In taking a deep breath and pulling the plug on "Spider-Man 4," Sony Pictures chairman Amy Pascal resolved a host of problems.
They included: making a movie with a 35-year-old actor in the role of teenager Peter Parker, sidestepping huge, certain blockbuster costs in a declining DVD market and – most of all – avoiding the curse of Number 4. (To wit: "Superman 4" – worldwide gross: $15 million..)
Sure, she’s ending a franchise that has brought Sony more than $2.5 billion in ticket sales, and billions more in DVD sales. But those DVD sales are far from guaranteed in a fourth installment. The last "Spider-Man" cost upwards of $250 million to make, and this one would likely have cost as much, or more.
And at this point, none of the principals in the movie were "pay or play," so the loss in cancellation was manageable.
Still, it was not an easy decision – if for no other reason that successful franchises are demonstrably difficult to build in the movie industry.
Ultimately, the decision came down to director Sam Raimi, who was not prepared to commit to a script for a May 2011 release date that had been rewritten three times, and was about to undergo a fourth rewrite by Alvin Sargent, the screenwriter of "2" and "3" who is married to Laura Ziskin, the film’s producer.
“Sam didn’t feel that given where we were, given his love of the franchise – that he could do that (meet the release date) with the script we had,” said one executive close to the film.
And Pascal did not want to move ahead with a different team. From her perspective, this series is Raimi’s – his vision, his tone.
Still, Sony wanted to move forward, regardless of the script difficulties. And by this week, the pressure had mounted.
The start date had been pushed, and pushed again – from February to March. The production staff, prepping the movie, had been told to go home weeks ago, since production would not be starting on time. Stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst waited in the wings, staying in shape, reviewing hair and makeup.
Raimi was not willing to start without the script. No wonder I saw him having a casual breakfast with CAA's Richard Lovett on Friday, son in tow. He's probably looking at new projects to take on instead.
Hence Monday’s decision – calls to Maguire, and to Dunst, and a press release.
“Everybody’s really sad today,” said the individual close to the project. “This is like a family who works together. It wasn’t anyone lowered the boom. We’ve been talking about this for quite some time.”
So instead, Sony is essentially electing to start over, skipping "Spider-Man 4" entirely and going on to version 2.0 of the franchise, scheduled for May 2012.
That script is already done, written by James Vanderbilt, with a new take.
I’m betting that one will be in 3D. As for the new Peter Parker? Let’s start making lists.