Hollywood is the place of big dreams, but sometimes those dreams are too big—as in, “Oh crap, I thought I was directing a movie that would definitely get a sequel, only it turns out no one wanted to see this one.” Here are 10 such would-be franchise-starters that flew too close to the sun.
1. THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984)
The end credits of cult favorite The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, a campy, bonkers homage to pulp sci-fi serials, famously promised a sequel. It’s now more than 30 years later, and Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League is nowhere to be found. “If the movie had gone out to make a fortune, we would have done it,” director W.D. Richter told Moviefone in 2011. But by now, “the paper trail for the rights is almost impossible to follow … PolyGram sold it to MGM as a big bundle—all these films move around.”
On top of that, Richter said late producer David Begelman “was a notorious double dealer,” who might have made deals that no one knows about; even if someone is “enthusiastic about doing a sequel, they'll say, ‘our legal department is saying we don't have a clear chain of title here, so we're not going to stick our heads up, invest money, and then discover that some guy says, ‘Oh, by the way, I have all the international rights.’” Still, Richter has not given up hope, noting that “Technically, we have not violated our promise to the audience. We try to keep the franchise and the brand alive, anyway, because we never know when somebody is going to say, ‘Yeah, make something else.’”
2. MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987)
In the days before Iron Man, post-credit scenes weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are today. Still, Masters of the Universe snuck one in back in 1987. In it, Skeletor (a facial prosthetics-laden Frank Langella), having been vanquished by He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), emerges from the pit into which he presumably fell to his doom and gleefully announces “I’ll be back!” He was supposed to be: Cannon Films fully intended to make a low-budget sequel to Masters of the Universe, but their licensing check to rights-holder Mattel bounced and, well, that was the end of that. The sets and costumes Cannon had already built were integrated into a different film, the Jean-Claude Van Damme-starring Cyborg (1989).
3. MAC AND ME (1988)
Mac and Me
, best known to some as the movie Paul Rudd keeps trolling Conan O’Brien with, ends with the cute/terrifying (mostly terrifying) alien Mac blowing a gum bubble with the words “We’ll be back!” on it. He never was. Critics hated Mac and Me, specifically its overt product placement. (Peter Travers described it as “A blatant commercial for McDonald’s and Coca-Cola disguised as an E.T. ripoff.”) It earned only $6.4 million worldwide and was nominated for four Razzies, two of which (Worst Director and Worst New Star) it “won.”
4. SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993)
Super Mario Bros.
wraps up everything quite nicely—King Koopa (Dennis Hopper) defeated, Daisy (Samantha Mathis) reunited with her newly non-fungoid royal father in Dinohattan, Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo) returned to their normal life back in New York—until, in the film’s final seconds, a weapon-toting Daisy busts into the brothers’ apartment and tells them, “You gotta come with me! I need your help … You’re never gonna believe this.” And … scene. The film was a famous disaster (and Hoskins’s biggest regret), so we never found out what, exactly, Daisy had gotten herself into until 2013, when fans Steven Applebaum and Ryan Hoss collaborated with one of the film’s screenwriters on an unofficial webcomic sequel.
5. GODZILLA (1998)
Roland Emmerich’s critically maligned version of Godzilla ends with ‘zilla dead, our heroes (played by Matthew Broderick and Maria Pitillo) reunited, and New York saved … plus one of Godzilla’s eggs, thought to all be destroyed when Madison Square Garden was bombed, hatching all by its lonesome. Presumably someone came along and stepped on Baby Godzilla before it got big enough to cause trouble, because a sequel never happened and the world stayed safe from big green monsters until director Gareth Edwards’s 2014 reboot.
6. ERAGON (2006)
The movie world is filled with teen and YA franchises that someone, somewhere thought would be a good idea, only for them to crash and burn after one movie. The Golden Compass (see below). Beautiful Creatures. Vampire Academy. The Last Airbender. I Am Number Four. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Some of these manage to tell a complete story, whereas others end on an epic cliffhanger fated to never be resolved. A particularly egregious example of this latter type is Stefen Fangmeier’s Eragon, a fantasy movie about a young boy who discovers he’s a “dragon rider.” With a little help from his friends, dragon and non-dragon alike, Eragon (Ed Speleers) defeats the evil sorcerer Durza (Robert Carlyle). This angers Durza’s boss, Galbatorix (John Malkovich), a despotic king who’s about to enter into a large-scale war against Eragon’s elfin allies. It’s revealed that Galbatorix has a scary-looking dragon of his very own, and then … the movie ends. Though it made a fair amount of money internationally, Eragon wasn’t successful enough for Fox to commit to a sequel; viewers who want to find out how it ends will just have to read the rest of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle.
