10 Movies That Were Box Office Hits But Never Got a Sequel

Over the last decade, movie studios will schedule sequels to movies that haven't even been released yet, just in case they become a major success. Even before that became a trend if a movie was a hit, then studios were quick to get things moving along so there could be a follow-up movie. Sequels have always been a thing in Hollywood.

This is why it is surprising when a movie is a major success, but a second movie isn't made. I can promise you that almost every time an executive was trying to figure out a way to make a sequel to a hit movie, but circumstances just didn't pan out thus we were saved from Wall-E battling vampire. Or maybe, they just haven't panned out yet. Next month, we will finally have the sequel to 1986's highest-grossing movie, Top Gun, which is proof that the threat of an unwanted sequel is never truly dead (oh hi, Independence Day Resurgence and Coming 2 America).

This also means that the ten movies that I list below may still one day have a sequel. These are huge hits when they came out, but for various reasons never got a follow-up movie . . . for now. I will also look at what made them a hit and give some reasons why that sequel never came.

E.T the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Box Office Success: Highest Grossing Movie of 1982. Highest grossing movie of the 1980s. Adjusted for inflation the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time (beating every MCU movie).

Why was it a hit? Director Steven Spielberg's name was a huge draw after mega-hits like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Science fiction was at one of its strongest points at the box office with movies like Close Encounters and Star Wars triggering a boom for the genre. The story also had broader appeal with its themes about children dealing with divorce, the importance of friendship, and the pains of growing up, so it had enough charm and story to connect with non-science fiction fans. It was a great family movie but also a masterfully crafted nostalgic road to childhood for adults too, so it nailed every demographic. It should also be added that straight-up family movies were not as common from studios not called Disney in the 1980s, so something everyone could see would be a massive draw. As well, video rentals were still in their infancy and E.T. ended up playing in most theatres for over a year in its first run and then re-released a few times over the 1980s until finally going on video in 1988. It was highly likely that most people saw this more than once in theatres.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? They tried, a sequel was greenlit, and a script was even written by Spielberg and Melissa Mathison. It was planned to be called E.T II: Nocturnal Fears and was loosely based on another script written shortly after Close Encounters that was supposed to be a horror version of aliens coming to Earth called Night Skies. This time Elliot and his family were to be tormented by evil aliens and they would try to contact E.T. to rescue them. It would have been a drastic shift away from the tone of the original and Spielberg scrapped it after feeling it would ruin the legacy of the original. The script for the sequel did have several scenes and elements that would end up being used in the Spielberg-produced Gremlins and Poltergeist.

Casablanca (1942)

Box Office Success: Highest-grossing movie of 1942.

Why was it a hit? It is a classic and enduring love story that even today probably tops many moviegoers and critics' all-time favourite movies list. It became the template for unrequited love stories. It put together two of the biggest stars of the time Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, and on top of that, they had a red-hot chemistry that people connected with. It also helps that during the time the only way to see it would have been at the theatre, so you'd have many people who would return several times to live through it again. As well, war pictures were huge box office at the time, but this one played it differently by making romance the focus but still had lots of twists and thrills to appeal to everyone.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? It is another case where they tried, with a script written and plans in place to produce a sequel called Brazzaville. Newspapers were also already reporting that Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet would be reprising their roles. The problem was that it was pretty quickly acknowledged as a classic, so filmmakers didn't want to dare go back to that story for fear of tarnishing the legacy. Even though there has never been another cinematic movie, author Mike Walsh wrote a follow-up novel in 1998 called As Time Goes By, there have been two short-lived TV series, and several radio adaptations of the movie. Of course, threats of a remake have been lingering for decades with countless talks of modernizing the story, but for now, filmmakers have continued to be hesitant about revisiting the timeless classic.

9 to 5 (1980)

Box Office Success: Second highest grossing movie of 1980 being beat out by a little movie called Empire Strikes Back.

