These days, everything ’80s seems to be making a comeback. We have seen ’80s icon Winona Ryder return to prominence in the Netflix hit Stranger Things. Meanwhile, Michael Keaton is bringing his 1989 Batman back in DC’s upcoming movie The Flash.
With all this nostalgia in the air, some fans want to see Winona Ryder and Michael Keaton reunite and finally give us a sequel to their 1988 hit Beetlejuice, directed by Tim Burton. After all, three decades after its release the Beetlejuice franchise refuses to remain dead and buried.
The perennial movie favorite spawned a cartoon series that ran from 1989-1991, a wickedly funny musical in 2018, and a small mountain of merchandise that continues to come out year after year. So, why haven’t we seen a big-screen sequel?
Sadly, Beetlejuice 2 seems like it may be stuck in the “Neitherworld” (as the cartoon called it), and those pesky Sandworms aren’t to blame. Keep reading to discover the sad reason why Beetlejuice 2 may never happen!
A Beetlejuice sequel in the ’90s fell through
While Beetlejuice remains relatively popular, it may seem strange to create a belated sequel more than three decades after the original. Why didn’t we get a sequel in the early ’90s, when the Beetlejuice cartoon was still on the air and toys were lining the shelves?
Actually, Tim Burton was seriously planning a sequel at the time. In 1990, he hired Jonathan Gems (best known to genre fans for later writing Mars Attacks!) to write a sequel called Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. This sequel would see the Deetz family (Winona Ryder’s Lydia, her real estate mogul father Charles, played by Jeffrey Jones, and her sculptor stepmother Delia, played by Catherine O’Hara) trying to develop a Hawaiian resort when Beetlejuice disturbs a burial ground and unleashes hijinks.
Why did we never see Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian? Ironically, the success of Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s other film of the time, 1989’s Batman, led to its own demand for a sequel. And when those two had to focus their energy on making 1992’s Batman Returns, the initial Beetlejuice sequel plans fell through.
Though fans might be sad they never got this sequel, one of the original Beetlejuice screenwriters, Larry Wilson, thinks fans dodged a bullet: the sequel’s script just wasn’t worthy of the original. “In terms of Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, wiser heads prevailed,” he told USA Today in 2019. “Thank God there’s a level of integrity here.”
A new screenwriter was hired in 2011
Frankly, it’s difficult to even imagine another Beetlejuice movie without the signature style of the original script. But when it looked like Warner Bros. wouldn’t be able to bring Beetlejuice back anytime soon, other writers were considered over the years.
In 1996, Warner Bros. approached Kevin Smith to write a Beetlejuice sequel. Smith was hot off the success of his surprise 1994 hit Clerks, but he passed on this opportunity to write a film called Superman Lives instead. It was an ambitious script intended to resurrect the Superman franchise (and ironically, also slated to be directed by Burton), but it too soon landed in development hell and never emerged.
Still, the idea of a Beetlejuice sequel refused to die. In 2011, the studio tapped Seth Grahame-Smith (best known for writing the book Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as well as its film adaptation) to write a script. According to Grahame-Smith in February 2012 (via ComingSoon.net), Beetlejuice 2 was a “priority” for both Warner Bros. and Tim Burton. He also revealed that Michael Keaton was down to resurrect his ghost with the most. “He’s been wanting to do it for 20 years and he’ll talk to anybody about it who will listen,” Grahame-Smith said.
Still, even though he was hired to write a script, Grahame-Smith seemed to try to temper expectations that the film would actually happen. “Right now, it remains to be seen. I have a couple of story ideas, but we’re very early out.”
Winona Ryder confirmed a sequel in 2015
Beetlejuice was one of Winona Ryder’s breakout roles as a teen star in the ’80s. She carried the film’s emotional weight as Lydia Deetz, a 15-year-old goth girl who forms a bond with ghosts Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) when her yuppie parents buy their house.
Eventually, rumors of Beetlejuice 2 started gaining traction, and when Ryder appeared on Late Night in August 2015, host Seth Meyers asked her point-blank if she could confirm the existence of Beetlejuice 2.
“Um, I think I can confirm it,” Ryder said, “because Tim Burton did this interview — like, it was very hush hush, top secret… and then he was doing some press for Big Eyes and he did an on-camera interview and he said, ‘Oh yeah we’re doing it and Winona’s going to be in it,’ and I was like [shocked face].”