THE GOLDEN COMPASS
Fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy were shocked when the film adaptation of the first book in the series, The Golden Compass, lopped off the last few chapters of its source material. In the movie, young heroine Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards) and her companions set off to find Lyra’s father, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig). In the book, Lyra finds her father only to witness him murder her best friend as part of his investigation into the mysterious particle known as “Dust.” In the final pages, she follows her father through a portal into another dimension.
The film’s director, Chris Weitz, later explained his decision to move this sequence (which was shot but cut out) to the beginning of the second movie: “My job is to make sure that all of Pullman’s story will be told, not to flame out gloriously with one film. The juncture at which to leave audiences hoping for more was before Lyra sets off to find Asriel. She has fulfilled the initial reason for her journey (to save her friend Roger), but there is a further tangible aim for her … [D]ifficult to handle/difficult to swallow material, which is to say dark material (no pun intended) can work perfectly well in the second film of a trilogy (cf. The Empire Strikes Back).” Ironically, given that “all of Pullman’s story” statement, The Golden Compass was reviled by critics and fans alike, and plans for a sequel were scrapped despite a fairly successful international run.
8. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
The Incredible Hulk
kind of did get a follow-up and kind of didn’t. It’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which The Hulk is obviously still kicking around, though there’s been no movement in terms of another standalone film. William Hurt, who played General Ross, was even brought back for a supporting role in this summer’s Captain America: Civil War. But it’s pretty clear that The Incredible Hulk intended to set certain wheels in motion that never actually started spinning. Chief among them: In the comics, Samuel Sterns, the character played by Tim Blake Nelson, eventually becomes The Leader, a hyper-intelligent nemesis of Bruce Banner/The Hulk. In the movie, Sterns is infected by Banner’s blood, and his head starts to mutate; Nelson has confirmed that he was supposed to be The Leader in subsequent films. But the MCU’s Hulk went in a different direction, with a different actor (from Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo) and a different way of joining the Avengers than what The Incredible Hulk’s post-credits scene initially set up. And nary a peep from Sterns, whom your casual Marvel moviegoer probably doesn’t even remember exists. It’s not going too far out on a limb to say this particular dangling thread will likely never be woven back into the whole.
9. GREEN LANTERN (2011)
Midway through the Green Lantern credits, Sinestro, the mentor of hero Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), gets himself a new bauble in the form of a yellow power ring. It’s a sequence that was meant to act as “a nod to where the trilogy was intending to head to,” said Sinestro actor Mark Strong—namely, the comic book story arc where Sinestro goes evil and creates a sort of bizarro version of the peacekeeping Green Lantern Corps. But the critically despised Green Lantern tanked, barely earning back its $200 million production budget (and that’s not even taking into account all the money it spent on marketing). Movies two and three never happened, with Warner Bros. instead opting to reboot the property with 2020’s Green Lantern Corps. For Strong’s part, he says that “the putting on of the ring and the whole suit turning yellow would have been great fun.”
10. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014)
Over the course of two Spider-Movies, director Marc Webb teased audiences with hints that Peter Parker’s father, who supposedly died in a plane crash when Parker (Andrew Garfield) was a boy, was alive after all. The mysterious Man in the Shadows (later revealed to be criminal mastermind Gustav Fiers, a.k.a. The Gentleman) asked villain The Lizard (Rhys Ifans) if he told Parker “the truth about his father” in The Amazing Spider-Man’s mid-credit sequence, while The Amazing Spider-Man 2 actually had a deleted scene where Parker meets his pops. That was it for Papa Parker’s screentime, though, as a deal between Sony and Disney integrated Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with younger actor Tom Holland stepping into Garfield’s tights.
Chris Cooper, who played Harry Osborn’s father Norman in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, has since spoken out about the “huge role” he would have had in the third movie, had it been made. It involves his head in a box.