This has been a busy week for industry news, so we’re just going to get into it, but not before mentioning that this extended Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday weekend sees the release of three wide releases, all of which we’ve reviewed here at Above the Line – Paramount‘s Mean Girls, MGM‘s The Beekeeper, starring Jason Statham, and Jeymes Samuel‘s The Book of Clarence for Sony. (The first two seem to be doing far better than the latter, based on Thursday previews just reported.)
Warner Bros seems to be thriving with its 2024 line-up, and things are looking even better for the studio, as Tom Cruise has signed a new deal with the studio after many decades with Paramount Pictures. Cruise had one of the biggest hits of his career in 2022 with the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, but his 2023 return to his longest running franchise with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 didn’t do as well as hoped, and then Part 2 was delayed by Paramount for another full year to Summer 2025. That must have been it for the A-list superstar, who will be producing original and franchise films for Warners. What’s interesting about this development is that WBD CEO David Zaslav had recently mentioned wanting to buy Paramount Global and incorporate it into his growing media portfolio.
This new deal enforces the possibility of Cruise making a sequel or prequel to the action film Edge of Tomorrow with director Doug Liman, but if Paramount ends up under the Warners umbrella, would that give more control of Mission: Impossible back to Cruise? Cruise also starred in Stanley Kubrick‘s Eyes Wide Shut, which was released by Warner Bros in 1999.
Meanwhile, according to Matt Belloni at Puck News, Paramount is currently developing a third Top Gun movie with Top Gun: Maverick co-writer Ehren Kruger for Cruise to star, along with Miles Teller and Glen Powell. Either way, Cruise has to finish the delayed Mission: Impossible 8 before thinking of any other projects
Actually, we’ll return to MGM for some of the week’s biggest news, which was the bloodbath at Amazon MGM Studios in terms of layoffs at all levels, laying off hundreds of execs and employees across the Prime Video, Amazon Studios, and MGM+ brands.
Some of the senior execs let go, including Nancy Cotton, who joined the company in 2018, the first major executive hire by Michael Wright, as EVP, Head of Scripted Programming for MGM+ (joining the company when it was still called Epix). She helped shepherd series like Godfather of Harlem, Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, Ed Burns’ Bridge and Tunnel, and Chapelwaite, starring Adrien Brody.
Also gone is Arturo Interian, EVP, Current Scripted Programming, who has been with the company since 2019; Marcy Kaplan, Head of Production for MGM+, who joined in October 2022 and will stay on a bit to help with continuity; Rob Hochberg, VP of Development & Production, Scripted TV at MGM, who has been there 13 years, as well as Uri Fleming, Head of Business Affairs, Unscripted.
Most of the exits come from EVP, MGM Scripted TV Lindsay Sloane’s MGM Scripted Television team and MGM+ being integrated with the Barry Poznick-led MGM Alternative TV under Chris Brearton, VP, Corporate Strategy, Prime Video and Studios. Sloane and Poznick’s teams will continue to work closely with the studios teams in developing for Prime Video and also will continue to produce for outside networks and streamers. Michael Wright continues as head of MGM+, reporting to Brearton as a part of the newly created group. Sloane’s goal hopes to produce more premium series for third party broadcasters, as well as series for MGM+.
Other impacted scripted execs include Amy Suh, Senior Development Executive, Co-Productions, Amazon MGM Studios; Vanessa Martinez – Creative Executive, First Look & Overall Deals; and Sonya Strich – Development Executive, Genre Series at Amazon Studios.
Other teams affected by the layoffs due to consolidation, include Studio Marketing, Business Operations (Production, Post & Business Affairs) and Amazon MGM Studios Distribution teams, as well as the company’s Local Originals business. This is due to the consolidation of the Amazon Studios and MGM theatrical distribution.
Soon after, it was announced that a few other execs were leaving the company amidst the shake-up, include Senior Production & Development Executive Sandino Moya-Smith Amazon MGM Bloodbath, and Head Of Specialty Theatrical Distribution Mark Boxer.
Just two days earlier, Amazon MGM signed an exclusive first-look deal with Emmy-winning Director Nneka Onuorah, who won a Primetime Emmy for “Outstanding Directing for a Reality Program” for Prime Video’s Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, her first nomination and win as a queer, woman of color director.
