A successful franchise can rake in seriously big bucks for a movie studio, and so it’s no wonder that Hollywood execs have a tendency to give the green-light to film sequels as early as possible, sometimes really jumping the gun and announcing a sequel before the first film’s even released.
Of course, this is a risky move, as if that film doesn’t live up to expectations – as so often happens in a world where we have so much choice that bad films drop off the radar within weeks – then the studio can find themselves quietly dropping a sequel from their release schedule and pretending they’d never announced it in the first place.
That’s not the only reason sequels can drop out of production, though – some fall victim to script problems or actors being reluctant to return, and others just gradually fade away into the realms of what could have been.
We’ve compiled a list of fifteen sequels which were very nearly made. Some of them we wish we could have seen, and others we’re pretty glad we were spared from the indignity of. Yet all of them should have taught Hollywood a lesson about getting over-excited…
15. Fantastic Four 2
Rebooting the Fantastic Four with an edgier, more modern tone seemed like a great idea for Fox. They threw Fantastic Four (or possibly FANT4STIC, if you really want to go there) into production with four rising stars in the lead roles and with promising young director Josh Trank helming – and with a sequel planned so far in advance that it had a release date before the first one was even filmed. What could go wrong?
As it turns out, everything. Trank couldn’t cope with the pacing and scale of the production and more or less had a breakdown on set, leading to the film’s troubled production dominating its press coverage and to the director being fired from the Star Wars spin-off he was supposed to be making next. The film was reshot extensively, and recut just as much, but couldn’t be saved; the movie which reached theaters was a dire mess, with very little that can be described as plot and some seriously stilted character dynamics.
After Fantastic Four barely recouped its money at the box office, and disappointed all those people who did go to see it, that release schedule began to look more than a little optimistic, and the sequel was dropped from it.
14. Terminator: Genisys 2 (And 3)
The first two Terminator films will long be regarded as classics, but Hollywood just can’t stop trying – and failing – to milk them for more franchise potential. With Terminator 3 and Salvation generally disliked, a new trilogy was the answer. Paramount one-upped Fox’s Fantastic Four plans and announced 2015’s Terminator: Genisys along with not one, but two sequels, scheduled for 2017 and 2018.
But it’s no use planning a trilogy if you don’t have a good enough story. Genisys was a messy affair, a mix of reverential nostalgia for the original movies and convoluted fiddling with their world. Reviews were poor, and the $440 million box office takings, while an amount many other films would be jealous of, just weren’t enough to please Paramount.
In January 2016, the studio announced that the sequels were no longer in development, and Genisys star Emilia Clarke later commented that she wouldn’t return for any further Terminator movies. Arnie still wants to get another one off the ground, though – well, we know what his character has to say about returning.
13. The Amazing Spider-Man 3 (And 4, The Sinister Six, And Venom…)
The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe got a lot of Hollywood execs a bit too excited. DC rushed a similar movie-verse into production, beginning with Man of Steel, and while they might not have hit as many high marks as Marvel, at least they have enough big name characters to sustain a franchise. Sony, meanwhile, tried to create a similar success – with just Spider-Man and his associated villains.
Yes, by the time The Amazing Spider-Man 2 released in 2014, Sony had already announced two direct sequels and two spin-offs, one to focus on the super-villain team known as the Sinister Six and the other on the character of Venom. In fact, a lot of this was set up in the plot of TASM2, which planted hints about villains who’d be seen later in the series.
Unfortunately, this foreshadowing was just one of many elements which didn’t quite fit into the muddled movie. After TASM2 received negative reactions and a lower box-office than all previous Spider-Man films, the future looked uncertain for this franchise. Sony changed tack entirely and made a deal with Marvel Studios to bring Spider-Man into their already successful universe. Yes, this meant we got yet another reboot, but at least the iconic character was now in more capable hands.
12. Ghostbusters 3
Like an undead spectre grasping onto life, the idea of a third Ghostbusters movie featuring the original cast hung around for a long time. 25 years, in fact. After Ghostbusters II’s 1989 release, Dan Aykroyd worked on several versions of a script for a third movie.
One of these, titled Ghostbusters III: Hellbent, featured the team meeting the devil in a hellish alternate version of Manhattan, and another version saw Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman dying and becoming a ghost himself – both great pitches for ‘busters movies we’d love to see. But neither came to be, largely because of Bill Murray’s aversion to appearing in sequels.
The rumours started up again around 2010, with original director Ivan Reitman at one point confirming that he was on board to helm a movie that would pair the ‘80s Ghostbusters up with a new team. Again, this never came to pass. In 2014, however, the decision to reboot the series was made. Despite the fact that a new team appeared on the scene in 2016, we can only imagine the movies which could have been.
11. Green Lantern 2
Another superhero franchise that failed to even make it past the first film, Green Lantern already had a sequel script being written, continuing the adventures of the test pilot who’s recruited into an intergalactic police force, when it reached theaters in 2011.
