Stargate’s history is filled with ups and downs. Any fan would be disappointed by the cancellation of their favorite show, of course — and in the case of this franchise, three shows eventually led to three cancellations.
But that was just the start. Between 2009 and 2011, things were going to get even worse for the Stargate franchise.
This isn’t the story of Stargate Atlantis being cut off in its prime, or of Stargate Universe being sent off into the void just when it was getting good. Those are important stories in their own right. But they weren’t the only fatalities during these two short years. There were other Stargate projects on the drawing board, which casual viewers of the weekly shows never heard of … because they were never filmed.
This is the story of an SG-1 movie that was ready to shake up the fictional universe with a massive revelation. The script was written, the sets were still standing, and the cast and crew were ready to go.
The movie was Stargate: Revolution, and it would never be made.
To get a bit of context first, let’s rewind to the end of Stargate SG-1 as a weekly television show.
When Stargate SG-1 left the airwaves in 2007 after ten seasons and 214 episodes, there was actually hope in the air. Although SCI FI Channel wasn’t going to bring the show back (and a brief effort to take SG-1 to Apple for an eleventh season went nowhere), by the time the series wrapped the cast and crew knew that they were coming back anyway. MGM had given the go-ahead to shoot a pair of movies, which would go directly to DVD (and later air on SCI FI).
Stargate: The Ark of Truth was in the hands of Stargate SG-1 executive producer Robert C. Cooper, who wrote and directed the movie. Cooper had been showrunner during the final years of the series, and was largely responsible not only for the creation of the Ori storyline but also for building much of the show’s mythology around the Ancients over the years. The Ark of Truth would wrap up the loose threads of the Ori – their invasion of our galaxy on a bloody religious crusade, and the newfound power of the now ascended Adria (Morena Baccarin).
Brad Wright followed with Stargate: Continuum, which was directed by long-time Stargate director Martin Wood. This concluded the story of the last of the Goa’uld System Lords, Baal (Cliff Simon), with a time travel adventure that took the team from the new Tok’ra homeworld to an altered version of Earth where the entire history of the Stargate program had been erased from existence.
Both films came with a bigger budget than a typical two-part episode of the television series — around $7 million each. This allowed for a larger canvas for storytelling — not anywhere close to the size of a theatrical feature, mind you, but bigger than the scale of your typical weekly adventure on the small screen. Not only did they already have the benefit of standing sets and an established production team, but more money to spend meant more shooting days, new sets and locations, and more visual effects shots.
When the two movies filmed at The Bridge Studios in Vancouver, B.C. in 2007 it wasn’t a crazy idea that MGM might just continue making SG-1 movies and sell them directly to fans on DVD and Blu-ray — for years to come! That was the plan. The DVD market had been red hot for years, and few predicted that this new market for reaching audiences was about to collapse.
The Ark of Truth and Continuum did well when they were released. Sales were strong, and Wright would later suggest that “they may have been the last successful DVD releases.” Though the studio did not publicize hard sales numbers, Stargate’s producers told GateWorld at the time that sales were solid enough to go ahead and make a third SG-1 film.
In hindsight, the bean counters in Accounting were probably coming to realize that the DVD market was softening. Stargate’s first two movies made a profit, but there was no guarantee that another movie to be released in 2009 or 2010 would do the same. Still, producers were bullish about the future of the franchise. Atlantis was also going to get its own DVD movie after the cancellation was announced in August of 2008. And with spin-off SGU in the works, MGM appeared to be full steam ahead on Stargate.
Surely it was only a matter of time before they gave a green light on the next movie.
YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
After SG-1’s two movies, writer-producer Brad Wright was looking to do something different with the team’s third outing in this new format.
Stargate: Revolution was finally going to cross a line that the show had flirted with for years: revealing the existence of the Stargate to the world. Wright knew that this was a story that could only be told one time, and that every story set in this universe after that would be different. Knowledge of the Stargate among the general population raises a host of issues: Would the Stargate still be controlled by the military? Who can speak for the interests of the entire planet when meeting alien races? Would people also be told about the advanced technologies that came from off-world … or about all the times evil aliens almost succeeded in wiping us out?
