Hollywood is a strange place, where movies are greenlit all the time, but for one reason or another, never seem to materialize. It's more surprising when those movies happen to be sequels. After all, if one movie is successful, doesn't it make sense that a follow-up could do just as well?
But not every movie needs a sequel. Take, for example, Gladiator. For whatever reason, DreamWorks put a sequel to the Oscar winner into development, despite the fact that it's main character died. Musician Nick Cave wrote a bizarre screenplay about Maximus (Russell Crowe) coming back from the dead as an immortal, and fighting in battles all the way until the 20th Century. It never got made.
But sometimes, the ideas for sequels are reworked and developed into something else. Sometimes, elements of the plot are lifted and put into another movie, sometimes character names are changed after an actor bows out, and sometimes a story just gets picked up decades after a true sequel would be viable.
Without further ado, here are 10 Movies That Were Originally Sequels
10 Lethal Weapon 4 tries to be Die Hard with a Vengeance, fails
Despite being one of the most popular action films of all time, the Die Hard series has a peculiar history. Originally based on a novel called Nothing Lasts Forever, which sounds like a Bond film but was actually the sequel to a novel called The Detective, which had already been adapted into a movie by the same name starring Frank Sinatra. Still with us? It gets weirder.
Die Hard 2, aka the one where the villain does tai chi in his birthday suit, was partially based on yet another novel, however that book was unrelated to the novel(s) that inspired the first. Carrying on this tradition of finding source material in unexpected places, Die Hard with a Vengeance began as a spec script called Simon Says, which found its way to Fox with the intention of having it be a standalone film starring burgeoning action star Brandon Lee. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be as Lee was tragically killed while filming The Crow.
Warner then tried to purchase the script with the intention of having Riggs and Murtaugh run around LA diffusing the bombs of a terrorist with a penchant for riddles. This fell through and instead we got Jet Li and Chris Rock for Lethal Weapon and a moodier Riggs (we mean McClane) and an infinitely angrier Murtaugh (sorry, Zeus), for Die Hard with a Vengeance.
9 From the Ashes of Masters of the Universe 2 rises Cyborg
Cannon Films was a production company that focused on making low to mid-budget movies, experiencing their greatest success in the 70s and 80s. Despite the company’s rather eclectic output, the Cannon name will probably be forever synonymous with their hyper-masculine B-movies. Tapping into the heyday of action movies in the 1980s, Cannon saw lucrative returns from movies like the Death Wish sequels and a number of Chuck Norris flicks that were all essentially re-hashes of the same movie.
Cannon was on shaky financial footing when they opted to make Masters of the Universe, an action movie starring Dolph Lundgren based on a Mattel toy that Cannon’s marketing team called “the Star Wars of the 80s.” Cannon was convinced that the movie would be a success (it wasn’t) and immediately began investing in the follow-up sequel. After Masters of the Universe flopped, Cannon was left with dwindling cash and $2 million spent in sets and costumes for the now dead in the water Masters of the Universe 2.
Known for their ability to churn out flicks quickly, Cannon hired a B-movie director by the name of Albert Pyun, who wrote the Jean Claude Van Damme futuristic martial arts spectacle Cyborg in a single weekend, all while managing to repurpose the abandoned costumes and sets of Masters of the Universe 2. Thrifty indeed.
8 Escape from Mars becomes Ghosts of Mars
The name John Carpenter is synonymous with cult films. The influence that his films have had on cinema is far reaching and his legacy as an imaginative director of B-movies has been set in stone. One of his most famous and beloved characters is Snake Plissken, the eye-patch wearing commando who always finds himself in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Snake's first adventure back in '81 saw him escaping from a future New York City that had been converted into a penal colony, which probably wasn't much of a stretch, considering the state of the Big Apple in the 80s. The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike, but Snake's second turn on the big screen, in '97s Escape from LA, was a bust.
