UPDATES EXCLUSIVE: ‘Spider-Man 4′ Officially Has No Start Date As Of Today Because Of Script Problems; Sony “Unlikely” To Make Scheduled May 5, 2011, Release Date

BREAKING NEWS! 3RD UPDATE: Tobey Maguire just released this statement to me: “I am so proud of what we accomplished with the Spider-Man franchise over the last decade. Beyond the films themselves I have formed some deep and lasting friendships. I am excited to see the next chapter unfold in this incredible story.”

2ND UPDATE: Mike Fleming and Nikki Finke have just confirmed that Sony Pictures decided today to reboot the Spider-Man franchise after franchise director Sam Raimi pulled out of Spider-Man 4 because he felt he couldn’t make its summer release date and keep the film’s creative integrity. This means that Raimi and the cast including star Tobey Maguire are out. There will be no Spider-Man 4. Instead, Mike Fleming is told, the studio will focus on a Summer 2012 reboot from a script by Jamie Vanderbilt with a new director and a new cast. All this took place today at meeting on the lot today. An official Sony Pictures news release about it is expected out now (see below).

Immediately, the news brought celebration and consternation equally to webslinger fanboys who say the reboot plot puts Peter Parker back in high school. There’s also much unconfirmed speculation that this new franchise will be in 3D. And the fans also recall that, in 1991, James Cameron wrote a treatment for Spider-Man and now they’re wondering if he might helm the reboot. (Sony ended up acquiring his treatment in a legal settlement.)

Here’s what went down: My sources tell me that Raimi told Sony Pictures: “I can’t make your date. I can’t go forward creatively.” And, so, once he said “That’s it”, Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal and Columbia Pictures’ Matt Tolmach decided they didn’t want to replace him and instead chose to reboot the franchise. Insiders also tell me that Tobey Maguire heard the news in a phone call with Amy today. I’m told Tobey wasn’t upset. “He’s made 3 great Spider-Man movies. He’s done really well. But he’s the kind of guy who, if Sam wanted to go forward, would have been there for Sam and the studio. Absolutely.”

Mike Fleming has heard that, from Spidey, Raimi could move to World Of Warcraft, or to The Given Day, that terrific novel by Dennis Lehane, author of Shutter Island and Mystic River. Both are worthy projects, but World Of Warcraft is a huge franchise.

Fortunately for the studio, Sony was not yet “pay or play” on some of the talent negotiations which were still only at the tail end. Raimi was insisting that John Malkovich play the villain, and the studio was looking to cast Anne Hathaway. “I’m not so sure we’re going in that direction,” an insider told me on January 5th. Sony had been hot for her until bigwigs realized she’d cost too much and they probably don’t need “such a big star” for the pic, I was told. (See my previous, Anne Hathaway Wanted For ‘Spider-Man 4′.)

As for those repeated rumors that Spider-Man 4 might shoot in 3D, I’ve learned it would have added at least 6 months to the production schedule and “no one on the pic has any idea how to do that,” a source confided. You’ve got to figure 3D now is uppermost on Sony minds given the post-Avatar climate, and Summer 2012 is more than enough time to make the reboot with new technology. Back in April, Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton told Forbes magazine: “People are paying a premium to see movies in 3-D and that’s a very big deal. It’s never been done before that someone says you have to pay more to see Spider-Man than a romantic comedy.”

The events that led to today’s shocking decision to scrap Spider-Man 4 can be traced to mid-December when I saw a December 11th email alerting the pic’s special effects crew that the fourquel would not be starting as planned ”but Sam Raimi has story issues [that] need to be resolved before we are ready to shoot”. At that point, it wasn’t well known that the Spider-Man franchise director helming the 4th installment had huge problems with the script that has run through screenwriters Jamie Vanderbilt, David Lindsay-Abaire, and Gary Ross. I was told Sam Raimi had been very vocal inside Sony that he “hated” it. I broke this story on January 5th, and reported that Raimi and Sony were anxiously waiting for still another version from screenwriter Alvin Sargent, who wrote Spidey 2 & 3 and is married to Spidey franchise producer Laura Ziskin. “It is unlikely that May 11, 2011, date will be made,” a Sony insider told me that day. “It depends on how quickly the script can get in.” However, agents told clients in the movie to already expect the film to be pushed back.

