Previous offers by Paramount Pictures to create a film version of SpongeBob SquarePants were turned down by Hillenburg, but he eventually accepted one in 2002. When the film went into production, Hillenburg and the show's staff halted production on the series after the third season. A writing team—Hillenburg, Paul Tibbitt, Derek Drymon, Aaron Springer, Kent Osborne and Tim Hill—was assembled, conceiving the idea of a mythical hero's quest: the search for a stolen crown which would bring SpongeBob and Patrick to the surface. The film was originally intended as the series finale; however, Nickelodeon wanted more episodes, so Paul Tibbitt assumed Hillenburg's position as showrunner to begin work on a fourth season for broadcast in 2005. During production, Jules Engel, Hillenburg's mentor at the California Institute of the Arts, died; the film was dedicated to his memory.
Tie-in promotions were made by 7-Eleven, the Cayman Islands and Burger King (which decorated some stores with 9-foot (2.7 m) SpongeBob SquarePants inflatable figures). The film was a box-office success (grossing over $140 million), and received mostly-positive reviews. A sequel was announced in 2012, and is planned for release on February 6, 2015.
- Main article: List of characters (The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie)