EXCLUSIVE: Ron Howard directed and produced both of Sony Pictures’ films based on Dan Brown’s bestselling novels, The Da Vinci Code (in 2006) and Angels & Demons (2009). Now I’ve learned that the Imagine Entertainment principal will not be directing the next movie based on Brown’s 2009 book The Lost Symbol which is a follow-up to the events described in Da Vinci Code. “He wanted to produce this one, not direct,” a Sony insider tells me. So Sony Pictures has started looking for a new helmer. Like the two other books made into films, this third one stars Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon. “Ron told Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton that he was not going to be directing Dan Brown’s novels anymore,” an insider tells me. “He just didn’t want to do that thing over and over, the same character and the same stories.” But if you look at Howard’s box office track record as a director since his Oscar-winner A Beautiful Mind (2001), the Dan Brown films were his most successful with such wide release movies as Missing, Cinderella Man, and The Dilemma all underperforming. He could use a surefire hit. After all, The Lost Symbol sold 1 million hardcovers and e-books in the U.S., the UK, and Canada on its first day, making it the fastest-selling adult novel in history.

Interestingly, Sony Pictures is making a Somali pirate drama starring Tom Hanks as Captain Richard Phillips from his bestselling book A Captain’s Duty. I was told that Howard really wanted to direct the project. But as Deadline’s Mike Fleming reported last week, the studio offered the picture instead to helmer Paul Greengrass, who’s now in talks. “Ron did want to direct the Somali pirate movie. But Amy felt she wanted a different director. Nothing personal,” an insider explained to me. One agent involved in the film tells me, “She wanted someone hotter and cooler.”

Still, it’s hard to feel sorry for Howard even after Universal Pictures recently dumped The Dark Tower, that ultra-ambitious adaptation of the Stephen King 7-novel series that was going to encompass a trilogy of feature films and two limited-run TV series, dealing a huge blow in the plan for Ron to direct Akiva Goldsman’s script. Now, the filmmakers will have to find a new backer. But Howard remains one of Hollywood busiest directors. Case in point: Within days of Uni passing on Dark Tower, Warner Bros last week made deals for two new projects which Howard will direct and his Imagine Entertainment will produce: author Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner Of Heaven, and a live-action version of Mad magazine’s comic strip Spy vs. Spy.

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.