Fans thought it was time to celebrate and a sequel would be coming soon. But less than a year later, Tim Burton himself poured cold water on fans’ expectations. Via an interview with Collider in May 2016, Burton clarified there was “nothing concrete yet” happening regarding a sequel. “It’s something that I really would like to do in the right circumstances, but it’s one of those films where it has to be right…. So, yeah we’ll see.”
In other words, fans didn’t have a reason to begin singing “Day-O” just yet!
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Michael Keaton gave a sad update in 2016
Obviously, the fate of Beetlejuice 2 is largely tied up with Tim Burton and his vision for this world. But we can never forget that Michael Keaton is the one who brought Beetlejuice to raucous life. So, what did he have to say about the sequel?
In July 2016, Keaton gave an interview to Variety where he spoke briefly (and bluntly) about the likelihood of getting a Beetlejuice sequel. “It’s possible that ship has sailed,” he said. Continuing, Keaton seemed to echo Burton’s sentiments that the film would only come together under the right circumstances. “The only way to do it is to do it right. So much of it was improvised and so much was beautifully handmade by the artist that is Tim Burton. If you can’t get close to that, you leave it alone.”
Like Burton, it’s clear Keaton has a lot of affection for Beetlejuice and does not want to tarnish the legacy of the original film. “There are certain movies that are like Indian burial grounds. You never ride over them. Bad sh– happens if you cross that. You don’t touch certain things. They are sacred.”
Still, despite Keaton’s statement, new hope for Beetlejuice 2 seemed to arrive the following year.
New (and short-lived) hopes in 2017
For about six years, Seth Grahame-Smith is the only person we knew was tasked with writing a Beetlejuice sequel. But according to Grahame-Smith himself, he just couldn’t deliver a script everyone was happy with.
“The reason that it’s so hard to get going is because so many people love it and because there are 10 million ways to get that sequel wrong and four ways to get it right. It’s such a very fine needle to thread that I certainly like didn’t get it there, on the script side. I didn’t thread the needle,” he told Collider in October 2021, after revealing he had last met with Burton about the script in 2016. “Michael Keaton is just as relevant as ever and, and Tim Burton is just as relevant as ever, but you have to have both of those people excited about something to do it. I couldn’t get it there personally, as a writer, but maybe somebody else can.”
In October 2017, Warner Bros. agreed that “somebody else” might be able to write a workable script. They commissioned a new script from Mike Vukadinovich, best known now for his work as a writer on Marvel’s Runaways series for Hulu (via Deadline).
You might think this meant the studio was gearing up to make something happen. Unfortunately, it would be a good, long time before we heard anything else about the sequel.
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Tim Burton (almost) drives the nail into the coffin
Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, and pretty much everyone ever attached to Beetlejuice is quick to point out that Tim Burton will ultimately determine when (or if) we get a sequel. So, what does Tim Burton have to say?
In an April 2019 interview with USA Today, almost two years after Mike Vukadinovich was hired to write a new script, Burton was asked what was going on with Beetlejuice 2.
“Nothing, nothing,” Burton said. And when he was asked to elaborate on whether there were any active plans for the movie, he reacted by saying, “I don’t know. I doubt it.”
USA Today reach out to Warner Bros. for comment, and studio spokeswoman Candice McDonough confirmed Beetlejuice 2 “isn’t in active development.” In other words, it’s been shelved. That would seem to be the final word on the matter, as depressing as it is.
But fans of Beetlejuice shouldn’t give up hope, as the franchise continues to be a hot property. The Beetlejuice musical, which was nominated for eight Tony Awards, returns to Broadway on April 8, 2022, following the pandemic-related hiatus. A crowdfunded documentary on the making of Beetlejuice is on the way. And a company called Loyal Subjects recently debuted new toys based on the Beetlejuice cartoon. Perhaps all of the continuing fan demand will eventually lead to a sequel.
If not, we’ll just have to kick back with our Handbook For the Recently Deceased and watch the original movie once more. If Beetlejuice can watch The Exorcist 167 times, there is nothing wrong with Beetlejuice fans returning to his movie over and over again!