My sources said Sony still intends to release that summer, even if the new date is July 2011. But Spider-Man has always owned that coveted early May date. Even as far back as September 2008 when I reported my exclusive that Sony Locks Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire For ‘Spider-Man 4′.

What a giant opportunity for other studios planning their 2011 schedules to grab this big opening. And they did. Paramount and Marvel Entertainment pushed up the release of Thor by two weeks to May 6, 2011. Thor was set to have opened May 20, 2011, a slot which Disney grabbed for Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides.

Spider-Man 4 was supposed to start filming in February, which Tobey Maguire echoed repeatedly in publicity appearances for Brothers. Then it pushed to March. Then late March/early April. And by January 5th there was no date at all, according to my Sony insiders who emailed me: “Some decisions have been made over the holiday about Spider-Man 4. We will be extending the production hiatus on the film. The studio is firmly committed to this franchise but, for us, the script must come first. We intend to notify members of the crew immediately. As you know, Alvin Sargent is currently working on the screenplay. When we have more news, we will keep you posted.”

Pascal and Tolmach, who have shepherded the Spider-Man franchise from Day One, have been wrestling with this script problem for months. “I’m going to do everything I can to make May,” she has repeatedly told Hollywood types involved with the movie. “But I’m not going to start a movie where the script isn’t right yet. Not unless I want my career to be over.”

Here is the Sony press release:

Culver City, CA (January 11, 2010) — Peter Parker is going back to high school when the next Spider-Man hits theaters in the summer of 2012. Columbia Pictures and Marvel Studios announced today they are moving forward with a film based on a script by James Vanderbilt that focuses on a teenager grappling with both contemporary human problems and amazing super-human crises.

The new chapter in the Spider-Man franchise produced by Columbia, Marvel Studios and Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin, will have a new cast and filmmaking team. Spider-Man 4 was to have been released in 2011, but had not yet gone into production.

“A decade ago we set out on this journey with Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire and together we made three Spider-Man films that set a new bar for the genre. When we began, no one ever imagined that we would make history at the box-office and now we have a rare opportunity to make history once again with this franchise. Peter Parker as an ordinary young adult grappling with extraordinary powers has always been the foundation that has made this character so timeless and compelling for generations of fans. We’re very excited about the creative possibilities that come from returning to Peter’s roots and we look forward to working once again with Marvel Studios, Avi Arad and Laura Ziskin on this new beginning,” said Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

“Working on the Spider-Man movies was the experience of a lifetime for me. While we were looking forward to doing a fourth one together, the studio and Marvel have a unique opportunity to take the franchise in a new direction, and I know they will do a terrific job,” said Sam Raimi.

“We have had a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration and friendship with Sam and Tobey and they have given us their best for the better part of the last decade.This is a bittersweet moment for us because while it is hard to imagine Spider-Man in anyone else’s hands, I know that this was a day that was inevitable,” said Matt Tolmach, president of Columbia Pictures, who has served as the studio’s chief production executive since the beginning of the franchise. “Now everything begins anew, and that’s got us all tremendously excited about what comes next. Under the continuing supervision of Avi and Laura, we have a clear vision for the future of Spider-Man and can’t wait to share this exciting new direction with audiences in 2012.”

“Spider-Man will always be an important franchise for Sony Pictures and a fresh start like this is a responsibility that we all take very seriously,” said Michael Lynton, Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures. “We have always believed that story comes first and story guides the direction of these films and as we move onto the next chapter, we will stay true to that principle and will do so with the highest respect for the source material and the fans and moviegoers who deserve nothing but the best when it comes to bringing these stories and characters to life on the big screen.”

The studio will have more news about Spider-Man in 2012 in the coming weeks as it prepares for production of the film.

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