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Sequels’ Wars – remakes and comebacks of iconic sci-fi movies on the way to the screen

Sequels’ Wars – remakes and comebacks of iconic sci-fi movies on the way to the screen

As the pandemic starts to (hopefully) ease and there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines being administered across the world, Hollywood is preparing to get back into gear on a number of blockbuster properties. With cinema audiences across the globe being shut for so long, audiences may potentially be a little cautious to get back into the cinema. It comes as no surprise therefore that a number of studios are banking on well known properties to entice audiences back to the movie theatre, or at least persuade them to pay premium rates on the many streaming platforms that now exist to see the latest blockbuster, for those who are still cautious to head out.

Bankable blockbuster hits that have proven to be consistently successful may be a low-risk gamble when cinemas do reopen, as due to their avid fanbase, and consistent record, even if they underperform, they are still likely to make a huge profit. One such franchise with a sequel currently in development that falls into this bracket is the “Matrix” series. Keanu Reeves is set to reprise his iconic role as Neo, in the upcoming “Matrix 4”.

If all goes to plan, the sequel should land in both cinemas and the streaming service, HBO Max, in December 2021. Directed by Lana Wachowski, the sequel is also set to feature Carrie Ann Moss reprising her role as Trinity, and began production back in February 2020. The announcement of the sequel took many by surprise when it was first announced, and the storyline, including how Neo returns after the last instalment, remains shrouded in mystery.

Some believe it will feature a “reset” Matrix with a new lead character, with the character of Neo possibly being a mentor on this occasion, others are debating whether it will take place in a completely alternate timeline altogether, and one very interesting theory is stating that the original trilogy will exist as a computer game in this movie, where Neo and Trinity may essentially be revealed to be computer game characters, adding an even further layer to the series main storyline of lives essentially being simulations.

sequels, Matrix 4

Keanu Reeves, Carrie Ann Moss & Lana Wachowski on the set of Matrix 4

Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne have both gone on the record to say they will not return, so it would seem Morpheus and Agent Smith may not be coming back on this occasion, unless they are recast. The latest rumour however at Screen Rant suggests that Morpheus may still reappear, but this time as the main villain, which would certainly shake things up. Whatever happens, this sequel is certified to be a box office hit for Warner Bros, and if anything can encourage people back in to cinemas in the coming months, this movie may well be it.

It is not just the record-breaking hits that are receiving the sequel treatment though. Cult films that have developed a slow but steady following over the years, are also becoming more popular for sequels and remakes. Made on a low budget at the time, “The Last Starfighter” was a minor hit back in the late 80’s, earning just over $28,000,0000 at the North American box office and over the years, there have been on – off rumours of a sequel. The movie’s stars have often been seen on the film and comic convention circuit, with a fanbase increasing by the day.

In the last week a concept reel pieced together by writer/director Gary Whitta has been released on YouTube showcasing a possible sequel idea, the aptly named “The Last Starfighters”. The reel features some great looking concept art of spaceships, and battles, as well as some rousing concept music. The art clearly shows the intention is to bring back the original cast as well as a new generation of Starfighters, and could introduce a whole new audience to this 80’s gem.

The Last Starfighters, concept art

The Last Starfighters concept trailer art

Given the original cast are not A-List actors, it is fair to assume their salary demands will inevitably be lower, and given the inexpensive costs of today’s CGI effects, there is a good chance that a low budget sequel like this could easily make a high return.

Another movie that was not exactly rousing success at the time of its release, but has gone on to gain a considerable fanbase and being considered for the sequel treatment is “The Rocketeer”. Only making a few million higher than its budget at the box office upon initial release in 1991, set in the golden age of the 1930’s and featuring a jet pack toting male hero battling Nazis, it appears that Disney is looking to reboot this somewhat forgotten gem with a completely new story set in Cold War.

