The power of Christ may compel you, but at least in Hollywood the Devil still holds some sway. Indeed, an entire trilogy of The Exorcist sequels is now taking shape at Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures, and Peacock, and the new movies will even see Ellen Burstyn reprise the role of Chris MacNeil for the first time in 50 years. That’s some damn powerful casting.
Producer Jason Blum recently revealed to Den of Geek that David Gordon Green was writing a sequel to the seminal 1973 horror movie which would “be like David’s Halloween sequel,” referencing the 2018 reboot that ignored all the previous Halloween follow-ups and acted as a definitive follow-up to the 1978 original. That movie has since been spun off into a full fledged trilogy, including this October’s Halloween Kills. At the time, it was an open question whether that meant Green’s The Exorcist would ignore the other Exorcist sequels and prequels released between 1977 and 2005. However, in a recent interview Green suggested that his new film would not necessarily contradict those other sequels, even as it goes in its own way from them.
We now have a lot more clarity on what that way is thanks to Universal, which has confirmed the new movie will star the Tony-winning Leslie Odom Jr. in an unspecified role, as well as Burstyn. Additionally, they revealed actor-writer-producer Danny McBride and Scott Teams co-wrote the story for the new Exorcist movie. (McBride previously co-wrote 2018’s Halloween.) The finished script for the new movie is penned by Green and Peter Sattler (Broken Diamonds), and is already considered to be the first part of a trilogy. Further the movie has been slated for an Oct. 13, 2023 release date.
The news is fairly remarkable on several levels. First there is the fact that Burstyn is reprising the role of Chris at all. Burstyn famously declined appearing in John Boorman’s misbegotten Exorcist II, which arguably sank all interest in the series as a franchise for a generation (more on that in a moment). While the movie unfortunately saw Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, and Kitty Winn return and somewhat besmirch their characters from William Friedkin’s 1973 masterpiece, Burstyn was vindicated by how scathingly the movie was received, including by the author and screenwriter of the first Exorcist, William Peter Blatty. Blatty won an Oscar for adapting his own book of the same name into the first movie, and eventually wrote and directed the single Exorcist sequel worth a damn, Exorcist III (1990)—but even then that was only a tangentially connected semi-spinoff of the original film that utterly ignored Exorcist II. It also failed at the box office in part due to the reception of Exorcist II.
Nonetheless, as the years have passed the original Exorcist has remained widely considered to be one of the scariest films ever produced, if not the scariest. It is also the highest grossing horror movie of all-time when adjusted or inflation. While its direct sequels didn’t succeed at the box office, the movies it influenced are legion, including recent box office hits like The Conjuring franchise.
It’s likely for that reason Universal and Peacock are betting so big on the brand being worthy of resurrection in the year of its 50th anniversary. The original movie still has a grim aura around it, even for folks who’ve never seen it. Blum told us this month that “I love to do [these] kinds of movies because people are very emotional about it… Remember most of the audience coming to this—95 percent of the audience who will, if we do our job right, come to see this movie—will not have seen the first Exorcist or even heard of it.”
That level of potential profitability has led to a whole trilogy to be planned, and with Peacock to be visibly announced as a partner in the venture, possibly suggesting the sequels will have a truncated theatrical window, albeit Universal has made clear the first movie will debut in theaters in 2023. It’s also led talent like Odom to join the project. A star of stage and screen, Odom won a Tony for playing Aaron Burr in Hamilton and has since been nominated for an Emmy this year for that same performance. He has also been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami. He also is currently filming Rian Johnson’s highly anticipated Benoit Blanc mystery, Knives Out 2.
So getting Odom to agree to lead The Exorcist for a new generation while also getting Burstyn to agree to reprise one of her most beloved roles after she wisely turned down Exorcist II suggests a lot of money and confidence in the Blumhouse approach to the material. Albeit, if Burstyn is coming back, I am sure fans will already be speculating if and when Linda Blair will be invited to join in the franchise-building exercise…