Sequels to hit movies are a Hollywood staple. Here are some of the most fascinating would-be follow-ups that never got off the ground ...
Sequels, by their very nature, are difficult to get right. What may have started as a one-off film becomes a bona fide at the box office and suddenly Hollywood comes calling for more of the same. The only problem is that more of the same doesn’t always cut it. Sequels may be an increasingly common by-product of the Hollywood machine, but they don’t always replicate the success of the original.
A good sequel is a delicate balancing act. Repeat too much of what made the original so successful and you end up with something like Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Veer too much from what made the first film work so well and you get something like The Matrix Reloaded.
It takes imagination, an appreciation for the original source material, and guts. The unrealized sequels on this list appeared, on first impressions at least, to display all three qualities in abundance. They may well have ended up disappointing in the way many sequels before have. Then again, they could have taken their respective franchises to unparalleled heights. And it’s the not knowing that makes each so thoroughly fascinating.
Nick Cave’s Gladiator II
Gladiator was never supposed to have a sequel. The death of Russell Crowe’s sword-wielding protagonist Maximus Decimus Meridius in the final reel put paid to that. But Crowe and director Ridley Scott never counted on the film's raking in $457 million or bagging the Best Picture and Best Actor Academy Awards as part of an impressive haul of five Oscars.
The studio was keen on a sequel and, perhaps unsurprisingly, so were Crowe and Scott. But while Scott envisioned a follow-up set in Ancient Rome focusing on events away from the now-dead Maximus and the Coliseum, Crowe had other ideas in mind. Or, rather, he had other people in mind. Nick Cave, to be precise. Crowe approached the enigmatic singer-songwriter-turned-scriptwriter about penning a sequel centered on Maximus.
“Hey Russell, didn’t you die in Gladiator 1?” Cave asked over the phone. “Yeah, you sort that out,” came Crowe’s response. Cave sorted that out with a script that saw Maximus reincarnated by Roman gods and dispatched to Rome to assassinate Jesus Christ and his followers. Cave even subtitled it Gladiator 2: Christ Killer. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that well-received, with Crowe telling Cave bluntly: “Don’t like it, mate.”
It was clearly an impressive effort, though, with Scott later explaining, “It worked quite well,” before adding: “When I say ‘worked very well,’ I don’t refer to success. I mean, as a piece it works very well. Storytelling, [it] works brilliantly.”
Alien 3 and the wooden planet
Alien 3 went through multiple mutations before New Zealand filmmaker Vincent Ward was hired. Ward caught the studio's eye with The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, a striking blend of medieval fantasy and science-fiction fable about a group of men who escape 14th-century England and the Black Death by digging a magical tunnel through to 20th-century New Zealand.
Tasked with applying his unique sensibilities to a project both Renny Harlin and William Gibson had failed to get off the ground, Ward’s idea was the most ambitious yet, with Ripley crash-landing on a decaying wooden planet inhabited by monks opposed to all forms of technology. The franchise’s deadly xenomorphs arrive with Ripley but are initially mistaken as alien gods, leading to bloody chaos and, in one potentially striking sequence, the mass slaughter of several monks in a giant wheat field.
It was a bold idea, with Ward pitching plans for a giant wooden planet set measuring 100 meters floor to ceiling and 16 stories high. Producers David Giler and Walter Hill loved Ward’s vision though, while Sigourney Weaver called it “very original and very arresting.” Unfortunately, just as the wooden sets were being built, 20th Century Fox got cold feet about the mounting costs and looming release date and decided it was “Game over, man” and pulled the plug.
Alas, some of the more contentious elements of Ward and John Fasano’s script made it into the final, decidedly average version of the film (like Newt and Hicks dying early), while the cooler bits — the wooden planet, mainly — were ditched.
Demolition Man 2 with Meryl Streep
Demolition Man was a gloriously silly slice of Sylvester Stallone-led sci-fi action, featuring Wesley Snipes at the peak of his powers. Sure, the record-scratch-noise-laden soundtrack and relentless Taco Bell product placement hasn’t aged that well, but it remains a firm favorite and still sparks debate about how those three seashells in the bathrooms of the “future” work. It also made a steady $159 million at the box office, meaning a sequel surely beckoned.
