Until some weeks ago the Tron Legacy sequel, rumored to be names Tron: Ascension, was cancelled from Disney’s to do list. This was announced around 2015, after the disappointing performance of Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland.
A Disney executive talked about the decision taken, saying that they never formally greenlit the movie. Although earlier that year thing seem to go ahead, as Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde were suppose to come back along with director Joseph Kosinski. In addition, Jared Leto (now rumored for the apparent reboot) was eyed for a role too.
The Disney executive also added that another reason was the insane calendar release ahead of Disney, as between Live-Action adaptations (Jungle Book, Beauty and the Beast and Pirates 5), Animation movies, Pixar movies, Marvel movies and Star Wars movies, there was no actual space to release Tron 3. If we add also the DreamWorks production that Disney distributes, yeah, there was no space for the cyberspace.
People are speculating that the reason why they are taking time to approve a new Tron project has to be found in Tomorrowland‘s disappointing performance. Although the movie actually performed below of Disney’s expectation, I don’t think this is the only reason why this is happening..
First of all, commenting on what the executive said about not finding a place for the movie in their release calendar: Tron would be way too different from the trend they are following to be released under a Disney logo. They are all fables, plus an always well performing franchise (Pirates), while the others are released under other brands (Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm). There’s no space for Sci-Fi. They tried with Tomorrowland, and it didn’t work out, plus the movie starring George Clooney had a lighthearted story, in line with the most classical Disney movies. Tron, both the first one and Legacy, are dark in both theme and tone.
The other consideration is this: sci-fi is not mainstream. The only thing that could be defined as mainstream from this genre is Star Wars because it was built to be mainstream (although I don’t think Lucas ever admitted it), yet is sci-fi only because the presence of space and ships and alien life form, but in reality has more in common with the fantasy genre.
Anyways, just take a look at the two J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies: the first one made almost $386 millions in front of a budget of $150 millions, but if this performance could be justified by the fact it was a reboot, Into Darkness made $467 millions in front of a budget of $190 millions. If you think both of them made money, think again: the expenses for the marketing campaign are not included, and generally they end up to be at least as expensive as the movie budget. So, double up all the expenses, and you realizes that maybe they made money, but they are far to be insanely successful. And Beyond made even less.
I made an example with franchises that have at least a minimum following. If you look at this genres movies in the past two years, which are not based on a famous IP, the results are scary: Edge Of Tomorrow (budget: $178 milllion) and Pacific Rim ($190 millions) made respectively $370 millions and $411 millions, and, despite both were critically acclaimed, just Del Toro’s robot/monster madness received the greenlight for a sequel. The last movie of Tron: Legacy and, supposedly, Tron 3 director Joseph Kosinski, also sci-fi, was a total flop (both critically and economically): in front of a $120 million budget, Oblivion made just $286 million.
So, yeah, the data for Disney is not the most brilliant one. If we don’t count Prometheus, which performed similarly to the aforementioned titles in front of a similar budget but considered a success in front of his R rating (and thanks to its connection to the Alien universe), the most successful sci-fi movies after Avatar are the Transformers sequels, X-Men: Days Of Future Past and Guardians Of The Galaxy (the first two because they are part of famous franchises; the second proved Marvel that whatever the put in a theatre people will go watch it no matter what, luckily the quality of the movie was amazing).
So, if even Star Trek isn’t that mainstream yet, how can Disney’s investors feel safe about investing hundreds of millions of dollars into a movie who did somewhat money with its second chapter? It’s understandable, even if between the first two movies there was an 18 year long gap.
However, there are some consideration that I feel like to do in favor of a movie that I hope, someday, to watch. I really enjoyed Tron: Legacy, but I agree with everyone who says that the script went to f*ck itself at a certain point throughout the movie (yes, I point my finger to all those hailed Lost writers who somehow were defined geniuses because people were digging a show that was just confusing as shit and that were given the gig to write this), and that the only things to save about the movie are the soundtrack (I have the Daft Punk album in CD, call me crazy but man this was fucking awesome), and the visuals.
Undeniably, in Tron: Legacy we really felt to be thrown in another world, which visually was something we never seen before, and some action sequences were so amazing that are rare to see them even once in awhile; these visuals gave the movie an unmistakable footprint, a style that became a reference in the industry. And yeah, if you ask me, this is the thing that somehow made the movie go somewhat mainstream, at least for a while.
All this to say: people who watched the movie actually dig it because of its style, but they were left with a bitter taste, as if something was missing… the story, the script.
I think an hypothetical third movie could work, and actually make money. But, this time, it needs to be great. And to be great, you need an amazing script, as we know that visually these guys know what to do. That’s maybe why they are considering a reboot, starring that same Jared Leto who was eyed for Tron 3 back then. C’est la vie.