1. Green Lantern 2
After Iron Man and Thor proved you didn’t have to be an A-list superhero to make it in Hollywood, DC started combing through its own properties for non-Batman franchises that could compete with Marvel’s rapidly expanding universe. On paper, Green Lantern was the perfect choice: he comes with an easy-to-film origin story, his powers pack a visual punch, and his cosmic connections open up a wealth of storytelling possibilities. With all that and Ryan Reynolds signed to star, Warner Bros. was so confident in its franchise potential it committed $200 million and commissioned a script for a sequel before wrapping up the first film. That confidence is further reflected in the final scene, which shows Sinestro (played by Mark Strong) placing a yellow ring on his finger, completing his transformation into the eeee-vil Sinestro we all know today. Alas, audiences never got to see the promised showdown between Jordan and his erstwhile mentor; the movie barely made back its budget and plans for a sequel were quickly scrapped. Warner Bros. is now planning a rebooted Green Lantern Corps movie slated for 2020; no word yet on whether Hal, John, Kyle, Guy or any combination thereof will show up.
2. Spider-Man 4
The story behind Spider-Man’s film rights is an epic worthy of its own trilogy; suffice to say Sony was rewarded for its perseverance when Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man finally hit theatres. The huge success of the first film led to big paydays with its two sequels, though it was clear by the time Peter Parker strutted down the street in Spider-Man 3 that something had gone slightly off the tracks. In a 2014 appearance on the Nerdist podcast, Raimi owned up to his part in letting Spidey’s fans down (“I tried to make [Spider-Man 3] work, but I didn’t really believe in all the characters, and so that can’t be hidden from people who loved Spider-Man”), but it was obvious he was also fighting studio pressure to stuff more villains and action into an already overstuffed script. Still, everyone was on board for a fourth outing, with rumors of John Malkovich as the Vulture and Dylan Baker reprising his role as the tragic Dr. Connors/Lizard in Spider-Man 4. But Raimi walked away when he and Sony couldn’t see eye to eye on the script, and Sony announced a new director and cast for The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012.
3. The Amazing Spider-Man 3
Sony was clearly excited about the new direction of its franchise: it announced a sequel nearly a year before The Amazing Spider-Man’s release, and then announced opening dates for the third and fourth sequels in 2013, a full year before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 came out. ASM2 opened to weak reviews and turned out to be the lowest-grossing of all the Spider-Man movies, but Sony was still keen on staying in the Spider-Man business, even adding a Sinister Six film (a reference to a comic-book team-up of Spidey’s villains) to its slate of upcoming projects. But the announcement in February 2015 of a new deal with Marvel Studios, one that allowed Spider-Man to appear in future Marvel films like Captain America: Civil War, led to a reboot of the reboot, and plans for sequels to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 were cancelled in favor of a new film co-produced by Marvel Studios.
4. Fantastic Four 3
Marvel’s first family has never had a lot of success outside the comic books, and 20th Century Fox’s 2005 film didn’t help raise the bar. “Passable” is about the best you can say about a movie more preoccupied with teasing audiences with a naked (albeit invisible) Jessica Alba than making much sense with its plot. But it did well enough at the box office (grossing $330 million on a $100 million budget) to spawn 2007’s Rise of the Silver Surfer, which seemed to go in the right direction… right up until Galactus was introduced as a giant fart cloud. In the audio commentary for the DVD, director Tim Story said he went with the cloud to allow a future proposed Silver Surfer film to introduce the character as he normally appears — but it still rankled fans who came out to see the Big G himself, and the film barely made back its budget. 20th Century Fox’s disappointment in Rise’s performance led it to cancel its slated Silver Surfer and Fantastic Four 3 films in favour of a completely rebooted Fantastic Four, which hits theatres this month. Time will tell if “Untitled Fantastic Four sequel,” already slated for release in 2017, will meet the same fate.
5. Superman Returns Again
Expectations ran high when fans first got wind of Superman Returns. After all, director Bryan Singer had just come off of two hugely successful X-Men movies, and he promised to bring Superman back to the spirit of the 1978 Superman movie. He even went so far as to sign up a relatively unknown lead, Brandon Routh, who bore a remarkable resemblance to Christopher Reeve. And then the movie came out, leaving most of those fans disappointed, confused or both. Turns out portraying our hero as a super-stalking Peeping Tom and a deadbeat dad wasn’t exactly what audiences were looking for, and the script didn’t give Superman much else to do beyond save a plane and hurl a big rock into space (and the less said about Luthor’s mad real-estate schemes the better). The movie did well enough, nearly doubling its $200 million budget, but it failed to meet studio forecasts. Though Singer confirmed in 2008 he was working on a script for a sequel — “Now that the characters are established, there’s really an opportunity to up the threat levels,” he said in an interview — a writer’s strike in 2010 and Singer’s departure from the project sealed its fate, and Warner Bros. proceeded with a complete reboot of the franchise in 2013’s Man of Steel.
