Movie sequels, in addition to the meteoric rise of social media and a growing infatuation with reality TV, proved to be one of the biggest staples in entertainment pop culture throughout the 2010s. With nine of the ten highest-grossing films of the decade being sequels or spin-offs (with the live-action remake of The Lion King being the outlier) audiences made it clear that there were some franchises they just couldn’t get enough of.
While the might of the MCU and Disney’s furtherance of the Star Wars saga dominated the box office, there were plenty of great movie sequels which came and went relatively unnoticed. From masterful legacy sequels, decades in the making, to action blockbusters that flew under the radar, these underrated sequels from the 2010s never got the love they deserved.
‘Tron: Legacy’ (2010)
The directorial debut of Joseph Kosinski, Tron: Legacy is an action-packed blast from the past which lives up to its ground-breaking 80s predecessor. A stunning visual experience with a pulsating score from Daft Punk to boot, the film had a commitment to style which was truly magnetic.
Unfortunately, critics didn’t look upon the film quite so fondly, believing the simplicity of its plot and characters overrode its technical achievements. We beg to differ, with its slick cyberpunk aesthetic garnering a cult following, it’s fair to say Tron: Legacy was not only an underrated sequel but also a film that was years ahead of its time.
‘Happy Death Day 2U’ (2019)
The 2010s saw a major resurgence in horror entertainment, with everything from campy slashers to psychological thrillers getting a run. One of the more underrated gems from the decade was 2017’s time-loop college campus slasher Happy Death Day and, unsurprisingly, its sequel didn’t get the appreciation it deserved either.
Dropping the first film’s narrative into a sci-fi bonanza with gateways to parallel universes, Happy Death Day 2U was a fittingly fun and absurd follow-up to its whacky predecessor. While reviews of the film were largely positive, it failed to meet its projected box office earnings and, like the first one before it, remains a criminally underrated horror flick to this day.
‘Men in Black 3’ (2012)
While 1997’s sci-fi blockbuster hit Men in Black was an instant classic, interest in the franchise waned almost immediately after the release of its underwhelming sequel in 2002. Ten years later, Sony tested the waters as to how a franchise continuation would fair with Men in Black 3 re-uniting agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) to great effect.
The time-travel aspect saw the film go back to the 1960s, with Josh Brolin a fantastic addition to the cast as a young Agent K. While the movie delivered on its action sequences and had plenty of fun toying with the premise, it has been swamped by the multitude of gag-infused action blockbusters which have since been released and has sadly been largely forgotten.
‘The Raid 2’ (2014)
Released in 2011, The Raid became an instant cult classic with its intense fight sequences featuring some staggering choreography and martial arts talents. Just three years later, The Raid 2 was released with Gareth Evans returning to direct the thrilling sequel which started right where its predecessor finished.
Like the first film, The Raid 2 featured non-stop action violence which was both exhilarating and breathtaking, with some fans going so far as to say it surpassed its famous predecessor. While it garnered rave reviews, it never came close to matching The Raid’s impact on pop culture and a planned third installment to the series was abandoned.
‘Doctor Sleep’ (2019)
While there were many impressive horror sequels throughout the 2010s, Doctor Sleep was the only one that faced the almighty task of succeeding Stanley Kubrick’s iconic classic, The Shining. Managing to strike an impossible balance between carrying on from Kubrick’s film and staying true to Stephen King’s novels, Mike Flanagan’s legacy sequel was an underrated accomplishment.
Broadening the scope from the confined terror of its predecessor, Doctor Sleep sees a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) struggling to overcome his traumatic past when he meets a powerful young girl being hunted by a murderous cult of psychics. Despite its pedigree and an impressive cast, the sequel flopped at the box office.
‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ (2016)
Another horror sequel and another one directed by Mike Flanagan at that, Ouija: Origin of Evil had quite a different set of obstacles in comparison to Doctor Sleep. In fact, its major issue was the polar opposite, having to re-construct expectations as audiences pondered how the underwhelming Ouija earned a follow-up film.
Many didn’t even give the prequel a chance, which has proven to be their loss as it delivered an emotionally powerful and often terrifying viewing experience. Nestled somewhere between haunted house horror and demonic terror, with a nice splash of period-piece eeriness as well, Ouija: Origin of Evil was seen by far too few and stands as one of the most underrated horror movies ever made.
‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017)
Blade Runner 2049 achieved cult classic status almost instantly thanks to its methodical pacing, unraveling mystery, and awe-inspiring visual experience. However, it lost an estimated $80 million upon its worldwide theatrical release with many believing the 163-minute runtime was too much for most viewers.
It’s a shame too because of its epic scope and Roger Deakins’s mesmerizing cinematography made for a movie tailored to a big screen experience. The meditative sci-fi was much more than just a visual delight though, with Denis Villeneuve simultaneously building upon, honoring, and re-constructing the 1982 original in a manner that should have been better appreciated at the time.
‘Star Trek Beyond’ (2016)
Coming from the mind of J. J. Abrams, 2009’s Star Trek reboot became an instant hit, re-imaging the beloved sci-fi adventure saga with all the bells and whistles modern filmmaking technology has to offer. While the film’s first sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness proved to be another hit, Star Trek Beyond performed less impressively at the box office.
With Fast & Furious franchise regular director Justin Lin at the helm, the third film in the series delivered some of the best action sequences any Star Trek story has had to offer. For whatever reason though, it doesn’t seem to be viewed with the enthusiasm the first two films in the series were received with.
‘The Wolverine’ (2013)
While 2017’s Logan may be where James Mangold’s acclaim in the X-Men franchise resides, his 2013 effort with The Wolverine was far from terrible. Set in Japan with Logan (Hugh Jackman) having to fight off samurai, ninjas, and gangsters, the film had a notably weightier script which, in hindsight, foreshadowed Mangold’s vision for what the ‘Wolverine’ saga could be.
The action set pieces alone were worth the price of admission and, despite its weaker final act, the film offered plenty for both diehard comic fans and casual moviegoers to enjoy. On top of that, the film offered one of the best and rawest looks at the titular character and allowed Jackman to show the full extent of what his Wolverine could be.
‘T2: Trainspotting’ (2017)
Released some 18 years after its dramatic, drug-infused predecessor, T2: Trainspotting probably wasn’t the return to Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his mates that most were expecting, but that didn’t make it any less impactful. Recently divorced and soon-to-be unemployed, Renton ventures back to Edinburgh to reunite with old friends after almost 20 years of sobriety.
While the results are predictably messy, they are made incredibly compelling due to the rich aura of nostalgia which drives the film and hits the audience between the eyes. A complex dark comedy happy contemplating the depths of life and the results – and joys – of a misspent youth, T2: Trainspotting used the years since Trainspotting’s release to full effect in one of the best and most underrated movie sequels ever made.
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