Carpenter suggested that if the second one didn't fail as hard as it did, he had a script for a third movie that would have featured Snake escaping from Mars. We never saw Kurt Russell don the eyepatch again, but in 2001, we did see a rag tag group of police officers and convicts battle their way through hordes of possessed Martians in Ghosts of Mars, an allegedly re-purposed Escape From Mars script. Not convinced? Check out the sleeveless black shirt that Ice Cube's Desolation Williams wears in Ghosts of Mars and compare that with Plissken's getup of choice.
7 Soldier is a spinoff of Blade Runner
Any self respecting fan of cinema will concede that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is one of the finest examples of science fiction the medium has to offer. This may come as a shock to some, but the film was not well-received when it originally came out. Obviously, people slowly changed their tune, and we are now poised, three decades later, to see a proper sequel to the sci-fi classic with Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling.
What most people don’t realize is that David Webb Peoples, the screenwriter to the original 1982 film, wrote the script for the 1998 film Soldier, starring Kurt Russell. Peoples has gone on to admit that he wrote the script as a “spinoff sidequel” that takes place in a shared fictional universe with Blade Runner.
It seems like a stretch as the two films are vastly different in tone, but the evidence is there. Soldier makes numerous references to Blade Runner, and even features a “spinner” vehicle among the wreckage of the waste disposal planet that features heavily in the movie. In addition, it is implied that the super-soldiers that make up the film’s primary antagonists are replicants, and there is even dialogue that references the “Tennhauser Gate”; first mentioned by Roy Blatty in his emotional soliloquy in Blade Runner.
Unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end, as Soldier opted to swap out the dark philosophy of Blade Runner for sub-standard action fare.
6 Django Unchained 2 loses Django, becomes The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino’s latest pulp fiction is a gory, sadistic and unnervingly funny film that bears more than an aesthetic similarity with his previous film, Django Unchained. While Tarantino has talked at length about ideas for sequels and spinoffs, most notably the Vega Brothers and catching up with Uma Thurman’s Beatrix Kiddo, not a single one of these ideas has made it to the big screen.
After filming 2012’s Django Unchained, the auteur claimed that he fell in love with the western so much that he intended to do a proper sequel, much to the delight of fans. Fortunately, Tarantino nixed the idea of having Django being one of the eight souls trapped in Minnie’s Haberdashery, as he believed that the character didn’t fit with the rest of the bottom-feeding scum there.
While it would have been great to see Django brandish his six shooters for some bloody justice, the characters presence would have sapped all of the tension from the film. The Hateful Eight is about bad guys telling lies and doing bad things, and we all know that Django ain’t no bad guy.
5 The Detective 2 evolves into Die Hard
Many folks think that Die Hard was originally meant to be a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Commando in which Ah-nold both feeds a fawn by hand and single-handedly lays waste to a small army. Commando screenwriter Steven de Souza has debunked this as myth, but Die Hard was actually meant to be a sequel to another movie entirely.
In 1966, author Roderick Thorp published The Detective, which would go on to become a movie starring Frank Sinatra as the titular detective in 1968. The film ended up being one of the highest grossing movies of that year, and critics praised Sinatra's performance as John Leland, a detective trying to piece together a supposedly open and shut homicide in the midst of personal struggles.
In 1979, Thorp published a sequel to The Detective titled Nothing Lasts Forever, in which Leland is trapped in a skyscraper after it is taken over by German terrorists and is trying to save his granddaughter. The novel was then adapted by Fox into what would become 1988's Die Hard. Fox was contractually obligated to offer Sinatra the chance to reprise his character from The Detective. However, he turned it down as he would have been well into his seventies when production started.
So Leland was turned into McClane, a granddaughter was swapped out with a wife, and one of the greatest Christmas movies of all time was born!
4 Colombiana is Mathilda in disguise
In 1994, the world was introduced to Natalie Portman and watched as her entire family is gunned down by a crazy-eyed Gary Oldman. Taken in by her quiet next door neighbor, who happens to be a mob hitman, the two form a peculiar bond, as she teaches him how to read and he teaches her how to factor in wind resistance when shooting someone at great distances.
Leon: The Professional is fondly remembered by many, and rumors of a sequel have kept fans on the edge of their seats for years. Supposedly going under the working title of Mathilda (the name of Portman's character), it would have picked up a number of years later with Mathilda putting the skills Leon taught her to use as a professional assassin.
