The tragedy of Neve Campbell’s ‘Scream’ exit

You forgot the first rule of rebooted franchises, Paramount: don’t fuck with the original cast.

Neve Campbell dropped a bombshell on Scream fans this week, revealing she won’t return for the upcoming sixth film — which will make it the first entry in the entire series without Sidney Prescott, the final girl who started it all.

Two things can both be true about this news at once. One, Sidney’s absence from Scream 6 actually makes some degree of sense. But two, the circumstances surrounding Campbell’s exit are absolutely infuriating, and they threaten to make it all but impossible to get truly excited for the next film.

To the former point, no, the Scream franchise producing a strong sequel without Sidney Prescott is not inherently impossible, as much as I might have called this idea sacrilegious a few years ago. The 2022 legacy sequel Scream did a solid job establishing its new generation of characters and passing the torch to them, and I’m personally just as invested in seeing the journey of Sam and Tara continue in Scream 6 as I was with following the original cast going into Scream 2.

Besides, even more so than Gale — who will be back for Scream 6 — Sidney’s story has certainly reached a logical stopping point, if not permanent end. Scream 3 already capped off the trilogy by allowing Sidney some newfound sense of peace, and by Scream (2022), she’s gotten her happy ending, having settled down with a husband and kids. After everything she’s been put through, she deserves it, and the 2022 movie already had a bit of a hard time figuring out how to get her back to Woodsboro — because logically, there’s little reason she’d ever return. So while I don’t think Sidney’s story feels so definitively over that she must never come back, I’m not completely against letting her have a rest for one or two movies.

But it would be one thing if that’s actually why Campbell’s exit is happening. Had she and Radio Silence collectively come out and explained that Sidney will be retired from the franchise for the time being for creative reasons, I doubt any fans would have a problem with it. But that’s not what happened. Instead, we had months of uncertainty about whether she’d be back, followed by rumors that she wouldn’t, and, finally, an abruptly released statement from Campbell herself — with no involvement by anyone on the production, mind you — announcing she won’t return … and specifying it’s because the amount of money she was offered to come back was insulting.

“As a woman I have had to work extremely hard in my career to establish my value, especially when it comes to Scream,” she told Deadline, “I felt the offer that was presented to me did not equate to the value I have brought to the franchise.”

Now, there are still many details here we don’t know, including how large of a role Sidney was supposed to have and what Campbell was offered. But the implication is that Radio Silence did come up with a role for Sidney in Scream 6, the script was good enough that Campbell was willing to do it, and the absolute only reason we won’t see it is because Paramount, Spyglass, or whoever decided they could save some money by not paying her what she was asking for.

And that is absolutely maddening. Scream may have established a strong new cast, but the franchise would be nothing without Sidney Prescott and the years of work Neve Campbell has put into making this series what it is. For the longest time, she’s been as vital to its success as Jamie Lee Curtis has been to Halloween — arguably even more so — and her return undoubtedly contributed to the 2022 film being such a hit. We as horror fans owe so much to Campbell, and Paramount and Spyglass certainly do as well. At this point, she deserves to be paid what she’s asking for, whatever the hell it is.

Besides, original Scream star Jamie Kennedy has claimed Sidney was actually supposed to have a “heavy part” to play in the sixth film, which would make the decision to let her go like this even more baffling. But either way, we now find ourselves in a situation where, going into the sixth entry, fans will have in the back of their minds the knowledge that the ideal version of the film — the one the screenwriters originally hoped to execute — did involve Sidney, and we would be seeing it were it just not for studio greed. A week ago, I would have said Scream 6 is my most anticipated film currently in development, but with this knowledge, am I even going to even be able to muster up the same sense of excitement anymore? And after such a sour exit, should Paramount come to its senses at some point in the future, who’s to say Campbell would even be willing to come back for a seventh film?

What a sad, dispiriting way for one of the most badass heroines in slasher movie history to go out. Campbell deserves proper closure with this series, and much more importantly, she deserves to work with a studio that understands the value she brings to it. Let’s hope Paramount can still do right by our girl — or the franchise’s meditation on fan backlash may prove rather prophetic.

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