BREAKING: NBCUniversal’s new owners at Comcast have given a vote of confidence to the studio’s feature film operation. They’ve exercised an option on Universal Pictures’ Chairman Adam Fogelson and extended his contract through 2014. I’m told that Fogelson is, in turn, in the process of exercising the option of Donna Langley and she will continue as the studio’s co-chairman. They will also keep their executive team intact. Fogelson will continue to have full day-to-day operating responsibility for the Motion Picture Group, reporting to Universal Studios President and Chief Operating Officer Ron Meyer (whose contract was recently re-upped through 2015) and will now also report to NBCUniversal Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke.
While Universal has had its ups and downs, higher-ups are clearly convinced that Fogelson, Langley and their team are making progress. They’ve had recent hits –Bridesmaids, Hop! and Fast Five– but also had some recent misses that include The Dilemma, Change-Up and Cowboys & Aliens. In the latter case, the studio was on the hook for one-third of the film, and shared that third with Relativity Media. It has also been a year in which Fogelson and his team have made some painful decisions and let pricey productions go. That began with the Guillermo Del Toro-directed At the Mountains of Madness, which Universal developed for years and which was ready to go with Tom Cruise, until the studio made a late decision not to go forward because of the possibility the $150M film could carry an R-rating. Universal also dropped two projects that were in advanced stages of development: The Dark Tower, the Akiva Goldsman-directed adaptation of the Stephen King novel series that was to be made into three feature films and two limited-run TV series, with the first film and TV segment directed by Ron Howard and produced by Brian Grazer and Goldsman; and Oiuja, the Hasbro board game that had McG directing and Michael Bay and his Platinum Dunes partners producing with Hasbro. The moves were surprising because Howard and Grazer are cornerstone filmmakers for Universal; and Del Toro and Hasbro have overall deals there. Ouija is one of several Hasbro properties the studio dropped, the others being the Gore Verbinski-directed Clue, the Ridley Scott-directed Monopoly and Magic, The Gathering. These were part of a groundbreaking deal the studio made with the toymaker several years ago, but the studio and Hasbro have re-focused their attention solely on Battleship, Stretch Armstrong, and Candy Land.
Fogelson and his team also have several big bets on the table, the largest of which involves the Hasbro signature property Battleship. The studio has completed photography on the Peter Berg-directed action film that stars Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson, Alexander Skarsgard and Rihanna, and a WTF? teaser trailer that introduced an antagonistic extraterrestrial storyline that was never part of the board game. The production team also pulled together The Bourne Legacy, a spinoff of its Bourne Identity franchise that is being directed by Tony Gilroy and stars Jeremy Renner; the Rupert Sanders-directed Snow White and the Huntsman with Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart; the Carl Rinsch-directed Keanu Reeves-starrer 47 Ronin; the Daniel Espinosa-directed Safe House with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, the American Pie sequel American Reunion; Seth MacFarlane’s feature directing debut Ted with Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis; the Wahlberg-starrer Contraband, and Savages, the Oliver Stone-directed adaptation of the Don Winslow bestseller that stars Aaron Johnson, Kitsch, Blake Lively and Benicio Del Toro, scripted by Shane Salerno, Winslow and Stone. There are also two projects from Judd Apatow, who continued his track record of success for the studio with Bridesmaids. The studio also committed to a late 2012 Oscar season release for the Tom Hooper-directed Les Miserables, which stars Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe.
Fogelson and team have begun putting together their 2013 slate, which so far includes a sixth installment of The Fast and the Furious franchise, the Robert Schwentke-directed R.I.P.D. with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds, the Illumination Films sequel to Despicable Me, and the untitled science fiction film that Tron: Legacy helmer Joseph Kosinski will direct with Tom Cruise starring. Universal picked up that project under the title Oblivion after Disney let it go.