Movie history is filled with examples of high-profile projects that never made it to the big screen – including unmade sequels to your some of your favorite films. Unfortunately, while getting a sequel off the ground for a critically acclaimed outing or blockbuster hit seems like it would be a no-brainer, thanks to the many logistical and political forces at play in Hollywood, that's not true.
Although this has cost audiences the opportunity to enjoy promising follow-up entries to a number of popular franchises, it’s also spared them from pretty severe disappointment, too. For every brilliantly conceived sequel that fails to materialize, an even greater number are pitched that are at best ill-advised and at worst flat-out unnecessary. Indeed, several of these dubious continuations wouldn’t have merely been destined to fall flat at the box office – they risked damaging the legacy of the beloved movies that came before them.
Still, there’s something inherently fascinating about these unseen films – whether they looked set to be a masterpiece or a trainwreck – that comes from wondering what might have been. With this in mind, we’ve taken stock of the biggest unmade sequels out there, pulling together this list of 9 Canceled Sequels That Would've Been Terrible (And 6 That Would've Been Great).
15 Terrible – Gladiator 2
Spoiler alert for anyone who still hasn’t gotten around to seeing Ridley Scott’s Best Picture-winning sword-and-sandal epic, Gladiator: Russell Crowe’s Maximus dies at the end. You’d think that would be enough to curtail any talk of a sequel, but the filmmakers did seriously consider it.
There were several different suggestions, but far and away the most noteworthy was devised by musician (and occasional screenwriter) Nick Cave. Approached by Scott and Crowe to rewrite the existing script, Cave dreamed up a tale that saw Maximus resurrected and taking part in conflicts throughout history, right on through to the present day.
Admittedly, actually getting to witness something this bonkers on the big screen might have been interesting on some level. And who knows? Maybe Cave – who proved himself a capable scribe with 2005’s Aussie Western The Proposition – might actually have managed to pull it off. But the premise of this sequel is such a departure from the tone established in the first Gladiator, it’s probably for the best that the executives at DreamWorks refused to give it the greenlight!
14 Terrible – ET II: Nocturnal Fears
A horror-thriller sequel to family-favorite E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – sounds like a joke, right? Yet this was the actual premise Steven Spielberg settled on when working on the treatment for ET II: Nocturnal Fears. In this second installment, child hero Elliott and his friends are abducted by aliens that are decidedly less friendly than E.T., who the kids desperately try to call for aid.
Now, maybe a filmmaking genius like Spielberg could have pulled this off – after all, E.T. meets Stephen King is kinda the basic gist of Stranger Things, and that worked out just fine. Nevertheless, dramatically shifting the tone and genre of the series could have just as likely alienated (sorry) audiences and diminished the uplifting quality of the original. It seems Spielberg, as plans for Nocturnal Fears were quickly scuppered.
13 Great – Spider-Man 4
After home runs Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, director Sam Raimi finally struck out with the third entry in the series. True, Spider-Man 3 wound up the highest grossing of the trilogy, but the response from fans and critics was lukewarm. Acknowledging that he hadn’t exactly wrapped up the trilogy on a high note, Raimi seemed keen to atone for the shortcomings of Spider-Man 3 by delivering a knock-out fourth instalment.
Everything started off promisingly. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst signed on to reprise the lead roles and screenplay treatments were turned in by a succession of high-profile screenwriters. Better still, it appeared that Raimi had a stronger vision for Spider-Man 4, and faced less pressure to include specific plot and character elements this time.
Alas, despite discussions with John Malkovich to play one of his favorite baddies, the Vulture – and pencilling in Anne Hathaway as supporting villain, the Black Cat – things soon fell apart. Allegedly, Raimi wasn’t confident that he could hit the film’s scheduled 2011 release date and still deliver a film that would please fans, ultimately bowing out – and paving the way for the Amazing Spider-Man reboot!
12 Terrible – Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind's Eye
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was once a time when the Star Wars franchise wasn’t the guaranteed cash cow that it is today. Indeed, back when the first film was in production, many of the cast and crew – not to mention the senior executives at 20th Century Fox – were convinced it would be a flop.
Although still quietly confident that his sci-fi/fantasy saga could succeed, George Lucas decided he needed a contingency plan in case the naysayers proved correct. To that end, he enlisted author Alan Dean Foster to pen a Star Wars novel that could also serve as the basis for a low-budget big screen continuation of Lucas’ space opera, if needed.
