This 2011 "Summer of the Sequel" has been a reminder that Hollywood never wants to leave money on the table. So why not find franchise opportunities for the biggest thus-far-unexploited hits in movie history?
It probably wouldn't come as a shock to anyone to hear that of the 50 highest grossing films of all time at the North American box office, only nine are not remakes, sequels or precursors to sequels. (Even Avatar has James Cameron currently working on Pandora-based follow-ups.) But that means nine ready-made, pre-sold opportunities for a box-office bonanza. Behold a plot concept for every one of them. You're welcome, movie industry.
Inception (2010, No. 41 on all-time list, $292.5 million gross): Everyone wanted to know whether that damned top actually kept spinning; now we can find out! Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) has been trapped in his dream of a reunion with his children, but his teammates — including Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Ariadne (Ellen Page) — have a plan for rescuing his consciousness back into reality. Is a painful reality preferable to a reassuring illusion? And will all the cast members be too expensive to reunite after Christopher Nolan uses nearly every one of them in The Dark Knight Rises?
Up (2009, No. 40, $293.0 million): Now that Pixar is comfortably in the sequel-producing business, it'll be looking to other properties. Up Again will send widowed Carl (Ed Asner) and his young pal Russell (Jordan Nagai) on another balloon-powered journey, this time to find Russell's long-absent dad. Emotional turmoil ensues as Carl faces the possibility that he'll lose his new surrogate son. Plus: the wise-cracking ghost of Carl's dead wife, Ellie!
The Sixth Sense (1999, No. 39, $293.5 million): Heaven knows M. Night Shyamalan could use a career boost. So it's time for a now-adult, still-dead-people-seeing Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) to face new turmoil as his mother (Toni Collette) starts dating a new guy who may also have the same "gift." Spoiler alert: It's his mother who's now dead and doesn't realize it. Or maybe it's Cole himself. Whichever one Shyamalan manages to make the most annoying.
Independence Day (1996, No. 33, $306.2 million): Sequel ideas have been tossed around for years, to the point that Will Smith had reportedly signed for two follow-ups. We can kick-start the process by suggesting that maybe the invading aliens are finally able to download a Norton update that gets rid of the computer virus with which their ships were infected in the original. And maybe they now keep their operating system in "the cloud," making them harder to defeat. And maybe Sony Pictures and Steve Jobs arrange a massive cross-promotion — the iNdependence iNvasion — that will take over all other personal electronic devices.
Forrest Gump (1994, No. 21, $329.7 million): This one should be easy, since author Winston Groom wrote a sequel — Gump and Co. — in 1995 that followed Forrest into the '90s, including meeting Tom Hanks. But legal disputes and other creative concerns kept the project on the back-burner. Why not just bypass Groom's book completely and send Forrest into the wild events of the 21st century? Who wouldn't want to see him getting shot in the face by Dick Cheney, or inadvertently causing the housing market to collapse? Life is like a box of sub-prime-mortgage-backed securities ...
Finding Nemo (2003, No. 18, $339.7 million): Nemo's off to college; how does Marlin deal with an empty anemone nest? By heading back to school himself, along with an eager-to-be educated Dory! Hey, it worked for Rodney Dangerfield.
The Passion of the Christ (2004, No. 15, $370.8 million): Nope, not touching this one. Uhn-uh, nooooo way.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, No. 6, $435.1 million): Elliott (Henry Thomas) has spent 30 years monitoring crackpot newsletters and websites — alienating a wife and the rest of his family in the process — while hoping that some day his bug-eyed pal might return. Now at last, a sighting seems to suggest that E.T. is back. So it's time for a road trip with the son he has long ignored and his sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore) to discover why this one little alien keeps winding up in trouble in strange places more often than the guys from The Hangover.
Titanic (1997, No. 2 on all-time list, $600.8 million): OK, this one's a little tricky: boat sunk, Jack dead, Rose dead. But just in time for the 100th anniversary of the ship's disastrous maiden voyage, how about pairing it with that trend of turning any classic story into horror: Titanic and Zombies? It'll be a fitting reminder of an industry that never really knows when to let an idea rest in peace.