BREAKING: After coming through a major fall restructure and flying out of the gate with two box office hits in 2014 and overhauling Fast & Furious 7 so it can resume production in March, Universal Pictures chairman …
Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley Re-Ups To 2017, Adds Oversight Of International And Marketing Divisions
Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Sets Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet And Kevin Hart For 3D Animated ‘Pets’ Pic At Universal
EXCLUSIVE: Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures have been reserving prime release date real estate for secret family film projects. Deadline has the details on the one that will be released on February 12, 2016. Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri has set Louis C.K., Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet and Ride Along’s Kevin Hart to voice the main characters in what is being called the Untitled Pets Movie. Meledandri is producing the 3D animated film with longtime collaborator Janet Healy. Chris Renaud, who helmed the first two Despicable Me films for Illumination, will direct this one, and the co-director is Yarrow Cheney, who helmed a short that will be part of The Minions DVD release. The script was written by Despicable Me scribes Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio.
This becomes the fifth animated film for Illumination and a return to an original property, and the Pets pic marks the first animated studio feature that Louis C.K, Stonestreet and Hart have taken part in. Here’s the logline: the action comedy is set in a Manhattan apartment building. After the two-legged residents head for work and school, their pets gather to start their day, which consists of hanging out, trading humiliating stories about their owners, and helping each other work up adorable looks that will lead to more snacks. The head hound is a quick-witted terrier rescue (Louis C.K.), whose position at the epicenter of his master’s universe is suddenly threatened when she comes home with Duke (Stonestreet), a sloppy mongrel with no polish. The two soon find themselves on the mean streets of New York, where they meet the adorable white bunny Snowball (Hart). It turns out that Snowball is the leader of an army of pets that were abandoned and are determined to get back at humanity and every owner-loving pet. The dogs must thwart this plot and make it back in time for dinner.
‘Despicable Me 3′ Set For June 2017 Release; ‘Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas’ Arrives Five Months Later
Universal Pictures has announced dates on three upcoming high-profile projects and it means more Minions on the menu, along with a big helping of Grinch: the third installment of its incredibly successful animated franchise Despicable Me 3, and a “newly imagined” version of Dr. Suess’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and a new – wait, let’s read that again – an untitled animated comedy from Despicable Me makers Illumination Entertainment that says its “an original … project 2,” whatever that means.
Anyway, Gru, Lucy, the girls and the minions are coming back to a megaplex near you — in 3 1/2 years. Universal today announced a June 30, 2017, date for Despicable Me 3, the follow-up to last year’s first sequel, which has grossed $935.8M worldwide and just opened in it last territory, China. The studio also revealed dates for two other Illumination Entertainment toons: a new version of Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (November 17, 2017) and Untitled Illumination Project 2016 2 (December 21, 2016).
Today’s announcements set up a couple of potentially interesting box office battles — if all the dates hold. But it’s a big if. DM3′s release is set for two weeks after both Disney/Pixar and Fox/DWA/Blue Sky have untitled projects set for release (June 16, 2017). Also, Grinch is set for five days before the bow of an untitled Pixar toon.
BOX OFFICE: ‘Lone Survivor’ Opens Strong In Late-Night Showings; $33M to $35M Weekend Now Predicted; ‘Hercules’ Anemic
UPDATE, 4:34 PM: In a matter of less than 24 hours, Universal has doubled its expectations for the war-themed action/drama Lone Survivor to $33M-$35M for the 3-day weekend. And, according to distributors’ estimates, Lone Survivor will open far and above the other titles in the marketplace. These are very early returns from Friday play times and numbers are bound to change after the N.Y. evening shows and L.A. afternoon and evening dates are calculated. Other titles’ box office numbers (below) are also expected to rise. Stay tuned.
PREVIOUS, FRIDAY AM: Lone Survivor, the true story about a group of Navy SEALs who are cut off from communication and then ambushed by Al-Qaeda in the mountains of Afghanistan, opened well in late-night showings — 8 PM-midnight in 1,811 theaters in the U.S. The action pic from director Peter Berg and real-life hero Marcus Luttrell took in $1.5M, according to U.S. distributor Universal Pictures. Today it opens on 2,876 theaters in North America; EOne is handling the film’s distribution in Canada. The picture is currently on track to take the No. 1 box office spot, and Fandango reported it had 51% of ticket sales leading into the weekend. The consensus is that it will far outweigh newcomer The Legend Of Hercules from Lionsgate/Summit which may even fall towards the bottom of the pack as it is getting killed by the critics (a zero Rotten Tomato score? Yikes!), but it all remains to be seen. It’s typically very hard to track war-themed films, but the best comparison is probably Zero Dark Thirty which opened limited in December last year, expanded wide in January and grabbed a $24.4M in its 3-day opening weekend. It opened wide in 2,072 runs for its Thursday night sneak to gross $650,000, according to Sony. However, it opened at 10 PM, giving it one less showing in slightly fewer theaters.
