reality show, though the 1973 TV episodic documentary “An American Family” would technically edge it out. But with its focus on young, attractive, creative types, and examining their interpersonal interactions, “The Real World” built the mold for what would soon come to dominate television, from “Survivor” to “The Real Housewives.”
On “Real World: Homecoming,” streaming on Paramount+, the roommates come together for a couple of weeks, reuniting in their old spaces and revisiting the memories of living together and having their lives taped. Thus far, they’ve reunited the casts of “The Real World: New York,” “The Real World: Los Angeles” and “The Real World: New Orleans” in 6-8 episode “seasons.”
“Homecoming” is just as groundbreaking as the original series, taking the opportunity to examine the impact of what it was like to go through this unique experience as a young person exposing themselves for public consumption, becoming pop cultural icons, even impacting real political and cultural change in the process. On “The Real World: New Orleans,” cast member Danny was an openly gay man in a relationship with a man who was closeted in the military due to the Clinton-era "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, whose face had to be blurred on TV when the show aired. Danny became an incredibly important figure for many young LGBT folks growing up in the ‘90s when LGBT representation and stories were few and far between, and it’s fascinating to watch Danny open up about the pressures of that experience and the burden of the exposure on his relationship.
While “The Real World: Homecoming” might not be a true “legasequel” in that it’s not introducing new characters, it’s almost the purest expression of the form, in grappling openly with the legacy of the show, and its impact on those who participated, as well as those who watched it. It’s unlike anything else that’s been done before, and an important televisual examination of the form. But, if it’s pure nostalgia you’re looking for, Paramount+ has many seasons of the regular old “The Real World'' streaming, too.
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