Sequels are everywhere in Hollywood. It’s a practical pastime of the trade that successful products get return trips, though this trek may not always prove as easy as it seems. Outlandish pitches, hack scripts, or even the genuinely clever follow-up have filtered through studio funnels, to the point where plans are eagerly announced to the public. Then, as if it were nothing short of illegal, executives sell it off to the highest bidder, a creative junk yard hocking quality parts.
It’s happened more than one might think, with supposed sequels to Casablanca (1942), E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Gladiator (2000) coming and going like daily gossip. Even with heavy hitter support and ambitious filmmakers at the helm, studios ultimately shake their head and cast the long wand of denial – a surefire way to permanently shelve a project.
But this list isn’t so much concerned with those outlandish options as it is the ones who got sold off somewhere else. The ten flicks on this list are originals on the surface, but sequels to the core. Some fare better as a result, while others buckle under an unflattering comparison. Either way, here are 10 Movies That Were Originally Intended To Be Sequels.
10. Ghosts of Mars (2001) = Escape From Mars
1996’s Escape From L.A. was a pretty fat flop. Though it sported the dynamic duo of director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell, the outdated lunacy that gifted a climactic basketball game really soured Snake Plissken for the studio.
As a result, Screen Gems forced Carpenter to alter his third Plissken tale by shuffling around some characters and changing the title ‘Escape From’ to ‘Ghosts of’. Literally, that’s all the revising he did. The plot, dealing with humans on Mars who become possessed by bloodthirsty aliens, has the character’s eye-patched excitement all over it, down to the hilarious naming of new hero ‘Desolation’ Williams (Ice Cube).
Cube isn’t bad as a Kurt Russell replacement, he’s terrible. It doesn’t help that he adorned the same camo-pants/tank-top combo that Snake originally made famous, but even without such wardrobe laziness, the film is just not good. Hokey dialogue, confusing flashbacks, outright amateur acting, it’s all here.
Ghost of Mars bombed even bigger than L.A., proving to both fans and execs that a bad Snake Plissken is still better than no Snake at all. This is one intended sequel that would’ve been better off staying the course.
9. Nighthawks (1981) = The French Connection III
Nighthawks was a nightmare to get made. Production woes, studio censorship, and a strained relationship between Sylvester Stallone and Rutger Hauer did little to lighten the load of this eventual box office disappointment.
Reviews were positive, but that didn’t stop the film’s cast and crew from looking poorly upon this police thriller – a shame really, given the intensity that makes Nighthawks such an unsung gem of the 80’s. Stallone, paired with partner Billy Dee Williams, gives one of his best performances as a cop hot on the trail of taunting terrorist ‘Wulgar’ Reinhardt (Hauer).
That the setting and mood is reminiscent of William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971) is no coincidence, but rather leftovers from what was originally intended to be another Popeye Doyle flick.
Set six years after well received French Connection II (1975), III was set to star Gene Hackman and a rumored Richard Pryor, though Hackman’s reluctance to return led 20th Century Fox to toss the script over to Universal Studios. Once there, screenwriter David Shaber changed Doyle to DaSilva, and director Bruce Malmuth cast Hauer in the American role that made him a star. The rest, to coin a phrase, is production hell history.
8. Born on the Fourth of July (1989) = Platoon 2
Platoon was an enormous success in 1986, netting Oscar nominations and instant stardom for former screenwriter Oliver Stone. Consequently, the director wished to return to his Vietnam roots after follow-up hit Wall Street (1987), and bought the rights to Ron Kovic’s autobiography Born on the Fourth of July.
Stone’s original intention was to bend the story to Platoon’s Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), detailing his struggles in adjusting to civilian life after the war. Though wildly promising in premise, Stone ultimately chose against it on the grounds he do disservice to the real life Ron Kovic.
Given the impressive final product, it’s tough to argue with him. Fourth of July is a revelatory biopic, forging a foundation of disillusion and hope all at once, aided by Stone’s palpable passion. Free to follow its source material and build a backstory that differed from Taylor’s, the film establishes itself as a stronger companion piece to Platoon than a true sequel.
It also didn’t hurt that Tom Cruise is stunning in his first Academy Award nominated performance. Retrospectively, it’s become the second leg of Stone’s unofficial Vietnam trilogy, so he ultimately got to have his cake and eat it too.
7. Cyborg (1989) = Masters of the Universe II
Masters of the Universe face-planted at the box office in 1987. Intended as a Conan The Barbarian type franchise starter, the film was so poorly made it nearly sapped the superstardom of Dolph Lundgren single-handedly. That it didn’t is either a case of sheer luck or annoyed disappointment, depending on how one feels about the Swedish bodybuilder.
Either way, this lack of success didn’t phase Cannon Films in the slightest, who was knee deep in Masters of the Universe II when Marvel (who owned the character rights) pulled the plug on production. Seeing as it was too late to turn back, Cannon called in rising star Jean Claude Van Damme and switched ancient fantasy to cyberpunk karate for Cyborg.
Written in a weekend, the script for Cyborg resulted in yet another critical bashing. The shallow tone, flat acting, and uncharismatic Van Damme were the sorest points of reference, though it improved upon Masters in the one way that counted: financially.
As the first in a cult favorite trilogy, Cyborg actually scored big with moviegoers, establishing Van Damme as a certifiable star and condemning He-Man to an embarrassing cinematic existence. Though not exactly highbrow, this is one of the few entries that improved upon its sequel standing and came out on top. Well played, Cannon.
6. Solace (2015) = Ei8ght
Conversely, Solace is a terrific example of a movie that shouldn’t have materialized from a sequel. Rumors of a Se7en (1995) follow-up arose fairly fast after the tremendous success of the David Fincher film, and writers dreamt up a wacky premise that had Morgan Freeman’s Somerset returning.
Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, and Gwyneth Paltrow were long gone (for obvious reasons), and the supposed retiree would tackle another devious serial killer – this time, with the added bonus of psychic powers. It was a ridiculous attempt to extend the life of a film with a concrete resolution, and studios seemingly agreed by putting the kibosh on it for nearly two decades.
Then, just like that, New Line Cinema thought it would be a good idea to dust the story off and reupholster it with Anthony Hopkins. Casting the famed Hannibal Lecter as a criminal psychologist, Solace (formerly titled Ei8ght) put out a capable cast of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Colin Farrell as the telepathic murderer.
Nevertheless, the inadequacies of the film are crippling in comparison to Se7en, not just as a sequel but as a flatly paced thriller. The real kicker comes down to quality of content – something that’s simply nonexistent here. It’s still in the box with Gwyneth.