Sequels That Were Abandoned When the Previous Film Struggled

From Green Lantern 2 and Terminator: Salvation 2, to a Cat In The Hat sequel and Batman Triumphant: sequels killed by the earlier film...

Earlier this year, it was revealed that a sequel was in the early stages for the new Pierce Brosnan action thriller, The November Man. Remember it? Probably not: The November Man would go on to flop in the US, grossing just $25m, and when it finally made it to British cinemas, it was released on just one screen (presumably to fill a contractual obligation somewhere along the line).

There’s been no word yet on the fate of The November Man 2, but the outlook does not seem favorable. It wouldn’t be the first time though that a sequel had been loudly mooted before even a first film was released, only to be quietly abandoned when something – usually related to box office takings – didn’t go to plan.

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Here are a few other examples, and what went wrong…

Battlefield Earth 2

Adapting L Ron Hubbard’s weighty science fiction story Battlefield Earth was something of a labor of love for its star, John Travolta. At this stage, Travolta was in the throes of his career’s second wind. Pulp Fiction had revitalized his work, and the popularity of it, and a string of hits such as Phenomenon, Get Shorty, and Face/Off had given him the clout to make pretty much any film he wanted.

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So he did.

That said, Battlefield Earth still wasn’t an easy project to realise. Studios were cautious of picking up a project with perceived Scientology links, and it took an independent production company

to stump up crucial funding. Travolta injected his own money too, and hired Roger Christian, second unit director on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and an acclaimed, Oscar-winning production designer to helm the movie.

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Hubbard’s book of Battlefield Earth spans just over 1000 pages, and thus the movie dealt with the first 450 or so. The plan was then to cover the rest in a sequel, which was planned from day one. Even during production, Travolta maintained that Battlefield Earth 2 was a live project, and Corey Mandell – who penned the first movie – was hired to write the screenplay for the second.

With the cast signed up and back on board, the movie was set to be released in 2003. All that needed to happen was for the first film to become a success. Which is where it hit a stumbling block.

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Financially, tales of Battlefield Earth‘s failure have been overstated. Those involved maintain it turned a profit, and that’s very likely true. However, the project attracted hostility before its release, due to those aforementioned Scientology links (which were unavoidable, given the author of the source book). On release, the film was quickly destroyed.

That said, there was a further factor that pretty much wiped out any chance of a sequel, and that was the collapse of the production company behind it, Franchise Pictures (the company had been sued for fraud, for apparently overstating the cost of the film to get more money out of investors). Rights would have needed to be untangled, and there wasn’t enough financial incentive and encouragement to do so, it seemed. 

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The sequel

Very simply, it would have covered the 500 or so pages of L Ron Hubbard’s book that the first film didn’t. Since the pummelling of the first film, it seems that plans for the second were quietly and quickly dropped. John Travolta, for one, maintains he’s proud of the first film though. The actor conceded, however, that the movie hadn’t done the business required to get the next one made.

Green Lantern 2

Cast your mind back to San Diego Comic-Con in 2010, when Ryan Reynolds was asked by a young boy to recite the Green Lantern oath. Here’s what happened, as the roof pretty much came off the place…

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It’s easy to forget how much goodwill there was towards Warner Bros getting the Green Lantern movie adaptation right. It put the film into production in the aftermath of the success of The Dark Knight, when the DC movie world was very much on the up. Martin Campbell – he of GoldenEye, Casino Royale, and The Mask Of Zorro – signed up to direct. And Warner Bros lined the film up for a summer 2011 release, with Ryan Reynolds locked down to star.

But an expensive project it turned out to be. The final cost for the film alone came in at around $200m, not helped by a late-in-the-day decision to throw an extra near-$10m at the effects work. The muddled final cut of the film hardly won people over, but Warner Bros spent a fortune to promote the film. Its reward? A global box office take of $220m.

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Yet that was enough to keep conversations going about a sequel, so much so that it looked as if Ryan Reynolds might, at one stage, have to choose between doing Deadpool and Green Lantern 2.

The sequel

Nearly a full year before Green Lantern was released, Warner Bros hired Michael Goldenberg to get to work on a script for Green Lantern 2. And even a week or so after the release of the film itself, when it was clear that it wasn’t going to be a Batman-sized juggernaut, Warner Bros was still talking up sequel chances, and pressing ahead. 