Disclosure is potentially a massive story, with profound implications for every show, movie, and other canon stories that came after it.
It also made sense to put Stargate’s former leading man at the center of all of it. After sitting out The Ark of Truth and having only a small role in Continuum (he did get to go to the Arctic and play on a Navy submarine, though), Richard Dean Anderson would star in the new movie as General Jack O’Neill.
“It’s a Stargate story that brings O’Neill back in a big way,” Wright said at the time. From what few hints have been dropped about the story in the years since, that might have included a lot of off-world action; Earth’s fleet of deep space carriers in combat; and a dinner scene that more or less confirmed that Sam and Jack ended up together.
The plan was set for an O’Neill-centric movie, which would again be directed by Martin Wood. Anderson was on board. MGM ordered a script, to be written by Wright and fellow staff writer Carl Binder (who had joined the writers’ room full time in Atlantis‘s second season). The script was completed, and while Stargate Universe was ramping up production the sets for Stargate Command stayed up on Stage 5. (The Gate Room was actually converted to serve as Icarus Base in the SGU premiere.) The studio continued to pay The Bridge Studios to rent the stage space month after month, though the lights stayed out and the cameras weren’t rolling.
In January of 2009 an optimistic Wright said: “We’re making it in the spring.”
By April of 2009 MGM confirmed it was happy enough with the numbers to give a green light to SG-1’s third movie. Because the studio could keep expenses down by utilizing the existing infrastructure (including much of the crew) from an ongoing television production, now MGM was eyeing principal photography in the fall — in order to avoid too much overlap with the filming of SGU‘s first season.
“I can almost guarantee we are proceeding with the SG-1 movie this year,” Wright told GateWorld in the spring. That same week he reiterated to fans in a convention appearance that “the Stargate SG-1 movie will probably start shooting in the fall. I say ‘probably’ because there are a lot of deals that have to be finished being put in place before that can actually happen.”
Anderson also told fans that the movie had been green-lit. “I sat next to Charlie Cohen and across from Brad Wright at dinner two weeks ago (the cast dinner for the launch of Stargate Universe),” he told RDAnderson.com. “And just an hour prior to sitting down to mediocre cuisine, Charlie had announced MGM’s intention to make the next Stargate movie.”
For Stargate fans who were awaiting the next chapter in SG-1’s adventures, the long summer of 2009 was agonizing. The movie was supposedly in pre-production but not filming yet … while the financials for both the DVD market and MGM itself were eroding. The global economy was in a major recession. In August, Cooper reiterated the tenuous position that Revolution found itself in: “We were very successful with the first two SG-1 movies,” he told Syfy Wire. “Since then, the economics have changed a little bit. DVDs aren’t selling the same way they were when we released those even just a year, and a year and a half ago.”
But the Stargate team was confident that the wait would pay off, and producers fought to keep the sets up. Winning that fight for one more month was always a good sign. “MGM does not leave multi-million dollar sets up and pay the rent on multi-million dollar stages if that is not their ongoing intention,” Wright said. “Having said that, when we were originally talking about doing this the world economy was a little bit different, and so the guys who [said] ‘Go ahead and do that’ are [now] saying, ‘Uh, hang on a sec.’”
Later Wright explained how 2009 went down, from his perspective. After MGM had given them a green light to begin shooting later in the year, “about a month went by and they said, ‘OK, we’re going to have to put the movies on hold.’ And I went, ‘Really?‘”
Revolution would depend not on a box office performance or television ratings, but on retail sales. And the sales forecasts were getting worse by the day.
But meanwhile, there was a brand new show to celebrate in the fall, when Stargate Universe made its global debut. In November producers sought to tide fans over by finally revealing the film’s title, Stargate: Revolution. But by now it was becoming clear to fans that MGM was no longer willing to roll the dice on a 2010 DVD release. The studio was tightening its belt ahead of what would eventually be a bankruptcy filing one year later.
NAIL IN THE COFFIN
Needless to say, the cameras did not start rolling on Stargate: Revolution in the fall of 2009. MGM had a change of heart on its green light, and the SG-1 and Atlantis sets finally came down. Much of the props and costumes (including the Stargates themselves) were auctioned off. As 2010 began, all eyes were on Universe to keep the Stargate candle burning.
