While Legendary Entertainment will unleash its version of "Godzilla" this month, the company has officially come on board to back two other monster movies with new studio partner Universal Pictures, "Jurassic World" and "Dracula Untold."
The films are the first Legendary will help co-finance with Universal as part of a five-year deal that kicked off in January. Both projects fit in well with Legendary's taste for fanboy and genre fare. "Jurassic World" is shooting now under the helm of Colin Trevorrow, while Gary Shore's "Dracula Untold" will be released in October with Luke Evans as the iconic vampire.
On the television front, former Warner Bros. Television chief Bruce Rosenblum has been busy building Legendary's TV division, and has just closed an overall deal with prolific film producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and former DreamWorks TV president Dan McDermott to move their TV production arm from ABC Studios to Legendary.
Di Bonaventura Pictures Television, repped by CAA, is coming off of a three-year deal at ABC Studios, and given his credit list as a filmmaker, which includes Paramount's "Transformers" and "G.I. Joe" franchises, is expected to offer up the kinds of TV shows that fit Legendary's creative sensibility. Banner recently optioned horror comicbook "The Extinction Parade" from "World War Z" author Max Brooks, for example.
For television, Di Bonaventura has produced the ABC conspiracy drama "Zero Hour," that was canceled in 2013 after three episodes. Together with McDermott, they also set up Jeffrey Bell's mystery thriller "Patron Saints," about a covert group who help people in desperate situations, at ABC Studios; "Founding Fathers," at ABC; and a Cleopatra drama by Michael Seitzman at NBC.
Legendary Television and Digital's first overall deal was with Ben Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld's Red Hour Films, and acquired Asylum Entertainment for $100 million in December.
However, the first order of business for Legendary chief Thomas Tull right now is bringing "Godzilla" successfully to life on the bigscreen, a feat that would go a long way toward taming his critics and proving that Legendary can stand tall on its own alongside accomplished rivals such as Marvel Entertainment.
"Godzilla" will be Legendary's biggest test to date when it stomps into theaters May 16, under the deftful direction of Gareth Edwards. The film is significant, since it marks Legendary's swan song from Warner Bros. following a largely successful partnership that ended bitterly. (The relationship would continue on certain sequels.)
In addition to being able to help co-finance high-profile tentpoles, Legendary's new deal with NBCUniversal affords Tull more autonomy and opportunities to expand his company's imprint across other businesses. It now has access to Comcast's vast portfolio of broadcast and cable channels and broadband services, as well as theme parks around the world. "We're very excited about the theme parks; there are certainly a lot of conversations around that," says Tull, who already had a relationship with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke through mutual friends.
Legendary also fits Universal's needs -- not only as a means to launch new franchises, but to gain a foothold in China.
Although Legendary will miss making superhero movies at Warner Bros., where it co-financed every Batman and Superman movie since 2005′s "Batman Begins," Legendary will have plenty of monster movies to chose from at Universal. In addition to next summer's "Jurassic World," Universal is also looking to reboot "Van Helsing" and "The Mummy," both of which would seem natural co-financing vehicles for the company behind next year's "Godzilla" and "Pacific Rim."
"Jurassic World" stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Omar Sy, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson and Vincent D'Onofrio, and bows June 12, 2015.
Tull is certainly taking a sizable risk with the film about the iconic Japanese monster. Legendary put up three-quarters of the $160 million budget, and he personally chose 38-year-old Gareth Edwards to direct the tentpole, even though the helmer had made only one movie before -- the $500,000-budgeted "Monsters," for which he produced the visual effects on his home computer and wrote the script.
Tull and Edwards have a lot to prove to audiences soured by the last "Godzilla" remake: Roland Emmerich's 1998 take on the atomic fire-breathing lizard for Sony Pictures. That film scared up just $379 million worldwide and left Sony without a hoped-for new franchise, and toy and promotional partners like Taco Bell with piles of unsold merchandise.
"I've been a Godzilla fan literally my whole life," Tull says. "He's a huge global icon for a reason." Echoing a complaint many had about Emmerich's version, he adds, "I'm always puzzled as a fan when you take things so far it's unrecognizable."
Read more on Legendary and "Godzilla" in the full version of the story in the May 6 issue of Variety.
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