When it was announced in the late 1980s that the then thirtysomething director Tim Burton had landed the job of bringing Batman to the big screen for Warner Bros., approval was far from unanimous. Burton was a gamble, although as 1989’s Batman would prove, a well-chosen bet.
Despite being a gamble, Burton had some pedigree. Just two movies into his career, he was already proving to be one of Hollywood’s most interesting mainstream directors. And the studio had, after all, seen early cuts of 1988’s Beetlejuice, Burton’s second film.
The fantasy comedy, starring Michael Keaton in the title role, actually came to Burton while he was already working on Batman (his first film, 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, had proven a surprise hit). While the studio dithered over giving Batman the greenlight (it’s easy to forget now that in the 1980s Batman was far from the pop culture juggernaut that he is now), he was sent the script to Beetlejuice, and it quickly caught his imagination. He oversaw its reworking, ramping up the comedy and pulling back a little on the darkness.
Filming began in March 1987, with the film released a year later. It proved another big hit for Burton, and the following year, its special effects would win an Academy Award. The studio was delighted.
Even though Burton was knee-deep in Batman – that Warner Bros. had finally given the go-ahead to – it was also up for the idea of a Beetlejuice sequel. Thus, once Batman was safely out in cinemas, and with 1990’s Edward Scissorhands nearly done, Burton hired Jonathan Gems – who would later pen Mars Attacks! for him – to put together the guts of a Beetlejuice sequel.
The resultant Beetlejuice 2 idea was called Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, and it’d be fair to list it as one of cinema’s most intriguing lost sequels. The idea would have seen the Deetz family from the original film heading to Hawaii, developing a resort on top of ground that disrupts a resting spirit. Said spirit would come back to life, cause chaos, and require the return of Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice. Burton reportedly liked the contrast between the macabre elements of the first film, and the unlikely Hawaiian backdrop.
For a while, it seemed to be going somewhere. Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder were both set to return, on the condition that Tim Burton would direct again. Warner Bros. seemed enthusiastic.
But then Warner Bros. also had another film it wanted Burton and Keaton to make a sequel to, and Batman Returns quickly became a priority instead. With the pair of them focused on their return to Gotham City, Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian went on the back burner, and Batman Returns would instead be readied for the summer of 1992. In the aftermath of that, Burton’s desire to make another big studio film was dampened, at least for the short term. Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian was left in development hell.
But its flame didn’t fully extinguish until sometime afterwards, with Warner Bros. happy to keep it simmering (including in the form of an underrated animated series, although one that neither Burton nor Keaton were involved in).
In the mid-2000s, Kevin Smith was infamously approached to do a rewrite on the script (and it’s fair to assume that other writers had been involved too by this stage), but he turned the job down. By the end of the decade, though, the studio seemed to have finally retired the Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian idea, in favor of an alternative sequel project.
In late 2011, Seth Grahame-Smith was snapped up by the studio to pen a different sequel to Beetlejuice. Burton remained interested in a follow-up – Beetlejuice has always been a particular favorite of his amongst his films – and as such, Keaton too was open to a return. Things slowed down again, although in early 2015, the project once again got fresh impetus, as Grahame-Smith confirmed at that time that his script was finished, and Tim Burton had plans to make it his next film.
But Tim Burton didn’t make it his next film.
Instead, Burton opted to make Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. And while Beetlejuice 2 continued to develop as he made that particular movie, Burton then opted to film Disney’s live-action Dumbo project after that, a movie that’s expected to keep him occupied until early 2019. Despite recent reports that Mike Vukadinovich (Rememory) is working on another version of the sequel, one that Keaton and Burton would be interested in, it doesn’t seem all that likely.
Is the Beetlejuice sequel dead? More than likely. Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian always looked like something of a long shot and the more recent sequel idea would likely have gone before the cameras had Burton and Keaton given it the nod back in 2015. But they didn’t, and as each year passes, the sequel film’s chances decrease…