One of the latest trends in Hollywood is to make sequels to films from many years ago. In several cases, more than two decades. Or even three (this isnâ€™t even counting all of the television revivals).
Many of these film sequels also employ the same plot: the main character from the original is missing and the new characters set out to find him/her.
We have sequels, requels, midquels, interquels/intraquels, and sidequels, so I figured someone must have coined a term for this. We even have “sweded” (thanks to Be Kind Rewind, 2008). But in every article I found, they generally just referred to them as sequels made many years after the original.
The one term I did find was a “legacy sequel.” Wikipedia defines it as a “work which follows the continuity of the original work(s), but takes place further along the timeline.”
That fits, but it doesn’t have much of a ring to it. So after much consideration, I hereby propose spanquel.
While spanquels are certainly the rage right now, they’ve actually been around for quite a while. As you can see from the following list:
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Spock is missing. Okay, I’m just having some fun with the premise for this one. Spock didn’t go missing until the third film, which was literally called The Search for Spock (1984). In this one, it was more like Star Trek itself was missing as the crew goes off to encounter V-Ger, and not much else. But we were so glad Star Trek had finally come back, the film still did gangbusters. Which led to Wrath of Khan (1982), the greatest Star Trek film ever made.
Psycho II (1983)
Mother is missing. Made twenty-two years after the original and without Hitchcock (who’d passed away three years earlier), Norman Bates is declared sane and moves back home to Bates Motel. But when people start dying, fingers start pointing in one direction. As a spanquel to a bona fide classic, it’s better than anyone expected it to be. And launched several sequels of its own, giving Anthony Perkins a new career in the role from which he was never able to escape.
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Dave is missing. Another attempt at following a classic, sans original director (though Stanley Kubrick was still very much alive) and most of the cast, including the original actor (William Sylvester) who portrayed Dr. Heywood Floyd. Roy Scheider was a much bigger box office draw. This is really the first of the [blank] is missing films, as Floyd and a new crew go looking for Dave. Thankfully, original star Keir Dullea does actually appear and looked like he hadn’t aged a day in the 16 years since the original.
Ripley is missing. Okay, I’m stretching the definition of spanquel on this one as only seven years had passed since the original. But like many other films on this list, you’ve got a new writer/director and a new cast (with one returning original). How do you replace Ridley Scott? With James Cameron, hot off the heels of The Terminator (1984) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985)! Ripley is found in the opening scene and learns that a lot has happened while she’s been asleep. The new cast is awesome and everything is ramped up to eleven. A lot of people asked how anyone could follow Alien (1979). Like The Godfather Part II (1974), this movie shows how it’s done. Speaking of which…
The Godfather Part III (1990)
Tom Hayden is missing. Much has been written (most of it recently) about why this film doesn’t measure up to the first two, which are some of the greatest films ever made. This is certainly a “We’re getting the band back together” effort, with much of the cast and creative team returning. Robert Duvall (Tom Hayden) is sorely missing (Paramount wouldn’t pay him), but Andy Garcia (Vincent Mancini) fits right in. I’m not going to bash Sophia Coppola, but am glad she became an Oscar-winning director afterwards. Francis Ford Coppola’s new edit, The Godfather Coda, trims a few things and moves others around. It still has its problems, but definitely makes for a better film.
TRON: Legacy (2010)
Flynn is missing. Here we jump to the modern era and really get into the [blank] is missing trend. If ever there was a movie that begged for a remake or sequel, TRON was it. Groundbreaking in its day (1982, the greatest year for movies) for its use of computer graphics, TRON begged for a new version that took advantage of modern CGI. In addition to the Flynn is missing plot, it also embraced another modern trend: de-aging older actors into their younger selves. With less than spectacular results. It also began yet another modern trend where just the male stars (Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner) return. Cindy Morgan (Lora/Yori) only made promotional appearances. The story also left a bit to be desired, so us die-hards are still hoping for a TRON 3 that finally gets it right.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
“Luke Skywalker has vanished.” Those are literally the first words you see on screen, right after “Star Wars” and “Episode VII.” The beginning of the Disney era, it’s essentially a remake of the first film. But after the disappointing prequels, it feels like a Star Wars movie. The biggest complaint is that we don’t get to see Luke, Han, and Leia on screen together (as Mark Hamill himself suggested). But it gave us hope for what was to come next, which eventually happened with Rogue One (2016) and The Mandalorian (2019 – ).
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Deckard is missing. And so is Rachael. This one was another uphill battle: a sequel to perhaps the greatest science fiction film ever made, 35 years after the original. How do you replace Ridley Scott (again)? With Denis Villeneuve, hot off the heels of Best Picture nominee Arrival (2016)! Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard, but he doesn’t show up until halfway through the movie. New Blade Runner K (Ryan Gosling) is tasked with finding him. On the down side, the film is way too long. But otherwise, it largely stands up to the original (and, likewise, may take some time to find an audience). It also features the best use of de-aging CGI with Sean Young’s Rachael (performed by Loren Peta), that has yet to be equaled. More human than human indeed.
Cobra Kai (2018 – )
Ali is missing. We started this list with a TV show that moved to the big screen, so it’s only fitting that our last entry is a film series that moved to television. Respectful without being overly nostalgic, Cobra Kai is another shining example of how it’s done. Made almost 35 years after the original, Cobra Kai skillfully weaves the new cast and new elements like they’ve always belonged. This time the story is told from Johnny Lawrence’s point of view. Who knew William Zabka would have to wait 34 years for the role of a lifetime? Like Anthony Perkins, he’s found a new career in the part that had always defined him. Thankfully, Ralph Macchio also returns in his most famous role (though I’m still holding out hope for a My Cousin Vinnie spanquel). The only missing element (besides Mr. Miyagi, the late Pat Morita) was Ali (Elisabeth Shue), who was sadly written out of Part II in a lame bit of dialogue that totally betrayed her character. But Ali (with an I) was still very present in the first two seasons, which made her eventual and actual appearance that much more impactful.
And if that’s not enough, we still have Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020), plus Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), Matrix Resurrection (2021) Top Gun: Maverick (also 2022), and Indiana Jones 5 (2023), most of which were delayed due to Covid. After that, who knows? I’m sure we’re only getting started.