EXCLUSIVE: A high-stakes battle is being waged for the right to relaunch The Terminator, with Fast Five helmer Justin Lin attached to direct and Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to reprise his signature role in one of filmdom’s most iconic franchises. Yesterday, it looked like Lionsgate would win the property with an outright purchase, with an upfront payment of at least half of the $29.5 million that Pacificor spent to claim the property in a bankruptcy auction. That was until Megan Ellison and her Annapurna Films came in with a bid that was higher. They are now fighting it out. As she usually does when she commits to a film, Ellison is staking that amount without having a distributor locked in place.
As Deadline revealed late last month, CAA brought out the package to the town, the first real activity on The Terminator project since February 2010, when the property emerged from a bankruptcy auction and into the possession of Pacificor. While there were several dealmaking scenarios offered, including an option and first dollar gross fees, it’s understandable why an outright purchase would be most attractive to the rights holders.
The Santa Barbara-based hedge fund posted a bid of $29.5 million, with the promise that additional multimillion-dollar payments for each film would go to Halcyon, the company that made the 2009 McG-directed Terminator Salvation. That’s a lot of money to lay out for an extended period of time, with interest costs rising.
I’m told that the deal will close shortly, and that the project could become another hot Schwarzenegger title at the Cannes Film Festival market that’s just getting under way. It would be the third Schwarzenegger movie there. Lionsgate also has Schwarzenegger in the action film The Last Stand, set up as the English language debut of Kim–ji-Woon. Schwarzenegger is also at the center of a QED-funded project that Schwarzenegger is also attached to star in, Cry Macho. Lionsgate has long been interested in extending the James Cameron-created universe of Skynet, John and Sara Connor, and the indestructible cyborgs. In fact, when Halcyon ran out of money and went into bankruptcy, Pacificor beat out a combined bid by Lionsgate and Sony planning to make back-to-back sequels to bring the franchise to a natural creative conclusion.
As for Ellison, this is a big surprise. She has shown a willingness to back projects by prestige filmmakers, funding not only the Paul Thomas Anderson pic that was just bought for worldwide distribution by The Weinstein Company, but also the Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal drama about the hunt and capture of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, which is also being auctioned at the moment by Ellison’s reps at CAA. Why would she veer from prestige pictures? Maybe she is looking for a franchise that could give her a better chance to make some money back on her multi-million dollar investment.
Whether it’s Lionsgate or Annapurna, they face the same timing issues. There is a stipulation in copyright law that if you assign your rights, you get them back in 35 years. In this case, Cameron assigned his rights to Hemdale, and the North American rights will revert back to him in 2018. Now, Cameron has more or less washed his hands of the Terminator franchise, but I’m told a new deal would have to be made with him if the plan was to keep making Terminator installments beyond that period. Franchise hungry Lionsgate will have to work with Lin—who’ll be back to direct another in The Fast and the Furious franchise, but there’s no reason Lionsgate, Lin and Schwarzenegger shouldn’t be able to make at least two pictures before then.