Warren Beatty Wins Lawsuit Against Tribune Company For Rights To 'Dick Tracy,' "Major" Project Next

by Drew Taylor
March 26, 2011 6:13 AM
14 Comments
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Warren Beatty's original "Dick Tracy" (released in a Tommy-gun bullet hail of hype in the summer of 1990) is a tantalizing what-if scenario. Looking back on the film, it seems almost dreamily ahead of its time, with its primary color scheme and two-dimensional comic strip backdrops foreshadowing everything from Ang Lee's "Hulk" to Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's "Sin City." At the time, though, it was largely derided and flopped at the box office (most people remember it for including the Roger Rabbit short "Roller Coaster Rabbit," which was only stapled on to the film after initial box office returns proved dire.)

What wasn't clear back then (and in the years in between), was how committed Warren Beatty was to the original material. But, it seems, he was all about "Dick Tracy," and has just won a lawsuit against the comic strip's owner, the ailing Tribune Company, for control of the character.

According to reports, the area of contention was the inactivity of the character. Beatty was given motion picture and television rights 26 years ago, but under the stipulation that he would continue to develop projects featuring the yellow-coated detective. Tribune said that Beatty had gone slack, but he was working on a television project to air before a Turner Classic Movies showing of the 1990 film. The judge ultimately favored Beatty.

Beatty's lawyer Chuck Shephard told The Wrap, "Warren's goal is to do another major Dick Tracy project." Of course, what that project is remains to be seen. Beatty is conceivably too old to play the titular gumshoe as he did in the original film, but with animation and motion capture, anything is possibly in terms of him carrying on the character's good name (and gruff voice).

We also wonder if this means that Beatty's director's cut of the film, which supposedly clocks in at two-and-a-half hours and has a markedly darker tone, will finally see the light of day. At some point in the early aughts, it was going to be released through Disney's prestige DVD "Vista Series" brand, but those plans were just as quickly (and quietly) shuttered. It could be because of the bad taste the film has left in Disney's mouth. The box office failure of the movie meant a number of high profile (and publicized) projects had to be shelved, the most expensive and grandiose being an attraction at the then-Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios) in Florida called "Dick Tracy's Crimestoppers." Disney had planned to milk the brand for years; instead it was a property whose life was cut inconceivably short.

Whatever the plans for the iconic character, it's good that Beatty at least has some direction for where Dick Tracy should go. Hopefully his next case will break very, very soon. [Reuters/The Wrap]

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14 Comments

  • Jacob | March 27, 2011 6:08 AMReply

    Loved this movie, great production design, great cinematography by Storaro, and love the performance by Pacino in particular. This move had what Burton's Batman german expressionLESS didn't, a soul.

    It was a disappointment from what was expected by the studio and the pre-release hype, but it was hardly a bomb.

  • Derek | March 27, 2011 5:55 AMReply

    That film is a train-wreck.
    The production design is the only thing worth paying attention to.
    I've always loved the comic strip which was far darker and more interesting than that stupid Disney movie would ever be.

    The best Dick Tracy film in my opinion would look like a Weegee photograph, and feel more like a 40's B-Noir. The violence should be more disturbing and less comical.

    If it was ahead of it's time, it's only because it paved the way for glossy, star studded garbage like Sin City.

  • it hurts to say | March 27, 2011 5:26 AMReply

    the one reason this movie failed, at the time, was because madoana was in it, put her in any movie it bombs, just like jessica biel or jessica alba,or jennifer aston,movies,and the movie just plain sucks

  • jd | March 27, 2011 3:07 AMReply

    I truly believe that this was, even if he didn't fully realize it, Vitorio Storaro's "sequel" to his work on THE CONFORMIST. That, 20 years later, he was working in the same heightened, stylized register and this time, in the context of making comic book story, had the freedom to go even farther with it.

  • Kevin MP | March 27, 2011 2:50 AMReply

    I enjoyed Dick Tracy when it came out, owned it on vhs and own it on dvd.
    The movie wasn't the blockbuster they wanted it to be, but it was certainly no flop. I think the bigger failure was that they hoped to make a fortune in marketable merchandise and that is where it failed to generate the stir that was expected.
    I would love to see a director's cut released, if Beatty has one. I would not like to see one if the studio has one (like the "director's cut" of Dune)

  • Mr. Arkadin | March 27, 2011 1:45 AMReply

    This film is probably a reason why such projects almost never get attached to directors of atristic integrity ...

  • Leigh Richert | March 26, 2011 12:52 PMReply

    I was not using hard numbers, but I think my estimates are pretty close to the actual statistics. I know for a fact that ticket prices in many, if not most, places have increased at least 300% since 1990, so it's not a bold statement on my part to say a movie that grossed 100 million in 1990 would be AROUND a 300 million grosser today. I still have my ticket stub for Burton's first "Batman" and it cost me 4.00 for a Friday night show. I just saw "Sucker Punch" last night and it cost me 11 dollars, pretty damn close to 3 times as much. And again, I'm not saying "Dick Tracy" was the super hit that Disney wanted, I'm just saying it was not a "flop". A flop is something akin to "Mars Needs Moms", not a 100 million dollar grosser, even in today's market.
    Maybe it's just a matter of semantics (or, then again, maybe it's a matter of knowing what you're talking about).

