Beetlejuice 2: The long road to a long-awaited sequel

Jenna Ortega at Wednesday premiere
Jenna Ortega at Wednesday premiere Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images
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It's showtime!

A sequel to Tim Burton's classic 1988 film Beetlejuice, which starred Michael Keaton as a ghost who is summoned when his name is uttered three times, is officially on the way. Keaton is reportedly returning for the movie, which is set to hit theaters over 35 years after the original, à la Top Gun: Maverick.

But if you're wondering why it took so long for Beetlejuice to rise from the grave, well, it wasn't for lack of trying. There have been many attempts to revive the character on the big screen over the years, going all the way back to shortly after the original came out — and one iteration of the project was pretty out there.

Beetlejuice goes Hawaiian?

Beetlejuice grossed more than $70 million in 1988, so there were sequel conversations just about right away. The co-writer of the first film, Warren Skaaren, reportedly penned a script for a potential follow-up in 1990 called Beetlejuice In Love. But screenwriter Jonathan Gems was also tapped to write one titled — wait for it — Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian. "Tim [Burton] thought it would be funny to match the surfing backdrop of a beach movie with some sort of German Expressionism, because they're totally wrong together," Gems told Fangoria in 1997.

Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian would have involved the Deetz family moving to Hawaii to develop a resort, which it turns out will be located on an old burial ground. "In order to engage Betelgeuse's services, Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara have to more or less sell their daughter Winona Ryder to him, and then all sorts of crazy stuff happens, including a surfing tournament Betelgeuse has to win by using magic," Gems explained.

But after Beetlejuice, Burton went off to make his Batman movies (and slipped in Edward Scissorhands between the two), which kept him busy for a few years. Gems said in 1997 that Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian could no longer be made because Ryder was now too old to reprise her role. Kevin Smith later revealed he declined an offer to rewrite the film, asking, "Really, didn't we say all we needed to say with the first Beetlejuice? Must we go tropical?"

Cut to more than a decade later, and Deadline reported in 2011 that a Beetlejuice sequel was once again in the works, with Seth Grahame-Smith now working on the script after writing Tim Burton's Dark Shadows reboot. This would be a "true continuation 26 years later" with Michael Keaton ideally returning as Beetlejuice, Grahame-Smith told Entertainment Weekly. "We're not there yet [with Keaton] because we don't have a film to present to him," he said. The following year, Grahame-Smith revealed he had now met with Keaton, and the actor's "excitement level is huge." Winona Ryder told Seth Meyers in 2015 that the sequel seemed to be really happening, and she suggested she would return. But there were few major updates in the following years, give or take a new screenwriter being hired to rewrite the script. In 2019, things weren't looking good after Burton told USA Today he doubted Beetlejuice 2 would be made, and a Warner Bros. spokesperson told the outlet "the project isn't in active development." By 2021, Grahame-Smith told Collider he had "emotionally moved on" from the project, admitting he didn't get the script to the place it needed to be.

As the film stalled, a Beetlejuice stage musical debuted in 2018. But there was movement on a sequel again in 2022 after Deadline reported Brad Pitt's production company, Plan B, had boarded it.

No longer recently deceased

So why is Beetlejuice finally returning from the dead after years of failed efforts? One reason may come down to two words: Jenna Ortega. The actress teamed up with Tim Burton on the Netflix series Wednesday in 2022, and it became one of the streaming service's biggest shows ever. By March 2023, Ortega was reportedly in talks to play the daughter of Winona Ryder's character, Lydia Deetz, in a Beetlejuice sequel. Burton was said to be planning to direct the film. Just two months later, all the pieces started falling into place, and the movie was given an official release date of Sept. 6, 2024. So it's possible getting a rising star like Ortega on board after her first collaboration with Burton was a smashing success helped finally take the project over the finish line. Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, creators of Wednesday, wrote the latest version of the script, according to Deadline.

By May 2023, Variety confirmed Ortega is officially set to play Lydia Deetz's daughter in the movie, while Winona Ryder and Michael Keaton will also reportedly return. Plus, Justin Theroux has reportedly been cast in an unknown role, and Monica Bellucci will reportedly play Beetlejuice's wife. Willem Dafoe will also play a "law enforcement officer in the afterlife," according to The Hollywood Reporter. Brad Pitt's production company is still said to be producing.

Production on Beetlejuice 2 was reportedly set to begin on May 10, so fans can feel confident that the sequel won't retreat back into development hell like it did before. But perhaps it's only appropriate that Hollywood would need to say Beetlejuice's name multiple times — over the course of 30 years — before his sequel was finally summoned.

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