The Rocketeer celebrated its 30th anniversary earlier this summer. The 1991 film starred Bill Campbell as Cliff Secord, a young stunt pilot who ends up in possession of an experimental jetpack and ends up embroiled in a crossfire between Nazi spies (led by Timothy Dalton), and the mafia (led by Paul Sorvino). It’s a terrific, charming action-adventure film, effectively paying homage to the movie serials of the 1930s and other Hollywood flicks of the era, all set to one of James Horner’s very best scores. But despite positive reviews, The Rocketeer wasn’t quite the Batman-sized blockbuster that studio Buena Vista Pictures hoped for at the time, and there were never any sequels produced.
While based on a gorgeous comic by Dave Stevens (who worked closely with the film’s writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo to adapt the character to the screen), there weren’t a whole lot of Rocketeer comics to adapt in the first place. The film loosely adapts the first handful of Stevens’ comics, making changes for the screen where appropriate and necessary. Nevertheless, if you check out those comics (and you absolutely should, they’re incredible), you can see the broad strokes of the movie right there on the page.
The Rocketeer 2 Story
The studio definitely had a Rocketeer franchise in mind when they went into production on the film, and had already signed Bilson and De Meo on to write a sequel if the box office warranted it.
“I know we were signed for a sequel [but] we never sat down with it,” Bilson tells Den of Geek. “It was just between Dave [Stevens], Paul [De Meo], and I.”
And while there was never a script written for The Rocketeer 2, the intention was always to adapt the next story from Stevens’ Rocketeer comics, which would have seen Cliff follow his girlfriend to New York City as she pursued her acting and modeling career. Of course, just as the first movie had to take some liberties with adapting Stevens’ first Rocketeer story, so would The Rocketeer 2 have had to change things up a little bit from “Cliff’s New York Adventure.”
For one thing, Cliff finds himself allied with a character who is quite clearly pulp hero The Shadow in all but name. It’s a tradition carried over from the first story arc, where Cliff’s rocket pack wasn’t invented by Howard Hughes as we see in the film, but proto-superhero Doc Savage (who is seen but never actually named). For another, the grotesque villain Lothar who bedevils Cliff, Peevy, and Jenny in the first film was actually the key heavy in this second arc. Since Lothar was dispatched at the climax of the first movie, he obviously wouldn’t have been available for The Rocketeer 2.
“We were always going to do some version of the New York thing, [but] we didn’t figure it out,” Bilson says. “We didn’t know who the bad guy was. We knew it was going to be the next movement of the story, [but] it wouldn’t have had Lothar or any of that. It would have been Cliff and Jenny and bad guys in New York. That was all we knew. Again, we got nerfed pretty hard as soon as it opened.”
The Return of the Rocketeer
With a respectable but not franchise-starting box office haul, hopes for The Rocketeer 2 fizzled out pretty quickly. But 30 years later, there’s hope once again. Disney+ has just announced plans for The Return of The Rocketeer, what appears to be a legacy sequel to the original movie.
David and Jessica Oyelowo are producing, and David may star under the helmet and rocket pack. The story will focus on “a retired Tuskegee airman who takes up the Rocketeer mantle,” according to Deadline. This sounds like a fantastic way to move the story forward while still remaining true to the vision of both the original comics and the film. Ed Ricourt (Now You See Me) is writing the screenplay.
We’ll have much more on the entire history of The Rocketeer movie from Danny Bilson very soon!