By Edward Davis | The Playlist October 23, 2012 at 9:58AM
On a normal movie franchise timetable, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” series is running behind schedule. If this were Marvel for example, the sequel would have been announced as the film was entering theaters or a few months afterwards. But brooding, dark, decidedly for-adults-only material and not four-quadrant broad like most ideal tentpoles, “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” is not your average would-be franchise. To boot, according to MGM’s math, the film posted a financial loss after all was said and done (even though the film made $232 million worldwide, its shooting, post-production and promotional budget apparently exceeded those figures).
But according to the L.A Times who interviewed Daniel Craig late last week, the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ star says he’s not given up on the series. In fact, he hopes to persuade David Fincher to return for another installment. “Of course I’ll embrace [the movie], especially if Fincher does it,” Craig told the LAT, adding, “I’m definitely going to work on him.”
Fine, sure, of course he wants to work with Fincher again. But is Fincher game? And more importantly, is Sony (they co-produced the picture with MGM)?. There are a lot of jenga pieces in play here and a lot of big ifs. If Sony does want to get “The Girl Who Played With Fire” in front of cameras soon, and with Fincher at the helm, they may have to act relatively quickly. Fincher has his own struggles over at Disney where the studio has placed a three month hold on the director as they decide the fate of his long-developing, ambitious and likely very-expensive 3D/CGI adaptation of "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea."
So if ‘Leagues’ does get green-lit, Fincher simply won’t be around for the ‘Dragon Tattoo’ sequel. But that would be the tidy version of this story, and ‘Leagues’ is an entire tale on its own (we’ve heard that it’s Disney who want Brad Pitt, with Fincher pursuing other actors), and that has been the case for months. The fact is, neither project has been moving quickly for various reasons, many of which we’ll outline here.
And maybe that’s what all parties want? Fincher had an extremely tough time on ‘Dragon Tattoo,’ battling producers Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal (he told us it was “incredibly draining” in more diplomatic fashion) and Rooney Mara was reportedly paid a sum so small it would be almost insulting to print it. Moreover, as he suggested in our interview last year, Fincher had to fight tooth and nail for Mara to get the part, and when the studio and producers finally agreed, they only did so because she agreed to be paid a pittance, something that never sat well with the protective Fincher, who’s taken a paternal role with the actress.
Then there’s cost. Sony’s now deeply aware that “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” was too exorbitantly priced for what it was -- an adult drama released at Christmas. While it did make up its numbers eventually (or close: Sony reported a “modest loss”), “The feel bad film of the season” marketing campaign backfired, and a film featuring an extended rape sequence was not what audiences wanted at Christmas. Suffice to say the film got off to a very slow start during the holidays. So Sony want to produce a film that doesn’t cost $100 million to make (why spend blockbuster dollars when something like "The Social Network" came in at $40 million?). And given the scope and locations required, that pegs 'Dragon Tattoo' at $60-70 million at least. However, the talent involved is pricey, and with Fincher, Rudin and screenwriter Scott Zaillian, that’s around $25-$35 million paid out before a frame of film is shot. Fincher also has a decent pay-to-play deal (close to $5 million even if he doesn’t shoot the sequel) and so Sony are a bit damned if they do and damned if they don’t when it comes to keeping their costs low.
Additionally, Variety recently said Fincher was waiting for Steve Zaillian's script for "The Girl Who Played With Fire," but Google any interviews with Fincher and Zaillian from last year and they'll tell you the script was already completed (Fincher told us he had read it and it was “very good”). So there’s a disconnect there and it jibes with what we’ve heard: that not everyone at Sony is completely happy with what Zaillian has turned in, and it needs work.
So several variables are in play, and meanwhile, Sony is focused on the rest of their slate, Fincher’s been shooting his “House Of Cards” series, and Rudin always has his hands in several producing pies. It’s a conundrum, one that no one know how to easily fix, hence 'Played With Fire' won’t be in theaters until 2014 at the earliest (and that’s if they start shooting by at least mid 2013, and right now that doesn’t look like anyone’s plan).
As for ‘Leagues,’ it has its own share of issues. After Disney took a bath on the box-office bomb of “John Carter,” are they really ready to drop another $200 million on this property? That’s not a scenario they want to face anytime soon, and in fact, they’re probably looking at “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” as a case study for their problem. Fincher doesn’t make broad and four-quadrant tentpoles, nor does he make his films for a thrifty penny either. So without someone like Brad Pitt, ‘Leagues’ is probably not being green-lit. And hell, even with Johnny Depp, Disney's “The Lone Ranger” is looking like a mammothly expensive tentpole (reports have the budget soaring well over $200 million), and they are likely doubly nervous and cautious when it comes to giving the go ahead on these risky propositions. In short, they’re not in the mood for a gamble. Or at least, they shouldn’t be (though new Disney chief Alan Horn does apparently love Fincher).
The best case scenario for Sony: ‘Leagues’ is magically green-lit, leaving the studio “forced” to hire another (read: much less expensive) director to helm the sequel. “Sorry,” they’ll say to fans. "David is busy," and their problems will be mostly solved, and surely they’d hire a filmmaker that they can directly control to keep costs down. However, with ‘Leagues’ looking uncertain, the worst case scenario for Sony and fans of the books and films is Disney passes on ‘Leagues,’ and then both projects just acquire cobwebs.
That said, the number crunching is still in play. Whatever happens, don’t be surprised in three months when everyone passes on “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” and yet there’s still no eye on the horizon for 'Played With Fire.' Let’s not forget when we asked him last year if he needed to see a sequel, Fincher said, “Do I need to see a sequel? No, there’s a little bit of an emotional cliffhanger at the end, but the story is complete.”