Will We See Ghost Rider 2 Without Nicolas Cage?

Despite the fact that Ghost Rider didn't exactly set the fanbase on fire (ahem), star Nicolas Cage has often talked about the potential for a sequel, and Columbia has been slowly moving towards a 'go' point for the second film in the series no one really wants. Or, no one wants another film in the vein of the first. If a Ghost Rider film roared into theaters and actually looked good, opinions could change really fast.

Would Ghost Rider 2 be better or worse off without Nic Cage? Thanks to a couple scheduling issues, Columbia now looks ready to make the movie with or without him.

Vulture says that Cage's schedule for National Treasure 3 will likely interfere with Ghost Rider 2, and that the studio is ready to go forward on the film without him. Writers Scott Gimple and Seth Hoffman (Flash Forward) worked with David Goyer on a script, which has just been turned in.

It's not even so much that Columbia believes so heavily in Ghost Rider that the studio is desperate to make another movie. It is that Columbia doesn't want another studio to make another movie with the character. Unless another film is in production by November 14 2010, the rights revert back to Marvel and (therefore) Disney. Vulture is told that Columbia is asking Marvel for a contract extension, which seems fairly absurd — why would Marvel make it easier for a rival studio to make a film based on a property that Marvel would probably like to have back in the fold?

(The question I expect to be brought up in comments is: could Marvel grant Columbia an extension on the provision that Marvel could use the character in a film like The Avengers? I don't know, and late on a Sunday I don't have any means to find out. Seems unlikely, however.)

The question posed by Vulture is: would a sequel work without Cage? The answer is a resounding: of course it would. Cage can help sell a movie like National Treasure, but the dismal box-office showing this weekend for Kick-Ass suggests he doesn't always do much for movies that have a weirder idea at play. (Go ahead and argue about Cage's supporting status in Kick-Ass making it a very different equation than National Treasure.) Then again, Ghost Rider made over $200m worldwide — not a mint, when marketing is accounted for, but they didn't take a bath on that one, either. What part of that had to do with Cage?

So how does Columbia figure this one? Little-known superhero on one side, cool-looking guy with a flaming skull and a motorcycle on the other. Recognizable star Nic Cage on one side, lack of recognizable star from the very shitty first movie on the other. Which is more valuable? In the end it might not matter, as the studio may have to move forward just to keep the property. In a different timeline the best case scenario might be: get a script and director that can coax a Bad Lieutenant-style performance out of Cage, and I'd be quite happy to see him back on the bike. But that may not be an option.