But it made the same basic mistake as Fantastic Four – it was rubbish. Despite the best efforts of Casino Royale director Martin Campbell and star Ryan Reynolds, the film turned out to be a joyless, clunky flop, and it lost Warners a sizable amount of cash.
It’s a shame, as there’s a lot of comics mythology the series could have done great things with; plans for the sequel included expanding out the Green Lantern Corps and seeing Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris become her powerful alter ego Star Sapphire. Nevertheless, we will be getting a new version of the character with 2020’s Green Lantern Corps, now part of the DC Extended Universe, and Ryan Reynolds is able to make fun of the flop now he’s found success as Deadpool.
10. The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes
We’ll forgive you if you’ve forgotten The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, as it came and went with so little fanfare that all the cast members meant to be reappearing in the sequel must have been desperately calling their agents before its cancellation had been confirmed.
City of Bones presumably seemed like a surefire box office winner at the time, as for a few years, adaptations of YA novels were the in thing. Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter Chronicles series consisted of five popular books at the time, with a sixth on its way, and the second film in the series had been confirmed to be an adaptation of the second book, City of Ashes. They’d even started making some casting decisions, bringing Sigourney Weaver into the sequel.
Unfortunately, City of Bones wasn’t another Harry Potter or Hunger Games. It wasn’t even a Percy Jackson. While some of the books’ fans enjoyed the movie, it failed to reach a wider audience, and it came as no surprise when City of Ashes was “postponed indefinitely”. And we all know what that means. On the plus side, Clare’s world has resurfaced as a TV series, Shadowhunters.
9. John Carter 2
Given how badly Disney handled just about everything related to John Carter, from its script to its marketing, even its title, they probably deserved it becoming one of the most notorious box office bombs in recent cinema history.
The first film set up the titular character, an American Civil War soldier who’s transported to Mars and gets involved in the red planet’s own conflicts. It was based on a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the planned sequel was to adapt Burroughs’ second John Carter book, The Gods of Mars, which sees Carter return to Mars after a ten year absence only to end up in the Martian afterlife.
But this was not to be. Deciding that people would be put off if they knew the film was set on Mars, Disney cropped the title from John Carter of Mars to John Carter. Basically, they chose a significantly more boring title because, that way, people wouldn’t know what their film was about. Unsurprisingly, no one went to see it.
Those who did found themselves watching an amazing cinematic achievement – the filmmakers had taken an interplanetary adventure with an alien war and a super-powered hero, and made it intolerably boring. Those sequel plans were quickly shelved.
8. Superman Lives
This is one that we would have loved to see. After the Superman series had hit a low point with 1987’s The Quest for Peace, Warner Bros decided to really mix things up with their next instalment. Really, seriously mix things up.
The script for this movie, titled Superman Lives, was written by Kevin Smith and Dan Gilroy, and it was to be directed by Tim Burton. Christopher Reeve was to be replaced in the title role by Nicolas Cage, and some screentest images of Cage in various Superman suits still exist. But it’s the plot details that are really fascinating. Superman would fight a giant spider, while the main villain, supercomputer Brainiac, would at one point battle polar bears. Oh, and this version of Superman wouldn’t know about his alien origin, and would be in therapy at the start of the movie.
It all sounds wildly off kilter from what we expect from a Superman movie, and it is a massive shame that it fell apart before we got to see Burton, Cage and co.’s take on Supes. A lot of fans would take this insanity over another dour Man of Steel instalment any day.
7. The Lone Ranger 2
It was meant to be the new Pirates of the Caribbean – the director and star of that series, Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, back together in another action-packed adventure series. The Lone Ranger was based on a radio serial from the ‘30s and its ‘50s TV adaptation, with Armie Hammer’s Ranger and Johnny Depp’s Tonto going on a number of Western adventures over the planned franchise.
Unfortunately, the source material may not have been entirely suited to the twenty-first century. The problem wasn’t just that Westerns are a really hard sell nowadays, but also that the casting of Depp in a Native American role, with Tonto being a comedic sidekick, was seen as racially insensitive – a criticism which, to be honest, they should have seen coming.
The film itself wasn’t a total disaster, but these problems must have damaged its success, as The Lone Ranger lost Disney around $150 million. This is one ranger who didn’t get the chance to ride again.
6. The Subtle Knife And The Amber Spyglass
Coming not too long after the success of The Lord of the Rings, New Line Cinema must have thought they were onto something big when they nabbed the rights for Philip Pullman’s popular fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. Telling the story of two children coming of age as they explore a series of parallel universes – and make friends with an armored polar bear – the trilogy of books was to be adapted into three films.
But only one was destined to be produced. The Golden Compass was compromised in a number of ways, most notably when it came under fire by the Catholic Church, of all people; when ministers criticized what they saw as an anti-Christian story, its producers chickened out and cut a vital section of the film.