Rumours over at Giant Freakin Robot suggest that this version could instead feature an African American female gaining the jetpack and trying to prevent the Russians from getting their hands on the advanced technology. Further evidence that the new movie may not be entirely associated with the original characters has emerged from Jennifer Connelly, female lead in the first movie, who told Coming Soon that she hadn’t heard anything about it.

It may or may not have ties to the original movie, but whichever path is chosen, sequel or reboot, it is a concept that has a lot of potential to be mined. It also fits in the growing bracket of movies where a straight to streaming option with still high production value is plausible. Disney have already done this with some of their other remakes/sequels. There is no doubt that the appeal of the unique content exclusive to a streaming platform combined with a niche fanbase has helped up subscriptions and encouraged studios to make more entries in properties such as this.

Streaming has also removed the past gamble of high distribution and marketing costs to cinemas that a mainstream worldwide well-known franchise sequel would normally entail, making studios braver when it comes to taking a risk on a movie like this.

There are also franchises where the first film was a critical failure, but still have amassed enough recognition and respect among eager fans over decades to warrant the studio going for a gigantic sequel, that are also being considered for even further profit making still. The “Tron” franchise is probably the most famous current example of this.

Despite it completely being panned by many critics on initial release in 1982, “Tron” remained a favourite of many geeks growing up in the 80’s, being seen as ahead of its time. It eventually received a highly promoted sequel in the form of “Tron: Legacy” back in 2010, which was treated more favourably than the original by both critics and mainstream audiences at the time, transcending its uber geek fan origins.

It made a profit when released, but it seemed that any hope for a further instalment had long passed, until rumblings emerged in the past year that Jared Leto was on board for a third movie, rumoured to be titled “Tron: Ares”. The speculative title first emerged from a tweet that Leto issued back in August 2020, before it was swiftly deleted by him according to Cinema Blend.

It is not the first time that a further sequel had been considered, as the third movie had at one point been in development under a different name, “Tron: Ascension” back in 2015, before Disney pulled the plug. The continual interest by fans however, along with ongoing popularity of the concept proven by investment in off screen spin offs such as the Tron ride in Shanghai, are maybe persuading Disney that this is a universe worth the gamble of another investment.

With Leto confirmed to be on board, there is no doubt that this will be a huge production for the studio, and they will be hoping for another big return when it is eventually released at a time when cinemas will hopefully have fully re opened.

There are some properties which have had a massive first entry followed by a very mixed franchise history of both (critical and financial) success and failure in equal measure. Studios are still willing to continue with them, because they know the name recognition alone is going to generate some interest, however many entries are made that end up disappointing the fans. Two very good examples of the iconic character led franchises to fall in to this category are “Predator” and “Robocop” series respectively, which are both franchises, that are again also being tapped for more sequels at this time.

The original “Predator” was released to box office success in 1987, making a huge profit at the time. Then in 1990 came “Predator 2”, which still did very well critically and financially, but encountered diminishing returns overall when released. The series then became more famous in comic books and video games from this point, before the Predator character returned to the big screen in 2004, in the notoriously disappointing, but financially successful “Alien Vs Predator” movie.

Despite the majority of reviews being terrible, the box office returns were still high enough at the time to tempt the studio to invest in a sequel “Alien Vs Predator: Requiem”. Released in 2007, this performed to a similar level of profit, but was even more critically mauled than the previous entry had been. Given how much profit a movie could make featuring the character, however, 20th Century Fox were keen to give it another crack, and released “Predators” back in 2010, which was seen as the first “true” sequel to the original two movies.

A box office success, the film was more favourably reviewed than the “Vs” movies but still did not quite capture the lightning in the bottle that the first movie had managed to achieve. The franchise again went quiet, before another attempt at a reboot/sequel, “The Predator” was released in 2018. The movie again made a profit, but was generally considered another disappointing entry overall, despite the legendary Shane Black being in charge of the production.

