EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has acquired the feature film rights to the Mickey Spillane series of mystery novels featuring private investigator Mike Hammer. The deal is a co-production between Film 360 and Thunder Road. The producers are Guymon Casady and Ben Forkner for Film 360, Basil Iwanyk for Thunder Road and Ken Levin, the longtime rep for Spillane’s estate.
Spillane wrote 13 Mike Hammer novels solo, beginning with the 1947 book I, The Jury. He wrote another six teamed with Max Allan Collins. Spillane’s Mike Hammer was a prototype for the tough guy private eye, and the studio will try to resurrect the character in an attempt to build an action franchise. What Warner Bros and the producers haven’t yet decided is whether to keep Hammer in the hardboiled period setting of the novels, or turn Hammer loose in a contemporary setting. They will also need to choose one of the books, though I think I, The Jury is a heckuva place to start, even though it was twice before turned into movies.
While Ian Fleming acknowledged that Hammer was an influence on his James Bond character, Spillane’s signature character can also be likened to rogue heroes like Clint Eastwood‘s Dirty Harry and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher (who’ll be played by Tom Cruise in the upcoming Paramount film. Hammer was a solitary tough physical guy with an impatience for the legal system and no qualms about killing those who elude its grasp. Spillane’s series was huge when published in paperback; at one point in the 70s, Hammer novels took up seven spots in the 10 best selling books of all time. Hammer mysteries have sold 225 million copies globally.
The producers have already met with A-list screenwriters; some pitched keeping Hammer in period mode, while others sparked to bringing him into the present. Hammer has been out of circulation as a film or TV property for a long time, because of a rights dispute. Spillane passed away in 2006, which came one month after the death of his manager, Jay Bernstein (who also repped singer Tom Jones and Farrah Fawcett). Bernstein’s estate claimed ownership of the Hammer character. Levin spent several years in court, before the rights to Spillane’s work came back to the author’s estate and a clear title could be delivered for a movie deal. Spillane’s co-author Collins will be exec producer as will the author’s widow, Jane Spillane.