EXCLUSIVE: Over the course of his 900-volume novel series launched by Don Pendleton in 1969, elite anti-terrorist operative Mack Bolan has cracked every conceivable case except one–making it to a movie screen. Bolan, who at one time or another was going to be played by Steve McQueen, Sly Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Vin Diesel, is getting another movie shot. Avatar 4 co-writer Shane Salerno has closed a deal with the author’s estate and Gold Eagle Books giving him the rights to develop the Bolan character for a feature film series.
Salerno will write and produce, getting underway after finishing co-writing the Avatar sequel with James Cameron. He said his goal is to make a “relevant, grounded and gritty, real-world PG-13 action-drama film series.” He’ll package it with a filmmaker and actor, and then set it up at a studio quickly with the intention to get underway with a trilogy. While the series launched 45 years ago, Bolan has not been forgotten; Salerno said there are more than 200 million copies of the books in circulation.
Pendleton wrote the first 38 volumes in 11 years, then sold the rights to Worldwide Library and supervised a group of ghost writers who generated two books per month when the series was at its peak. Gold Eagle still publishes 12 new books per year in more than 40 countries, as well as a series of comics, audiobooks and graphic novels. The deal gives Salerno rights to the 38 books Pendleton wrote himself, the 870 or so ghostwritten books, and the spinoff series Able Team, Phoenix Force, SuperBolan and Stony Man. The latter Salerno called Bolan’s version of The Avengers, populated by all the elite fighting commandos from across the world that solve covert missions in the other books.
“We know how mindful Shane is about maintaining the essence of Bolan, a true hero who has touched the minds of readers for decades,” said the author’s widow, Linda Pendleton. “We look forward to ‘Mack Bolan’ being shared to an even larger world audience through film.”
Bolan has a prolific track record of movie-development futility involving some of the top stars and filmmakers of their day. In 1972, The Graduate producer Joseph Levine optioned it for Steve McQueen and hired Goldfinger and Thunderball scribe Richard Maibaum. He co-scripted James Bond’s screen intro, Dr. No, and was supposed to provide the same kind of launch vehicle for Bolan. While numerous Bolan books bore the movie news on their jackets, the rights lapsed. In the early 1980s, Burt Reynolds announced that he would produce and direct a series of Mack Bolan films with Clint Eastwood starring. No good.
Later that decade, Rocky and Rambo star Stallone set the project as the keystone in his six-year, ten-film deal with United Artists, with Stallone scripting his own star vehicle with Joel Silver producing and To Live And Die In L.A. helmer William Friedkin directing. Carolco Pictures vamped it at Cannes, but Pendleton was left hanging once again. After Vin Diesel developed the property following The Fast And The Furious in 2001 and didn’t get there, the family tired of Hollywood’s calls. Salerno courted them for a year with a comprehensive plan for a multi-film franchise, and they’ve given him a shot. Pendleton, a decorated WWII vet, died in 1995 at age 67. His family was repped in the deal by IPG and attorney Frank Curtis. Salerno is repped by CAA and attorney Robert Offer.