Why was it a hit? 9 to 5 was one of the first female-starring workplace comedies during a time that society was riding a new wave of feminism and women were entering the workforce at a record rate. It was a comedy about three women getting revenge on their sexist and luring boss, which sadly, was probably something many women could relate to at the time and played as a visceral fantasy. Okay fine, maybe something women can still relate to, unfortunately. On top of that, you had huge stars at the time in Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, and it was a really funny movie that garnered super positive word of mouth. It was one of those types of movies that everyone was talking about and was a big part of the 1980s' zeitgeist. It even spawned a 1980s TV sitcom that had the Dolly Parton song, but not the stars.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? 20th Century Fox really wanted one, and Tom Mankiewicz even worked on a script. Even though Dolly Parton was excited about returning to the role, apparently Jane Fonda wasn't very interested in a sequel, and even the original director, Colin Higgins wasn't keen on doing a follow-up. When one of the biggest stars of the first doesn't want to return, it is usually best to scrap plans (though many sequels haven't followed that rule like Short Circuit 2 and The Sting II). Though talks of a reboot/sequel have persisted even as recent as a few years ago nothing has become official.

Ghost (1990)

Box Office Success: Second highest-grossing movie of 1990.

Why was it a hit? Ghost was the ultimate date movie and as would be proven later in the decade with Titanic, big-budget romance spectacles could draw (Titanic is of course one of the biggest movies of all-time that never had a sequel but I think even executives realized that one was almost impossible to repeat, so I left it off this list). Ghost was a romance story that would make many swoon over the message that even death cannot overcome love but also was a well-made thriller and had some great special effects (for the time) that drew in those less sold on the romance. It was something for every movie. It also got a lot of buzz for its five Oscar nominations that included Best Picture, as well as winning two in Best Supporting (Whoopi Goldberg) and Best Original Screenplay (Bruce Joel Rubin).

Why hasn't there been a sequel? After a huge hit, the stars got really busy. Demi Moore became one of the most sought-after female leads with her gorgeous looks and distinct husky voice in movies like Mortal Thoughts, A Few Good Men, Indecent Proposal, GI Jane, and Disclosure. Whoopi Goldberg became a hot new comedy act with big hits including Sister Act. Patrick Swayze remained a sturdy leading or strong supporting role in movies including Point Break. Even if the stars' slates weren't stuffed, it really wasn't a story that opened itself up to a natural sequel and I think it was accepted as a lightning-in-the-bottle type hit that would be hard to recapture.

On Golden Pond (1981)

Box Office Success: Second highest grossing movie of 1981 only defeated by box office phenomenon Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Why was it a hit? The movie studios made way more movies geared toward adults forty years ago, and it was much more common that adult dramas would do very well at the box office. This was long before "Prestige TV" and streaming, so going to the theatres was the best place to find well-scripted and intelligent stories geared towards adults. Even back then, it was a bit of a surprise that On Golden Pond ended up being such a massive hit. Some of the major factors were that it was based on a popular stage play, it had the first ever onscreen pairing of Hollywood legends Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, it has the first on-screen pairing of real-life father and daughter Henry Fonda and Jane Fonda, it was critically acclaimed, and the gentle nature made it something very different than most other offerings at the time.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? A huge part of the appeal was the stars that were in it, and this turned out to be Henry Fonda's final theatrical movie. He would pass away in 1982, so a key part of the movie's success was gone. It also wasn't a movie that really opened itself up well for a sequel, so instead studios followed the formula by adapting many stage plays with big stars attached but it never was this successful again. Surprisingly, a few years ago there were talks of making an updated version for the big screen.

Inception (2010)

Box Office Success: Sixth highest-grossing movie of 2010 and the highest-grossing 2010 movie not based on an existing story.

Why was it a hit? After the success of Dark Knight and creating the buzzworthy cult hits like Memento and The Prestige, Christopher Nolan's name started to become a huge selling point for anything he was attached to. Plus, Leonardo DiCaprio was a major box office draw, especially since he had proven to be choosy about the roles he took and it made each appearance feel like an event. It got huge critical praise and the twisty concept made it a widely discussed movie. It quickly became something ingrained in pop culture and as social media grew, its twists and turns were one of the most debated items. It created an event feel that you needed to see to be a part of the excitement.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? Christopher Nolan has been open to a sequel, but he also has had so many other projects that he wanted to tackle. The challenge has been to make a movie that feels like a worthy follow-up and to somehow come off as bigger and more mind-bending. There also has been concern from Warner Brothers because the first movie was very expensive, and a sequel would likely cost more while sequels often make less. I'd also say at this point that the buzz has died down and there aren't any big signs of anticipation for a follow-up anymore. Though for a short bit, there was speculation that Tenet was the elusive sequel, which turned out just to be wild social media speculation (what?!? social media overblowing something?).

