In 1988, The Geffen Film Company (which was operated as a subsidiary of Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX) Warner Bros. studio) released Tim Burton's now-classic Beetlejuice. Earning over $73 million in domestic proceeds on a budget of $15 million, the film went on to be nominated for several awards -- and won a few, including an Academy Award for best make-up. Even now, the film has a number of fans who have been eagerly following rumors in the last few years that a sequel might finally be in the works.
Now, it seems like that possibility might be a bit closer to reality. Michael Keaton, who starred as the titular "ghost with the most," recently confirmed in an interview with MTV that he and Burton have been discussing the film. According to Keaton, "Now it looks like [Burton] is involved. And without giving too much away we've talked to each other, and emailed each other, and if he's in, it's going to be hard not to be in."
Scaring up a sequel
This isn't the first time that there's been talk of a Beetlejuice sequel. Tim Burton hired screenwriter Johnathan Gems (who would later write Burton's Mars Attacks!) to write a sequel script in 1990. The film, which would have been called Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, began with Burton mashing two largely incompatible genres together (because he didn't particularly want to make the film and thought that the combination would be funny.)
Burton went on to direct Batman Returns instead of Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, but the studio continued trying to develop the film for several years. At one point, director Kevin Smith was even approached to see if he would rewrite the film; he declined, asking "Didn't we say all we needed to say in the first Beetlejuice? Must we go tropical?"
Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian was eventually abandoned, due in part to rights issues, and the idea of a Beetlejuice sequel seemed forgotten for a few years. In 2011, however, it was announced that writer/producer duo David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith had signed a deal with Warner Bros. to begin work on a sequel. The pair have been adamant about letting fans know that they're not rebooting the sequel and were unwilling to proceed without Tim Burton and Michael Keaton; based on Keaton's recent comments, it seems as though those requirements might soon be met.
Could Beetlejuice work today?
Even though it's been 26 years since the original Beetlejuice was released, the film has stood the test of time pretty decently. Unlike some films from the late '80s and early '90s, the setting and the costuming don't root it squarely in that time period; instead, the movie has the same sort of ageless quality that's found in a number of Tim Burton's films. This works to the advantage of a potential sequel because the original film remains accessible to younger viewers who weren't able to see it when it first came out.
A sequel set 26-30 years after the events of the original has a lot of potential, provided that it doesn't try too hard to include the entire original cast. Winona Ryder stated last year that it looked like the project was happening and provided a few details about what the film might be like. Though she claimed to be "sworn to secrecy," she did mention that the new film took place 27 years after the original.
Given how much of the original movie revolved around Ryder's character, it would make sense that the sequel would follow her as well. Other characters such as the dearly departed Maitlands (played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are much less likely to return, as it might be a stretch to explain why ghosts have aged so much. (Keaton was in a heavy layer of makeup in the original, so that wouldn't be much of a problem for him.)
Will it be a hit?
Like it or not, it's looking increasingly likely that a sequel to Beetlejuice is on its way. Tim Burton is currently working on postproduction of his next film, Big Eyes, but doesn't have a film scheduled after that. While he may have an unannounced project in mind, it's also possible that the ongoing talks between the director and others involved in the project mean that work on the Beetlejuice sequel could begin as early as this year.
If or when the sequel gets made, it stands a good chance of being a hit for Warner Bros. as well. A mix of curiosity and nostalgia will help drive ticket sales, combined with the following that Burton has built in the decades since the original Beetlejuice was released.
Provided that the film doesn't get bogged down by a ballooned effects budget or a trip to Hawaii, the chances of a hit sequel far outweigh the possibility that the film will be dead on arrival.