‘The Blair Witch Project’ Nearly Had a Prequel — Could It Still Happen?

Hollywood loves to churn out small budget horror movies that have big box office returns. But while the people at Blumhouse have turned that practice into a fine art, there was a low budget movie that came before them: The Blair Witch Project. Still regarded as one of the most successful horror movies of all time, it came out in the late ’90s and could have passed for a high school A/V club project. The home video feel of the film was very successful. It was so successful, in fact, that it spawned a sequel and nearly followed it up with a prequel. They didn’t, but it might still happen. 

Heather Donahue close up and crying in 'The Blair Witch Project'
Heather Donahue | Artisan Entertainment/Getty Images

The unexpected success of ‘The Blair Witch Project’

Debuting in 1999, The Blair Witch Project was revolutionary filmmaking for its time. It was a found-footage horror film about a trio of people searching the Maryland forest for a famous being known as the Blair Witch. While the eponymous witch is never seen, her presence is felt throughout the film. At the conclusion, it’s assumed our heroes are never heard from again. 

The film paved the way for other low budget horror movies such as Paranormal Activity to come after it. It cracked something of a Hollywood cheat code. After being made for pennies on the dollar, it made millions. It spawned a generation of imitators (some good, some not so much) that gamed the system by being made on the cheap but making a boatload at the box office. It didn’t hurt that the movie’s simple tone and feel were awesomely frightening to audiences, who couldn’t get enough of the movie.  

‘The Blair Witch Project’ sequel

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A year later, the studio responsible for The Blair Witch Project tried to cash in on the original film’s popularity with a sequel titled Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Made on a $15 million budget, the film grossed $47 million worldwide, according to IMDb. The sequel was more of a conventional Hollywood horror film. It didn’t have quite the same DIY charm of the original. It also explained more of the original film’s backstory and origin. 

This may have been the reason the second film wasn’t quite as well-received. Typically, sequels take at least 2-3 years to formulate and premiere. In this case, the studio rushed a sequel into theaters only a year after the first was a massive hit. They weren’t able to catch lightning in a bottle the second time. While it made a nice profit, it wasn’t anything approaching the hit that the first one was. There was also a 2016 sequel that wasn’t nearly as acclaimed as the original. 

The film also had a new creative team behind it, which may have played a part in why it wasn’t so successful. There was a very specific reason for that. The team behind the original film had a very different idea for a follow-up. It’s an idea that could still come to fruition. 

‘The Blair Witch Project’ prequel that nearly happened (and still could)

According to an oral history of the film’s making captured by The Week, one of the filmmakers (Eduardo Sanchez) said they wanted to make a prequel as the next film in the series: 

“We told them that the only thing we were interested in was a prequel: a totally different kind of film than Blair Witch. They approved that idea too late. They had their trepidations, and they were hesitant about doing a period piece. As they should have been, you know? It was a cool idea, but it was unconventional. And we felt that was the only way to follow up Blair Witch: a completely different ride than anything you’d seen. “

Sanchez added that he’d love to do a prequel still. So will a prequel happen? Odds are good that it will. There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than mining an already successful franchise. Rebooting the Blair Witch universe with a fresh story that depicts the legend’s origin would likely be a major box office hit. It could also be produced relatively inexpensively.