In Hollywood, sequels have become a foregone conclusion for just about any film that turns a profit (and even some that don’t). As studio filmmaking becomes more and more profligate, the anxiety of the executives rises. Their only consolation comes from knowing that if a film does big business, it will mean sequels that will likely make even more money, thus allowing them to keep their jobs. But for every Star Wars or Fast and the Furious, there are a schloo of John Carters and Pans. Even then, sequels face obstacles before heading before the cameras: actors and crew have schedule conflicts or budgets can become an issue. Worst of all, sequels can fall into the void of non-production called “Development Hell,” from which few films escape.
The films on this list, for the most part, went into Development Hell and never reemerged. Given the known information about them, that’s probably for the best! Here are the 13 Planned Sequels That Thankfully Never Happened.
The original Chinatown remains a cinematic classic: a synthesis of genres, an aggregate of great actors and a director and writer at the height of their powers. Few audience members, however, remember the intended trilogy Chinatown tried to kick off.
Die hard fans will remember The Two Jakes, the Jack Nicholson-directed second chapter. The Two Jakes suffered in Development Hell for years before finally making it to the screen 16 years later. Audiences ignored it, and it divided critics. Nevertheless, writer Robert Towne and star Jack Nicholson wanted to move ahead on the third installment, reportedly titled Cloverleaf. The story followed Nicholson’s character, Jake Gittes, as he met Howard Hughes, amid the backdrop of auto and oil companies destroying Los Angeles’s public transportation system.
Given Nicholson’s retirement and mixed reception to The Two Jakes, the movie will likely never be made. That, and, in a way, it already has been made. Who Framed Roger Rabbit integrated many of the concepts from the unfilmed story, including the noir atmosphere and plot by oil and automotive companies to kill public transportation and build freeways instead! It remains the closest thing to a conclusion the Chinatown saga might ever receive.
12. GODFATHER 4
Given the legacy of the original films, it should come as no surprise that Paramount has been itching for a fourth installment.
Francis Ford Coppola, who directed and co-wrote the script with Mario Puzo, author of the original novel, has, over the years, expressed some interest in directing a fourth outing. In fact, the director has said that he and Puzo even began working on a story before the author’s death. Based on the little information about the story that has become public, the film would have followed a parallel narrative similar to Part II, tailing young Sonny Corleone and his son, Vincent Mancini, with actor Andy Garcia set to reprise his role from Part III. With James Caan way too old to play young Sonny, Coppola envisioned Leonardo DiCaprio in the part. Vincent would lead the Corleone family into the modern era, precipitating the final fall of the the family.
Puzo’s death made it unlikely that Coppola would ever want to move ahead with the movie. Still, Paramount commissioned several novels from author Mark Winegardner to continue the Corleone family story, and at various points, the studio has considered using them as the basis for a new film, with or without Coppola’s involvement. The mixed reception to Winegardner’s work, however, has sent The Godfather Part IV into Development Hell.
11. SUPERMAN LIVES
Also known as the greatest Superman movie never made, Superman Lives would have relaunched the Superman film series in the late 1990s and was rumored to be connected it to the Burton-Schumacher Batman films, in one of the first attempts at an expanded universe. Tim Burton would direct with Nicolas Cage starring in the title role. The cast would have also featured Christopher Walken as Brainiac, Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor, Chris Rock as Jimmy Olson and either Sandra Bullock or Julianne Moore as Lois Lane.
The script, partially based on the Death of Superman comic arc, went through different permutations under writers Kevin Smith, Wesley Strick and Dan Gilroy. A ballooning budget gave Warner Bros. cause for concern, as did creative tensions between Burton and producer Jon Peters.
The 2015 documentary The Death of Superman Lives exposes the backstage bickering and creative troubles that damned the movie, and hints that a Burton-helmed Superman might not have been the Man of Steel fans wanted to see.
