Few movie projects have toyed with our emotions as brutally as Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy 3. Ever since 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army left the story of Big Red open to all kinds of possibilities, it seemed only natural that del Toro and Ron Perlman would return to make at least one more movie. Instead, what followed was a lengthy on-again, off-again saga that generated lots of headlines and social media gossip, but nothing more substantial than that.
Certainly, Hellboy II‘s fair-to-middling box-office take – it made about $160 million worldwide on an $85 million investment – might have explained why the producers behind the franchise didn’t trip over themselves to give the sequel a greenlight. Yet the fan following for the Hellboy comics, created by Mike Mignola, the success of Perlman’s incarnation of the lead character, and the affection for del Toro’s unique style of filmmaking created an unusual kind of momentum: a growing cult following for a film that didn’t yet exist. There certainly seemed to be enthusiasm for a third Hellboy from del Toro and Perlman – so what exactly happened?
The first stumbling block was arguably del Toro’s startlingly busy schedule at the end of the 2000s. Around the time he’d finished Hellboy II, the Mexican director had an array of projects swirling about, which included the possibility of making a Thor film for Marvel, an adaptation of Tarzan, and a big-screen version of Microsoft’s shooter, Halo.
The big, big project occupying del Toro’s time, though, was The Hobbit. Having signed on to direct an adaptation of Tolkien’s book in 2008, with Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson collaborating as producer, del Toro spent months developing the fantasy for the screen. When financial problems at MGM – who were co-financing the project – resulted in multiple delays, del Toro politely departed.
The Hobbit would, of course, carry on with Peter Jackson back at the helm as director. For del Toro, however, the departure meant that he’d worked for two years on a movie with little to show for it, at least publically; sadly, the same was also true for At The Mountains Of Madness, a promising-sounding adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s cult novella. It too proved to be a project fated to remain in development hell.
A disappointing side-effect was that, despite all the promise these projects contained, del Toro wouldn’t make another film until 2013: his effervescent kaiju-versus-monsters flick, Pacific Rim. The knock-on effect, inevitably, is that Hellboy 3 has constantly remained on the backburner, mention of it occasionally emerging in interviews – either from del Toro, Perlman, or Mike Mignola – before it all quietly simmers down again.
In 2010, for example, del Toro could only say that Hellboy 3 would be coming along at some point in the next couple of years, and that a script hadn’t yet been written. Excitement briefly flared up again in 2012, when Ron Perlman – charmingly – donned his Hellboy garb to attend a Make-A-Wish event. At the same time, he told Entertainment Weekly how enthusiastic he was to make a third film to round off the trilogy:
“Everything that was done in both movies was leading up to this destiny, written in stone, of what Hellboy has been summoned to Earth to do. To not do it, particularly in light of the scope that Guillermo is thinking of for the resolve, would be in my mind a little bit of a shame.”
If production company Relativity Media – and distributor Universal Pictures – were reluctant to fund Hellboy 3, then the project appeared to have found a new home one year later. Legendary Pictures, with whom del Toro made Pacific Rim, were suggested as a viable partner in making the Hellboy sequel a reality – something Perlman seemed happy about seeing.
“I loved working for Legendary, and I know for Guillermo working on Pacific Rim was one of his greatest experiences,” Perlman told Shock Till You Drop in 2013. “The reason I loved working for them is because Guillermo was so happy. I came in six months into the shoot and he seemed as fresh as a daisy, simply because he was working for someone who appreciated and supported his outlandish visions of what he wanted to put on the screen. My immediate, silent wish was, wouldn’t it be great if these guys came in and helped resolve the Hellboy series.”
The problem, however, was that studios were left with a decreasing appetite to invest in another dark, effects-laden comic book fantasy. Hellboy and Hellboy II had both enjoyed a healthy second life on DVD, but the whole movie industry was slowly changing at the start of the 2010s. The recent financial crisis left studios wary of investing in projects that might only just break even in cinemas; to make matters worse, the home video market could no longer be relied on to improve a film’s profits.
As Simon Brew explained earlier this year, the DVD and Blu-ray market hit its peak in 2013, when such films as Hotel Transylvania and Despicable Me 2 could be counted on to sell millions of copies. In the years since, those numbers have steadily declined, as the convenience of streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have eaten into sales.
These were all contributing factors in Hellboy 3‘s ultimate demise; del Toro and Perlman may have been enthusiastic, but getting the finances together proved to be perennially difficult. As del Toro put it in 2015, “The hard fact is that the movie’s going to need about $120 million and there’s nobody knocking down doors to give it to us. It would be great to complete the trilogy, but in a way I don’t see the world – the industry – supporting the idea.”
The final roll of the dice appeared to arrive early in 2017, when del Toro tweeted that, if he got 100,000 votes on Twitter, he’d arrange a meeting with Mike Mignola and Ron Perlman to discuss Hellboy 3‘s future. Unsurprisingly, del Toro’s tweet got plenty of attention, not least on Den Of Geek. One month later, though, del Toro finally put those hopes to rest.
“Sorry to report,” he wrote in a February tweet. “Spoke with all parties. Must report that 100 percent the sequel will not happen.”
What’s doubly frustration about the death of Hellboy 3 is that so much of it came down to bad timing. Had del Toro’s projects after Hellboy II not detained him for so long, it’s possible that he might have found time to develop a sequel. Had the R-rated hits Deadpool and Logan landed a little sooner, maybe a studio would have been more keen to invest in del Toro’s dark superhero fantasy.
To date, we don’t know exactly what transpired in that final February interview between del Toro, Perlman and Mignola; publically, del Toro and Perlman appeared to be enthusiastic about closing out the franchise. Del Toro clearly had ideas bubbling around in his head, since he talked about them openly during a Reddit session in 2014, where he talked about “Hellboy finally coming terms with his destiny” and becoming the beast of the Apocalypse.
Whatever the killing blow was – financing difficulties, or conflicting schedules between actor and director -the news that the Hellboy franchise is being rebooted draws a solid line under almost ten years of hope and disappointment. According to Mike Mignola, the Hellboy series is to be revived at Millennium, the studio behind Olympus Has Fallen; Stranger Things‘ David Harbour is to star as the new Hellboy, while The Descent and Game Of Thrones‘ Neil Marshall is being courted to direct.
The result of the new project may prove fruitful; Harbour’s a great actor, Marshall’s an accomplished, underrated genre director, and the writing team – Christopher Golden, Andrew Cosby as well as Mignola – is reassuringly steeped in comic books. But as keen as we are to see Hellboy: Rise Of The Blood Queen, as the reboot’s called, we can’t help but feel a pang of regret that del Toro and Perlman’s Hellboy will never reappear. As it stands, we can only rewatch Hellboy II‘s hopeful, possibility-filled ending and wonder what might have been.