According to Cowboys & Aliens creator Scott Mitchell, it was a feud between Universal Pictures and DreamWorks that prevented a sequel from happening.
Cowboys & Aliens creator Scott Mitchell Rosenberg says that it was studio politics that prevented a sequel from happening. It has been ten years since the release of Cowboys & Aliens, which at the time was one of the most hotly anticipated films of summer 2011 and had thunderous reactions at Comic-Con in 2010 and 2011. However, after the Cowboys & Aliens first teaser trailer attached to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1, the film underperformed at the box office when it was released on July 29, 2011.
Part of what made Cowboys & Aliens such a highly anticipated project when it was first announced was due to the talent involved with it. Based off the comic of the same name, Jon Favreau came onboard as director hot off the heels of launching the MCU with Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Additionally, James Bond actor Daniel Craig was starring alongside Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford. Furthermore, the screenwriters attached to the film had amongst contributed to hits like Transformers, Star Trek, Lost, Iron Man, and Children of Men. Producing were powerhouses of nostalgic ’80s and 90’s cinema: Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. All the ingredients were there to craft the next big blockbuster.
In a recent interview with Yahoo! Entertainment, original Cowboys & Aliens comic creator Scott Mitchell said it was a feud between two studios that prevented a sequel from happening. In 2006, Spielberg and Howard’s production company both produced the film (DreamWorks Pictures and Imagine Pictures respectively), with Universal Pictures distributing the film. However, Dreamworks was owned by Paramount Pictures at the time, which caused friction between Spielberg and Paramount Pictures, as well as feuds with Universal Studios. Mitchell detailed the struggles of working with two different studios:
“They made a deal that they would do it together, which ultimately caused some problems. Steven was now at Paramount, which Universal was never very happy about. Then DreamWorks started getting into a fight with Paramount. There’s no good guys or bad guys in this — it’s just the way the business is. But it was a wild ride while we were making the movie…Universal announced the release date for the movie without going over it with DreamWorks. Had everything been cordial, it would have been bumped to the following summer [of 2012] because that way we could have gotten a lot of merchandising going. It was just 11 months without a Christmas in between to do anything. They just weren’t working together on things, and people were pointing hands in different directions. It had its effect….They couldn’t figure out how to do it because of all the studios involved. It was just too complicated for them to deal with. That would have been the advantage of either Universal or Paramount making it, because when we were negotiating the deal we had all these different business affairs departments on the phone at the same time!”
Many of Spielberg’s most iconic films are Universal Pictures productions, including Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Jurassic Park. However after he made Schindler’s List for Universal Pictures, Spielberg created DreamWorks Pictures as his own studio alongside producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, which would sour relations between Spielberg and Universal for years. In 2016, Universal Pictures partnered to distribute films from DreamWorks as well as Amblin Pictures. Spielberg’s next film after West Side Story, The Fabelmans, is the first film he has directed for Universal Pictures since The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997.
Even without the feud between the two studios, a sequel to Cowboys & Aliens seemed like it would have been hard to justify. The film came in second place at the box office the weekend it opened, being beaten by The Smurfs. The film eventually grossed $100 million in the domestic box office and $174 million worldwide against a budget of $163 million. Still, Cowboys & Aliens was one of many high-profile box-office disappointments for DreamWorks in 2011 alongside I Am Number Four and Fright Night. Universal Pictures had plenty of box-office potential lined up as they had just recently released Fast Five which restarted the Fast & Furious franchise and Despicable me had opened the year prior and given them a new sustainable franchise. By 2012, the blockbuster landscape had been changed so much by the release of The Avengers that Cowboys & Aliens felt like the relic of another era and one that no studio wanted more of.
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Source: Yahoo! Entertainment
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Cowboys & Aliens Creator Says Studio Politics Killed Plans For Sequel