The original even left a pretty sizable subplot unresolved. Sentenced to a long stretch in a high-tech “cryoprison” after Snipes’ Simon Phoenix frames him for a crime he quite clearly didn’t commit, Stallone’s Spartan is awoken in a neutered future world where he soon discovers his wife has passed away.
Spartan is informed, however, that his daughter is very much alive and well. The film’s original ending saw Sandra Bullock’s Lenina Huxley discover she was actually Spartan’s offspring but that was jettisoned in favor of a conclusion that saw the pair kiss. That left the daughter subplot unresolved. Joel Silver had just the idea in mind. Calling up the film’s co-writer Daniel Waters, Silver pitched his sequel: “Meryl Streep is Stallone’s daughter for the sequel.”
Alas, any plans for this inspired sequel idea were held up by a profits dispute between Stallone and Warner Bros., with Sly claiming to have been left out of pocket. The case was finally settled in May 2019, though. This one may not be dead quite yet.
Con Air in space
Con Air is big, brash and brilliant. It has Nicolas Cage trying to out-crazy the likes of Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames and John Malkovich as part of a rag-tag collective of violent convicts who hijack the plane transporting them to their next prison, or, in the case of Cage’s Cameron Poe, taking him and his fluffy bunny back to his wife and daughter.
A Jerry Bruckheimer production of the highest order, Con Air is a dizzying mix of whip-smart one-liners, explosive action set-pieces and a few painfully dated stereotypes. Given that pretty much everything in the movie is turned up to 11, the idea of a sequel that somehow ups the ante sounds almost impossible.
But director Simon West had one idea, and it involved boldly going where no Cage has gone before: space. Back in 2011, West pitched his idea for a follow-up that “completely turned on its head.”
“Con Air in space,” he said. "A studio version where they’re all robots or the convicts are reanimated as super-convicts, or where the good guys are bad guys and the bad guys are good guys. Something shocking. If it was clever writing it could work.”
Given the appeal of the increasingly outlandish Fast & Furious franchise, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be all that clever either, and the good news is that at least two of the stars are keen to do a sequel, with Cage calling the idea “interesting” and John Cusack admitting “it would be fun.” Watch this space.
Princess Diana’s The Bodyguard
As guilty pleasures go, they don’t come much better than The Bodyguard. It’s a celebration of all things ‘90s and a time when Kevin Costner was a heartthrob leading man, Whitney Houston was the undisputed Queen of Pop and every big movie had a belter of a soundtrack.
Reviled by critics, The Bodyguard ended up the second-highest-grossing film of 1992. Talk of a sequel was inevitable, but one never arrived. It only emerged, years later, that Costner had been involved in clandestine discussions about a follow-up that would have seen the bodyguard handed a new assignment: Princess Diana.
According to Costner, the script saw his character, Frank Farmer, hired to ward off stalkers and paparazzi, with the relationship between the pair eventually turning romantic.
A closely guarded secret for the best part of a year, Costner spoke to Diana over the phone about the project, having been handed her number by Sarah Ferguson. Diana was apparently intrigued but expressed apprehension about filming intimate scenes.
“I just remember her being incredibly sweet on the phone, and she asked the question, ‘Are we going to have, like a kissing scene?’” Costner told People. “She was a little nervous because her life was very governed. And I said, ‘Yeah, there’s going to be a little bit of that, but we can make that OK too.’”
Though still in its early stages, Costner told People that the first draft of the script for the film arrived on his desk just days before Diana’s tragic death.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2
Several ideas have been floated for a potential follow-up to 1988’s sublime Who Framed Roger Rabbit, including a pitch from the writer of the original Roger Rabbit novel, Gary K. Wolf, which had the titular hero teaming up with Mickey Mouse for a buddy comedy.
The most eye-catching of the bunch, however, came early on in the process with the tentatively titled prequel, Roger Rabbit 2: The Toon Squad. The script, from writer Nat Maudlin, pitched a premise that saw a young Roger Rabbit head to Nazi Germany to fight in the war and rescue his future wife, Jessica Rabbit.