Considering that global movie ticket sales reached precedent levels after a particularly robust holiday period and a mostly sizzling summer, 2013 was one of the most turbulent years I can remember in the executive suites of major studios. Studios were overhauled all over town to better compete in an arena that is more of a global pursuit than ever, with victory belonging to whoever can build and maintain the most franchises.
Purists will decry the fact that Hollywood’s brightest minds are mostly focused on repackaging derivative concepts for maximum global grosses, but evidence of the rewards are right there in the gross charts: Six of the top seven biggest films were sequels that provided the kind of results that keep studio conglomerate parents happy, keep studio chiefs employed, and slate co-financiers coming back for more. Sure, studios will still get involved with awards-season prestige films like The Wolf Of Wall Street, American Hustle and 12 Years A Slave, but often only when someone else pays to make them. This franchise fever pushed costs of blockbusters to ridiculously high levels, and left top execs and producers explaining, and sometimes packing, when some badly misfired. Add that to internal power struggles at places like Universal and Warner Bros, and you needed a scorecard to keep up with the executive changes — which came fast and furious, especially after the brutal summer blockbuster season. Among them:
*Universal fired film chairman Adam Fogelson in a move that surprised him along with everyone else in town but Ron Meyer and Donna Langley, with whom he engaged in a quiet power struggle. Fogelson was blindsided by the result, coming hours after he presided over the Toronto premiere of Rush. The Comcast-orchestrated move that put Jeff Shell in charge of filmed entertainment after he did well running NBCUniversal’s international operations. Meyer was upped to vice chairman of NBCUniversal and Langley as sole Universal Films chairman and picture picker. Even though the studio placed third in market share and Despicable Me 2 could become the studio’s biggest-ever box office hit when it plays in China, Universal also flubbed franchise launch attempts like R.I.P.D. and 47 Ronin, and Kick-Ass 2 proved that once was enough. Universal has sequels to Jurassic Park, The Mummy and Ted coming, and a new salty adult franchise in Fifty Shades Of Grey for 2015. Thomas Tull’s Legendary Pictures moved in to hatch pictures and co-fi Universal titles like Jurassic World, hedging the studio’s bets as it moves forward. Langley’s biggest challenge has been retooling the studio’s most lucrative franchise, Fast & Furious, which was halfway completed when star Paul Walker died tragically in a fiery car crash. Right after Fogelson was ousted, longtime Focus Features chief James Schamus was dismissed just as suddenly. He was replaced by Peter Schlessel, the whip-smart former Sony dealmaker who’d been running FilmDistrict and who clearly will be charged with broadening the highbrow Focus slate to include more low-risk high-return genre films like the FilmDistrict hit Insidious. Schamus’s co-chairman, Andrew Karpen, declined to relocate and stay on, dramatically changing the complexion of that prestige company.
*The final shoe dropped after Warner Bros gave the top job to Kevin Tsujihara instead of Warner Bros movie chief Jeff Robinov. At a time when Robinov should have been taking victory laps after his bets on filmmakers paid off so well with Ben Affleck’s Argo, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel and Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, Robinov instead left in a frosty exit to form his own moneyed film venture. This, and the equally tempestuous exit of Legendary’s Tull after a lucrative franchise-fueled run, left Robinov’s successors Greg Silverman and Sue Kroll under big pressure to assert themselves to find new franchises. The studio re-upped Village Roadshow Pictures and replaced Legendary with James Packer, Brett Ratner and Steven Mnuchin’s RatPac Dune in a slate co-financing deal that will spread $450 million or more over 75 films. While Warner Bros brass tired of Tull imposing his creative will and cherry-picking Warner Bros titles to co-fi, RatPac Dune will not do that, and I heard the studio was able to exclude certain plum titles from the arrangement. But Warner Bros also gifted RatPac Dune with a co-fi stake in Gravity after it was completed, creating a big windfall for a fledgling venture. It’s ironic given nobody in Hollywood but Robinov seemed to want to make that movie — an expensive auteur effort that has zero sequel potential. One challenge for the new team at Warner Bros: keeping Robinov from peeling away the directors he empowered, from Christopher Nolan to Affleck, Snyder, Luhrmann, The Hangover‘s Todd Phillips and Cuaron to make movies at the new company he and Graham King are expected to launch at Sony. Silverman is respected and Kroll is regarded as arguably the best marketer in town and the studio’s global distribution and marketing operation is as good as there is, but the pressure’s on even though Warner Bros topped other studios in market share. It also has what seems like a strong year with franchise launches in Godzilla and LEGO, another installment of 300 (so what if everybody died in the original?), and a Hobbit finale. Beyond Hobbit, New Line continues to do its part on the franchise front, hatching a Horrible Bosses sequel for 2014 and gearing up another installment of its sleeper 2013 road trip comedy We’re The Millers.
