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Annapurna Pictures Is Poised To Relaunch The 'Terminator' Franchise, But Can They Rescue A Damaged Brand?

The Playlist By Edward Davis | The Playlist October 31, 2012 at 12:05PM

Annapurna Pictures is having an interesting year. While they’ve backed some of the most exciting films of 2012 from some of our best auteurs (with tremendous casts to boot) -- Paul Thomas Anderson’s "The Master," Andrew Dominik’s "Killing Them Softly," John Hillcoat’s "Lawless" and coming up, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” -- as suggested in a somewhat alarmist piece by the Wrap recently, Annapurna Pictures could use a hit.
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The Terminator Megan Ellison

Annapurna Pictures is having an interesting year. While they’ve backed some of the most exciting films of 2012 from some of our best auteurs (with tremendous casts to boot) -- Paul Thomas Anderson’s "The Master," Andrew Dominik’s "Killing Them Softly," John Hillcoat’s "Lawless" and coming up, Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” -- as suggested in a somewhat alarmist piece by the Wrap recently, Annapurna Pictures could use a hit.

While “Lawless” did much better than one might have anticipated ($57 million worldwide off a reported budget at $45 million) it still didn’t end up making money (factor in P&A, etc.) And while lauded the world over critically, Paul Thomas Anderson's picture will likely be a box-office loser (it cost $60 million to make, including the marketing and 70mm prints, and has taken in $15 million thus far). Brad Pitt may star in “Killing Them Softly,” but that picture, a screed against American capitalism, doesn't seem likely to breakout into a mainstream hit. Likewise, “Zero Dark Thirty” could be a major box-office contender, but it could also go the way of “The Hurt Locker” (the lowest grossing Oscar Best Picture of all time).

The Wrap suggested that Annapurna Pictures head/Hollywood scion billionaire Megan Ellison could “ruin” the movie business, by investing in all these expensive art projects without making a buck (“Ellison’s largesse pumps up prices for indie filmmakers across the board and creates a track record of financial failure that is likely to deter other investors”). While that remains to be seen, what does seem to track is that again, Annapurna needs to make a real buck for once. 

And all this time, while producing artier fare and making way for new films by Spike Jonze ("Her" starring Joaquin Phoenix), David O. Russell (the project formerly known as "American Bullshit" with Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper) and Bennett Miller ("Foxcatcher" with Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) while snapping up the distribution rights to Harmony Korine's "Spring Breakers" and Wong Kar-Wai's continually delayed "The Grandmaster," Annapurna has one solid contender to become a money-making franchise: the Terminator series of which they bought rights to last year.

Movement seems to be on the horizon. Annapurna tweeted this John Connor quote from “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” yesterday: "The whole thing goes: The future's not set. There's no fate but what we make for ourselves” and added “news is coming.” Presumably meaning a writer, director or creative team behind what some have called “Terminator 5.” But one has to wonder, after the creative duds of “Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines” and 2009’s “Terminator Salvation,” how damaged is the Terminator brand?

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

With a tweet coming from 'Terminator 2,' could Annapurna perhaps want to go back to the T1 and T2 timeline as canon and try and pretend the other films don’t exist? It’s surely been done before in other franchises and worked, but arguably not one that already employs existing and complicated time travel elements that have made the chronology of the series pretty difficult to understand as it is. As tastemakers, will Annapurna bring a more thoughtful approach to the 'Terminator' series to bring it back to its roots and expand upon them? Is it even possible considering the series has been so screwed up that neither James Cameron nor Arnold Schwarzenegger seem interested in returning unless there's a truly great approach? And did “Terminator Salvation” prove that without those two, audiences don’t really care?

Cameron is definitely out of the picture considering he’s got a couple more “Avatar” films to contend with among other things he’d like to get up and running before he’s of old age. Schwarzenegger’s been in some conversations, but in the recent issue of Empire, the actor was rather dismissive about it. "I think (producer) Megan Ellison owns the rights to 'Terminator 16,' or whatever it is," he shared. "They have been trying to put a script together but I've not seen it, so I've no idea. There's nothing on the drawing board at this point. Nothing on the plan."

So, does Megan Ellison have the magic touch? Will the influence of her blockbuster brother David Ellison ("True Grit," "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol") be felt? Let us know below.

This article is related to: Annapurna Pictures, Terminator 5


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