The end result, Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, isn’t a terrible story, per se. To his credit, Foster manages to tell a suitably thrilling tale – albeit one that’s missing Han Solo and Chewbacca – despite being required to keep the (potentially costly) exotic imagery and dogfights to a minimum.
Regardless, it’s hard to imagine anyone would have preferred this small-scale sequel over the sublime (and monumentally huge) The Empire Strikes Back.
11 Terrible – Batman Unchained
Even 20 years on, the mere mention of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin is still enough to drive some superhero fans into a rage. Schumacher’s film – which emulated the campy tone of the Caped Crusader’s 1960s TV show – was downright reviled.
During production, Warner Bros. clearly wasn’t expecting this level of backlash. In fact, WB was so taken with the footage screened for the studio that they re-hired Schumacher to oversee a sequel, Batman Unchained.
The film – often mistakenly referred to as Batman Triumphant – would have seen George Clooney return as the Dark Knight, alongside fellow cast members Chris O’Donnell as Robin and Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, to face off against the Scarecrow. (In)famously, the screenplay included Jack Nicholson’s Joker as well, resurrected as a hallucination that would torment his archenemy.
In the wake of the poor critical and commercial performance of Batman & Robin, the studio promptly scrapped the project. Schumacher would then pitch a darker take on the material that took the character back to his roots, only to be fired – although this approach would eventually evolve into popular reboot Batman Begins.
10 Great – X-Men 3
Singer later confessed that he only had a vague plan in mind for the third film, but the details he has made public sure do sound promising. Apparently, X-Men 3 would have involved femme fatale the White Queen (earmarked for Sigourney Weaver) using her telepathic powers on a newly-resurrected Jean Grey, unleashing the potentially world-ending powers of the Dark Phoenix.
Of course, we did eventually see a version of the “The Dark Phoenix Saga” brought to life in replacement director Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand. However, given that movie is generally viewed as step down in quality from what came before it, it’s hard not to obsess over what might have been had Singer kept the reins.
9 Terrible - Green Lantern 2
It’s common practice for moviegoers to complain about the seemingly unending cycle of superhero film franchise reboots. But sometimes even the most jaded of these critics is forced to admit that a fresh start really is the best way forward – like in the case of Green Lantern 2.
The first Green Lantern was nothing short of a disaster both financially and in terms of audience response, and few had faith that director Martin Campbell or star Ryan Reynolds could possibly turn things around for the franchise.
Despite an admittedly cool mid-credits scene showing Mark Strong’s Sinestro donning a yellow power ring – teasing the character’s villainous comic book history – nobody seemed too upset when Warner Bros. announced they’d rather start over with a clean slate than pursue a sequel.
8 Terrible – Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian
For obvious reasons, Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian sounds like a terrible idea. Tim Burton’s original film is a quirky comedy classic built around the director’s distinctive goth aesthetic – fusing it with the sunny sensibilities of a beach movie would be the visual equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard.
In fairness, Burton had found success before by juxtaposing macabre and colorful, supposedly wholesome elements. Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he produced) all rely to differing extents on the jarring effect of these incongruous elements clashing against each other.
Nevertheless, the script – which re-cast Michael Keaton’s lecherous poltergeist as a hero who saves the day by magically rigging a surfing contest – lacked the subversive charm of its predecessor, suggesting the dramatic change in setting was a mistake. Perhaps filmmaker Kevin Smith (who was invited to redraft the screenplay) summed it up best when he remarked, “Didn't we say all we needed to say in the first Beetlejuice? Must we go tropical?”
7 Great – Dredd 2
2012’s Dredd is a modern cult classic, largely erasing the bad memories of Judge Dredd’s previous big screen outing starring Sylvester Stallone. Unfortunately, while the film enjoyed mostly good reviews, its poor performance at the box office made it unlikely we'd ever see a sequel. This is a real shame, as screenwriter Alex Garland has gone on record to discuss his plans for not one, but two more films, both of which sound amazing.
Among other elements, Garland hoped to delve deeper into the mythology of Dredd’s world, introducing new characters – including the evil Dark Judges – and beefing up the satirical elements conspicuously absent from the original. Yet all isn’t totally lost – a TV series is now in the works, with Karl Urban currently in talks to don Dredd’s helmet once more.
6 Great – 28 Months Later
With 28 Weeks Later, director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo served up a satisfying follow-up to Danny Boyle’s original modern zombie classic, 28 Days Later. Since both entries in the franchise garnered substantial critical and commercial success, a sequel – fittingly titled 28 Months Later – seemed like a dead cert to appear.
