The Long, Bizarre History Of Beetlejuice 2’s Development

Joey Esposito
Movies
Movies

There are certain movies that become urban legends to those who follow their development like sports statistics. These usually fall into two categories. First are movies like Superman Lives, who have a moment where they come oh-so close to being filmed but fall apart, information and behind-the-scenes details trickling out for years afterward, sparking fan interest on what could have been.

And then there’s something like Beetlejuice 2, which has officially been titled Beetlejuice Beetlejuice: movies that have been in the Hollywood news cycle forever and have yet to come to fruition. At least… until they do. No longer in such refined air as The Goonies 2, the sequel that never says die, Beetlejuice Beetlejuice?is instead part of the elite club to which the likes of Top Gun: Maverick or TRON: Legacy belong; sequels we really, truly thought would never actually come to fruition but do indeed exist.

Directed by Tim Burton and starring original cast members Michael Keaton, Winona Ryder, and Catherine O’Hara along with new additions Jenna Ortega, Willem Dafoe, Monica Bellucci, and Justin Theroux, Beetlejuice 2 is finally hitting movie theaters on September 6, 2024. Even Danny Elfman is set to return, and it seems as though the sequel’s decades of languished development was merely a requirement to wait until the time was exactly right.

To celebrate the impending return of everybody’s favorite bio-exorcist, we’re taking a look back at the sequel’s long history of stops-and-starts.

Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian

Beetlejuice was a surprise box-office hit when it released in 1988, and the following year saw both Burton and Keaton shoot into superstardom when their next collaboration, Batman, went supernova across all of pop culture. 1989 also introduced Beetlejuice to television when the hit animated series debuted on ABC Saturday mornings, though it was notably lighter in tone and featured Beetlejuice and Lydia as best friends rather than adversaries, it kept the character top of mind for younger audiences. It helped that it was accompanied by a line of movie-inspired action figures and playsets.

Interest in a Beetlejuice sequel was high and while not widely reported on at the time but confirmed via Fangoria interviews and Mark Salisbury’s Burton on Burton, development begins on a follow-up written by Jonathan Gems that would have featured both the Deetzes and the troublesome ghoul who lives in their attic relocating to Hawaii, where paranormal antics ensue. By all accounts, it seems this is the version of the script that would toil in development throughout the 1990s.

In Fantazone #26, cover date Summer 1992, Heathers writer Daniel Waters tells the magazine, “I had met Tim Burton before and he was interested in me writing a sequel to Beetlejuice. Then this project came up,” referring to Batman Returns, for which he wound up working on the screenplay.

In 1993, Variety reports a development deal announcement for Troop Beverly Hills scribe Pamela Norris with a line-item revealing she’s been commissioned to work on a Beetlejuice sequel for producer David Geffen, presumably a rewrite of Gems’ Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian script. It seems Warner Bros. never goes for the idea, and enthusiasm for more Beetlejuice wanes as Michael Keaton’s star power dims after dropping out of the Batman spotlight, and Burton starts an unfortunate streak of less financially successful films like Mars Attacks!

Kevin Smith, at the height of his powers in the mid-90s after becoming an indie darling with Clerks, says that Warner Bros. offered him a chance to take on Beetlejuice but he declined, opting instead to take a pass at a new Superman flick (which also famously never happens, giving way to the aforementioned Superman Lives… which would have been directed by Tim Burton).

And so ends the saga of Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, relegated to what-if hypothesizing and anonymous script reviews of various drafts across internet forums for years.

The Dead Zone

From the mid-90s until the early 2010s, Beetlejuice as a franchise is dead in the water, though the character endures thanks to the animated series in syndication and the movie’s constant airing on cable TV. Even still, he’s woefully underutilized by today’s multimedia standards.

There are video games based on the property released in 1990, 1991, and 1992, for PC, NES, and Game Boy respectively. Harvey Comics dabbles in some animated series-based comic books between 1991 and 1992, but only publish six issues.

Most prominently, Beetljeuice becomes a staple at Universal Studios Florida as both a meet-and-greet character and as the star of Betelgeuse’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Graveyard Revue, where he performs rock classics alongside the classic Universal Monsters from 1991 until its closure in 2016 (though die-hard Geuse-heads should know the show still operates at Universal Studios Japan). Despite the show’s Florida closure, Beetlejuice himself can still be found roaming the park from time to time.

Beetlejuice Resurrected

Beetle-talk starts swirling again in 2011, when Deadline reports that writer Seth Grahame-Smith, fresh off a collaboration with Tim Burton on Dark Shadows, has inked a new deal with Warner Bros. that includes the scripting of a new Beetlejuice sequel, with no apparent connection to Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. In an era of more prevalent online film journalism and increased access to talent via social media, news about the development of Beetlejuice 2 is easier to come by.