6. Daredevil 2
2003’s Daredevil came out at a time when Marvel had yet to get its “cinematic universe” act together, and the film’s neo-noir aesthetic and alt-metal soundtrack made it very much a product of its time. But give credit where it’s due: Colin Farrell was clearly having a ball as Bullseye, Michael Clarke Duncan was an inspired choice for Kingpin, and the way they visually represented Daredevil’s radar-sense was pretty neat. Even Ben Affleck wasn’t terrible in the lead role. (No, really!) But you only have to watch the first season of Daredevil on Netflix to figure out what was missing from the film. Affleck’s hero is a brooding, bloodthirsty jerk who barks at a terrified kid he’s “not the bad guy” shortly after murdering a rapist his alter ego couldn’t convict in court; meanwhile, Charlie Cox’s Daredevil refuses to let a Russian mobster die from his injuries even while the guy is trying to kill him. Despite a decent box office take, Daredevil 2 languished in production limbo at 20th Century Fox while writers and directors argued over which direction to take the franchise. Affleck was reportedly keen on telling darker stories until he pulled out of the project, famously vowing he would never play a superhero again (ahem). Given all the arguing over what to do with the franchise, Fox executives were probably just as relieved as everyone else when Daredevil’s film rights reverted back to Marvel in 2012.
7. Kick-Ass 3
Probably no one, not even the producers themselves, expected 2010’s Kick-Ass to be a hit. Based on a little-known, creator-owned Marvel comic about a regular guy who decides to play superhero, Kick-Ass pulls no punches in depicting the brutal realities of a vigilante lifestyle (spoiler alert: you get hurt… a lot). Whether it was wish fulfilment or the shock of seeing a foul-mouthed 11-year-old girl brutally dispatch mobsters, the film received mostly positive reviews and made just under $100 million on a $30 million budget. A sequel was announced in 2012 with most of the main players set to return. Kick-Ass 2 was clearly designed to outdo the original in every way, adding more characters and bone-crunching brutality to the script, but the film couldn’t deliver the same shock value as the original Kick-Ass (it also didn’t help that co-star Jim Carrey decried the movie’s ultra-violent tone shortly after a shocking mass murder occurred at an American elementary school). Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar has said that a third film in the series would likely be the last one, but so far it seems Kick-Ass 2’s disappointing returns is keeping that sequel — as well as a proposed prequel about Big Daddy and Hit-Girl — from getting off the ground.
8. Dredd 2
Based on the satirical adventures of an American law enforcement officer in a dystopian future city, 2012’s Dredd was a straight-up action thriller that saw Karl Urban’s Dredd attempt to bring order to a 200-storey high-rise ruled by one of Mega City One’s resident druglords. Displaying none of the schlock permeating Sylvester Stallone’s disastrous take on the character, Dredd received generally positive reviews from critics who cited it as a rare example of a remake that actually worked. That makes its inclusion on this list all the more tragic; whether it was an unfamiliarity with the character or a feeling the film would be just as bad as Stallone’s picture, filmgoers mostly stayed away, dashing the studio’s hopes of future sequels. Screenwriter Alex Garland told interviewers he had plans for stories that explored the origins of Mega City One and introduced some of Dredd’s biggest nemeses from the comics, but in June 2015 he said, “The thing people want, which is a sequel, I don’t think is going to happen… Let me rephrase that: I don’t think it’s happening with me and the people who made the last one.”
9. The Rocketeer 2
Right from the beginning, Rocketeer creator Dave Stevens and screenwriters Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo envisioned 1991’s The Rocketeer as the first entry in a trilogy, and Disney — seeing in the script the same retro-tinged magic that turned Indiana Jones into a film icon — bet heavily on the film’s success, signing leads Billy Campbell and Jennifer Connelly to future sequels. But it was not to be; the movie-going public didn’t seem to know what to make of this gee-whiz adventure based on a little-known character that first appeared in an independent comic in 1982, and The Rocketeer was considered a flop. “The movie didn’t make as much money as Disney had hoped,” Campbell said in a 2008 interview with MTV News. “And that, coupled with the acrimonious relationship that the director [Joe Johnston] and the studio had, contributed to them not even considering [a sequel].” On the bright side, The Rocketeer has since become a cult hit, and Johnston’s work on the film led to him being hired 20 years later to direct another superhero film, a slightly better-received period piece titled Captain America: The First Avenger.
