To date, there have been 12 theatrically released films made around the Jason Voorhees story arc. The wait for a 13th film, which in itself would be symbolically important and easy to market, has been a long one. The last 10 years have been full of false promises, unrealized visions and lots of vitriol. Additionally, the decade has enjoyed a renewed interest in the hockey mask-wearing horror icon. So, why has it been so difficult to bring Jason back to the big screen, and what's causing all the animosity?
The main roadblock to a new film is a dispute between the screenwriter of the original film, Victor Miller, and its director, Sean S. Cunningham, who currently holds the rights to the franchise with Horror Inc. and the Manny Company.
Miller (via 1976 US Copyright Act) filed to terminate the grant of rights to his script back in 2016. This practice protects artists who have little to no leverage when initially licensing their property, and it's designed to give them a chance to negotiate a better deal after having decades to see the scope of the work’s success. Before being allowed to reclaim the licensing rights, the artist must first wait 35 years. Usually, this results in renegotiation and financial compensation for the artist -- in this case, Miller. But that's not what happened.
Instead of renegotiating, Horror Inc. decided to sue Miller, alleging he had no claim to compensation since the movie was Cunningham's idea and that Miller was employed on a “work for hire” basis. This is where the dispute takes hold. Miller claims he was not work for hire, which would mean he was basically just shaping Cunningham's ideas into a filmable script, but that he instead wrote the script on his own.
So, who created what and what should happen now? Looking back, Miller was paid $9,200 for the screenplay. The movie grossed nearly $40 million dollars. Had the franchise ended there, perhaps Miller would have accepted what seems like a raw deal and moved on. But the movies continued, putting out 11 more installments and a slew of related merchandise and video games. The films alone have together grossed almost $400 million. With that kind of continued saturation, it's no wonder Miller felt he was owed a bit more of the pie.
In September of 2018, the court ruled in favor of Miller, the evidence showing Miller had given his script to Cunningham months before signing his employment contract, and, as a result, was entitled to terminate the rights. This ruling didn't make things all that much clearer in regards to the future of Jason Voorhees and Friday the 13th, though.
It was ruled that Miller would regain the rights to his original script in the United States, but Cunningham's group still has the rights internationally. This makes it hard to get anything done, especially since exactly how much of the franchise Miller has rights to is still sort of murky. To break it down, let's look back at the films and their most recognizable elements.