New $400m 'The Exorcist' trilogy will star 1973 original's actress Ellen Burstyn

Universal Pictures picks up the rights to the sprawling horror project

Ellen Burstyn, right, as Chris MacNeil in the original 1973 film 'The Exorcist'. The Oscar-winning actress will reprise her role in the new Universal trilogy. Shutterstock
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The 1973 story of a possessed 12-year-old girl ruined dreams for years. It was, quite literally, the stuff of nightmares. And now Universal Pictures has signed an ambitious $400 million mega-deal for the same tale to be continued in a new trilogy of The Exorcist.

Leslie Odom Jr is set to star in the new series, as well as Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn, who will reprise her role as Chris MacNeil from the original film. David Gordon Green, who helmed the Halloween reboot in which Jamie Lee Curtis made a comeback as Laurie Strode, is set to direct the trilogy.

William Friedkin was the the director of the original The Exorcist, which brought in more than $440 million when it came out, making it the highest domestic grossing horror film in the US for almost 50 years. It scooped 10 Oscar nominations, for best picture, best director, and actor and actress nods. It took home two, for best sound and best adapted screenplay, which went to William Peter Blatty, whose 1971 novel the plot was based on.

Even if you haven't dared to watch The Exorcist, which is still dubbed by many as the scariest movie ever made, you'll probably know what it's about. A pre-teen girl is possessed by a mysterious entity, so her mother (Burstyn) ropes in two Catholic priests to try and save her.

The first film in the new trilogy is scheduled to be released on October 13, 2023 in cinemas and on Universal's streaming platform Peacock. It won't be a "reboot" or a "remake", however, as it's being described more as a "compelling continuation" of the original film.

It's not the first time someone has tried to revive The Exorcist, with previous sequels and prequels, and even a Geena Davis-starring TV series, failing to win over fans. The money behind this new attempt and high-profile casting decisions, however, signal this time they mean business.

The renewed interest in this 1973 classic comes as part of a wider enthusiasm for horror.

Green's follow-up Halloween Kills will also be released later this year after premiering at the Venice Film Festival, while genre guru Jordan Peele of Get Out fame mere days ago mysteriously released a poster for his newest film Nope, which is set to star one of the director's favoured actors Daniel Kaluuya and Steve Yeun (Minari).

Peele is also working on his adaptation of the classic 1992 horror flick Candyman, which is scheduled to be released on August 27.

Paramount Pictures, too, is working on a relaunch of the Scream franchise, set to come out in 2022 and include original stars Neve Campbell, David Arquette and Courteney Cox.

Netflix's trilogy Fear Street, which reimagines R L Stine's book series of the same name and revives the "scream teen" horror genre, also released in July to much acclaim, and director Leigh Janiak has said those three films were only the beginning of a much wider plan to create a Marvel-style universe.

The Exorcist news also comes on the back of other similar mega-deals being signed in Hollywood, with Netflix recently agreeing to spend $450m for the rights to two Knives Out sequels as competition between streaming services gets evermore fierce.

Updated: July 27, 2021, 11:39 AM