10. Dick Tracy 2
When you think about it, Batman and Dick Tracy have a lot in common. Both are incorruptible agents of justice, they contend with a large number of grotesque villains, and those villains incorporate a lot of primary colors in their wardrobes. Even so, it’s fair to say Batman has a slightly higher public profile than Chester Gould’s comic-strip cop, and in retrospect Disney executives in search of a marketable franchise in 1990 may have pinned too many of their hopes to Warren Beatty’s pet project. Critics used words like “stylish” and “unique” to describe the finished product, but Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers summed up most reactions by comparing Dick Tracy to the previous year’s Batman: “Both films have a loner hero, a grotesque villain, a blond bombshell, a marketable pop soundtrack and a no-mercy merchandising campaign. But Batman possesses something else: a psychological depth that gives the audience a stake in the characters. Tracy sticks to its eye-poppingly brilliant surface.” Less-than-expected returns, along with a number of lawsuits over profit-sharing and future film rights to the character, scuttled any plans for sequels, though Beatty was insisting as recently as 2008 he had another Dick Tracy in him. Just don’t ask him when that might happen: “I take so long to get around to making a movie that I don’t know when it starts.”
11. The Shadow 2
Failing to learn whatever lessons there were to be had from The Rocketeer and Dick Tracy, in 1994 Universal Pictures took a chance on The Shadow, another superhero period piece based on the long-running star of radio dramas, comics and pulp-fiction novels. To their credit, the film’s creators poured a lot of effort into creating the right atmosphere, but the script was a forgettable piece of fluff about Asian mysticism that didn’t work so well in more modern times. It didn’t help matters that the Shadow is ultimately a hard character for any actor to nail down, even an in-his-prime Alec Baldwin at his growliest. To make matters worse, The Shadow opened amid the four highest-grossing hits of 1994: The Lion King, True Lies, Forrest Gump and The Mask, earning only $48 million worldwide against a budget of $40 million. Plans for sequels, Shadow-themed toys, games, clothing lines — they all disappeared in a haze of adorable singing animals and rubber-faced comedians hissing “S-s-s-s-smokin’!”
12. The Mask II
Speaking of America’s favorite fartsmith (™ The Onion). Based on the darkly comic Dark Horse series about a mask that bestows reality-warping powers on whoever wears it, The Mask was one of the biggest hits of the 1990s, earning more than $350 million against a budget of $23 million. The film helped launch Jim Carrey into superstardom and introduced Cameron Diaz to moviegoers, and it was also a high-water mark in early digital special effects. A sequel seemed inevitable, and the magazine Nintendo Power even ran a contest for readers that offered them the chance to win a walk-on role in The Mask II. In a 1995 interview, Carrey said he was offered $10 million to star in a follow-up film, but he turned it down, claiming his experiences on Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls convinced him that reprising a character he’d previously played wasn’t what he wanted as an actor. His pulling out of the project meant a sequel, the universally reviled Son of the Mask, didn’t come out until 2005. But don’t give up hope — back in 2011, around the time Mr. Popper’s Penguins came out, Carrey said he was open to the idea of returning to his earlier roles, including the Mask: “Kids are coming up to me about The Mask and Ace and all these things constantly. It’s a new generation of fans.”
13. The Phantom 2
It’s anyone’s guess why the producers of 1996’s The Phantom thought their film would fare better than other then-recent efforts to bring classic comic-strip characters to a new audience. But give them this much: at least they tried. Starring a pre-Titanic Billy Zane as “the ghost who walks,” The Phantom was defiantly retro, with sets, stunts and fight scenes indistinguishable from those found in B-movie serials from the 1940s. Before shooting, Zane signed up for two sequels, but the film’s dismal box office — it debuted in sixth place the weekend of June 7, 1996, far behind blockbusters like The Rock and Mission: Impossible — put any talk of sequels to rest. For a while, at least: the film’s surprising popularity in the home video market led Paramount in 2008 to consider a sequel with Zane, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kristy Swanson reprising their roles. Whatever excitement that news generated was short-lived, however, as the studio later announced a reboot of the franchise with all-new faces — and then announced another reboot of their reboot plans. At last check, The Ghost That Walks is still out there, wandering.
14. Flash Gordon 2
“Flash! Ah-ahhhhhhhh! He’ll save every one of us!” The success of Star Wars sent producers scurrying to nail down the film rights to every other sci-fi property they could find. Based on the 1930s comic strip by Alex Raymond, 1980’s Flash Gordon is as simple as it gets: all-American dude gets launched into space and saves a distant planet from an evil emperor. The screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., the same fellow who wrote the first episode and bible for the 1966 Batman TV show… so yes, you can safely assume “camp” was one of the elements in the mix. At the end of the film, a hand appears to lift the main villain’s power ring out of the rubble while the words “The End” appear on screen, followed by a question mark. Unfortunately, despite the film’s moderate success at the box office (and surprisingly successful afterlife as a cult film), disagreements between star Sam Jones and the producers scuttled any chances of a planned trilogy moving forward. Poor Flash. Turns out the only one in the universe he couldn’t save was himself. Or should I say: himself…?