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The Real Reason It Took So Long To Make 2016's Blair Witch

There's no denying the found-footage horror genre was born in 1999 with "The Blair Witch Project," a shoestring-budgeted chiller about three Maryland filmmaking students who vanish in the woods while searching for an urban legend. The movie's crafty prologue regarding the discovery of film remnants documenting the horrific events felt so plausible that viewers left theaters thinking what they just witnessed was terrifyingly real, Yahoo reported.

Eventually, the cat was let out of the bag as the actors in "The Blair Witch Project" — Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, and Joshua Leonard — emerged for publicity purposes, but it didn't stop moviegoers from going to see the film. By the time the final ticket was sold, "The Blair Witch Project" amassed an astounding $249 million in global ticket sales against a $60,000 budget, according to Box Office Mojo.

There have been disputes in recent years whether "The Blair Witch Project" is the most profitable movie ever made, as The Hollywood Reporter broke down the numbers: "'Blair Witch' involved an initial outlay of $35,000 — but that was just for the shoot; once postproduction was completed, the real budget was over $200,000 (and may have been as much as $500,000), including a sound remix and a transfer to 35mm."

On top of that, THR noted, distributor Artisan Entertainment bought the film for about $1 million, and another $6 million to $8 million was spent on marketing. Even so, with a legacy as rich as "The Blair Witch Project," why did it take 17 years for the film's direct sequel to get made?

Blair Witch premiered seven years after its inception

While "The Blair Witch Project" spinoff movie "Blair Witch: Book of Shadows" was fast-tracked into theaters in 2000, the movie proved to be a mere shadow of its predecessor, taking in $48 million in worldwide ticket sales against a $15 million budget (via Box Office Mojo). It was clear that audiences were no longer under the spell of the groundbreaking original, and they were not alone: The diminishing returns apparently made the franchise's new owner, Lionsgate Entertainment, hesitant about reviving the "Blair Witch" franchise with another sequel.

According to Screen Rant, a third installment was pitched to the original "Blair Witch Project" filmmakers — Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez — in 2009 and it was set to feature some of the original "Project" cast members. But Lionsgate didn't approve the script and the project languished for seven years before finally debuting with the simple title "Blair Witch." 

The premise of "Blair Witch" surrounded the idea of Heather Donahue's brother, James (James Allen McCune) discovering a video on YouTube that purportedly shows his missing sister in Burkittsville's Black Hills Forest in Maryland — the same location where she and her friends had vanished years before. As such, James and a group of friends venture into the frightening environs to find her.

Will there be another Blair Witch?

Essentially, "Blair Witch" became a victim of the original's success. In the years since the release of "The Blair Witch Project," countless found-footage franchises have popped up — "Paranormal Activity" and its sequels, as well as "Cloverfield" and "V/H/S" chief among them — with varying degrees of success.

But in the sea of endless (non)creativity in Hollywood, where sequels and reboots proliferate the landscape, don't count out another "Blair Witch" film just yet. While nothing has been confirmed for the big screen, all it takes is a director or actor with a hot hand and an interest in the franchise to resume the search for the Blair Witch.

While the possibility of another "Blair Witch" haunting movie theaters is up in air, Eduardo Sanchez has at least attempted to resurrect the concept through a different means. In a 2017 interview with the Diminishing Returns podcast, "The Blair Witch Project" co-director teased his idea for a "Blair Witch" TV series: "For us, it's a very natural thing to go and say 'Hey, let's do a frickin' Blair Witch show and you can say it's from the original creators and we can bring in a whole bunch of interesting directors to direct episodes," Sanchez said.

The big roadblock, Sanchez noted at the time, is that Lionsgate still owns the rights to the "Blair Witch" property and dictates its direction.