10. BATMAN TRIUMPHANT
Batman has proved a cash cow for Warner Bros., and with the films going strong well into the 1990s, the studio began planning ahead. With Batman & Robin about to open in summer 1997, the studio already hinted that it had begun developing a fifth film in the series. The critical disaster and under-performance of Batman & Robin, however, slowed development.
Regardless, the studio wanted Joel Schumacher to move ahead with a new movie. Schumacher first wanted to adapt Batman: Year One to the big screen, an idea the studio nixed. Warners did like the idea of returning the films to a darker tone, however, and began to develop Batman Triumphant.
In the proposed film, Robin would have departed Batman’s company, and the Caped Crusader would have faced off against Scarecrow and Harley Quinn. Schumacher reenvisioned Harley as the Joker’s daughter rather than his lover, and the studio tapped Jack Nicholson to make a return cameo as the Joker himself. Schumacher went as far as meeting with actors, with Jeff Goldblum, James Woods and Howard Stern(??) all reportedly up for the part of the Scarecrow. The studio proposed Bridget Fonda, Madonna and Sarah Michelle Gellar as possibilities for Harley Quinn, though Schumacher’s first choice was Courtney Love, who expressed interest in the part.
9. BATMAN YEAR ONE
Unsatisfied with letting their golden goose rest, Warner Bros. attempted to reboot the Batman film series as early as 2000. One possibility was an adaptation of Batman: Year One, the acclaimed origin story from the comic books written by Frank Miller. Hot off the successes of Pi and Requiem For a Dream, Warners approached Darren Aronofsky to write and direct the movie.
Aronofsky met with Frank Miller and the two began working on a script. The director wanted a very different Batman for his story, one which deviated even from his comic book tropes. The resulting screenplay would have featured Alfred reimagined as an African-American mechanic named Big Al, the Batmobile as a Lincoln Town Car and the Joker as a jive-talking albino. Needless to say, Warner Bros. had real apprehension about the story, and when the script leaked on the internet to negative buzz (also inspiring the meme “Commissioner Gordon has a beer and cheats on his wife!”), the studio nixed Aronofsky’s movie and decided, instead to approach a young director named Christopher Nolan to reboot the Bat-series.
8. SUPERMAN FLYBY
Contrarians love to attack Superman Returns, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman for ruining the character of Superman and placing him in sub-par movies. They don’t know just how bad a Superman movie could have been!
With the collapse of Superman Lives, and later, Wolfgang Petersen’s Batman vs. Superman (more on that one in a bit), Warner Bros. reached an impasse as to how to proceed with rebooting the Superman movie series. They decided to start afresh, commissioning a script from J.J. Abrams, who had just found television success with the show Alias.
Abrams sought to reinvent Superman for a new generation and ignored most of the signature qualities of the character. His script would have focused on Krypton as a war-torn world with factions led by King Jor-El, and the other by his brother Ty-Zor. Jor-El would have sent Superman to Earth to protect the child, and Clark Kent would have grown up an angsty teen before becoming Superman. Superman’s arch-rival would have been CIA agent Lex Luthor, who would reveal himself to be a closet Kryptonian in the final reel. Superman would then leave Earth to return to Krypton to fulfill an ancient prophecy as ruler of his people.
The script divided readers: both Superman’s Kryptonian mother Lara and Martha Kent are tortured on screen and nearly raped. At one point, Superman dies only to be revived a few minutes later, courtesy of Jor-El committing suicide on Krypton. An incidental part in the film — a character who appears in one scene with no lines — would have been played by a major actor to set up the next movie. Along with the preposterous plotting and subtle misogyny, the story also featured a gay Jimmy Olsen, who spent the movie as the subject of homophobic jokes.
McG and Brett Ratner both signed on to direct the script only to depart. Of the two, Ratner’s version came the closest to filming, with Ralph Fiennes, Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Depp all tapped for different roles. The project stalled when Ratner and Jon Peters (there’s his name again) couldn’t agree who to cast as Superman, and Warners opted to make Superman Returns instead.
7. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT 2
The original Who Framed Roger Rabbit cleaned up at the box office, won several Oscars and broke new technical ground as animated and live action characters could occupy the same frame and physically interact with one another. A sequel seemed a sure bet, and Disney began development almost immediately on Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2.
Disney opted to develop a prequel, set during World War II about Roger, Baby Herman and their toon compatriots enlisting in the army. Titled Toon Platoon, the project ran into problems from the start. Executive Producer Steven Spielberg had just finished Schindler’s List, and objected to a subplot involving Jessica Rabbit in Nazi propaganda. The script began to undergo rewrites, but other problems persisted.
The original Roger Rabbit had been something of a miracle: funded by Disney, produced by Amblin Entertainment and featuring a variety of characters like the Looney Tunes owned by other studios, the movie proved a perfect Hollywood synthesis. Spielberg and Disney ended up in a lawsuit regarding profits from the original film. Animation director Richard Williams had a tense relationship with the studio during production, and fell out with Disney shortly thereafter, and director Robert Zemeckis moved on to other projects. Disney attempted an animation test in the late 1990s that combined live action, drawn animation and CGI with disastrous results, and the studio decided to ice the project.
In the 2010s, Disney did, however, begin quietly working on scripts for a proposed sequel. Director Robert Zemeckis maintained interest, even after the death of star Bob Hoskins. A sequel could still happen, but not likely anytime soon.
6. FREDDY VS JASON 2
The first Freddy vs. Jason took years in the making. Horror fans eagerly anticipated the team-up of their favorite latter day boogeymen, even as parent studio New Line struggled to develop a script. The movie finally debuted to decidedly mixed reception in 2003. Made on a small budget, it easily turned a profit, and New Line looked to move ahead with a sequel.
Then things got complicated. Initially, New Line had focused on the idea of having Jason and Freddy battle yet another fixture of horror: Ash, of the Evil Dead series. Actor Bruce Campbell expressed interest in participating, and Robert England planned to return as Freddy. As the sequel labored in development, however, England changed his mind. The aging actor feared he’d gotten too old to play Freddy again, and he also expressed his displeasure with the final product of Freddy vs. Jason. Following the box office failure of The Golden Compass, New Line declared bankruptcy and the project fell into limbo.
Warner Bros. ended up buying out New Line and decided rather than to make another Freddy vs. Jason to reboot both the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. Both reboots were poorly received, and Warners again considered Freddy vs. Jason 2, only this time, it would integrate actors and characters from the rebooted films. Given their reception, it might be just as well that the movie never went before the cameras.
5. SUPERMAN V
The original Superman starring Christopher Reeve had been a runaway success despite very well publicized budget and production difficulties. Superman II proved a massive hit, while the slapstick comedy Superman III met with derision from fans and critics. Plans for a fourth movie stalled until B-movie producing Cannon Films bought the rights to the character and managed to lure Reeve back for Superman IV, an even grimmer exercise in superhero moviemaking.
Cannon had big plans for the character, however. The studio had enjoyed modest success with films produced on the ultra-cheap and wanted to make a bid for stardom as a major Hollywood player. Their penny pinching ways, however, sealed their doom. Superman IV had run out of money during production, which resulted in the deletion of a reported 45 minutes of footage. Cannon had hoped to use the footage as the basis for a fifth film, but the box office failure of Superman IV stalled their plans. The studio considered an ultra-low budget sequel, before abandoning the idea. Cannon eventually declared bankruptcy and lost the rights.
Ilya and Alexander Salkind, who had produced the first three films, tried to get a fifth installment off the ground. Christopher Reeve’s tragic accident which left him paralyzed eventually quashed all possibility for another sequel.
4. STAR TREK: STARFLEET ACADEMY
Star Trek proved a major money maker for Paramount Studios, both on TV and in film. With the original cast aging, the studio faced an impasse: how to keep making Star Trek films without its signature cast?
Producer Harve Bennett proposed one idea: do a prequel! Tentatively titled Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, the movie would have followed the exploits of Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the original characters when they all met during their academy days.