The Sixth Sense (1999)

Box Office Success: Second highest-grossing movie of 1999 that was only beaten out by Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Why was it a hit? It was a creepy and chilling horror movie that due to it not being overly violent and focusing on a sweet relationship between a psychiatrist and a young boy that it was very accessible to a broad audience. Bruce Willis also was still a huge draw (and working). Of course, there was the iconic twist ending that was so big that people felt like they had to see the movie so they could be part of the conversation. The Sixth Sense was a massive part of pop culture at the time when it was both mocked and analyzed on television, plus it gained a lot of momentum by also being a horror that not only got huge critical acclaim but snagged 6 Oscar nominations including Best Picture. Director M. Night Shyamalan immediately became the 'it' filmmaker. This is also one of those movies that non-horror fans try to argue actually isn't horror, which is of course, silly.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? The Sixth Sense was very much a director-driven movie, and it wouldn't have had the same buzz if someone else took over. Shyamalan was more interested in making other twisty movies like Unbreakable (did get sequels) and Signs. It was also likely a case of Disney not sure if there would be the same anticipation now that the twist has been revealed, and there would need to be an appealing story to justify a return.

Hancock (2008)

Box Office Success: Fourth highest-grossing movie of 2008.

What was it a hit? In 2008, Will Smith was one of the biggest box office draws. The previous success of The Incredibles, Iron Man, and the Spider-Man series showed audiences had an appetite for superhero movies. Since the powerhouse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had just launched its first movie (Iron Man two months prior), audiences (more likely studios) were still open to various superhero movies rather than just from one particular world or only adapted straight from comic books.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? Even though it was a huge hit, audience reactions were very mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes, the audience score sits at 59%. A lot of moviegoers were put off by a crass and vulgar Will Smith who usually played charming and charismatic characters (this was during a time Smith was considered an upstanding and non-slappy human being). While both director Peter Berg and star Will Smith have expressed interest in doing a sequel, Sony was likely nervous that the less-than-strong audience and critical reaction would harm a return engagement. Also, it was released the year the Marvel Cinematic Universe launched and within two years became the undisputed box office powerhouse and every studio was now more interested in adapting stuff from actual comic books. Today this movie would likely need to come in with a small budget and would risk being lost in the ocean of big superhero epics

Cobra (1985)

Box Office Success: Fifteenth highest-grossing movie of 1986.

Why was it a hit? Sylvester Stallone was one of the most iconic action stars of the 1980s. He also was playing a vigilante cop, which was a very popular action subgenre in the 1970s and 1980s. While I wouldn't say Stallone was stretching himself, it was a little different than some of his other iconic roles. It also was a time when violent one-man taking down the team of baddies action movies were the piping hot thing.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? While Cobra was a definite hit, it also had to be considered a disappointment when compared to Stallone's other super-successful franchises Rambo and Rocky. It made nowhere near those numbers, so for Stallone, it probably made more sense to return to his hits rather than try to keep a less successful and more controversial character alive. It also did not help that it was reviled by critics, and it has not aged well with audiences. It also was way less fun than his Rambo and Rocky movies.

Elf (2003)

Box Office Success: Seventh highest-grossing movie of 2003.

Why was it a hit? Will Ferrell was at peak drawing power, and it was sold not only on his brand of man-child humour but had the added bonus of being a family holiday movie. This was a movie that entertained families looking for optimistic and fun cheery entertainment but also delivered the type of humor that drew out Ferrell fans too. It also was the most critically acclaimed Ferrell starring movie and the type of film that got endlessly quoted by fans.

Why hasn't there been a sequel? Will Ferrell does not want one. He has said on numerous occasions it was one of his favourite movies he has done, and he believes a sequel will just cheapen the original. Warner Brothers and director Jon Favreau have expressed a strong desire to make a sequel, but it is hard to do that without the star returning. I am sure Favreau and Warner Brothers are well aware of Son of the Mask and Evan Almighty.

What other great movies are you surprised never got a sequel?