8 Movie Sequels Made Without Permission
Nothing pleases film studios and financiers more than a sequel. With their familiar characters and built-in audiences, it’s a way to help justify the tens of millions of dollars risked every time a movie gets a wide release. It’s why Universal reportedly pursued Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass for a fourth Jason Bourne film for nearly a decade, and why April’s The Fate of the Furious marks the eighth (and likely not the last) time that same studio has plotted a heist movie set on asphalt.
But not all sequels are treated with such reverence. Sometimes, rights issues or other factors can make the promise of a sequel more of a threat, with the original distributor or filmmakers left out of the equation. Take a look at eight follow-ups that were made in spite of legal prohibitions.
1. RAGING BULL II (2017)
Consistently regarded by critics as one of the finest American films ever made, 1980’s Raging Bull was directed by Martin Scorsese and starred Robert De Niro as the tortured and tragic boxer Jake LaMotta. The two never had any intentions of making a follow-up, but the real-life pugilist who inspired the film had other plans. In 2012, LaMotta entered into an agreement to adapt his book, Raging Bull 2, into a film produced by RB II Productions. This was apparently in violation of an agreement LaMotta made with MGM for the original, which granted the studio first right of refusal to any follow-up.
In 2012, MGM filed a lawsuit to squash the film over claims its title was intended to confuse audiences. Producers for the sequel agreed to change the title to The Bronx Bull and make a public proclamation that had it nothing to do with the original. The film had a video release in 2017 and stars William Forsythe and Mojean Aria as an aging and younger LaMotta, respectively. Of the sequel, Scorsese told GQ that “I don’t know where they’re going to go.” Esquire offered that it “looks like the Lifetime Original Movie version” of LaMotta's story.
2. EASY RIDER: THE RIDE BACK (2012)
The unfortunate fates of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper's biker characters in 1969’s Easy Rider would appear to stifle any talk of a follow-up. Despite the film’s substantial influence on American counter-culture and Hollywood filmmaking leading into the 1970s, it stood as a one-off without any franchise potential, despite talk over the years of resurrecting the characters. Fonda’s Wyatt Williams, a.k.a. Captain America, might have been in prison instead of dead. Nothing materialized.
That didn’t dissuade Ohio attorney Phil Pitzer. The first-time filmmaker and actor decided he wanted to shoot a low-budget sequel beginning in 2004, based on the premise that the rights were available after a highly convoluted transfer of ownership grew blurry due to an unpaid loan. Pitzer grabbed the rights in the ensuing legal wrangling, though he was dismayed to find out it didn’t allow for him to use clips from the original.
Observers doubted the mess could be sorted to allow for a proper release, but Pitzer had no reservations. “Dude, we have the rights,” he told the San Francisco Gate in 2005. Pitzer shot the film beginning in 2004 and took it to Cannes in 2009, eventually releasing it in 2012 despite a partner suing him over legal debts. The sequel, which examines Williams’s life before his fateful road trip depicted in the original, has been widely lambasted on bad movie podcasts.
3. ZOMBI 2 (1979)
Convoluted doesn’t begin to describe the path Zombi 2 took to get to Italian cinemas. An unsolicited descendent of George Romero’s 1978 zombie classic Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2 followed Zombi, which was an Italian release of Dawn reedited by iconic filmmaker Dario Argento. After its success, another director, Lucio Fulci, embarked on a sequel that had no legal connection to either Dawn or its foreign-language iteration. Set on a Caribbean island inhabited by the undead, it incorporates voodoo and was followed by Zombi 3 and Zombi 4.
4. JAWS 5: CRUEL JAWS (1995)
Following the critical and financial disappointment of 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, Universal has never again tried to capitalize on the killer shark franchise ignited by Steven Spielberg in 1975. Sensing opportunity, Italian filmmaker Bruno Mattei decided to make an unsolicited contribution in 1995 with Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws, a film that uses effects sparingly but major plot points from the original liberally: A sheriff wants to close a Hampton Bay beach because of the danger, but financial interests force it to remain open. The audacious Mattei used footage from the original films and apparently sampled the Star Wars theme at one point.
5. BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)
Before primetime soaps full of drugs, lust, and lascivious behavior, there was Valley of the Dolls, author Jaqueline Susann’s 1966 pulp novel about pill-popping Manhattanites who will do anything—even enter a medically-induced coma—to stay thin. The book was turned into a hit 1967 film starring Patty Duke and Sharon Tate, and 20th Century Fox was eager to revisit the premise in a sequel directed by exploitation specialist Russ Meyer and written by Roger Ebert.
Susann, however, was not interested in continuing the story. And was surprised to find a musical camp sequel in production. The author sued Fox, claiming the film would harm her reputation and demanding it be pulled from release. Fox claimed the follow-up had nothing to do with the original, but blundered a bit when it subsequently placed both films on a double-feature billing. Following her death, Susann’s widower received a $2 million settlement from the studio in 1975.
6. WAR, INC. (2008)
Following a stint in the 1980s as a put-upon teenager and the 1990s as a romantic lead, John Cusack transitioned into work behind the camera, including co-writing and producing the successful independent dark comedy Grosse Point Blank, about a hitman (Cusack) attending his high school reunion. In 2008, Cusack co-wrote and produced War, Inc., another black comedy about a hitman (Cusack) taking aim at an oil minister during a trade show. Cusack’s sister, Joan, who appeared in both, said that War was intended to be an unofficial, indirect sequel to Grosse Point Blank, an idea her brother later confirmed on Twitter. “Sequel for sure,” he wrote in response to one query.
7. ROAD TO HELL (2008)
What can you get away with if you’re a fan of director Walter Hill’s cult classic Streets of Fire but don’t own the rights to make a sequel? If you’re director Albert Pyun, quite a bit. Pyun, a fan of the 1984 rock opera original, hired star Michael Paré for a low-budget 2008 follow-up titled Road to Hell. In it, Tom Cody (Paré) embarks on another journey home when two killers get in his way. Made in just six days and receiving only a limited release, Pyun hasn’t appeared to suffer any legal repercussions for the effort.
8. NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983)
Perhaps the most audacious and highest-profile sequel that upset rights holders, producer Kevin McClory used his claim to story elements developed during sessions with James Bond author Ian Fleming for Thunderball to make a rogue Bond film. Instead of being included in the proper Bond canon—then being led by Roger Moore—McClory decided to stir the pot by inviting former 007 Sean Connery back for one more go. Bond rights holder EON Productions scared off some studios during the ensuing litigation, but McClory eventually saw the movie made as 1983’s Never Say Never Again. It was one of two Bonds released that year, along with Moore’s Octopussy. The "knock-off" Bond failed to gross as much as EON's official production.