Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: Mark Romanek has emerged as frontrunner to direct The Lost Symbol, Sony Pictures’ third installment of the Dan Brown-penned thrillers focusing on symbologist Robert Langdon. After directing the global blockbusters The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, Ron Howard this summer opted out of directing a third, preferring to produce with his Imagine Entertainment partner Brian Grazer. Grazer produced the first two films in the series with the late John Calley, who acquired the property before he left the Sony Pictures executive suite to become a producer.

Sony Pictures has been interviewing helmers for one of the more prominent open directing assignments. Romanek hasn’t got the job locked up yet, but I’ve heard negotiations should begin soon. Romanek, a top video director, made his feature helming debut on One Hour Photo, and most recently directed Never Let Me Go with Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. Romanek has so far made mostly budget films. He nearly helmed a big one in The Wolfman but left weeks before production started in a dispute with Universal over budget and other creative disagreements.

It’s not surprising Sony Pictures would make The Lost Symbol a priority. The Da Vinci Code grossed $758 million worldwide in 2006 and while Angels & Demons dropped off to a $486 million worldwide gross in 2009, that is still a big box office haul. Brown had a hand in The Lost Symbol script, as did Steven Knight. Tom Hanks, who played Langdon in the first two thrillers, is expected to reprise, but no commitment has been made to this point. Hanks is starring for Sony Pictures in A Captain’s Duty, playing heroic captain Richard Phillips in the Somali pirate drama that will be directed by Paul Greengrass.