Writer/director Luc Besson left the production company that made Leon:The Professional in order to start his own movie studio, a move that created a rift that saw the original studio hold on to the rights for Leon with an iron fist. As time passed, Besson conceded that Mathilda would never be made, and the idea transformed into 2011's Colombiana with Zoe Saldana.
Given the lukewarm reception Colombiana received, it's probably better that Mathilda stay buried, and the legacy of Leon: The Professional remains untarnished.
3 The French Connection III - Gene Hackman = Nighthawks
As the gruff Popeye Doyle, Gene Hackman spent two films tracking down and systematically tearing down an international drug distribution ring. The French Connection is considered one of the greatest thrillers ever made, and the car chase scene that sees Popeye commandeer a civilian vehicle and chase an elevated train is, hands down, one of the best choreographed chase scenes in cinematic history.
With an iconic first instalment and a well-received sequel, it seemed as though another story involving the tenacious Popeye was inevitable. So it’s no surprise that a third film was commissioned, which would have paired Doyle with a wisecracking cop, rumored to be played by Richard Pryor.
The story involved Doyle and his partner attempt to take down an international terrorist who targeted major metropolitan areas. Hackman balked at the idea, which found the script being acquired by Universal, who simply replaced “Doyle” with “DaSilva” and Hackman for Stallone and Nighthawks was born. A film ahead of its time, this is one that deserves another look.
2 Solace was the ridiculously titled Ei8ht aka Se7en 2: Se7ener
David Fincher’s 1995 film Se7en is incredibly unsettling and infinitely depressing. Detectives tracking down a serial killer who meticulously plans his murders around the seven deadly sins is creepy enough, but added to this nightmare stew is an ending that destroys all hope you have in humanity. Naturally, Hollywood wanted to milk this film into a franchise.
Spoiler alert for those of you who haven’t seen a 21-year-old movie, but out of the four main characters of the film, one has his face shot off, another goes to prison in the best case scenario, or is driven crazy/kills himself in the worst case (it's left ambiguous), and another now fits neatly inside a Fed-Ex box.
Not letting things like the awful outcomes for three out of the four major players in the film discourage them, Hollywood dreamt up a sequel in which Morgan Freeman’s character has to track down another serial killer, only this time he has psychic powers. Or maybe he had them all along, that’s not really made clear. David Fincher said that he would rather put cigarettes out on his eyeballs than make Ei8ht, at which point the script was retooled as a standalone film called Solace with Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell.
1 Third film in planned Chinatown trilogy salvaged by Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
This one may seem like a bit of a stretch, but bear with us. In Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Eddie Valiant is a private detective who lives in 1940s Hollywood, only in this reality, humans live side by side with cartoons. Roger Rabbit, a cartoon B-lister, is framed for the murder of Marvin Acme, the owner and creator of Toontown, where all the toons call home. With evidence pointing at Roger, Eddie Valiant is reluctantly left to solve the whodunit.
With Acme dead and the ownership of Toontown up for grabs, Judge Doom, a nefarious fellow who has created Dip, the only known way to kill a toon, tries to wrestle ownership from the toons who live there. Before he can do so, however, Valiant finds out that Doom owns Cloverleaf Industries, a company who has bought out the Pacific Electric trolley cars in Hollywood, so that a proposed freeway can be constructed. Eddie finally surmises that Judge Doom is responsible for Acme's death, as it is his intention to take control of Toontown so that he can destroy it with Dip, making way for the planned freeway.
What if we told you this is the same plot (sans cartoons) that was to be used for the planned third film in the Chinatown series? And that instead of Eddie Valiant, Jack Nicholson’s J.J. “Jake” Gittes was to uncover the conspiracy to replace trolley lines with a freeway? Did we mention that the working title of this film was Cloverleaf? Is your mind blown?
Of course, the commercial failure of The Two Jakes put the project on the shelf indefinitely until it was uncovered by screenwriters Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman, who would go on to use it to write Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Can you think of any other recycled sequels that we may have missed? Let us know in the comments!