Retail sales of DVD and other physical media were flagging. The explosion of TV on DVD had actually hit its peak back in 2005, when DVD sales accounted for more than $16 billion in the U.S. (Blu-ray launched in 2006 but never approached anywhere near that number.)
Meanwhile Netflix and Apple were finding early success in digital distribution — Netflix through subscription streaming, and Apple through the sale of downloadable episodes. It sold weekly episodes of SGU this way, after each new installment had aired on cable television. Video On Demand was the new sexy, and cable providers began renting and selling digital content à la carte to subscribers.
Perhaps the way to save the third SG-1 movie, and also the Atlantis movie Stargate: Extinction, was to completely rethink how they would be sold.
As 2010 rolled on, unfortunately, MGM was in no position to take risks like experimenting with a new revenue channel. The writing was on the wall, and in November the studio filed for bankruptcy protection. It completed the process of reorganization at the end of the year, with its creditors taking control of the company. MGM emerged with brand new leadership, a new strategy for its film and television businesses, and zero commitment to making a TV movie that their predecessors had hit the brakes on more than a year earlier.
While all of this was happening, Syfy Channel cancelled Stargate Universe. The story goes that, had anyone from the network called MGM to negotiate a new deal to perhaps give the show a third season, at that time there was no one at MGM to pick up the phone.
Hope springs eternal — but as the calendar rolled over into 2011, for Stargate fans it was pretty evident that Revolution was not going to be made. When Wright took the stage at April’s Stargate convention, he confirmed it: the SG-1 and Atlantis movies were permanently shelved, along with attempts to get an SGU movie off the ground to provide some closure to that story.
Stargate was done. At least, for now.
“It took too long,” Wright said. “We just couldn’t get it together in time, and the window has closed. It’s actually sad for me, because after 17 years, I’m cleaning out my desk tomorrow morning.”
WHAT MIGHT STILL BE …
Stargate: Revolution would have turned Stargate’s fictional world upside down, and in so doing opened the door to a whole new chapter of storytelling. Future movies, and a possible fourth TV show, would have been set in a world where everyone knows about the Stargate. Even Stargate Command might have become a thing of the past, with the Stargate moving to an international facility — or even a public space like we saw in the episode “2010.”
As MGM and new owner Amazon weigh the future of the Stargate franchise, it’s worth noting that this road not traveled isn’t lost to us entirely — even though the third SG-1 movie was never made. If the studio gives long-time fans what we’ve been asking for for years now, the next Stargate project could be set within this same universe that we know and love.
And how far would Earth have come since the last time we saw it, in 2011’s Stargate Universe finale? Would the gate still be a secret, more than 10 years later?
It seems pretty unlikely, given the number of countries who have now been read-in on the secret. Even in 2004, the Atlantis expedition to the Pegasus Galaxy was composed of men and women from all over the world. China and Russia got their own BC-304 ships, and Jack O’Neill was promoted to lead Homeworld Command in Washington, D.C. (By now, Jack is probably retired.)
The ideas of Stargate: Revolution aren’t quite dead, because one of the script’s co-writers — Stargate’s executive producer Brad Wright — today has another project ready to shoot. In 2019 Wright returned to the franchise to pen a pilot script for a brand new Stargate series.
The title is still unknown, and the pandemic came at just the wrong time to stop it in its tracks: Wright and MGM were ready to start pitching the show to TV and streaming partners right when all production shut down world-wide.
Wright has revealed that, in his new story, the Stargate has indeed already been made public. It would introduce new characters while bringing back some old favorites (like Jack O’Neill, Daniel Jackson and Samantha Carter), and maybe even include some version of an academy that trains the next generation of Stargate personnel.
It’s an exciting prospect, and it would be a fitting end to the story of a failed movie. Stargate fans aren’t going anywhere, and we are ready for MGM and Amazon to finally do what couldn’t be done back in 2009.
We’re ready for a revolution.
What do you think of the plans for Stargate: Revolution? Is this a story that should still be told within the Stargate universe? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments!