Monday, January 23, 2023

Futureworld: When Sequels Are Unnecessary

At the end of Michael Crichton's Westworld (1973), the androids at Delos, a high-tech amusement park, went amok and killed dozens of guests. Futureword (1976) picks up two years later. One would have thought that the deaths and injuries to almost 150 customers and staff would have bankrupted the company. But instead, it plans to re-open and convince the public that--after $1.5 billion in safety improvements--Delos is "fail-safe."

Peter Fonda as Chuck.
As part of its public relations strategy, the company has invited influential world leaders and news journalists to experience the new amusement park and participate in behind-the-scenes tours. The guest list includes newspaper reporter Chuck Browning (Peter Fonda) and TV host Tracy Ballard (Blythe Danner). Browning suspects that something is amiss at Delos--especially after a former employee tried to contact him and was subsequently murdered. But what could Delos be hiding?

Given the boxoffice success of the modestly-budgeted Westworld, it was not surprising that a sequel was made. However, by 1975, Michael Crichton and MGM, the original studio, had moved on to other projects and were uninterested in revisiting Delos. Producer Paul Lazaurus III eventually secured financing and a distribution deal through American International Pictures (AIP). Known as a "B" movie studio, AIP wanted to move into the "mainstream" with bigger-budgeted movies and Futureworld fit that profile.

Blythe Danner as "Socks."
Unfortunately, Futureworld lacks the creativity and energy that made Westworld a hit with critics and moviegoers. As the intrepid reporters, Fonda seems to be going through the motions with Danner overcompen-sating by playing her character too broadly. Neither one is remotely convincing.  Also, while it's the script's fault, I grew quickly tired of Fonda calling Danner by the "cute" nickname Socks. As a blue collar Delos technician, Stuart Margolin provides some much needed personality. However, he doesn't appear until an hour into the film's running time and Futureworld has already grown tedious by then.

Perhaps, Futureworld could have been saved with a clever story. I won't provide any plot spoilers here, but will state that it recycles a creaky, overly familiar science fiction premise. By the time the credits roll, you'll likely be thinking: Is that all there is to it? And don't expect a big scene from Yul Brynner, who reprises his Westworld role as The Gunslinger. He appears only in a silly dream fantasy.

Futureworld did turn a small profit, but not enough to warrant additional sequels. However, in 1980, a TV series called Beyond Westworld debuted on CBS. Only three of its five episodes were aired before it was cancelled. The original concept was revived quite successfully, though, when HBO launched its Westworld TV series in 2016.


  1. I was a huge fan of Westworld -- I'll never forget seeing it at the show with my mom, and we watched it every time it aired on TV. But Futureworld never held any interest. I'm glad now that I didn't bother. (Although I do want to know what that overly familiar sci-fi premise is!)

  2. Ooh, very harsh on a movie that I find casually entertaining if you don't invest a lot of effort in watching it. I've never like Peter Fonda as an actor, so that is a drawback.