Why fans never got to see Austin Powers 4

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery didn't become a pop culture sensation overnight. In fact, the 1997 film made only about $60 million at the box office, and didn't even open in first place—but after coming to video, Austin Powers, Dr. Evil, and their wacky cohorts found the audience that eluded them in theaters. The first sequel, 1999's Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, made more in its opening weekend than the first movie made in its whole run, and a third film, Austin Powers in Goldmember, followed in 2002. Star Mike Myers has professed his love for the character and his collaborators on the movies, and expressed interest in making another sequel.

It hasn't happened, however. What's prevented Austin Powers 4 from coming to fruition—and could it still yet happen? Believe it or not, a fourth movie has come close to production over the years.

Years in development hell

Whenever a child has trouble at school, teachers generally ask one question first: is there trouble at home?

In the case of Austin Powers, the answer would be yes. New Line Cinema, the studio that produced the Austin Powers movies, had a reputation in Hollywood as the house that Freddy (as in Freddy Kruger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series) built—and Austin Powers remodeled. Indeed, the Austin Powers franchise generated huge money for New Line, helping offset losses from other films, and generated enough revenue that the studio could greenlight one of the boldest projects in Hollywood history: The Lord of the Rings trilogy, with all three films produced at the same time.

By the mid-2000s, though, New Line had run into financial troubles. Films like Pride & Glory, Snakes on a Plane and especially The Golden Compass plunged the studio into financial free fall. Public disputes between Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and the studio also cast scrutiny on New Line's accounting practices. The studio pushed for a fourth Austin Powers, but before the film could get the green light, New Line went bust. Warner Bros. ended up buying the studio outright, and all the backstage bickering helped stall development of Austin Powers 4.

Austin Powers 3 wasn't all that great

The first two Austin Powers movies saw the character move from cult phenom to blockbuster franchise star. Catchphrases from the films like "shagadellic," "one million dollars," and "oh, behave" entered the vernacular. The first film spoofed the British spy film genre, in particular the James Bond films, and the second kept the brand going strong. By the time 2002 rolled around, however, Austin Powers and Dr. Evil had gotten a bit stale. Though a financial success, Austin Powers in Goldmember didn't quite live up to the reputation of its predecessors. The film opened to middling reviews, and marked the end of the audience's love affair with the titular spy and all things groovy.

When viewed today, Goldmember falls short of the standard set by the first two movies, as evidenced by its over-reliance on pop culture jokes of the era. A Britney Spears cameo? A scene with the Osbournes? A Silence of the Lambs parody? Austin lost some of his mojo, lessening demand for a fourth installment.

Mike Myers had a run of bad luck

Austin Powers began as the brainchild of comedian Mike Myers. An alumnus of Saturday Night Live, Myers began work on the first Austin Powers movie at the behest of his then-wife Robin. In short order, however, the project became a labor of love. Myers had grown up watching British spy thrillers with his father, and Austin Powers became a sort of tribute to their relationship.

In short, a fourth Austin Powers couldn't happen without Mike Myers, and the past few years have had their share of trouble for the comedian. Myers divorced his wife in 2005, whom he'd often referred to as his "muse." He's also suffered some career woes as well. Apart from the animated Shrek series, in which Myers voices the title character, his post-Goldmember big-screen outings have proved more embarrassing than exciting. As the title character in The Cat in the Hat, Myers earned negative reviews, and after spending several years away from live-action work, anyway, he returned with 2008's The Love Guru—which bombed at the box office and earned some of the worst reviews of his career.

Mike Myers still wants it to happen

Myers has long professed his love for the Austin Powers characters, and publicly hinted at hope for future installments in the franchise. In 2005, he acknowledged a fourth outing could happen, and at the time, said he and New Line executives were having "conversations" about how to move forward. The studio's financial difficulties helped stall those plans, but they didn't dash Myers' hopes.

In 2007, Myers reiterated his plans for Austin Powers 4, though he stated that The Love Guru would take priority. In 2010, he said he'd begun working on a script, and that he and director Jay Roach (who helmed the first three entries) had worked out several ideas together. In 2016, Myers confirmed he was in final negotiations for Austin Powers 4 to go before the cameras after a 10-year delay.

Dr. Evil: The Movie

Myers has long remained mum regarding the story a fourth Austin Powers might explore. He has, however, confessed one tidbit: it's all about Dr. Evil.

Dr. Evil, of course, is Austin Powers' nemesis, a character also played by Myers and based upon Donald Plesence's performance in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. (Myers has also confessed to drawing inspiration from longtime Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels.) Unlike Austin, who remains more or less consistent throughout the series, Dr. Evil ends up with a son, a minature copy of himself (the famed Mini-Me), and a handful of modern catchphrases.

Myers has said the fourth Powers would focus more on Dr. Evil and his relationship with his son Scott (played by Seth Green). He's also said that the basic storyline will mirror his own relationship with his father. When last we saw Scott, he'd shaved his head and gone nuts, rather like his dad, which opens up all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps we'll get some sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads?

The Animated Hold Up

Perhaps now we should mention the other strange holdup on Austin Powers 4: an animated Austin Powers TV series almost happened instead.

Following the success of The Spy Who Shagged Me, Myers sold the rights for an animated series to HBO. The network immediately commissioned 13 episodes for a first season, and Myers confirmed he would return to provide the voice of Austin and Dr. Evil. Myers would have consulted on the animation style for the show, with the tone akin to more adult-oriented animated series like King of the Hill. Myers also hinted at the possibility of an animated prequel film as well.

Then…nothing happened. HBO pulled the plug on the series, though neither the network nor Myers have discussed the reasons for the move. Eric Goldman, who would have written for the show, has hinted that Myers backed out of the project.

Jay Roach will return

Besides Mike Myers, another man deserves a good deal of credit for the success of the Austin Powers movies: director Jay Roach. In the mid-'90s, Myers approached Roach—who had never directed a film comedy before—about tackling Austin Powers. Roach agreed, and the movie helped launch his career as a successful director. He subsequently went on to direct the Meet the Parents films, the Austin Powers sequels, and Trumbo. In 2008, Roach scored an Emmy for his direction of the telefilm Recount based on the 2000 US Presidential Election. He repeated the feat in 2012 with Game Change, a semi-sequel to Recount about Sarah Palin's role in the 2008 McCain Presidential campaign.

Roach, for his part, has said that he loves Myers and the Austin Powers characters, and wants to return for a fourth film. Roach's participation and interest have no doubt helped fuel the possiblity of a fourth movie over the years, and his renewed interest should help keep the film in development.

So will it happen?

Will Austin Powers 4 make it to the big screen? Only time can say for sure, though even if it does, there's no guarantee it'll be any good. Plenty of long-delayed follow-ups have arrived in theaters with big buildup, only to disappoint fans (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and Independence Day: Resurgence come to mind). But as long as Myers and Roach continue to hope for a fourth romp, the swingin' spy might have at least one more adventure left—and there's a chance it could still be our bag, baby. Yeah.