But then it turned out that the rights to make the film were currently the subject of a dispute between various license-holders, leaving the prospect of a sequel less hopeful than its post-apocalyptic setting. Still, Boyle and original screenwriter Alex Garland (him again!) seem optimistic that 28 Months Later will one day happen, and a basic plot outline exists.
While there is still a long way to go on this one, these positive factors will likely buoy those fans desperate to see the previous film’s cliffhanger ending finally resolved.
5 Terrible – The Professional 2
The Professional (or Léon, depending where you first saw the movie) is a cult classic. The story of Jean Reno’s hitman and his relationship with Natalie Portman’s 12-year old orphan is one of Luc Besson’s very best, thrilling and genuinely touching in equal measure. You’d think we’d want a follow-up – but we really don’t!
Some films work best as standalone affairs, with an ending so perfect and definitive that there’s really nowhere left for the story to go. Such is is the case with The Professional, and whilst it would be tempting to pick things up years later, with Portman’s grown-up Mathilda following in her mentor’s violent footsteps, diminishing returns seem likely.
Besides, how would they ever top a villain as paradoxically ridiculous and terrifying as Gary Oldman’s corrupt DEA agent Stansfield?
4 Great – True Lies 2
True Lies is a fine example of just how much fun an action-comedy flick can be, and this was reflected in the film’s hefty box office takings and solid critical reception. Given how well received this Arnold Schwarzenegger/James Cameron collaboration – about a secret agent struggling with his mundane responsibilities as a husband and father – was, a second chapter was originally slated for release.
However, before production could get underway, the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred, and Cameron decided to abort plans for a sequel, no longer comfortable approaching related subject matter in a humorous fashion. Of course, it’s admirable that the director was prepared to scrap his plans in deference to real-world tragic events. Yet even so, it’s a shame he couldn’t find another spin on the material that could have returned Agent Harry Tasker back to our screens – especially considering Cameron’s pedigree for helming decent sequels.
3 Terrible – Ei8ht
Christian teachings only name seven deadly sins, but if we had our way, we’d add the act of making superfluous sequels – such as this Se7en follow-up – to the list! Once again, this is a situation where a studio (here, New Line Cinema) found itself with a critically and commercially profitable film and was eager to replicate that success via a sequel.
Never mind that Se7en concludes in rather close-ended terms, with nearly every major character dead or otherwise incapacitated – there’s still Morgan Freeman’s Detective Somerset to rely on! Purchasing the rights to an original screenplay about a clairvoyant doctor on the hunt for a serial killer, New Line set about retooling it to function as continuation of Se7en.
Unsurprisingly, the fruit of these labors was awful, with Ei8ht – a title only marginally less terrible than Se7en 2 – retroactively (and nonsensically) revealing that Somerset has psychic abilities. Luckily, Se7en director David Fincher emphatically rejected the offer to return for director’s duties (apparently he’d rather use his eye socket as an ashtray than do it) and this poorly conceived follow-up never eventuated.
2 Great –Tron 3
The Tron franchise is a curious beast, in that it enjoys a level of pop culture status arguably greater than it deserves. After all, viewed without rose-colored glasses, the first film is a plodding affair with visual effects that – despite being cutting edge at the time – have aged badly. Its sequel, Tron: Legacy, isn’t much better, suffering from an underwhelming plot and thinly-drawn characters. To be honest, it feels like the appeal of the series is limited to its iconic, neon retro-future aesthetic!
So why do we want Tron 3 to happen? Because if a new creative team capable of crafting a stronger, more heartfelt script were brought onboard to shepherd this already visually stunning universe, we think the finished product could finally live up to Tron’s potential. Indeed, by achieving a level of substance that matches its style, Tron 3 might even justify the series’ inexplicable popularity!
1 Terrible – Brazzaville
If The Professional probably doesn’t need a sequel, then Casablanca definitely doesn’t! Widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, the doomed wartime romance between Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa is the definition of a closed-ended story. But this didn’t stop Warner Bros. from attempting to get a follow-up off the ground after the film proved successful, reminding us that Hollywood seldom favors artistic integrity over commercial opportunity.
The proposed second film, Brazzaville, followed the exploits of Rick and BFF Captain Renault in the Free French garrison of its title. As with many redundant sequels, this clumsy continuation wouldn’t merely have been terrible in its own right, it would have sullied its predecessor as well. Need proof? The script actually reunited Rick and Ilsa as a couple – undoing Casablanca’s classic, bittersweet ending in the process!
What are some other planned sequels you wish had been made? Let us know in the comments!