In 2012, Grahame-Smith gives Shock ‘Til You Drop an update that sounds a little less like a sure thing than the Deadline report a year previous, saying,” [Keaton’s] been wanting to do it for 20 years and he’ll talk to anybody about it who will listen. I really told him, I have a huge reverence for Tim [Burton] and a huge reverence for that film in general. I don’t think we should do it if we s**t on the legacy. He agrees. So, right now, it remains to be seen, I have a couple of story ideas, but we’re very early out.” He also mentions that it was presently third on his to-do list in terms of projects.

Things seem to pick up steam in 2013 with a chain of events that lead fans into overdrive: TheWrap reports that Tim Burton is in talks to direct, Michael Keaton tells TMZ that Beetlejuice 2 is definitely happening, and Winona Ryder tells The Daily Beast, “I’m kind of sworn to secrecy, but it sounds like it might be happening.” She continues, “I would never go near [a sequel] if it was not Tim and Michael. Because those guys, I love.”

And then it’s crickets for a couple of years, until in 2015, when Ryder makes an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers and says, “I think I can confirm it. It was very hush-hush top secret … but then [Tim Burton] 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.’ … If he said it, I can say it.”

The same year, Grahame-Smith gives EW an update on that to-do list of his and confirms he’s done a few drafts of Beetlejuice 2. “I’ve emailed with Michael Keaton. I know he’s excited about the idea. I know Tim is excited about the idea. Where it stands now is Tim’s got to get ready to make [Miss 笔别谤别驳谤颈苍别’蝉 Home For Peculiar Children], and then hopefully we are set, deals are done, and we’re waiting in the wings ready to go right after 笔别谤别驳谤颈苍别’蝉 wraps up. The ideal timeline is we’re really getting into it toward the end of this year.”

Indeed, Burton does re-team with Keaton for his next project following 笔别谤别驳谤颈苍别’蝉—a live-action remake of Disney’s Dumbo with Keaton as V.A. Vandevere. In 2017, during production of Dumbo, Deadline reports a surprising update: scribe Mike Vukadinovich is tackling rewrites of Beetlejuice 2 with no deals in place for Burton or Keaton, with Grahame-Smith and his partner David Katzenburg producing.

And then, nothing. It’s not until 2019, as the soon-to-be beloved monster hit Beetlejuice: The Musical is about to open on Broadway and Dumbo is getting ready for release that Burton tells USA Today that “nothing” is happening with Beetlejuice 2, seemingly putting a nail in the coffin for real. The Beetlejuice musical helps put the character back in the pop culture zeitgeist thanks to its starts-and-stops due to COVID closures. Later, it makes headlines for being the show in which U.S. Congressperson Lauren Boebert was ejected from for being disruptive (among other things).

By this time, Keaton is enjoying a resurgence thanks to his Oscar-nominated performance in 2015’s Birdman and re-entering the superhero world as Vulture in the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies. Ryder, meanwhile, is one of the stars of an entirely new pop culture phenomenon in Netflix’s massive hit Stranger Things. As the world unknowingly hurdles toward a global pandemic, it seems any hopes of Beetlejuice 2 actually coming to fruition are finally, and truly, as dead as Barbara and Adam Maitland.

Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice (But For Real)

True to Beetlejuice lore, the third time his name starts popping up in Hollywood headlines, he finally appears. In early 2022, The Ankler, a Hollywood insider newsletter, breaks the news that Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B is in early development of a new Beetlejuice sequel. Still, later that year, Burton remains non-committal, telling Deadline, “I am working on ideas and things but it’s all very early days. We’ll set how it goes. How’s that for a non-answer?”

But Burton’s successful collaboration with rising star Jenna Ortega on Netflix’s Wednesday is perhaps what finally pushes Beetlejuice 2 out of the ethereal and into the real world. In March 2023, Deadline reports Ortega is in talks to join Beetlejuice 2 as Lydia’s daughter, alongside Ryder, Keaton, and Burton directing. What’s more, production is going to start in late May or early June—the first in the project’s long gestation period that anything beyond a script or “an idea” was mentioned.

The Ortega news serves as the tipping point. A couple months later, Deadline confirms that original Beetlejuice composer Danny Elfman is returning for the sequel. Days later, they follow up with the news that Justin Theroux is joining the cast, that Wednesday creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar have written the script, and Warner Bros. has set the release date of September 6, 2024.

Production does indeed begin in May 2023, along with news from THR that Monica Bellucci is joining the cast as Beetlejuice’s wife and that Catherine O’Hara is returning, and then later that Willem Dafoe has joined as “a law enforcement officer in the afterlife.”

After years of nothing but vague snippets of “maybes” and “we’ll sees,” Beetlejuice 2 is in production and is actually happening. Despite shutting down only a day and a half from completion due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, on November 30, 2023, Tim Burton posts on Instagram, “Just finished shooting Beetlejuice. Thank you to everyone involved.” Yes, filming officially wraps and our long national nightmare finally comes to an end.

Like with any of these legacy sequels—especially one as famously tortured as Beetlejuice 2—it’s going to have a lot of expectations stacked against it and will most certainly be a centerpiece of discourse following its release. But if anybody can pull off making magic from the macabre, it’s the ghost with the most, babe.

writer / karaoke monster / total sellout
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