Onurah told Deadline: “It’s an honor to be a part of the creative fabric of what Jen and her team are building at Amazon. I’m proud of the groundbreaking stories that we’re already telling together, and excited to continue my artistic journey into scripted series and films with Amazon as well.”
To which Vernon Sanders, Amazon MGM’s head of television responded, “Nneka has a track record of crafting stories that excite, intrigue, and inspire. This is a process we’ve been fortunate to experience firsthand, and we cannot wait to reignite our professional relationship under this formal deal.”
That won’t be the end of the layoffs either, as there was also a report from Reuters that Pixar Animation was planning to cut jobs this year, which makes sense with the performance by some of the animation house’s theatrical releases in the past few years. Three of the movies that went straight to Disney+ are getting theatrical releases, including the Oscar-winning Soul, which was released into roughly 1,350 theaters today.
Disney and Lucasfilm decided to use the week to announce that the characters from their hit Disney+ series, The Mandalorian, aka The Mandalorian (as voiced by Pedro Pascal) and his “young” chum Grogu (aka “Baby Yoda”), will be headed to the big screen as a theatrical feature, with Jon Favreau directing, as well as producing with Kathleen Kennedy and Dave Filoni. What is the likely the next Star Wars feature film will go into production later this year. You can see the X announcement below, and this is in addition to other Star Wars movies in development, including one from James Mangold, who directed last year’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny for Lucasfilm.
The Mandalorian and Grogu are headed to the big screen.
Directed by Jon Favreau, and produced by Favreau, Kathleen Kennedy, and Dave Filoni, The Mandalorian & Grogu will go into production later this year.
— Star Wars (@starwars) January 9, 2024
Not to be outdone by another science fiction franchise, Paramount announced a new feature film in the Star Trek Universe, this one to be directed by Toby Haynes from another popular Star Wars Disney+ series, Andor, who also directed the “USS Callister” episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror. Haynes will direct the movie from a script by Seth Grahame-Smith, which will be set in the same “Kelvin” timeline created by J.J. Abrams‘ 2009 film, with Abrams producing.
This isn’t the only Star Trek movie in development as Paramount is desperately trying to revise that franchise theatrically after the success of a number of Paramount+ series. Fargo creator Noah Hawley has been actively developing his own feature, and even Quentin Tarantino has thrown his hat in the ring as having interest in making his own Star Trek movie. Adding to that is recent comments by Sir Patrick Stewart that he might revive his character of Captain Jean-Luc Picard for a feature, after the success of Star Trek: Picard on Paramount+.
It was also reported this week that David Gordon Green has cancelled his plans to direct the horror sequel, The Exorcist: Deceiver, the second chapter of what Universal Pictures had planned as a huge new franchise after buying the rights for a reported $400 million a few years back. The Exorcist: Believer opened last October and ended up making $137 million worldwide, based on a $30 million production budget, but the studio has now pulled the sequel from its planned April 18, 2025 release date. Green will instead focus his attention on the Ben Stiller comedy, Nutcrackers, as well as Season 4 of HBO‘s The Righteous Gemstones.
Speaking of Stiller, our old acquaintance at The InSneider reports that he and Colin Farrell will be playing literary great Norman Mailer and author Jack Henry Abbot in Belly of the Beast, the next movie from Andrew Haigh, who currently has the critically-beloved All of Us Strangers in theaters. The movie, which presumably is about Abbot murdering a waiter in 1981, is being made with Village Roadshow.
This seems like a good time to get into the week’s casting news — there was a TON thanks to a new year, SAG-AFTRA strike being over, etc. with Season 2 of The Last of Us adding Kaitlyn Dever (Book Smart) as Abby from the popular game, as well as Isabela Merced (Dora and the Lost City of Gold) as Dina. If you’ve played the popular Playstation video game, then you might be familiar with those characters, who will be encountered by recent SAG nominees Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsay on their journeys across the United States post-apocalypse.
Earlier this week, we reported a bunch of additions to Season 3 of the HBO Max hit series, The White Lotus, from Mike White, and another actor joining the cast is Carrie Coon from Fargo and the upcoming Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Almost nothing is know about the new season or its characters other than the fact it will take place in Thailand, and production will start next month in Koh Samui, Phuket, and Bangkok.