Acknowledging some things had gone wrong, writer and director Chris Weitz promised to be “much less compromising” when adapting the sequels, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass. But he never got his chance, as poor financial returns determined that those movies never came to pass. Catholic Church, 1 – New Line Cinema, 0.
5. The Batman & Robin Sequel
Yes, a second helping of the ‘so bad it’s good’ cult classic was genuinely on the cards. During the filming of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, Warner Bros. executives were apparently impressed enough by the dailies to give the green light to a sequel.
Schumacher was hired to return as director, and George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone all signed up to reprise their roles as Batman, Robin and Batgirl. The script, titled Batman Unchained, had the Scarecrow as the main villain, and Nicolas Cage was approached for the role – not the first superhero franchise he’d helped kill off in the ‘90s! The plot would see Scarecrow using his fear toxin on Batman, resurrecting the Joker in his mind, with a possible reappearance of Jack Nicholson as the Clown Prince of Crime. It also saw an appearance from Harley Quinn, presented here as the Joker’s daughter.
Unfortunately… well, we all know what happened. Warner Bros. bigwigs must have frozen in their tracks when they saw Batman & Robin’s box office figures, critical reaction was cold, and the sequel was subsequently put on ice.
4. Dredd 2
This one’s a genuine shame, as 2012 comic adaptation Dredd was a genuinely good film – much better than the Sylvester Stallone version, undoubtedly – and the plans for its sequels sound really intriguing.
Based on the Judge Dredd comics from British anthology 2000 AD, Dredd was a confined Die Hard-esque actioner that introduced us to the dystopian world of Mega-City One, and to the gruff, no-mercy lawkeeper of the title. Screenwriter Alex Garland in fact had plans for two sequels, which would expand Dredd’s world significantly. The first, based on the Origins story arc from the comics, would explore how the system of Judges came to be, while the second would take inspiration from the Democracy storyline and would also introduce Dredd’s nemeses, the Dark Judges.
These both sound like they could have been awesome sequels, and have done different and interesting things with the world and its characters, but a lackluster marketing campaign led to a poor box office performance; despite fan petitions, these sequels have never surfaced.
3. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
This is another one where we’re mournful rather than thankful that the sequel never made it to screen, as David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson’s novel about a journalist recruiting a hacker to help track down a missing woman, was actually pretty good.
Fincher was definitely on board to film the two sequels, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, as were stars Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. These stories continue the collaboration of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, with his journalistic experience and her hacking skills coming in handy when they must clear her name from false accusations of murder.
But audiences just weren’t that interested in seeing Dragon Tattoo. Perhaps the story didn’t have enough of a hook for some viewers, and perhaps others had already seen the Swedish original and didn’t like the idea of a remake. Either way, it didn’t help the plans for the sequels. Release dates had been initially announced, but supposed script difficulties saw them pushed back, and eventually those dates came and went and the films just never happened.
2. Neill Blomkamp’s Alien 5
1992’s Alien 3 is often seen as one of cinema’s great disappointments, with the family unit set up by the previous film killed off in the opening minutes and Ellen Ripley’s character arc effectively ruined. One proposed film by District 9 director Neill Blomkamp could have rewritten this.
In February 2015, Blomkamp posted concept art on his Instagram for an Alien story he had been developing, one that would carry on Ripley’s story after Aliens and would disregard the events of Alien 3. This seriously piqued fan interest, and soon it was confirmed that this film was in development, with Sigourney Weaver signed on to reprise her lead role and Michael Biehn – Aliens’ Corporal Hicks – also in talks.
Unfortunately, since then, not much progress has been made with the project, largely due to conflicts with that other new Alien movie, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. This is one, however, which could still see the light of day – we’re not getting our hopes up too high, but we’d love it if Blomkamp’s take on the xenomorphs was resurrected from development hell once Covenant is completed.
1. Gladiator II: Christ Killer
This is one of the most insane film ideas we’ve ever heard, and while it would not only soil the legacy of Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator but also change its genre entirely, we can’t help but really wish it had been made.
Now, the obvious problem with making a Gladiator sequel (spoiler alert!) is that the lead character, Russell Crowe’s Maximus, dies at the end of the movie. While initial plans for a follow-up were either to make a prequel or to make a sequel following the grown-up version of child character Lucius, Russell Crowe had other ideas, and brought Nick Cave on board to write a script. Cave’s story saw Maximus brought back from the dead by the Roman gods in order to stop this new thing called Christianity and fight Jesus. Jesus ends up being his son. And then Maximus becomes an eternal warrior present in all of history’s wars, being seen in World War II, Vietnam, and the modern-day Pentagon.
No, seriously. That was written. We have no idea why any studio exec would turn that down, but they did, and they probably still work in the movie business. The world we live in is not fair.