Cruel Intentions Had A TV Adaptation That Was Canceled Before It Ever Aired

I'm going to go ahead and admit this now: I love "Cruel Intentions." The brooding bad boy falling for the innocent good girl, the overly articulate teenagers, the late '90s fashion and music — all the things I look for in a guilty pleasure. While I love the movie, I also recognize it is not a cinematic achievement that will ever be studied in film school. It's a bit raunchy and not overly original. All that being said, will I still queue that '90s baby up on Prime Video? Faster than you can say Counting Crows!

In case you aren't as drawn to cinematic cavities as I am, I'll give you a quick recap of this one. Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) and Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) treat sex and relationships like games to distract from their own pain. When they come across Reese Witherspoon's virginal Annette, Kathryn bets Sebastian that he won't be able to add her to his long list of conquests. If you've ever seen a teen drama or, God help you, fallen into a Wattpad black hole, you already know where this is going. Sebastian falls in love with Annette just as she finds out about the bet and the whole thing falls apart. 

It's '90s gold, right down to the violin strings of the final song, and despite its celluloid shortcomings, it was a box office success. Audiences loved the shady, vindictive Kathryn, the star-crossed lovers, Annette and Sebastian, and the clever, often crass dialogue. Roger Ebert also liked the film, giving it three stars, which is respectable for a teen flick. The famous critic thought the movie was "refreshing...[and] smart." "Cruel Intentions" had a budget of only $10.5 million and earned $76 million worldwide, which caught Fox's attention. 

After the film's successful release in 1999, the studio thought they could create an equally successful TV spin-off, but that plan would end in total failure.

'Manchester Prep'

"Manchester Prep" was a series meant to be a prequel to the events in "Cruel Intentions" that focused on the unhealthy relationship between Kathryn and Sebastian. Because everyone was dying to see a show about the lives of spoiled, entitled, borderline incestuous step-siblings?

Fox had high hopes for the show, planning to have it lead their Thursday night lineup back in December of '99, but news spread of its cancellation two months before it even made it to the screen. The series had already been put on hold in September of '99 "to get its house in order" when "Entertainment Tonight" leaked the filming of a scene where a girl gets sexual satisfaction from a horseback ride. Yeah, you read that right.

The footage caused an uproar from "a parents' television group," who were "shock[ed]" by the show's sexual nature. The network dismissed the outrage explaining the scene "never would have been approved for airing." Turns out, that was right, and the whole series was axed by Fox a month after the parent's outcry.

Fox cited the old "creative differences" explanation at the time, explaining that Columbia TriStar "doomed the show." A reason was never officially given by the network, but it is widely believed the sexual nature of the show, and the protesting parent group, gave Columbia TriStar cold feet. While the studio had second thoughts about the TV show, like a good old-fashioned horror movie monster, the spin-off would come back to haunt us all in a different form.

The doomed series would be re-edited into a feature-length film called, wait for it, "Cruel Intentions 2." Weird name for a prequel, but that's the least of its problems. 

A cruel imitation

"Cruel Intentions" is a large milkshake from your favorite fast food joint, while the prequel is the end-of-day grease they scrape off of the grills.

The movie uses the names Sebastian and Kathryn from the first film, but the characters aren't remotely the same people. Kathryn's vindictive and cunning personality is undercut by a new, bland need to make her mommy proud, which makes her far less interesting. The spoiled brat playboy Sebastian becomes a character that stands up for housekeepers and moralizes to Kathryn about her entitled behavior. He even falls for a girl that is basically an Annette stand-in, which makes us suspicious of any progress he made in the original film. Apparently, he's fallen for the good girl before and become the jack-a** again afterward.

None of it makes any sense, and all of it is bad.

The performances in the prequel pale in comparison to those of Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon, and Sarah Michelle Gellar. Amy Adams is the only recognizable future star in the film, and this role gave her very little to work with. Unlike the original, the writing in the prequel is not clever or authentic, which makes the dialogue sound forced. Simply put, the prequel lacks everything that makes the original good; even the scene that sparked controversy is not interesting.

The sexual bit about horse riding that caused such outrage among that parents' group is downright ridiculous. I experience severe second-hand embarrassment just watching it, but it could have been used as an easy out for a studio that knew the project was going to tank. Given the option, I'd rather have everyone think my show was too hot for TV than admit it was trash.

"Cruel Intentions 2" was released straight to video on November 9, 2000, and was nowhere near as successful as the first film. The original received mixed reviews from critics but was widely loved by audiences. The prequel was universally despised for all the reasons I've already mentioned, yet somehow a third film managed to get made in 2004. One review on Rotton Tomatoes sums that one up as "a softcore porn soap opera flick," which basically tells you all you need to know.

No one has been able to recreate the cavity-inducing goodness of that first one, but over 20 years later, some are still trying.

Recurring reboots

In 2016, NBC considered picking up a TV show that would act as a sequel to "Cruel Intentions." Sarah Michelle Gellar even returned and reprised her role as Kathryn, shooting two different pilots, one salacious and one more vanilla, but NBC passed. A clip or two can be found around the internet today, but that's as far as things went. I can tell you one thing from watching the available scenes: Gellar can still pull off that vindictive b**** thing Kathryn had going for her back in '99. I wouldn't have hated to see how that one played out.

As recently as October of 2021, Amazon and IMDB TV were discussing a "Cruel Intentions" reboot that would focus on the two spoiled step-siblings struggle for power at an elite college in Washington, D.C., which would culminate in the seduction of the Vice President's daughter. Eh, can't be any worse than that second one, I guess, but that's all we know about it so far. I'll keep an open mind about it and hope, at the very least, it outclasses the prequel.

"Cruel Intentions 2" was a mistake, and it is important to learn from mistakes.

If endless reboots have taught us anything, it's that, we never get tired of hearing or watching the same story, if it is done in a new and interesting way.  We aren't ashamed to cheer for the tortured bad boy as he pursues a Mary Sue if you pepper in some precocious teenagers, a spicy bet, and a coke-filled crucifix. We will gladly follow the classic heroes' journey if you throw in some stormtroopers or wizards along the heavily traveled path. 

Successful rebirths and spin-offs have to take characters or stories we all have memorized and make us feel like we don't know them, allowing us to fall in love with them all over again. This is exactly what "Cruel Intentions 2" did not do and why it failed so spectacularly.