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By February 2012, Ryan Reynolds was less clear of Green Lantern 2. Yet whilst the critical reaction didn’t help, the turning point seemed to be a change of strategy at Warner Bros over its DC properties. Aware it was reliant on Batman and Superman alone, it’s instead opted to reboot Green Lantern, as part of its Justice League-headlined movie universe. The new Green Lantern film will thus happen, but not until 2020. Meanwhile, Goldenberg’s script lies in a vault somewhere…

Batman Triumphant

Director Joel Schumacher seemed to have his 1990s mapped out. First he’d do an adaptation of a John Grisham book (The Client, A Time To Kill), then he’d do a Batman movie (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin). Just before the release of 1997’s Batman & Robin, he had another Grisham adaptation apparently lined up (The Runaway Jury, which would only make it to the screen half a decade later, with Gary Fleder directing), and another trip

to Gotham City, with Batman Triumphant.

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But then Batman & Robin happened.

It’s worth noting that Batman & Robin was not a financial disaster. Far from it. Whilst it was unsuccessful in terms of Batman films, it still grossed $238m, in cinemas alone worldwide, nearly doubling its production budget. Yet it was comfortably the weakest Batman at the box office at that stage. So that was strike one.

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Yet the big problem was the film. It would be fair to say that Batman & Robin was, and is, heavily disliked by a large proportion of the people who watched it. It’s a little known fact that the letters W, T, and F had never been arranged together on the internet before people walked out of opening weekend screenings of the film.

It would be fair to say that Joel Schumacher’s plans for the rest of the 1990s changed within weeks of Batman & Robin‘s release.

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The sequel

The next Batman film would have been Batman Triumphant. Warner Bros had put it into early development, having being impressed – really – with the dailies it was seeing from Batman & Robin. Mark Protosevich was hired to write a screenplay, Schumacher was back on board, and George Clooney would have reprised the role of Batman.

Furthermore, the Scarecrow would have been the main villain this time around – Christopher Nolan would eventually use him in the 2005 reboot, Batman Begins – with Nicolas Cage in line for the role. Also, the character of Harley Quinn was scheduled for an appearance. A 1999 release was mooted, but the project was dead even before the end of 1997. The path to Batman Begins had been laid.

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Terminator: Salvation 2

2015 sees the second attempt to get a brand new Terminator trilogy off the ground, as Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to the series proper in Terminator: Genisys. Two more films after that are already planned.

Yet all involved with Genisys will be only too aware that this road has been previously trodden. Back in 2009, Terminator Salvation, starring Christian Bale and Sam Worthington, was supposed to kickstart a new Terminator trilogy. Under the stewardship of director McG, $200m was invested to bring the film to the screen (before marketing), and $371m was returned at the worldwide box office.

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The problem? That was less than the take of Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines, a film that Salvation was supposed to be an antidote of sorts to (and we say that as fans of the ending of Terminator 3). Still, $371m is a decent amount of change, and as recently as 2012, Arnold Schwarzenegger confirmed that he was to return for an R-rated fifth Terminator film, saying “it does follow Salvation, although some of the producers and the franchise owner were not too happy about the job McG did with it. But they felt it was good enough to carry on, and they want the fifth and sixth instalments to be the closing of the franchise.” In a later interview, he would describe Terminator Salvation as “awful.”

The fly in the ointment though would actually turn out to be rights issues. Halcyon Entertainment, which had bought the Terminator rights and put Terminator: Salvation into production, filed for bankruptcy. Those rights issues wouldn’t ultimately be resolved until the end of 2012, when it was confirmed that the next Terminator films would be “starting from scratch.”

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The sequel

McG had planned to make at least one more Terminator film, and Terminator Salvation‘s narrative is deliberately the first part of a story arc. Christian Bale had been signed up to three Terminator films too, and early reports had suggested that filming would take place in part in the Middle East. Given Christian Bale’s recent comments about working with McG, it’s probably best it never happened…

The Cat In The Hat 2

Off the back of the huge box office gross of The Grinch That Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey, it was pretty much a no-brainer for Universal to get another film based on the work of Dr Seuss to the screen. And what better than the beloved The Cat In The Hat, still an inspiration for theme park rides at Universal’s assorted resorts

?

