Rebel Moon: A Child of Fire and its upcoming sequel will see Zack Snyder imagine his first full-scale sci-fi universe. It initially took place in a familiar galaxy far, far away. Rebel Moon was Zack Snyder’s Star Wars, and in many ways, it still is. Filmmakers pitch ideas to studios all the time. If the higher-ups kick a script out of its franchise, it sometimes goes on with a new name.
A Quiet Place
John Krasinski, Scott Beck, and Bryan Woods started writing A Quiet Place in early 2016. The project found a distributor in Paramount over a year later. 10 Cloverfield Lane premiered in March 2016. Beck and Woods briefly considered making A Quiet Place a Cloverfield sequel. 10 Cloverfield Lane established the franchise as an anthology series with minimal connective tissue between entries. Paramount and the writers saw A Quiet Place as a franchise, allowing it to stand alone. We can all see Rebel Moon as a Star Wars sequel, but A Quiet Place stands out as a strange Cloverfield entry. A Quiet Place takes itself too seriously next to found-footage Godzilla or the goofy sci-fi disaster of The Cloverfield Paradox. Conversely, 10 Cloverfield Lane beats Quiet Place at its own game. Beck and Woods were correct to avoid the brand name.
Torture horror ruled the world in 2009. The genre lost its step sometime around the third Hostel, but one franchise is still going strong. Saw recently dropped its tenth entry, claiming decent reviews from critics who typically despised the series. When Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan imagined blending the trap-based modern nightmare with 80s slasher films, they contacted Lionsgate. The Collector follows a thief who breaks into a home as a masked serial killer savagely butchers the family inside. Melton and Dunstan pitched the script, then entitled The Midnight Man, as an origin story for John Kramer. They refused, but The Collector works better on its own.
The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino imagined The Hateful Eight as a sequel to his 2012 film Django Unchained. The spectacular original title was Django in White Hell. Rebel Moon began as a sequel to a franchise with too many entries. Fans still cry out for a follow-up to Django Unchained. Tarantino’s filmography includes only one sequel, though Kill Bill‘s duology works as a feature film split in half. He planned Django in White Hell as a novel but realized Jamie Foxx’s heroic Western hero didn’t fit into the conflict at Minnie’s Haberdashery. Django was too good a person to fit into that narrative. Dynamite Entertainment published Django/Zorro, a comic series pairing Django Freeman with masked hero Zorro. Tarantino tried to adapt that story into a film, but it never took off. The Hateful Eight works without Django, but he still deserves to ride again.
Colombiana was an ill-fated action star vehicle for Zoe Saldaña. She tried a couple of these around 2010, but they did little for her. Colombiana blends seamlessly into her filmography as one of several failed experiments before she donned the green makeup for Guardians. Luc Besson wrote the film, initially entitled Mathilda, as a follow-up to his well-received 1994 thriller Léon: The Professional. Mathilda was Natalie Portman’s feature debut, a 12-year-old girl adopted by an assassin after a corrupt DEA agent kills her dad. She spends most of the film begging Léon to train her to kill. Besson imagined her growing into her adoptive father’s shoes but had to change names and details to please the production company that funded Léon. Mathilda might have been more memorable, but maybe the memory hole was the right place for this film.
Speed 2: Cruise Control and Die Hard with a Vengeance
Amazingly, the third Die Hard and the second Speed form a chain of abandoned sequel concepts. Bruce Willis rejected several scripts for Die Hard with a Vengeance, calling them all knock-offs of the first two entries. Fox read a script called Troubleshooter but tossed it because it was too similar to Under Siege. Troubleshooter became Speed II: Cruise Control, an awful follow-up to a classic. So that script began as an original project, auditioned to be a Die Hard sequel, and then became Speed II. Die Hard with a Vengeance then grabbed a different script, Simon Says, which has another history. It was written for Brandon Lee, then optioned as a Lethal Weapon sequel, and finally dropped into Die Hard. Fox played musical chairs with action scripts throughout the 90s.
Rebel Moon won’t become a Star Wars sequel, just like these films won’t join their initial franchise homes. The fact that most of these films did fine without marketable brand names suggests something about the industry. Risk-averse Hollywood is terrified to release anything new, but some movies toss aside the safety of familiarity and succeed anyway.