The idea proved controversial from the get-go. Recasting beloved characters seemed preposterous to Trek fans, as it did to series creator Gene Roddenberry, who openly opposed the prequel film. The underwhelming reception to Star Trek V prompted the studio to do a sixth film to give the original cast a proper sent off.
But the Starfleet Academy concept didn’t go away. Paramount continued to flirt with the idea, even after the Next Generation crew picked up the film series. Then-studio head Sherry Lansing even commissioned a script, which garnered a mixed response. Financial difficulties plaguing the studio put the project on hold, and it officially died when Lansing retired. Though completely different, the 2009 reboot did reuse the academy premise to relaunch the series.
3. JAWS 3, PEOPLE 0
Jaws remains a seminal film more than 40 years after its release. Even the death of the original shark in the first movie couldn’t stop sequels from being made, and Jaws 2 turned a profit in 1978. That made the market for a third movie ripe, and parent studio Universal wanted another man-eating adventure.
Producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck felt the premise of a shark attacking a small town had run its course, and came up with a novel idea: do a spoof. Animal House had just proved a box-office hit, and the producers met with John Hughes about a script. The proposed title, Jaws 3, People 0 would have been a send up of the whole series. Joe Dante expressed interest in directing as well.
Universal didn’t like the idea, fearing it would harm the reputation of the original film and the franchise as a whole. The studio nixed the idea in favor of Jaws 3-D, another thriller set at a theme park. While Universal feared a comedy would destroy the series, they didn’t foresee that an unintentionally funny thriller could hurt it too, and Jaws 3-D flopped when it opened.
2. BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN
Frustrated by the ongoing delays with rebooting the Superman and the Batman franchise, Warner Bros. decided to take a gamble: why not kill two birds with one stone? Batman vs. Superman would have continued the Burton-Schumacher continuity, resetting it to its darker roots, and introduced the character of Superman into a shared universe.
The film would have followed a retired Batman after the deaths of Robin, Alfred and Jim Gordon. Superman would have just divorced Lois Lane and returned to Smallville. The script by Akiva Goldsman integrated ideas from Batman Triumphant, including the return of the Joker, and acclaimed director Wolfgang Petersen agreed to helm the project. While the script underwent rewrites, Petersen approached Christian Bale for the role of Batman and Josh Hartnett for the part of Superman.
Concerns over the direction of the script slowed development of the project. Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams continued to lobby Warner Bros. to produce his Superman: Flyby script. Feeling a clean reboot necessary for both characters, Warners decided to move ahead on Superman: Flyby and Batman Begins.
1. TOY STORY 3
The first two Toy Story films had proved box office champions and won rave reviews from critics. Disney, naturally, wanted the series to continue. The big problem: animation studio Pixar didn’t, preferring instead to produce new content rather than a series of sequels. Acrimony had grown between Disney and Pixar over their distribution agreement, which stipulated that Disney own the rights to all characters and take a large portion of the profits from any Pixar release. When their contract expired, Pixar left Disney’s association, determined to make films on their own.
Disney, meanwhile, still wanted sequels, and opened up a low-budget animation division to produce direct-to-video sequels to their classic films as well as Pixar titles. The studio started work on Toy Story 3, with at least some of the original cast slated to return. The story would have followed a toy maker recall that would send Buzz Lightyear off to Taiwan, with the other toys trying to rescue him. The film never got far past the scripting stage, as Disney, its own films under-performing, decided to buy Pixar outright. Part of the acquisition gave the heads of Pixar creative control–namely director John Lasseter–over both Disney and Pixar titles. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that one of his first decrees shut down production on Toy Story 3, and placed the project back in the hands of Pixar’s creative team.
Disney’s Toy Story 3 was released in 2010 to widespread critical acclaim and a billion dollar box office take. With a fourth entry now underway according to star Tom Hanks, we can only hope the success of the series can be recaptured — though a smoother production process would be nice.
Which sequels are you most relieved never made their way to the big screen? Let us know in the comments.