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Mike Myers, at that point pretty much at the peak of his box office powers, was hired to play the title role, and the movie was duly scheduled for a November 2003 release.

But things did not go to plan. Reviews were not very kind to the film, and it’d be fair to say it hardly charmed family audiences too much either. The box office was respectable, though, at least in the US, where it scrapped together $101m. But takings outside of the US were poor, not helped by a staggered release worldwide that moved such an overt family film away from Christmas. In the UK, for instance, it didn’t turn up until April the following year (Universal held the film for virtually all of Europe until Easter).

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The sequel

Never formally announced this one, but widely expected. And Mike Myers, at the premiere for The Cat In The Hat, said that he expected there to be a sequel, which presumably would have been based on the second book, The Cat In The Hat Comes Back. It still could have happened, but in this instance, we suspect it was more the apathetic reaction to the film rather than the disappointing takings that killed the project. That, and a possibly holdover from the lawsuit between Universal and Myers from a year or two previously, over the abandoned movie Sprockets.

The Subtle Knife

When Peter Jackson struck critical and commercial gold with his Lord Of The Rings trilogy, movie studios immediately went to the fantasy section of Waterstone’s, and picked out other fantasy trilogies they could try and bring to the screen. One of the most potent was and arguably is Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. New Line Cinema thus acquired the rights, and pressed ahead with putting the first of the three books, Northern Lights, into production, under the title of The Golden Compass.

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It took some time to realise. New Line bought the rights to the books back in 2002, but it wouldn’t be until 2007 that The Golden Compass arrived on cinemas screens (director Chris Weitz had departed the project before filming, although Pullman himself intervened, to persuade him to return). Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Ian McKellen and Sam Elliott joined the cast.

Upon release, though, New Line discovered it didn’t have another Lord Of The Rings here. Reviews were okay, but the box office fell some way short of expectatations. The movie is believed to have cost $180m before marketing, and it took just $70m in the US. Yet there was an olive branch. Not only did The Golden Compass pick up an Oscar (for its visual effects work), it also proved to be a sizeable hit elsewhere in the world. Non-US audiences added over $300m to the gross, leaving The Golden Compass with $372m to its name.

Yet a further factor came into play. New Line didn’t immediately write off the chances of a sequel, although it was clear one was in limbo. And then the global economic recession hit, which seemed to be the tipping point, although this was never confirmed. With the financial markets uncertain, New Line was reluctant to gamble, although as Sam Elliott would later suggest, the reaction from the Catholic church may have “scared New Line off”.

The sequel

The plan was for director Chris Weitz to come back for the second film, which was going to be based on The Subtle Knife. New Line got a little way down the road with this one too, hiring Hossein Amini to pen a screenplay, with the idea being to get the film into cinemas by 2011 at the latest. Furthermore, the core cast were all signed up to return.

It took some time for it to be confirmed it wasn’t going to happen though, as only in 2011 did Philip Pullman admit that the movie series based on the books was over as far as the incumbent cast and crew were concerned.

Planet Of The Apes

Here’s a film sequel that wasn’t, oddly, killed by finances at all. In fact, quite the contrary in this case: the 2001 ‘reboot’ of Planet Of The Apes, as directed by Tim Burton, was a good, solid financial success. It earned $362m at the global box office, a comfortable springboard for future films, especially factoring in that Burton’s movie cost $100m to make.

However, all was not well. Behind the scenes, the production was reported not to be a happy one. But perhaps more crucially, the film in this instance really wasn’t that well received at all. Fox needed not just to get an audience through the door, but an audience that would want to come back and see the next one. It didn’t see enough evidence of the latter point, and instead opted to reboot again ten years’ later, with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

The sequel

No plot details were ever released as to where this particular Planet Of The Apes 2 would have gone. Tim Burton, however, said that he’d “rather jump out of a window” than direct a sequel. Fox, all along, has said that it would commission a follow-up if the first made enough money too, and Mark Wahlberg and Helena Bonham-Carter were both earmarked to return for the next film. This one seemed to fizzle out really quite quickly, though. Fox’s decision not to press ahead has certainly been vindicated in recent years, too…

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