  • Brody | March 26, 2011 11:55 AMReply

    It probably didn't help the box office of Dick Tracy that it was a boring, miscast trainwreck.

  • rocco siffredi | March 26, 2011 9:50 AMReply

    Beatty's 'quietly' been retired for over a decade now. And what a shame he turned down Boogie Nights and Kill Bill. Especially the former, Jack Horner was a role clearly written for him.

  • jd | March 26, 2011 9:16 AMReply

    "dreamily ahead of it's time..." Thank you! I've been saying the same ever since I saw DT in it's theatrical run back in '90. I think it's majorly underrated and not only foretells the future but hearkens back to the past, to Micheal Powell set-bound fantasias like "The Red Shoes" and "Black Narcissus".

    I hope Beatty's director's cut gets released now in a special edition as impressive as the REDS DVD from a few years back.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | March 26, 2011 8:27 AMReply

    Fine, even at $100 million including P&A --- Disney wanted a "Batman" sized return or, a "Pretty Woman" sized return.

    So yeah, for a big comic franchise that was going to launch a theme park ride and more it can easily be considered a flop. Did it make money? Sure. Was it the hit Disney wanted? No.

  • A Helpful Citizen | March 26, 2011 8:18 AMReply

    Kevin, I'm afraid your math is indeed just as wrong as Leigh's---"Dick Tracy" did not have a negative cost of $100 million, or indeed anywhere close to it.

    The total investment *inclusive* of prints and advertising may indeed have been within shouting distance of $100 million, but the actual negative cost was in the $40-50 million range. The first picture claimed to have exceeded $100 million in negative cost was "Terminator 2" in 1991, but James Cameron has actually publicly refuted that figure, stating that the negative cost was closer to $85 million ("I wish I'd had the other $20 million", was his quote.) And as both producer and director, he would be in a position to know. The first picture with a verified negative cost north of $100 million (if you exclude the state-funded 1968 Soviet production of "War And Peace") was Cameron's "True Lies" in 1994. All other $100 million budget quotes predating it are posthumous inflations using present-day advertising cost projections. In fact, "Dick Tracy" wasn't even the most expensive picture released that summer: Although the $100 million barrier wouldn't be passed until Cameron did it, "Total Recall", "Die Hard 2", "Days Of Thunder" and "Another 48 Hrs." each cost between $60-70 million, the most expensive being the $70 million "Die Hard 2"...and even that figure was believed to have been inflated slightly to publicly embarrass the filmmakers for going over budget. A similar charge was levied by Francis Ford Coppola against Paramount, regarding their leaked budget figures for "The Godfather, Part III" later in 1990.

    The most expensive film ever made to that point had been 1988's "Rambo III", with a $63 million negative cost. "Total Recall" and "Die Hard 2" were both believed to have surpassed it, with the latter winding up "winning" that dubious race. "Dick Tracy", I can assure you, did not. Not even slightly. Unless your contortions of logic extend to tacking on the projected loss in theme-park-related revenues to the actual negative cost of the film itself.

    Just saying.

    P.S. The actual gross of "Dick Tracy", when adjusted for inflation and using 2011 ticket prices as the variable, would equate to roughly $320 million worldwide, and $200 million domestic. So even if you adjust the negative cost to $100 million (for inflation, say), using the now commonplace and studio-generous 3:1 break-even point (a figure that was closer to 2:1 in 1990, as it had been for decades), it still wound up making money theatrically...just. Television and video sales would have ensured it wound up in the black.

  • Kevin Jagernauth | March 26, 2011 7:24 AMReply

    @Leigh Something in your math there seems pretty wrong. $100 million in 1990 doesn't equal $300 million today.

    But looking strictly at 1990 numbers: Dick Tracy brought in $162 million worldwide and it had a budget of $100 million (probably not including P&A which was enormous on that film -- the studio promoted the shit out of it)

    In 1990, yes, it was one of the top ten grossing movies of the year but in Disney eyes, hardly a blockbuster. Just for comparison, that year Disney also released "Pretty Woman" -- it made $463 million worldwide. Just saying.

  • Leigh Richert | March 26, 2011 7:14 AMReply

    Do your homework. While it may have not met up to the box office expectations of the time (which were unrealistically inflated due to the 250 million dollar gross of the first "Batman" movie released the year before), "Dick Tracy" was hardly a "flop" (as you put it). The film made over 100 million dollars in 1990, which if adjusted for inflation, would make it around a 300 million dollar grosser today. Are you saying "Iron Man" (domestic gross 318 million) and "Transformers" (domestic gross 319 million) flopped?

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