Five sequels that took a very, very long time

This summer sees Top Gun fighter pilot Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell, played by Tom Cruise, returning to cinemas in Top Gun: Maverick.

It’s 36 years since audiences last thrilled to his aerial adventures in the original movie, which was released in 1986.

But Maverick isn’t the only fictional character to keep fans waiting a long time for their return. Here are five follow ups to famous films and books that were decades in the making.

Late sabre. Fans had to wait 16 years for the fourth movie in the Star Wars franchise

Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi - Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (16 Years)

Star Wars creator George Lucas had always imagined his story – famously set ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’ – as being a nine movie series. But after the last of the first trilogy, Return Of The Jedi in 1983, fans would have to wait an agonising 16 years before the next instalment (which is technically a prequel) The Phantom Menace, in 1999.

Lucas said that it took so long because he was waiting for filmmaking technology to catch up with his vision for the story. “I had to come up with a way of doing it, and that’s what digital technology brought me,” he recalled in 2019. “I had Yoda but he couldn’t fight. I had cities, but I couldn’t build models that big. I waited until we had the technology to do it.”

Author Harper Lee followed up her classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird over half a century later

To Kill A Mockingbird - Go Set A Watchman (55 years)

Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in 1960. Told through the eyes of eight-year-old ‘Scout’ Finch it told the story of her father Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the depression-era Alabama who defends a black man wrongly accused of a serious crime against a white woman.

It was ecstatically reviewed, sold 40 million copies, and became recognised as a modern classic. But Lee subsequently pretty much vanished from public life, apparently writing no more books and declining requests for interviews.

But in 2015, a second book was published. Go Set A Watchman, which featured the same characters but was set after the events of the first novel, had in fact been written before To Kill A Mockingbird. But Harper Lee had been unhappy with it and had used parts of it to write the original book. She died a year after it was finally published, aged 89.

Audiences had to wait almost a lifetime for the sequel to 1942’s animated classic Bambi

Bambi - Bambi II (64 Years)

The record for the longest gap between a movie and its sequel is held by Disney animated classic Bambi. The original film, which followed the adventures of the young fawn Bambi, and his friends Thumper and Flower, was released in 1942.

But the sequel, Bambi II, didn’t come out until 2006. Put another way – a child who was in their early teens when they first saw the movie on original release would be well into their retirement by the time the loveable deer returned to the screen.

So, was the six decade wait worth it? Hard to say. Despite the presence of Sir Patrick Stewart as the voice of Bambi’s father, Bambi II didn’t even get a big screen release in the US, going straight to DVD instead.

Where have you been, dude? Bill And Ted kept audiences waiting nearly 30 year for their third adventure

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey – Bill & Ted Face The Music (29 years)

The world was first introduced to likeable teens Theodore ‘Ted’ Logan (Keanu Reeves) and Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) in 1989’s Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The movie, about a pair of Californian pals who go on an adventure through time, was a surprise hit, and a sequel, Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey followed in 1991.

Then the most excellent dudes vanished for nearly three decades. But in 2020, 29 years after their last appearance, the pair reappeared in Bill & Ted Face The Music. “Keanu and I had no intention of making a third Bill & Ted movie,” Alex Winter told the NME. “The thing that hooked us back was the idea that we could expand on these guys in an interesting way. Things have not worked out exactly the way they thought they would when they were young.”

Author Richard Adams waited nearly a quarter of a century to return to Watership Down

Watership Down – Tales From Watership Down (24 years)

Richard Adams’ novel Watership Down, about a group of rabbits forced to abandon their warren and survive in the outside world, was a huge success when it was published in 1972, even though it had previously been turned down by a number of publishers. Perhaps it is even more surprising that it was his first novel, written when he was 52.

After the book's and subsequent 1978 film’s success, Adams wrote many stories featuring animal characters. But in 1996, nearly a quarter of a century after he had written the original novel, he finally revisited the beloved characters of Watership Down in Tales From Watership Down, a collection of 19 short stories that featured the places and many of the animals from the original. Adams died in 2016, aged 96.