‘Fast & Furious’ Producer, Paramount CEO Explain Why They Greenlit ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’

Produced By 2018: Jim Gianopulos and Neal Moritz promise a tale of friendship between a small-town cop and a 90s video game mascot

“Fast & Furious” producer Neal Moritz and Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos sat down at the Produced By Conference to discuss their thoughts on the industry… including why they want to give Sega’s animated hero Sonic the Hedgehog a movie.

With James Marsden and Tika Sumpter attached to star in the live-action/animated hybrid, “Sonic the Hedgehog” will be the first film made as part of the first-look deal between Paramount and Moritz’s Original Films banner, which will start next year.

The pitch to make a Sonic movie first came to Moritz several years ago during his partnership with Sony and was won over by the enthusiasm of the team that wanted to make it.

“I thirst for a project with a director that has a clear vision of what he wants to make, and I can just clear the road for him,” Moritz explained at the annual event hosted by the Producers Guild of America. “But when one of the execs from my company came in with this really passionate young guy… he was so persuasive to me about his knowledge and passion for why he wants to make this movie.”

Moritz continued, “What we’re trying to do with Sonic is make a movie about a small-town police officer and Sonic at a time when they are both desperately in need of a friend, and we hope that this theme is friendship is what gives the film its heart and makes it prosper.”

After Sony let the film rights lapse, Paramount picked up the project in October, five months into Gianopulos’ reign as the studio’s new CEO. After Moritz pitched the Sonic project with a three-minute test scene, Gianopulos said that he saw potential in the “quasi-juvenile delinquent” hedgehog.

“It was just instantly engaging and you could see where it was going… what they were trying to do thematically,” he said.

“Sonic the Hedgehog” is part of a slate Gianopulos hopes will help Paramount rebound after years languishing at the box office charts. After leading all Hollywood studios in box office revenue in 2010 and 2011, Paramount lost Marvel Studios to Disney and, since then, has never finished better than sixth in revenue share and only once in the last six years grossed more than $1 billion domestically.

But this spring, Gianopulos’ Paramount got its first box office win with “A Quiet Place,” which became Paramount’s biggest domestic hit in nearly two years with $184 million. Gianopulos says he’s looking for a balance between “safer” releases and ambitious risks with his studio’s release slate.

“We look at the general trends and see what people are interested in, but then we ask, ‘What’s the original spin on that?'” he said. “If you are looking at things that are working today and are thinking, “Oh, let’s do more of that … by that time you release, the audience has moved on.”

Paramount will release the sixth film in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, “Fallout,” this July. At Christmas, they will release the “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee,” which is being marketed as a more character-driven installment of the Michael Bay/Hasbro franchise.