*After two costly summer misfires in After Earth and White House Down, a lackluster Smurfs sequel that fizzled the franchise, and disappointing returns on the Matt Damon-starrer Elysium, Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal found herself in the cross-hairs of minority activist shareholder Daniel Loeb. The result: seismic changes in its executive structure and game plan moving forward. The studio dropped marketing head Marc Weinstock, corporate PR chief Steve Elzer and home entertainment chief David Bishop, and then added former New Line president-turned Fifty Shades Of Grey producer Michael De Luca to share president of production duties with Hannah Minghella. The studio vowed heading into its fall investor meetings that it would cut $250 million in costs through 2016, and make fewer movies in 2014 and pour the money into TV. I keep hearing that was temporary window dressing, and after adding former Fox chief Tom Rothman to revive TriStar, which creates another buyer on a lot full of them, Sony will continue to try and create franchises to go along with its Spider-Man and 007 stalwarts. Sony secured a big slate co-fi investment from John LaViolette and Joseph Singer’s Blue Anchor that begins with George Clooney’s The Monuments Men. And then there is the prospect of the venture by Robinov/King which would give Sony huge movies to release and gain market share and bragging rights, without actually having to fund them if they don’t want to. If 22 Jump Street and especially The Amazing Spider-Man 2 hit as well as is hoped, some of that pressure could be alleviated as the studio presses ahead with reboots of past franchise successes Ghostbusters and Men In Black.
BREAKING: In a move that has been rumored now for two months, former Universal Pictures EVP Dylan Clark has joined Scott Stuber‘s Bluegrass Films as a partner who’ll oversee film and television. It reunites the duo, who worked together from 2001-2005 when Stuber was Universal vice chairman. Clark had been developing films as a producer since leaving Chernin Entertainment, where he helped reboot a franchise with Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. The move follows the exit of Pam Abdy from Bluegrass to take the president post at New Regency. “Dylan is the perfect fit for the company,” said Stuber. “We have a great working relationship and have been friends for a long time and I can’t think of a better person to help Bluegrass Films continue to grow.” Clark takes the post as Stuber readies Seth MacFarlane’s Ted followup A Million Ways To Die In The West, Kill The Messenger and Ted 2, which starts production in Spring 2014.
EXCLUSIVE: On the heels of Blumhouse Productions‘ supernatural hit Insidious: Chapter 2 crossing $150M worldwide, Blumhouse and Universal are beefing up their sequel to this summer’s micro-budget horror-thriller The Purge. Frank Grillo (The Grey) will lead the cast of The Next Chapter of The Purge under returning Purge helmer James DeMonaco who is also writing and producing. Plot details are under wraps but there’s plenty of opportunity to explore the dystopian world established in the first film, which starred Ethan Hawke as a security system designer protecting his family from home invasion on the one night each year when the cops take a day off to let crime run rampant. The movie opened in June and grossed roughly $90M worldwide on a $3M budget. Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum, Sébastien K. Lemercier and Platinum Dunes’ Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form will produce The Purge 2, which marks the latest Blumhouse project in Blum’s first-look deal with Uni. The sequel is already set for a June 20, 2014 debut.
EXCLUSIVE: Jesse Wigutow, who is writing the Tron sequel for Disney, has just closed a deal with Universal Pictures to script the graphic novel Fire, a pet project of Zac Efron, who is attached to star. Fire, based on the graphic novel by Brian Michael Bendis and published by Icon Comics, is about a college student (Efron) who is recruited by the CIA only to find out he is being trained for a program that churns out expendable spies.
Efron and Bendis sold the project to Universal during Sundance three years ago with an eye for Efron to star from a script by Bendis. Wigutow previously worked on the Disney project Parallel and remake of The Crow and Lionsgate’s remake of The Osterman Weekend.
Universal and Focus Features have been busy rounding out the cast of Fifty Shades Of Grey, which stars Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey opposite Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele. Callum Keith Rennie (Battlestar Galactica) has been cast in the adaptation of EL James’ bestselling erotic novel as Ray Steele, Anastasia’s stepfather. Rennie recently finished filming Weinstein acquisition The Young And Prodigious TS Spivet with Helena Bonham Carter and indie feature Ride with Helen Hunt. He’s repped by APA, Hodgson Management Group, and Kleinberg Lange Cuddy & Carlo.
Universal Pictures optioned Steve Breen’s picture book Unicorn Executions and attached Dodgeball‘s Rawson Thurber. Scott Stuber will produce through his Bluegrass Films banner, and Saturday Night Live writer Simon Rich will pen the script. The book will be published in May by Skyhorse.
Former Breaking Bad writer Gennifer Hutchison has been hired to adapt the teen fantasy novel The Red Queen for Universal Pictures. HarperCollins will publish the book in winter 2015 as one of its top titles through its HarperTeen imprint. HarperCollins confirmed to Deadline that it expects a major marketing push in conjunction with the launch, which will segue well with Uni’s own marketing efforts in this young female-driven film.
The book has been sold into 16 different languages almost a year out from its domestic launch and is the first of a trilogy. Its publisher hopes it will become another Hunger Games. The Red Queen, written by Victoria Aveyard, centers on a 17-year-old who must save her family in a world “divided by the color of blood,” according to HarperTeen. She must pretend to be a long-lost princess while going undercover to secretly become part of a revolution that pits prince against prince. Hutchison is the former assistant of Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan.