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SYFY WIRE Donnie Darko

How James Cameron pushed and inspired Richard Kelly to (still) not give up on a Donnie Darko sequel

By Matthew Jackson
Donnie Darko

This month marks 20 years since audiences were first introduced to Donnie Darko, writer/director Richard Kelly's trippy feature film debut about a teenager (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is plunged into a world of alternate dimensions, doomsday prophecies, and a menacing man in a bunny suit.

The film became one of the essential cult movies of the 2000s and established Kelly as a distinctive new genre voice, but despite Kelly's more recent assurances that he wasn't entirely done with the story, we've yet to see a Donnie Darko sequel outside of 2009's S. Darko, a largely forgotten effort that Kelly had no involvement in. 

So, is Richard Kelly's vision for Donnie Darko's follow-up all but forgotten? Not at all. In fact, the director is still plugging away at the next chapter, something he contributes in part to the encouragement of one of cinema's great sequel filmmakers. 

Speaking to The Playlist about this week's release of the remastered version of Southland Tales (his other 2000s cult film), Kelly explained that he's actually done a "significant amount of writing" on the Donnie Darko follow-up that he first teased back in 2017, though he didn't disclose any plot details or ideas about returning cast members just yet. What Kelly did explain, though, is that his willingness to keep pushing forward with a sequel is thanks in part to James Cameron, who Kelly considers a sequel genius thanks to the success of both Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day

According to Kelly, the two directors met back in 2010 at a Visual Effects Society event, where the filmmaker discovered that Cameron was already a Donnie Darko fan, so much so that the Oscar-winning legend began quizzing him about the fate of the characters. 

“I started explaining it all to him,” Kelly said, “ and he pointed at me and said, ‘You should keep working on that.’

“It made me think there was really something big, something epic that could be done,” Kelly continued. “So that’s what I’ve been focusing on.” 

Kelly didn't elaborate on what that "something epic" might be just yet, or when we might see it, but that's probably thanks in part to the other projects he's already juggling. The director hasn't helmed a feature since The Box in 2009, but he's kept busy with developing stories, including a Southland Tales prequel project that will shed new light on the overall story and a biopic of legendary The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling.

Still, with all that in mind, it's nice to know that Donnie Darko has never fully left Richard Kelly's brain, just like it's never fully left the brains of fans who were enthralled by the movie two decades ago.