With all of that casting on HBO Max’s two flagship shows, it was surprising to hear that the cable/streamer had cancelled both Our Flag Means Death, and the Julia Child drama, Julia, both after their second seasons. Unrelated, but ABC also announced that its popular drama series, The Good Doctor, will end after Season 7.
Jumping back into movies, the extremely prolific filmmaker Guy Ritchie – his next movie will be The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, released by Lionsgate on April 19 – is gearing up a new action-adventure for Apple Original Films and Skydance, called Fountain of Youth. The project, written by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac), will star John Krasinski and Natalie Portman as siblings on a global adventure to find the mythical Fountain of Youth in order to attain immortality.
A number of actors have joined Paramount’s horror sequel, Smile 2, including Lukas Gage (The White Lotus) and Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), while Kyle Gallner from the original Smile will be returning as his character from the horror movie, which grossed $217 million worldwide from a production budget of just $17 million. Parker Finn returns to write and direct the film, which is produced by Temple Hill.
Nick Frost is joining DreamWorks‘ live action How to Train Your Dragon, playing a viking named “Gobber the Belch,” who is the trusted friend and adviser of Stoick the Vast, Gerard Butler‘s character with the Scottish actor reprising the role in the live action movie. Gobber was originally voiced by Craig Ferguson in the animated trilogy based on Cressida Cowell‘s book series, but presumably, he doesn’t want to gain the weight necessary to play Gobber on camera. The project is being written, directed and produced by Dean DeBlois, who co-wrote and directed the original animated trilogy. Mason Thames from The Black Phone and Nico Parker (The Last of Us) star in the film as Hiccup and Astrid, the two young teens that befriend dragons… the latter presumably created using visual effects. The movie is expected to be released in 2025.
This next news piece will probably excite a rather select group of comic book fans, as it was announced that an animated series based on Richard and Wendy Pini‘s beloved fantasy series Elfquest is being developed at FOX. The studio has given a script commitment to Susan Hurwitz Arenson (The Last Amazon), who will write, exec. produce, and ast as showrunner.
The Pinis created Elfquest back in 1978 and after a false start, the married couple created WaRP Graphics, Inc, and continued to self-publish the series through the ’90s. In 1985, Marvel Comics began publishing Elfquest as part of its creator-owned Epic imprint, and then, in March 2003, the Pinis licensed the series to DC Comics, while maintaining creative control. Ten years later, they brought Elfquest: The Final Quest to Dark Horse Comics, who published 24 issues through 2018, and then in November 2019, they began a new series called Elfquest: Stargazer’s Hunt. The amount of content created over the 25-year run of the series makes it the perfect source material for an animated series.
Other news from the week includes the announcement that Bleecker Street has bought the U.S. rights to Rumours, a new comedy from Winnipeg auteur Guy Maddin, which he wrote and directed with Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson. The ensemble cast for this film features Cate Blanchett and Alicia Wikander, as well as Roy Dupuis (La Femme Nikita), Charle Dance (Game of Thrones), Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds), Nikki Amuka-Bird (Knock at the Cabin), Rolando Ravello (Perfect Strangers), Takehiro Hira (Gran Turismo), and Zlatko Burić from Triangle of Sadness. The movie is co-produced by Ari Aster‘s Square Peg imprint, the producers on the movie including Liz Jarvis for Buffalo Gal Pictures, Philipp Kreuzer for Maze Pictures, and Lars Knudsen for Square Peg.
Bleecker Street is planning a 2024 release for the movie that’s likely to be the most high-profile release by the Canadian filmmaker behind My Winnipeg, Brand Upon the Brain!, and literally dozens of lower-budget experimental features and short films. Rumours “follows the seven leaders of the world’s wealthiest liberal democracies at the annual G7 summit after they become lost in the woods and face increasing peril while attempting to draft a provisional statement regarding a global crisis.”
Before we wrap up, you’ll probably want to check out this round-up of all the crafts interviews done by our sister site, Below the Line, as it has some fantastic info about the below-the-line creatives involved in some of 2023’s most Oscar-worthy films.
This past week, Universal Pictures announced the release date for its new horror film, Abigail, from the directing collective known as Radio Silence (Scream VI), and also released the first trailer for the movie, which will hit theaters on April 19, 2024.
Due to the holiday, “Must Reads” might be delayed next week, but we should have the regular box office report on Monday morning.