He would be joined by his very own Dirty Dozen of colorful characters known as the Toon platoon. It sounded inspired but a major spanner was thrown into the works when executive producer Steven Spielberg left the project to focus on his own animated film company, DreamWorks.
The script also underwent significant rewrites, switching things around to focus on a subplot involving Roger’s search for his mother and a journey that would eventually take him to Hollywood and stardom. The name was even changed to Who Discovered Roger Rabbit and was decidedly lacking in cartoon Nazi villains, which admittedly may have been for the best.
However, with the film’s CGI budget beginning to spiral out of control and Disney getting decidedly cold feet about reprising the overtly sexual cartoon character of Jessica Rabbit, CEO Michael Eisner opted to can the project altogether in 2000.
Tim Burton’s Catwoman
Catwoman was the breakout star of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, with Michelle Pfeiffer’s inspired take on the character, coupled with that iconic costume, leaving audiences purring for more.
Batman Returns’ ending even teased a Catwoman comeback, with the character’s feline shadow spotted during the film’s final frames. But Burton opted against returning for a third Batman film, with replacement Joel Schumacher drafted in for the decidedly lighter Batman Forever.
Catwoman hadn’t quite used up all of her nine lives, though. Instead, Warner Bros. began exploring the idea of a spin-off that reunited Pfeiffer and Burton for a tale retaining the dark quality of his two Batman movies.
Batman Returns screenwriter Daniel Waters was hired to write the screenplay and quickly set about crafting a tale that sounded intriguing to say the least. It would have seen Catwoman/Selina Kyle travel to Oasisburg, a fictionalized version of Las Vegas that would exist in the same universe as Gotham.
The traumatic events of the previous film leave Catwoman with a pretty handy bout of amnesia. However, she soon snaps out of it after discovering Oasisburg’s seedy underbelly and an organized-crime racket run by corrupt superheroes. Delivered to Warner Bros. on the day Batman Forever was released, the film’s dark, modern tone was in stark contrast to Schumacher’s colorful and super-successful film.
Dark and brooding was out in favor of colorful and brash, with Catwoman quickly running out of steam. Burton and Pfeiffer eventually moved on to bigger and better things.
Speed 3 and the return of Dennis Hopper
The first Speed film is a much-loved action thriller built around the concept of Keanu Reeves as a detective stuck on a bus rigged to blow if it goes under 50 miles an hour. The second is a much-reviled actioner short on thrills and with Jason Patric in place for Reeves for a story about a cruise ship rigged to blow if it goes under 21 knots.
The Speed 2 concept came to director Jan de Bont in a dream — he awoke one night having been haunted by visions of a giant cruise ship ploughing through a coastal town — but ended up being nothing short of a nightmare. Quite what de Bont had planned for the third film, rumored to have been titled Speed 3: Highway To Hell, is unclear. It sounded like a return to form, though, with the tease of the word “highway” suggesting a return to the road-based action.
Then there was the small matter of Dennis Hopper’s return. Hopper played domestic terrorist and bomb specialist Howard Payne in the first film but — spoiler alert — ended up getting decapitated. So how was he coming back? As a ghost? An evil twin? Hopper gave nothing away in an interview with The Guardian at the time, instead describing it, in his typically helpful way, as “a river of sh** from which I have tried to extract some gold."
Hopper never got around to dipping his hands in that dirty river or extracting the gold, though, passing away three years after the interview without Speed 3's going into production.
Steven Spielberg’s dark ET sequel
Steven Spielberg largely shied away from sequels throughout his career but was, for a short time, at least, considering a follow-up to one of his biggest hits, ET. Spielberg got as far as penning a 10-page treatment for it alongside the first film’s writer Melissa Mathison. Titled ET 2: Nocturnal Fears, the sequel brought with it a pretty radical shift in tone and arguably genre.
Though it begins in similar fashion, with a giant UFO descending into a familiar forest, it soon becomes apparent that these ETs aren’t quite as friendly. Spielberg and Mathison’s treatment detailed an altogether different type of alien — one that was carnivorous and capable of emitting a “hypnotic hum” that paralyzed wildlife. Elliott and co. would return again but this time end up being captured by the alien race, who are eager to conduct experiments.
All of which would pave the way for ET to return and save the day. More horror than fun, family entertainment, the project never went beyond its fascinating treatment. While it would have been interesting to see how the film played out under Spielberg’s expert stewardship, the fact of the matter is that his heart was never really in it, telling one reporter he was opposed to any follow-up because it would likely “rob the original of its virginity.” If only he had applied the same logic to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Beetlejuice Goes to Hawaii
Plans for Beetlejuice 2 have been floating around for close to 30 years without much in the way of progress being made, which is kind of a shame given that a perfectly good idea has been in place for much of that time.
Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian isn’t a sequel set around the titular character’s regrettable choice of pizza topping but rather Tim Burton’s pitch at a beach movie. Of course, this being Burton, things are a little darker, with the filmmaker tasking writer Jonathan Gems with creating a script that blended “the surfing backdrop of a beach movie with some sort of German Expressionism.”
Gems did a bang-up job of combining the two, with a tale that sees the Deetz family from the original move to Hawaii with plans to build a hotel, only to discover the site they plan to build on is an ancient burial ground. They are left with little choice but to call in Beetlejuice to save the day.
Despite an admittedly unappealing title, the premise made for a surprisingly good concept. Everyone who took the time to read the script was keen on getting it made. Or at least that’s how it seemed.
The concept has been stuck in development hell since 1990, undergoing multiple rewrites with Burton and the original stars Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder expressing interest in returning at various points down the years. It’s never quite come together, though.
Jurassic Park: Rise of the Dinohybrids
Jurassic Park 3 is the most ordinary sequel in the entire JP franchise, save for one truly bizarre moment in which Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant has a dream involving a talking raptor. It’s a scene that stays with you long after the credits have rolled, for reasons both good and bad.
It evidently stayed with writers William Monahan and John Sayles, too, who went on to take the concept to crazy new heights in the unproduced script for their version of Jurassic Park 4. Described as the “mother of all ideas” by none other than Steven Spielberg, their version doubled down on the sci-fi with a storyline about a top-secret genetics lab where humans are being cross-bred with dinosaurs to create an army of super-soldiers.
Though the project never saw the light of day, it progressed further than most fans probably realized, with concept sketches of the human-dino hybrids surfacing online years after any hopes of its becoming a fully realized film were as dead as the dodo.
The sketches went some way to whetting the appetite for what could have come, though, with this version of Jurassic Park 4 evidently more of a horror movie along the lines of The Fly. It was bold. Maybe a little too bold, in fact. And while the human hybrids never saw the light of day, they certainly influenced the super dinosaur that popped up in Fallen Kingdom.
Ghostbusters III: Hellbent
Ghostbusters II may not have been all that well received by fans (who knew there was such a thing as too much Rick Moranis), but it nevertheless grossed more than $200 million, leaving the studio dead-set on a sequel.
Dan Aykroyd rebuffed any notion of a follow-up for much of the 1990s. Then, coincidentally, the mother of all turkeys, Blue Brothers 2000, happened. Aykroyd had a sudden change of heart and set about writing a follow-up alongside Harold Ramis. The same couldn’t be said of Bill Murray. He hadn’t been all that keen on one sequel, let alone two, and continued to dismiss any suggestion of returning.
The fact that the project languished in development hell ended up being appropriate given that the most widely touted of Aykroyd’s ideas was essentially Ghostbusters in Hell. Aykroyd detailed the idea in 2007 interview, explaining that the Ghostbusters would go through an inter-dimensional gate transporting them from Manhattan to ManHellton as part of a plot that saw them tackling a Donald Trump-like business magnate by the name of Lou Siffler. Get it?
Alas, Murray wasn’t keen on the idea. Aykroyd rewrote the script so Venkman only appeared during the film’s finale, but it all came to naught (although the concept was partially recycled for 2009's Ghostbusters: The Video Game). As time ticked on, there was even a version that saw the aging ghostbusters passing the torch to a younger cast — an idea that finally looks set to be explored in Jason Reitman's upcoming Ghostbusters movie.
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