The real reason Marvel won't give Ghost Rider another movie

Just before Marvel launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Johnny Blaze got his solo shot at big screen glory in 2007's Ghost Rider.

The project had bounced through development for the better part of a decade, with everyone from Johnny Depp to Eric Bana attached. Nicolas Cage finally landed the gig and starred as the daredevil with a deal with the devil in the original film and a 2012 sequel, subtitled Spirit of Vengeance. It's been four years since then, but we still don't have a new Ghost Rider flick—and here's why we don't think he'll ever ride on the big screen again.

The first two films were poorly reviewed

Some viewers found things to love and had some fun with them, but neither Ghost Rider movie resonated with critics. The first film was a modest box office success with $220 million worldwide; the second one didn't fare as well, earning just $130 million, and the rights to the character have since reverted back to Marvel Studios proper (meaning Cage's version of the character is certainly not set within MCU continuity). With much more bankable properties like Captain America and Spider-Man on the hook, you'd have to think Marvel isn't very keen to roll the dice on a third Ghost Rider.

Nic Cage isn't interested in coming back

Even if the stars somehow aligned and Marvel did decide to tackle a third Ghost Rider film with Cage, the actor has indicated he's not really all that keen to climb back on the motorcycle, given the chance. As he told Collider, "I've said what I have to say. I don't want to say never…anything's possible. But I doubt, highly, that I would be in a third installment of that." It doesn't get much more cut and dried than that. Cage certainly sounds like he's done with the franchise at this point, and you'd imagine many Ghost Rider fans (at least those who are fans of the comics) aren't complaining.

Ghost Rider works pretty great on television

Though he's not on the big screen anymore, there are still some Ghost Rider stories being told in live action—they're just happening on ABC, in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series. A major storyline this season has followed the introduction of the newest Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes (Gabriel Luna), to the show's ensemble. Robbie has quickly become a key player and a fan favorite on the Marvel Cinematic Universe tie-in series. Weaving his story into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has proven to be a great creative move, revitalizing the show and providing a conduit to connect to the mystical side of the MSU opened up by the big-screen hit Doctor Strange. Sadly, we don't know exactly what the studio plans to do with the character once this arc wraps up. Can you say "spinoff"?

Marvel hasn't been keen to cross over TV and movies

For fans hoping Robbie Reyes' appearance in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might be planting the seeds for the newest Ghost Rider to jump to the big screen, we're sad to say you'll probably be disappointed. Marvel has almost always kept its TV universe separate from the movies, and when there is crossover, it's the movies influencing the TV shows, not the other way around. Marvel has yet to bring a character over from TV to film, and the movies have also effectively ignored the fact that S.H.I.E.L.D. is back in operation. After the agency fell in Captain America: Winter Soldier, it has since relaunched on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.—but if you've only been watching the movies, you'd be hard-pressed to know anything has changed at all. This is odd, considering S.H.I.E.L.D. (the agency) was such a big part of the films, and Marvel likes to lean into the fact that it has a shared universe, but if you're hoping Robbie will get his own movie, we wouldn't recommend holding your breath.

The age of goofy, terrible comic book movies is (mostly) over

This is actually a great thing, but it doesn't bode very well for the Ghost Rider franchise. The first Ghost Rider hit just before the comic book movie creative renaissance of the Marvel Cinematic Universe—back when studios could still get away with releasing mediocre comic book adaptations. It falls more into the spectrum of the first two Fantastic Four films (or, by that measure, the most recent one, too) than something like The Dark Knight or Iron Man. Studios can't get away with releasing bad comic book movies and expect audiences to just show up out of obligation (See: The Fantastic Four once again). If a new Ghost Rider was anything like the last two, it'd almost certainly be a flaming skull (or flaming something else).

The character isn't 'big' enough for the big screen

Looking across Marvel's film slate, the studio typically goes with heroes who tackle world-ending stakes. Yes, looking back to the comics, the Ghost Rider has taken on some hefty adversaries — but he's typically been portrayed as more of a street-level hero. Literally, the dude drives motorcycles and muscle cars. When it comes to heroes of this caliber, Marvel has typically pushed them toward the small screen in supporting roles, like Robbie Reyes in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., or let them anchor their own TV shows, a la Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil. In the current climate, Ghost Rider seems a better fit for a limited TV series than a big-budget blockbuster.

The only other Ghost Rider isn't all that interesting

Looking beyond Johnny Blaze and Robbie Reyes, there aren't a ton of great options to explore. The only other major Ghost Rider (yes, there have been some "What If" and one-off versions, but we're talking main canon here) is Danny Ketch, who turned out to be the long-lost brother of Johnny Blaze. He held the mantle in the early-to-mid 1990s, drove a motorcycle, and was super '90s, with a black leather jacket and spiked shoulder pads to boot. If Marvel is tackling a Ghost Rider who isn't Johnny Blaze, Robbie Reyes certainly looks to be the right way to go.

Ghost Rider is almost too powerful

Though he typically hits the streets looking for vengeance, Ghost Rider is actually one of the most powerful figures in the Marvel Universe. According to Marvel, he has superhuman strength and durability as well as the ability to project and control hellfire, which can literally sear the soul as well as burn the flesh. He's also immune to any mystical attacks that are specific to beings with living souls (which is most creatures). As if that wasn't enough, his motorcycle (or car) is typically unstoppable, and can travel at high speeds—and vertically—to catch his target. When it comes to putting him in a movie, you almost run into the "Hulk Problem" of having a hero who is too powerful, which makes it tough to establish a villain and problem serious enough to serve as a real challenge.

It'd have made an awesome, period-set 1970s flick

The original Ghost Rider comic debuted in 1973, and although Marvel hasn't made a lot of period film projects outside of Captain America: The First Avenger, this is certainly one that could have been a lot of fun in that era. Much like Joe Carnahan's aborted Daredevil movie that would've been set in the '70s, a Ghost Rider story that took place around the character's actual origin could be a creative way to shake up the MCU with a brand new era and visual palette. Unfortunately, Marvel hasn't shown much interest in exploring other time periods, as much fun as it might be (just imagine a '70s Luke Cage story with the look of the original comic). There's also one more problem with this idea…

Johnny Blaze is apparently prologue in the MCU

Though he wasn't explicitly introduced, Johnny Blaze certainly got a major shout out on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As part of his introduction as Ghost Rider, the show has explored Robbie Reyes' origin story, part of which revealed how Robbie gained his powers. Turns out that after being the target of a gang hit, Robbie and his younger brother were critically injured—and Robbie made a deal to save his brother with a mysterious stranger on a motorcycle. Did we mention that this stranger had a flaming skull? As if that wasn't enough of a sign, the series also introduced Quentin Carnival posters in connection to the Ghost Rider story, which is the same carnival where Johnny Blaze worked. At first it only seemed like a sly easter egg for fans, but after seeing the unnamed, motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider pass his powers on to Robbie, it almost certainly seems like the Johnny Blaze era is prologue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's not to say Marvel couldn't tell a prequel series about Johnny Blaze's tenure, but it certainly sets up Robbie Reyes as the main, modern-day Ghost Rider in the MCU.