Nimród Antal, Predator, sequels

Nimród Antal Hungarian director filming last sequel of Predator

Since Disney acquired Fox, they now have a whole host of intellectual properties at their fingertips, and given the above history, it should come as no surprise that Disney are keen to capitalise on the profit-making potential of the Predator character, even with the high track record of negatively received entries. Rumours suggest that Disney/Fox are considering several different options for expanding the Predator universe, these include a potential prequel set in the American Civil War discussed at Screen Rant, a direct sequel to “Predators” set on a space ship according to Giant Freakin Robot, and, in a very wild rumour over at “We Got This Covered”, an animated series aimed at adults only.

The potential spaceship-set movie, is described in the article as “Die Hard on a Predator ship”, and sounds much more promising than another film set in present day on Earth. Seeing a Predator in a past-setting where humanity has even more inferior technology and a more primitive form of warfare occurring, such as the American Civil War, also sounds equally as interesting. Co-incidentally, there is already a number of short stories in novel form in the short story anthology novel “Predator: If It Bleeds” featuring the Predator and humans in a variety of time periods.

A number of these would make for some very intriguing entries if any were ever adapted in to live action or animation forms. The whole novel is available as an audio book on Audible, and should be available in physical form in all good book retailers. This may be a franchise where multiple prequel, sequel and spin offs all occur at once, and if that does happen, the studio would need to be careful they do not over saturate the market which could lead to feigning interest.

“Robocop” has followed a similar trajectory as “Predator”. The original movie in 1987 is now considered a screen classic, and is yet to be bettered by any subsequent entry. The success of the original led to a spin off cartoon in 1988, as well as the sequel “Robocop 2” in 1990, which was seen as a worthy entry, but not quite on par with the original. By the time “Robocop 3” emerged in 1993 however, the franchise was on the slide, with a clear shift in target audience, and with the absence of Peter Weller, the movie was panned by critics and audiences alike.

A short-lived live action television series followed in 1994, and then another attempt was made in the form of an almost forgotten cartoon series “Robocop: Alpha Commando” in 1998. Both of these were considered to portray a heavily watered-down version of the character. Another attempt was made to reboot the character again in “Robocop: Prime Directives”, a TV mini series in 2001.

On this occasion, the series returned him to his dark roots. Unfortunately, due to low budget and lack of promotion, this show was not a hit, and it wasn’t until 2014 that the franchise was again reignited with the reboot movie “Robocop”. The reboot turned out to be average with mixed reviews, and although a sequel was in the works at one point, it was soon cancelled.

Robocop, sequels

Filming the last reboot of Robocop in 2012

The latest sequel rumour has suggested that studio executives are going back to where everything all started and are developing a direct sequel to the original movie, entitled “Robocop Returns”. This will ignore all other entries released in film, cartoon and television completely. Originally set to be directed by “District 9” writer/director Neill Blomkamp, the film maker has now bowed out of the project and the latest person attached to it is “Little Monsters” director Abe Forsythe.

Red Shirts Always Die also mentions that there is also an untitled “Dick Jones” prequel tv series in development for the franchise, set to chart the rise of the future Omni Consumer Products (OCP) CEO, as he climbs the corporate ladder and becomes more corrupt. This idea may well have been commissioned for development thanks to the increasing number of film properties that have made a successful transition into steaming character led tv series.

Examples including “Cobra Kai”, “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance”, and “The Mandalorian” have all helped revive interest in their respective franchises in new and innovative ways. If both the direct sequel movie and prequel series are done with care and respect, then there is a chance that both could be financially and critically successful, but only time will tell.

One thing is clear from all of the above. As long as there is money to be made, and an insatiable desire for nostalgia, studios and filmmakers will continue to develop sequels, prequels, serials, reboots or limited spin off series for any franchise that has even a hint of a fanbase with hunger for more content. With multiple options to distribute media in the future, how the industry decides to utilise existing franchises such as those listed above and many others, is certainly going to be very interesting viewing indeed.

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