By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com April 4, 2012 at 1:11PM
"The Hunger Games" is that rarest of things in the movie industry: an unqualified smash hit. In a world where tentpoles cost upwards of $200 million, Lionsgate's adaptation of Suzanne Collins' popular young-adult novel cost far less, but is doing the same kind of numbers: after the third-biggest opening weekend of all time, it's now taken more than $250 million in the U.S. alone, and half as much again abroad, making everyone involved very, very happy. But as franchises from Marvel to "Twilight" have displayed, once the studio starts making money, everyone else wants in on the action, and that starts to mess around with the business model.
Lionsgate knew they had a hit on their hands even before "The Hunger Games" hit theaters: they'd already commissioned a script for follow-up "Catching Fire" from Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" writer Simon Beaufoy and set the film for a November 2013 release date. But now that the film's a monster hit, they've found a couple of speedbumps, most crucially when it comes to Gary Ross, who directed and co-wrote the first film. The Hollywood Reporter ran a story today that says Ross has never been signed for the sequel officially, and after what's described as the "terrible experience" of negotiations for the first film, he came away with a relatively low $3 million payday.
And while he's got what's sure to be a lucrative 5% take of the back-end (although it's unclear if that's of the film's gross or the murkier net), he's looking for a major raise for the second film, arguing that the film's excellent reviews mean that it'll have better legs than some of its competition (fair enough), and that should he decide to look elsewhere, he'd have his pick of projects (certainly true). But it's a dangerous game to play: the "Twilight" series went for a different helmer for each of their first four movies, in part to avoid boosting salaries, and Marvel and Jon Favreau went their separate ways after the first two "Iron Man" movies.
Indeed, one only has to look at the latter studio, which has looked mostly at TV directors for their sequels to "Thor" and "Captain America," to see that for most companies, the brand name will prove more important than the director, and we can't imagine many of the key teen demographic will boycott the sequel because the guy who did "Seabiscuit" isn't in charge this time round. Things are complicated further because the company is in a rush to get the film into theaters for next November, although that could be disrupted due to Fox having a prior option on star Jennifer Lawrence for the inevitable "X-Men: First Class" follow-up and the company is aiming to get Matthew Vaughn's sequel before cameras before the end of the year.
Ross had no shortage of competition when he landed the gig for the first film: he beat out Sam Mendes, David Slade ("Twilight: Eclipse"), Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend"), Andrew Adamson ("The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe"), Rupert Sanders ("Snow White and the Huntsman") and Susanna White ("Generation Kill") for the job, and it's possible that some might be interested if the position became available, and the studio have plenty of directors who are even cheaper to pick from. All that being said, Ross certainly deserves recognition for helping the film become such a giant hit, and we're sure that things will get ironed out in good time. What do you think? Would you prefer Ross to make way for new blood? Who would you pick to helm the sequel? Weigh in below. Whoever ends up directing it, "Catching Fire" is currently set to hit theaters on November 22, 2013.