EXCLUSIVE: In a pre-emptive deal worth multiple seven-figures for the package, Warner Bros has acquired the Don Pendleton anti-terrorist operative Mack Bolan novel series and will develop it as a star vehicle for Bradley Cooper to potentially play Bolan, and Todd Phillips to potentially direct him. Avatar 4 co-writer Shane Salerno — who acquired the rights to the franchise from Pendleton’s estate — will write the script and produce along with Cooper and Phillips, who earlier this year joined forces and formed a Warner Bros-based producing label. It potentially could be the first action franchise for Cooper, who bulked up to play Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood for Warner Bros. Phillips is next directing Arms And The Dudes, about hapless guys who become arms dealers.
Considering how late in the summer it is, the package sold with remarkable speed after Deadline wrote that the rights had been pulled together by Salerno and was being shopped after being developed at one time or other as star vehicles for everyone from Steve McQueen to Sly Stallone, Clint Eastwood and Vin Diesel.
Salerno will write the script after completing the Avatar sequel with James Cameron. Days ago, he said his goal is to make a “relevant, grounded and gritty, real-world, PG-13 action-drama film series” with the elite commando Bolan as its catalyst of a trilogy. Drew Crevello and Julia Spiro are overseeing for Warner Bros.
Pendleton wrote 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. Besides the Bolan novels, there are the spinoff series Able Team, Phoenix Force, SuperBolan and Stony Man. There are more than 200 million books in print.
As I wrote last week, this gives new movie life to a series that had the top stars in Hollywood ready to go Bolan. The Graduate producer Joseph Levine optioned it in 1972 for McQueen with Goldfinger scribe Richard Maibaum; Burt Reynolds planned direct Eastwood in the role; Stallone set the project as the keystone in his six-year, 10-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; finally Diesel developed it after The Fast And The Furious. Pendleton, a decorated WWII vet, died in 1995 at age 67. CAA reps Salerno, Cooper and Phillips.