Why we never got to see an Inception sequel

Given its conceptual boundlessness, many audiences hoped Christopher Nolan's Oscar-winning Inception would spawn a full-on franchise. After all, didn't Tom Hardy's character tell us all not to be afraid to "dream a little bigger, darling"? The curveball—or, should we say, spinning top—ending left a lot of viewers hoping for some real resolution by way of a follow-up film, but it just hasn't happened … yet. Here's why we haven't seen an Inception sequel.

At first, Nolan was kind of open to the idea

Inception was released right before The Dark Knight Rises closed out Nolan's three-part trek through Gotham City; although he wasn't traditionally a sequel man before, his Dark Knight trilogy seemed to change his tune. In fact, he told Deadline in 2011 that while he did conceive of Inception as a one-shot cinematic experience, he wouldn't close the door on a possible return, simply because of the outcome of his Batman experience.

"I've always liked the potential of the world. It's an infinite, or perhaps I should say infinitesimal world that fascinates me," said Nolan. "I think of Inception as one film, but that's how I approach all of my films. When I was making Batman Begins, I certainly didn't have any thoughts of doing a second Batman film, let alone a third. You never quite know where your creative interests are going to take you. But when I was making Inception, I viewed it as a standalone movie."

He wanted a video game series to do the trick

To further explore the dream-within-a-dream world he'd created, Nolan originally eyed a video game follow-up. He told Entertainment Weekly, "I always imagined Inception to be a world where a lot of other stories could take place. At the moment, the only direction we're channeling that is by developing a video game set in the world," adding that it was "a longer-term proposition."

He further elaborated during a 2010 press conference (via Variety) that the reason a video game might be his preferred medium for a new Inception story is that the platform would offer an even more expansive place for storytelling. Indeed, the multitude of layers that the dream world offered were teasingly under-explored, and many of the sequences had a gamer-esque quality—like the almost Minecraft-ish nature of the world building in the lowest level, Limbo, and the ultra-violent GoldenEye-style attack on the Snow Fortress—so maybe there was something to the idea. As of 2016, though, there's been no news of progress on an Inception game.

The ending was more final than it seemed

For many, the final scene of Inception was completely confusing and open-ended. In the last few moments, Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb completed his mission to put the idea of dissolving an international energy company before it achieved a global monopoly into its heir's head. Then he went into the depths of cerebral chaos to retrieve his benefactor before he could forget his promise to restore Cobb's parental rights to his two children. Cobb returned to his home and spun his totem, a metal top, then walked off to play with his kids outside. Since the top was still spinning as the shot faded to black, many viewers took that as a signal that perhaps Cobb hadn't finished the job just yet, and there was more to do before he could really reunite with his children in the waking world.

Nolan, however, meant to signify something more concrete with his ending. He told Princeton University graduates in 2015 (via The Hollywood Reporter), "The way the end of that film worked, Leonardo DiCaprio's character Cobb—he was off with his kids, he was in his own subjective reality. He didn't really care anymore, and that makes a statement: perhaps, all levels of reality are valid. The camera moves over the spinning top just before it appears to be wobbling, it was cut to black." The idea, then, is that whether Cobb escaped his own head or not, his story was done—he was no longer looking for an exit from whatever existence he was in.

Nolan's been tied up with other projects

Even if Nolan did want to consider stepping back into the world(s) of Inception, he's kept himself pretty busy with other projects. He returned to Gotham for the final Dark Knight installment after Inception's release, then ventured into all-new territory with 2014's Interstellar, about a futuristic space- and time-jumping journey to save humanity from extinction. He's also written and directed Dunkirk, a World War II drama due in theaters in 2017. Nolan's TDKR proves he has the ability to step back into one filmmaking world after pressing pause on it, but the more movies that stack up between Inception and its hypothetical sequel, the less likely it seems he'll ever return.

The cast has been pretty swamped, too

Assuming a second Inception story would revisit its central characters, the cast's schedules would likely be another important consideration. After Inception, DiCaprio went on a professional tear, starring in J. Edgar, Django Unchained, The Great Gatsby, and The Wolf of Wall Street in rapid succession—then, after five Oscar nominations over 22 years, he won Best Actor for his leading role in 2015's The Revenant. More recently, DiCaprio has turned his attention to philanthropic filmmaking with the documentary Before the Flood and his upcoming big-screen Captain Planet adaptation. Needless to say, he'd have to work to find time for an Inception sequel.

And DiCaprio's not the only one who's kept his professional plate full. Tom Hardy's starred in a few recent big-deal pictures you might have heard of, like TDKR, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Revenant. Meanwhile, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has since made his directorial debut (2012's Don Jon), starred in an assortment of critical and commercial hits that includes Looper and Oliver Stone's 2016 biopic Snowden, and he runs his own indie production company. Surely they'd all be willing to pencil in another project with Nolan if he wanted, but scheduling a time that might work for all of these people could conceivably be pretty complicated.

It'd probably be really expensive to make as well

After Nolan's Inception earned the studio some serious loot (to the tune of $825 million worldwide, more than Batman Begins), there was some unsurprising interest by the execs in a potential follow-up. Even better, ideas were flowing in from the peanut gallery as to how Inception 2 might actually work.

However, a cursory review of Hollywood's history with sequels might reveal that even when the first installment of a franchise is a cash machine, the following films aren't always so successful (see also: The Divergent Series: Allegiant and Independence Day: Resurgence). As noted by E! Online, the first film's budget was far from modest at a whopping $160 million, so if the second film were to attract an audience, it would have to be even bigger—and could cost a risky amount of dough. That potential expense could certainly be a hangup, especially considering Nolan's never really claimed to have a plan for another Inception movie in the first place.